Tuesday, April 30, 2013

In memory of Chi Chun Wong (1924-2013)

In remembrance of my grand uncle.


In Memory of Mr. Chi Chun Wong July 6, 1924 - April 23, 2013 

On April 23, 2013, Mr. Chi Chun Wong passed peacefully at the age of 88, surrounded by family. He is survived by his wife Ha Choi Wong, who has been with him for over 70 years; 9 children, 18 grandchildren, and 7 great-grandchildren. He is also survived by a large extended family in Singapore comprised of many descendants from his predeceased sister. He is also predeceased by his eldest son. Chi Chun was born in Toisan Guandong province in Southern China. He immigrated to Canada in November, 1980 to rejoin his wife and family in Vancouver, BC where he resided until his passing. Chi Chun enjoyed travelling and has visited many places abroad with his wife, including several return trips to China. He also enjoyed fine food, not only those dishes that he crafted with his special flare, but also those from restaurants serving food from a variety of ethnicities. He loved being surrounded by family and friends, playing mahjong, and cooking a family feast.

Chi Chun was a sociable, convivial, intelligent, and articulate man with exquisite penmanship. He was very proud of his mathematical acumen. He was also a man of principle and had high ideals. He donated generously to a variety of charities, especially the Red Cross.

A memorial service for Chi Chun will be held at Ocean View Funeral Home, 4000 Imperial Street, Burnaby, BC V5J 1A4 on May 1st at 1:00 PM. A public viewing commencing at 12:30 PM will be available for those so inclined. In the spirit of Chi Chun's wishes, donations to the BC Cancer Society in lieu of flowers would be most appreciated.

Monday, April 29, 2013

BookPastor >> "Awake" (Noel Brewer Yeatts)

How do we wake ourselves up from any spiritual slumber? What does it take to stay awake to the compassion of Christ for the world? If you do not know where or how to start, begin by reading this book. This review was first published at Panorama of a Book Saint on March 18th, 2013.


TITLE: Awake: Doing a World of Good One Person at a Time
AUTHOR: Noel Brewer Yeatts
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2012, (176 pages).

Good works that flow out of the Good Word in the heart. Doing good to the world one person at a time. Reaching a larger world regardless of how small or how limited one is. All it matters is a big heart and willing hands. This is exactly what Noel Brewer Yeatts has done. Spurred in part by Timothy Keller's book, "Generous Justice," Yeatts attempts to help believers "wake" up to the reality of a world that needs us more than we can ever imagine. She makes a bold call to try to take readers through various shifts. I summarize some of my seven reflections as I read the book.

First, we need to move from guilt-driven kind of a help toward a justice minded perspective. Using the example of Mother Teresa and the story of the Tuohy family who helps a boy get back on his feet, Yeatts points out the need for a kind of help that will aim to make a difference one person at a time. If one is guilt-driven, one may only get to help on a knee-jerk manner that does not last. If one is led by justice, one will persevere in being creative and convicted about helping a person a long way.

Second, we need to move from sleepy knowledge toward wakeful action. So often, we allow our accumulation of knowledge bog us down to inaction. Like Aquinas, we need to choose to "feel compassion than to know the meaning of it." It is not enough simply to be aware of what is going on. We need to take responsibility for this knowledge and to do something about it. The trouble is, far too many people o not think their participation will make any difference. This is tragic not only for the needy, but also for us. So what are the rich of the world, who as a minority possess the majority of the world's wealth, doing about the rest of the world, who not only are poor, but seem to exist only to serve the desires of the rich?

Third, we need to move from a mentality of handouts to compassionate action. Giving handouts is a cop out to reduce one's guilt feeling. Action that stems from a deep compassion will resemble Jesus' being moved by compassion to action. That means learning to move from mere giving to actual serving, distant awareness to up close and personal human touch.

Four, our giving and helping need to move from haphazard help to strategic assistance. Women in general are more vulnerable. They are also more influential. Like the saying in Ghana, that if a man is helped, it is just one man; but if a woman is helped, the nation is also helped. One strategy then is to pay special attention to the needs of women and to train them to develop help channels in their respective contexts.

Five, move from vague ideas about help toward crystal clear ideas. Take the issue of the lack of clean water. It spawns a host of problems with regards to diarrhoea, malaria, typhoid, as well as the good health. Without good health, one cannot have a good quality of life. Helping the poor does not mean just addressing symptoms. It also means addressing root causes.

Six, we need to move from a boring but safe lifestyle to a bold and significant form of faith. It means radical plans with our own lives. It means learning to make our lives count. It means living a worthwhile life for others. Helping the poor is not simply just wearing a T-shirt. It means wearing the needs of the poor through active engagement with the rich AND the poor. We need to evangelize the former and to be an agent to touch the latter. We need to speak up for the voiceless, listen to the silenced, see the marginalized, and to feel that the world as it is right now, is moving toward injustice.

Seven, we need to move from a sense of complacency to a sense of urgency. I think it is an apt reminder that the biggest tragedy for many people is not because they are successful, but when they are successful in things that ultimately do not matter much. Yeatts urge readers to actively join groups that advocate for the poor and vulnerable; to invest in a child; to be an active part of infrastructure improvements in the needy world; and even to make a trip to the poorest of the poor to experience first hand the reality of injustice, poverty, and suffering.

This book is about changing the world, beginning with changing the hearts of anyone who wants to do some good in the world. The primary audience is essentially the rich West, but the scope can be easily enlarged to include other groups. Containing many stories of faith and trust, success and disappointments, Yeatts encourages us not to look at the problem, be discouraged and then do nothing. Instead, she urges us to look at what is possible, be encouraged, and then do something, even if it means just one life or one small situation at a time. Three thoughts come to mind as I marvel at the resilience and the industry of Yeatts. First, we are not responsible to solve all the problems of the whole world, just part of it. Second, we are not meant to help everybody in the world, just who we can reach. Third, we are not responsible for the ills of the world, but we are responsible if we do not do anything about it. If any of these thoughts can be planted in the reader, this book will have done its job. I'm sure readers will be moved. It is a fitting reminder that while we are not responsible for solving all the problems of the world, we are responsible for those things that we can do something about.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me free by Baker Books and Graf-Martin Communications without any obligation for a positive review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Gospel Choir @ Britain's Got Talent

This video clip is powerful. It shows how the contestant remains cool and calm, even when Simon Cowell makes fun of him. Watch the moving clip, and how it all comes together in powerful rendition of people lifting up their voices to God. It reminds me again of the limitless opportunities we can be a witness to the world. If people do not go to Church, the Church can go to them. Yet, one important thing remains. If Christian people are more involved in worship, if believers in Christ manifest their passions and love for God in everything they do, if worshipers each Sunday give forth their all to worship God, will it not be an attraction in itself?

Simon Cowell Made Fun of This Gospel Singer And Then Was Blown Away from believe836 on GodTube.

Sometimes, I think reaching the world in its simplest form is this. When Christians worship the Lord wholeheartedly, every time they come together in the Name of the Lord.


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Midweek Meditation: "Stillness"

"The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake." (Ps 23:1-3)

Photo of Cedar Springs Christian Campsite, WA

"Blessed are the single-hearted, for they shall enjoy much peace. If you refuse to be hurried and pressed, if you stay your soul on God, nothing can keep you from that clearness of spirit which is life and peace. In that stillness you will know what His will is." (Amy Carmichael)


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Ten Warning Signs of an Inward Looking Church

I read with interest Thom Rainer's article entitled, "The 10 Warning Signs of an Inwardly Obsessed Church." Briefly put, they are:
  1. Worship Wars
  2. Prolonged Minutia Meetings
  3. Facility Focus
  4. Program Driven
  5. Inwardly Focused Budget
  6. Inordinate Demands for Pastoral Care
  7. Attitudes of Entitlement
  8. Greater Concern about Change than the Gospel
  9. Anger and Hostility
  10. Evangelistic Apathy.
This list is backed by what Thom Rainer says is his "research of churches and consultation with churches." As readers, we can just take his word for it. As for application, I can safely say that some, if not all, will apply for our individual church communities. How do we read such a list? Do we appear defensive about it all? Or do we allow ourselves to wallow in our poor state, and worse, do nothing?  Let me try to look at each of them from a redemptive angle. This means that even though each of them are warning signs about an inward looking Church, there is still hope in turning it around toward being a God-ward looking Church.

Looking Redemptively At Each of Them
"Worship Wars" is a common phrase used to describe the two camps: Traditional vs Contemporary. This is still happening in many churches. That is why I think it is important for us to be open about it, and to call a spade a spade. Call the war a war. Then ask whether it is a necessary war in the first place. If we are guilty of constantly squabbling over whether to do a more "traditional" kind of worship with hymns, instead of "contemporary" choruses and modern songs, we are essentially more concerned about human preferences rather than what is the purpose of singing in the first place. I think the worship wars is another point of contention among people of different generations. After all, it is another way in which different music styles and preferences appeal to different age groups.

Redemptive Perspective #1: Focus on the theme of the worship. Choose songs that reflect a healthy variety across the different music eras. It is not the music that is the point. It is how the music, the tempo, and the overall worship mood POINT to the Creator God.

"Prolonged Minutia Meetings" is basically about majoring on the minors, putting undue weight on mundane matters, to the detriment of what is more important to the gospel. Sometimes, people call meetings simply because they feel safety in numbers.

Redemptive Perspective #2: Keep meetings in their proper perspective. One of the key ways is to set time limits right from the start. Consider the importance of each topic right from the start, assign time limits, keep watch on the time spent on debating the topic, and be prayerful throughout.

"Facility focus" is about churches that also put more emphasis on self-preservation instead of open giving.

Redemptive Perspective #3: Maintaining the facilities of the Church is still a part of good stewardship. We cannot do away with that. What is important is to remember that keeping the facilities intact is not the purpose of the Church. The purpose is to shine as the light to the neighbourhood, and to let the Church be community  to all, and not just Church for some. This many even mean risking theft, sabotage, and all kinds of abuse when Church starts to be open to inviting strangers into the facility. The key thing in preserving the facility is to ask: What or who are we preserving the building for? How is the building being used for the gospel?

"Program Driven" is something many churches are dependent upon in order to draw in the people, to give people something to look forward to. I am a little ambivalent when it comes to this. We need programs. We also need focus that the programs is trying to get us toward. The key is to remember what the programs are leading us toward, and not let programs become an end in itself.

Redemptive Perspective #4: Rather than to throw away programs altogether, why not line up each program with the mission and vision of the organization. How much is it serving the needs of the inside community? How much is it serving the needs of the outside community? How is the balance?

"Inwardly Focused Budget" is a tell-tale sign of what is more important to a Church. What if the majority of the Church budget goes into its own programs? Worse, if members feel comfortable about spending more than 80% on their own programs and self-preservation, that will be a clear sign of an inward looking Church.

Redemptive Perspective #5: Take a step of faith. Cut back on inward budgeting and expand the giving. Be stingy when it comes for spending on self. Be generous, even lavish when spending on the needs of the community around us, in missions, in outreach, and in helping the poor.

"Inordinate Demands for Pastoral Care" is something that often bogs down the time and energy of leaders in any organization. When this happens, the Church no longer looks like a city whose light is set on the hill for all to see. It resembles the ambulance light inside the organization, constantly flashing at each member's house. Working 24x7, the Church's constant cry for care amid personal pain makes us wonder about the theology of care in the Church. After all, a healthy Church is one that exercises all the gifts, and not dependent on a handful of people only.

Redemptive Perspective #6: People are tougher than what we think. Given the right push and motivation, they can be part of the solution instead of part of the problem. Instead of constantly clamoring for attention, I think it is important to learn to be dependent on God, and to ask God to show us how to be people who give care instead of waiting for care to come to us.

"Attitudes of Entitlement" is something ingrained by the culture around us. Many of us grow up thinking that the world owes us a living. I think it stems from people still in an immature stage of faith. A growing child of God will learn that his dependence is on God more and more, and on the world less and less.

Redemptive Perspective #7: The key thing is not to cast a blanket stare at people wanting their needs met, or requests fulfilled. It is to sieve away the unnecessary from the essential, and the prioritize the meeting of needs according to the latter instead of the former. We are all entitled to some essentials. In fact, when a Church gathers, there are some non-negotiables, such as acknowledging God in prayer and thanksgiving, worshiping God when we come together in God's Name, and loving one another.

"Greater Concern about Change than the Gospel" is a little more tricky. I think what Rainer is referring to is the resistance to change that is the problem. In my experience, many people are willing to change, as long as it happens far away, or to some other people and not themselves. The trouble is, the gospel changes lives. Any change must reflect that gospel work in us.

Redemptive Perspective #8: Do not change for the sake of changing. Change according to how the gospel first changes us. This calls for a realistic and honest snapshot of where we are currently. This demands a clear vision of where we need to go. In between, we are all to serve one another, and let changes reflect that desire to serve God, our community, and one another better. 

"Anger and Hostility" is a real problem in many churches. I have heard people complain about the place of power and politics even in Christian organizations. Sometimes, people call it leadership struggles or takeovers. It all boils down to relationships that have broken down, and the Church subsequently moves towards a painful split. Forgiveness and graciousness rank supreme.

Redemptive Perspective #9: Think unity. Think togetherness. Think about where one's anger and hostility is helping the Church. Sometimes, we tend to think that truth and principles upheld are more important than relationships. Wrong. While the former is important, do not forget that Christ came to die for people, not principles. It is better to be wronged for doing right, than the be right by wronging others, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

"Evangelistic Apathy" is described by Rainer about a lack of evangelistic fervor by many of the members. When it comes to only the pastor or certain leaders sharing the faith, it makes one wonder about the health of the whole Church. One can do evangelism and then be self-gratified that one's responsibility is done. Wrong. When it comes to sharing the gospel, it is a growing fervour, not a one-off endeavour.

Redemptive Perspective #10: Evangelism begins at home. It begins with a clear sense of gratitude of God's grace for our own lives. There is both inreach as well as outreach. However, first, there needs to be a divine reach from God to us. Are we touched by the Holy Spirit? Is Christ real in our hearts? How much do we comprehend the love of God? If we do not get this first foundation in place, any evangelistic effort will be build on the sinking sands of apathy and cold spiritual state.


Monday, April 22, 2013

BookPastor >> "Pilgrim Theology" (Michael Horton)

This is an abridged edition of a theological textbook. Written in a easy to follow manner, it will be a good resource for anyone wanting to learn or to refresh basic Christian doctrines. This review was first published at "Panorama of a Book Saint" on March 5th, 2013.


TITLE: Pilgrim Theology: Core Doctrines for Christian Disciples
AUTHOR: Michael Horton
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011, (512 pages).

Who needs another theology textbook? We all do. We need to be reminded over and over again that we are pilgrims on a journey, needing food and guidance to complete it. We need to learn the core doctrines over and over again in a world of many conflicting philosophies and worldviews. We need resources to help teach and guide younger believers among us. Enter's "Pilgrim Theology" that aims to bridge reality and theology as one.

This is an abridged version of Horton's magnus opus book on Systematic Theology, "The Christian Faith." While the original is more than 1000 pages long, this book of "core doctrines for Christian disciples" is about half the size. Like the bigger predecessor, Horton explains the reason for the title of his book, that it is meant for Christian disciples on a journey of spiritual growth, underpinned by a common theological statement of faith.  It is the author's convictions that theology needs to be learned humbly, obediently, and practically. It is reality that forces the disciple to want to learn theology. It is our need for God that we have to develop an understanding of core doctrines as followers of Christ. Knowing the story of God helps guide our own spiritual direction. Just like the directions that a compass provides, Horton uses "four coordinates" to help guide one's theological expedition. The first one is "drama" that begins with God, the history of the world, and the eventual glory of God. As this drama unfolds, the second coordinate, the "doctrines" help disciples navigate life from God's perspective. The third coordinate, "doxology" presents to disciples the way of life, the manner in which we ought to conduct ourselves in our relationships to God, to people, and to all of creation. Finally, the last coordinate, "discipleship" represents the essence of what the Church and the community of God need to do. More importantly, all of these coordinates are dynamic and asserted together. Thus, knowing the truth, practicing the truth, experiencing God, mental or spiritual, physical or experiential, when it comes to practicing pilgrim theology, life cannot be compartmentalized.

In a nutshell, this book works on the assumption that theology begins with God, with life, in Christ through the gospel, and continues with growing theological awareness, learning, and practice. Roughly following the way the Bible is written, the book begins with the Word, and starts with a brief engagement with the philosophies of the new atheists. It compares theism with other philosophies like polytheism, pantheism, panentheism, deism, as well as new atheism. It talks about the different ways we understand God as good. For example,  is good being used univocally (same meaning), equivocally (slightly ambiguous), or analogically (roughly speaking)? It talks about general and special revelation, rationalism, and affirms the death and resurrection of Christ. Chapter 1 sets the stage on how theology can be learned. The book goes through the fundamentals of the Bible as the Word of God, with explanation of authority, inspiration, inerrancy, and the covenants of redemption and grace. It covers God's incommunicable attributes of simplicity, aseity, immutability, impassibility, and eternity, as well as communicable attributes. Other topics include:

  • Theology of the Triune Godhead
  • Creation, 
  • Sin and the Fall
  • Christology
  • The Holy Spirit
  • The Kingdom of God
  • Union with Christ
  • Sanctification
  • Salvation
  • Sacraments of Baptism, Communion and other rites
  • Church
  • Eschatology
  • and many more.
I find the book very well laid out. With tables and fluent flow of arguments, readers will not only find much clarity in the explanation of core doctrines, the overall readability is rather enjoyable. The tables that compare the different attributes and features of each theological point are alone worth the price of this book. To cap it off, Horton provides a helpful summary with questions, key pointers, and terms at the end of the book to jiggle the reader's memory, and to provide a quick reference to what has been presented. This provides the busy reader a quick reference guide to jump back to relevant portions where needed. The glossary and the tables at the end help to put together the doctrines according to the four coordinates of this book's theme. This book is a teacher's dream for teaching theology to the layperson. There is a free study guide to accompany this book too. You can download it here.

I highly recommend this book for teaching theology for the Church as well as the classroom.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


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

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Midweek Meditation: "10 Diagnostic Questions"

Those of us who go to Church regularly will be quick to say that we are all trying to be good and responsible Church goers.  Most of the time, we can only take these words at face value. There is little to show, especially when there are different standards to what it means by "good," and what "responsible" means to various people. Chances are, no two persons can easily agree. One of the best ways is to ask ourselves frankly some probing questions to diagnose our Church health. Here are ten statements taken from Peter Scazzero's "The Emotionally Healthy Church." Read through them and apply this first to yourself before thinking about anyone else in the church. Perhaps, you play multiple roles, or you have seen others in the statements below. Do not be too quick to point your finger. Be quick to pray, and to ask the Lord to work a mighty work.

"Do any of the following people remind you of someone in your church?
  1. The board member who never says "I was wrong" or "Sorry."
  2. The children's church leader who constantly criticizes others.
  3. The high-control small-group leader who cannot tolerate different points of view.
  4. The middle-aged father of two toddlers who is secretly addicted to pornography.
  5. The thirty-five-year-old husband busily serving in the church, unaware of his wife's loneliness at home.
  6. The worship leader who interprets any suggestion as a personal attack and personal rejection.
  7. The Sunday School teacher struggling with feeling of bitterness and resentment toward the pastor but afraid to say anything.
  8. The exemplary 'servant' who tirelessly volunteers in four different ministries but rarely takes any personal time to take care of himself or herself.
  9. Two intercessors who use prayer meetings to escape from the painful reality of their marriage.
  10. The people in your small group who are never transparent about their struggles or difficulties.
They may present themselves as spiritually mature, but something is terribly imbalanced about their spirituality." 
(Peter Scazzero, The Emotionally Healthy Church, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003, p17)



Monday, April 15, 2013

BookPastor > "All is Grace" (Brennan Manning)

In remembrance of Brennan Manning who passed away on April 12th, 2013, this week's book recommendation will be his personal memoir. The review was previously published at Panorama of a Book Saint on June 23rd, 2012. 

One of the most memorable quotes of Manning is this: "The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable."


TITLE: All Is Grace: A Ragamuffin Memoir
AUTHOR: Brennan Manning
PUBLISHER: Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2011.

This book is the most intimate, painful, honest, and personal autobiography to come from the influential spiritual leader and communicator. Intimate because of the tender details with regards to his childhood, his vocational discernment, and married lives. Painful because of the  traumatic childhood, the difficult bouts of alcoholism, divorce, and the ins and outs of the Church ministry. Honest in terms of the highlights of his achievements and the low moments of his career. He calls himself a "ragamuffin," which he aptly describes in a prayer, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner." He is like a crooked stick which God uses to draw straight lines. He has been a priest and an ex-priest, a married and then divorced, a highly sought after speaker and a suddenly shunned indivisual. At various parts of the book, he shares openly with readers about his constant discerning process.

In between the autobiography, the work is sandwiched by multiple endorsements from Max Lucado, Michael Card, Larry Crabb, and many others, and encouraging letters of affirmation and gratitude from personal friends. Manning has also generously provided personal photographs to share with readers his life, as well as people from the "Notorious Sinners" recovery group.  I like the way he ends his book with a poem, with a title similar to the book's title.

Now there’s no more crowds and no more lights, still all is grace.
Now my eyes are wrapped in endless night, still all is grace.
Now I pace the dark and sleep the day yet I still can hear my Father say— “all is grace.”
It was easy as a younger man To squander in the far off land
Where sin was sin, like black is black.
But older brother sin is white, this doubt that creeps me up at night
— “does Jesus love me still?”
Now I take my meds and hear the game, still all is grace.
Now old friends drop in and bless my name, still all is grace.
Now a prodigal I’ll always be yet still my Father runs to me.
All is grace.

This book is Manning's version of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, with him as the main protagonist.

My Thoughts

A book like this is not easy to write, given the deeply personal contents. Not many people are courageous enough to be open about their down times. Indeed, it takes a person with a certain level of inner security to be open with both the highs and the lows of one's life. The details offered to readers ensure that the sharing is specific, that the words are incarnated with real openness about his weaknesses and strengths. Reading through Manning's struggles with alcoholism teaches us that no one is immune from addictions. It reminds me again that often, the peaks of success are immediately threatened by the valleys of disappointment and distress. What I particularly appreciate is how Manning shares with readers his discernment of God's calling for his life. There are many points of learning. He remembers and reflects actively about how he has been affirmed about his gift of writing, of communicating, of teaching, and of spiritual guidance. Through his failures, he learns about the power of grace. Through his successes, he gains insights about the temptations that lurk behind each high. Above all, he learns about the true power of friendship, and of learning to grow and to recover within the confines of a loving and open community of faith.

If you read this book, be prepared for your heart to be moved.


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

Friday, April 12, 2013

Regent Summer School 2013

One of the most memorable experiences during my time at Regent College is the famous Summer School. Not only will there be well known professors flown in from all over the world, the selection of courses are both wide and deep. Some full-time students looking for maximum exposure, will try to squeeze in the maximum number of courses while fulfilling the minimum number of credits. For example, instead of working hard through a 3-credit course, students who want to learn from as many professors as possible will even choose three 1-credit courses to fulfill their credit requirements. While it will mean many more hours and time, it also means the satisfaction of having sat at the feet of such learned scholars and theologians. For some, it is a chance of a lifetime to listen to professors like J.I. Packer, James Houston, Bruce Waltke, Mark Noll, Scot McKnight, and many others. This year's offering is rich with variety. You can browse them here.

Other highlights include:

One more thing, if you are bringing a friend to Regent this summer, check out this special offer

Just writing about this makes me want to go back and take the courses all over again. After all, just hanging around in the atrium, you can meet people from all over the world, and you get to smell one of the best coffee fragrances in Vancouver too. Plus, there's free WiFi!


Thursday, April 11, 2013

Making Disciples

Here is a video that brings about a refreshing way to understand discipleship. Four active words describe the way discipleship ought to be like:
  1. Love people, just like Jesus
  2. Liberate people from being enslaved to systems, procedures, structural matters, programs, etc.
  3. Lead through serving one another
  4. Launch people into the world.

One reservation I have when watching such clips is that it is tempting to throw away the old just to make way for the new. The 'wow' factor that such videos creates can cause some people to throw away the proverbial baby with the bathwater. Programs are still important. Ensuring announcements, events, and all church activities are still essential in the daily life of any Church. Church buildings and structures still have its rightful place. The key thing is to note "less of" and "more of." Targeted at churches that have become mostly inward looking and little outreach, this video will be most effective when people are drawn to action, to move from passivity about the lost to seeking actively to share the gospel with others.


Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Midweek Meditation: "A Rule of Discernment"

We all want to seek God's will. The trouble for us in this world is that there are so many conflicting signals and messages that the world throws at us. The solution is not to get rid of the world or all messages but to discern them well. One of the greatest spiritual classics on spiritual discernment is St Ignatius of Loyola's Spiritual Exercises. Hear what Ignatius has to say with regards to the first step to take.

"The First Rule. In the case of persons who are going from one mortal sin to another, the enemy ordinarily proposes to them apparent pleasures. He makes them imagine delights and pleasures of the senses, in order to hold them fast and plunge them in their sins and vices. But with persons of this type the good spirit uses a contrary procedure. Through their habitual sound judgment on problems of morality he stings their consciences with remorse." (Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises and Selected Works, Mahwah, NY: Paulist Press, 1991, p201)
Temptations work best not by direct confrontation but works its seductive charm in the background or by the side. This way, it catches the person unaware and hooks the unsuspecting. For anyone who has decided to turn to the light of truth, he immediately shows up as a blip on the enemy's radar screen. The way to turn them back to the dark side is to remind them "how good" the feeling was, or "how delicious" the taste had been. It follows up with a tempting, "Why not taste it again?" failing which it persuades by saying, "Just try it one, just once. It'll not hurt, I promise."

These and many more mortal delights are like spiritual narcotic. Once consumed, they are immediately addictive. Ignatius suggests we use a "contrary procedure." Fight against every temptation with a counter. Just like Jesus, who fights off each temptation not just by quoting Scripture, but by quoting Scripture correctly.


Monday, April 08, 2013

BookPastor >> "The Privilege of Persecution"

This book review was first published at "Panorama of a Book Saint" on April 11, 2011.


TITLE: THE PRIVILEGE OF PERSECUTION (and other things the global church knows that we don't)
AUTHORS: Carl Moeller & David W. Hegg
PUBLISHER: Moody Press, 2011, (160 pages).

[This book is an advanced reader copy. The final copy released may be subject to change.]

The Privilege of Persecution: (And Other Things the Global Church Knows That We Don't)Some books convey ideas. Other books try to convince readers to change. This book goes a step further to convict readers so much so that they will re-consider and re-align their lives back toward what it means to be salt and light of the world. This book does two things well:
  1. It reveals a faith of the persecuted (global) church that grows stronger with determination in the midst of persecution and restriction/control of religious practices;
  2. It admonishes the faith of a comfortable church that grows fatter with complacency in the midst of freedom.

In a hard-hitting rebuke at the modern Western Church, the authors compare and contrast the difference between the free church in the Western hemisphere, to the persecuted Church in the rest of the world. The key thesis of the book is that every church in the world is a persecuted church. The only difference lies in the TYPE of persecution.
"Like the church in the West, it (the global church) is composed of human believers who sin and struggle with their own personal and cultural baggage. It's just that our bags don't look alike." (17)
One then ought to see persecution as a privilege because it helps one affirm one's faith even more.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Faithlife Study Bible (Free until Apr 8th, 2013)

Here is an exciting new kid on the block in the field of software Bible apps. Created by Logos Bible Software, this app is called "Faithlife Study Bible" which is an app that comes with two English Bible translations, a Lexham Bible dictionary, and resources such as devotionals, infographics, photos, and videos. There is also a group reading plan and a way to connect with Bible readers in your neighbourhood. What is most cool about this app is that it is offering the NIV for free until Apr 8th, that is.

Designed for tablets and mobile devices, there are apps for the three big environments: IOS, Android, and the Kindle Fire. Click here for more.

It takes a bit of getting used to. Here are some tips on how to download it.

  1. First choose the version you want.
  2. Second, remember that the default Bible version is LEB (Lexham English Bible)
  3. Third, if you want to default into the NIV, tap the top bar, followed by Settings, and choose from the "Preferred Bible" bar. (you may need to figure this out)
  4. In order to download the NIV, you may need to swipe the left window which usually begins with a "Go" and some Bible references. Note that as you swipe the left window from right to left, you will be presented with other options like, "Resources," "Favourites," History," and "Search."
  5. Be patient during the first time you are downloading stuff. It takes a while. Once it is all loaded up, the performance will be much faster.
Have fun!


Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Midweek Meditation: "Died to the Wrong Things?"

Christianity is not a killjoy faith. It does not mean we deny ourselves the good things in life. It just means we learn to deny ourselves things that prevent us from following Christ in the best possible way. Peter Scazzero makes this observation.

"Jesus does call us to die to ourselves. 'If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me' (Mark 8:34). The problem was that we had died to the wrong things. We mistakenly thought that dying to ourselves for the sake of the Gospel meant dying to self-care, to feelings of sadness, to anger, to grief, to doubt, to struggles, to our healthy dreams and desires, and to passions we had enjoyed before our marriage." (Peter Scazzero, The Emotionally Healthy Church, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003, p22)

There is a difference between living a humble life and a miserable life. The former willingly gives up earthly possessions. The latter unwillingly surrenders his things. The former looks forward to the joy. The latter looks back fondly to the things of old. The key is to look at Mark 8:34 more closely. It is not the dying, but the pursuit of Christ. Just think about courtship. For a guy who longs to spend time with the girl he likes, what is a nice dinner? He will even give up his own inconveniences for the sake of making it more convenient for his sweetheart. When his eyes are on the girl, everything else is not as important.

When our eyes are on the Lord, we will learn to appropriately deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Christ. Pray with an eye on seeking God more intently.

Monday, April 01, 2013

BookPastor >> "Messy Spirituality" (Mike Yaconelli)

This commentary and review was first published in March 16th, 2009. At the heart of the book is a plea for brothers and sisters in Christ, not to let the perfect ideal discourage us in our walk with God and one another. Life is messy. People are messy. In fact, anyone who desires to live a life in Christ will bound to experience a kind of spirituality that is downright messy. That is why we need grace from above and to extend the same to others.


TITLE: Messy Spirituality
AUTHOR: Mike Yaconelli
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007, (187 pages).

When One Feels Messy
  • “My life is in a mess. There are so many things to do, and I simply do not have enough time.”
  • “I try hard to be a good Christian, but I feel like I do not pray enough. Each time I sit down to pray, but things always distract me.”
  • “I know Bible Study is important. So I sign up for classes in the Bible Study Fellowship. However, the timing clashes with important household chores. Now, I want to study the Bible more, but I can’t.”
  • “I guess I am not as spiritual as I wanted to be.”
  • “It is hard for me to share my faith, unlike some who had training before. Don’t depend on me to share the gospel. Let the pastor do it.”
  • “I suppose you can simply call me an ordinary Christian. Anyway, how is it really possible to live a balanced life of prayer, worship, fellowship and Word?”

Not a Good Christian?
If you feel that some or all of them reflects how you feel, welcome to the club of struggling silent majority of the Christian world. Many of us live hectic lives. If one is not actively doing something, one feels unfulfilled, exacerbated by the sight of a world filled with people whose life personifies B.U.S.Y. Michael Yaconelli, the author of “Messy Spirituality” feels that people tend to have a wrong sense of what ‘spirituality’ means. It is plain unhelpful to expect people to live as if they can only be saved if they lived ‘rightly’ or giving their time to prayer, Bible and all other common spiritual disciplines taught. The first step is to recognize that Jesus came to save us as we are: sinners. Every other step stems from this very acceptance of our brokenness.
Sadly, spirituality is most commonly used by Christians to describe people who pray all day long, read their Bibles constantly, never get angry or rattled, possess special powers, and have the inside track to God. Spirituality for most, has an outerworldly ring to it, calling to mind eccentric saints who have forsaken the world, taken vows of poverty, and isolated themselves in cloisters.” (Michael Yaconelli, Messy Spirituality, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002, p12)
‘Good’ People in the Bible
Is there any spirituality not reserved for monks or spiritual super-people, but for ordinary folks like you and I trying to eke out an honest living? Yaconelli replies in the affirmative.
Spirituality is not a formula; it is not a test. It is a relationship. Spirituality is not about competency; it is about connection. The way of the spiritual life begins where we are now in the mess of our lives. Accepting the reality of our broken, flawed lives is the beginning of spirituality not because the spiritual life will remove our flaws but because we let go of seeking perfection and, instead seek God, the one who is present in the tangledness of our lives. Spirituality is not about being fixed; it is about God’s being present in the mess of our unfixedness.” (13)
If we were to recall the Scriptures, many biblical characters were not simply not perfect people. They do not have a clean-shaven spirituality. They come as they are, flaws and all.
  • Noah, after a triumphant building of the Ark, after surviving the great flood, went on later to become‘drunk and naked.’ (Gen 9:20-21)
  • Jacob was a cheat, (his name means ‘he deceives), but was still considered a biblical patriach. (Gen 25:26)
  • Joseph, though he was a favoured son, foolishly boasted about his interpretation of the dream without considering how it would affect his other brothers. (Gen 37:9)
  • King David committed adultery. (2 Sam 11)
  • Peter the apostle, denied Christ not once but thrice!

Unfortunately, sometimes when we do character study of biblical persons, we tend to overemphasize their ‘rightness’ and make them so ‘perfect’ that we revere them. What is most left out is not what they did, but how God has been merciful and faithful to them DESPITE their weaknesses. Likewise, when we go to church, sometimes we over-exalt those people in our churches to an uncomfortable altar of ‘spiritual’ rightness.
- “The pastor must be correct. After all, he has years of theological training.”
- “I can never understand the Bible myself, unlike the theologians who are so skillful.”
- “How do you expect me to pray like how the elders prayed? That’s why I’m not an elder.”

Now, I am not saying that those in pastoral positions or areas of leadership influence are never right. Neither am I saying that it is ok for layperson to be always wrong. What I am saying is that we should not put people on an unrealistic high pedestal which can turn them into hyped up professional spiritualists. In fact, the main point is that for people who find it a struggle to live a Christian life, it is ok. God accepts you as you are. That does not preclude the need to live the life demonstrated by Christian disciplines. Messy spirituality is basically to encourage these tired, discouraged individuals who loved God. They want to make a difference for God in their lives, but felt weak and uninspired. They are what we call, honest to God people.

Messiness as Workshop of Authentic Spirituality
Yaconelli argues that ‘messy spirituality’ is actually the ‘workshop of authentic spirituality, the greenhouse of faith, the place where the real Jesus meets the real us.’ (15) He continues:
Messy Spirituality is the scandalous assertion that following Christ is anything but tidy and neat, balanced and orderly. Far from it. Spirituality is complex, complicated and perplexing – the disorderly, sloppy, chaotic look of authentic faith in the real world. Spirituality is anything but a straight line; it is a mixed-up, topsy-turvy, helter-skelter godliness that turns our lives into an upside-down toboggan ride full of unexpected turns, surprise bumps, and bone-shattering crashes.” (17)

Some advantages of recognizing ‘messy spirituality:’
  • It stops our pretense
  • It reflects our imperfectness and lots of projects that will eventually remain ‘unfinished
  • It reminds us that we are often not as competent as we had wanted.
  • It tells us that all of us, can be driven to a point of desperation

One of the most profound things in ‘Messy Spirituality’ is the dispelling of the myth that God can only meet us when we have gotten everything right and worked out correctly. Like living correctly, living cleanly and staying righteous in all we do. Unfortunately, imperfect people cannot do that. Instead, until we confess we cannot save ourselves, to acknowledge we are already in a mess no matter how hard we try, God will not be pleased with us. We have to stop on our tracks upon seeking our own salvation through obedience to the law, but submitting ourselves to God’s grace even as we faithfully discharge our responsibilities and good works. In the New Testament, Jesus is constantly attracted to the outcasts, the undesired and the detested in society.

My Comments
I think it is important not to misinterpret Yaconelli’s ideas. As much as the book is to encourage people that it is ok, it is alright when we fail to do what we ought to be doing, it is necessary to point out the audience he is writing for. He is writing for people who are discouraged when they could not live a balanced life as a Christian. He writes to comfort people struggling endlessly with practicing Christianity while interacting with the world at large. He is NOT writing to tell people to continue doing mediocre jobs. He is NOT saying that it is always ok to give less than our best. He is above all, NOT saying that it is ok to continue living a life of sin. Such a book can be easily misinterpreted, and this point is the single most glaring weakness in the book. While it is true that all people struggle, some more than others, it is also true that people find strength to persevere in spite of their struggles. Paul the Apostle, while recognizing his weaknesses, chose to boast in the Lord’s strength. He is purposeful in what he does, making three great missionary trips. He tries his best, and practiced forgiveness and grace in his ministry. While Yaconelli may not be trying to promote mediocre spirituality, he is trying to console wounded believers trying honestly to live a honourable life for God. That put, it is an honourable task.

Is ‘Messy Spirituality’ then for us? My answer is simple: "Do we really have a choice?” The key to life is not whether one makes it through messily or squeaky clean. Avoid extreme nonchalant messiness which tend to shame rather than glorify God. Similarly, detest any tendency toward self-righteousness that puts people off, and bring dishonour to God. It is simply to recognize that at whatever state we are in, we live for the Lord. Live truthfully to oneself, to neighbour and to God. There is no other way.

There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. ” (Romans 3:22b-24)


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