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    Ethics: The Heart of Leadership

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    Servant Leadership: A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness

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    Warranted Christian Belief

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    Mammon Inc.

    By Hwee-Hwee Tan. Second novel by this very important young new author from Singapore applauded the world over, including The Times in London and the New York Times

    Three Philosophies of Life

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    Horrendous Evil and the Goodness of God

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    By Malcolm Gladwell. Blink is about the first two seconds of looking--the decisive glance that knows in an instant.

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    By Albert-Laszlo Barabasi. An engaging treatise about the fundamentals of interconnectedness and complexity that underlies neurology, epidemiology, Internet traffic, and many other fields.

    The Peaceable Kingdom

    By Stanley Hauerwas. A clear explication of a Christian ethic based upon the meaning of the gospel, highlighting virtues and character, and narrative as a mode of ethical reflection.

    The Goldsworthy Trilogy: Gospel & Kingdom, Gospel & Wisdom, Gospel & Revelation

    By Graeme Goldsworthy. A collection of masterful works expositing on the centrality of the Scriptures: the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    Grace and Law: St. Paul, Kant, and the Hebrew Prophets

    By Heinz Cassirer. A Kantian scholar looks at the Old Testament Law, and Paul's understanding of it, concluding that Kant's delimma is answered by the gospel of grace.

The Un-Right Christians

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Wednesday, September 29, 2004

What do we value most?

In Justice and Nature, Thomas Nagel discusses the challenges that a just society needs to balance between correcting inequalities that are due to nature and those due to defective social contructs.

Recently in a discussion with some others, someone noted that Nagel's observation that the American value for equal access to education for everyone has eroded tremendously in recent years. This can be seen by the serious lack of resources in many areas, especially the inner city, that has been allocated to education. Teachers have had to pay for their own materials, insufficient educational resources and overpopulated classrooms are commonplace in many public school districts.

My observation is that the American public highly prized some values more than others to the detriment of the society as a whole. In Nagel's words, "Injustice is not just another cost; it is something that must be avoided, if not at all costs, then at any rate without counting the costs too carefully. If a form of inequity in social arrangements is unjust, it should not be tolerated, even if that means giving up things that may be very valuable in other ways."

Alas, the American public has not taken heed. We instead have pursue aggressively other values more strongly held to be important; values that are affirmed by the framers of the Constitution, namely, life, liberty and happiness. An example of our hedonistic passions, and distorted value system media can be seen by how entertainment, media and sports celebrities are excessively overpaid, while the shapers, molders, and influencers of the nation's next generation of leaders and thinkers are, relatively speaking, treated like second class citizens.

I wonder whether today's America would have been any different if the Founding Fathers had paid more attention to the Psalms rather than to Locke and had focused on building the nation on principles of justice, peace and righteousness such as expressed in Psalm 9 and other passages.

Perhaps, the church's role is to permeate our society and bring these values to the forefront of our society by being "salt" and "light". One way of doing so would be to encourage our younger generation to take up the call to infuse every strata of society and to bring about transformation from the inside out.
...continue reading...What do we value most?

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Struggling to accept certain things...

I went to my counseling session today. I was actually looking forward to it, because I missed a session last week, and the week before last, we did not really have a session, because my counselor thought I was too emotionally drained to do any real work, so we had a chat and that was it. The past several weeks, she had been taking me back to my childhood and assisting me in the "healing of my memories." I was looking forward to trying to do that again today, since in earlier sessions, it had been rather difficult to connect with my "little boy". At today's session, it was a little difficult to do so and my memories were all over the place. My counselor later told me that she was praying that the Holy Spirit would lead me to the right memories in order to deal with the pertinent issues that I am ready to face.

It was quite a painful process having to go back and reliving the memories. Some of these memories have haunted me for a long while. They have caused shame, misery, distress, dismay, fear and quite a few tearful moments. Some of them are buried deep in the recesses of my mind and yet they have a way of replaying at the push of an invisible button, and when they do, they traumatize me. I remember some incidents when I was going through a particular tough period in my life. I would be driving along and all of a sudden tears would just flow freely. Other times, I found myself sobbing uncontrollably.

Over the past couple of months, I have been able to distinguish in my mind between on the one hand, what is merely a memory of a past incident, and the feeling of shame, fear, rejection, or whatever that was attached to it, and on the other hand, my present reality. In doing so, I have been able to allow myself to replay those scenes and then allow myself to accept God's grace for myself. It has helped to alleviate the pain and trauma that had once gripped me but instead have helped me to replay empowering thoughts about learning from my mistakes and reinforcing the idea that "whatever doesn't kill me makes me a stronger person."

But, today, as the counselor was letting me explore the relationship between my current (and seemingly chronic) stresses of the body and some of the lingering or undercurrent memories of the past, I came upon a point where I was really conflicted. It has to do with what my mom said (or did not say) to me as a young child. There were a couple of incidents that I remember regarding my mom's words to me, which have reinforced in my mind regarding my own self worth and self identity. Mom used a lot of reverse psychology in the way she tried to motivate us kids when we were younger. Without realizing it, I had internalized a lot of the things she said about me which in turned had underpinned my own idea of who I thought I was. And, I was surprised that I was finding it difficult to accept, on an emotional level, that she could have been wrong, even though intellectually I knew what I had internalized were untrue.

Having to confront those memories and in essence confront my mom that she was wrong about me was a difficult emotional thing for me to do. I love my mom. Whatever she did she did out of love for me. If I were to reject her words would I be rejecting her? Somehow, I had wired in my mind the connection that if I were to reject her assessment of me, I would be turning my back on her! I have to learn to detach myself from such thoughts and learn to see that my love for my mom and her love for me had nothing to do with the falsehoods that I have absorbed through incorrect messages that I had read through my ineraction with her in my younger days. I have to learn to accept God's view of who I am, not just intellectually, but also emotionally, and allow His grace to bathe me and embrace me and at the same time allow His love to reinforce my mom's love for me and my love for my mom without having to accept the lies I had internalized through those early experiences.

One surprising discovery for me was that in my struggle I found myself feeling distrust towards my counselor! Suspicions turned to alarm, then bordering on anger and even hatred! Emotionally, I had the feeling that she was trying to turn me against my own mom! I had to get a grip of myself and realize that what she was doing was to let me re-evaluate some of the undercurrent and internalized feelings of myself with how God Himself sees me and reassess myself from God's perspective rather than from the perspective of my need for mother's approval. I didn't tell her of the conflicts I was experiencing inside me as she was helping me to see myself as God sees me. The session soon ended without me really resolving much in my mind, but Jan(the counselor)'s parting words to me were that she would pray that the Holy Spirit will continue to work in my heart to help me process this.

I think I am beginning to get it now.

...continue reading...Struggling to accept certain things...

Monday, September 27, 2004

Lies We Have Bought Into #3

I see that my earlier post is causing quite a ruckus over at Messy Christian's. It seems that while Christians are uncomfortable with the idea of manipulating God, we also would like to cling on to the hope and belief that God is responsible for many of the good things that we do experience in this life. When we hear testimonies of good things happening to various Christian people, we want to give Him the glory and praise for it.

When things go particularly well, we think that God must have had a hand in it since He is our Father, and He looks after His own. Yet when things do go awry, we get confused. Sometimes we blame it on ourselves. Perhaps we do not have sufficient faith. Perhaps we have not done the proper confession, or have incorrect teaching about the promises of God. We have failed to claim what is rightfully ours. We are ignorant, or we are lazy, or we have not given God His due. We play the roles of Job's friends upon ourselves so well that even George Lucas would be impressed. Or perhaps, we put the blame on the Devil. After all, his purpose is to thwart the plans of God. Yet at other time we point the finger at other Christians. Sadly, sometimes we turn against God, slide into despair and unbelief.

Oh, we so want to be blessed by God. Therefore, we make it a point to pray for blessing. God, bless our home. Bless our church. Bless our family. Bless our business. I have blogged about blessing in my previous post, so I will not belabor the point here, although from some of the responses at Messy's I think I have not been able to get my view across clearly. In any case, I shall move on...

Closely related to misconception #2 (which should have been the title of this series... oh well...) is misconception #3 - how God answers our prayer.

We pray for all sorts of things in our lives. Because we believe in prayer. We believe, and rightly so, that in prayer we are inviting God into our lives, or rather, we are accepting God's invitation to share in His life.

The problem is that we take it for granted that God is going to answer our prayers in the way we have packaged for Him. We give God multiple-choice answers and say, choose one, Lord: "Yes", "No" or "Wait". Don't mark outside the box, don't pick more than one answer, or our scantron will not pick it up. So, we believe that God answers our prayers in one of the three ways, yet we only ever acknowledge it when He says "Yes" to our prayers.

A few years ago, my wife and I newly arrived in Western Australia and were looking for housing. Within a couple of weeks, we found a lovely home that we could afford in a nice suburb close to all the amenities we cared for. Leaving the realtor's office and as we were getting into our car, my wife exclaimed, "Praise God for His swift anwer to our prayer!" I shared my wife's elation, but I was a little concerned about the reason.

I looked at her and gently asked, "Honey, what if God had given us a "No"?"

She was quick on the draw, "I would have just praised Him!"

"Really?" I challenged.

We went on to discuss our thoughts on the matter. In depth. I don't remember clearly most of the rest of that conversation. But I do remember that it was the beginning of a long dialog that has continued to this day as we grapple with the issues surrounding these reflections.

I don't know if I have ever heard someone praise God or even acknowledge a "No" answer to a prayer. Perhaps the only time I can think of is in Corinthians, or I can imagine, in resignation. We only give God thanks when the answer to our prayer is in the affirmative.

Why is that?

I believe it is because our expectations about prayer and how God works in prayer are wrong-headed. For in prayer we do not go to God with a wish-list and expect to have him check off our list. In prayer we go to engage in the life of God and the result is that our lives are transformed.

God doesn't answer our prayers with a "Yes," "No," or "Wait!" Instead, He answers our prayers with "You..." When we approach God, rather than looking for His answers to our prayers, we had better tuned in our ears to listen to His voice. There is a difference, I believe. A huge difference.

UPDATE: Since posting this article, I have an updated post on what I call my "theology of prayer" which of course is a "work-in-progress". See it here.

...continue reading...Lies We Have Bought Into #3

Sunday, September 26, 2004

Lies We Have Bought Into #2

Last week, I was pondering on the issue of law and grace, and its implications. Today I want to think about this idea of "blessing". Actually I am not sure if I have ever believed this lie, but I hear about it all the time, hence, I have changed the series title to Lies We Have Bought Into. Something that I hear very often in Christian circles is the notion that God's blessings upon our lives equate to material success, a life of ease, comfort and joy. Often I hear testimonies from Christian people, and part way through their story, they will say something like, "The Lord blessed us and we have success in our business..."

When I was a little boy accompanying my mom to the Chinese temples, we had a very familiar ritual. We would go before the idols of the God of War, the Legendary General-God Kwan Kong with his fiery awesome face and impressive military regalia, burn incense and pray to Kwan Kong for protection and prosperity. We would go before the goddess of mercy Kwan Yin (no relation to the other Kwan or for that matter, to Michelle!) and ask for her protection and wisdom for my dad to run his business successfully. And my mom will take out a cup and roll pieces of paper on which are written numbers. She would hand me the cup and I would place the cup in my hands and with a praying motion ask the gods and goddesses to guide my motion, and then I would shake the cup with the pieces of paper rattling inside until one fell out. I would repeat the process until there are enough numbers for my mom to play the lottery game that week. You see, mom believed that the gods and goddesses would answer her prayer for wealth and prosperity by allowing her to win the lottery jackpot. Although it never happened, yet her faith would be unflagging. Every so often, usually, when she is ready to give up on a series of numbers, we would go through the same ritual and she would continue to believe that the numbers given were signs from on high for her windfall. Most times these rituals were accompanied by burning of incense and sacrifices of chickens and roast pork. The numbers almost always do not come out initially, but eventually one or two of the series would match, however, by then either there were just too many numbers for mom and dad to play, or they have given up with that series of numbers! That only validated their belief that the gods smiled on them, but it is their impatience (or lack of faith, or insufficient incense or pork or whatever) for not having steadfastly played the same numbers in the lottery. My point is, my mom believed in her gods (and so did I at the time), the gods of wood and stones, and that belief includes the provision of divine protection and material wealth and prosperity.

Now, it seems to me that most Christians approach their God in more or less the same manner. God is supposed to look after us, protect us from harm, help us in getting the right job, finding the misplaced key, healing from the latest bout of the flu, relieving us from the discomforts and suffering of life, and provide us with success and material wealth. We even ask God to help us win that war against those enemies of the nation. Oh, it is not so much explicitly taught as implicitly practiced. That is why we go about life praying for fine weather for the church picnic, blessing for the job interview, and praising him whenever little Johnny comes home with the straight-A report card. Just this morning, I heard someone making reference to how God blessed him in his business by giving him success. No wonder when the Western missionaries first entered China to preach their gospel, the Chinese did not see a difference between their gods and goddesses and the Western god. Both seemed to be doing the same thing, meeting the same needs. The only difference is that the Western God-followers claimed theirs to be the One True God. It is no wonder then that some Asians believed that this could be explained by cultural imperialism.

There are at least two reasons to believe why it is so easy to assume that God does bless us materially, and to believe that our physical well-being is a reflection of our relationship with God. One, it seems that this message can be found in the Old Testament. God does say that we will be prosperous and that He will bless us along the way, if we were to walk according to His law and obey Him. Doesn't it say as much in Psalm 1:3 that if we delight ourselves in the law of the Lord ...whatever we do we will prosper? Such promises abound, especially in the Psalms. Some may answer that the way of God in the Old Testament is contrary to the way of God in the New Testament, but if I were to accept that, then it would contradict my previous
complaint! Even in the New Testament, didn't Jesus Himself promised that He has come so that we might have abundant life? What does it mean to have abundant life but to live to the full, to enjoy all that this world has to offer, in short, to be successful, rich, prosperous, to blessed?

It is this underlying belief that God gets the blame so much when things don't exactly go according to our wishes, hopes or fantasies. We believe that good things are practically our birthright. When things don't work out, we accuse God of injustice. Or we blame our faith or lack of it. Like the disciples who saw the man who was blind from birth, we ask, "Is it our fault or our parents fault that this bad luck has befallen us?" In other words, things should have gone smoothly, and if it did not go smoothly, some one must have been at fault--someone needs to be blamed. The thing is, atheists also take this premise as a given in the argument from evil. Except that Christians believe that since we belonged to the Lord, He surely must look after his own?

Allied to this same view is the idea that "everything works for good" so we must "give thanks for everything" in our life.

A few years ago, I was driving a lemon of a car. It worked quite well until I took a trip outside of town. The longer distance coupled with the day's temperature (it was a hot Australian summer), strained the engine too much, and the head gasket blew. Since then I spent quite a lot of money repairing the dang thing. From then on, no matter how many mechanics worked on the car, there was always something wrong with the engine or the radiator. It would often heat up, especially during those long summer months. In hindsight, I should have given up on it, but I stuck with it, wasting much money in the process.

A very kind hearted and sincere sister in Christ one day recommended me to a mechanic she knew. She was taking me to see this new mechanic when she tried to explain to me why I was having so much problems with it.

"R, have you ever stopped to give thanks for this car?" she queried.

"What?" I was stumped.

"The Bible said to give thanks for everything, and you must give thanks for this car before your troubles can be lifted away."

I probably had such an incredulous look on my face, that it was a good thing it was quite dark in the car.

"No," I said softly, "that is something I cannot do. I don't believe I can give thanks to God for the problems I've had with this car. I can give thanks that it at least have been a reliable mode of transport for me for a little while, but I cannot sincerely give thanks to God for having had all these trouble with its radiator, its engine, and the money I have spent on it."

"Believe me, brother," continued the kind and patient sister, "this is the way for victory in the situation. You must give thanks for the car, and for everything you have experienced with it. Claim it by faith and you will see how God will work wonders and bring glory to His name."

"I believe the verse says in everything give thanks," I muttered, "which is quite different from for everything."

"There's no difference! You must give thanks in your situation about your car! If you do, you will find God will begin to release His power to work out your situation for the best. Taste and see the power of God, R!"

I didn't reply.

Somehow, I didn't buy that. For if I did, it would have been no different to what mom used to do for her gods. Only that, in my case, there is no need to burn any incense, sacrifice any chickens or roast pork, but merely to give thanks (No wonder they say grace is free!). It just sounded too suspiciously me-centered, although I could always rationalize it by giving thanks and asking for the miracle to be a demonstration of His glory!

Does this mean I do not believe that God works in our lives to bring about wealth, health, prosperity and other good things? I am not necessarily implying that God does not, although what I am saying is that He is more concerned with other virtues that He wants to develop in us, which may sometimes result in material success as a by-product. However, being short sighted as we are, we often take the shortcuts and focus only on the by-product. However, as a famous Australian ex-Prime Minister used to say, "There are no free lunches."

What do you think?
...continue reading...Lies We Have Bought Into #2

Friday, September 24, 2004

Leadership - Asking the Right Question

A few weeks ago, I pondered the question What or who is a Leader and then asked, "Do you consider Hitler a Leader? I didn't get many responses (either people were avoiding trick questions, or they just don't feel like commenting on my blog, or I have too few interactive readers!), but the ones who posted a comment considered Hitler to be a leader, albeit a bad one. I guess when I asked whether Hitler could be considered a leader, I framed the question wrong. Let me try again.

I believe that leadership has moral implications. That is, embedded in the definition of leadership are ethical considerations and implications that cannot be avoided. For leadership involve vision casting -- lifting people up to a higher level, and motivation -- inspiring people to go beyond themselves, to reach for and achieve the group's objectives or vision, rather than aiming for personal gain and to direct a group or community to fulfill a purpose higher than each member individually.

Perhaps another way to look at the question is to ask ourselves, "Do we consider Hitler to be a dictator? Or a tyrant? What about a manipulator?" If we say "yes" to all or even one of the previous questions, then the follow-up question is, "Can we say a dictator is a leader?" I suppose you might say, "Yes, just not a very good one." I then would like you to consider this: that leadership has moral implications such that there cannot be a bad leader. For the qualities of leadership are intrinsically good and worhty of high esteem. We may say, for instance, that a bad person may have exhibited a few of the characteristics of leadership, but by definition, we cannot say that this person is a leader.

Leadership is a quality, not a description of a rank, title or position. So, it may be true that some dictator, or despot exhibited qualities of leadership at some point in time, but in general, such people cannot be considered to be true leaders. What do you think? (Come, on now, don't be shy leave me your comments! :))

...continue reading...Leadership - Asking the Right Question

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Oh Grace!

In reflecting over my post on one of the lies that I used to believe in, that OT law is opposed to NT grace, it occured to me that I did not make myself clear why it was so important to understand the centrality of the grace of God throughout Scriptures, from the first pages of the Bible, when God clothed Adam and Eve with the animal skins to cover their shame, through to the final pages of Revelation when the Lamb of God is gather the redeemed together in the new heaven and new earth. It came back home to me when I read the JollyBlogger's struggle with his understanding of the gospel.

He tells how, as a younger Christian, he was under the impression that while it was by faith through grace that he was saved, it was through the works of obedience that he was to maintain his standing in Christ. Then, later in life, a pastor lovingly and gently took him aside and helped him to grasp the truth of the gospel:
"He explained to me that salvation was all of grace but so was sanctification. In thinking that the gospel justifies, but obedience sanctifies I had gone down an inevitable road of legalism that was destined to ruin my relationships, sap my joy in following Christ and hear me out."
I believe the problem the dichotomous idea of law vs. grace gives rise to an inaccurate understanding of law and grace. When Paul says that we are no longer under law, too often we equate this idea that "law" belongs to the Old Testament. We get this idea that in the Old Testament, God desired that his people should keep the Law in order to attain a proper relationship with Him. However, since people failed time and gain to do this, Christ came to fulfill the law. However, now that Christ has come and has given us this free gift of salvation, and imparted in us the free gift of the Holy Spirit, we should now be empowered by the Holy Spirit to keep His law and obey His word. Right? If we failed, then there must have it is because there is something wrong with our faith, or lack thereof.

We mistakenly hold onto the view as the JollyBlogger says, even though the gospel is free, sanctification is not. So, we come to Christ and salvation by faith through grace, but we must attain our relationship with God, and our "goal" and "rewards" through faithful works of obedience. So we fill up our lives with lists of do's and don't's and false measurements of spirituality, such as keeping our devotions, church attendance, not smoking, not drinking, and so on... After all, didn't Paul say that we have to work out our salvation? And James say that without works our faith is dead? But, when Paul contrasted the Law as opposed to Grace, he was not contrasting the way of the New Testament against the way of the Old. He was contrasting the way of Christ against the religion of the Judaizers and the Pharisees

That's why it is so important to understand that grace permeated throughout scripture and it is always through grace that God relates to us. Grace is about relationship, intimacy with God, getting to know Him, and walking with Him, the way He did with Adam ian the garden. Law on the other hand is about meeting external standards, unrealistic measurements, and it's about me and whether or not I measure up.

When we come to fully appreciate this Grace that is given to us through Christ, we see how blessed we are each day of our lives, that we have the privilege to know God, and to relate to Him and to let Him be involved in our lives. We see that throughout Scriptures, God's greatest desire is to know us, and for us in turn, to know Him. Intimately.

...continue reading...Oh Grace!

What famous leader you are ?

I was going to blog about leadership and what it means to be a leader, but came upon this fun little quiz and thought I'd pass it on. You might have come across it though, but I thought you might like to try it yourself. Post your findings in the comments and let's see which past leader you are?

But, beware! You might not like what you find out! Here's my result:

...continue reading...What famous leader you are ?

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Lies that I used to believe in #1

Someone once said, "Everything You've Heard is Wrong". Actually, it was Tony Campolo, one of my favorite mentors. I call him my 'mentor' because I have learned quite a few things from him over the years, and continue to do so, both personally as well as through his books, talks and articles. And the saying is actually the title of one of his books. In the spirit of "Everything... wrong" I decided to run through some of the things that I used to believe in, but have since discovered that the truth is somewhat different than what the "official received version" that was handed down by the church(es) I have attended, or by the teachings in Christianity I have received:

Lie #1: Salvation in the Old Testament is through works of the Law while in the New Testament it is through faith by grace... (Law Vs Grace, OT Vs NT, etc. etc.)

In a nutshell this lie causes a contrast between the nature and purpose of the law and the function and understanding of God's grace. On the one hand, we say that in the New Testament era we are under grace, and on the other hand, we say that the Old Testament law doesn't apply to us anymore. Yet, we still draw upon the Old Testament legalistic approach and some decidedly Old Testament practices as the norm in our spiritual commitments. For instance, most Christians and churches encourage the practice of tithing and we do appeal to the OT from time to time to support our Christian beliefs, customs and practices.

One thing we do not carry over from the Old Testament is its alleged emphasis on Law. And, for sound biblical reasons too. After all, didn't Paul say in Romans that we are not under law, but under grace? From verses like these we have too quickly extrapolated to believe that in OT times the nation of Israel was under law but now in NT times, the church is under grace. We also get this from John 1: 17: "For law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." From these passages, we somehow extrapolated that in OT times, God was standing by ranking his people by their obedience to the law, and accepting those who by their dedication and superhuman powers were able to keep the whole law. Based on Romans 7, I doubt anyone qualified! That means, no one in the Old Testament would have met God's standards. So, no one was "saved" (although according to my OT professor at college, salvation in the OT is decidedly a very different concept from our post-NT understanding - but I shall leave that for another post), or no one had right relationship with God in the OT, at least not in the period since the introduction of the law of Moses.

Yet, we do know that there were people who found favor in God's eyes and that they were those who we anticipate one day meeting as part of the roll of the saints. So, what gives? Did God deal with people differently in the OT? Did He change the way He relates to His people? What about the concept of "Jesus the same, today, yesterday and forever?" Oh, His essence does not change, but the way He deals with His people has changed! Is that so?

I rather doubt it!

The Old Testament law is a grand testimony to the grace of God! And I learned this from a Moody Bible Institute class many years ago! Yep! That institution which champions dispensationalism, and the rightly dividing the word of truth, of understanding the contrast between the dispensation of grace against the dispensation of law, etc! While taking an Old Testament course from MBI, I came upon the lesson of Leviticus 16: the day of atonement. The lecture was on the centrality of the Day of Atonement. Every year the High Priest must offer a sin offering and a burnt for himself and his family. And then he must offer a sin offering for the people in the form of a goat. The elaborate ritual culminates with the High Priest laying hands on the head of a live goat and confessing over it "all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites-all their sins" and then release of the scapegoat- the goat that shall "carry on itself all their sins"-into the desert. Finally, all of the remains of the bull and the goat that were the sin and burnt offerings were to be all carried outside the camp and everything to be burned up.

This is a solemn ritual and a critical part of the Old Testament religion. The Day of Atonement is the quintessential expression of grace in Old Testament law. It points to Final Day of Atonement when Christ is offered up as the ultimate sacrifice. But each year that the Day of Atonement was celebrated in Old Testament times, it is another year of reminder of God's grace and His acceptance of his people who chose to walk according to His ways. So, works of the law did not achieve peace with God for the OT faithful, but keeping the law did! For keeping the law includes the Day of Atonement when ALL their sins were confessed and taken outside the camp as a symbolism that God has removed their sins from them as far as the east is from the west... Did you get that? Keeping the OT Law actually 'saves'! Not through the works of the law, but through the grace of God! And the grace of God was revealed through the Law of Moses

The point is the God of Moses is the same God revealed through Jesus Christ. A God full of grace and mercy. A God who does not count our sins against us because He is gracious to give to us a way out and restores us to Himself, and a God who does not deliver us our just deserts because He has offered a Substitute for us to receive At-one-ment - peace - with Himself.

What a God! The same, yesterday, today and forever!
...continue reading...Lies that I used to believe in #1

Monday, September 20, 2004

Pastor, may I please meet with you?

There are two things I have noticed with Messy Christian. One, she seems to have a lot of zing. Second, whenever she rants, I find that I can relate, very well. It is clear that I am not alone in this. She seems to be voicing the blinding obvious that many other Christians have experienced but have failed to either notice the injustice, the wrong, the situation-not-to-be-tolerated, or simply we have been lulled by the status quo to realize any different. It is as if we are stupefied frogs in the proverbial boiling kettle, and as the temperature raised, we have not felt the discomfort, so we remain in the kettle waiting to be boiled alive. But, in jumps this little spunky froggie from the other pond, and she is shrieking and making a hell of a noise. Slowly but most certainly, we begin to wake from our slumber, our skin begin to feel the sting and the discomfort of the heat ooze the sweat out of our pores so we too start to join in the ruckus. Hopefully it is not too late for us to get out of this boiling water that would have killed us, or for us to make enough commotion so that someone hears and turns down the heat!

Well, the latest rant from Messy inspired my recall a not-too-dissimilar recent experience, although not along the same lines as Messy's. In my case, the senior pastor I encounter doesn't hide behind the CEO's trappings, although he is still entrapped by similar malaise - the busy-ness of managing a large church and the success of ministry taking time away from people & relationship. In my case, I don't have much to complain much about my pastor, but I have to blog about this regarding my own journey as this is in a way part of my own therapy. Okay, enough philosophizing already, let me relate my experience, which must be related in the context of a couple of past experiences. Here goes:

My wife and I have had a couple of traumatic, soul-wrenching type experiences involving a couple of our children. Both of them involved people with whom we have entrusted our children, and both times our trust had been violated, and our children had suffered, bringing us much grief and angst. Both times, my impulse was to sue, or to seek reparations of some form. Both times, we decided to do the "Christian" thing and be gracious and not take any action. Yet, both times we did not know how to grieve. Christian friends did not help either. Instead of rallying around us, we have friends who questioned our actions, intentions and choices, even our fitness as parents. We were devastated, alone, anguished, pained, and not knowing where to turn. In those days, we were attending what would be considered very much a "fundamentalist" church even though there were signs of progressiveness in it. However, when it comes to counseling, it was considered a "no-no" for Christians as that would be relying on man-centered psychological theory. We are to have faith and trust in God to solve all our problems. And if we continue to have problems, then the problem is with our faith or lack thereof. So, there we were left to cope with our struggles, and even though we tried, through much prayer, many spiritual songs and psalms later, we were still left with a huge emotional scar that even time failed to heal properly.

Recently we encountered another situation. The church where we are attending hired a new junior high pastor. During the three months that he was at the church, he was well loved by many, including our son. After three months, there was a sudden change. The pastor sent out a letter saying that because of personal reasons he has had to to take up counseling and "personal mentoring" and that he had to leave the ministry. Nothing more was said. The church did not make any formal announcements. No one talked about it. In fact, because my wife and I worked closely with him and because he is closely connected to our child, we organized a farewell party for him during the last Sunday of his tenure. We begin to realize that something was amiss when most of the parents just failed to show up for the party.

Alarm bells started to ring in our minds. We were in a daze. Did they all know something we don't know? My wife says this reminded her so much of our previous experiences, as we had initially supported the people who were accused of abusing the children under their care. These were not just carers of our children but also our friends. Sure we would support them. But, then the Department of Social Services contacted us and informed us that they have evidence that our own child was also involved. That sent us reeling. How could we have been so careless? So blind? How could we have been so trusting and not acted to protect our child? We cried, we had sleepless nights, in fact, we nearly lost it all and went separate ways ourselves. Is this going to happen all over again? This time, though, we have a counselor. She advised us to confront the problem head on and seek out the senior pastor to talk to him and ask what the exact problem is this time. Our junior higher had spent extended time with the youth pastor. Did he violate our trust and were there any abuse? We need to know. We had not been good at confronting those who had harmed our children before. We had trusted people and they had taken advantage of this trust, and we had been helpless before. Now we need to act on this. So the counselor asked me to call the Senior Pastor to meet with him and talk about this.

I called the church office, and left a message for the Pastor. Later that day, I got a call back from his PA. What is this about? Can someone else help you? A day or two later, the pastor himself e-mailed me. He was going to be busy for the next three weeks. Do I have a cell phone? Can he call me on the cell? No, I said. I don't have a cell. It is too personal a problem to discuss over the phone, when can we meet? Unfortunately I did not get a reply after that. He was indeed busy. Then I sank into my depression (not only due to this problem, but due to my continued battle with this disease) and I failed to call the pastor. One month drag on to the next. Summer came and everyone is on vacation. The issue is still not resolved. That has been almost four or five months ago now. Still no one had spoken about the pastor's resignation. We are still in the dark. In the meantime, I have been observing my child. Trying to see if there are signs of abuse. Is there inappropriate anger? Withdrawal? Hurt? I am not sure, he is a growing adolescent, soon to be teenager. The hormones are swirling and his moods do swing back and forth. Should I still meet with the pastor? The counselor think for my own mental health, and for my own facing with my own demons, I should still do it. Will my pastor be still too busy for me? Should I call him? What if it was nothing as serious as we are imagining? Maybe I am just extrapolating from my own previous experiences. What should I do? I am still conflicted. I really don't know what to do.

...continue reading...Pastor, may I please meet with you?

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Still learning new stuff about blogging...

Just turned on the "link field" that has stumped me for a little while. Tell me what you think - do you like it (that's the feature that allows you to click on the title of the post as a link. Not sure what difference it is with the "permalink" at the bottom of the post. Maybe someone can enlighten me). Also I added Haloscan to my blog yesterday and learned what a "Trackback" is. Will go back and edit some of my posts so that I can add the Trackback to other articles. Blogging is so cool! Also learned something that is not-so-cool though. When I installed HaloScan to my blog, I destroyed all the comments that was left on the system! I wonder if there is a way to get them back? Can someone tell me?? If you read this, and you had a comment removed from the system, I truly am sorry. If you wish, please re-send your comment. As you can see, I am still a novice in this type of things. But I am enjoying it! It is good therapy!

...continue reading...Still learning new stuff about blogging...

Is heaven and hell for real?

Several years ago. I was having breakfast before work with my colleagues and our sales manager. We were chatting away, bonding with each other. After breakfast, as we were walking back to our office, my manager stopped me and said, "I was interested listening to you talk about your church activities... don't tell me you are one of those fundamentalists who believe in the existence of a heaven up there and a hell down there..." he smirked... I stopped to think for a moment, then looked him in the eye, and then said, attemtping to do so with a twinkle of an eye (how exactly do you try that?), "I cannot say for sure whether one is up there and the other is down there. For all we know, there might be a metaphysical heaven and a metaphysical hell that is beyond space and time, yet I beleive that both are nonetheless both as real as you and I are standing here." His smirk disappeared from his face. He looked a away and thoughfully muttered, "Hmm... interesting, never thought of it that way before. Perhaps you do have a point..."

The answer I gave him still causes me to wonder about the reality and mystery of heaven and hell and how we can share this as a life changing truth in our lives today, so that our friends and children understand the importance of the reality of life as God intends for us to live. In a society where people often openly deny the existence of God, or at least claim ignorance about the question, they sure openly declare their beliefs or hopes that their loved ones are in heaven. Yet, they would deny the possibility of a hell. How important is the concept of heaven and hell to post-moderns? I remember many years ago, one of my Chrsitian friends told me that he was "frightened" into the flock by the fire-and-brimstone messages he heard earlier in life. Is the message of heaven and hell still relevant in this post-modern, post-foundationalist, post-authoritarian age of skepticism and pragmatism? If so, what is the nature of this message? Perhaps the important thing is not so much that there are identifiable places, or even that that is the ultimate destination for everyone that should be the emphasis, but what it means for us here on earth, living the here and now and how that should impact our lives now. If that is the case, then how exactly should the message be framed?

...continue reading...Is heaven and hell for real?

Saturday, September 18, 2004

A blessing for my daughter

Today is my daugther's fifteenth. I wrote her a blessing. I will lay hands on her and read the blessing out to her tonight during dinner. It goes like this:

A Blessing for My Daughter _______

As you enter your fifteenth year, my dearest daughter _______, I want to bless you with God’s richest blessings for a year of adventure, flourishing and celebration. I pray that you will sense the guidance of the Holy Spirit as you walk with Him, and allow Him to show you who you are and the blessings God has prepared for you in Christ Jesus, as He promised in Psalm 89:15: “Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you, who walk in the light of your presence, O LORD.”

_______, God has given you many qualities of a special young lady. You have a big compassionate heart, you are conscientious and your creative spirit permeates everything about you.Your family has enjoyed your sense of humor, your energetic, caring and adventurous spirit. As you grow and develop into the beautiful young woman that you will become, I pray that you will continue to sense the guiding hand of your God and that you will draw from the wealth of gifts and resources that you have in your Lord Jesus Christ. I pray that you will discover ways to bless others with the special talents and gifts that God has endowed you.

May your caring nature and love bless all those whose lives you touch, may your diligence be rewarded many times over and may your creativity expand the imaginations of all those whose lives you impact. I pray that this year will be a year of tremendous blessing and that you will see how special you are in the eyes of Your Father God.

- From Dad,
Sept. 18, 2004

I printed it on parchment paper and will hand the blessing to her in a scroll. I started this tradition when my oldest celebrated her twentieth a few months ago. I believe it is a biblical practice that allows the head of the family to share his (or in the case of single parent families, her) vision upon his/her child to live the life that God has prepared for that child.

Let me know what you think.

...continue reading...A blessing for my daughter

Friday, September 17, 2004

Haloscan commenting and trackback have been added to this blog.
...continue reading...

Thursday, September 16, 2004

Why I am in California

Someone asked me the other day why I am in California. Here is part of the answer...I was born in Malaysia. As a young lad, my father lost his job and could not find another position anywhere because of his age. My brother at that time just completed high school and got an offer to join the Singapore Army. My father had served with the British Army years before that and happened to meet an ex-Army friend. Through this friend, he received a job offer to work in an Australian offshore territory called Christmas Island. My Mom initially could not join him because he had only a single room on the Island, but the plan was that as soon as he got himself a "Married Quarters" he will send for Mom. He was on the waiting list, and apparently it would be rather "soon" that he would get one. So, it was decided. I was to be sent to live with my Uncle and Aunt while my Mom moved into a one-bedroom apartment near a factory where she worked. My Uncle and Aunt were my surrogate parents for a number of years. Our family of four were broken apart then and never really came back together again... I was a young adolescent who needed guidance, love and care from his parents but were unable to have it. I missed Mom and Dad so much during those years. One of the shows on TV that I used to watch was the Waltons. I remember thinking, "That is the family I want to be in! I want to go to America and find the family that I don't have!"

Years later, my dad came to take me with him. Even though the entire family had then made our home in Australia, and I lived there for many years, and started becoming one of the locals in terms of vernacular, a little bit of the culture, and even being an Aussie Rules Football fanatic, something was missing for me there. It was home in one sense, and yet I was still longing for the land of the Waltons. To cut a long story short... almost twenty five years later, my wish almost came true... I arrived in California! It had been a long road, and I have not yet found the Waltons, but perhaps, by God's grace, I can recreate our own "Waltons" here in this land...

...continue reading...Why I am in California

My First "Standing up for Christ" Experience - The Day After.

The day after that encounter I was in my room, sitting up in my bed, with my history text in front of me. I wasn't reading it, though. I was praying, very hard! I heard my mom's footsteps come into my room. She walked across to the shelves where all the incense and joss sticks are stored (since it had been my duty to perform these rites at home, it was convenient to have these items stored in my room). I was trembling, as I thought another confrontation was about to take place. I wasn't sure I was able to stand up for my Lord again. Although I felt condemned, I was also longing for forgiveness and redemption. I remember having prayed for forgiveness many many times that day, thinking that if I was persistent, perhaps God would surely answer.

I heard the rustle of the paper as Mom took the joss sticks from the package and heard her strike a match to light up the joss sticks. As the fragrance of the incense filled the room, I heard Mom walked out of the room. No words had exchanged between us. I still had my history text in front of me, pretending to be reading. I breathed out a sigh of relief and gave thanks to God. From that day on, my mother took over the offering of incense and no longer put the pressure on me to do any of that task. Tears ran down my cheeks again as I felt the full wash of the forgiveness and God's miraculous intervention in my life.

Mom did not discuss the incident but from that day on, I began to sense a little more acceptance of my commitment to Christ. In fact, soon after, during one of the religious festivals when we used to celebrate over a meal of chicken, roast pork and other food that had been offered to the different gods, Mom specially prepared food that hadn't been so offered for me. She allowed me to go to church openly.

In the past I had to sneak out of home to go to church. For the longest time, I did not attend Sunday services because Mom forbade it, but I was able to go to youth group by telling her a white lie - I would tell her that I was going to a friend's house to study. I would then ride my bicycle to my friend's place, study for 15 minutes and excuse myself to go to church, and return immediately after the youth services. But, since that incident with the joss sticks, she allowed me to even go on Sundays!

Six months later, I asked to be baptized, and she not only gave her blessings, but came along to the services! God works in mysterious ways!

...continue reading...My First "Standing up for Christ" Experience - The Day After.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

On Being Counter Cultural

Wade Hodges had some very good things to say about the need to live within your means on this post. It is a very insightful post about the need to be prudent in our financial affairs in contrast to the consumerism and materialistic orientation of society at large. While I like the main thrust of his post, something he said about being counter cultural set me thinking. It is one of those terms that we all take for granted. There are many scriptural references to validate the notion that Christians are supposed to adopt a lifestyle that is counter to the cultural norms and standards of mainstream society. We are to be "in the world" but not "of the world." We are to "come out from among them" and we are to let our "light so shine" in the dark corners so that unbelievers can observe our "good works and give glory to the Father." For years, parts of the church interpreted this motivation for distinctiveness by adopting a legalism that turned out to be counter productive to the gospel and the mission of the church. I wonder if in our eagerness to be culturally distinctive that we go out of our way to be different for the sake of being different. That can very easily lead to arrogance, aleniation, and render us ineffective in relating to the very people we are supposed to reach. So, how do we strike a healthy balance?

...continue reading...On Being Counter Cultural

More about East Vs West

When I was a kid, in 2nd or 3rd grade, I used to love picking up my brother’s books and reading them. We did not have many reading material at home, and I loved to read, so all I could do was to read my brother’s books after I was done with mine. Whenever we started a new school year, I would take home all my books and pour through them all. I picked up a book called “Far Eastern History.” I didn’t know where “Far Eastern” was. I opened my brother’s atlas, and saw that “Far Eastern” meant the part of Asia roughly east of India. I was a little confused, because initially I thought Far Eastern meant America! Since if I opened my atlas, and looked at where I was (Malaysia) slightly to the east of Malaysia were the islands of the Philippines and if you go further east, you will reach the Pacific islands and the Far East you will get California! However, soon, as I started to read the text and other information that was taught to us, I began to develop a perspective that was quite foreign to me, but then I never realized it. It was a decidedly western perspective. What did I expect when my teachers were trained either in the UK or in the US, and we were following a syllabus that was preparing us for the Cambridge Senior High School Examinations? My dad used to work for an American firm, a company he joined after leaving the British Army in Malaya. So, growing up I was surrounded by “Western-ism”. No wonder "Easterners" seem to all adopt the "Western" perspective so easily. What is sad is that when Christianity is brought to their shores, people equate "Christian" with "Western". And, even the Christians seem to think so!
...continue reading...More about East Vs West

My First "Standing up for Christ" Experience

Messy Christian today posted up more of her rants about what I call the dichotomy of "East Vs West" thinking even among "eastern" Christians. The entire post could have been my own. For the longest time, I have been struggling with my own identity - national, racial, spiritual and personal. Ever since I became a Christian from the time I was 12 years old, I have had trouble reconciling my racial heritage with my faith, among other things. My mom had been terrified that I would be un-filial and not look after her soul after she die (a critical concept in Chinese cosmology, but more about this in some other future post). Even after I made my commitment to Christ, I had continued to accompany her to the Chinese temples, and been the filial son at home "feeding" the "gods" and also the "ancestral rites (or as most people refer to, incorrectly, in my opinion, ancestral worship") with joss-sticks incense daily. Then the day came when the teachings of the church encouraged me to "make a stand for Christ".

It was heartbreaking for me. I remember it well. I was about 15, and at the time it was my duty (actually it should have been my brother's, but then again, he was an acting-out rebellious teenager and I was the filial son--will blog about that another time) to "feed" the "god of the earth" with incense each morning. I loved doing it, as I had grown up with stories of the Chinese gods and goddesses and really loved to take care of these spiritual beings who looked after the welfare of the family. Anyway, when I was convicted that I could only worship the One True God and that I had to give up my wayward serving God and "Mammon" ("Mammon" because the Chinese believed that these gods are responsible for bringing good luck - ie help you be successful in your vocation and bring good luck and windfall across your path), I decided to make a stand. This is what happened.

Each morning, just before I went out the door to school, I would tell Mom, "Mom I am going to school now, bye!" and dash out the door before she could stop me. After a couple of mornings, she caught on, and asked me if I had done my joss-stick duty to the god of the earth. I said, "Yes!" then breathed a prayer of confession for my lie and asked God for forgiveness. (When I first became a Christian a few years prior to that, I did not know that you only need to receive Christ as Savior once, and I used to pray the sinners prayer and asked Christ to come into my heart all over again several times a day when convicted of my sins). But by that time, I had learned that I did not need to use the Rev. 3:20 type of prayer, but the 1 John 1:9 type of prayer. Nevertheless, I was still conflicted and troubled that here I was lying to my own mother when I was supposed to be bearing good testimony to my God!

I was traumatized. I knew mom would find out. In fact, that day, I stayed behind after school because I dare not face my mom after school. I went to the school library and did not return home till quite late. Mom did not say anything throughout dinner. Then, after dinner she confronted me. She wanted to know why I lied. "Take the joss sticks and light them up and kneel before the altar of the god of the earth". I did not budge. I had never been so openly defiant to my mom before. She went out of my room and returned with a belt. When I was younger, mom used to keep a "cane" that she will take out to punish me when I was naughty. It seemed that she had misplaced the cane because she hadn't used it for over several years. A belt would do, she figured, I guess!

She forced me to kneel down before the god's altar. Still I refused to light the joss sticks and "baibai" - pay homage to the god. Instead, I was asking God for a miracle. I was asking for His intervention. Why won't He hear my prayers! She started belting me. As the belt struck me and stung my hands, arms, feet and back, I remained motionless, asking God to rescue me and asking God to stop Mom, asking God to make me invisible, asking for the rapture to happen, anything! Actually, I was very conflicted as I probably did not really want the rapture to occur at that point, as I wanted God to save my mom too. In any case, I was distraught but I decided that I must stand up for my God. Whoever loves mother and father more than me is not worthy of Me. Then, Mom started crying. She was crying out something about offending the ancestors and about how she has been a bad mom and had brought up an unfilial son.

My heart hurt. I broke down. I asked God for forgiveness. I couldn't bear to watch mom suffer anymore. Damn me to hell. I will commit the unpardonable sin and go to hell instead of watching my mom agonize any more. I lighted the joss sticks, tears streaking down my cheeks, and "baibai" the god of the earth, and placed the joss sticks on the urn. I slowly returned to my room. Mom returned to hers, still sobbing. Only I couldn't hear her anymore, as I stifled my own cries. I had sinned against my mom, and now I had sinned against my God. I offended my ancestors and now I offended my God. My ancestors were angry with me, but then so was God. I cried myself to sleep that night.

Epilogue: Read what happened the next day.
...continue reading...My First "Standing up for Christ" Experience

Monday, September 13, 2004

What it means to me to be radically transformed

While driving to work today, I was reflecting on my pastor’s sermon at church yesterday. He preached from Luke 5:25-32, and from that passage, he drew from the experiences of Jesus to apply to our lives today. He said that we must stay focus on the mission of our church which is simply to go out (Jesus left the town...where He had just performed a miracle, he did not stop to bask in the glory of that event, but went out of his way, v. 27a) of our way-get out of our comfort zone-to see (Jesus saw a tax collector, one of the outcasts of the then society, v. 27b) the misfits (the needy, the disenfranchized, the powerless, those not able to repay, etc) out there in society, and share (Jesus dined-partied-with Levi, v. 30) life-be real, be honest & vulnerable, be there with and for them-transparently in an authentic manner with them. In the process, we need to embrace total, reckless abandon to God’s sovereign control, to celebrating life and to intentionally seeking out the unwell, and the hurting around us to touch their lives with God’s healing balm.

As my pastor spoke, I had a familiar warmth inside me. I was saying, Yeah! I like that! That’s what I am about! I can connect with that! I want to abandon myself to God’s total care and to dare to trust Him to use me to seek the misfits, the hurting, the disenfranchized and the unlikely, unsuspecting in order to let His Spirit work in them through me.

Yet, within a few short minutes at my desk, and my feathers were ruffled, and I was shaken senseless. The e-mails from my boss, the crises that she created and fires she started for me to put out, all of a sudden it seems such a tall order for me to fulfill God's purposes in my office, in my work and in my life! In fact, I reacted badly to my boss' belittling e-mails, and her overbearingly selfish, soul-destroying tones in the way she (1) undermines the quality of work we have done as not up to par (2) that she is the only one who knows how to serve the customer aright and (3) we must acknowledge our total helplessness, unworthiness to have the privilege to work under her as our mentor, supervisor and manager. She sounds incredible doesn't she? Believe me, you haven't met another boss like this! I was totally taken aback on my first day of work when she assigned me to a project, and upon sitting down at the computer I found that it did not have Microsoft Office installed. I promptly sought out one of the IS department staff members and found a copy of Microsoft Office to install on this computer. When she found out what I had done, she gave me a public lecture about software licensing, proper protocol and procedures etc etc for about fifteen mintues. And, that is about one of the shortest lectures I have experienced since. I'm telling you! She is The Boss from That Other Place Beyond the Great Chasm!

At lunchtime today, I once again reflected what my pastor spoke about yesterday. In his sermon, he punctuated the points throughout with the question, "What about you?" Yeah, what about me? I was totally ashamed of my immature reactions to my boss' antics this morning. I once again reminded myself that it really isn't my issue. It is hers. She must have had some past experiences that caused her utter mistrust of others, and almost insane desire to be exalted high above everyone else around her, even to the detriment of the morale of her own team thereby hurting herself indirectly. So, I will protect her from doing that. Since I have tried confrontations which made things worse, or even tried to reasoning which ends up in me being totally exhausted and her having more justifications why she must continue to do the things she does, etc. The next best thing is to learn to roll with the punches, but to be a positive influence both to her and to the people around her, that is the team. Instead of succumbing to the negative influences that her belittling and her harsh tones can sometimes do to me, I will let God's Spirit work in me and through my life to bring peace, healing and blessing to the entire work place and the team. I will let God work His life through me and be transformed by Him to empower those around me so that we are lifted up and not torn down. So I choose to be God's transformation agent in the place that I find myself.

Frankly, I would rather be somewhere else doing the "transformation" thing. It would be so much easier to work in a less hostile environment, and be in "transformation" with other Christians, singing happy songs, and doing "spiritual" work. Somehow being in this apparent "hellhole" can be very demeaning, and transformation can look distastefully ugly or even unimaginably impossible. Yet God has called me to be the tranformation agent right here, first beginning with who I am, and then translating to how I respond to the trials, stresses and the chaotic work environment around me and onto the spheres of influence that I have the opportunity to impact. I may not even get to see any of my colleagues "converted" (in the conventional) as a result, but all he wants from me is to be faithful to being instrumental for them to feel the touch of the hand of God or catch a glimpse of His grace, mercy and love through what we go through together as a community of people at work together. That's all my Lord has called me to be and I pray that by His grace I can live up to that high calling.

...continue reading...What it means to me to be radically transformed

Me and My Toxic Boss

My colleague sent me the story below as one that is applicable to our boss:
In “Brutal Bosses and Their Prey” (1996, Riverhead Books), Harvey Hornstein identifies six types of bad bosses: Conquerors (classic schoolyard bullies) – They’re concerned with power. Make you feel small. Expect you to genuflect or, at the very least, kiss their rings. Performers (constantly threatened bullies) – They attack anyone who seems to be competitive. This type of boss puts negative comments in your personnel file without telling you. Manipulators (take-credit-for-your-ideas bullies) – They smear you. Take credit for your ideas. Blame their failures on you.Dehumanizers (people-are-numbers bullies) – They treat you like a robot because it’s easier to abuse a thing than a person.Blamers (you-deserved-it bullies) – When they reprimand you, they take comfort in the fiction that you deserved what happened to you.Rationalizers (abuse-for-a-greater-cause bullies) – They vilify you supposedly for your own good. Or for the company’s.
As I read the above, I checked off every one of the descriptors as applicable to our boss. It's true, she belongs to every single category and perhaps more! But why don't I leave you ask? At the moment, my work visa is tied down to this company and I am working on my GC. As soon as that is approved, I will have options. For now, I am learning a lot of humbling lessons about turning the other cheek. Pity I only have two. But, I am also learning what it means to be a blessing to unlikely and unsuspecting people.
...continue reading...Me and My Toxic Boss

Feeling down...

A few days ago I was reflecting on depression, and lately I have been feeling it. I just can't help it... I just have been feeling really down the past few days. I can't put my finger on the cause, but my psychiatrist did warn me that depression will take hold every now and then like a pendulum swing. I have been feeling quite well... until this weekend. It must have been the stress, I just don't know. The job, the amount of work, the boss, the visas (I have just begun my application for the Green Card), my daughter, the memories and the lingering pain, it all adds up.

It is now almost a year ago when I first started the counseling session. At about that time, my oldest daughter, then a college freshman, had declared her independence from God in her life, and decided to move out of the house. This, after months of fighting with us about her staying late night outs with boy friends, working at a bar, and not paying attention to school. My second daughter then a high school freshman, were having problems with friends (her complaint: she doesn't have friends at school and church). After several tumultuous months of fighting and loud disagreements, where there were much screaming and yelling between the two of us, I finally give in and accepted that it is best to not force her to attend youth group. The yelling sessions did not stop immediately though. My wife was concerned about my mood swings. The problem was intensified that it appears that the downswings of my moods appears to coincide with the monthly hormonal swings of my daughter's. Fearing that my children will leave God one at a time and that the harder I try the worse I seemed to make it, I made the appointment to see the counselor. Fortunately, we were able to find a Christian counselor at the Center for Hope and Healing who was willing to accept reduced fees for the sessions. The sessions helped almost immediately. At about the same time, I started reading
Feeling Good-by David Burns.

My counselor had told me that it will get ugly for me before healing comes. In fact, when she first indicated that I should be evaluated for bipolar syndrome, I was in disbelief (or denial?), but dutifully agreed to make an appointment with the psychiatrist to be evaluated. However, I was quite sure I would come out in the clear. I was pretty sure that my "depression" was circumstantial or caused by life events, and not caused by a disease. I took a self-check depression test found in Feeling Good, and scored 37 (out of 100)- "moderate depression". Thinking that is within the normal range of most people, I made copies of the test and passed them along to my colleagues to also take the test. I was rather stunned when their scores were between '2' and '7' - in the range of 'not depressed'. More surprises awaited me.

At my appointment with the psychiatrist I was astounded that the evaluation consisted entirely of a question and answer session. I was under the impression that it would be involve some form of "scientific" measurement of serotonin levels using electrodes, or brain scans! Don't laugh, I was seriously thinking that would be the case! Anyway, the good doctor concluded after our little interview that I am "clinically depressed" and maybe "borderline" biplor. Further evaluations were needed he said. He immediately put me on Wellbutrin.

The first three weeks, I did not feel anything different. About the third week onwards, the Wellbutrin started to kick in, and I could feel a marked different. My mood swings getting lesser, and I thought I was really getting better.

Then the headaches started. My head was feeling really tight, pressurized. Often I felt like wanting to unscrew my head if I could to relieve the pressure. I called the psychiatrist. But he was having his annual vacation! I decided to stop taking Wellbutrin. My next appointment was not until a couple of weeks, and I did not want to call him anymore because I was afraid that he would ask me to start on the Wellbutrin again!

When I next saw the doctor, he prescribed Lexapro. This time it seems to be much better. For the past two months, I have been on Lexapro and it seems that I have improved. I haven't had any severe mood swings. In fact, my relationship with both my daughters have improved tremendously. The counseling sessions have also been able to help me to deal with my flashbacks, and helped me to deal with my anger and sadness. As I said, the past few weeks, I have been progressively improving in my moods, my ability to think better and more clearly and relationships with my daughters, wife and other children have truly improved. Even at work, I have been able to deflect my boss's unfair treatments as "not my issues" and been able to instead respond in praying for her!

Yet, this entire weekend, I have this uneasy, sinking feeling. A Psalm 42, 43 type of feeling. Wait! Didn't the Psalmist say "I will yet praise Him...?" I guess it is an act of the will. Not an emotional response, but a willing conscious decision to worship the God who uplifts.

...continue reading...Feeling down...

Thursday, September 09, 2004

She's done it again!

Sonya Thomas, that delectable Super-sized eater has claimed not one, but two, first prizes over the past Labor Day weekend, eating 162 chicken wings in 12 minutes and 42 hamburgers in 8 minutes! Have a look at this video of the last 3 minutes in Buffalo to witness the excitement of the end of the contest. Her secret? I will let her speak for herself:
"HEALTH, DIET, AND EXERCISE: Quite often I am asked about how I prepare for contests. Though I have been known to consume rather massive quantities of food on days during eating events, my day-to-day diet consists of healthy foods. I eat lots of fruits and veggies, and an ample amount of protein (fish and eggs mainly). And I do aerobic exercise up to 2 hours a day, 5 days per week.

Sure, I enjoy eating high calorie deserts and snacks on occasion, but when I do I counter them with at least an equal amount of exercise and calorie-burning activities. I'm also very active on my job, 10-12 hours a day, 5 days per week, which helps keep my metabolism "revved up."

Remember, these contests and exhibitions occur only once or twice per month. They're the exception ... not the rule! Competitive eating is a sport ... NOT a lifestyle. I could not be a top contender in this sport for very long if I didn't take care of my body--both physically and physiologically. I plan to continue in that vein. That's why you'll hear more about "The Black Widow's" feats in the months and years to come, God willing"
Two hours of exercise five times a day! No wonder I can't have more than half a serving for seconds each time, despite the fact that I get served some of the best food any man can crave for most days! To read the rest of her story go here.
...continue reading...She's done it again!

It's about time!

Over at Messy's there is this talk among some of the commenters currently about the "Asian Church." Messy herself was wondering about the notion of a Malaysian expression of the Emergent Church called "Emergent Malaysia" a movement that is tentatively spear-headed by Sivin Kit, Messy's pastor. Some of the commenters have responded by asking for more information about the Asian Church.

First, let me say it's about time Malaysian churches, and for that matter, national churches in other parts of Asia, Africa and other non-Western countries take their calling seriously as salt and light in their parts of the world. For too long, they have imported the Western man's seasonings, and used what my mom used to call "foreign lanterns" to shine in their little corners. My mom also used to described those foreign lanterns as things that are effective for throwing light to places far off, but ineffective for doing its work for places close by, but that is another story, probably more appropriate for another post.

About twenty years ago, while in college I had one of my articles published in the college newspaper. In the article I imagined that a third world national church was writing an open letter to a Mission Board in the USA. I imagined the home church leaders pleading with the mission board to stop sending the missionaries because these missionaries brought a Western Gospel that is more "Western" than Gospel. They transplanted the quarrels such as those between Luther and Calvin to foreign soils, brought along Western hymnals, idiosyncracies, and traditions. They were reluctant to help the nationals to forge a local identity of what it means to be a Christian in their local cultural context, mistakenly assuming that the way to "do church" is the way they and their forefathers have done for so many years.

There were immediate outcry and uproar on the campus after the publication of the article. You will remember from my earlier post that this was a conservative evangelical Christian liberal arts college. Some accused me of having only read older missionary texts, and not considered modern works where supposedly more enlightened contemporary missionary initiatives and thinking were surfacing. Yet others thought I was calling for a watered-down syncretized Gospel. Unfortunately very few understood the intent of my words. They were borne not out of reading or thinking alone, but out of real life experiences. So, it is gratifying for me to see that the church, at least in Malaysia, is now rising up to its challenge to re-define what it means to be Christ-followers in their local context. And, I think, in some sense, that is what the Emergent church is about as well. It seeks to re-define the meaning of being Christ-followers in the light of our modern contemporary context, and to proclaim the unchanging message of the gospel and the claims of Christ to a changing, fluid society whose values, priorities, attention span, passions, philosophies and purpose are constantly under review, redefinition and reconstruction. It is good to see that finally Christ's followers are beginning to see the importance to reflect what it means to be an authentic citizen of contemporary society following Christ in an authentic way, with an authentic, culturally sensitive expression of that faith so that it is not only attractive to peers, but also so that the follower of Christ finds authenticity in his or her own journey with God.

...continue reading...It's about time!

Monday, September 06, 2004

My journey in spiritual and emotional healing ...

Recently, I read Proverbial Wife's very insightful post on her personal experience of counselling, and decided that I would share my own journey in this regard. In fact, one reason for me to start this blog is my desire to share and journal my life-journey through the pain and hardships as well as the blessings and joys.

A few years ago, I was taking an online course from FullerOnline, an excellent course authored by Bobby Clinton on Leadership Development. Clinton is the author of such books as The Making of a Leader and co-author of Connecting: The Mentoring Relationship you need to Succeed in Life.. Part of the course requirements included writing a personal biography and applying the principles of leadership development learned in the course onto one's own life story. I found it hard going as I reflected on what God had been teaching me over the course of my life. Halfway through the course, I found myself bawling my eyes out each time I went to my computer to work on the lessons. Towards the end of the semester, my instructor advised me to go for therapy as she said that she had never read anyone's life story with so much incidents of "loss" in it, and suggested that it is probably a good idea that I seek counselling to process my past and pain. I did not realize how important those words were. While on the one hand, I realized that it is probably prudent to take the advice of a professional who has "been there and done that," I was also a little hesitant about the costs of counselling sessions.

Not long afterwards, I visited a church fellowship that sponsored a series of teaching sessions from
Resurrected Life Ministries on the healing of the body, spirit and mind. Through the teachings of Molly Sutherland, I came to a whole new appreciation of the meaning of Christ's death and the efficacy of his healing, not just physically and spiritually but also psychologically.

In fact, one of the constant struggles I had during that period was griefing for my mom's death which ocurred a few years prior to that. My grief was not just for my mom's passing, as painful as that experience was, but also for some very perverse and selfish reasons. Let me explain. A recurring image in my mind was a few days before my mom slipped into eternity when she was hanging onto my arms and screaming at me to "Save her." I felt powerless as I saw the fear in my mom's eyes. I was paralyzed. I wanted so much to ask her to trust in Jesus, but words couldn't come out of my mouth. I was devastated that as a filial son of a Chinese family, I wasn't able to save my own mom. I felt ashamed as a Christian in a non-Christian family that I was unable to lead my mom to Christ. Even after a report by the missionary nurse who shared that she was able to share with mom the following day, and mom had then acknowledged Christ as Savior, the joy was only momentary. As soon as we heard the news, we organized for a Chinese speaking pastor to come to the hospital bed to speak to mom. She was already in a coma by then, but she was able to initially respond to our calling out to her. We asked mom to blink her eyes if she could hear us. She did. We introduced the pastor and the pastor proceeded to talk to mom. The pastor explained if she so desired and if she acknowledged Christ as Savior then he would baptise her. No response. He tried a few more times, but there was no response from mom. We called her name. No response. Did mom hear us but refused to acknowledge Christ? The nurse had reported that she did acknowledge wanting Christ in her heart the day before. Did she make the commitment? Is she really saved? Those questions haunted me. I felt miserable that as a Christian, I had not been able to lead my mom to Christ before she died. Perhaps all this has to do with my evangelical heritage and makeup. So, as you can see, I was carrying a lot of baggage, although most of it can be attributed to self-imposition and pride. Whatever the source, it was real pain and grief that was haunting me daily. I was also hurting from the fact that mom's death was untimely, that she had to suffer so much pain and agony in the last few months of her life, that dad and the rest of us missed her so much. I was grieving from inumerable hurts and pains.

The way the healing took place was especially significant to me. Molly had just completed her first teaching session. During the session, I had heard her teach about the power of Christ to heal and about the need for us to appropriate the healing power of Christ to our lives. She also referred to the need for us to stand in Christ, independent from our adolescent dependence to our parents, and be our own adult person in Christ, in fullness of adulthood and making a conscious decision in our minds to follow Christ and allow His Spirit to rule in us. In fact, as I tended to do in those days, as I sat there listening, I had analyzed her lesson in my mind, offering silent critiques and ways to improve and organize the lesson, or to put things in a different way, sometimes questioning the theological basis of her assertions and other time, the logic of her presentation. As I sat through the session, very little was happening at the heart level. It was at that point very much an intellectual, cerebral exercise.

At the end of the lesson plan, Molly said that her lessons are incomplete without practical application. She asked for a volunteer to come forward to the front for "prayer ministry" so that she can pray for that person and for her to demonstrate the application of her lessons in holistic healing. In a very strange but vivid way, I heard the Spirit prompt me, "I want YOU on that chair!" I dismissed it immediately as this was the first day that I had stepped into this church and the people there were strangers to me. "All the more easy for Me to work with you!" I heard the Spirit nudge. I ignored Him. I veered my eyes when Molly's eyes made contact, as she scanned the room, looking for the elusive volunteer. The Spirit's urgings were firm, constant but gentle. I could feel my heart pounding and see my shirt throbbing along with my chest. But still I resisted. Finally, someone put up his hands to volunteer, followed by another. I let out an inaudible sigh of relief. As the class broke up for ten minutes of coffee break, I rose from my seat, and as I did so a smiling cheerful lady sitting in front of me turned around, looked me in the eyes, and sincerely asked, "Hi, would you like to have prayer ministry today?" I looked at her, hesitated, smiled and said sheepishly, "I wouldn't mind, I suppose!" So, she went up and said, "Hey we have another volunteer here." Initially I thought I was safe since strictly speaking I was the third to volunteer, when Molly said that we really only have time for one person for the practical prayer ministry. But then she said, since we have three volunteers, we will draw lots. We will put a number each on three sheets of paper, fold them up and put them in a basket. She would then lay hands on them and pray over them. Then we will ask the three volunteers to pick one piece of paper each. The person who picked the number "1" will have the privilege to take part in the practical prayer ministry. When I heard that, I knew in my heart that it would be me who would be picked. And, sure enough after we had gone through the motions, mine was the one left with number "1". The Lord works in mysterious ways!

Molly had us all re-arrange the seating, so that she and I were seated in the center with the rest of the group seated around in a circle. She commenced by asking a series of family of origin type questions, and then proceeded to zero in on my issues - which had to do with my grief, my recurrent flashbacks to my mom's cries for help and my helplessness, and most of all, my guilt about being an unfilial Chinese offspring and unworthy Christian son. She then asked me to visualize the putting off of my "generational" sins and idol-worship of my ancestors. She asked me to visualize the breaking away of the spiritual umbilical cords that bounded me to the emotional and spiritual generational ties with my father and mother. She asked me to visualize the putting off of the guilt and sin of my past and the putting on of the grace of Christ my lord. She further asked me to visualize handing over to Christ the burden that I had carried all this time with me in regards to my mom's death and the question about her salvation. "It is no longer your responsibility. Hand it over to the Lord. And realize that He has died for that grief, that pain and that guilt too." She then asked everyone in the room to extend their hands towards her as she lay hands on me to pray for me. It was a moment of release for me. It was a moment of deep healing.

Ever since my mom passed away, I had not felt as free from my grief and my pain. It was a burden lifted away. As I handed my burdens over to my Lord, I was able to deal with what happened and was able to hand it over to my Lord to take care of the past, and release me to be more effective for him in the present and the future. I honestly felt I had recovered and I did not need any further counselling. I thought that from then on I was able to go on my merry way! In fact, it was quite smooth sailing. I was able to apply the principles in my daily walk. I no longer had those painful flashbacks of my mom's desperate cries for help. I was able to place my mom in my Lord's hands and I was able to enjoy the blessings of a closer walk with Him.

However, as the years passed, I gradually found other issues re-surfacing that were hurting my relationship with my wife, my children and people around me. I had to face my demons again. And once again, I was encouraged to seek counselling. This time around, I decided to make an appointment to see a counsellor. I will share a little more about my journey through the counselling experience in a later post.

...continue reading...My journey in spiritual and emotional healing ...

Sunday, September 05, 2004

Do you consider Hitler a leader?

I posted earlier about my view of leadership. In it I made mention of Hitler that given the new definition of leadership, he cannot be said to be a leader. So what do you think? Was he a leader? Why or why not?
...continue reading...Do you consider Hitler a leader?

Saturday, September 04, 2004

Sacred Vs Secular

Recently I commented on a comment over at Messy's and got into a lively discussion about the application of Jesus' angry over-turning of the tables and chasing out of the money changers and traders from the temple court. According to "Sunday School Teacher", this is a clear principle that church facilities should not be used for any commercial purposes. Especially anathema in Teacher's mind is the fact that some "megachurches" which she euphemistically characterizes as belonging to the "Merging Church" - "the church that merges, blends in with the secular society, featuring McDonalds and Starbucks in the church facilities" a practice that she calls "bizarre," "irreverent," on par with "occult practices" and "other junk."

I lightheartedly commented that this is probably overstepping the boundaries of constructive critique and may also have been an example of over-zealous application of the scriptural principle taught in this passage. As the discussion continued, I began to realize that this was less about the megachurches and their approach to "doing church" (whether or not they actually have McDonald's, Starbucks and bowling alleys on their campuses, as alleged, is arguable, as I certainly haven't seen evidences of these the few times I have been on their premises, although I have seen books and gifts stores, cafeterias and even sandwich shops), and more about what we mean by "secular" and "sacred."

First of all, is Jesus' fury directed at the moneychangers and traders because of their conflation of the sacred with the secular? What if they had lined their tables outside of the temple? Would that have been acceptable? Similarly, if the McDonald's franchise had been next door to the church, the bowling alley across from the church and the Starbucks around the block, would that have escaped the indictment of compromising the sacred with secular? What if the shops were not run by the church? What if these stores were owned and run by other individuals and their existence were simply for the benefit and convenience of those who spend so much of their time at the church, especially on hectic weekends? So, is the question about ownership and/or function or purpose? Or perhaps we are asking all the wrong questions and the must return to another, more fundamental question regarding the relationship between sacred and secular.

What exactly is sacred? Is it the church building? Is it the sanctuary? Is it what happens within its walls at particular times during the week? What does it mean when the Scriptures allude to the holy, the holy of holies? And what is the significance of the curtain that prohibits entrance of ordinary people to the holiest place, breaking apart when Jesus triumphantly "gave up the ghost" on the cross? Is there, or better, ought there be, a division between sacred and secular in the lives of those who are wholly devoted followers of Jesus?

...continue reading...Sacred Vs Secular