Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Merton's Thoughts in Solitude

From time to time, I will re-read this wonderful prayer by the Catholic monk, Thomas Merton. His words continue to offer guidance to those who are not sure what to do with their lives. I am certain there are many, even those who are in their retirement years, who are still uncertain of what is the purpose of their lives. May this prayer be a helpful guide as you seek God more.
"My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following Your will does not mean I am actually doing so.

"But I believe that the desire to please You does in fact please You.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that, if I do this,
you will lead me by the right road,
though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore I will trust you always
though I may seem to be lost
and in the shadow of death.

I will not fear, for You are ever with me,
and You will never leave me to face my perils alone." - Thoughts in Solitude

(Thomas Merton, Dialogues with Silence, HarperSanFrancisco, 2001, vii)

Monday, July 30, 2012

BookPastor >> "Love Without Walls"

This review was first published on 28 June 2012 at my book blog, "Panorama of a Book Saint" here.


TITLE: Love Without Walls: Learning to Be a Church In the World For the World (Leadership Network Innovation Series)
AUTHOR: Laurie Beshore
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012, (160 pages).

This book tears down vertical walls and builds horizontal bridges. It erases the mental barriers of "I can't" by replacing them with "In God, we can." Instead of trying to make needy people feel needier and dependent on handouts, Beshore argues powerfully for a change of "giveaway" mindset toward an empowering mentality. Far too many churches have adopted a "giveaway" culture that essentially disempowers the poor and the needy from helping themselves. The major disconnect is often the helpers, despite their good intentions, seeing people as problems to be solved rather than as people to relate with. This is the crux of a walled outreach. Such outreaches more often than not puts one's ministry and one's mission primary, and everyone else becomes secondary.  As a result, many church outreach programs feed into a "culture of poverty" which unfortunately causes a "lack of a sense of self-fulfillment, and a lack of a sense of hope or a sense that things can get better." Thankfully, Beshore goes on to provide renewed understanding of how outreach can make sense to the helpers and the people to be helped. One such initiative is the four-step "development funnel."

The first step is "Expose" where volunteers are need to take a fresh look at the usual excuses for not doing any outreach. When the convictions are there, busyness is not an excuse. Neither is lack of qualifications, or uncertainty about what to do. When one knows the whys, one will creatively find out the hows.

The second step is "Enfold." This means partnering with a member of the people we are trying to help. Not only is it able to help churches and ministries gain a deeper first hand understanding of the real needs and solutions, it gives churches a chance to build relationships and disciple the leading members of the community.

The third step is "Engage." This means that volunteers learn how to engage and when to disengage. When engaging, one learns to take ownership in learning and in relating. In disengaging, one learns how to let the people learn to help themselves. Through encouragement and engaging, one connects with the community meaningfully.

The fourth step is "Empower." This remains the key purpose of any outreach program. We cannot simply sit back and relax after firing a bullet of goodwill. We cannot behave like bombardier pilots who instead of "Bombs away," call out "Food and clothing dumped away!" Empowering people requires a sharing of biblical principles of why we do what we are doing. It is a process of learning, of giving, and of sharing.

My Thoughts

I am all praise for this book. It is small enough to read through quickly but my advice is "Don't." The book is soaked with much painful experience and valuable tips for outreach that we need to spend time soaking in learning experience. Patience is needed to understand the communities we are trying to help. Leadership is needed to navigate the highs and lows of outreach efforts, of recruiting people, and of training future leaders.

The constant refrain I am hearing is this. Outreach is not about programs. It is about people. That is why we must place relationships before any giveaways, involving people up close and personal instead of isolating them as Me-Giver, You-Receiver relational dichotomy. It takes a change of attitude to say that we, the potential givers, are actually the biggest beneficiaries of outreach. This ought to humble us to build more bridges, and at the same time tear down our walls of isolation. Only then, can we truly say our love is true. Outreach is about building bridges with planks of love. We cannot look at the gulf before us and get discouraged into non-action. Instead, we need to realize how deep God's love is for miserable old me, so that we can share the love of God, as one beggar showing another beggar where to find food.

Beshore's book needs to be read by anyone interested in outreach. For that matter, if a Church is made for the benefit of others, I believe it is required reading for anyone who is a leader in any Church. My praises for this book are not only filled to the brim, it is overflowing with gratitude to Beshore and the powerful ministry of Mariners Church.

Rating. 5 stars of 5.


This book is part of a blog tour with EngagingChurchBlog that runs from 25-29 June 2012, and is provided to me free by Zondervan without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Parenting Poem

This morning, during my sermon on "A Season of Parenting," I read out this short poem by Dianne Loomans. Taken from her book, "100 Ways to Build Self-Esteem & Teach Values,"it represents a list of learning tips with regards to raising children. It is worth pondering over the words.

If I had my child to raise over again,
I'd finger paint more, and point the finger less.
I'd do less correcting, and more connecting.
I'd take my eyes off my watch, and watch with my eyes.
I would care to know less, and know to care more.
I'd take more hikes and fly more kites.
I'd stop playing serious, and seriously play.
I'd run through more fields, and gaze at more stars.
I'd do more hugging, and less tugging.
I would be firm less often, and affirm much more.
I'd build self-esteem first, and the house later.
I'd teach less about the love of power,
And more about the power of love.
It matters not whether my child is big or small,
From this day forth, I'll cherish it all.

(Diane Loomans, 100 Ways to Build Self-Esteem & Teach Values, Novato, CA: New World Library,2003, 216)

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Teach me O Lord

As the waters cover the sea.
We live in a noisy world. As the sunset comes, let us welcome the calming of our hearts. Let us still our senses to listen. Let us be in prayer. May the noises of our world keep their distance from us, as we meditate on the Word, contemplate in the Spirit, and gravitate ourselves to the presence of the King of kings, and the Lord of lords. The following poem is helpful for us to settle ourselves, in the weekly sabbatical rhythm of rest.
"Teach me to stop and listen,
Teach me to center down.
Teach me the use of silence,
Teach me where peace is found.

Teach me to hear Your calling,
Teach me to search Your Word.
Teach me to hear in silence,
Things I have never heard.

Teach me to be collected,
Teach me to be in tune,
Teach me to be directed,
Silence will end very soon.

Then when it's time for moving,
Grant it that I might bring,
To every day and moment,
Peace from a silent spring.
" - (Ken Medema, blind Christian musician)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

A Faith That Overcomes (Testimony of Jacqueline Law)

Thanks to Timothy L who shared this, this farewell video of the HK star, Jacqueline Law has become a touching testament of faith. How one person who learns to overcome the challenges of life, economic hardship, questions of life, her struggle with deaf, and cancer, goes beyond simply trying to deal with her own struggles. She wants to give glory to God and hope to others too!

This video is mostly in Cantonese, with a little Mandarin sprinkled throughout. With both Chinese and English subtitles, readers will be warmed and encouraged to see and hear the powerful testimony of this brave sister in Christ, who died of pancreatic cancer in Singapore on June 30th, 2012 at the age of 46.

I learn from her life and her testimony about the importance of faith, of friends to share the pain and struggles, and of the Church that points one another toward the True Hope and Joy in God. Be encouraged. This video may be lengthy, but I assure you, it is worth your time. Set aside a part of your schedule, and then watch this.

The Full Video (about 40 minutes)

For those who are time conscious, I have placed the following links with headings for your convenience.

  1. Introduction to Jacqueline Law (0:00 - 7:07)
  2. Lightness of Soul (9:01 - 10:31)
  3. Video Background (10:32 -13:27)
  4. "Spiritually Strong when Physically Weak" (13:28)
  5. Challenge #1 Testing and Coming to Faith - (15:43)
  6. Challenge #2 - Encountering Deaf and Despair (19:51)
  7. Serving People in Love @ Mary Kay (21:44)
  8. Challenge #3 - Cancer and Chemotherapy (25:46)
  9. Love not Sympathy (28:46)
  10. Between Limits and Unlimited (31:26)
  11. Far Sighted Vision (33:18)
  12. Concluding Words (37:57)
Thank you, Jacqueline Law, for your life of faith, and your joy in the Lord Jesus that surpasses all worldly understanding. Rest in peace.


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Working Together Graciously

The WWII martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words remain so insightful for many Christian communities. Written to encourage believers to take heart amid the intense hardship who are standing up against the despicable Nazi regime, Bonhoeffer urges believers to love one another more and more.
“Christians need other Christians who speak God’s Word to them. They need them again and again when they become uncertain and disheartened because, living by their own resources, they cannot help themselves without cheating themselves out of the truth. They need other Christians as bearers and proclaimers of the divine word of salvation. They need them solely for the sake of Jesus Christ.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2004, p32) 
As many of us know, the Church of God has endured many schisms throughout history. Go to any church, and it is common to see how a single disagreement can lead to a big time split. It seems like while many people call themselves children of God, they put on childish behaviour that puts one’s own interest above others. Working together may mean living together for a period of time. Living together means learning to work together graciously for a lot of time. Grace is not an option but a specific evidence that we ourselves have been saved by grace. Ungrace is a rude slap on the gospel of Jesus. Leaders of churches must be quick to address any ungraciousness, not in a tit-for-tat manner, but in grace. 

 As we prepare to serve our fellow believers, be prompt to listen to needs, but be even more prompt to listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit. Cultivating a sensitive ear to God will give us gentler spirits and gracious listening to people around us. When someone complains, what is our default response? Do we criticize the complainant for insisting they are right? Or do we graciously listen and understand them first?

When one is stressed, it is easy to become negative about many things. When one is well rested, it is easier to give others the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps, times of challenges are also opportunities for us to exercise faith in God. Truly resting in God is not about doing nothing in a sound-proof or activity-less world. True rest in God is about trusting God under all circumstances. Here is my take on trusting God when working together.

Working together in grace means firstly, we do not be calculative about who does more or who does less. If Jesus has said that the old lady’s two copper coins have outgiven all of the rest, who are we to comment about the gifts of other people? Grace means being able to recognize we all have different levels of gifts and capabilities. We all contribute what we can, without regard to how much or how little people have done. We can only talk about our own.

Secondly, working together in grace means learning to communicate in grace. When schedules are tight, and when expectations differ, it is easy to give in to negative emotions. Hold our negative words. Think of how Christ would have us communicate the truth in love. See in what manner you can assist. This is especially when groups are large. When groups are large, expectations differ by huge proportions, compounded by interpretations of other people’s interpretations. Remember Paul’s exhortation to the Ephesians?

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (Ephesians 4:29) 

Note the words "building others up according to THEIR needs." Wow! That's how grace looks like. May our words be filled with wholesome words of truth, spoken out in gentleness and love.

Thirdly, come together often to worship. There is no greater expression of unity in the body other than worship. For in worship, we need to have settled our grudges before we can bring our gifts to the altar of the Lord. In worship, we need to be truthful in our lips and in our hearts. The bishop William Barclay reminds us that our Christian living ought to flow out of a vibrant worship life. He writes, “Real worship is the offering of everyday life to him, not something transacted in a church, but something which sees the whole world as the temple of God.”

Perhaps, living together in church is our laboratory of living. If we want to make a difference in the world outside, may we learn to make a difference first in our Churches inside.

One more thing. Ever wonder why God places certain individuals that are so different from us? Maybe, it is a way to help us become better persons of grace. Perhaps, they are God's mirror to us, that we may learn to reflect back on ourselves, whether we have done to others what we want others to do to us.


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Life's Little Instructions

I remember browsing a novelty shop and chance upon the following thoughtful little instructions. It has little gems of wisdom. I am happy to share that with you here.
Sing in the shower.
Treat everyone you meet like you want to be treated.
Watch a sunrise at least once a year.
Leave the toilet seat in the down position.
Never refuse homemade brownies.
Strive for excellence, not perfection.
Plant a tree on your birthday.
Learn 3 clean jokes.
Return borrowed vehicles with the gas tank full.
Compliment 3 people every day.
Never waste an opportunity to tell someone you love them.
Leave everything a little better than you found it.
Keep it simple.
Think big thoughts but relish small pleasures.
Become the most positive and enthusiastic person you know.
Floss your teeth.
Ask for a raise when you think you've earned it.
Overtip breakfast waitresses.
Be forgiving of yourself and others.
Say, "Thank you" a lot.
Say, "Please" a lot.
Avoid negative people.
Buy whatever kids are selling on card tables in their front yards.
Wear polished shoes.
Remember other people's birthdays.
Commit yourself to constant improvement.
Carry jumper cables in your truck.
Have a firm handshake.
Send lots of Valentine cards.
Sign them, "Someone who thinks you're terrific."
Look people in the eye.
Be the first to say hello.
Use the good silver.
Return all things you borrow.
Make new friends, but cherish the old ones.
Keep a few secrets.
Sing in a choir.
Plant flowers every spring.
Have a dog. 
Always accept an outstretched hand.
Stop blaming others.
Take responsibility for every area of your life.
Wave at kids on school busses.
Be there when people need you.
Feed a stranger's expired parking meter.
Don't expect life to be fair.
Never underestimate the power of love.
Drink champagne for no reason at all.
Live your life as an exclamation, not an explanation.
Don't be afraid to say, "I made a mistake."
Don't be afraid to say, "I don't know."
Compliment even small improvements.
Keep your promises no matter what.
Marry for love.
Rekindle old friendships.
Count your blessings.
Call your mother.

by H. Jackson Brown Jr. 


Monday, July 23, 2012

BookPastor >> "The Search for Meaning"

TITLE: The Search for Meaning
AUTHORS: Thomas H. Naylor, William H. Willimon, and Magdalena R. Naylor.
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1994, (224 pages).

This is one of the best books on the search for meaning. In the aftermath of the first bombings of Baghdad, a group of students from all walks of life, various religious beliefs, and different ethnic persons came together for a seminar at Duke University. The seminar was entitled, "The Search for Meaning" which is the same title for the book. Despite the multifaceted make-up of the students, all of them are interested in one single goal, What is the meaning of life?

A) Setting the Case

The authors begin with a grand tour of the different institutions of the world that have either collapsed or found lacking in providing answers to the question. Communism for all its high ideals has collapsed. Capitalism does not seem to offer solutions to the rich-poor divide. Colleges tend to focus overwhelmingly on markets and careers, without due understanding of the nature of human values, and what it means to be human. In a world that focuses more on meaning, the authors gently guide readers toward answering the more important question, "Who am I?" The Life Matrix is a concise depiction of the various states of meaning one can possibly be in.

Beginning with a fable of  deserted island, the authors pose a situation where one has everything he needs, except that there is no one around for him to share them with. A life of material abundance but a lack of relationships to share with. The authors propose a seven-step process in the search for meaning.

B) The Seven-Step Process
  1. LIFE HISTORY: "Review the most meaningful events in your life history."
  2. MEANINGLESSNESS: "Come to terms with the meaninglessness in your own life."
  3. SEPARATION: "Confront your separation from yourself, others, and the ground of your being."
  4. HAVING: "Contemplate the consequences of a life devoted to having."
  5. BEING: "Seek meaning through being - through your creations, love relationships, sense of community, and pain and suffering."
  6. PERSONAL PHILOSOPHY: "Formulate a personal philosophy, which addresses meaning, values, ethical principles, and social responsibility."
  7. PERSONAL STRATEGY: "Formulate a personal strategy, which includes an external environmental forecast, a situation assessment, objectives, goals, and strategies."

C) Four States of Meaning

The authors allocate a chapter each to the four states of meaning. The first one, "Meaninglessness" is a malaise that affects many people. Learning from Shakespeare, philosophers, as well as the biblical character of Job, readers are treated to four consequences of meaninglessness from a spiritual, intellectual, emotional, and physiological points of view. Meaninglessness is like losing the glue of life when ideologies lose its significance over time. The conclusion is that world models fail to hold things together. Life leads to death. Meaninglessness leads to depression and despondency. The threat of nothingness looms large, as the hope for any meaningful future shrinks small.

The second state is "Separation" which can be manifested in three ways, separation from self, from others, and from God. Failure to connect is a root cause of meaninglessness. One reason is the overwhelming focus on self-actualization to the detriment of relationships. Freedom becomes self-centered focus. Isolation arises which makes any meaning more illusive. As a result, spiritually once gets detached from God. Intellectually, one gets alienated. Emotionally, one becomes easily anxious. Physiological, one lose sense of as one becomes disembodied in various ways.

The third state is "having" where people drown themselves in stuff and materialism. Partly to escape the boredom of life and the absence of relationships, hedonism reigns supreme. Legalism makes one more individualistic in outlook and people end up deceiving themselves that meaning can be found in having mammon.

The fourth state deals with the necessary state of "being." Of all the four states, this one comes closest to meaningfulness, but by itself is also lacking. Yet, there are good reasons to begin one's search for meaning through understanding the state of being. In cultivating creativity, one is able to "involve engagement, discipline, learning skills, mastering technique" to make life more livable and enjoyable. The Biblical model of love drives relationships, to learn that the world is bigger than our own. Pain and suffering is very much a part of life. The most potential for understanding meaning is in the biblical faith.

D) The Personal Search

After the four descriptions of the various states of meaning, it is time for application. Two suggestions are made. The first is a personal search for self understanding. The second is related to the world outside us. The authors pose ten questions to aid the inner search for meaning.
  1. Who am I? (Personhood question)
  2. Where am I going? (Destiny)
  3. How can I prevent my life from being a series of accidents? (Purpose)
  4. What do I want to be when I grow up? (Calling)
  5. How shall I overcome my separation from others, myself, and the ground of my being? (Relational)
  6. What shall I do to resist the temptation to have? (Against Mammon)
  7. How does one learn how to be? (Existential question)
  8. Can I find Meaningful Employment? (Vocation)
  9. Is it possible to experience real community? (Neighbourliness)
  10. How Can I die happy? (End)
One can begin by looking at one's life history, to get a snapshot. A personal philosophy can be developed with the four independent elements of "sense of meaning," "statement of values," "ethics," and "statement of social responsibility." The authors have also given lots of other suggestions for how to do strategic planning regard ethical decisions, and also based on age. Key to the decision to planning lies in the recognition of contexts and person's status at that time.

E) Beyond Self-Evaluation

Thankfully, the authors do not let the book become another self-help device. After giving ideas for personal search, they plunge the reader into seeking to participate in a community, in the workplace, and modern tools to facilitate search for meanings. Such tools include psychotherapy, bioppsychiatry, education, literature, fine arts, religion, and many more. The chapter on soul crafting covers the area of spirituality, which I find exceptionally helpful in our world of problem solving and techniques.  It deals with spiritual formation.

My Thoughts

Books like this is hard to find. After all, the search for meaning is not simply a Christian concern. It is a human need. I am thankful that the authors have shared their expertise and learning through this very insightful book. What is most helpful is the way the authors frame the Life Matrix, to give us an idea of where we are, or what kinds of holes we are digging ourselves into. In addition, their stepwise guide in helping readers search for meaning makes the book highly practical, and not simply a cerebral affair. I appreciate the way the authors weave in spiritual formation toward the end, reminding us again that just like the biblical book of Ecclesiastes, we can only find meaning when we point ourselves back to the Creator, instead of ransacking the world for answers.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Stereotyping Ourselves to Deaf

I have slightly edited this article from the one previously published at blogs.christianpost.com here. Both articles are written by yours truly.


Back in seminary, one theologian that my professors and my fellow students, often quote is the WWII pastor-martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. His classic, "Life Together" continues to bring home new insights with regards to Christians living together. One of the most striking things Bonhoeffer has written is how Christians demonstrate love by listening to one another. He writes,
"The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists listening to them. Just as love to God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them." (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, New York: Harper & Row, 1954, 97)
By bringing together listening and loving, one is essentially practicing ministry at its best. In the Hebrew shemah, the word "Hear" can sometimes be used synonymously with the word obedience. It is one and the same word. Being obedient and listening well are the two sides of the same coin of love. In my years of facilitating discussion groups, there is something which I find disturbing when it comes to trying to listen well: When we stereotype the person who is speaking.
Whenever stereotyping occurs, there is danger in listening well. In fact, over time, stereotyping can lead to a deafening silence as far as learning to listen to others are concerned. For example, take one brother who has been known to be long-winded. He often speaks in a meandering way, and whenever he speaks, the other members of the group roll their eyes, as if they have heard it all. One shuts his eyes to take a short nap. Another flashes up his cellphone to busy himself with something. Apparently, at that time, anything is more interesting than listening. Pity the facilitator who has to be fair to everyone who speaks. He has to humble himself to paraphrase, to translate, or to guide the discussion back to the main points
In stereotyping, three things essentially happens. Firstly, stereotyping shuts away our personal openness to that person. The potential listener by internal labeling has already sized up that person through pre-judgment. Whether the label is "boring," "long-winded," "leftist," "sports fanatic," "anti-abortion advocate," or whatever, the label shut one's listening dramatically. When the label is at play, the mind goes away. Listening hardly goes beyond the hearing of mumbles and jumbles, as they are all drowned out by the stereotyping in progress.
Secondly, stereotyping constricts the flow of sharing from that person to us. It straitjackets the other person's opinions into our already set in place interpretive framework. The human mind has an awesome capacity to manipulate information they receive into an object they perceive or want to perceive. 
Thirdly, stereotyping imposes old perceptions on new perspectives. This is perhaps the biggest reason why many group members do not grow in understanding one another. The failure to listen well is tied to one's tendency to stereotype the person, what they say, and how they say it. For them, there is nothing new under the same discussion group.
True listening is hard work. Stereotyping is cheap stuff. True listening requires us to be open. Stereotyping automatically close up our listening. True listening is love. Stereotyping is narcissism. True listening is humility. Stereotyping is pride. 
Let me share three tips on listening well.
1) Learn to ask questions. Ask in a way that shows genuine desire to understand. By asking questions, people will be encouraged, simply to know that a brother or a sister care enough to move his discussion along.
2) Learn to clarify by paraphrasing what you hear. This is a key skill for all facilitators to learn, and for group members to observe and imitate. By paraphrasing, it gives others a chance to hear what we hear, and to clarify. Clarification remains one of the most important discipline to avoid misunderstanding.
3) Learn to say less. Our culture is a largely noisy one, thanks also to our normal tendency to hear our voices more than others. Perhaps, if we have been talking a lot, remember that we need to be gracious to let others share too. By letting others talk and we say less, it is one way of putting into practice, that puts others more important than our own opinions. Moreover, we have two ears and one mouth. Is that not a clue that we need to listen doubly hard every time we want to speak?
Failure to listen well is often not because of external factors. It is what is happening inside us that prevents us from true loving by listening. One of the main culprits is stereotyping. If we overuse stereotyping, soon, we will be stereotyping our relationships to deaf.

Monday, July 16, 2012

BookPastor >> "The Search for God and Guinness"

This review was first published on 9 June 2012 here.


TITLE: The Search for God and Guinness: A Biography of the Beer that Changed the World
AUTHOR: Stephen Mansfield
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Thomas-Nelson, 2009, (276 pages).

Do you know....

  • That the water used for the world famous Guinness stout beer comes not from the Liffey River in Dublin, but from the mountains of Wicklow, south of Dublin?
  • That Arthur Guinness started the first Sunday School in Ireland?
  • That Guinness Stout is also a health beverage?
  • That workers at Guinness receive some of the best wages in the world, and benefits extend generously to their dependents as well?
  • That Guinness has strong Protestant roots and still thrives in a largely Roman Catholic land?
  • That Guinness is a household name in Ireland?
  • ....

He has written about the two most powerful persons in the world (George W Bush and Barack Obama), a top religious figure (Pope Benedict XVI), as well as the extraordinary men in history like Winston Churchill and George Whitefield. He has also written about healing from Church hurts. Now, Mansfield continues his journey through one of the most recognized icons in the beer industry: Guinness Stout.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Until we grow up

These dogs are so cute. Thanks to a brother who shared this with me. It reminds me that as long as people do not grow up, the leash of external compliance is still needed.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Purity of Heart

"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God." (Matthew 5:8)
We are not as honest with ourselves as we think. Self-deception is a mark of sin. Deceiving oneself from recognizing this sin is hiding. Beneath the nice clothes, the attractive titles we wear, the smiles we display to the public, lies a little child, unsure, defensive, and utterly fearful of being found out. What if people find out my position? Will I be embarrassed? Will I be ignored, reprimanded, or scandalized? When in doubt, better stick to silence.

We are not as peace-loving as we like to believe we are. Each time I read the news, especially controversial matters, it is easy to find ourselves taking sides. From defending traditional marriages to modern gay rights movements, from conservative to liberal, from left to right, the world at large is divided. With division comes the opportunity for the ambitious to seize power. With power comes tyranny. With tyranny comes oppression. With oppression comes the curtailing of basic human rights. Think Hitler. Think Pol Pot. Think racism. Even the West has been guilty of certain oppressions. Think Rodney King and the infamous police beatings, the LA riots. The one famous for the words, "Can we all get along?" died recently on June 17th, 2012. The peaceful neighbourhoods of LA erupted with multiple riots back in 1992. Even more recent, the Vancouver Stanley Cup riots reared their ugly heads during peacetime hockey in 2010. For a culture that preaches peace, that so readily practices violence, begs some serious reflection. Are we as peace-loving as we think we are?

We are not as gracious as we think. What is our default reaction when we receive a negative feedback? Do we give the benefit of the doubt? Do we see the positives more than the negatives? Do we approach the matter with cool minds, rather than hot heads? Say someone word an email to you in a negative tone. What is your default reaction?

We are not as righteous as we think. Everyone has an opinion. Even having no opinion is already an opinion. We like to talk about other people but not our own weaknesses. It is far too dangerous to share our minds. It is much safer to talk about other people, especially the scandals being revealed in the press.

We are not as pure as we like to think. From one issue to the other, on the surface, we seem pure and non-judgmental. We seem most smart and righteous. The truth is, many of us flounder when it comes to trying to behave as if we are pure and righteous. Like what the arms of the law often tell criminals: "You can run but you cannot hide."

Cultivate purity of heart. Like the famous Kierkergaard, who teaches us, "Purity of heart is to will one thing." If we want to see well outside, we need to be clear first inside. If we want external vision, we need to wash away inner vagueness. If we want to be pure, cultivate exercises to help us address impurity. If we want to see others correctly, learn to see ourselves correctly. If we want to be godly, learn from God's perspective rather than people. 

Purity of heart is to be honest with ourselves, plain and simple. Call sin sin. Call wrong wrong. Call good good. Let our yes be yes, and our no, no. Despite what many in the world think about their maturity, they are often more childish than not.

Purity of heart cultivates peace. It sees the good in others. It asks God to make us channels of God's peace. It brings healing to a world of hurts. It brings understanding to a world of controversies. It brings love in a world of hate and distrust. It brings faith amid the darkness, by shining a light of hope.

Purity of heart instils quietness within. It has one main aim. See God. When one is washed of sin, one's eyes will glimmer with tears of joy, swimming in the waters of forgiveness.

Purity of heart showers grace and peace. It causes us to abound in love. It makes us want to do good, not just thinking about it. Purity of heart by default seeks to redeem the lost, salvage the hopeless, and to bring sight to the blind. First, the work of purity must begin inside.

When we try to wash the dirt off others, wash them with clean pure water, not muddy ones. Are we purified by God's grace? Are we coming in God's peace? Are we humbly seeking God?

Purity of heart is to will one thing.

Let true love be our driving passion. When love is on the driving seat, great things can be done for the kingdom of God. Pure love is true love.

"Missionary zeal does not grow out of intellectual beliefs, nor out of theological arguments, but out of love." (Roland Allen)


Friday, July 13, 2012

CHC Pre-Judgment Daze (Three Planks to Remove)

TITLE: CHC PRE-JUDGMENT DAZE (Three Planks to Remove)
Written by: Dr Conrade Yap
Date: 13 July 2012

[In this article, I want to caution anyone about pre-judging the CHC case. More importantly, it is to take another look at what Jesus means when He says, "Do not judge." It means to remove three planks of pre-judgment, so that whatever we say edifies rather than destroys.]

It has been more than 2 weeks since the much reported arrests of the five leaders from City Harvest Church in Singapore, including the founder, Kong Hee. I remember how this one news has become a hot-potato issue, splitting the public into multiple camps, both Christians inside the Church as well as outside the Church. The media has their say. The unbelievers have their say. Many vocal supporters of the arrested leaders also had their say. It does not take any genius to recognize at least three main views.

The first view is a point-blank judgment, that says, "You guys deserved it!" It is simply based on a gut-feel without firm reference to any pointed evidence. The second view is an active rebuttal to the first, but also committed the error of pre-judgment. This second view has triggered public statements of defence from both the Church as well as many individual groups within the MegaChurch. It looks like it is based on what they want to believe, more than what the evidence suggests.

The third view, are watchers, where people anticipate with interest how much punishment and how CHC is going to deal with the fallout of a potential conviction of the five prominent leaders. This is what the Germans call, "schadenfreude" in action, a word describing the heightened interest of people surrounding the misfortunes of others. It refers to the curiosity that peaks as a result of bad things that happen to other people. In John Portmann's treatise of this topic, he argues that our delight or disgust about bad things that happen to other people, is more a reflection of our own selves rather than the issue itself, (see my review of his book here). In my opinion, all of the three views above have committed the cardinal mistake of pre-judgment, albeit in varying degrees.

My purpose in this article is to make a plea to all not to pre-judge. Let justice runs its course. In the meantime, watch ourselves that we do not sin. Our goal is not to try to meddle in other people's messiness, but to deal with our own muddiness. Beware of three planks.

Beware the Three Planks of Pre-Judgment

A) The Statement, "Do Not Judge"

In this followup article to my earlier article on the CHC arrests, I want to bring into focus Jesus' teaching about judging one another. The first plank is what I call the "Shut Up" plank. In other words, when in doubt, learn to shut up. Let me quote the passage in full.
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” He also told them this parable: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Luke 6:37-42)
The words, "Do not judge!" are often quoted for selfish reasons. Instead of letting God's word speak, it has become a tool to shut people up, especially those who oppose your view. It has become three useful words to take the moral high ground. It has become commonly used but often misunderstood.

Legal wise, the courts have recently sent out warnings to CHC to shut up as the case is pending judgment. Likewise, it has warned other inside parties not to comment farther on the particulars of the case. My question is this: Is "Do Not Judge" equated to only shutting up? No. When in doubt, shut up. Can we who are blind to the facts, see clearly what the facts are about?

B) The Sawdust and the Plank

The second plank goes beyond shutting up. It is the "Ask Appropriate Questions Humbly" plank.  When Jesus says, remove the plank from our own eye first? It does not just mean that we shut ourselves up. Neither does it mean we cannot comment anything at all.  It means, if you want to make statements, do so out of a clear heart and mind. Better still, be pure as God the Father is pure. Let me deal with the context of "Do Not Judge." In the preceding verses, remember the few examples? I call them the two negatives and the two positives. Note the reciprocal nature.
  • NEGATIVE: If we judge, be prepared to be judged likewise.
  • NEGATIVE: If we condemn, we will likewise be condemned.
  • POSITIVE: If we forgive, we will likewise be forgiven.
  • POSITIVE: If we give, it will be given to us.
In addition, Jesus reminds us that the blind cannot lead another blind, just like a student cannot pretend to be more than his Master, until he is fully trained, that is. Jesus then lists the impediments to our own journey to holiness: Pre-judgment. I call this the pre-judgment daze. Pre-judgement daze is that condition of a muddled person trying to use his own mud to wash another person's dirt.

We become muddle-headed when we commit the following pre-judgments. We dazzle ourselves into self-deception when we fill our heads,
  • Thinking we are so smart and knowledgeable as if we have seen all the evidence with our eyes and testimonies with our own ears.
  • Thinking that the crimes of others are worse than us.
  • Thinking that we see better than most.
If not, we will be behaving as if we know more than God, which is precisely what Jesus is speaking out against in Luke 6:40.

C) On the China Wine Music Video

The truth is, we are not as pure or innocent as we like to think. I know there are lots of criticisms over the "China Wine" project. Here, we need to be careful on what we mean by results.

When we criticize projects like "China Wine," are we being fair? Are we clear ourselves about the WHOLE project? If unsure, suspend your judgment. Only judge according to what you know or see. Leave speculation, and the unknowns as unknowns to us.

Personally, I do not have the details behind the rationale and the results of the music video. I do not like the video at all. That does not mean I can pre-judge the results or the process. For people who cannot see how "China Wine" can lead to conversions, they need to remove the "plank" out of their own eyes first, before they can see.

  • Rather than an emphatic, "This is useless!" Ask: "How is it useful for the Kingdom?"
  • Rather than declaring: "Those are worldly!" Ask: "Show me your reasons."
  • Rather than pre-judging the results, ask to learn from the people what is going on.

All of the three questions above do one thing: They disagree with the video, but are open to acknowledge the possible presence of other unpublished facts about the video. They ask appropriate questions without pre-judging.

Do not pre-judge the good intentions of others, especially those who accuse Sun Ho and Kong Hee of intentionally committing fraud, and of living off the money of the rest of the Church. The details remain unknown to most of us. Thus, let our judgments be minimal, better still, none. If you want to make a judgment, find out the facts first. Learn to ask appropriate questions without pre-judgment first. Humbly.

D) The Plank of Non-Involvement

The third plank I want to highlight is called the plank of non-involvement. Jesus warns those of us who "pay no attention" to our own eye. Those of us who think so highly about our own definitions of outreach and evangelism, what are we ourselves doing about it?

If China Wine is a "speck" people complain about, what about the "plank" of not doing anything at all with regards to witnessing, outreach, missions, and evangelism?

Some critics like to use the remote control of easy criticism to shoot down the efforts of others. If they themselves are unwilling to venture into unknown territory of Hollywood and the entertainment industry, why "pull the rug" out of others who are trying their best to be a witness there? By pre-judging the efforts and the results of "China Wine," are we not guilty of seeing the "sawdust" of the witness of China Wine, and ignoring the "plank" of non-action, non-outreach to the people in the entertainment industry? In other words, when we ourselves are not actively witnessing to the target industry, why are we then trying to pull out the "sawdust" of others trying their best to be a witness of Christ there?

The purpose of the sawdust and the plank episode is not that we cannot judge. It is we need to become clear and pure ourselves first, so that we can see the impurity outside us. For to try to give advice to another without ourselves being clear is doing others a disfavour. This is a critical teaching. Without being pure ourselves, we cannot judge or pre-judge others fairly. Let me close with a story. The great ascetic, Evagrius Ponticus tells the story of a disciple wanting to learn what purity is about. Asking the great teacher, the disciple asks what he must do in order to save his soul.

"Go and insult the dead." says Macarius, the Teacher.

The disciple obediently goes to the cemetery and insults the dead as best as he can. Returning to the Teacher, the Teacher then asks, "What did the dead say?"

"Nothing. They said nothing." comes the reply.

Macarius then says, "Be like the dead. Judge nobody and learn to keep silent."


Beware the three planks of judgment. If you have no facts at all, practice removing your first plank by shutting up. If you are genuinely interested in fairness, and in the kingdom of God, learn to remove the second plank by asking appropriate questions, without any pre-judgment. If you are personally aware of your own sinfulness, why highlight other people's sins more than your own? This leads us to the third and most important plank we need to remove: the plank of non-involvement.

There is a joke that talks about the difference between eggs and ham. The chicken contributes eggs, while the pig is totally committed. Too many people like to behave like chickens, throwing eggs at others. Remember that any party taken before the courts are fully in. They are fighting for their lives, their careers, their reputations, etc. It is not a time for anyone, especially a Christian to comment gleefully, or arrogantly. It is a time for us to reflect on ourselves and how we practise our faith. Above all, if any Christian thinks they are purer and brighter, and more Christlike than the arrested leaders of CHC, Kong Hee and all, do not simply talk. Show grace. Demonstrate gentleness. Let Christ shines through you.

If we can remove the three planks of pre-judgment, we will have done ourselves and others a favour. We have made a turn to the direction of holiness.

THOUGHT: "You will find as you look back upon your life that the moments that stand out, the moments when you have really lived, are the moments when you have done things in a spirit of love... The test of a man then is not, 'How have I believed?' but 'How have I loved?' The test of religion, the final test of religion, is not religiousness, but love. Not what I have done, not what I have believed, not what I have achieved, but how I have discharged the common charities of life." (Henry Drummond)


Thursday, July 12, 2012

An Encouragement for the Day - 12 July 2012

Here is an encouragement for today.

May your day be filled with joy and purpose, and hope. Let Christ shines from within you.


Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Caring Begins Inside

Go to any Church, you will recognize that the need for pastoral care is always there. More often than not, the demands far exceed the supply. Experienced ministry workers will know of this golden rule of pastoral care: "I don't care how much you know, until I know how much you care."

This places tremendous pressure on people, even those with the best of intentions.
  • How much care is enough?
  • Is one visit a week too little?
  • How do we distinguish who needs care more than the other?
  • Comments like: "The pastor has not even visited me for the past 10 years!"
  • This Church is poor in caring. The pastor don't care. The elders don't care. The leaders are too busy to care. The staff don't care, and the people don't care. So why should I care?
This is not an easy matter to resolve. In fact, I doubt that it will ever be resolved. Caring is not the responsibility of the leaders or any one super-carer. It is the need to have a mindset change.
"All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need." (Acts 2:44-45)
Caring matters, and because caring matters, it matters who does it. All of us. Even if we have a leader, a pastor, or an elder willing to run around all the time listening and caring for people, can that person do it alone? Can that person sustain his level of care over the long-run? The answer is clearly no. A team of people is needed. A Church is not a counseling center where people in need of counseling gets referred to. Neither is it a spiritual hospital where only people who are hurt go to. It is a community of believers sharing all they have, and meeting one another's needs. The moment the expectation becomes a one to many approach, the caring paradigm has become unhealthy. Such a pastor-centric or elder-fixated caring paradigm will not only turn into unhealthy codependency on the part of the congregation, it discourages anyone else from taking up leadership positions. Worse, it may make the leaders seem more "spiritual," or a holier-than-thou mindset. No! We are all called to care. We are all called to be part of the ministry. Like the early Church in Acts, we are called to be united, to share everything, and to give to all who are in need. The responsibility is on all of us. In a nutshell, it takes the whole Church to do the work of the whole Church. The people of God, for the people of God.

Instead of this,

A One to Many Model

The New Testament Church is this.

Everyone Needs Care. Everyone Can Care.

This kind of care networks will be beneficial for at least three reasons.
  1. The pressure will not be on any one person, but on everyone looking to God together.
  2. The model will survive more long-term.
  3. The reach will be wider and deeper.
The main focus for any church group is not to be too quick to jump into a one-to-many paradigm. It is far too easy to throw expectations on any one person, and even easier to be disappointed when the expectations are not met. Far better is to think long term. What does it take for a mindset change? I like to suggest three below.

  1. TEAM-BUILDING: Recognize that Caring cannot be a one-off thing. It requires thoughtful planning and team building. Build care teams. Planning is essential. Otherwise, One-to-Many types of leaders are easily prone to burnout.
  2. SELF-GIVING: Caring is not about saying something and then expecting others to follow up. If God places the need in your heart, ask what you are doing about it, instead of subcontracting the need to others.
  3. CARRY-IT-FORWARD: Caring is more than counseling. It is a way of Caring-It-Forward. I care for you, now you go and show care for others, as best as you can.
Above all, every Church needs to be remember that caring needs to be done in God's strength. Not ours.


Monday, July 09, 2012

BookPastor >> "Rest" (Siang-Yang Tan)

We have often told one another that we live in such a busy world. We have not enough time and too much to do. We love our families but we still are not able to spend enough time with them. The reason is most likely our inability to appropriately be at rest. Our hearts are often way too restless for our own good.


TITLE: Rest: Experiencing God's Peace in a Restless World
AUTHOR: Siang-Yang Tan
PUBLISHER: Vancouver, BC: Regent College Publishing, 2000, (228 pages).

This book is written by one who is a professor, a pastor, as well as a licensed psychologist. As a professor, Tan brings together a wealth of scholarship resources surrounding what spiritual rest entails. He describes rest as "a state of peace, contentment, serenity, refreshment, stillness, tranquility, or calm." Some of the qualities of rest includes a quieted heart, a "sober awareness" of God's presence, an ability to know the limits of self, to enjoy nature, to reflect, trust, and not rush through life. Like a skilled surgeon, Tan approaches rest from many angles, namely, physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual.

In Part Two, Tan shines as an experienced pastor who hones his scholarship with a shepherd's heart. Through Psalm 23, readers are urged to begin with "Shepherd-Centeredness" to draw near and abide with the Source of True Rest: God. True rest requires a "Spirit-filled surrender" that helps one to move away from self toward others.In solitude and silence, Tan brings together many of the teachings from spiritual masters like Dallas Willard, Jan Johnson, Doug Gregg, Henri Nouwen, and A.W.Tozer to guide readers toward developing a state of sensing God. We are also reminded on the need to cultivate simplicity in living. Sabbath is a crucial part of rest. As a trained psychologist, we note how Tan shines in his exposition on sleep. Cultivating a spiritual community and serving one another are also other nuances surrounding rest. Tan does not stop at the present state. He points readers to an eternal rest

There are so many gems and helpful practical tips on how to rest. In one book, we are given a taste of the many different ways in which rest can be cultivated, developed, and practised. Tan has done all the hard work for us in bringing together a wealth of resources at our own disposal. With this book, we need not ask how then do we rest. We will not be telling ourselves "we need to rest," or "we have to rest." Instead, we will be saying, "Wow! I want to rest."

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


Sunday, July 08, 2012


Today, I started the sermon series on the Seasons of Life. The purpose of the 7-part series is to rediscover the transitions of life through childhood, through adolescence, young adulthood, marriage, parenting, mid-life, and finally the golden years. Guiding our meditations will be selected portions from the book of Proverbs. My topic today was childlikeness.

Childlikeness is a Christian trait. We are all called to be children of God.
"Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God - children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God." (John 1:12-13)
Yesterday, my wife and I invited a few friends over to our house for a BBQ. The adults mingle while the kids play. After running up and down the house, they decided to go outdoors with their water balloons. You know, kids loved water. Before long, they were making friends with kids in the neighbourhood. One of my neighbours kindly opened up his collection of water guns, and gleefully filled up the guns every time the water runs out. The kids were in heaven. I looked at the faces of each kid and was stunned at how intentional they were in trying to create the biggest spray on anyone in front of them. Every child had a water gun. Every child got to fill up when the need arose. Every child had fun. Great fun!

There is so much to learn from the children at play. I marvel at the lives of adults. Many of us live lives of little children. David Henry Thoreau's classic words about we adults, that, "the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation, and go to the grave with the song still in them." In our modern society, isn't it true that the older we get, the more reserved we become? Is growing up a matter of keeping our cool, and staying prim and proper? I look at the children at play. They have one main aim. Be single-minded. Be focused. Have fun! 

Admit it. Adult lives are plain boring, when compared to the kids. This may be due to the heightened expectations of adults, or the lack of trust of people. Somehow, growing up has made people boring. Look at the kids. They have no worry. They have no fear of the future. They just be themselves. They are so intentional on having fun.

What does it mean to be a child of God? It simply means we can have fun doing all the good works, learning to trust God in spite of what happens to us. Learn not to see children as irritants who mess up our peace or our schedules. See them, and notice how God loves them. Perhaps, the problem with us 'boring' adults is simply because we have failed to notice the ordinary present enough. As a result, we become less present to the 'now,' always holding out for the 'tomorrow,' and missing out the opportunity to live well.


Saturday, July 07, 2012

Is Your Leadership Controlling or Empowering?

One of the most talked about leadership strategies among churches is to empower their congregations. As we prepare for Church tomorrow, I wonder if it is time for some of us to re-look at our own churches whether we are too controlling ourselves? Here are the different levels of control, 1 being the highest and 6 being the lowest. I adapted this from E. Stanley Ott's excellent book on Twelve Transforming Shifts.

Which closely reflects your Church?


Friday, July 06, 2012

Ben & Jerry's Employee Benefits

This is great. Not sure if it is still valid, but it sure gives us an idea of how to make employees feel good about working for you.
  1. A pension program with company matching funds of up to 2% of an employee's salary
  2. Medical and Dental insurance (company paid)
  3. Group life term insurance
  4. Disability insurance
  5. Adoption support (company paying cost of an adoption)
  6. Maternity, paternity, and adoptionleave (Paid leave without loss of job rights and benefits)
  7. Health club (Free membership in several health clubs)
  8. Confidential employee counseling (company paid)
  9. Cholesterol screenings, hearing exams, and other wellness services (Periodic)
  10. Massage therapy (Periodic)
  11. Profit-sharing
  12. Guarantees on bank loans for house downpayments
  13. Employee stock purchase (15% below market price)
  14. Tuition aid
  15. Childcare (onsite with sliding fee schedule)
  16. Three free pints of ice-cream a day (factory seconds)
  17. Fresh-baked, free chocolate cookies delivered to everyone on Fridays.

(Thomas Naylor, William Willimon, Magdalena Naylor, The Search for Meaning, Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1994, 165)

How's that for a Friday? Perhaps, if you have been praying for something like that (or even better) to happen to your company, why not pray that one day, when you are able to set up your own business, you can better the above for your employees?


Thursday, July 05, 2012

United We Stand

This photo makes me sit up and ponder about Eugene Peterson's book: "A Long Obedience in the Same Direction." He begins the book with a powerful observation of life: "This world is no friend to grace." If that is the case, may the Church lead the way with grace. May we all be united in God's grace, and live united as God's one people.

United we stand. (Photo Credit: Unknown)

These squirrels have something for us human people to learn from. They are united together in the same direction. Can we cultivate that in our churches?


Tuesday, July 03, 2012

12 Ways to Die Unhappy (and 12 counter steps)

Ask any parent, and one of their wishes for their children will be, "I just want them to be happy." My question to them is: "Are you happy?" Unhappiness are evident everywhere we go. On the roads, we see impatient motorists. At schools, we often see students being stressed over schoolwork and tests. At the workplace, as the economy gets tougher, the struggle to make ends meet becomes a vicious cycle of unhappiness. Employers expect workers to work more for less. Workers more often than not criticize their bosses. With pressure comes more pressure.

The list below are examples of the steps that lead to unhappiness.

Here is a list of things on how to die unhappy.
  1. Separated from yourself
  2. Separated from others
  3. Separated from the ground of your being
  4. Having never experienced any real community
  5. Trying to have it all
  6. Keeping it all to Yourself
  7. Marching to the beat of the wrong drummer
  8. Dancing to the wrong tune
  9. Fighting the wrong enemy
  10. Spending your life in a meaningless job
  11. Living your life as a series of accidents
  12. Denying your own mortality.
(Thomas Naylor, William Willimon, Magdalena Naylor, The Search for Meaning, Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1994, 215)

Here is my list on how to counter the 12 steps that lead to unhappiness.

  1. Be self-aware.
  2. Be connected with others.
  3. Be connected deeply with one's spiritual self.
  4. Have experienced a real community.
  5. Learning to say enough.
  6. Learning to give to others.
  7. Learning to beat to the right drummer.
  8. Dancing to the right tune.
  9. Fighting the right enemy.
  10. Finding meaning in our jobs.
  11. Living intentionally.
  12. Acknowledging our own mortality, and planning for it.


Monday, July 02, 2012

BookPastor >> "The Road Trip That Changed the World"

This week, I recommend this book for cultural engagement and awareness of the deep-rooted secularism in the present world. There is hope. This review was published earlier at "Panorama of a Book Saint" here on May 18th, 2012.


TITLE: The Road Trip that Changed the World: The Unlikely Theory that will Change How You View Culture, the Church, and, Most Importantly, Yourself
AUTHOR: Mark Sayers
PUBLISHER: Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2012, (288 pages).

This is a book that has an inviting title with surprising insights into how to read our modern culture. It does this by looking back to our historical past to make sense of the present. It reads our current environment of secularism and the reasons for the downward spiral of morality and the upward rise of relativism. It tells of two road trips rather than one, of the road and the home. If the sixth century marks the beginning of the home pilgrimage, the enlightenment in the 17th Century marks the beginning of the road journey. The former produces virtues such as "obedience, eternity, foundation, and devotion." The latter adopts "journey, feeling, and experience" over and above the attributes of loyalty, faithfulness, and commitments. In other words, how our modern culture has come to be is mainly because of this road trip which has resulted in our modern society becoming secular and increasingly meaningless. We are modern refugees of this road trip looking aimlessly for a home. Sayers makes a distinction between pilgrimage and secular journey. The latter relates to secularism making a trip to nowhere. The former talks about a trip that has a destiny.

Part One talks about the road narrative, Sayers points out three stages. The first stage is one of happiness, fun, and pleasure. The second stage is about the barriers that impede any progress to happiness, pleasure, and fun. The third stage is true happiness once all the obstacles are removed. In doing so, these stages reflect the traveler on a journey that progresses on the outside but remain adolescent on the inside. One's sense of lostness becomes the journey itself. The secular world is a spiritual wasteland where morality has been de-emphasized in favour of subjectivity. The transcendence has been surrendered in favour of the immanence, of immediate gratification. Such a culture has been condemned by Sayyid Qutb, an influential Islamic thinker, whose teachings have influenced Muslim terrorists, the most notorious being Osama bin Laden. As one journeys along the path of nothingness, aimlessness, and meaninglessness, people soon believe that nothing matters. Since the 60s, the Church has been declining. The spiritual climate of America has been "Californianized" into a culture of individualism, narcissism, materialism, and entertainment. In a secular environment without morality, it is easy to objectivize women, rank feelings above faith, prefer the therapeutic above transcendent beings, nonconformity over authority, and where absolute freedom becomes an intense form of slavery. Jesus becomes not a deliver of sin but one who grants wishes and delivers wants. There is also a lot of cultural observations on social media why we reveal so much of ourselves in public, on why we continue to watch in glee the humiliations of people on TV, and how we remain connected online but disconnected from everyday life. We prefer the sensational 'wow' instead of the firm Word.

Thankfully, Sayers does not end by giving secularism the prize. The end of the road narrative is the cross. There is hope. There is truth coming amid our gloomy journey of doom. Part Two is about the home narrative. One of the first things we need to go up against is our tendency toward pleasure, comfort and a negativity-adverse mindset. Instead, the essence of life is to be willing to embrace our "fragility and mortality" and be open to be led back to God. Instead of Jack Kerouac's "On The Road" metaphor, Sayers proposes we learn with Cormac McCarthy's "The Road" which begins with a deserted and desolate world. Without the distractions of attractive options, we are forced to seek out the fundamentals of life, to do what is deeply necessary, and ultimately most meaningful. It reflects a life of sacrifice, of putting others above self. It reflects a life of dependence on the transcendent. It is a call back to the "old kind of Christian" that is concerned about belonging to God and a real community. It is that kind that is mindful of one's true identity and destiny. The journey is no longer an aimless one of wandering in the wilderness, but a purposeful one of traveling the path toward God. Page after page, Sayers pulls in biblical images, personalities, and Scriptural references to paint a picture of hope of the future kingdom. In contrast to the secular image of building a home on the road, Sayers gives us an image of moving homeward while traveling on the road. The key to this homeward narrative is in getting God right first. We need to rid our idols and to accept God's sovereignty over us. For our sake. For our children's sake. For our community's sake. For our society's sake.

Further Thoughts

I must say that this is one of the most insightful books that intelligently analyzes the modern secular environment, and points us to reasons why it is secular. It blasts the Western model of Church that has substituted personal self-discovery instead of discipleship, self-actualization under the guise of worship. It cleverly adopts the secular terms and models that we are all accustomed to, makes a measured interpretations of it all in the light of both Christian and non-Christian literature, and explains the predicament of the Church so that the Church can do something about it. I admit that the first part of the book seems to be more depressing and painful to read. While the insights look so spot on and distressing, it leaves me gasping for Part Two. After all, it cannot be all that bad, I thought. I am grateful that from the point of the Cross, things change for the better. The road trip can be redeemed. The pilgrimage can be set right. The world has hope in God.

Well-researched and eloquently argued, this book is a must for anyone interested in Christianity and culture, evangelism and mission in the urban Western environment. I have not read Mark Sayers before, but after this book, I am looking forward to the next.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Moody Publishers and NetGalley without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

On Worship

May your day be filled with joy as you worship the Lord in your various communities of faith.

Happy Canada Day!


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