Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Movie Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014) is another offering from the big screen Marvel universe. It continues the on screen adventures of Captain America/Steve Rogers from the previous movie, Captain America: the First Avenger (2011). Drawing from the rich resources of the Captain America line of comic story arcs, The Winter Soldier is an attempt to connect the aging fans of the Captain America comic era and to introduce new fans to Captain America. This movie is an action packed non-stop punching, kicking and blowing up stuff that is the staple of movie making nowadays. And we get to see it in 3D too!

Warning: spoilers.
The synopsis of the movie may be found here

Readers of Captain America comics will know who the Winter Soldier is. It is James Buchanan Barnes who was given the nickname “Bucky” at Camp LeHigh. Bucky was already a 21 year old highly trained assassin when he was assigned to be Captain America’s sidekick. Bucky was presumed dead when he fell off an experimental drone bomb plane created by Baron Zemo. Captain America fell off the same plane into the Atlantic where he was frozen until discovered in the twentieth century. Unknown to everyone, Buck was revived by the Russians, had amnesia and was brainwashed to become an assassin known as The Winter Soldier.

The movie which is entertaining in its own right does raise some interesting issues to consider.
Firstly, from the perspective of Captain America/Steve Rogers, the world is no longer black and white. Before he was flash-frozen, Rogers can distinguish the good guys from the bad. The good guys are Americans who are fighting to build a free world. The bad guys are the Nazi who planned to enslave the whole world. The world that Steve woke up to is no longer black or white. It is all gray! The seemingly good guys like Nick Fury, head of S.H.I.E.L.D has secrets, hired pirates to seize his own ship and then send in a tactical team to kill the pirates. Steve struggles with the new morality where no one is trustworthy. In a way, this reminds me of Tolkien’s Christian idealism in the Hobbit and the Lord of the Ring trilogy as opposed to George Martin’s Christian realism in his Game of Thrones series. Rogers represent idealism in his belief system. Christian realism seems to be all about politics and where the end justifies the means. Morality becomes a convenience not a duty and rule.

Secondly, institutions seem to be easily subverted from within. S.H.I.E.L.D  which originally stood for Supreme Headquarters, International Espionage, Law-Enforcement Division in the comics which was later changed to Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate. In the Marvel movies, in a nod to the United States, it becomes Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division. The original S.H.I.E.L.D  according to the comic continuity was started by Nick Fury and Sergeant Rock of the Howling Commandos to fight HYDRA, a criminal organization founded by Baron Wolfgang von Strucker. In this movie, HYDRA has infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D  up to its highest level. In some way, this reminds of the institutional church. The church has in many ways being infiltrated up to its highest level by materialism, secularism, and religiosity. As in the movie, sometimes it is difficult to differentiate the institution from the infiltrators.

Finally, there is the issue of the lack of identity. In the movie the Winter Soldier was mind wiped repeatedly and frozen after each mission. Bucky fought against his best friend, Steve Rogers. He had no idea of their past relationship. There may be an inkling of past memory surfacing when he saved Steve from drowning. Many of us seem to suffer from this loss of personal identity though we have not been mind wiped by electricity. Our postmodern lifestyle has no respect for the past.  We seem to drift from moment to moment not knowing who we really are. Many of us are shaped by the events of the day and act as if we are programmed to perform certain actions. We are victims of circumstances rather than being masters of it.
Movies are the present day myths. The cinematic Marvel universe is creating a detailed mythology of heroes/heroines and villains and new perspectives of morality. I wonder whether we are influencing this new mythology or it is influencing us.


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Sunday, March 23, 2014

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

The free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wings
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.

The caged bird sings
with fearful trill
of the things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom

The free bird thinks of another breeze
an the trade winds soft through the sighing trees
and the fat worms waiting on a dawn-bright lawn
and he names the sky his own.

But a caged bird stands on the grave of dreams
his shadow shouts on a nightmare scream
his wings are clipped and his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing

The caged bird sings
with a fearful trill
of things unknown
but longed for still
and his tune is heard
on the distant hill
for the caged bird
sings of freedom. 



Friday, March 21, 2014

To have succeeded

To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

source: Wiki



Monday, March 17, 2014

Sabbath Keeping and the Spiritual Life (part one)

Are Christians required to keep the Sabbath? This is a controversial topic that has divided Christian through the ages. There are a few references to the Sabbath in the Bible. Most of the verses commanding us to keep the Sabbath is found in the Old Testament.

Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. (Exodus 20:8-10a)

 Six days you are to do your work, but on the seventh day you shall cease from labor in order that your ox and your donkey may rest, and the son of your female slave, as well as your stranger, may refresh themselves. (Exodus 23:12)

For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there is a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Lord; whoever does any work on the sabbath day shall surely be put to death. (Exodus 31:15)

 Observe the sabbath day to keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you. (Deuteronomy 5:12)
You shall keep My sabbaths and reverence My sanctuary; I am the Lord. (Leviticus 26:2)

The context of these verses is that it was given to the Israelites to set them apart from the nations surrounding them, and to grow them into the people of God that God intended. It was the custom of the Jews to come together on the Sabbath, which is Saturday, cease work, and worship God. Of the 10 commandments listed in Exodus 20:1-17, only nine of them were reinstituted in the New Testament. (Six in Matthew 19:18, murder, adultery, stealing, false witness, honor parents, and worshiping God; Romans 13:9, coveting. Worshiping God properly covers the first three commandments). The one that was not reaffirmed was the one about the Sabbath. Instead, Jesus said that He is the Lord of the Sabbath (Matt. 12:8).

With regards to the Sabbath in the New Testament, there seems to be a difference in emphasis. No longer is it a particular day of rest to be observed religiously but instead the concept of Sabbath-rest come into being.

 One man regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind. (Romans 14:5)

Therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day. (Colossians 2:16)

When it comes to the Sabbath, we have always fixate on a particular day, usually a Saturday. However we never quite agree on when does that Saturday begins. Does Sabbath begins on Friday sunset or Saturday midnight? Other may think that for Christians, it is a Sunday. By Sunday, they usually means the Sunday morning service after which they are free to do yard work, read the papers or go shopping with the family. What seems is common to different camps is that during the Sabbath, we should not do any work. Work here refers to what we do the rest of the week in our workplace.

I believe we get this concept of resting from our work from the Genesis account in chapter 1 and 2. “By the seventh day God has finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work” (Gen. 2:2 NIV). I am very curious about God being ‘tired’ after creating for six days. Why would God get tired? He is after all God and should be tireless. A word study of the Hebrew word for ‘rested’ is yiš·bōṯ' which means ‘ceased’. This seems to imply that God did not stop on the seventh day because he is tired but that he stopped because he has finished what he set out to do. Genesis chapter two seems to bear out the idea that God did not stop to rest on the seventh day but instead he has completed/ceased his creation and wants to enjoy his creation on the seventh day. God wants to celebrate with his creatures (which includes human beings) and his created order. God delights, enjoys and meets with his completed perfect creation in the Garden of Eden. This shalom place, as distinct from the chaotic state before creation, is a holy place; a place to enjoy and delight with God in the completion of his creation. Unfortunately this perfect holy place of rest became threatened by the Fall and the concept of Sabbath became imprisoned by religiosity.

Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. For we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard did not combine it with faith. Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said, “So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’ ”

And yet his work has been finished since the creation of the world. For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: “And on the seventh day God rested from all his work.” And again in the passage above he says, “They shall never enter my rest.”

 It still remains that some will enter that rest, and those who formerly had the gospel preached to them did not go in, because of their disobedience. Therefore God again set a certain day, calling it Today, when a long time later he spoke through David, as was said before: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrows; it judges the thoughts and attitude of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.  (Heb 4:1-13)

The day God chose for the Sabbath is ‘Today’ (Heb. 4:7). The passage from Hebrews 4:1-13 is aptly entitled “A Sabbath-Rest for the People of God” (NIV). This sabbath rest (sabbatismós) which remains for God’s people will be “the perfect sabbath of heavenly blessing toward which the pilgrim community is moving and which will mean cessation from its own labors”. [1] The author of Hebrews implies that entering the Sabbath rest is not by doing or by observing a special day but by faith and obedience to the revealed word of God. This rest from work is not just rest from our workplace but also from our struggles with our sinful natures. The tense of the Greek implies that this rest is not only an eschatological rest but one in which we can experience in the present time. Hence, today, not only are we to rest from our labors but also to celebrate, enjoy, and delight with God in his creation of which we are a part of.

[1] Kittel, G., Friedrich, G. & Bromiley, G.W., 1985. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, p.992.


Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Jesus Prayer

cover of Mathewes-Green, Frederica. The Jesus Prayer: The Ancient Desert Prayer That Tunes the Heart to God. Brewster, MA: Parachetes Press, 2009.

One of the prayers which I find most helpful in helping me to pray unceasingly is the Jesus Prayer. The Jesus Prayer was developed by the desert fathers and mothers in the deserts of Egypt and Palestine during the early years of Christianity (3rd Century AD) more than 1,500 years ago. The name Jesus Prayer was first mentioned by St. John Climacus (525-606 AD), abbot of the monastery at Mt. Sinai in The Ladder of Divine Ascent[1]. In the 18th century it was collected into a book by two Russian monks. This book is the Philokalia[2]. Another book from Russia that mentioned the Jesus Prayer was The Way of the Pilgrim which was also published in the 19th century. This prayer is still a favorite prayer of the Orthodox Catholic Church or commonly known as the Eastern Orthodox Church[3]. The apostolic church was a single church until 1024 when it was split into the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Catholic Church by an event appropriately named the East-West Schism. The Protestant movement, of which the Presbyterians are one of the inheritors, came out of the Roman Catholic Church. In many ways, the practices of the Orthodox Catholic Church reflect the practices of the early church.

The Jesus Prayer in its commonest form is “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” This prayer has two essential components. The first is the acknowledgement of the supremacy of Jesus Christ as described in the great Christological hymn of Philippians 2:6-11. The second component is the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee, in which the Pharisee demonstrates the improper way to pray by exclaiming: "Thank you Lord that I am not like the Publican", whereas the Publican prays correctly in humility, saying "Lord have mercy on me, a sinner" (Luke 18:10-14). The Jesus Prayer is a prayer addressed to God asking for mercy.

The Jesus Prayer is also known as the prayer of the heart. The Song of Solomon's passage from the Old Testament “I sleep, but my heart is awake” (Song of Solomon 5:2) declares that for persons in love, their beloved is never far from their hearts. The analogy being that as a lover is always conscious to his or her beloved, people can also achieve a state of “constant prayer” where they are always conscious of God's presence in their lives.

The prayer is repeated slowly and prayerfully. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Repeatedly proclaiming the divinity of Christ and asking for mercy is not vain repetition. It is different from chanting a mantra or a self help technique. It is “continuous” worship in invoking the name of Christ and acknowledging our dependence upon Him. Mercy here is not just for salvation only but also for our spiritual well being. Unlike mantras, the Jesus Prayer may be translated into any language.

Initially you may need to find a quiet place to pray the Jesus Prayer. To pray the Jesus prayer is to repeat “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner” as many times as your time period allows. Gradually, as you become more used to it, you find you will be able to pray it while you are doing other things. The Jesus Prayer may be prayed anywhere. There are no special postures associated with it.

1.      Find a quiet place and time to pray
2.      Be comfortable but not too comfortable
3.      Close your eyes and still your mind
4.      Be aware of your breathing. Consciously slow down your breathing; take a deep breath and breathe out slowly counting silently up to five. Repeat unless you are relaxed and calm.
5.      Slowly match your breathing to the Jesus Prayer. “Lord Jesus Christ” (receive-breathe in), “Son of the Living God” (proclaim- breathe out), “have mercy on me” (receive-breathe in), “a sinner” (proclaim- breathe out). St. John Climatus writes, “Let the remembrance of Jesus be present with your every breath.”[4]
6.      Keep repeating  these words of the Jesus prayer.
7.      If your mind starts wandering, use the words of the Jesus Prayer to refocus.
8.      Start with a ten minute prayer session twice a day.
9.      Slowly extend the duration of your prayer sessions
10.   Extend your prayer outside these prayer sessions into the other times of your life – while waiting in a queue, waiting for the traffic light to change, brushing your teeth, etc.

Pray unceasingly, urges St Paul to the Romans (Rom.12:12), the Ephesians (Eph. 6:18), the Colossians (Col. 4:2) and the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 5:16-18). In this multi-tasking form, you can pray unceasingly while you do other things. People who have been praying the Jesus Prayer for many years will tell you that they are able to work, play, love, and rest while part of their minds are praying the Jesus Prayer. There is also a story told that when a certain devout Orthodox Church lady was coming out of anesthesia after an operation, the surgical nurses heard her praying the Jesus Prayer before she herself became fully conscious!

The spiritual teachers of the Orthodox Church claim that initially you pray the Jesus Prayer but soon the Jesus Prayer prays you. The continuous invoking the Name of God and petitioning for mercy has a power effect on our spiritual formation. It makes us sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit and empowers the “renovation of our hearts.” This is the beauty of the Jesus prayer. It is not the endless repetition of the words. It is in the endless repetition that we find ourselves ‘sensitized’ to the presence of God. When we continually receive and proclaim we find our minds and souls becoming more receptive to God who is always with us but unfortunately we are not always aware of Him. The Jesus Prayer is one prayer I pray constantly and I sincerely invite you to pray it too.

Further Reading

[1] John Climacus, John Climacus: The Ladder of Divine Ascent, ed. Richard J. Payne, trans., Colm Luibheid and Norman Russell, The Classics of Western Spirituality (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1982)., 45-54, 153n.
[2] Writing from the Philokalia on Prayer of the Heart, trans., E. Kadloubovsky and G.E.H. Palmer (London: Faber and Faber Limited, 1951). Other good books on the Jesus Prayer includes A Monk of the Eastern Church, The Jesus Prayer (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimit's Seminary Press, 1987).; The Way of a Pilgrim and the Pilgrim Continues on His Way, trans., R. M. French (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1965).,Frederica Mathewes-Green, The Jesus Prayer: The Ancient Desert Prayer That Tunes the Heart to God (Brewster, MA: Parachetes Press, 2009).,Norris J. Chumley, The Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer (New York, NY: HarperOne, 2011).
[3] Mathewes-Green.
[4] Climacus., 270.

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Dynamics of Spiritual Formation



Life of Jesus





Monday, February 24, 2014

The Spiritual Disciplines: Exercise Unto Godliness

How we behave, think and live our daily lives depends more on own inner self than on external circumstances. The ancient Greek philosopher Plato was very aware of this. In The Republic which may be considered the first text on spiritual formation, Plato emphasized that the training and shaping of personal character is the basis of great leadership and the building of great nations. Character is formed and transformed by the building of good habits.

We are aware that to excel at any skill sets require hours and hours of practice. While intrinsic gifting and talents are necessary, it is the single minded pursuit of excellence through repeated practice that distinguish successful persons from others. Musicians such as Mozart, Bach and Beethoven, basketball players such as Michael Jordan, footballer such as Pele, and programmers such as Bill Gates achieved their excellence through constant practice. Malcom Gladwell estimated that 10,000 hours of practice is minimum to develop successful skills that makes a difference[i]. Practice develops habits that affects body coordination, muscle memories, and worldview (which is a way of knowing and thinking about reality). This changes is circular in that the changes affects practice which then affects habits. A person’s character is formed by that person’s worldview (Rom.12:2).

Godliness is a Trinitarian worldview. This worldview helps us to perceive a reality that is in communion with the Trinity.  Paul encourages Timothy to develop such a worldview.

7 Have nothing to do with godless myths and old wives’ tales; rather, train yourself to be godly. 8 For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come (1 Timothy 4:7-8)

Likening godliness-also known as holiness - to physical training, Paul seems to imply there is also spiritual training. This is in connect to what Paul means to “offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God” and “spiritual worship” in specific spiritual training of our human bodies (Rom.12:1). This spiritual training is what we call the spiritual disciplines or “disciplines for the spiritual life”. The spiritual disciplines are helpful habits that will help us to develop holiness. We must be aware that the habits of spiritual disciplines will only conform us to certain behavioral patterns. These behavioral patterns do not change our characters. Only the Holy Spirit can transform our characters to that of the character of Christ. John Wesley regards the spiritual disciplines as means of grace that enables the Holy Spirit to work on our lives. Richard Foster notes that “[a] Spiritual Discipline is an intentionally directed action by which we do what we can do in order to receive from God the ability (or power) to do what we cannot do by direct effort”[ii]. The spiritual disciplines must be understood only as a means to holiness, not an end by itself. Further, we must note that the spiritual disciplines is not works-righteousness. Practicing the spiritual disciplines does not earn us righteousness with God. That righteousness comes from the work of Jesus on the cross. The spiritual disciplines leads us to form habits of holiness. It is exercises unto godliness. This in turn allows the Holy Spirit to transform our character to that of the character of Christ.

Discipleship or following Christ involves practicing the spiritual disciplines. In the preface to The Spirit of the Disciplines, Dallas Willard wrote,

My central claim is that we can become like Christ by doing one thing—by following him in the overall style of life he chose for himself. If we have faith in Christ, we must believe that he knew how to live. We can, through faith and grace, become like Christ by practicing the types of activities he engaged in, by arranging our whole lives around the activities he himself practiced in order to remain constantly at home in the fellowship of his Father. What activities did Jesus practice? Such things as solitude and silence, prayer, simple and sacrificial living, intense study and meditation upon God's Word and God's ways, and service to others. Some of these will certainly be even more necessary to us than they were to him, because of our greater or different need. But in a balanced life of such activities, we will be constantly enlivened by "The Kingdom Not of This World"—The Kingdom of Truth as seen in John 18:36-37[iii].

If we study the life of Jesus carefully, we will discover that he practises many spiritual disciplines. And our record is only from snatches of his childhood and his three and a half years of ministry. What about the thirty odd hidden years? To have the character as revealed in the Gospels will mean that Jesus has spent years and years developing it. It is significant that the author of Hebrews notes that Jesus while on earth has to “learned obedience from what he suffered”(Hebrews 5:8). It should therefore not surprising to discover that the early church equates discipleship and spiritual growth with practising the spiritual disciplines.

The spiritual disciplines in this list should be considered. Please note that it is not a comprehensive list.
1.      Celebration
2.      Chastity
3.      Confession
4.      Fasting
5.      Fellowship
6.      Guidance
7.      Meditation
8.      Prayer
9.      Sacrifice
10.   Secrecy
11.   Service
12.   Simplicity/frugality
13.   Silence and Solitude
14.   Study
15.   Submission
16.   Worship
17.   Journaling
18.   Writing

[i] Malcom Gladwell, Outliers: The Story of Success (New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company, 2008)., 35-68
[ii] Richard Foster and Kathyrn A.  Helmers, Life with God: Reading the Bible for Spiritual Transformation (New York: HarperOne, 2008)., 16
[iii] Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives (New York: HarperCollins Publisher, 1988)., ix-x)


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Sunday, February 23, 2014

Spiritual Formation Institute Seminar on Jonah



Friday, February 21, 2014

Random Glimpses of My Desktop

books on spiritual formation for the Malaysia Bible Seminary library.


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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Spiritual Discipline of Secrecy

Never before in the history of mankind has so much information about any individual is available on the Internet to those who know how to search for it. Similarly, never before are there so many platforms for individual to self-disclose or reveal themselves in a frequent or even the minute to minute moments of her/his life. Such platforms such as Facebook, Tumbr, Twitter, Linked In, Youtube, Whatsapp, blogs, and websites are receiving a continuous stream of really personal information, some of which should be kept private and confidential. There are many reasons why people do this. Some of these reasons are connecting with others, self-affirmation, seeking affirmation, marketing and boasting. In this climate of apparent ‘openness’ how does the spiritual discipline of secrecy fits in?

The spiritual discipline of secrecy is to keep some of our actions private and confidential. Some of these actions may be what we do in public in the presence of other people while others are what we do in private when no one else is around and watching. This discipline helps us to develop a spiritual habit that acts again spiritual pride and develop trustworthiness.

Jesus highlights three actions that need the spiritual discipline of secrecy: giving, prayer, fasting in his Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7)

On giving (Matt. 6: 1-4)
“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

On prayer (Matt. 6:5-6)
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.  But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

On fasting (Matt. 6:16-18)
“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

The idea is not to trumpet our good deeds or piety before other people because we want them to think well of us. This is spiritual pride. This is also a delusion because most people do not think about us at all! They are too busy thinking about themselves. Jesus teaches us that not all our actions need to be made public or share to be ‘like’ on Facebook!

The spiritual discipline of secrecy is a covenant to keeps secrets entrusted to us and to stop gossips by controlling our tongue. Our relationship with others is based on trust. This trust has to be earned. The fact that you are able to keep secrets offers a safe place where others can share their personal stuff with you. The opposite of this is gossip. Christians are great gossips. Under the guise of sharing ‘prayer request’ we are often spreading gossips thus breaking the sacred trust in relationships. Sometimes, even public prayers are means to share gossip “Lord, please help Johnny with his gambling problem”.

James notes,

Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.
(James 3:5-6)

The spiritual discipline of secrecy not only develop spiritual habits for when we are with people but also when we are alone. We should guard against impure thoughts and actions when we are alone. Who we are in private should be who we are when we are with people. This is because we are never alone. Even in our most secluded moments God is present. We should seek to focus more on what God thinks of us than what other people does.

1.      Examine your giving, prayer and fasting practices. Do you do it so that others can see how generous and pious you are? If so, refrain from doing it for others but seek to do it with anonymity
2.      Decide before the Lord that you will keep the secrets that is entrusted to you. When you are tempted to share these secrets, pray for strength to control your tongue
3.      Do not tell others that you are keeping secrets
4.      Try to behave the same when you are alone as when you are with other people. Keep your focus and try to please God. Do not try to please others to fit in. If you fail, confess and try again
5.      When alone, keep your thoughts and action pure
6.      Do something good for someone this week anonymously (pay for someone’s dinner at the restaurant when you are leaving, leave a gift for your colleague, write a letter of encouragement to someone etc)

The spiritual discipline of secrecy helps us develop spiritual habit against spiritual pride. It also helps us to control our tongue to keep secrets and avoid gossips. God is with us in our secret lives as He is with us in our public ones.


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Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Silence and Solitude

Sometimes during a noisy party or a particularly stressful day, we automatically want to sneak away from all the noise and stimulation to somewhere quiet; away from the crowd. It is just our brain trying to protect itself from overstimulation. Away from the crowd reduces stress on the brain, allowing it space to think and listen to itself. This is the basis of the spiritual discipline of silence and solitude. It is time away from the noisy busy world to a place where we can hear ourselves think. It is also during silence and solitude that we can hear God’s voice. It does not matter if you are an extrovert or introvert, we all need times of silence and solitude.

It has been pointed out by some writers that ‘silence and solitude’ do not appear in the bible. That is an interesting observation because Jesus Christ’s ministry are matched by continual practice, not only of prayer itself but of intense times of silence and solitude.
·        Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness for forty days (Matt. 4:1).
·        He "withdrew ...to a deserted place by himself after learning of the beheading of his dear friend and cousin, John the Baptizer (Matt. 14:13).
·        Following the incredible experience of feeding the five thousand, Jesus immediately "went up the mountain by himself to pray" (Matt. 14:23).
·        When the disciples were exhausted from the demands of ministry, Jesus told them, "Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while" (Mark 6:31).
·        After Jesus' healing of a leper Luke seems to be describing more of a habitual practice than a single incident when he notes that Jesus "would withdraw to deserted places and pray" (Luke 5:16).
The gospels record that our Lord uses this spiritual discipline in conjunction with the spiritual disciplines of prayer and service. It also shows that Jesus is familiar with and uses this discipline frequently enough that it is recorded by the evangelist in an offhanded manner!

Recognizing the importance of this spiritual discipline, the Desert Fathers and Mothers left their homes and families to stay alone in the deserts of Egypt and Syria. This later gave rise to the Monastic movement where thousands of monasteries and convents were built. The monasteries and convent are places where the monks and nuns can spent their time in silence, solitude and prayer.

How do we practice this discipline in our busy hectic and noisy lifestyles? Many of us do not have chunks of time to be silent and to be in solitude. This is a misconception about the discipline of silent and solitude. We do not need to climb to the top of a mountain or move deep into the desert though it helps. We do not need large amount of time. Though we can practice this spiritual discipline for days, we can also do it for a few hours or a few minutes. David’s comfort is in delighting in the Lord by trusting, waiting, and being still before him (Psalm 37:1-11). Silence is not empty but filled with the Lord’s presence.

1.      Find a quiet place where you are safe and will not be disturb
2.      Close your eyes and calm your mind and body by slow deep breathing
3.      Picture a peaceful scene in your mind – it may be a beautiful lake you have visited, a photo you remember, or a simple room with two chairs
4.      Pray to God for his protection and invite Jesus to join you at this peaceful place.
5.      Wait for Jesus to join you there. Feel his presence in the calmness. You may want to talk to him or just sit with him in silence.
6.      You may also use this time to meditate on a bible passage, praying, singing worshipful songs or writing in your journal
7.      When it is time to leave, leave the peaceful scene (which is a special place in your heart) slowly ( a timer app on your mobile is useful)
8.      Pray and gives thanks.
9.      Slowly open your eyes.

It is good to initially try this discipline for about 10 minutes. Then when you are comfortable, you may take longer periods. You can also do it a few times a day. I suggest a 20 minutes at lunch time and 20 minutes after dinner. You can combine this with your prayer time or Bible study time. It may be awkward at first. However, when you continue to practice it, it will become very easy to do. You will easily enter the quiet place of encounter with Jesus. A skilled practitioner of this spiritual discipline shared that she can practice silence and solitude while packed like sardines with other people on her daily bus commute to and fro from work every day.

Another way to experience the benefits of silence and solitude is to take a silent retreat. A silent retreat is not as scary and daunting as most people think. You do not have to jump into a 30 days silent retreat. Start with a retreat that offers half a day for silence and solitude. Then gradually increase the time to a full day, two days or more. It will usually takes about two days before your mind and body relaxes enough to fully enjoy the experience. However this does that mean that shorter silent retreats are not useful. Any intentional attempt to distant ourselves from the world to spend with God is always useful.


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Saturday, February 15, 2014

Conversations with my Granddaughter (12)

Little by little a mountain is formed

Hello little one,

How beautiful you looked in your red kimono when you celebrated your third Lunar Chinese New Year  (2014). You have enjoyed the festivities and the attention of your uncles and aunties. And you have enjoyed playing with your cousins. Grampa noticed that you especially enjoyed receiving the angpows, red packet containing money that were given by the married and elders to the unmarried grownups and children. Grampa also noticed that you are more interested in the red paper packets than the dollar notes it contain. Your preference is to play with the red packets.

Little one, you will learn as you grow older that the dollar notes are important. You have already observed that growups buy things with it. Dollar notes are called money. That is why your Daddy and Mummy go to work every day. When grownups work they get money. Having money is good. It is necessary to have money. What you may not know is that some grownups are so obsessed with money that they are willing to sacrifice everything to get money. That is not good. Some things must not be sacrificed. For example little children. Children must not be sacrificed. Not even for more money.

Yes, little one, you have observed that money can buy things. Money also can be saved. Grampa have been teaching you how to save money by teaching you to keep your coins in the many superhero coin boxes in Grampa’s study. You have your ironman, batman, wolverine, captain America, hulk and two dinosaur coin boxes. Every morning you put some coins into them. Keeping money is called savings. Savings is one way to make money your servant and not your master. Your Mummy and Daddy will take you to a Bank one day to start a bank account. This is like a big money box. It is good to save money. When you are older, you will understand more.

Little one, it is important to develop a saving habit. Saving money will help you later to buy important things like your education, car, and a house later without having to borrow money. When your Mummy and Ah Yee were young, Grampa and Grandma taught them to save. Every week, your Mummy and Ah Yee was given some money to use for that week. They can use that money to buy food in the canteen or buy sweets or toys. Your Mummy and Ah Yee are also encouraged to save in the ‘Bank of Tang’, an imaginary bank created by Grampa and Grandma. Grampa will set up a savings accounts for each of them. Every time they deposit money, Grampa will give them an account statement which show the amount of money they have accumulated in their accounts. They can withdraw money from their accounts whenever they want. At the end of every month, the “Bank of Tang’ will give them interest (money). Grampa are very generous with the ‘interest rate’ so that your Mummy and Ah Yee are encouraged to save more by seeing their money grow. Little one, you may start with only one coin but know that little by little a mountain is formed (I will talk to you about teutonic plates another time).

Little one, I pray to God that you will never be in want for money. That you will learn to make money your servant but never your master. I will also pray that you will not have so much money that you forget God. Our God is a good God, little one, He always provides.