Saturday, January 30, 2010

Preaching on Mother's Day

I have just agreed to my pastor's request to preach on Mother's Day. But oh boy, is that going to be a challenge. I don't know - most Mother's Day sermons I have heard goes along the lines of either "kids, honour your mother and you better do this and that" or a whole list of things a mother should be according to Proverbs 31, both of which I am not so inclined to take up.

What do you think? What can one preach on on Mother's Day?
I have till May 9 to work on it.

Photo (c) 2007 Scott Liddell

Friday, January 29, 2010

A church family from the same generation isn't much of a family

I saw this in my tweet today and checked it out: A church family from the same generation isn't much of a family. At first I could not make out what it meant (I read it on the fly), but when I got to the article published in Christianity Today, I couldn't agree more with the writer.

It is an excellent read - and especially for those die-hards who would push for church segregation, i.e. Children Church, Youth Church, Businessmen Church, or however-else-you-can-have-it, take a read and tell me if this is not true: "Including all age groups in congregational life teaches everyone to live together in love and forbearance."

Segregated in a Whole New Way
A church family from the same generation isn't much of a family.
To continue reading, click here.


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

First last, last first, last first, first last

I was listening to the Gospel of Matthew this morning on the way to work and this passage struck me.

Matthew 19:30-20:16
30But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.

1"For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. 2He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard.

3"About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4He told them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.' 5So they went.

"He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. 6About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, 'Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?'

7" 'Because no one has hired us,' they answered.
"He said to them, 'You also go and work in my vineyard.'

8"When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, 'Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.'

9"The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. 10So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12'These men who were hired last worked only one hour,' they said, 'and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.'

13"But he answered one of them, 'Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn't you agree to work for a denarius? 14Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?'

16"So the last will be first, and the first will be last."

I am an HR practitioner and every time I read this passage, I can really hear the workers who complained to Jesus, because I do hear it every now and then, and actually I just had an earful of it yesterday, but remember, this is a parable and like any parable, it gave the intended audience at that time, one lesson they need to learn, and the lesson here is pretty clear - in fact, the parable itself is sandwiched by it in a mirror image.

"But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first...So the last will be first, and the first will be last."

It is a hard thing to accept. Sometimes, I try this at work but I know it doesn't work. We talk about fairness, we expect equity, internal and external, and yet there is a truth here in what Jesus teaches: "Don't I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?"

We feel the unfairness sometimes at how the cards are dealt in our lives compared to the others, but I know that when one thinks only about themselves, then there will be unfairness but when we think for the others, there will be rejoicing.

A hard lesson but a needed one, and dead important: First last, last first, last first, first last.
I am taught that when anything is repeated in Scriptures, it is very important. More so here, being repeated in parallel and mirrored in three parts.*


* I wonder what this is technically called? Do you know?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Media: their air, their food, their drink

The Kaiser Family Foundation ran a survey in the US on media usage and found that kids between the age of 8 and 18 spent up to 7½ hours a day or more than 53 hours a week on entertainment media. And because they spend so much of that time 'media multitasking' (using more than one medium at a time), they actually manage to pack a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes worth of media content into those 7½ hours. Apparently, time spent watching television fell in favour of other forms of media, including listening to music, using the computer, video games and watching movies.

Dr. Michael Rich, a pediatrician at Children's Hospital Boston and director of the Center on Media and Child Health, told The New York Times that the media use of America's young people is so pervasive, it is time to stop arguing over whether this is positive or negative. Instead, he suggested that we should simply accept media as a constant part of children's environment, "like the air they breathe, the water they drink and the food they eat."

My 12-year old kid spends about 20 hours or so a week on the computer, and even that I find is too much. But I do realise that it is indeed his air, his food and his drink. So, what will become of this generation? I do not know - I bet our parents asked the same question and our generation came out fine.

But then again who's to say who's fine? We have our reservations on the Gen-Y now and I am sure we will have loads to comment on the behaviour of the Gen-M when they grow up and enter the employment market. It will be interesting to observe.

Download the pdf report here.

Photo © 2009 Royalty-Free/Corbis

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Movie: My Sister's Keeper

I posted a review of the book last year in July. I read the book only because I saw the trailer of the movie and that it sounded like a promising story. But the book as I have mentioned in the book review was that though "the story/premise was good, the execution was a pain, and at the ending, I get a wham!"

But I decided to give it a chance anyway and watched the movie - maybe, just maybe the story would be much better told in a movie, and that I will be able to accept the ending. And this will be the first time I am ever going to say this - yes, the movie is much, much better than the book.

If you plan to read the book or watch the movie, you better stop reading here.

I complained that the book was painstaking to read because every chapter was told in a first person perspective and it confused me - the author does not forewarn you at which timeframe each chapter is at. She does not do like what some authors would, i.e. put the year or date at the beginning of each section of chapter. So after frowning for 5 sentences in every other chapter, I was beginning to have a headache. The movie didn't have that problem - you'd know in a split second by the look of the scene, reusing of the same scene where it left off before, or the ages of the kids, where you are at in the story.

I complained that I cannot stand Sara, the mother. The character was played by Cameron Diaz. If I am not wrong, this was her first time in taking a dramatic role and I thought she played it well. You can see that she was a mother obsessed with ensuring that Kate, the one with leukemia, gets well.

I complained that I was bored with Brian, the father. The character was played by Jason Patric. He was quite good - he played the more down-to-earth parent, not so obsessed. The one who gives nods of understanding, keeps silent when silence is best and brought a very sick Kate to the beach because she wanted to.

I complained that I could not stand Julia. The screenwriters agree with me! This character was not included in the movie - she'd be a waste of space. But if she is included, I imagined Minnie Driver, (no offense, I like her) would be a good pick.

I complained that Campbell, the lawyer, sounds quite hollow though I like him. The character was played by Alec Baldwin. He was good too. And the screenwriters got rid of the numerous cheesy dialogues about his dog - thankfully!

But about Jesse, the brother - the more indepth and emotional character in the book - he was not that well brought out by the actor, Evan Ellingson. I don't know why - he does not seem to get into the character - he does not stand out. Or could it be that the screenwriters did not put that much into the character in the first place? Or maybe I was expecting too much from Jesse in the movie.

Then Anna, the star of the movie - I find Abigail Breslin an amazing actor. I saw her in No Reservations, Definitely Maybe and Miss Sunshine. She is talented. I absolutely believed her in all the four movies I watched her in. She played Anna extremely well.

Kate was played by Sofia Vassilieva who performed well. And oh! Joan Cusack played the judge. I have not watched that many of her movies but I have liked her in those I did, the usually more quirky roles. But her performance in this movie was good - she played the judge who just came back several months after grieving over the loss of her teenage daughter who died in an accident.

Then the ending of the movie. As the movie was about to come to a close, I began to wonder if the screenwriters stuck to Jodi Picoult's ending. They did not. The movie's ending was not a happy one but it was expected. It ended with Kate dying in the presence and the love of the entire family, intact. She died in peace and her memory lived on in the hearts of the family. Anna won the case, but it was not relevant anymore. It was an expected ending - no twist, nothing unexpected, she died like she was suppose to, or was it?

In the book, after Anna won the case and she was medically emancipated, she got into an accident. Anna died, and Kate got her kidneys. People found this ending cheap and careless. The author may want to have a more profound ending but it was it profound? As the plot goes, Anna only went to court because Kate wanted her to. Kate wanted it all to stop, she wanted to die, she needs to get ready to die, but her mother wasn't listening or even aware of it. She only wanted Kate to live and didn't realise that Kate need to live before she dies. So Kate asked Anna to sue her parents. Therefore to have Anna die after she gets medical emancipated and for Kate to get Anna's kidneys and live long after that isn't so profound, or was it? It was definitely unexpected.

I find this ending cruel. But then again, isn't life cruel and unfair? And would this be what the author intended, to give a message that, look, life is cruel and when you are not looking, it smashes you in the face.

What do you think? I mean, this is just fiction. So should fiction give us reality or dreams, idealism, utopia? I suppose we need both. We need to face the fact that life is real and it can come with what is unexpected but we do need to dream too.

So oddly, My Sister's Keeper gives us both, one in a book and another in a movie.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

If you are an Extravert, you REALLY need to read this

I have not come across an article that delights me as much as this one in a long time. Jonathan Rauch wrote this piece back in 2003 and it is still generating many visits to the online paper.
It is written in the perspective that Extraverts just don't get it with Introverts. In the sense that they don't see it that we are not aloof or arrogant or rude. People just tire us out, and it is not a choice, not a lifestyle, but an orientation.

So if you are an Extravert, you need to read this in order to care for the introverts around you, especially those who mean a lot to you.

And if you are like me, an introvert, you should read this as well: Introverts of the Word, Unite!

Caring for Your Introvert

Do you know someone who needs hours alone every day? Who loves quiet conversations about feelings or ideas, and can give a dynamite presentation to a big audience, but seems awkward in groups and maladroit at small talk? Who has to be dragged to parties and then needs the rest of the day to recuperate? Who growls or scowls or grunts or winces when accosted with pleasantries by people who are just trying to be nice?

To continue reading, click here.


Monday, January 18, 2010

Blue Monday

Today is said to be the most depressing day of any one year -- the 3rd Monday of January. I am not sure how far it is true, but mine was pretty blue.


Friday, January 15, 2010

The world in devastation

Ah! I have been missing for 10 days as far as this blog is concerned.
And a lot has happened in the past week or so - a harbinger to the kind of year ahead? The major ones being the attack on several Malaysian churches over the court's decision in allowing the use of "Allah" by a Catholic newsletter to refer to God, and more devastatingly, the massive earthquake in Haiti that has brought much destruction to the lives of the people there.

I was preparing for bible study this evening and reading Leon Morris's NICNT commentary to the Gospel of John. This section on John 16:33 spoke very loudly:

"The world will infallibly bring them 'trouble'. That is its characteristic. But he can bid them 'take heart!' He had overcome the world, the perfect tense denoting an abiding victory. This statement, spoken as it is in the shadow of the cross, is audacious. The cross would seem to be Jesus' total defeat. He sees it as his complete victory over all that the world is and can do to him. He goes to the cross not in fear or in gloom, but as a conqueror." (Eerdmans, 1995, p.633)

It makes no sense to be joyful and yet we are called to rejoice in God. We can only do so if we look at our lives and live our lives through the cross of Christ. Without the work of Christ on the cross, we have nothing.

Therefore, rejoice! Take heart! He has overcome the world.


Monday, January 04, 2010

Four Essentials to Finishing Well

I listened to Jerry Bridges' sermon on Four Essentials to Finishing Well this morning on my way back to work for the New Year - it was excellent.

The four essentials in short are:
1. Daily time of focused personal communion with God
2. Daily appropriation of the gospel
3. Daily commit yourself to God as a living sacrifice
4. A firm belief in the sovereignty and love of God

What strike me most at this point of time is the first one. I am not a person who finds schedules and timetables at all friendly - I have sort of conceded to a flexible time of as and when I do it. And true enough, like what Bridges pointed out, there will be a high chance of drifting as a result, which is exactly what happened to me over the recent year-end break - I just rotted away at home. It was only when I got back into my obligations of the usual daily routine that I got back into a more focussed time with God. This would mean that I need to do away with that view I have on flexibility when it comes to my personal communion with God and be more disciplined to keep a time. But I do not think I can change right away. I would still shy away from a fixed routine given a choice but I must work at it to at least keep a conscious time everyday to spend time reading Scripture with God and listening to him speak to me.

Photo from

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Three Imperatives: Deny Ourselves, Take Up the Cross and Follow Him

The Scripture verse that has been with me in the past few months was this:

Mark 8:34 And he called to him the crowd with his disciples and said to them, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.

I have been focusing on "deny himself" for quite awhile now - trying to figure out what it means in practical terms and living it out. But it has not been easy and when I checked the Greek text of the verse, I then realise that not only is it in the imperative, it is followed by two more imperatives: "take up the cross" and "follow me". This means that it will not to do just to deny ourselves, we must take up the cross and follow Jesus.

I found this sermon published here, which I find most helpful in understanding what Christ expects of us if we are to come after him, that is if we want to be called Christians, be his disciples, be children of God. I learnt this from reading the article:

What does it mean to deny ourselves? It is more than giving up on stuff we love, or giving up time to serve God, to pray, to read his Word - yes, these are things we ought to do, but to deny ourselves is more than these. To understand what denying ourselves is, try to imagine what it means when your parents, God forbid, denies you as their son or their daughter. This is the extent of denying ourselves. It is renouncing our right to ourselves, and the right we have to ourselves.

Craig Giannini got it when he said, "If when you are good, evil is spoken, and when your wishes are crossed and your advice is disregarded, and your opinions are ridiculed and you refuse to let anger rise in your heart, and even defend yourself but you take it patiently in loving silence, then you are dying to self. And when you lovingly and patiently bear any disgrace, any irregularity, any annoyance, when you stand face to face with extravagance and folly and spiritual insensitivity and endure it, as Jesus did, that is dying to self. And when you are content with any food, any money, any clothing, any society, any solitude or interruption by the will of God, that is dying to self. And when you never care to refer to yourself in conversation or record your own good works, or itch after commendation from others, and when you truly love to be unknown, that is dying to self. When you see your brother prosper, see his needs wondrously met, and can honestly rejoice with him [with his big house, with big car, with his big pool – whatever it may be] without feeling envy, and never question God though your needs are greater and still unmet, that is dying to self. Now when you can receive correction and reproof from someone of less stature, and admit that he is right and find no resentment or rebellion in your heart, that is dying to self."

Fred Craddock, in an address to ministers, caught the practical implications of consecration. "To give my life for Christ appears glorious," he said. "To pour myself out for others. . . to pay the ultimate price of martyrdom—I’ll do it. I’m ready, Lord, to go out in a blaze of glory. We think giving our all to the Lord is like taking $1,000 bill and laying it on the table—'Here’s my life, Lord. I’m giving it all.' But the reality for most of us is that he sends us to the bank and has us cash in the $1,000 for quarters. We go through life putting out 25 cents here and 50 cents there. Listen to the neighbor kid’s troubles instead of saying, 'Get lost.' Go to a committee meeting. Give a cup of water to a shaky old man in a nursing home. Usually giving our life to Christ isn’t glorious. It’s done in all those little acts of love, 25 cents at a time. It would be easy to go out in a flash of glory; it’s harder to live the Christian life little by little over the long haul."

Denying of ourselves is not easy, it is hard, but it is an imperative - essential and urgent.

What does it mean to take up the cross? I think most of us would interpret that as suffering for Christ. But that is not quite right - I mean, we are to suffer for Christ but to take up the cross is more than just suffering. We may be living or working or existing in appalling and horrifying places and circumstances - that is suffering but not quite "taking up the cross" so to speak. By no way can we refer our suffering as "my cross". That is not what is meant - the cross is not just a place of suffering, it is a place of death! The cross to the Roman world in Jesus' time meant only one thing - to die in the most shameful way.

John MacArthur writes: “…the cross was a very concrete and vivid reality. It was the instrument of execution reserved for Rome’s worst enemies. It was a symbol of the torture and death that awaited those who dared raise a hand against Roman authority. Not many years before Jesus and the disciples came to Caesarea Philippi, 100 men had been crucified in the area. A century earlier, Alexander Janneus had crucified 800 Jewish rebels at Jerusalem, and after the revolt that followed the death of Herod the Great, 2,000 Jews were crucified by the Roman proconsul Varus. Crucifixions on a smaller scale were a common sight, and it has been estimated that perhaps some 30,000 occurred under Roman authority during the lifetime of Christ.”

So when Jesus says we are to take up the cross, we are to live as dead. We are to be dead to sin and alive only to God in Christ Jesus (Rom 6:11).

And finally, what does it mean by following Christ? It is a way of life, a pattern for living. It is his gospel. Mark continues from v.34 with v.35, "For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it." The gospel is our reason and purpose to live and we are dead to everything else. We live in Christ Jesus with the gospel - to live out his love, his hope and his truth.

Now, that is Christian living - being dead to self and being alive to God in Christ Jesus. Nobody said it will be easy, but Mark says it very clearly in v.38: "If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels."

It is hard, but it is essential and urgent.


John MacArthur. “The MacArthur New Testament Comentary.” Matthew 16-23. (Moody: Chicago, 1988) p. 49