Tuesday, October 31, 2006

John Wesley and the Reflective Christian

John Wesley’s class meetings were at the forefront of the development of the Methodist movement for many years. This was at the early stage of the development of Methodism. Wesley at that time was still a part of the Anglican Church. Aside from his preaching, one of his concentrations was on class meetings which were mainly small group meetings of 6-8 persons. They would meet weekly at regular places. Attendance was monitored and there were certain stringent requirements to be part of the group.

They were expected to attend most of the meetings, do the regular Bible reading and family prayers, work regularly among the poor and tithe to their churches. An important point of this class meetings were the self-reflection to be done before and during the meeting. This is not a private affair that is so common among our culture but these self-reflections will be discussed among the group. Members hold each other responsible and accountable. To achieve that John Wesley developed a series of questions to be answered prayerfully during their personal devotional life and these questions will then be answered truthfully to all members of the class.

Any failure will be immediately acted upon and prayed for. It was this element of accountability that made these small groups such a powerful instrument in the development of men in the faith. Later, as the movement became a denomination and more emphasis were being placed on being church, the small groups began to lose its effectiveness. However the lessons learnt from John Wesley’s class meetings can be applied to small group dynamics in any organizations.

The following self-reflection questions were to be asked at every class meeting:

(1) Have you the forgiveness of your sins?

(2) Have you peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ?

(3) Have you the witness of God’s Spirit with your spirit, that you are a child of God?

(4) Is the love of God shed abroad in your heart?

(5) Has no sin, inward or outward, dominion over you?

(6) Do you desire to be told of your fault?

(7) Do you desire to be told of all your faults, and that plain and home [to the point]?

(8) Do you desire that every one of us should tell you from time to time, whatsoever is in his heart concerning you?

(John Wesley’s instructions to Class Meetings and Bands, 1872/1986, vol.8: 272-274)

These questions are designed to create self-reflection, confession, commitment and accountability. Thus it will be useful to incorporate it into any cell groups or small groups in a church or any organization.

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Monday, October 30, 2006

Discernment and Truth

Discernment as a spiritual practice has a long tradition in Christianity. Discernment are done either individually or communally.

In this book, theologian Mark McIntosh traced the history of spiritual discernment and discovered that there are 5 basic movements:

(1) Discernment as faith, spiritual discernment as grounded in a loving and trusting relationship with God.
(2) Discernment as distinguishing between good and evil impulses that moves people
(3) Discernment as discretion, practical wisdom, moderation, and generally good sense about what to do in given practical situations
(4) Discernment as sensitivity to and desire to pursue God's will in all things
(5) Discernment as illumination, contemplative wisdom, a noetic relationship with God that irradiates and faciliates knowledge of every kind of truth (p.5)

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Sunday, October 29, 2006



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Friday, October 27, 2006

A Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future

The Call challenges Evangelical Christians to restore the priority of the divinely inspired biblical story of God’s acts in time and history.

The Call

(1) on the primacy of the Biblical narrative
(2) on the Church, the continuation of God’s narrative
(3) on the Church’s theological reflection on God’s narrative
(4) on Church’s worship as telling and enacting God’s narrative
(5) on spiritual formation in the Church as embodiment of God’s narrative
(6) on the Church’s embodied life in the world

complete text on A Call to an Ancient Evangelical Future

interview with Dr. Robert Webber and Dr. Phil Kanyon

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

A Dream...and a Hope

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I have A Dream. . . and a Hope

I dream of a day when spiritual formation has so saturated all who follow hard after Jesus that they become known to all as experts in how to live well.

• How to love a spouse well.
• How to raise children well.
• How to study well.
• How to face adversity well.
• How to run businesses and financial institutions well.
• How to form community life well.
• How to reach out to those on the margins well.
• How to die well.

read more


Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Stephen Coonts' Traitor

Book review
Coonts, Stephen 2006, Traitor, (London: Orion Books)

Tangle within tangle, plot and counter-plot, rue and treachery, cross and double-cross, true agent, false agent, double agent, gold and steel, the bomb, the dagger and the firing party, were interwoven in many a texture so intricate and yet true. The Chief and High Officers of the Secret Service reveled in these subterranean labyrinths, and pursued their task with cold and silent passion.

This quotation by Sir Winston S. Churchill aptly described Stephen Coonts’ latest spy thriller, Traitor.

The plot is about an Al-Queda attempt to blow up the government leaders attending a G-8 summit in Paris. Jake Grafton has moved up from being a top gun pilot in Flight of the Intruder. He is now a retired admiral and on the payroll of the CIA.

Jake is the new CIA head of European Ops. The CIA suspected the Direction Generale de la Securite Exterieure (DGSE) i.e. French Intelligence has a mole in the top Al-Qaeda leadership and they wanted to have access to this person. So Grafton was sent to Paris and he took along Tommy Carmellini, a CIA ‘fix it’ man along. Carmellini was involved with Grafton in previous Coonts novels when he was an admiral in the navy.

There are enough twist in the plots and subplots to keep the reader’s head spinning. After a couple of break-ins, bugging and surveillances and a trail of bodies, it was revealed that the spy handler had became the ‘handlee’; there was a reversal of roles. Of course, the plot failed.

The novel was packed with action and fast moving enough to keep the reader interested. However Coonts’ characters were rather 2 dimensional. It would be interesting to have more depth to the character of the Al-Qaeda double agent and his DGSE handler. The Islamist terrorists came across as rather stereotyped. It will nice to be allowed to have a glimpse into the mind of these Jihadists. Why do they do what they do? Why the disregard for innocent lives? Why is their faith so strong that they are willing to strap explosives to their bodies and blow themselves up? How do they develop such a faith?

No spy thriller will be complete without its array of technological gadgets. Here, there are the usual audio and video surveillance bugs, computers code breakers and Interlink. Interlink –S is a US government internet network that contains classified information and Interlink-C is the internet network where the US, Britain, Australia and Canada shared intelligence. The best gadget in my opinion is a wireless Taser. This gadget is like a pistol. Instead of shooting a bullet, it shoots a laser beam to mark the target and then a few thousand watts of electricity ride along the beam of light to fried the target!

As usual, Stephen Coonts delivers a good spy thriller and a pleasant way to spend an afternoon.


Sunday, October 22, 2006

What's Wrong with the Sermon?

Michael Spencer a.k.a Internet Monk, has this to say about the sermon

The Gospel leads us to practical discipleship, but it doesn’t create a religion of simplistic success principles. Good preaching leads to practical application without obscuring the Gospel itself.
To gain some idea of the state of contemporary preaching, survey what is being preached at any ten successful megachurches in your state, or any ten churches who very much want to become megachurches in the future. Compare these sermons to the sermons of any group of “great preachers” of the past, or well-known expositional, exegetical preachers today.

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The Ladder of Graces

The Ladder of Graces
by Theopkanis the Monk from Philokalia

The first step is that of purist prayer.
From this there comes a warmth of heart,
And then a strange, a holy energy
Then tears wrung from the heart, God-given,
Then peace from thoughts of every kind,
From this arises purging of the intellect,
And next the vision of heavenly mysteries.
Unheard-of light is born from this ineffably,
And, thence, beyond all telling, the heart’s illumination.
Last comes- a step that has no limit,
Though compassed in a single line-
Perfection that is endless.

The ladder’s lowest step
Prescribes pure prayer alone.
But prayer has many forms:
My discourse would be long
Were I now to speak of them:
And, friend, know that always
Experience teaches one, not words.

A ladder rising wonderously to heaven’s vault,
Ten steps that strangely vivify the soul
Ten steps that herald the soul’s life,
A saint inspired by God has said:
Do not deceive yourself with idle hopes
That in the world to come you will find life.
If you have not tried to find it in this present world.
Ten steps: a wisdom born of God,
Ten steps: fruit of all the books,
Ten steps that point toward perfection,
Ten steps that lead one up to heaven
Ten steps through which a man knows God.

The ladder may seems short indeed,
But if your heart can inwardly experience it,
You will find a wealth the world cannot contain,
A god-like fountain flowing with unheard-of life.
This tear-graced ladder is the best of masters,
Clearly teaching each to know its stages
If when you behold it
You think you stand securely on it,

Ask yourself which step you stand,
So that we, the indolent, may also profit.
My friend, if you want to learn from all this,
Detach yourself from everything,
From what is senseless, from what seems intelligent
Without detachment, nothing can be learnt.
Experience alone can teach these things, not talk.

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Saturday, October 21, 2006

The Eagle in the Sand

Book Review
Simon Scarrow, The Eagle in the Sand (Headline 2006)

This is the seventh book written by Simon Scarrow in the Eagles series. The other books are Under the Eagle, The Eagle’s Conquest, When the Eagle Hunts, The Eagle and the Wolves, The Eagle’s Prey and The Eagle’s Prophecy. Each book details a campaign of Rome in the first century as she seeks to conquer and bring to heel, much of the known world at that time. The two main characters are Macro, a veteran legionnaire and Cato, an aristocrat who was exiled to become a legionaire. The various campaigns were in Europe and Britain. The Eagle in the Sand was the first one set outside Europe in Judaea, in the present day Middle East.

The author, Simon Scarrow is a lecturer at the City College in Norwich. In his free time, he used to organize Roman History programs for students in taking them to the ruins and museums. It was his extensive knowledge of the Roman army life and of the various campaigns that makes reading his novels so interesting.

The Roman army was the most disciplined and well trained fighting force of that era making Rome the sole superpower. The infantry or legionaries were the backbone of the army. With their heavy body armour and the strategic teamwork in forming a modified phalanx with their shields and gladius (short sword), it was a formidable killing machine. Scarrow researched his various novels well; making the campaigns seems like CNN reports. His writing is similar to Conn Iggulden’s Emperor series which narrated the life of Julius Caesar; The Gates of Rome, The Death of Kings and The God of War.

In this novel, Macro and Cato, both centurions now, were sent to Judaea to spy out whether the governor of Syria was planning a military coup. How they became unwilling agents of Rome’s secret service was told in the previous novels. In Judaea they became involved in the great revolt of the Jewish people in AD 66. With a small contingent of soldiers, they were able to defeat the revolt of the peasants and their ally, the Parthians, who also had design on this part of the world.

Scarrow did not give too much details of Roman army life in this novel but instead spend more time describing the land of Judaea and Nabataea especially its capital Petra. Petra is in modern day Jordan. This is still an interesting read but the story telling is often distracted by information about the Jewish people. Somehow it lacks the continuity of the other novels. This series is comparable to the Sharpe series by Bernard Cornwell (Napoleonic wars in Spain, Portugal and France).


Thursday, October 19, 2006



One of my earlier attempts.
Ahh... the wonders of technology. After spending months of trying to get Adobe Photoshop, I now have no inspiration to make anymore wallpapers. Hmmmm...


Renovation of Our Souls

Recently we have to do some massive renovation to my father’s garden. My father’s house is built on hill slope. After about 10 years, we discovered that the soil in his garden was beginning to shift down the slope. The contractor took a look and shook his head. There was however a gleam in his eyes which may mean that he is thinking; now he can afford to buy a brand new Mercedes! He told us that the soil shifting is due to an inadequate barrier below the house.

What he suggested was that we dig a deep trench around the outer perimeter of the garden. Then he was going sink about a few hundred tree trunks (about 8 feet long each) vertically into the trench. Next he would tie these wooden stakes together with iron bars. Finally he will pour concrete into the trench to fix the whole structure. That should hold the garden in place, he declared. I am sure it will hold the garden in place. It sounds like I am building a fortress.

We would not have been aware that the soil in the garden has shifted if not for a one inch gap appearing at the base of the perimeter wall of the garden. It may be the same for our spiritual life. We come to church regularly to worship and think everything is going well. We think the hymn “It is well with my soul” is describing our spiritual lives.

Some of us may have been Christians for so many years that we have become too comfortable in church. We may not be aware of an inner shift in the soil of our inner spiritual life away from God. Maybe we have been praying less and do not attend prayer meetings anymore. We find less and less time to read the Bible. Where once there was an urgency to share about Jesus with our non-Christian friends, there is none now. We find ourselves putting less and less into the offering bags.

It may even have been years since we regularly examine our lives to see whether we are living a life glorifying to God. We share less and less with each other about what God is doing in our lives. Our emotions are more often full of anger than of gratitude. Anger is a sign that we are not content with what we have. If that is so, we may need to do some renovation in the garden of our souls.

Francis A. Schaeffer writing in True Spirituality (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1983) offers some insights,

“The true Christian life, true spirituality, does not mean just that we have been born again. It must begin there, but it means more than that. It does not mean only that we are going to be in heaven. It does mean that, but it means much more than that. The true Christian life, true spirituality in the present life, means more than being justified and knowing that I am going to heaven.

It is not just a desire to get rid of taboos in order to live an easier and looser life. Our desire must be for a deeper life. And when I begin to think of this, the Bible presents to me, the whole of the Ten Commandments and the whole of the Law of Love.

True spirituality, the true Christian life, is not just outward, but it is inward- it is not to covet against God and men.

But it is even more than this: it is positive; positive inward reality, and then positive in outward results. The inward thing is to be positive and not just negative; and then sweeping out of the inward positive reality, there is to be a positive manifestation externally. It is not just that we are dead to certain things, but we are to love God, we are to be alive to him, in this present moment of history. And we are to love men, to be alive to men as men, and to be in communication on a true personal level with men, in this present moment of history” (p.16, 17)

Renovation of garden of our soul starts inwards. We need to shore up the foundations of our lives with the Word of God, the love of God and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. Our spiritual lives must be in continual movement; vertically in a relationship with God and horizontally in relationships with other people. It must be happening now and always. As Schaeffer said, “in this present moment of history”.

This continuing process of interacting with God and with men as we deepen our inner spiritual life is known as spiritual formation. Dallas Willard explained it better in his book, Renovation of the Heart (Colorado Springs: NavPress 2002)

“Spiritual formation for the Christian basically refers to the Spirit-driven process of forming the inner world of the human self in such a way that it becomes the inner being of Christ himself…The result is that the ‘outer’ life of the individual increasingly becomes a natural expression of the inner reality of Jesus and his teachings. Doing what he said and did increasingly becomes part of who we are” (p.22, 159)

If our spiritual life is continually being involved in the process of spiritual formation, then we need not fear that we will slip and fall. Our inner life becomes the life of Christ himself! There is no more solid foundation than Jesus Christ. It is worrying to hear that only 3 out of 10 Christians finished well. It is a good reminder for us not to be complacent but to be continually intentionally involved in the spiritual formation of our souls.

Soli Deo Gloria Posted by Picasa

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To Be Who We Are Created To Be

Father God, I stand before you now in the middle of a sleeping city.

In the Amazing Spider-man issue "Spider-man No More", Peter Parker/Spider-man that night has to make a decision. [The movie Spider-man 2 is partially based on this storyline]. He is at a cross road, decision making point. One option is for him to hide his superpowers, pretend to be an ordinary man, marry Mary Jane Watson and have a good life. The world will not then have the benefit of his superpowers. The other option is for him to continue to be Spider-man. To do that, he has to keep a secret identity and live a double life. There will be no room for relationships, marriage and family in that night. How is one to choose? For the greater good of all man, but having to live a secretive life? Or to bland into the crowd and be invisible.?And be able to go home to wife and family in the evening.

Father God, I stand before you now, hovering above my notebook. I too have a decision to make. I am also at a cross road, decision making point. The decision involves a church leadership position. To accept or not to accept. Like Spider-man, I have climbed to a high place to meditative, think and pray. A place of solitude to find my heart’s true center.

Father God, you know my heart, my desires and my loyalties. You have give me much; wealth, talents, good wife, family, children and friends. I want to love you and be in your presence forever.

I want to serve you, Lord; I want to be your servant. But, Lord, which kind of servant do you want me to be? You have equipped me and given me powers. You know what type of ministry I am equipped for. In this high place, Lord, please give me your understanding; enlighten me to what role I shall play next.

Teach me, O Lord, to make a decision.

Lord, have mercy

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Monday, October 16, 2006

The Top 50 Books That Have Shaped Evangelicals

Landmark titles that changed the way we think, talk, witness, worship, and live chosen by Christianity Today June 2006

50.Revivalism and Social ReformTimothy L. SmithThe new evangelicals were rightly wary of the liberal "social gospel." Yet they knew Jesus called them to serve the oppressed. Historian Timothy L. Smith destroyed the myth of the "heavenly minded" evangelical and helped us remember our history of personal and social holiness.

49.Knowledge of the HolyA. W. TozerThe Christian and Missionary Alliance pastor and mystic invited us behind the curtain and into God's presence.

48.The Hiding PlaceCorrie ten Boom with John and Elizabeth SherrillThe staple conundrum of late-night ethics discussions in Christian college dorms—Do you lie if the Nazis knock on your door asking for the Jews you are hiding?—was a question ten Boom lived.

47.The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?F. F. BruceYes, they are. And it took F. F. Bruce only 120 tiny pages to show it.

46.Out of the Saltshaker and into the WorldRebecca Manley Pippert"Christians and non-Christians have something in common," author Rebecca Pippert noted. "We're both uptight about evangelism." Out of the Saltshaker helped generations of fearful students (and other would-be evangelists) to loosen up.

45.The Scandal of the Evangelical MindMark A. NollFew people have accused evangelicalism of being an intellectual movement—but now we feel bad about it, at least.

44.The Gospel of the KingdomGeorge Eldon LaddLadd's work called a generation of evangelicals to a higher level of scholarship, and his "already-but-not yet" take on God's kingdom influenced charismatic theologians and cessationists alike.

43.Operation WorldPatrick JohnstoneThe who, where, what, why, when, and how many of unreached peoples.

42.The Purpose-Driven LifeRick WarrenA recommended resource to have on hand when faced with a home intruder (a la Ashley Smith) or when seeking to turn around an African nation (a la Rwanda).

41.Born AgainCharles W. ColsonAs we now know, the metamorphosis of a Nixon administration crook into a prison evangelist wasn't just a phase.

40.Darwin on TrialPhillip E. JohnsonThis Berkeley law professor's takedown of scientific naturalism launched Intelligent Design and gained creationists a level of public attention they hadn't enjoyed since the Scopes trial.

39.Desiring GodJohn PiperWho expected a Calvinist Baptist to redeem hedonism for Christ?

38.The Gospel in a Pluralist SocietyLesslie Newbigin"A profound rethinking of missions in a pluralist context," says Wheaton College English professor Alan Jacobs, who nominated the tome.

37.God's SmugglerBrother Andrew with John and Elizabeth SherrillBrother Andrew's autobiography "instilled in me a concern for the persecuted church and ignited courage in my heart to serve those who suffer for Jesus," writes Charisma's editor J. Lee Grady.

36.Left BehindTim LaHaye and Jerry B. JenkinsThe book launched a series that launched a marketing empire that launched a new set of rules for Christian fiction. The series spent a total of 300 weeks—nearly as long as the Tribulation it dramatized—on The New York Times's bestseller list.

35.The Stork Is DeadCharlie W. SheddShedd published his sex advice for teens in 1968 and got evangelicals talking about the topic four years before The Joy of Sex was published.

34.This Present DarknessFrank E. PerettiInterVarsity Press editor Al Hsu says Peretti's horror thriller "challenged evangelicals to take spiritual warfare and the supernatural seriously." Maybe, in some cases, too seriously.

33.The Late Great Planet EarthHal Lindsey with C. C. CarlsonIn the beginning—before the Left Behind series was a sparkle in the cash registers of religious booksellers—there was The Late Great Planet Earth. It's hard to imagine that Jenkins and LaHaye would have sold 43 million copies of their bestsellers if Lindsey hadn't first sold 15 million copies of his dispensationalist hit.

32.The Cross and the SwitchbladeDavid Wilkerson with John and Elizabeth SherrillAmazing things started happening when, in 1958, a country preacher arrived—Bible in hand and Holy Spirit in heart—in the ghettos of New York City. Christian Retailing reports that "more than 50 million copies are in print in 40-plus languages of the book that gave birth to the ministry of Teen Challenge."

31.The Next ChristendomPhilip JenkinsThe Penn State professor confronted North American Christians with the shocking truth that they were not the center of the universe.

30.Roaring LambsRobert BrinerBack in the early '90s, when engaging the culture wasn't the "in" thing to do, Roaring Lambs inspired countless Christian artists to become artists who are Christians.

29.Dare to DisciplineJames DobsonIn the permissive '70s, Dobson did what he still does best—calling us to focus on the family.

28.The Act of MarriageTim and Beverly LaHayeThe explicit marriage manual told men how to satisfy their wives. "Fundies in their undies," joked religion scholar Martin E. Marty.

27.ChristyCatherine MarshallA privileged city girl finds faith and a husband in rural Appalachia—sounds like a TV series to us.

26.Know Why You BelievePaul E. LittleNow we do.

25.BoundariesHenry Cloud and John TownsendSometimes, it's good to say no. This, in a nutshell, is the message that some ministry-weary Christians still need to hear.

24.The Meaning of PersonsPaul TournierSwiss physician Paul Tournier awakened us to the deep interconnectedness of the physical, the emotional, and the spiritual.

23.All We're Meant to BeLetha Dawson Scanzoni and Nancy A. HardestyScanzoni and Hardesty outlined what would later blossom into evangelical feminism. For better or for worse, no evangelical marriage or institution has been able to ignore the ideas in this book.

22.The Genesis FloodHenry M. Morris and John C. WhitcombIn 1961, hydraulic engineer Henry M. Morris and biblical scholar John C. Whitcomb infused young-earth creationism with new energy. They argued that the biblical deluge could explain fossils and geological layers.

21.The Master Plan of EvangelismRobert Emerson ColemanUsing Jesus' methods, Coleman showed the intimate, indispensable relationship between evangelism and discipleship.

20.A Wrinkle In TimeMadeleine L'EngleMadeleine L'Engle told CT that when she tried to be a Christian with her "mind only," she ceased to believe. But then she realized that God was a storyteller. Her 1962 classic modeled the power of imagination to energize belief.

19.The Cost of DiscipleshipDietrich Bonhoeffer"Although cheap grace has entered into the common vocabulary of evangelicals," says theologian Roger Olson, "the full weight of Bonhoeffer's exploration of true Christian discipleship has yet to be borne by many of us." Translated into English in 1949, Bonhoeffer's classic remains a devastating critique of comfortable Christianity.

18.The Divine ConspiracyDallas WillardWith this call to discipleship, "Willard joins the line of Thomas a Kempis, Luther, Fenelon, Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, Zinzendorf, Wesley, Frank Laubach, Dorothy Day, and other master apprentices of Jesus," wrote Books and Culture editor John Wilson in a review, praising the University of Southern California professor's "philosophical depth" and "penetrating understanding of Scripture."

17.What's So Amazing About Grace?Philip YanceyWith trademark self-deprecation, Yancey wrote: "Grace comes free of charge to people who do not deserve it, and I am one of those people. I think back to who I was—resentful, wound tight with anger, a single hardened link in a long chain of ungrace learned from family and church. Now I am trying in my own small way to pipe the tune of grace. I do so because I know … that any pang of healing or forgiveness or goodness I have ever felt comes solely from the grace of God."

16.Basic ChristianityJohn StottThe slim volume "has introduced more people to Christ than any book I know other than the Bible," says author James Sire.

15.The Uneasy Conscience of Modern FundamentalismF. H. HenryHenry's call to cultural engagement seems unremarkable today. That's because we took his advice to "pursue the enemy, in politics, in economics, in science, in ethics."

14.Let Justice Roll DownJohn M. PerkinsThe civil rights activist got white Christians thinking about his three-pronged solution to America's systemic race problem: relocation, reconciliation, and redistribution.

13.Evidence That Demands a VerdictJosh McDowellWho says faith is only for the heart and not the head? Not Josh McDowell.

12.Power EvangelismJohn Wimber with Kevin SpringerLifestyle evangelism is great, but signs and wonders are spectacular.

11.Celebration of DisciplineRichard J. FosterIt "opened the door for many evangelicals to intentionally practice spiritual disciplines and find a connection with the church throughout history," writes Phyllis Alsdurf, professor of journalism at Bethel College.

10.Evangelism ExplosionD. James KennedyThis more than any other book ("The Four Spiritual Laws" is a pamphlet) gave evangelicals a systematic way to share their faith. It made the question, "If you were to die tonight, do you know for sure that you would go to heaven?" standard evangelistic fare.

9.Through Gates of SplendorElisabeth ElliotThe account of the martyrdom of five young missionaries at the hands of a feared "Stone Age" tribe in Ecuador helped launch a generation of cross-cultural evangelists into the world's hard places. Author Jerry B. Jenkins told CT, "The story left me feeling spiritually slain."

8.Managing Your TimeTed W. EngstromEvangelicals have historically been entrepreneurs and mystics, so we have run into much personal burnout and organizational chaos. With this book, Ted W. Engstrom gave evangelical leaders permission to organize their ministries rationally and efficiently.

7.Rich Christians in an Age of HungerRonald J. Sider"God is on the side of the poor!" Sider writes. To neglect them is to neglect the gospel.

6.The Living BibleKenneth N. TaylorOne of the first in a wave of easy-to-read, modern English versions of the Bible, Kenneth N. Taylor's Living Bible came out in 1971, complete with its signature green cover. Book design has come a long way since then.

5.Knowing GodJ. I. PackerPacker was magisterial in substance, but adopted the tone of a fellow traveler. He convinced us that the study of God "is the most practical project anyone can engage in."

4.The God Who Is ThereFrancis A. Schaeffer"This book, and its companion volumes, accomplished something startling and necessary: It made intellectual history a vital part of the evangelical mental landscape, opening up the worlds particularly of art and philosophy to a subculture that was suspicious and ignorant of both," writes John Stackhouse, professor of theology and culture at Regent College.

3.Mere ChristianityC. S. LewisAnyone who has read this far into the list doesn't need any explanation about why Lewis's work of apologetics placed this high—right?

2.Understanding Church GrowthDonald Anderson McGavranAlthough evangelicals have always been enamored with large and growing numbers (e.g., the Great Awakenings), it was Donald McGavran who gave us phrases such as "church growth" and "the homogeneous unit principle" and who made the endeavor a "science." Today, every pastor in North America has a decided opinion about whether or how much he or she buys into church-growth principles.

1.Prayer: Conversing With GodRosalind RinkerIn the 1950s, evangelical prayer was characterized by Elizabethan wouldsts and shouldsts. Prayer meetings were often little more than a series of formal prayer speeches. Then Rosalind Rinker taught us something revolutionary: Prayer is a conversation with God. The idea took hold, sometimes too much (e.g., "Lord, we just really wanna …"). But today evangelicals assume that casual, colloquial, intimate prayer is the most authentic way to pray.

Copyright © 2006 Christianity Today


Sunday, October 15, 2006

Ultimate Superhero Previews

I love the beautiful artwork done by Bryan Hitch on the cover of EMPIRE November 2006 issue. I am looking forward to the coming years' offerings of Spiderman 3, Silver Surfer, Ghost Rider, Iron Man (finally) and Captain America. Who could play Captain America. EMPIRE offers Martin Henderson, Aaron Eckhart and Will Smith (huh!). I will love to see the Mighty Thor on the big screen.

Marvel seems to have bounced back from being a bankrupt comic book firm to become Hollywood's hottest money spinners. In 8 years, Marvel has produced 13 movies which grossed them more than four billion dollars!

Blade (1998) $131 million
X-Men (2000) $ 296 million
Blade II (2002) $155 million
Spider-man (2002) $822 million
Daredevil (2003) $179 million
X-Men II (2003) $408 million
Hulk (2003) $245 million
The Punisher (2004) $55 million
Spider-man II (2004) $784 million
Blade: Trinity (2004) $129 million
Elektra (2005) $57 million
Fantastic Four (2005) $330 million
X-Men: The Last Stand (2006) $446 million

This does not include the DC comics superheroes such as the Batman (begins, begun, begone) and Superman (returns, returning, and still returning). While it translate to a lot of money for these franchises, it also meant that many people are watching these movies at the cinemia (not to mention even more watching them on VCD and DVDs). The question is why are so many people watching these superheroes movies?

While we cannot exclude that the special effects are spectacular, that may not be the only reason. I would suggest that these movies are popular because of our inherent need for heroes.

Since 9/11, the world have proved to be a darker and more dangerous place. And many of us have felt betrayed by our own leaders and governments. Presidents have lied through their teeth. One country invaded another on the flimsiest of pretence. So we looked for heroes; those whom we can trust, who will not betray us for their own agendas. We looked at sports persons, supermodels, actors/actresses and even talentime winners (American/Malaysia/Singapore idols). Yet one by one, our heroes displayed their clay feet and fell.

So we turn back to our proven heroes from the comic books. These guys are dependable. They will sacrifice everything for the good of others. Their motto is "with great power, comes great responsibilies". What if they are a conflicted adolescent (Peter Parker/Spiderman), a man who needs anger management (Bruce Banner/Hulk), a psychiatrist's nighmare (Bruce Wayne/Batman), a die-hard idealist (Steve Rogers/Captain America), a fallen Catholic (Matt Murdock/Daredevil) or have problem with pride (Banner/Thor). Flawed in their own ways, we knew they will come through in the end. We knew that they will give up everything, put aside their problems and save us. In failing to find heroes in the real world, we escape for a few hours at least, to a world where Good always triumph in the end-a bit bruised, of course.

And coming back to the real world, we find that we still need superheroes. Chesterton said that the extraordinary people are the ordinary people living ordinary lives. These are our superheroes.


Discovering Christ and Assurance of Salvation

Most if not all people regard Jesus as a great teacher. Mahatma Gandhi regards Jesus as one of the greatest teacher who ever lived and the Sermon on the Mount as the greatest sermon ever preached. He studied the New Testament in South Africa and when he went back to India to lead the Indian Independence movement. Unfortunately, he was unable to see Jesus as more than a man.

Read complete sermon at www.draltang.blogspot.com


Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Emotions and Spiritual Direction

Kathleen Fischer, Working with the Emotions in Spiritual Direction: Seven Guiding Principles, Presence: An International Journal of Spiritual Direction. Vol.12. No.13. September 2006

Fisher, obviously a very experienced psychotherapist has given us seven guiding principles for working with emotions in spiritual direction.

1. Emotions belong at the center of spirituality, not at its edges.

It has taken us a long time but finally we have come to the realization that a holistic spirituality has emotions at the center of spirituality. I agree fully with Fisher in this. In many traditions, especially the Evangelical tradition, we value the intellectual, treating the emotions as unreliable guides. It has become a major stop for us to acknowledge that we are emotional beings. Donald Coggan, the 101st Archbishop of Canterbury once said that the longest journey in our spiritual life is from the head to the heart.

2. Emotions are not opposed to reason, in fact, they are a mode of knowing.

“The heart has its reasons that reasons does not know”. I agree with Fisher here that emotion is a way of knowing. If we learn to acknowledge and name our emotions and trace it back to the cause, it often gives us new insights into a lot of issues. That is because of the mechanism of denial that blocks our reasoning sequence. Fisher also formed a few questions to help us in our prayer reflection:
· What is the feeling in me like and how do I picture it?
· Does my anger issue in a sense of resolve and creative direction, or is it eating away at body and spirit, alienating me from others and interfering from prayer?
· Am I choosing to hold tight to feelings of hurt and sorrow in spite of the grace that keeps me from fully using my gifts in the ministry, or should I risk moving past it?
· Do feelings of guilt undermine my trust in God and myself, or can I make peace with my finitude and the limits of life?
· Can I celebrate the joy and peace I experience this day as God’s gift? (p.29)

3. Naming emotions accurately and exploring their relationship to the Spirit requires patient, attentive listening.

Fischer notes that emotions often come as “interwoven clusters”. Thus it is the role of a spiritual director to carefully untangle the whole clusters. Often anger may come together with the fear of death, shame or dearth.

4. Bringing hidden and unacknowledged emotions to awareness frequently leads to breakthroughs on the spiritual journey.

It has been noted that sometimes we have feelings about our feelings. “We are ashamed of our sexual desire, guilty about our jealousy, afraid of our anger-and sometimes the feeling about the feeling is worst than the initial feeling itself.” (Italics author’s). This is where careful listening and providing a safe space comes in. A safe space is where a directee can feel secure to explore his or her own emotions without the feeling or being judged by the director.

5. Tracing emotional memory, the history of how we came to feel the way we do, often liberates a person spiritually.

We have emotional memories. The smell of cherry blossoms may bring back memories of a holiday in Japan. Emotional memories offers the director many opportunities to strengthen or weaken the hold the past. I strongly support Fischer’s statement that we allow the memories to surface rather than to probe for them. When a memory, especially a negative memory surface by itself, the directee may be ready to deal with it. Prematurely bringing out negative memories may be harmful to the directee.

6. Praying with the imagination and incorporating the arts into spirituality leads to insight and conversion.

The arts have always had a highway into our heart. Hence the spiritual director must be familiar with ways of using the arts; creative paintings, music, icons, mandala to help their directees identify and deal with their emotions. Imaginative praying especially using bible stories is a powerful tool.

7. Spiritual directors need to pay prayerful attention to their own emotional experience, inside and outside the time of direction.

Spiritual directors must always be doing their own emotional work so that they will know where they stand with themselves. Aside from that, they must be listening to the prompting of the Holy Spirit in their hearts. Sometimes, issues may be hidden from the director by the skilful psychological defenses of the directee. In such cases, the Holy Spirit will uncover the deception and fgo to the heart of the matter.

This is an informative article contain the distilled wisdom from Kathleen Fischer who has been a psychotherapist and spiritual director for more than twenty years.


Sunday, October 08, 2006

Ravi Zacharias' Autobiography

Ravi Zacharias (with R.S.B. Sawyer), 2006 Walking from East to West: God in the Shadows (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan)

This autobiography of the world renowned apologetic-evangelist reads more like a memoirs rather than an autobiography. This may be because it was written by Scott Sawyers rather than Ravi himself.

The book starts and ends with Ravi’s home town in Chennai (Madras), India. He started his autobiography with his earliest memories of a religious encounter with an Indian mystic, one who rolled himself down his town’s main street. The street was unpaved and was covered with dust and animal excreta. He reminiscent about his childhood in Chennai before they moved to Delhi.

A major portion of his childhood memories revolved around his father. His father was a government servant who rise up in ranks to become a high ranking officer in Delhi. For some reasons, he was very hard on Ravi compared with his brother and sisters. He had a very bad temper and would often beat up Ravi physically. Than and his verbal distain resulted in Ravi developing a very poor self image. He found it impossible to please his father. That he wanted to was very obvious from his account. One of the causes for his punishment was his poor school performance. Ravi did not explain why he did so poorly in school and yet in later life he was able to excel in apologetics and philosophy. His devotion to his mother, a school teacher was obvious. Ravi wrote,” I suppose I was afraid of losing her, as she was my only hope in a young life stalked by failure and haunted by shame.” (p.61)

His only escape from this life of poor self-esteem, which he described as meaninglessness, is Indian movies and sports, especially crickets. One day, he found life so unbearable that he decided to commit suicide. He was unsuccessful. During his convalescent he was given a bible by Fred David, one of the directors Youth for Christ (YFC) worker and told to read John 14:19 “Because I live, you will also live.”

This marked a turning point in his life. He became involved with a bible study organized by Fred and gradually came to a personal encounter with Christ. About that time, he discovered that he wanted to study hospitality at the University of Delhi. He found that he liked it and his grades began to improve. He was given opportunity to preach and won a youth preaching competition. This gave him courage to organize a preaching team to four cities in India and confirmed his evangelistic gifting.

It was about this time that his father was reaching the retirement age for government servants (55 years old). His father was given an opportunity to migrate to Canada and they did. Ravi said that it was a sacrifice on his father’s part for the sake of his children’s future. Ravi found work in a hotel in Toronto and enjoyed it. However he felt the call to seminary and left to study in Ontario Bible College. He was given an opportunity do a mission trip to Vietnam in May, 1971 which defined the scope of his ministry. He discovered the empowerment of the Holy Spirit through his "persuasive preaching". On his return, he was sure that that was the direction he wanted to follow. He married Maggie Reynolds soon after his return after a courtship of 5 years. On his graduation from Ontario Bible College, he went on to study at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School on Deerfield, Illinois.
At the same time, Ravi was also invited to go on staff with the Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA) which in 1977 sent him to preach in various countries around the world. On his return he was offered and accepted a teaching position with a C&MA seminary on Evangelism. He soon discovered that teaching was not what he wanted. It was around this time that he was involved with world evangelist conferences organized by Billy Graham.
He began to discover that there is a need for a “cultural evangelist-apologist” (p.195). Most evangelists were not equipped to evangelize intellectuals. Thus was the beginning of the Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) in August 1984. He was convinced which was reaffirmed to him when he spent his sabbatical in Cambridge that the “important task in apologetics, namely, (is) to unmask the skeptic because his problem with God isn’t an intellectual one, it is a moral one” (p.207).

As in Billy Graham autobiography, “Just As I Am”, there are numerous interesting facts and observation we can make about this book.

First, we are all naturally curious about Ravi Zacharias. Who is he? What was his life story? What makes him ticks? In this short autobiography, we were given a short glimpse into his life. It is interesting that the subtitle of this book was “God in the Shadows”. He sees the hand of God behind all the events of all life including his suicide attempt. He also alludes to his cultural heritage as a son of India and how that had influenced his life for the first 20 years. His struggles with his father were as prominent as his Indian cultural heritage. What was missing was how has the West formed him? Ravi Zacharias being who is today cannot be just a product of his Indian heritage.

Second, there are numerous accounts of how relationships formed him. His early group of friends when he was a teenager, the work of Youth for Christ when an older Christian spends time with him and his many mentors along the way. There is always someone in his darkest moments send to help him and others along the way to help him grow. Again this autobiography reinforces the need to Christians, especially older Christians to reach out and mentor younger ones.

Third, the account about the Ravi Zacharias International Ministries was rather brief. He does make a note that he was not an administrator and that there were certain regrets and that if given another chance, he will not repeat again.

However we could learn more from his life if he shares more about his failures rather than his successes after he migrated to Canada. It seems from his account that after he left India, one success follows another until RZIM was formed. Overall this is an interesting overview of Ravi Zacharias' life until a more definitive biography comes along. The choice of the poem by James Russell Lowell from The Present Crisis (1844) seems appropriate:

Truth forever on the scaffold,
Wrong forever on the throne,-
Yet that scaffold sways the future,
And, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow,
Keeping watch above his own.


Friday, October 06, 2006

The Way Everlasting

Psalm 139

This popular psalm is attributed to David. We do not know when this was written and in what context. All we can say is that this psalm was written by an intelligent man, thinking about the meaning of life and God. He is aware of the hard realities of life. He is also aware of the intimate relationship he has with his God. This psalm can be divided into 5 parts.

A. The Omniscience of God (v.1-6)

You have “examined” or “scutinized” me. God knows me very well. No need to hide or wear our masks. We are become our real self when we are with Him. No need to hide behind masks, No need to pretend to be someone I am not.

God knows my outward action: sit (rest); rise (action, work) and also my inward action: my hidden life; emotional; thinking. He knows what I am able to do because He knows me so well.

God knows my needs better than I do. That is why He hems me in – He is providing close guard or protection for me. He knows what danger I can get myself into if I am allowed to wander along on my own. He blesses my by His laying on of hands.

The Lord knows us through and through. This can be a terrifying thought. It is also a reassuring thought. So let your hair down and be who you are; God knows who you are anyway.

B. The Omnipresence of God (v.7-12)
Spirit and presence speaks of the total presence of God. There is no where I can go where I am out of reach of God. The psalmist uses the vertical reaches of heaven and hell. God is there in heaven. Even in hell, God is there. There is no realm that is outside His domain. From the rising of the sun in the east of the Mediterranean Sea to its setting in the west is the psalmist’s way of saying that in the entire known world, God is present.

C. The Omnipotence of God (v.13-18)
God is also omnipotent. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. I can appreciate the complexity of the human body and mind as a doctor. We are indeed fearfully and wonderfully made. What is more reassuring is that God knows me even before the foundations of creation was laid. He knows of when I am being formed and all the things I will do and be, even before I am born. It is a powerful reminder to me that in spite of what God knows about me, He still loves me.

D. The Enemies of God (v. 19-22)
Suddenly there is a change in the tempo. The psalmist started by telling about the omniscience, the omnipresence and omnipotence of God. Suddenly he changed and talked about the enemies of God. There are some commentators who believed that this section was added on later. I do not believe so. I believe it is a part of this wonderful psalm. The psalmist was telling about his own experience of the omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence of God. Then he told of people who strayed away from God, people who rejected God and people who hated God. He then stated that he will hate these types of people. There is always a danger of categorizing people as “them and us.” Did he not earlier say how God loves people? Is there not a hint of self-righteousness in his statement. “I am not like that so I can hate them”. A better approach will be “there but for the grace of God, goes I.” I need to have this awareness on how easy I can sin and turn away from God, how easy for me to become “them.”

E. The Way Everlasting (v.23-24)
I believe it is precisely that awareness of our fallen-ness in the presence of the omniscience, omnipresence and omnipotence God that the psalmist ends by asking God to seek his heart and dig out the sinful parts. Compared to the beginning where he said that God had searched his heart. We need to be continually searching our lives and motives so that we are aligned with the path of God. The psalmist ended with being led on the way everlasting. The words “way everlasting” appears only once in the Old Testament and it is here. It indicates our journey from the past to the present and onto the future. To walk with this Great Almighty God, I must walk the path of righteousness.

So help me, God.



Switching off Harmful Genes

Americans Win Nobel Prize in Medicine

Excerpted from "2 Americans Win Nobel Prize in Medicine."

By Matt Moore and Karl Ritter. Associated Press.

October 2, 2006--Americans Andrew Z. Fire and Craig C. Mello won the Nobel Prize in medicine for discovering a powerful way to turn off the effect of specific genes, opening a potential new avenue for fighting diseases as diverse as cancer and AIDS. Fire, 47, of Stanford University, and Mello, 45, of the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, published their seminal work in a 1998 paper.

The process, called RNA interference, also is being studied for treating such conditions as hepatitis virus infection and heart disease. It is already widely used in basic science as a method to study the function of genes. RNA interference occurs naturally in plants, animals and humans.Genes produce their effect by sending molecules called messenger RNA to the protein-making machinery of a cell. In RNA interference, certain molecules trigger the destruction or inactivation of RNA from a particular gene, so that no protein is produced. Thus the gene is effectively silenced. For instance, a gene causing high blood cholesterol levels was recently shown to be silenced in animals through RNA interference.

Erna Moller, a member of the Nobel committee, said their research helped shed new light on a complicated process that had confused researchers for years. "It was like opening the blinds in the morning," she said. "Suddenly you can see everything clearly." The Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, which awarded the $1.4 million prize, said it is important for regulating the activity of genes and helps defend against viral infection. Full Article

Christian Medical & Dental Association Ethics Commission Member David Pauls, MD: "The potential applications of this research are extensive. As time marches on, the complexity and wonder of molecular genetics continue to grow. This research holds much promise for treating a wide spectrum of disease. Ethically, there appear to be no significant concerns about this, although judgment is reserved until the specific applications of this knowledge are further known."


Thursday, October 05, 2006

A Safe Place for Jacob

by Dr Tan Soo Inn

If you have committed some horrendous sin, adultery let's say, where will you go to get the help you need? (I am assuming you understand that sin is wrong and that it will destroy you and others if not dealt with.) Well I do not know who you will go to but I know that the first person you will talk to when the guilt gets too overwhelming will probably not be someone from your church, especially if you come from an evangelical church.
Studies have shown that when Christians fall into a serious sin or are caught in some complex failure, the first person that they are most likely to talk to is a non-Christian colleague at work.

I suspect you are not surprised.
Becky Pippert reminded us at the recent Lausanne Young Leaders Gathering that in so many of our churches, "it is a sin to admit we are sinners." Pippert noted that often she would find that in secular accountability groups, people were honest about their failures and sins but bereft of the solutions that only the gospel can bring, while in many Christian bible studies no one acknowledged any real problems and failures.
The gospel is indeed the only solution to our sins, Christian, or non-Christian but as every doctor knows, and as Pippert says:" To get the miracle, we must face the mess.
We can't benefit from the cure unless we understand the need."

If this is true, and I know it is, then many of our churches are failing our people. Our churches are not the confessional communities where people are given the time, space and encouragement to own the sin and brokenness in their lives as the first step towards healing and restoration. We create and sustain the illusion that if you are walking with God you can never fall. This does not help people to be holy. It only encourages them to be experts at hiding their sins and rationalizing away their failures.

I have always been struck by Jacob's wrestling match with God in Genesis 32:22-32.

"That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.

When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob's hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, ‘Let me go, for it is daybreak.'
But Jacob replied, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.'
The man asked him, ‘What is your name?'
‘Jacob,' he answered.
Then the man said, ‘Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with human beings and have overcome.'

Jacob said, ‘Please tell me your name.'
But he replied, ‘Why do you ask my name?' Then he blessed him there.
So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, ‘It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.'
The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob's hip was touched near the tendon."

I have always wondered why God asked Jacob for his name.
Surely God wasn't having a senior moment when He suddenly forgot Jacob's name.
I believe He asked Jacob for his name so that Jacob would have the opportunity to embrace his name and his character.
(Jacob means deceiver.)

For Jacob to say that his name was Jacob was to admit that he was deceiver by name, deceiver by character.
It was to admit that all his life he had survived by his wits. He hadn't needed anyone's blessing. Mama's boy was the consummate con man though he had had a taste of his own medicine from time to time too.

But now in the dark, about to lose everything to a vengeful brother in the morning or so he thought, limping from a dislocated leg, he had hung on for dear life to the mysterious wrestler whose identity he was beginning to suspect.
And now asked for his name he had to come to terms with his true identity.
He was a deceiver.

But after his admission something miraculous happens. When Jacob faces his mess, he finds his miracle.
He receives divine blessing.
And he is transformed into a new man.

He is given a new name, Israel, in itself a miraculous name meaning possibly "he who strives with God" or "God will strive on his behalf" and we know it is both.
God had sustained Jacob and allowed him to go to the far country until all is stripped away and he realizes that all is life he had been struggling against God.

And God loved Jacob so much that He ripped his leg out of its socket in one last desperate move for Jacob to realize his need for Him.
The light finally dawned for Jacob and for the first time he truly understands who he really is and his inability to solve the problem that was his life.
And at that point God was finally able to save him.

From now on Israel knew that God strove on his behalf.
And so Mr Cheat became the father of God's people. The night was over and the sun rose for Jacob/Israel.

God wants so much to bless us. He wants to forgive us. He wants to transform us. He wants to use us.
But first we have to face the mess that is our lives.

We probably understood that when we first came to the Lord.
What we probably may not know or easily forget is that we need to do this everyday of our lives in some form, till we see Christ face to face.

Which is why our churches must be safe places for people to say "My name is Jacob." They must be places where people are allowed to wrestle with God.
They must be places where people are reminded that God is a holy and awesome God who sometimes break our legs and lets our lives fall apart for our own good.

Instead so many of our churches have become feel good places, places where people think they can be Israels before they first understand that they are Jacobs.
They are places where God is domesticated and everyone pretends that they are already free of sin at least serious sin.
God help us.

May our churches be places where people understand the true nature of God. And in understanding the true nature of God they understand the evil still in their lives.
Therefore may our churches also be places of safety and honesty where people are not penalized for admitting and confessing their real moral failures.
Only then can all of us find the grace we need to live our lives.

We are all Jacobs. We cannot save ourselves. Or each other.
With no defense we can only cling on to the grace of a Holy God.
And there we find our miracle.
We find true forgiveness and transformation.

We also find out the name of God.
It is Jesus, God saves.


Hearing and Practicing Patience

Dave Veerman and Larry Thomas
The Best Cartoons from Leadership Journal, Vol. 1 Posted by Picasa


Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Poliomyelitis- a disease that just will not go away

Poliomyelitis, an old disease strikes back

Dr Alex Tang

There had been high hopes that poliomyelitis or polio can be eradicated by the year 2000. The WHO has organized massive immunization programs and almost all countries use the WHO immunization schedule which includes vaccination against diphtheria, tetanus, and poliomyelitis. The Rotary Foundation has spent billions of dollars to ensure that children in the most remote areas receive the vaccine. With the combined might of the WHO and the NGO, the Rotary Foundation, there had been high hopes that poliomyelitis will go the way of smallpox.

Poliomyelitis cause paralysis of major muscles. In the old days, children with poliomyelitis have difficulty breathing as their respiratory muscles were paralyzed. They were placed in “iron lungs” which help them to breathe. The “iron lungs’ worked by alternately creating and releasing a vacuum.

In March 2005, a 20 months old boy was founded to be infected with a wild strain of polio virus in Girijaya village in the Sukabumi district of West Java. In spite of massive immunization of the Indonesian government, the outbreak resulted in 305 cases in 2005-2006 and claimed 6 lives. 47 districts and 10 provinces were affected. This virus was traced to its origin in Nigeria. It reached Indonesia via Yemen, Saudi Arabia and West Java. From there it spread to central Java, the Madera Islands and to Sumatra.

What went wrong? It was found that the polio vaccine coverage in Indonesia has dropped from more than 90% to 77.6% in 2005. Again, this is a reminder that we are fighting a holding battle against outbreaks of diseases like polio. We cannot afford to relax our vigilance.

There are two types of vaccines for polio. The Salk vaccine which is made up of the killed polio virus and the Sabin vaccine which is made from the weakened polio virus. Salk and Sabin are the names of two medical pioneers who did a lot of work on poliomyelitis. The Salk vaccine is given by injection into the muscles while the Sabin vaccine is given orally.

WHO made a decision to use the oral Sabin polio vaccine exclusively. The Malaysian Ministry of Health follows this decision religiously. However, there are two vaccine related problems with the oral polio vaccine which is not found in the injection polio vaccine.

First, it was found that the oral polio vaccine can cause polio! It was estimated that there are 400-800 cases of vaccine polio worldwide yearly. Vaccine polio can cause outbreaks; Hispaniola Islands in 2000, Indonesia in 2005 while the longest lasting was for 10 years in Egypt from 1983-1993.

Second, oral polio vaccine can cause paralysis. The muscles of affected children become flaccid. This condition is named vaccine associated paralytic polio (VAPP). It occurs in one per million does of oral polio vaccines.

One of the arguments against the use of injection polio vaccine was the “absence of herd immunity”. As the recent outbreaks in Indonesia shows, that argument is not longer valid since the polio outbreak occurs in spite of the community having “herd immunity’. Europe, Canada, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and USA has all changed to injection polio vaccine in the last decade and there have been no significant outbreaks of polio reported.

The WHO recommends that the oral polio vaccine be discontinued as soon as polio was eradicated in 2000. It is now already 6 years past that dateline and we still have not eradicated the disease polio. Maybe it is time our Health Ministry should reconsider the WHO recommendation and make the decision to switch to injection polio vaccine independently. Most of the developed countries have already switched to injection polio vaccine.

The battle against polio has not been won. The polio vaccine has offered us an effective instrument to hold the disease at bay. Unfortunately the vaccine has created two new vaccine related diseases. The trade off is good but we could do better.


The House of M

The House of M was Marvel’s 2005-2006 major storyline that links many Marvel titles. Charles Xavier (Professor X) and Erik (Magneto) used to be the two most powerful mutants on earth. Somehow along the way, other mutants like Jean Grey who became the Phoenix, became dangerously powerful. Wanda Maximoff used to be a minor player in the X-men saga. Her hex power was relatively weak. Wanda is the daughter of Magneto. Again somehow along the years (through deconstruction and revisionist story telling), her power became so powerful that she can alter reality itself!

Wanda had a nervous breakdown while fighting with the New Avengers and unleashed terrible damage to her team mates. Hawkeye was killed while several others were injured. Magneto came to her rescue and brought her to Genosha, the devastated mutant island-nation. Here with the help of Charles Xavier, they tried to help her. Unfortunately, her mental condition was so unstable that Charles Xavier with Doctor Strange was unable to help her. She was considered so dangerous that Charles called a meeting of the New Avengers and the Astonishing X-Men to propose a drastic solution. In order to keep the world safe, they will have to kill her. This is reminiscent of the DC storyline of mind wiping one of their own but more drastic. A vote was taken and it was decided that Wanda has to be eliminated. And these are the good guys!

When both teams reach Genosha, Wanda was hidden by her brother Pietro (Quicksilver) who was trying to save her life. In the meantime, everyone blame Magneto for her disappearance. At a crucial moment, everything turned white and reality as we can to know it changed.

In the new reality, Wanda gave the heroes what they had always wanted in life. Magneto is Erik Magnus, the Monarch of the House of M, ruler of most of the world. Mutants have taken over control of everything. Normal human beings or sapiens are now the second class citizens. They are discriminated against, exploited and oppressed. This reminds me of the Planet of the Apes saga. Normal humans are expected to die out in a few generations.

What about our heroes? Well, everyone except James Howlett (Wolverine) did not have memories of their previous lives. On the other hand, James Howlett/Logan/Wolverine remembers everything!

This gives an interesting opportunity for the writers to explore a few “what if” situations. Like Captain Kirk and Captain Picard in the Nexus in the movie “Generations”, they have an opportunity to live the life they always wanted. For James T. Kirk, it is to live with the woman he loves and for Jean-Luc, it is to have a wife and family. Peter Parker is an actor, professional wrestler and CEO of Spider-Man, Inc. He is a celebrity, married to Gwen Stacy and has a child. Uncle Ben is alive with Aunt May. Now, why would he want to be back the way it was?

Other heroes are not so lucky. Tony Stark (Iron-Man) is still under the control of his father, Howard and has a dysfunctional childhood. Reed Richards is dead and there was no Fantastic Four. Dr. Doom is the ruler of Latveria. He is married to his childhood sweetheart and his mother is still alive. He formed a team called the Fearsome Four who does the House of M’s dirty work. Bruce Banner goes green and links up with the Aborigines in Australia, Captain Britain is called back to realign realities and Sebastian Shaw is head of S.H.I.E.L.D!

Nick Fury, being a human is given a job of a drill sergeant. Captain America, also human was given early retirement. You get the picture? I will not give away the plot by revealing how our reality was restored.

This is an entertaining storyline which involves Excalibur, the Astonishing X-Men, The New Avengers, Fantastic Four, Spiderman, Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Black Panther, Uncanny X-Men and New X-Men Academy. Lots of people are involved. Some of the stories makes sense and try to explore what life could have been for these superheroes if what had happened to them did not happen. Some of the stories are nonsense with lots of wham, bang and girls in skimpy clothing. I could not help but wonder what the Batman will be like in this reality. It is difficult to read the story knowing that at the end of it all, the present reality will be restored. Magneto though he is the absolute Monarch of the House of M did come out impressive. Most of the time, he just seems confused or a bad caricature of a bad villain.

The normal human are treated badly by the mutants. They have developed a human resistant movement and there are also terrorist groups. Again the treatment of this aspect of the dominant species becoming the underdog was not examined deeply. I would give this series a two and a half star. It is worth a read if you run out of manga on a Saturday afternoon.


Monday, October 02, 2006

The Boys' Brigade of Malaysia

William Alexander Smith was born in Thurso, Scotland in 1854. He moved to Glasgow in his teens and became involved in church activities. William was also a lieutenant in the 1st Lanarkshire Rifle Volunteers in 1883 while he was teaching in the North Woodside Mission Sunday School. While working with the children in church, he discovered the need for wholesome activities for children outside school hours. William Smith shared his ideas with his two friends, which later invited boys from North Woodside Mission Sabbath School and formed the first company of The Boys' Brigade, 1st Glasgow Company on 4th of October 1883. It is the world's first uniform organization, even before the Scouts.

William was the first Brigade Secretary in 1887 where he worked towards spreading the Brigade across the world. In 1909, King Edward VII knighted William Smith for his contribution towards youth development. Five years later, Sir William Alexander Smith passed away. Throughout his lifetime, Sir William A. Smith poured out all that he has into BB and he is best remembered as the man who spells Boy with a capital 'B'.

The original object of the Boys' Brigade is the advancement of Christ's Kingdom among Boys and the promotion of habits of obedience, reverence, discipline, self-respect and all that tend towards a true Christian manliness. Christian “manliness” was developed by the use of a semi-military discipline and order, gymnastics, summer camps and religious services and classes. Christian manliness was changed to Christian character when girls were admitted to the BB.

However, the BB did not appear in the Asian scene until 1915 when the first Company was founded in the Chinese city of Swatow by the Rev Guthrie Gamble (the famous Swatow BB was to become a legend in later years in China) The BB came to South East Asia in 1930 with the founding of the 1st Singapore Company by Mr James Fraser.

The Boys’ Brigade did not come to Malaya until the after the second World War. A British soldier by the name of Robert Davis (former Captain of 6th Birkenhead Company at the Tranmere Freehold Methodist Church and later Tranmere United Reformed Church) gave the idea of The Boys’ Brigade to one of Penang’s great educationist, the late Mr Geh Hun Kheng, who accepted the challenge becoming the first BB Captain in Malaya. Mr Geh realised that he had to do his "small share" to win the Boys over from the various subversive groups that were so rife after the Pacific War. The first meeting of 20 Boys was held in the Methodist Church in Madras Lane on a Sunday in September 1946. Penang thus became the springboard from which Companies were started first in Kuala Lumpur and then in other parts of the country. When Malaysia achieved independence on 31 August 1957, The Boys’ Brigade was given the honour of being invited to take part in the Merdeka Parade (Independence Day Parade).

After Merdeka (Independence), The Boys’ Brigade began to spread rapidly as a result of the formation of the Malayan Council of The Boys’ Brigade under the initiative of Mr Khoo Oon Soo. More and more Companies were founded in every major town in Malaya. Even small rural towns began to have BB Companies functioning efficiently. By this time firm and friendly contact had been made with the BB in Singapore which helped in the supply and sale of equipment and with the founding of the first Company in Borneo in 1959, the 1st Kuching Company. In 1962, the BB in Malaya became a member of the Pacific Regional Fellowship (subsequently joined the East Asia Regional Fellowship when it was formed later) and the first Pacific camp was held with the co-operation of the Singapore Battalion in Port Dickson in December 1963.

On 5 December 1964, the former Federation of Malaya Council of The Boys’ Brigade, the Singapore Battalion and the 1st Kuching Company merged into The Boys’ Brigade in Malaysia. With the political separation of Singapore from Malaysia, The Boys’ Brigade in Singapore ceased to be a component District of The Boys’ Brigade in Malaysia as on 19 August 1965. With Malaysia a reality the National Council began to establish Companies in Sabah and Sarawak, maintaining friendly ties with the BB in Singapore.

The development of The Boys’ Brigade in Malaysia took a revolutionary turn when it invited girls to be members. It was first introduced in 1989 and debated for a few years before experimental measures were approved in 1992. The move received favourable response and strong support from churches and individuals. Starting of the girls’ wing was to cater for the girls in a locality where a Girls’ Brigade Company did not exist. Today, more than 20 companies in the BBM have girls on their membership roll, and many girls have been appointed NCOs, and they have proven to be capable in adapting well to the activities of the BB.

Since 1992, The Boys’ Brigade in Malaysia has also begun to play significant role in the extension of BB work in the East Asia Regional Fellowship, including conducting training and support BB works in Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines.

Today, there are over 70 Companies spread throughout the length and breadth of Malaysia. Ever since the setting up of a BBHQ in 1989, a permanent building has been purchased, and currently staffed by a team of 5 able full-time personnel.

The Boys’ Brigade in Malaysia has come a long way since 1946. Many things have since changed, many had come and gone with many new developments taken place. Throughout all these years, the BBM has been able to hold on to its object and continue in serving the youth of Malaysia. As the nation is fast moving towards greater heights in development, it is believed that the BB shall be called on to play an even greater role in the development and training of the Malaysian youths.

The BB is recognised by Kementerian Belia dan Sukan Malaysia as a youth body and by Kementerian Pendidikan Malaysia as a school's extra co-curricular activity. This means BB is the only formally recognized uniformed Christian youth organization recognized by the government and allowed to be part of the schools extra co-curricular activities. BB is also an affliated member of Majlis Belia Malaysia and Council of Churches of Malaysia

The Advancement of Christ's Kingdom among members and the promotion of habits of Obedience, Reverence, Discipline, Self-Respect and all that tends towards a true Christian Character.

SURE & STEDFAST (taken from Hebrews 6:19). The original Old English (King James Version) spelling of "Stedfast" has been retained.

The emblem is original an anchor. Like the motto it stems from the verse "We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure" (Hebrews 6:19)

Please support the Boys' Brigade by praying for them, getting your children to join them and get involved with them.