Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Regent Summer School 2012

This is part 2 of my recommendations for Regent Summer School. Part 1 can be read here.

Summer courses at Regent College will be one of the best investment of your time and money. Do not just take my word for it. Check it out yourself. Here are some of the highlights I can glean from the brochures. Based on my experience as a student, as a teaching assistant, and as a volunteer over the years, I can say that the quality has continued to impress. The spring session runs from May7-June 18. The summer session runs from June 25-July 27. This blog post will deal with the latter.

Here are some highlights.

If you are interested in all things technology, culture, and Christian thinking surrounding a postmodern world, David Lyon's "Surveillance in the 21st Century" will probably interest you.  Privacy concerns continue to plague the online world. Remember Google's latest consolidation of 60 privacy matters into 1 'convenient' clause? How will our personal information be used in an increasingly online world? Lyon is worth listening to.

If you like history, or want to catch a glimpse of why history has sparked many Regent students to do PhDs in historical studies, perhaps you want to check out George Marsden and Bill Svelmoe's "Faces of 20th Century North American Evangelicalism."

For theology, there is the ever familiar Paul Helm's "Systematic Theology A" and Hans Boersma's "Theology of Culture." These courses are primarily for Regent students pursuing a Masters degree. However, if you are looking for a challenge, this fits. Dave Diewert continues to press along the need for Christians to identify with the marginalized and to speak up for their rights in "Solidarity, Resistance, and Liberation." Students of Regent will know how he gave up his cushy lecturer position at Regent to live with the marginalized.

Regent College is getting more well known for its emphasis on integrating and learning theology through art. This year, we have Rachel Hostetter Smith's "The Interplay of Christianity, Arts, and Culture," Tim Lowly's "Drawing, Close to God: Regarding, the Vocation of the Artist," Ralph Wood's literary offering in "Flannery O'Connor, the Gospel, and the Imagination" and many more.

For biblical studies, there is Rebecca Idestrom's "Ezekiel: God's Glory," John Barclay's "Galatians: Paul's Most Radical Letter," the not to be missed Bruce Waltke and James Houston's "Psalms as Christian Lament," and of course the biblical languages for the diehard language enthusiasts.

Then, there is the spirituality courses that I find is one of the best any seminary can ever offer. Susan Philip's "Contemplative Listening" has become so popular that it has become an annual event. Marilyn McEntyre's "Contemplative Reading: Scripture and Beyond" will be a draw too.

Download the entire 2012 brochure in pdf here.


Sunday, January 29, 2012

Regent Spring School - 2012

Yesterday, I received a brochure for Regent College's Summer School programs. Time flies! Yet, the list of Summer School offerings that Regent is famous for, continues to impress. Having attended many of the Summer school programs, I can testify to the richness in both depth and breadth, helmed by both in-house faculty members supplemented by top theologians, teachers, preachers, and leaders in the evangelical tradition. This year is no exception. Brilliant.

Just a short note. The term 'Summer programs' is an all-encompassing term that covers both Spring School, Summer School, conferences, exhibitions, public lectures, and many more. I will describe the courses in 2 parts. Firstly the Spring School offerings which goes from early May to June. The second post will deal with Summer offerings that will happen from June and August 2012.

Here are some of the quality Spring offerings that I want to highlight.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Google's New Privacy Policy - 3 Big Concerns

TITLE: Google's New Privacy Policy - 3 Big Concerns
Date: 27 Jan 2012
Written by: Conrade Yap

This week, anyone who uses Google products will have received a new privacy policy that can be read here. Whether you use GMail or Blog from Blogger.com. Whether you work with Google Docs, or use Google Maps to navigate to your destinations. Whether you search with the ubiquitous Google search engine, or use Google Android operating system, you are automatically bounded to such conditions. Those who do not agree will have to simply stop using the services altogether.

I write this article with concerns about 3 things which I will elaborate later below. Safe to say, we are now increasingly trapped in a conundrum of "damned if we do, damned if we don't." In other words, even if we refuse the privacy agreement, do we really have a choice? Mind you, transferring all of our information from Google to non-Google services is no easy matter.

Snapshot of Google promises as they launch new privacy policy

Friday, January 27, 2012

Six Reasons Why the Young Are Leaving the Church

TITLE: Six Reasons why the Young Leaving the Church
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 27 Jan 2012

In a provocative book that attempts to diagnose the rumblings on the younger generation, David Kinnaman in his book, "You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving Church. . . and Rethinking Faith" points out 6 reasons why the young are leaving Church. Focusing on the generation that is between 18-29 years old, Kinnaman identifies three groups of people, the 'nomads,' the 'prodigals,' and 'the exiles.'

'Nomads' basically are those who are not actively engaged in Church but still believe. 'Prodigals' are those who introduces themselves as a 'former Christian' and no longer believe. 'Exiles' are those who are still in the Church but feel stuck between Church and the world.

Kinnaman then gives six reasons why the young are leaving the Church. They say that the Church is:

  1. "Over-Protective." About a quarter of the surveyed youths say that the church is overprotective of them, and tends to demonize the culture at large, from music to technology, from movies to their choice of programs, and especially things that they grow up with.  
  2. "Shallow." Boring, irrelevant, and lack of clarity in Bible teaching.  Many do not see a connection between God and their daily lives.
  3. "Anti-science." There is a strong perception that having faith in God is anti-thesis to the existence of science. 
  4. "Repressive." The church tends to be perceived as not as understanding and forgiving, especially in the area of sexual matters. Many young people feel judged. The Church in general does not understand the reasons behind the sexuality perspectives young people has. The rules of the Church seems to be stifling and judgmental.
  5. "Exclusive." Why is Christianity making exclusive claims? In a pluralistic world, why is the Church so stubborn and not willing to embrace other faiths and beliefs?
  6. "Doubtless." Why can't young people honestly verbalize their doubts? Must they be 'doubtless' and believe in the doctrine without questioning them?
[Read the Barna article here:]

It is an eye opener for those of us in our 30s and above. We may not need to agree with all of what Kinnaman is saying. What matters more is that these six reasons are consolidated from research done between 2007 and 2011 from 1296 young people (18-29 years old) in the US, both Church-goers as well as non-Church goers. Looking at the list above, as a Church, we need to be humble enough to be guilty until proven innocent.  

Six Opportunities to Renovate Our Houses

The first step with regards to such a report is to acknowledge that we have weaknesses. Confess that we have not done our best. Admit that there are things that we still do not understand. Whether the 6 reasons above are true or not true, all church leaders need to be mature enough at least to say: "I am open to criticism and open learning." Even for those churches with a thriving young people group, there is no guarantee that they can avoid all of the six factors above in the future. Let me suggest 6 constructive responses to the six reasons why the young are leaving.

#1 - Letting Go: Let adult members of the Church learn to let go of their own insecurities. That feeling of 'the kids not knowing what is best for them' has to go. We need to trust them, and to let them know that we trust them. Perhaps, the best way is simply to go up to them, and affirm them. Let them know that no matter what, we will be with them. Isn't letting go an act of love too? Love is not locking our kids up in a cage, so that they can be safe from the world. It is opening the doors, letting them fly out and experience the world. When the time is right, love will see them flying back home, in greater and fuller appreciation that love frees.

#2 - Growing Deep: This applies to all of us. I think there is a strong link between adult behaviour and the young observer. If the adults themselves are not growing and effectively relating their faith in the world, chances are, the young will copy and follow suit. If we want the young people to grow deeper amid the perception of shallowness in the Church, the adults have a responsibility to show the way.

#3 - Truth-Seeking: Whether it is science, philosophy, art, or theology, the whole Church needs to seek truth. There is truth in many things. Unfortunately, the world is littered with half-truths, half-perceptions, and half-done works of service. Truth needs to be whole. Supplement young people's perceptions by offering platforms for open discussions. Have friendly debates. Organize group dynamics sessions where apologetics can be practiced.

#4 - Open: There is no need to try to force other people into our own molds. It is stifling for anyone, not just young people. If there is a left, there is also a right. If there is an up, there is also a down. Sometimes, there is a middle position which recognizes the best and worst of both. Whatever it is, an environment of openness allows truth to be spoken in love.

#5 - Exclusive Claims: The key word is again 'truth.' Recognize that all religions are exclusive in their own ways. Even atheists and agnostics have their own brand of exclusivity. In this sense, Christianity is no different in terms of their truth claims. Those who trumpet pluralism and total tolerance have 'pluralism' and 'total tolerance' as their exclusive philosophy as well. In other words, everyone else is doing it. Why single out the Church?

#6 - Forgiving Climate: This is something that I am often troubled about. Are we breeding church environments where people are expected to be nice, politically correct, and permitted to do anything except those that ruffle up feathers? If all members of the church practise their attitude of openness and forgiveness, the young will see that it is ok to open up and share their doubts. In this manner, I believe that there is a kind of unhealthy unquestioning faith that leads to unhealthy doubt. There is also a kind of healthy doubt that leads to healthy faith.

There is hope. Let me close with Paul's encouragement to young Timothy. 
"For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline." (2 Tim 1:7)
May we all learn to grow to trust in the power of the Holy Spirit, fellowshiping in the love of God, and continuing on like Jesus, on the path of self-discipline. So do not be afraid of the young leaving the church. If we maintain and renovate our physical and spiritual houses, keeping them in order, whether they are nomads, prodigals, or the exiles, the young will definitely WANT to come back home. I believe.


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

'HOO' Me? Yes You! (A Discipleship Paradigm)

I am constantly intrigued by a weirdness in churches. Many people I have met are quick to tell me about the importance of discipleship. Pastors say it. Leaders trumpet it. Church members mention it from time to time. Unfortunately, more often than not, we are tempted to see discipleship as something that means more for OTHER people. We make ourselves an exception. Instead of offering up ourselves, we are happy to agree with one another that the 'Church ought to do it.' Some say that LEADERS ought to be doing it. Still some other people claim that because they are not trained to do discipleship, maybe some other organizations that specialize in discipleship can perhaps do it. The fact is this: We may talk a lot about discipleship. The sad thing is that many of us are without a clue of what discipleship is all about. In this reflection, I will identify three erroneous paradigms that do not reflect what true discipleship is about, followed by a suggestion for a HOO-paradigm with regards to discipleship. Discipleship begins not with others but ourselves.

A) Production Line Follow-Up Paradigm

Maybe discipleship is about follow-up after initial conversion. After an evangelistic outreach, discipleship can sometimes be seen as the second stage of Christian living. Some organizations behave like a production line. First, the outreach group shares the gospel. When there is a confession of faith, the new convert is then sent to the next group: Discipleship group. In this group, there will be articles, materials, and all kinds of Bible programs to help the newbie sink in roots to the faith. Once the course is completed, the convert is certified: "Discipled." The third stage is usually serving in some capacity in church. The fourth stage is serving in some kind of a leadership role, and so on. This follow-up paradigm is strong in the beginning, but fizzles out toward the end. This way of doing discipleship treats new converts like a raw ingredient, and the rest of us like machines cutting and sizing the dough up. This method is impersonal and turns people into projects.

This is definitely not the way to do discipleship. It can be a spark in the short-term, but the fire needs to come from the Holy Spirit and willing hearts.

B) As-Needed Paradigm

A busy society breeds busy people with busy lifestyles. Everything seems to be dictated by the clock. Whether it is the alarm clock to wake us up in the morning, or the beeping of our digital calendars to remind us of our next appointment, or the email sounds coming from our computers, we react on a need-to-know basis. Time is far too precious to linger in activities that do not fit into our busy schedules. One of the biggest alarm clocks for churches is a slowing growth rate. When members start to get bored, or contemplating going to other churches, leaders become anxious. Some fit in more programs to make the church 'relevant' for these restless individuals. The need has arrived, so the church throws in a few programs to tantalize and perhaps persuade the flagging congregation to stay. Give the church another chance.

Such a 'as-needed' paradigm is basically crisis-driven. You mean, when there is no crisis, we do not do discipleship? This model must be rejected too.

C) Just a Program

The third erroneous paradigms of discipleship in the church is to turn discipleship into a program. Just like a popular TV program that comes on during prime time, 'discipleship-programming' turns discipleship into a time slot in which 'real' discipleship is said to take place. It can be an hour of teaching before the church service. It can be a seminar in which a top-notch speaker or teacher from some famous organization gets invited into the church to transfer his discipleship knowledge to ravenous church members. Such transference of knowledge is expected to make disciples of all church members.

This way of discipling has its merits, for it provides the Church with some basic understanding of the elements of discipleship. It gives knowledge necessary for some affirmative action. It is good to have zeal but zeal without knowledge is not good. Unfortunately, if we treat discipleship just as a program, we will have unwittingly reduced the personal responsibility of discipleship into an impersonal measly program.

Clue: If you find that you are not being discipled enough simply because there are no programs in Church about discipleship, you've probably bought into this erroneous paradigm, that discipleship is just a program.

D) 'HOO' me? Yes You!

One of the most influential figures in discipleship is Johann Heinrich Arnold (1913-1982) who lives through the horror years of Nazi Germany during World War II. He is said to be one blessed with the privilege of being surrounded by disciples of Christ. In other words, his discipling process is not a program, a phased approach, or a crisis method. His discipleship happens in a very personal manner. It is in a community living of people dedicated to follow Jesus. He becomes a member of the community by basically living with them, emulating them, and to be changed by one another. According to Arnold, there are three elements of discipleship making. Firstly, one needs to live humbly like Christ. Secondly, one needs to be in a consistent stance of obedience, like Christ. Thirdly, one needs to be open to the Holy Spirit, like Christ.

I call it the HOO-paradigm.

  • Humble living like Christ;
  • Obedience to God like Christ;
  • Openness to the Spirit, like Christ.

Instead of a Christian calling himself a disciple only on Sundays, HOO basically opens up the timeline to ALL seven days of the week. One can live humbly, obediently, and with open hearts at all times. There is no need for programs, for crises, or for production lines to do just that.

HUMILITY: In humility, Arnold says that:
"Discipleship demands that we drop everything, including everything we count as positive in ourselves." (Johann Heinrich Arnold, Disciple, Rifton, NY: Plough Publishing House, 2011, 19)
Indeed, when we are humble, we acknowledge that we by ourselves can do nothing. This reminds us about Jesus's teaching to abide in Him.

"I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." (John 15:5)

We cannot be humble by ourselves. We need to constantly practice humility through interactions with God in prayer, and through patience and understanding in speaking the truth in love with one another. In humility, we personalize God through us.

OBEDIENCE: A disciple will also learn to obey God according to the Scriptures. Any program if organized by the church needs to be grounded in the Bible teachings. Obedience can only come about when we know 'what' to obey. Without an adequate grasp of the Word of God, how then can disciples obey? Psalms 119
"How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. " (Ps 119:9-11)

Obviously, how can one keep one's way pure when one does not know the Word? How can anyone obey without knowing what to obey? In obedience, we reach forward toward God with purpose.

OPENNESS: In order to live for God, Arnold recommends a regular Bible reading of at least 2-3 chapters per day. He says:

"The main thing for you should be to recognize the greatness of God and to live for him. Try to read the Bible –at least two or three chapters every day. This will open your eyes to the greatness of Jehovah, the Lord of Hosts. Then you will see how very small the search for personal happiness is." (7)
He adds that if we are open to God's work and shut our own self-will down, we will be ready to receive God's faith and love.  In other words, openness to God needs to come with a willingness to deny ourselves. Jesus reminds us:

"Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." (Luke 9:23)

Discipleship is not a production line that hems people into spiritual products. It is a lifestyle of humility that frees people to live in Christ and in love. Discipleship is not a crisis-driven word that rescues people when the church or community is shrinking. It is a lifestyle of obedience to God, guided by the Word, to be sure and steadfast to the truth in love. Discipleship is also not a program to fit into people's busy schedule in life. Instead, it is an attitude of openness that fits our schedules into God's time table.

Remember. When you see the word discipleship, instead of saying, "Who? Me?" say HOO-Yes-Me. Practice humility in God. Practice obedience to the Word. Practice openness to the Spirit.

Let me close with one metaphor. Discipleship in a sense is like an archer, a bow and an arrow. God is the Archer. The Church is the bow. We are the arrows.

"Happy are they who know that discipleship springs from grace, and that grace simply means discipleship." (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, New York, NY: Touchstone Press, 1995, 56)


Monday, January 23, 2012

Video: "A Letter from Mom and Dad"

I shared this video yesterday at the close of my sermon. Due to popular request, I have decided to post it on this blog for those who want to watch it again. The sermon itself will be uploaded later here.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

Jolt Quote XXIX

As I was preparing for a new series for the Men's group Bible study in my Church, I came across this quote which blows me away. It is a hard-hitting, no-holds-barred indictment on our culture's warped understanding of goodness. Taken from DA Carson's daily meditations on Scripture, this quote is from the January 23rd page.

"One of the most striking evidences of sinful human nature lies in the universal propensity for downward drift. In other words, it takes thought, resolve, energy, and effort to bring about reform. In the grace of God, sometimes human beings display such virtues. But where such virtues are absent, the drift is invariably toward compromise, comfort, indiscipline, sliding disobedience, and decay that advances, sometimes at a crawl and sometimes at a gallop, across generations."

Now get ready.....

"People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord.

- We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance;
- we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom;
- we drift toward superstition and call it faith.
- we cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation;
- we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism;
- we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated."
(D.A. Carson, For the Love of God Vol 2, Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1999, Jan 23rd page, paragraphing mine)

I am floored.


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Don't Covet the Title Unless You are Willing to Live Up to It

It is nice to have a big title on the name card. It is wonderful to have a prestigious name tag on the shoulder that says: "Captain." All these are pleasantries. All these are nice to boast about. When a crisis comes in, all of these mean nothing if initiative, courage, and integrity flows out. This is what happened when the Italian luxury cruise ship liner went aground off the coast of Tuscany on the evening of January 14th, 2012. The huge ship fell on its side, together with more than 4200 passengers, crew members, and others. For many a pleasant holiday turns out to be a nasty disaster.

As of January 17th, 2012, at least 11 people have died. Fourteen are still missing, and the more than 4200 people on board traumatized by the whole event. With more than half a million gallons of fuel on board, the ship is a potential ecological disaster. While the size of the ship and the immense rescue efforts are being put in place, something else makes the whole disaster even more despicable.

The captain of the ship, Francesco Schettino bailed when he is most needed. He is the captain, the leader, the one responsible for the whole ship. Instead of taking the initiative to take over the rescue procedures, and to give clear instructions for his crew, he tries to save his own skin by jumping onto a lifeboat to flee. Instead of courage to give directions from within the ship, he needed a scolding from a Coast Guard officer to command him to get back on board. Instead of integrity to own up to his responsibilities, Schettino gives out ridiculous excuses. The video below shows how small-hearted, fearful, and irresponsible for one who is supposed to be a captain of the ship. Shame indeed.

For any of us intending to be leaders, remember that it is not the title that give credence to one's leadership. It is the ability to take initiative during times of need. It is the courage to be responsible and to lead. It is the integrity to face up to the truth, and to put the interests of others above self. Otherwise, do not lead. Titles are nothing when one is not prepared to live up to the responsibility of the title.


Saturday, January 14, 2012

A Simplistic and False Dichotomy

Currently, there is a video that has gone viral. It hypes up the age-old maxim of "Religion is Bad, while Jesus is good." Made by a young online evangelist called Jeff Bethke, it contrasts and compare the traditional understanding of religion with the desired brand of Jesus faith. This is remarkably similar to the "I'm not religious, I'm spiritual" movement. According to the Christian Post, the video has generated more than 66000 comments on the Youtube page alone. As of today, it has surpassed the 10000 mark to reach 102,167 comments.

A) Some Online Responses

Many responses have been posted on social media like Facebook and on blogs. Bloggers like Elizabeth Esther highlights 8 erroneous claims in the video, calling it a 'thinly disguised anti-Catholicism.' Others like Morgan Guyton prefers to probe the reasons behind Bethke's rant. Unwittingly, Guyton too performs a dichotomy. Instead of religion-is-bad-and-jesus-is-good argument, Guyton elevates 'what-jesus-has-done' over 'what we believe.' My friend, Joshua calls the dichotomy as plain 'stupid'

Other notable responses include two postings by Kevin deYoung. The first is a disagreement that triggers a brief exchange of emails between Bethke and DeYoung. The second is a followup that is more reconciliatory. DeYoung labels several parts of the video that are 'unhelpful and misleading.' He takes pains to dissect the statements to point out the mixed bag of both helpful and unhelpful stuff splashed out unabasedly on the video. The crux of DeYoung's argument is that one should not try to hype up a religion-free 'Jesus' at the expense of downplaying religion. Otherwise there will not be much 'Jesus left.'

The underlying tone is that of a cautious handshake. While trying to correct each other, there is a tone of reserved self-control on both sides. Whether we call it humility or speaking the truth in love, in a social media era, it is important to recognize the limits of e-communications. A video can speak a thousand words. The clarifying emails and comments may contribute a few more words. It is the face to face conversations that build bridges much clearer and more lovingly.

B) A Simplistic Portrayal

Videos like this is to me an overly simplistic portrayal of faith. While it appeals initially as a rhetoric or a creative rant about doing something right in a culture that contains some things wrong, it fizzles out when we probe a little deeper.

Some of my friends at Regent call this video a simplistic portrayal of a false dichotomy. Simplistic because people do not understand the contexts behind the historical events of wars and culture of Jesus. False dichotomy because the Bible does not condemn but redeems religion. See how James talks about 'true religion.'

"If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." (James 1:26-27)

Will Jesus hate such a 'religion?' What if the position that is advocated by Bethke adopts the very religious flavour that they are arguing against? If I were to refer to 'Jesus-only-ism' as the anti-thesis of religion, we get all kinds of confusing flavours. Flavours like:

  • Hypocrisy: Can your version of 'loving Jesus' only-ism become a religion in itself?
  • Church: Can your version of Jesus only-ism become an institution too?
  • Tradition and Doctrine: Can your 'Jesus only-ism, and all things 'love' become a dogmatic statement in itself?
  • Religion: Are you debunking all religion just because of a few bad apples?
  • Love: What makes one think that Jesus only-ism is able to hold both truth and love at the same time?
C) We Need Both

The truth is, both traditional religion and Jesus only-ism needs each other to clarify, to convict, and to co-operate in the realm of truth and speaking the truth in love. The moment we do a dissection in such a simplistic way, we are effectively planting the seeds of our brand of belief into a dogma. We need each other. We need to utilize our strengths to help our communities. At the same time, we need to let others speak and encourage us in our weaknesses. False dichotomies are unhelpful, and often too simplistic for any good. 

May our Church and various Christian communities learn to accept one another's differences without the need to be dogmatic about our various positions. Who knows? How Christians treat one another on the social media stage is how the world at large is seeing how Christians love one another. We can love one another without having to compel ourselves to compromise our own stand. Likewise, we can speak the truth in love, trusting the Holy Spirit to help us to have the humility to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to let ourselves be changed, and the wisdom to know the difference.


Friday, January 13, 2012

A Touching CNY 2012 Commercial

Every year, millions of Chinese people in China as well as around the world will be celebrating Chinese New Year. Growing up in a culture steeped in Chinese tradition, the eve of Chinese New Year is the most important day for Chinese families. In a technological world, many families are now living far away, scattered in the different countries. Some are overseas because of work commitments or study purposes. Others who are away cannot afford the expensive airfare back home. In a busy world, busyness and the competitive business climate are also reasons for skipping this date. This commercial by Pepsi and Lay's is well made. It is a very creative blending of family ties constantly bombarded by demands in the world. It reminds me of the biblical parable of the Prodigal Son. I highly recommend this video.

There is a better image video here, but it does not have English subtitles.

Chinese New Year Eve this year will be on 22 Jan 2012.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Coffee It Forward?

Times are bad. As the economy continues to show its depressing face, people are generally less than upbeat. Many are cutting back. Some are contemplating a lower standard of living. Likewise, the general trend is that one of the first things people cut back during lean times, is giving. Yet, one stranger in a coffee shop chooses to buck the trend with a $100 random act of kindness. This happened in a South Carolina coffee shop, Corner Perk, where a stranger left $100 in cash with the staff to use for all purchases in the coffee shop until it runs out. This has not only encouraged many people, it has also prompted similar acts of giving. What a way to kick off a New Year. (news link)

A $100 dollar note may not buy us a lot of stuff, but it can surely be multiplied many fold in terms of simple blessings and an upbeat start to a week.

Maybe, God is calling you to do an act of kindness in some creative way?


Monday, January 09, 2012

Free Coupon Good For Purchase of "Courageous" DVD

Thanks to the good folks at GrafMartin, here is a $5 coupon that you can use to purchase the COURAGEOUS DVD from Canadian Christian retailers. The DVD will be available for purchase from Jan 17th, 2012. Watch for it.

Click on the coupon below and print it out. You can also just print this blog post. Use it to get $5 off your DVD/Bluray!

Note that this coupon expires on Feb 29th, 2012.


Friday, January 06, 2012

Do Not Dismiss Resolutions

Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 6 Jan 2012
"Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God." (Col 3:1)

KEY IDEA: Our society is generally fatigued with regards to the making of the New Year Resolutions. Should Christians join in the crowd to be dismissive about the whole resolution thingie? In this article, I argue that believers in Christ need to set their own bars high. If something is worth doing, it is worth resolving to do it.

At the beginning of each new year, the famous question pops up once again.

"What are your New Year resolutions?"

(Credit: thatsglitchy.com)
Some of my more cynical friends will be ready with this worn-out reply: "This year, I resolve not to make or keep any resolutions." If we chime in with the happy throngs of laughter, are we unwittingly laughing ourselves through the gates of mediocre living? Will we be content to live a life that is non-committal, aimless, and meaningless? Nay. Not doing it is already a decision in itself. If we are content not to aim at anything, we are guaranteed to hit it.

A) Being Dismissive and Liking It All

Such a dismissive attitude toward New Year resolutions is increasingly accepted uncritically. No resolutions mean no commitments.  No commitments mean no accountability to any resolution. No accountability means that one can live casual, carefree, and cold without guilt. After failing to keep most of the resolutions year after year, one can get tired of seeing the year end with goals not set. Priscilla Shirer describes this well:

"And yet once a year, around mid-December, millions of us start to think about the fresh resolves we need to consider, even if these new leaves and high ideals make no more than a cameo appearance on the stage of our minds. Some of us, for our own varied reasons, ultimately decide they're not worth the effort." (Priscilla Shirer, The Resolution for Women, Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing, 2011, p1)

Not worth the effort? Indeed. This is a general symptom of the culture at large. People find they have more things to live with, but less purpose to live for. They are giants when it comes to accumulating material stuff but midgets when it comes to finding meaning and purpose. Resolutions are undesired, unattractive, and unwelcomed. People like the spur-of-the-moment approach. They like casual instead of schedule. They like freedom to talking about planning instead of acting on planning something. As the saying goes, more and more people are becoming living testimonies of the maxim:

"If you fail to plan, you plan to fail."

B) Why 'Resolutions' are Not Worth the Effort?

As I try to think about reasons why people are increasingly disillusioned about resolutions, I am mindful of three possible reasons. Firstly, maybe people are plain busy. They do not need resolutions to increase their level of busyness. The oft-quoted busy and fast-paced society is a catch all for telling people to buzz-off. From the dismissing of the door-to-door salesmen to the unsolicited advertisements on the telephone, people do not like to be disturbed. They want to be left alone to do their own things. They want their privacy. They protect their own turf. Busyness or statements of busyness are tools to aid that protection of their individual time and personal space. The question is then not about what we are busy with, but what are we busy FOR?

  • What is the purpose of rushing from one place to another?
  • What is the reason behind packing all our daily calendars with appointments and meetings without any sense of purpose?
  • What is the true meaning behind the words: "I'm busy"?
  • What are the fruits of our busyness?

Secondly, perhaps, people are comfortably apathetic. They prefer to think that humanitarian appeals on TV to fight drunk driving, child abuse, animal rights, environmental concerns, are scams. Moreover, several of these organizations are always asking for money. With their bloated administration and commercials that attempt to manipulate the heart to give, why should anyone pay any serious attention to them? What if the donations end up in the pockets of corrupted officials and siphoned away somewhere else?

In apathy, one asks why should people know when they already know so much? With the Internet, anything can be googled. Why should people care about local matters? Isn't the government supposed to take care of the poor and the vulnerable in society? Are there not enough non-profit groups to go around supporting all the needy?

Thirdly, maybe people do not see the need to care at all. After all, if they care, what happens if nobody cares for the carers? Seeing no benefit in return, many simply chooses to go ahead and do their own things that will generate some kind of returns for their time, energy, and money. Some civil servants tend to be some of the most nonchalant people I know. When asked about anything, a famous response is this:

"If I bend my back to help you, who bends their back to help me?"

With one dismissive statement, the civil worker goes about his/her own work, preferring to obey the rules instead of creatively thinking of ways to go about helping the person in need. I know of some civil servants who are truly diligent in their public service. Yet, I cannot help but lament at the culture of 'playing by the book' being placed at a higher ground before the needs of the people.

C) The Need to Be Purposeful

The three reasons above can be called the ABCs of purposeless living. In A=Apathy, we basically do not know and do not care. In more serious cases, one does not even want to know or care. In B=Busyness, one is simply to busy and harried to know or to care about anything. In C=Care-less-ness, one asks the question:

"If I care, who cares for me?"

My point is this. Simply because our previous year's resolutions have not been kept fully or perfectly, does not mean the whole resolution thing is useless. Think about the school curriculum at the beginning of every school year. Imagine if school teachers on Day 1 of each semester say that there is no need for any curriculum. Will it not wreak havoc on the expectations of parents, and stunt the standards of education in schools all over the country?

Think about a business that does not have a mission or a measurable business goal. If that is the case, on what basis are business policies and strategies going to be based on? Subjective reasons? What about the key standards of operations for transportation schedules? If airlines, trains, and public buses do not adhere or improve on their specific standards of service, the public will be in for a lot of inconveniences.

For us personally, are we going to set a bar so low, (or no bar) for ourselves this year, that we do not improve ourselves at all?

Resolutions may not be perfect, but they set a certain path and guide us in our own standards of excellence. Doing away with any key objectives may even mean a license not to accomplish anything!

D) Resolve Purposefully with SMART

Let me suggest the SMART way to resolve purposefully. If you are intending to do anything for the new  year, use this as a guide.

S=Specific: Be clear about what is the resolution. (Example: I resolve to read more books.)

M=Measurable: Your objectives need to be quantified either by time, a target, or a number. (Example: I resolve to read 10 books from at least 2 different genres.)

A=Attainable: Our goals need to be achievable and realistic with the amount of time we have. (Example: I resolve to set aside 2 hours per week to read.)

R=Relevant: Doing something for the sake of doing something is silly. When we make resolutions, we want it to help us be better persons. Thus, the resolution needs to be relevant to our needs. (Example: I resolve to read about how to lose weight, cook, or practice a new skill)

T=Timing: This is the all-important time variable. A year is 365 days long. If we have no schedule or timing, we may be caught up in the year end rush, like shopping, work commitments, family responsibilities and so on. Plan ahead. (Example: I resolve to read at least 5 books by June, and another 5 by December)

Be smart. Resolve to do something meaningful this year. Do not be swayed by the dismissive manner in which our society treats resolution making. Let them laugh. Let them ignore the importance. Let them pooh-pooh away its significance. For us, we have work to do. Let us work SMART. If something is worth doing, it is worth resolving to do it.

May our hearts and minds be centered on Christ, that as we work SMART. Set our bars high for our own spiritual journey. Set our minds on bars higher: Things above. May each action this year, be a testimony of us seeking Christ deeper.


Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Four Reasons to Hope (Canadian Junior Hockey Team 2012)

They breezed through the round robin, scoring huge wins over their opponents. They played on home ice with sellout crowds cheering them all the way. So good were they that they became the first team to enter the semi-finals. Hopes were inflated. When Canada realized their semi-final opponents were to be their archrival, Russia, tensions rose to fever pitch levels. This game was a must win for Canada. Pride and the right to play for the gold medal was at stake.

(Credit: hockeycanada.ca)
Halfway through the second of three periods, the Canadian junior hockey team were down 6-1. All hopes were gone. The cheers were gone. So were the spirits of the young men representing Canada. Yet, one goal after another, the boys fought back. From 6-1, they returned with a vengeance to put in 4 unanswered goals to make the scoreline a respectable 6-5. At the final buzzer during the final period, the Canadians had out-shot the Russians 56-24. At the last minute, one slap-shot hit the post. Canada lost their first game in the tournament, albeit a game that they simply have to win. For pride. For country. For Canada. They lost. Did they?

I admit. When the score was 6-1, I turned off the TV. I cannot bear to even think how bad the final scoreline could be. Somehow, when I turned the TV back on for some glimmer of hope, I saw the score reduced to 6-3. Then it was 6-4, and finally 6-5. I saw the Canadian players mastering everything they have. I saw the crowds standing up with passion. I saw the Russians becoming eaten with fear during the last 5 minutes of the game. Even though Canada lost, the spirits of the players did not. I feel that they had already won their mental battle. They have also won the hearts of the people. Mind you, for Russia to come back last year from 3-0 is one thing For Canada to come back from 6-1 is another.

Here are 4 reasons to cheer than to jeer. The Canadian junior hockey team can lift their heads up high, instead of hanging their heads down low.

#1 - Never Say Die

Never say die! This is the single biggest reason for the Canadian team in yesterday's hockey game. At 6-1, when most people think the game is over, the entire team regroup and recharge themselves with fire. Each goal gives them an additional reason for pressing on. Every shot counts. Every goal counts. Every cheer matters. I like the way the Canadians regain their composure to fight back. Mind you, it is a lousy feeling to be down by 5 goals. Yet, it could have been worse, but the never say die spirit lives on. The 4 comeback goals is a testimony to that fighting spirit.

#2 - Lessons Learned, Humility

The scale of victories in the World Junior Hockey series is a telltale sign of the opportunity to mature. See how Canada overwhelms their opponents. They thrash Finland 8-1. They beat the Czech Republic 5-1. They rolled over Denmark 10-2. They defeated USA 3-2. With every game a great win, it is so easy to become arrogant and complacent. Perhaps, the margins and the ease of victory have created a sense of victory mirage. The lesson here to learn is that victory is important but one cannot allow it to freeze up our heads with arrogance. No doubt, there is some in the Canadian camp. May this loss to Russia reminds the junior teams and future generations that it is important to differentiate hype from reality. As long as Canadian juniors learn this well, they will be even more formidable next time.

#3 - Play Your Game, Ability

The reason why the Canadians lost is because they fail to play their own game well enough. They let the Russians intimidate them too much. The Canadian team fortunately perform a Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde transformation in the second half of the game. This is when they are able to come together to stick to their game plan. When self-belief returns, the goals will come. See how the four goals come together? Perhaps, with time, they will do much better. The world may look at the missing goal to tie the game. I prefer to look at the way Canada came back with four amazing comeback goals.

#4 - The Gold Will Come Sooner

As long as the learning continues. As long as the fighting spirit is kept high. As long as the self-belief continues, Canada will get the coveted Gold much sooner than later. There is no reason to be ashamed even though they lost the game. To the Canadian Junior Hockey Team 2012, I salute you for a job well done. You have played with passion and pride. You have given whatever you can, given the circumstances. You have fought back with gusto. You may have lost a game, but your fightback have won many hearts. Now go win the bronze! I believe you can do it.

Go Canada Go!


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