Friday, March 30, 2012

Getting Ready for Palm Sunday

This Sunday is more than simply an ordinary Sunday. In the Christian calendar, it is also known as Palm Sunday, the day in which Jesus was greeted with palms, and shouts of joy with celebration of a coming king. This event is significant enough for all four gospel writers to record. (Matthew 21; Mark 11; Luke 19; John 12). Here are the similarities.
  • All four gospel writers recorded Jesus' request to untie and to bring a colt (young donkey) to him.
  • All the people were excited about the coming king
  • All the people celebrated with raised arms and palm leaves
  • It was a joyous occasion and a remarkable flashback to the prophecy in the Old Testament.
  • Shouts of 'Hosanna!' rang throughout.
Palm Sunday marks the beginning of what we commonly call Passion Week. Amid the happy throngs and celebratory atmosphere, Jesus knows that there is more than meets the eye.
  • The people were expected a kingly figure to ride on a majestic horse, but Jesus came on a never been ridden colt;
  • The people expected Jesus to be the one to liberate them from Roman bondage. Instead Jesus will soon be arrested and executed under the Roman authorities
  • The people thought that this is the beginning of the end of Roman rule. Little did they know that Palm Sunday begins the road to Calvary, to liberate all mankind from the rule of sin.
As we get ready for Palm Sunday, it is important to remind ourselves to learn to see from God's perspective, rather than to be stuck in human perspective. Watch this video and see the difference.


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Our Responsibilities Trump Any Me-First Attitudes

Last week, a resident in my community wrote a letter to complain that she 'awfully tired' of having to pay for public transit services that she does not use. Published on the 23rd of March 2012, she wrote in Tri-City news,

"Don’t believe me? Let’s recap. Lower Mainland mayors, including those in the Tri-Cities, got together last fall and voted to have all drivers shell out two cents more per litre at the pump to pay for a public transit line. I’m supposed to pay for a transit line I’ll never use, so that someone else can have a better ride? I am supposed to ensure my neighbour who doesn’t drive has faster, better, more comfortable transit service? Really?" (Letter from Francine Maxwell, Port Moody)

One can tell that she is frustrated about having to pay more at the gas pump for her car. The logic is this. Why should car drivers be punished simply because they use a car? If they do not use the bus or the subway, they should not be paying for it right?

Not so simple.

This week, one reader rebutted her logic. In his letter entitled, "In a democracy, we pay for greater good," S Hyde explained that democracy does not always mean fairness to everyone. In a democracy, there is no room for a 'me-first attitude,' but to accept that in a democracy, the public good trumps over individual benefits. Hyde has a point. After all, in any election, a majority vote will win the election. Even if the winning vote is puny, democracy submits that the winner is the one with the most votes.

While I am not so sure about the part of 'greater good,' I feel that Hyde has some good pointers. Here is his direct response to Ms Maxwell.

"I don’t have kids who attend public schools and I have fortunately never had a hospital stay but I am informed enough to realize people require an education and, if sick or hurt, access to get medical attention. By your logic, we shouldn’t have to pay for schools, public parks, recreation centres, health care, employment insurance, roads, etc. if we never use them." (S Hyde, Port Moody)

As I think about it, there are many things that I pay on a monthly basis that I hardly use. For example, the Medical Health Plan, where hundreds of dollars each month have to be paid to the BC Government in order to pay for medical services throughout the province. Based on the logic of a 'if-I-don't-use-it-I-don't-pay' attitude, it makes funding or planning for any medical infrastructure impossible.  As responsible residents in any city or community, we all have a role to play. Paying taxes is one role that we do. Not everything can be made fair for everybody. I think of the recent gas tax increase that had been approved by the respective mayors, I frown at the list of mayors who voted against the proposal. For example, the mayors from Burnaby, Richmond, and New Westminster all voted against the additional 2 cents per litre of gas surcharge throughout the province. On the one hand, I understand that they are representing the interests of their respective cities. On the other hand, I wonder how they will vote if they do not already have a transit system in their cities. Mind you, Burnaby, New Westminster, and most recently, Richmond have already had a world class skytrain system built in their cities. What makes me disappointed is that the opposition was led by a Richmond mayor, whose city of Richmond is the beneficiary of an over $2 billion Canada Line, paid largely by tax payers all over BC and Canada!

Personally, I dislike paying more taxes. I get irritated each time I watch the pump prices go up. Having said that, we do not run a country on the basis of feelings, whether we like it or not. Neither do we conduct ourselves based on "what's in it for me" atttitude. If everyone cares only for themselves, there is no community.

Well said, Mr S. Hyde. We need to be reminded on a regular basis that we live in a city and we need to live up to our responsibilities as city dwellers. I cautiously applaud his 'greater good' logic because there are some things in which we cannot apply the greater good explanation. For example, what if a person has a rare illness and cannot afford medical care? What about the marginalized who remain on the fringes of society, and are considered a minority?


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Great Book for Personal Evangelism

TITLE: JUST WALK ACROSS THE ROOM: Simple Steps Pointing People to Faith
AUTHOR: Bill Hybels
PUBLISHED: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan 2006, (224 pages).

This simple book is a very readable and empowering book on personal evangelism. Like John Ortberg's "If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Get Out of the Boat," this book aims to encourage Christians to learn to be bold and to overcome any fear about sharing one's faith. In typical Hybels-style, this book is filled with personal stories of how he himself has overcome personal reservations and to embark upon a genuine sharing of his faith with people he meets on a normal day. He turns ordinary moments into holy moment. As Christ followers, we need to walk like Christ, to learn to walk to other people and to share the good news of the Kingdom of God. He starts with a powerful story of how he managed to share the gospel with a Muslim man. Without coercion, he tells of the story of grace and the free gift of salvation. The result was a wonderful time of honest and open sharing from both persons.

Far too often, we allow our fears of rejection, and the desire to keep the peace through assuming people dislike our gospel. The truth is, there are people who will be more than open to listen, as long as we get their permission. Unlike certain evangelistic activities that are short-term fads, seed sowing is the activity that sustains evangelism in the long run. Hybels talks about the 3Ds of personal evangelism: Developing friendships, Discovering stories, and Discerning next steps. Whether one is telling Bible stories, personal testimonies or other types of stories, one needs to learn 4 things:
  1. Keep it brief
  2. Make it clear
  3. Keep it simple
  4. Be humble as you share.
The good news is not about what we are doing or going to do. It is about what Christ has done for all mankind. Hybels takes a leaf from Greg Ferguson's song entitled, "Peacemaker" to highlight the need to show Christ as:

"Peacemaker. Fear-taker. Soul-soother Storm-smoother.
Light-shiner. Lost-finder. Cloud-lifter. Deliverer.

Mind-clearer. Sigh-hearer. Hand-holder. Consoler.
Wound-binder. Tear-drier. Strength-giver. Provider.
Peacemaker to me. "  (163)
The entire book is not difficult to read. In fact, it is one of the best books on practical steps on everyday evangelism. Hybels reminds us that we do not need big brains or large groups to share the gospel. We need a big heart of willingness, and a humble approach to ask for permission to share, and when given, to share gladly and generously.


Monday, March 26, 2012

"Intolerance of Tolerance"

Recently, Dr Albert Mohler interviewed D.A.Carson on his new book entitled, "The Intolerance of Tolerance" published by Eerdmans in Jan 2012. The key idea in the book and the interview is that modernism has redefined the meaning of what tolerance is. It is not longer allowing one to stand for what one believes, but to bow down to the modernist expectation of keeping one's views to themselves, and not to rock the boat of existing paradigms. In every culture, there is a strain of intolerance, even secular circles. For example, anyone who makes a stand against homosexuality, will be branded 'intolerant.' New media and many public figures will on the one hand trumpet 'tolerance' for all, but on the other hand, be very quick to lambast and criticize anybody for taking a stand against the gay agenda. One is no longer allowed to tell another person that he/she is wrong. Carson adds that in a culture where:

"And they could say the same to me. So, tolerance did not mean that everybody was pretending to say the same thing; it meant that there were no public coercive powers that were exerted to force people to be in line as to what they thought and what they taught in public. But for all kinds of complex reasons, increasingly tolerance means that in a variety of domains you mustn’t say that somebody else is wrong. You might even go so far as to say that they’re all equally right, and if you criticize anybody for anything, then you are intrinsically intolerant. Now that’s a massive change and it becomes actually publically dishonest."

So, Carson is pointing out that the very people that champions tolerance for all, turn out to be intolerant toward certain people, especially Christians, or anyone speaking out against certain popular positions. Carson's new book is not new on this subject. Several years ago, Josh McDowell has already identified the cultural movement that we are in right now. In "The New Tolerance," McDowell and Hostetler list the two different understanding of tolerance.

#1: Traditional: "to recognize and respect other positions without necessarily sharing them."

#2 - New: "truth is relative to the community in which a person participates. And since there are many human communities, there are necessarily many different truths." (Josh McDowell and Bob Hostetler, A New Tolerance, Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1998, 18)

The difference between the two comes out strongly in the modern era. While in the past, the word 'tolerance' keeps disagreements at a healthy distance, the new tolerance essentially compromises any idea of an absolute truth.

Carson brings this idea farther, saying that even those standing up for truth are being crushed by the oppressive worldview to conform to the new tolerance. This view is in itself bigotry. He goes on to make this statement:

"The greatest intolerance we need to fear is the intolerance of the one who believes that we have this best of imaginable news and it is not our obligation to share it with everyone." (DA Carson)

Agreeing but in a different way, McDowell and Hostetler proposes 5 ways to implement a 'new apologetic' that can enable Christians to shine as stars in such an 'intolerant culture.'

  1. Develop Community: so that people know without a doubt that we have a vested interest in the betterment of everyone in it, rather than only one faith group
  2. Show Compassion: so that people know that Christians truly care for people.
  3. Protect Creation: so that Christians gain credibility with an increasingly environmentally conscious generation
  4. Foster Good Family: so that Christians can magnify Christ's goodness through strong marriages and family relationships
  5. Compelling Personal Testimony: so that people can recognize that the Christian witness is real in the lives of real people.

For me, a new society that depends on tolerance to live on is basically building relationships on sand. Tolerance about everything means we stand for nothing. The battleground is not tolerance or intolerance per se. The battleground is truth, and we need to be able to continually engage one another to distill truth in all positions. After all, truth in itself has no error. All errors have in themselves a bit of truth here and there. Do we tolerate errors? No. That is why Christians are called to press on to proclaim the truth on two fronts. Be open to correction, but at the same time, affirm the truth of the gospel, but always doing them in gentleness and humility.


Friday, March 23, 2012

Things are Not Well? It Never Has Been.

Things are not going well right now in Canadian society. The economy is struggling. The common man in the street is not happy. Workers in many public sectors are not happy. Families are not happy. From airline strikes to school teachers' job actions, it seems like the long arm of the struggling economy is suffocating the plans of many people. The wildcat strikes yesterday in Toronto by some baggage handlers working for Air Canada is only the tip of the iceberg. As management cuts costs, they are also making their employees unhappy, disgruntled, and downright angry. Over in British Columbia, the teachers union has said enough is enough. They are standing up for their rights. They claim that the Provincial Government has taken away their right to strike. By the way, gas prices are rising.

Things are not well in Canada, a first world nation. A country with solid AAA financial credit rating. A land of massive natural resources and people well known for being nice. For many newcomers to Canada, it is certainly an eye-opener of the extent of goodness the nation has. There is a universal health plan that basically ensures affordable medical benefit for all, even the most dire health conditions. There is free public education for children and needy people. There are community centers and recreational facilities that house some of the most modern equipment in the world. Come Summer, many outdoor events are free. The natural beauty is a sight to behold, and free to view. Libraries are free.

Yet, things are not well in the workplace. The ongoing strikes and labour problems occurring in many parts of the country are crippling the economy. People blame one another. Workers blame the government. Governments blame the economy. Analysts blame the uncertain global economy. Some blame God.

As the saying goes, money makes the world go round. I like to add that the lack of money runs the world aground. If there is not enough money, governments cannot do much with the budgets, except to raise taxes risking the ire of regular taxpayers. It is typically the case. When the economy is well, the good times roll. When the tide turns for the worse, the bad times grow.

Good Times Hide It; Bad Times Show It

I think the bad has always been there. Good times hide it. Bad times reveal it. Like the computer operating system that slows down over time as more programs are installed. People blame the slowness on the poor operating system. Some blame the hardware saying that it is time to upgrade. Relatively few people blame the badly written software program. Good hardware often hides the problems of bad software. Many programmers have been guilty of writing bloated software containing additional stuff that users hardly use. Yet, the entire software comes as one package. The latest and the greatest hardware will tend to hide these problems through its advanced technologies. New hardware do not solve the problem. They merely solve the symptoms. This is precisely the case for many things in life. Good times hide the problem. Bad times reveal it.

In the Bible, there is one condition that has afflicted humankind far greater than we acknowledge: Sin. The Bible declares:

"for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Rom 3:23)

Sin corrupts the soul. It interrupts our journey toward God. It disrupts our lives in many different ways. One of these is relationships. From the home to the workplace, schools to holiday places, sin lurks. It makes people suspicious of people. It breeds negative sentiments. It pushes evil agendas even under the guise of many 'innocent' platforms. Sin is pervasive. Yet, many of us cannot truly understand what sin is, without comparing it to a standard. Norman Wakefield calls sin as 'a destructive power that cheats, robs, and kills the guilty and innocent alike.' He adds,

"It whispers in our soul's ear, telling us we deserve the forbidden fruit that will bring us pleasure and fulfillment. Like Novocain, it numbs our brains so we function on pure passion. But in the end, we discover that we've played the fool and are left with a stinking cesspool in our soul. Though we look at David's sordid episode and lament, 'How foolish. How could he commit such a wicked act?' deep in our hearts we know that we have been hewn from the same tree and are capable of the same evil." (Norman Wakefield, Who Gives a Rip About Sin?, Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2002, 12-13)
Sin works best when it hides under a cloak of innocence. We all like to claim we are victims of a particular system. Truth is, we often can do more good than we choose to admit. Perhaps, what is needed for many of us is not to think too highly of ourselves, but to think more accurately about our conditions. If we are wrong, say we are wrong. Even if we are right, there is no benefit to trumpet our rightness. Humility urges us to retain gentleness and move only when we absolutely have to. Above all, the best antidote to sin is grace. Reflecting on Henri Nouwen's classic work on the Parable of the Prodigal Son, Mark McMinn shares:

"I was captured by Nouwen's story and his book. He was right - sin and forgiveness were embracing. The father's lavish mercy could not be understood without the story of the son's outlandish rebellion and rejection of the father." (Mark McMinn, Why Sin Matters, Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 2004, 4)

Things are certainly not well with the economy, the people, and Canadian society at large. In fact, things have never been well in the first place, since the Fall at the Garden of Eden. This is because sin has gripped the world in more ways than we truly know.

One book I am currently reading for review has a perfect subtitle for today's reflection. It is called, "Glorious Mess - encountering God's relentless grace for imperfect people." I think about it, and I have to agree that we are sustained not by our acts of standing up for our rights, but by the receiving of God's grace to us. Jerry Bridges says it well in his book, The Discipline of Grace:

"Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God's grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God's grace." (Jerry Bridges, The Discipline of Grace, Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2006, 19)

There is hope. Whether the times are good or bad, God does not want to merely address the external symptoms of our worldly problems. He is not interested merely in the facade of our daily living. He wants to reach out to our hearts, in both good times, and the bad, the ups and the downs, the joys and the despairs. Sin will deceive us. Sin will break us. Sin will destroy us.  It is ultimately God's grace that will save us from ourselves. Perhaps, in the light of the troubling events happening in the Canadian scene, I like to suggest 3 things that Christians can do. I call it UPS of life.

U - Understand

Read widely. Read with an eye to understand as many different points of views as possible. Whenever there is a strike, or a work disruption, there is often more than meets the eye. Workers do not strike without a reason. Companies do not make policies without rationale. Understanding the different points of view is key to any constructive actions.

P - Prayer

Christians are called to pray at all times, not just the bad. In fact, in prayer, we acknowledge that without God, we can do nothing. In prayer, we put our hearts' deepest yearnings before God. In prayer, we submit to the Sovereignty of God. In prayer, we be open to the leading of the Spirit of God.

S - Serve

We are called to serve wherever we are. Make every effort to do all the good that we can in our various communities. Work it. Share it. Blog it. Communicate the needs. Always do so by showing true humility to all people.

Yes, all is not well. Let us not make it worse. Let us not fight ourselves silly. Remember who the real enemy is.


Thursday, March 22, 2012

Regent Conference: "Thinking Together About Aging"

Aging. We have all heard of the aging population in the developed parts of the world, or the first world nations. As people live longer, pressure will mount on each nation's healthcare and medical costs. Physically, aging people will face the common problems associated with aging, like fatigue, body aches, slowness, and deteriorating physical dexterity. Mentally, many suffer from dementia, attention deficits, memory loss, etc. Emotionally, there will be problems associated with a withdrawal from the normal work life, and a gradual lack of interest and care from the rest of society. The challenges are many, especially in a technological world where speed is worshiped, and the youthfulness is cherished above many. What does it mean to age well? What are the biblical considerations for aging? These are many more will be dealt with at this conference.

Here is a great opportunity to learn from four learned individuals. Two of them are men and the other two are women. Three of them are former full-time faculty of Regent College while the fourth is a Laing lecturer back in 2004. If you add up all of their ages together, it will be more than 300 years of wisdom and experience.

A snippet from the publicity brochure:

"More people are living longer today than in any time in history. Seniors are the fastest-growing age group in North America. Yet neither Church nor culture seems adequately prepared to face the needs, the costs, and moral consequences of this 'grey tsunami.' Cultural models for meeting the challenge of aging either are based on denial or succumb to despair. Aging in hopelessness is misery, aging in false hope is ruinous, aging with no forward look at all is pathetic. Could the biblical vision of human life offer us a more realistic, more ethical, and more hopeful understanding of age and aging? Join one of Canada's leading public intellectuals and three of Regent's own gifted and beloved scholars as they think about the implications and the opportunities that this next great challenge offers us."

  1. May 18th, Friday 7pm: "Courageous Aging: Finding a Parth Beyond Denial or Despair." (Maxine Hancock)
  2. May 19th, Saturday 9am: "The Challeng of Aging for the Culture and the Church." (James M Houston)
  3. May 19th, Saturday 10.45am: "An Aging Society as a Litmus Test of our Ethics." (Margaret Somerville)
  4. May 19th, Saturday 2.45pm: "Toward the Blessed Hope: An Eschatology for the Aging." (James I Packer)

All are excellent speakers. Register now at Regent College conference site here before April 20 and save.

I recommend this conference for all. Register here.


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Bye Kindle. Sob!

I like my Amazon Kindle. I like the fact that I can carry many different books in one device. I like the portability and the compact unit. I like the e-ink technology which makes reading so pleasing to the eye. In fact, it looks like real paper even though it does not feel the same. The battery life is excellent and the range of e-books selections continue to grow at an astronomical rate. 

One last look at my Kindle
Unfortunately, today I have to say goodbye to this little unit. I am sending it back. Reluctantly, I am returning it back to Amazon simply because of one factor. It freezes after I try to highlight or bookmark certain sections of any book. Each freezing of the screen means I cannot do anything except to wait for the Kindle to respond. Each freezing means about 5 minutes of wait-time. Each wait time means my reading is interrupted. Each call to Amazon support tells me to reboot my Kindle via a hard reset or software upgrade. Each hard reset needs about 5 minutes to boot up. It is futile. While the Amazon support staff have been extremely helpful to try to resolve the problem, there seems to be an inherent problem in the Kindle software's ability to handle more than a few hundred books. I have more than 1000 books on my Kindle, less than one-third of the 3500 capacity in Amazon's marketing brochure. Amazon even sent me a replacement unit, but the problem still remains. Amazon says I have too many books on my Kindle. I say Amazon's Kindle is not performing according to what they are claiming. 

Sob! Bye Kindle. Now I have to decide if I want to get another e-ink Kindle and fill it with lesser number of books, or to upgrade to the Fire. Tough choice. I like the e-ink for its readability, and the Fire for its stability and reliability. If only Amazon can give me both! 


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Christian Family Tree

Sometimes we get asked: "Why are there so many denominations in Christianity?" With more different groups like independent churches and non-denominational branches, it gets more complicated. Even believers themselves are confused. This tree is a good introduction to appreciate the Christian Family Tree. Thanks to my friend's church website. He is a church planter at Dundee Covenant Church.

(Credit: Dundee Covenant Church)

This follows another picture of denominations that has been going around the Internet recently. Compared to the tree, this second picture is a little more cynical.


Friday, March 09, 2012

LEADERSHIP: Intention, Attention, and Retention

It's Friday again. I like to share some thoughts about the three stages of leadership.

Leadership that begins with a noble intention, needs to be sustained by attention to the big-picture. At the end of the journey, the measurement of their success is tied to the retention of core team members who will have grown not just as achievers of targets set, but have developed into a more mature individuals.

There are generally three stages of the leadership journey; before, during, and after the journey. The first stage is the intention where the leader will chart the course and communicate this forward to team members. Many people call this the visioning stage. Others call it the preparatory or the consolidation of resources prior to the big task. Pat Williams, a popular leadership guru calls vision the first side of leadership. For him, 'the vision powers the mission.' This is so true. A person who has a big purpose in life (vision) will energized to accomplish whatever it takes (mission) to fulfill this purpose (vision). The mission may not succeed, but the results of that do not preclude the leader from trying another different method (mission 2). Closely related to vision is the intentionality of it all.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Book Giveaway: "Healing Your Church Hurt"

Thanks to Tyndale House Publishers, I am able to offer the book, "Healing Your Church Hurt" by Stephen Mansfield, as a giveaway prize. You can read the synopsis of the book below. Here are the instructions.

(A) What You Need to Know
  • In order to participate and enter the draw, just make a comment on this post with your name and email address. (Alternatively, you can email me your name and contact at yapdates @
  • Your address will only be used for the purpose of this book giveaway.
  • The draw will be held on 16 March 2012, 6pm Pacific time.
  • This offer is valid only to addresses in Canada and the continental United States. 
  • If selected, I will email you a confirmation.
  • All decision made will be final.
This book giveaway has been made possible by Tyndale House Publishers.

(B) Book Synopsis:
"If you’ve been part of a church, you have probably suffered a 'church hurt'—or know someone who has. Maybe the pastor had an affair or the congregation fought over money or the leaders were disguising gossip as 'prayer.' Stephen Mansfield knows how it feels. Though he is now a New York Times bestselling author, he was a pastor for more than 20 years, and he loved it—until he learned how much a church can hurt. Yet he also learned how to dig out of that hurt, break through the bitterness and anger, stop making excuses, and get back to where he ought to be with God and his people. If you’re ready to choose the tough path to healing, Mansfield will walk you through it with brotherly love, showing you how you can be better than ever on the other side of this mess—if you’re willing to start Healing Your Church Hurt. Previously published as ReChurch."

(C) Book Resources

Thanks for reading my blog.


Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Exhortation for Young Leaders

Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 7 Mar 2012

"Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men." (Titus 3:1-2)

Last week, I preached on the passage above in my Church. Making a passionate plea for believers to obey their authorities, I maintain that being able to subject ourselves willingly under the leadership of our respective communities is in itself a mark of a believer. The verses in Titus above urge us to:

  • submit to the authorities that have been legitimately elected
  • to be obedient and be law abiding citizens
  • to be ready to keep doing good
  • to refrain from slandering anybody
  • to refuse to create a racket to stir up trouble for people
  • to demonstrate true humility toward all people.
In this article, I like to firstly make some observations of the current labour problems in BC. Then I will talk about biblical submission to authorities, followed by giving 5 tips for new and young leaders.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Book Review: "Invitation to Biblical Interpretation"

A more detailed review is available at my Book Blog located here at "Panorama of a Book Saint."

TITLE: Invitation to Biblical Interpretation: Exploring the Hermeneutical Triad of History, Literature, and Theology (Invitation to Theological Studies Series)
AUTHOR: Andreas J. Kostenberger and Richard D. Patterson
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2011, (896 pages).

This book is a gift to the theological community, seminaries, libraries, churches, and organizations that want to grow in learning to interpret the Bible better. With nearly 900 pages, this book packs in a lot of material. Primarily written for teachers and students, there is a lot for pastors, missionaries, teachers at various Christian organizations to benefit from. The key thesis of this book is the Hermeneutical Triad (HT) in which biblical interpretation can to be done through a journey metaphor which incorporates three components: the historical contexts, the literary genres, and the theological implications. While the concept is not exactly new, the term HT is.

I like this book for its graciousness to the other previous two models highlighted, and its very clear manner in which it describes the triad of biblical interpretation. The authors are able to highlight the strengths of each 'geometric figure' without diluting their own model. In fact, they are spot on in saying that this proposed 'hermeneutical triad' framework does not mean it is necessarily 'superior' to the hermeneutical circle or spiral. It complements. Having said that, the authors are convinced that their hermeneutical triad of history, literature, and theology bears the following uniqueness:

  • In contrast to the Hermeneutical Spiral (HS), the hermeneutical triad (HT) moves from the specific to the general, which allows a more succinct application purposes;
  • Instead of beginning with word studies, HT begin with context;
  • Instead of beginning with genre-based interpretations, HT utilizes genre+canon; from syntax first to biblical discourse first; from semantics to meaning.
  • In history, HT enables the appreciation of how God reveals himself in history
  • In literature, HT looks at the Bible literary from three angles: canon, genre, and language.
  • In theology, HT summarizes the historical and the literary into a theological understanding. 
  • HT blends in interpretive task with methodical systems.

The system is designed for teachers and students to be trained in the Hermeneutical Triad. Using the journey metaphor, the authors guide the reader each step of the way, presenting a plan at the beginning of each chapter, filling in the blanks as one travels along, making observations and conclusions, and throughout the process, inviting the student and reader to maintain a stance of interpretation that keeps together history, literature, and theology as one whole. What I appreciate is that the authors take pains to ensure that interpretative and application comes hand in hand. It is not to be an afterthought but to be a constant thought. It is not to be relegated toward the end, but considered throughout the interpretive process. Even though there is a last chapter that is specifically called 'Application and Proclamation,' I suspect it is there simply because the general reader intuitively expects it to be there, much like one expects to pay for food after ordering the items. This final part deals with study preparations, sermon outlines, and the specific ways in which the various kinds of Bible books can be preached. The wealth of resources, Bible helps, both electronic and printed materials, are given toward the end of the book to enable the interested student to benefit from. The sermon tips are especially helpful because preaching is indeed one of the most powerful applications of any interpretive task. The guidelines for applications are especially helpful. Moreover, the book enables the systematic learning in parts as student, so that at the end of the journey, one will naturally be able to synthesize it back together again. This in itself is a valuable reason to read/buy this book!


My verdict: The serious student needs to read this book. Preachers will benefit from reading this book and learning its sermon outlines. Teachers will find this book a very good introductory textbook to use in their hermeneutics classes. Pastors will appreciate the many strands of historical, literary, and theological frameworks this book offers. The layperson will find that this book is very readable as it explains technical theological terms in simple language. Still, I recommend that the newbie student have a mentor to guide one through the nuances of the various biblical theologies and hermeneutical models.

I am full of praise for this edition, and I believe that there will be many more editions and additions of material to come in the years ahead. The Hermeneutical Triad is the new landmark in the field of hermeneutics. If I am teaching hermeneutics, this book will definitely be my main textbook.

Ratings: 5 stars of 5.


This book has been provided to me free by Kregel Publications without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered belong to me unless otherwise stated.

Monday, March 05, 2012

"I Am Second" (Doug Bender and Dave Sterrett)

TITLE: I Am Second: Real Stories. Changing Lives.
AUTHOR: Doug Bender and Dave Sterrett
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2011, (246 pages).

This is a book that brings together stories of ordinary people who experience the high of achievements in their respective areas of difference, and being cruelly brought down by the circumstances of life. Following the pain, the sorrow, and the torment of being thrown at the bottom of the pit, the protagonists in each chapter find hope, meaning, and purpose as they receive a second chance. More importantly, this second leash of life begins with a confident declaration that one is no longer a self-seeking 'I am first.' Instead, it is a brand new attitude that is not shy to say: "I am second."

The twenty stories in this book have essentially this message, that "I am second, because God is first." Through the pop singer Brian 'Head' Welch, we read about how Welch learns the futility of money, pleasure, and fame, and that these things do not really matter as much as he thought in the journey of life. Michelle Aguilar tells of how her parents' broken marriage affects her self-image, and subsequently her relationship with her mum. Even after winning the TV series, 'The Biggest Loser,' she is able to attribute her inner strength and motivation back to God. There is also a pastor struggling with a life of duplicity where he is a porn addict on one hand, and a pastor on the other hand. There is He confesses that his road to recovery begins when he confesses himself as a broken and needy person, and found support in an accountability group. There are stories of drug addictions, failed relationships, the futility of fame and riches, of recovery from racial hatred, war ethical dilemmas, marriages broken and healed, and others. One of the most visible stories is that of Bethany Hamilton whose bravery in coming back to the surfing scene despite losing her left arm to sharks has inspired the making of the movie, "Soul Surfer." There are many more well-known personalities who tell of their riches-rags-zero-newlife transformation. All of them have one thing in common, that God is first, and they are happily second.

Closing Thoughts

It is difficult not to be moved by the openness and honesty as each testimony speaks of the wonderful feeing of being #2 in a world that is crazy about being #1. The authors of the book have helpfully pointed readers to other similar stories on the Internet. Conveniently stored in the "" website, there are videos, audios, and pictures to supplement the book. This book is powerful in at least three ways. Firstly, it reminds us of the futility of putting our hopes in the things of the world. Worldly things are temporal and will not last the length of time. Secondly, it reminds us that there is hope in God. The world picks and chooses what it deems suitable at that time, place and circumstances. God accepts people regardless of the ups and downs of life. Thirdly, it gives us a brand new meaning and purpose in life, which comes very powerfully when we declare "I am Second."

As I think about the white chair on the book cover, and how each person in the story sits to tell their testimonies, I see the symbolism the following way. An empty chair symbolizes that the invisible God is first sitting on the chair. It is the grace of God that invites individuals to come and sit with God, and to learn intimately that there is no shame in "I am second." All of us will have a chance to sit on the chair and to experience renewed hope and joy in our lives. Most importantly, these experiences are but glimpses of our eternal life in God. A life in Jesus that will last and last and last.

Rating: 4.5 of 5.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Persecution in the West?

Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 1 Mar 2012

It has been widely believed that society in the West is not only increasingly more secular, it is more anti-Christian. In the classrooms, anything religious, especially any references to the Bible are readily tossed out under the excuse of: "No religion allowed in public arenas." In an infamous case several years ago in the US, prayer has been forbidden in public schools. Even the poor Christmas tree has not been spared, as one Ontario judge back in 2005 orders the removal of the poor plant based on the mistaken perception of it being a 'religious' tree.

Statistics appear dire. In Canada, while the general mood aims at promoting freedom of speech, of religious belief, of multicultural diversities, there is still a stigma with regards to Christianity in the marketplace. This has led to many Christian leaders saying that Christians in the West are being 'persecuted.' Just Google the phrase "Christians persecuted in America" and you will see a host of opinions about that, most of them agreeing that Christianity is under threat by militant secularism, the anti-Christ lobby in politics, the eroding ethical culture in various places, and so on. The big question of course is: "Is that true?" In this article, I will argue that Christians need not see persecution as a bad thing. In fact, persecution may very well be a sign that Christians are living out their faith actively and courageously.

A) No! Christians in the West are NOT Persecuted. Just Marginalized.

The word 'persecution' is a strong word. It has more to do with physical and mental torture. It has to do with the danger to one's life and emotional well-being. For example, here are two cases in which I believe the word persecution is apt. Take the case of the Iranian pastor, Youcef Nadarkhani, the former Muslim who embraced Christianity. His crime: Forsaking his Islamic faith, embracing Christianity, and sharing the gospel with fellow Muslims.

In the West, many people are free to believe whatever they want to believe. Is such freedom extended to countries like Iran? No.

Another example is Cheong Ching, a journalist who reports from mainland China. Back in 2005, he was charged and detained without trial for more than 1000 days. Before he was a believer, he harboured lots of anger against the injustice he experienced. He became a Christian while in prison, and the Bible literally changed his life and his perspective. Here is what he writes in his new book about his 1000 days ordeal. The South China Morning Post reports of Ching's spiritual search:

"At first I wasn't searching for Christ, but the philosophies of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism ... but these couldn't relieve my depression, until I picked up the Bible,"

While Ching's case is not as serious as the Iranian pastor's impending death by execution, both of these examples deserve the 'persecution' label. Christians in the West are not persecuted. They are simply marginalized. James Emery White notes this with much passion too.

"Compared to the violence against Christians in many places around the world, the answer is no. Christians in America experience nothing compared to the persecution of Christians in such places as Nigeria, Iran, Pakistan, Egypt or Syria." (James Emery White, "Are Christians in America under Attack?," Church and Culture Blog, Feb 23, 2012)
Instead, White claims that the real challenge for Western Christianity is the 'increasing hostility and intolerance toward Christian beliefs and values.' In a Western society that prides itself in trumpeting freedom of expression, an increasingly secular, materialistic, consumeristic, and individualistic society sees Christianity as a threat. The world sees the very stand that Christians make a significant threat to their way of licentious behaviour. That is the key reason for Christians being marginalized more and more.

B) Being Marginalized Is Not Exactly a Bad Thing

Here, I think of Christianity as a counter-culture kind of faith. I think of the beatitudes. The world tells us to be rich materially, that greed is good. Jesus tells us to be 'poor in spirit' (Matt 5:3). The world says to us to just mind our own business, grit our teeth and be tough, but Jesus urges us that 'blessed are those who mourn,' and in their mourning, we will be comforted (Matt 5:4). The world tells us that size matters, money talks, and power wins, but Jesus tells us 'blessed are the meek' (Matt 5:5). The world tells us that this is an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth world, where it is okay to exact vengeance. Jesus tells us, 'blessed are the peacemakers' (Matt 5:9).  Note how Jesus ends the beatitudes.

"Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." (Matt 5:10)

Here, Jesus uses the word 'dioko' for persecution which can also be translated as 'to pursue,' or to 'persecute.' It is a word that is tightly linked to a reason behind the persecution. Note the words, 'becuse of righteousness.' This begs the rhetorical question: If Christians are reprimanded, accused, even jailed for doing good acts of righteousness, what then is the problem?

The Iranian pastor stands up for what he believes in, an honest and earnest declaration of faith in Jesus. He is persecuted by threats of execution which can happen anytime. Cheong Ching, although not a believer then, has his life totally changed when he meets God in the Bible. He is now a force for doing good. Having gone through injustice and hardship, Ching knows what it means to be persecuted. The early Church grows quickly and mightily precisely because they recognize that persecution is part and parcel of being a Christian. Unfortunately, the comfortable Christian in the West does not see it that way. Many still believe a kind of 'prosperity gospel' that teaches that God wants us to be rich, as a result of God's almighty grace and unmerited favour. In many sermons throughout the Western Church, the messages tend to be more of giving nice advice about work matters, personal relationships, wonderful stories about life, instead of the gospel!

Being marginalized need not be seen as a bad thing. In fact, being marginalized can be seen as a sign of Christians making their presence felt. If Christians stand up for doing good in an environment where hooligans and thieves run amok, it is a good thing. If Christians join hands with environment activists in wanting to steward earth resources better, it is a good thing. If Christians affirm the rights of individuals to have affordable housing, better compassionate causes, caring for the elderly, and be actively involved in the development of children and teenagers in society, and get slammed for doing it, it is still a good thing.

C) Beyond the Three Monkey Philosophy

Better for a believer to be 'caught' in doing good when the media arrives. Better for the believer to be actively engaged in good for society whether the cameras are here or not. Better for the Church to be directly involved in the betterment of the neighbourhood they are in. In all of these acts of doing good, if the Church is then 'persecuted' in the name of Jesus, it is still a good thing.

Let me end with the very encouraging words of the social activist, Dr Martin Luther King Jr.
 "Never, never, be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way."

Remember the famous cartoon about three monkeys? All three of them deals with the response to evil: Don't see, don't listen, and don't speak. Unfortunately, such behaviour resembles too much like the donkey Benjamin in Animal Farm. In keeping quiet amid the evil and injustice occurring inside the farm, it leads to the unfortunate bullying of many other animals, and the demise of its best friend, Boxer the horse. No! Christians are not called to passively resist evil They are to be actively resist evil by doing good.

Three Wise monkeys Not Good Enough!

Let us not be easily discouraged when we do good in the name of Christ. In fact, any forms of hostility, intolerance, or persecution against Christians for speaking and living out the gospel of Jesus Christ is a testimony that we are living in the ways of Christ, not the world. Doing good is a good thing. To be persecuted for doing good is even better.


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