Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Spiritual Discernment

One of the difficulties and fear as we move into the experiential and mystical aspect of Christian spirituality is whether the experience we have is from God, our own spirit/soul or from Satan. It needs spiritual discernment to distinguish between them.

Books & Culture, November/December 2007

Ambiguous Ecstasies
Visited by the Friend of Souls—or the Enemy?

David Martin reviews this book

Believe Not Every Spirit, Possession, Mysticism, and Discernment in Early Modern Catholicism by Moshe SluhovskyUniv. of Chicago Press, 2007

This study of mysticism and possession in early modern Europe is a model of scrupulous scholarship, not only on account of its detailed scrutiny of a very complex historical literature in half a dozen languages, but on account of its refusal to apply reductionist frameworks at the expense of the integrity of the data. There are many questions and problems which inhere in specific human projects, in this case the pursuit of immersion in the pure love of God...

Moshe Sluhovsky introduces his theme as the relation between bodies and souls, as well as a built-in uncertainty about whether body and/or soul were possessed by the Friend of souls or the Enemy of souls. Three quests for truth are involved: of the encounter with the divine; of the interior movements within the soul; and the truth of somatic signs in the body. For Sluhovsky, possession by spirits came to pose a major hermeneutic challenge between 1400 and 1700 in the course of which new explanatory frameworks were developed for the relations between the demonic and the divine, the body and the soul, interiority and exteriority, and the natural and the supernatural. New webs of interconnection emerged between the psychological and the physiological, experience and explanation, and the boundaries between the normative and the extraordinary. Whereas for some observers these were primarily theoretical questions, for others, especially women, they touched closely on the authenticity of markings on their bodies and their souls, as well as the reliability of their own witness...

Two modest queries occur to me. With demons so much in evidence I am surprised that angels do not figure more largely, with maybe greater reference to the neo-platonic mysticism prevalent over the same period. My own reading in 17th-century poetry suggests that neo-platonic mysticism had recourse to angels and ministers of grace with relatively little fear of demonic intrusion. I am also intrigued by the reappearance of possession and exorcism in contemporary Pentecostalism. Were Sluhovsky interested in pursing contemporary forms of the mundane healing of troubled souls, caught between the Friend of souls and the Enemy of souls, his next project might involve a visit to Brazil or Nigeria. But in such places possession is a taken-for-granted experience, whether divine or demonic, and exorcism likewise not a critical issue of disciplinary control. Freedom of the Spirit and equality of access are the very basis of the faith, though in an old African tradition Big Men can easily deploy the charisma of the spirit to create a charisma of office, and combine quasi-papal powers with those of a CEO in a major conglomerate. The only way to exorcise that kind of corruption of the spirit is to set up in business on your own...

Read complete article here

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Youth and the Internet

Church & Society in Asia Today is a journal published by The Centre for the Study of Christianity in Asia, Trinity Theological College in Singapore. Its original name was Church and Society (started 1996). This journal is published three times a year.

I have enjoyed the articles in the journal which are written by theologians, pastors and graduate students of TTC. Contents and back issues of the journal are available online here

The focus of August 2007 issue is on Youth and the Internet (with one extra article on the church in Vietnam).

The key articles are

Youth and the Internet
by Tan Te Khoon (General Secretary of the Fellowship of Evangelical Students in Singapore)

Youth and the Internet: A Pastoral Perspective
by Daniel K S Koh (Lecturer in TTC on church and society, pastoral theology and ethics)

The Church and Youth
by Dr Loo Yeow Hwa (pastoral staff worker at St. Andrews’s Cathedral Mandarin Congregation in Singapore)

The first two articles are directly related to youth and the internet while the third article is more a historical perspective of youth work in Singapore. Both authors quoted the Infocomm Development Authority (IDA) survey done in 2005 and 2006 in Singapore. The summary of the 2006 IDA survey is here

Internet world stats show that 70.2 percent of North Americans population use the Internet, Oceania/Australia 55.2 percent, Europe 41.7 percent , Asia 12.4 percent and Africa 4.7 percent. Though Asia has about 12.4 percent population, this translated to about 437 million users! However in country breakdown, Malaysia has 52.7 percent population penetration while Singapore has 66.3 percent (2007). More details here.

This figures are amazingly high especially in Malaysia where our broadband goes at the speed of the dialup or slower.

No one will dispute the major role internet is playing in the life of youth. Both authors have put forth good arguments about the pros and cons of the internet, and the challenge the internet is to the church. Unfortunately, there are no suggestions of a strategy for the church to adopt to face this challenge. What is more obvious is that both authors do not seem to have much personal experiences of what the many things the internet can offer.

While it is laudable for the youth pastors to be internet savvy, it is also important that more senior leadership of the church become internet savvy. Otherwise, how are they to meet the needs of all members of their flocks? Or even to understand what the younger members of the flocks are doing?


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Saturday, October 27, 2007

The 13th Apostle

Richard and Rachael Hiller (2007), The 13th Apostle, New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

Among the most sacred of texts it is written:

In each generation there are born thirty-six
righteous souls who by their very existence,
assure the continuation of the world.

According to Abraham’s Covenant, once each
millennium, God shall return to earth and count
among the many, those who remain righteous.

Were it not for these tzaddikim, the righteous ones,
who stand in God’s judgment, mankind’s fate would
be grave and certain peril.

These traddikim have no knowledge of each other,
Neither have they an understanding of their own
singular importance. As innocents, they remain
unaware of the critical consequences of their
thoughts, their faith, and their deeds,
Save for one.

To this tzaddik alone is granted knowledge
of his position, for to him is trusted the
most sacred of tasks.

From Publishers Weekly
The Hellers, a husband-and-wife team known for their health titles (The Carbohydrate Addict's Diet, etc.) make a thrilling fiction debut in this fast-paced, well-researched adventure, a foray into Da Vinci Code–style papal mystery. American cybersleuth Gil Pearson, a semifamous antihacker, gets tapped to help translate an ancient copper scroll that's meant to lead to a fabulous treasure. Accompanied by striking, strong Sabbie Karaim, a translator and former Israeli military operative, Gil travels to Israel, where he's introduced to the dangerous conspiracy that surrounds the scroll, and soon realizes the perilous position he's gotten himself into; apparently, the scroll contains not just a treasure map but the truth about the life and death of Jesus. As rival factions try to claim the scroll for their own agendas (to protect Christianity, to destroy Christianity, etc.), Gil and Sabbie head on a breakneck quest around the globe trying stay one step ahead of their pursuers while teasing out the secrets of the age-old document. A satisfying, well-structured entry into the still-hot subgenre, the Hellers have a definite crowd-pleaser on their hands—assuming it doesn't get buried in a saturated market. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

I have always enjoyed reading conspiracy thrillers especially those involving religious antiquity. That is why I enjoyed the Da Vinci Code enormously and also the Indiana Jones movies and novels (yes, there are novels). This book promises two premises; one, the legend/tradition of the worthy tzaddikim, and two, the story of the thirteenth apostle.

Unfortunately the authors were not able to bring these two interesting ideas into play effectively to hammer out a good religious conspiracy thriller. The story telling was choppy with too much detail given to the scroll. It also suffers by imitating the writing style of the Da Vinci Code. The character development was poorly done. For example Gil, the leading male character is at times very intelligent and at other times to be incredibly stupid. It was a fair attempt for a first novel. My rating for this book is one star.



Thursday, October 25, 2007

Are You My Friend?

YOU ARE NOT MY FRIEND”, declares Joel Stein (TIME October 29, 2007), “Yes, we’re on Facebook. But I don’t care about your cat. And stop poking me.”

Joel adds,

You message me and comment about me and write on my walls and dedicate songs to me and invite me to join groups. More than once you have taken it upon yourself to poke me.

This is hard to say to a friend, but our relationship is starting to take up too much of my time. It's weird that I know more about you than I do about actual friends I hang out with in person--whom I propose we distinguish by calling "non-metafriends." In fact, I know more about you than I know about myself. I have no idea what my favorite movie or song or TV show is. Last I checked, they all involved Muppets.

Also, you're a bit aggressive in our friendship. Would a non-metafriend call me up and say, "Hey! Guess what? I have a bunch of new pictures of me"? Or tell me he'd colored in a map of all the places he'd ever been? Or inform me, as Michael Hirschorn did in his Facebook status update, that he "is not making decisions; he's making surprises"? It's as if I suddenly met a new group of people who were all in the special classes.

The horror is, I can't opt out. Just as I can't stop making money or my non-metafriends will have more stuff than I do, I can't stop running up my tally of MySpace friends or I'll look like a loser. Just as money made wealth quantifiable, social networks have provided a metric for popularity. We all, oddly, slot in at a specific ranking somewhere below Dane Cook.” … (Who’s Dane Cook?)

But really, these sites aren't about connecting and reconnecting. They're a platform for self-branding. Old people are always worrying that our blogging and personal websites and MySpace profiles are taking away our privacy, but they clearly don't understand the word privacy. We're not sharing things we don't want other people to know. We're showing you our best posed, retouched photos. We're listing the Pynchon books we want you to think we've read all the way through. We're allowing other people to write whatever they want about us on our walls, unless we don't like it, in which case we just erase it. If we had that much privacy in real life, the bathrooms at that Minnesota airport would be empty.

Read complete article here

Are you my friend? May I add you as my friend to Facebook? I have been making and reconnecting to many friends since I joined Facebook. I have been writing graffiti on someone's walls, asking and answering questions, giving gifts and receiving them, looking at my friends' personal data and who they are hanging out with, sharing books and movies, poking them (like high five, throwing sheep and headbutting etc), and making a general nuisance of myself.
I will show you pictures of my dogs (when I have time to take pictures of them). Don't you care about my dogs?
It's great fun and addictive. Hey, where my life, dude? You mean I have a life?


this is Alex's profile

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Malaysian Church Needs to Change

The Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM) held the 7th National Christian Conference on 20-22 October 2005, at Corus Hotel in Kuala Lumpur.

The theme of the conference was National Integration & Unity- The Church Response. Many of us were not aware of this conference because it involved the upper echelon of Christian leadership.

The three main sessions were Harmonious Co-Existence in Religious Pluralism by Datuk Dr. Maximus J. Ongkili, JP, Our Journey Towards National Integration- A Critical Appraisal by Mr. Malik Imtiar Sarwar (Chairman, Steering Committee of the Initiative Towards Malaysian Interfaith Commission), and Sustaining and Enhancing Integration through Strategies of Change by Bishop Rev. Hwa Yung.

Bishop Rev. Hwa Yung suggested 3 strategies:

Strategy 1: Partnership with the State and other concerned groups

(1) partnership with the State must involve

(a) a through revamp of the education and national school system

(b) more transparent approach to the whole issue of meritocracy in university admissions

(c) rethinking teachers and the teaching profession

(d) greater and more open social and cultural integration in public events and media

(e) a more enlightened and transparent affirmative action policy

(f) multi-ethnicizing the public service

(g) rethinking ministry amongst youth

(h) sports, the forgotten factor

(2)partnership with other concerned groups

Strategy 2: Creating Space for Discussion on Fundamental Issues.

These fundamental issues are

(a) the historical questions of the genesis of Malaysia and the tendency to rewrite history

(b) NEP and meritocracy

(c) Is Malaysia an Islamic state?

Strategy 3:Is the Christian Community genuinely Counter-Cultural?

(1) Some models of Christian counter-cultural action

(a) loving our neighbours in the early church

(b) finding social space in Latin Americas and Communist Eastern Europe

(2) Are we really committed to this country?

Hwa Yung's paper raised a lot of important issues in 2005 that has not been resolved even now in 2007. I am glad that CFM has decided to published the 2005 conference papers this year.


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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Spiritual Brain: Neuroscience & Spirituality

Beauregard, Mario and O’Leary, Denyse (2007), The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Case for the Existence of the Soul, New York: HarperCollins Publishers

The neuroscientist is Mario Beauregard at the University of Montreal. Denyse O’Leary is a freelance journalist in Toronto. In this interesting book, Beauregard documented his experiments with a group of Carmelite nuns exploring the thesis that spiritual experiences are more than imagination or delusions by the brain.

Beauregard calls himself a non-materialist neuroscientist, distinguishing himself from the materialist neuroscientist. The materialist neuroscientist does not believe there is anything outside the material plane and all phenomenon can be explained by the workings of the brain. Beauregard explores psi effects (paranormal experiences such as extrasensory perception and psychokinesis), near death experiences NDE (medical resuscitation has improved so there is a large number of people with NDEs) and placebo effects (you are very sick but you start to get better in the doctor’s waiting room-your brain is making you better).

This book is a welcome reading in face of a sudden raise in number of materialist scientific writings which are ‘anti God’ and propose a “God gene’ or ‘God switch’. Examples are Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (Daniel Dennet), The God Delusion (Richard Hawkins), God: The Failed Hypothesis-How Science shows that God does not Exist (Victor Stenger), and God is Not Great (Christopher Hitchens).

“…our book shows that when spiritual experience transform lives, the most reasonable explanation and the one that accounts for all the evidence, is that people who have such experience have actually contacted a reality outside themselves, a reality that has brought them closer to the real nature of the universe”(xvi)

More thots on Neuroscience and Christian Belief here

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Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Quest for Jason Bourne

Who is Jason Bourne?

Robert Ludlum is an accomplised writer of best sellers. His plots are often intriguing, with a hint of truth so it is often difficult to distinguish between truth and fiction. Ludlum series of novels on Jason Bourne is my favourite amongst of all his novels.

David Webb was in charge of a special dark operations assassination team during the Vietnam under project Medusa. David is ‘Delta” and is the ruthless leader of the team. The team was made up of criminals and killers. During one of the operation, Delta killed Australian Jason Bourne because Bourne was a double agent. Because of the nature of the team, it was classified and nobody knew that Jason Bourne was dead.

Years later, a CIA black ops unit called Treadstone 71 recruited David Webb (Delta). Because the identity of Delta was too well known, David took on the name of Jason Bourne. The target was to get Carlos the Jackal, known to be the world’s most ruthless and successful assassin. Webb/Bourne took on the identity of Cain. Cain will be another ruthless successful assassin, often taking credits for Carlos’ kills. The idea is to get Carlos to come after Webb/Bourne/Cain so that Cain can eliminate Carlos. Unfortunately during one of the operations, Webb/Bourne/Cain lost his memory.

The Robert Ludlum novel, The Bourne Identity (1980) was where Webb tried to regain his memory as Jason Bourne. The Bourne Supremacy (1986), the US government tried to get David Webb to become Jason Bourne again. Apparently some one was using Jason Bourne’s name to conduct assassination in the Far East. In the end it turned out that there is no phony Bourne but a US government plot for Jason Bourne to kill a Chinese warlord. The Bourne Ultimatum (1990) was about Carlos taking revenge on Jason Bourne and the way these two assassins fought each other.

Eric Van Lustbader took up the series by writing The Bourne Legacy (2004) and The Bourne Betrayal (2007). I have almost finished reading The Bourne Betrayal which is an excellent thriller to read.

21st century films are The Bourne Identity (2002), The Bourne Supremacy (2004) and The Bourne Ultimatum (2007). There was an earlier movie, The Bourne Identity (1988) starring Richard Chamberlain. The present Bourne movies portray a simpler Jason Bourne and does not follow Robert Ludlum’s plot closely.

The storyline for The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) is simple. It is to tie up all the loose ends in the earlier two movies. However the action and cinematography makes it exciting to watch and makes the movie longer.

In a way, the screenplay was formulaic as it shows how Bourne eludes his pursuers, being helped by a girl who has to dye her hair, and the incompetence of CIA’s finest. Matt Damon plays a good Jason Bourne, making believable that a person can be trained as a weapon of mass destruction. I believe we will not see the end of Jason Bourne on the big screen.

photo credit

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DA Carson on Emerging Churches in Singapore

The Ichthus Research Centre at

The Emerging Church Seminar

Speaker: Professor D.A. Carson
Date: Friday 26th October 2007
Time: 2.00-3.30 pm
Place: 4th floor, Worship Hall, Block 7
Singapore Bible College
9-15 Adam Road, Singapore 289886

Admission is free

The is held in conjunction with the Preaching Conference held in the Singapore Bible College on 26th and 27th October 2007.

more details on their website


Friday, October 19, 2007

A Religious KISS

A Religious KISS

Ah Beng was the only Chinese disciple of Abba Isaac, the most famous of all the Desert Fathers in the Fourth Century. Ah Beng had traveled all the way from China to learn to love God and become a good Christian under the teachings of Abba Isaac. After fifteen years. Abba Isaac decided that Ah Beng was ready to start his own monastery so he sent him home. With tears in his eyes, Ah Beng bade his sifu goodbye and made his way back to China. Finally he decided to settle in a small place called Sow-Lin in China.

Being a disciple of Abba Isaac, Ah Beng led a very ascetic life. He lived in a simple wooden hut. Soon many became his disciples and the making of a Sow-Lin monastery were in the works. Ah Beng owned only a loincloth which he washed everyday. Unfortunately, whenever he left it out to dry, the rats would tear at it. So Ah Beng decided to keep a kitten to drive away the rats. However, Ah Beng found that now he had to beg for milk in addition to his own food everyday. This took time away from his prayers and meditation. So Ah Beng decided to keep a cow to produce milk for his kitten. When he had the cow, Ah Beng found that he now had to find grass for his cow. Again this cut into his prayer and meditation time. Then Ah Beng had a bright idea. Instead of begging for his own food and grass everyday, he would cultivate the land around his hut to grow wheat and use the stalk to make hay for his cow. In farming, Ah Beng found out the hard way that it took even more time away from his prayers and meditation. So in frustration, Ah Beng decided to employ people to work his farm. Ah Beng discovered that supervising his employees took up a lot of his time so he decided to employ a manager. In a short while, Ah Beng discovered that he had became very rich!

One day Abba Isaac decided to visit his disciple Ah Beng in China. Instead of a hut, Abba Isaac found Ah Beng living in a mansion. “Your house is like a temple in Sow-Lin,” stammered a surprised Abba Isaac. “All this came about” explained Abba Ah Beng, “because I wanted to keep my loincloth.”

As Abba Ah Beng has found out that such a simple spiritual discipline of asceticism and wearing a loincloth can escalate into a full bloom Sow-Lin temple. I wonder how many of us are aware how complicated Christianity has become. We build multi-million Ringgit churches which are used only a few hours every week. The rest of the time, the buildings are left empty. These are our houses of worship. We worship in air-conditioned comfort, with upholstered seats, clear view of the stage where we see the musicians and speakers perform. Our sermons are uplifting, comforting and simplified so as not to make demands on our time, effort and wallets. We are entertained by karaoke choruses, PowerPoint presentations with sounds and video, and brilliant solo performances by singers and choirs. There are many translations of the Bible in English; offering us the choice of choosing by the beauty of the language (KJV) or reading like a newspaper (The Message). Our theology are so complicated and convoluted that we are willing to kill each other over it. We fellowship with people who are like us in status; socially and economically. To help the poor and the marginalised, we prefer to give money rather than to get our hands dirty. We retreat into our religious ghettoes and watch as social injustice and racial polarisation tear apart the infrastructure of our society.

Have you ever wondered what God really require of us? Does God wants big fancy churches, emotionally stirring worship performances and Christians who are not disciples? The prophet Micah has this to say, “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). God’s requirements from us are simple; (1) we are to be just in our action, (2) we are to be merciful to others, and (3) to walk humbly with our Creator God. Our Lord Jesus Christ clarified that for us in what is known as the Great Commandment; we are to love God and to love others as we love ourselves (Mark 12:28-31).

Ever wonder how something so simple can become as complicated as modern day Christianity? I believe it is time that we re-examine the way we practice our religion. We need to get a religious KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid). We need to ask ourselves which of the many activities we do in church is what God requires. Our church facilities and assets must also be examined to see if that is what God requires. We also need to reassess if we neglect what God requires of us: to seek social justice, to give voice to the oppressed and marginalised, to defend the defenceless and vulnerable, to eradicate poverty and to reduce suffering of the sick, wounded and traumatised.

If this means we have to simplify our lifestyles in order to act justly and to show mercy, let it be so. If it means we have to re-examine our dependence on lavish church buildings, then it is needed. If it means our worship be less of a performance and more of a service, may it be done. If this means our pulpit teaching be more Christ centered rather than man or psychology-centered, it will be beneficial. If it means we have to reduce our church activities to its minimal so more time can be spent outside the church building to offer justice and mercy, let us do it then. Jesus led a group of disciples for 3 years and left them to form a church. Within three hundred years, the church became the most powerful religious institution on earth after it became the official religion of the Roman Empire. Unfortunately it also became the richest, most ritualistic, power-hungry and self-centered institution on earth. Then as now, the church of Jesus Christ needs a religious KISS.

Reflection Questions

(1) How will you simplify your worship of God? In what ways can you make your worship closer to what God requires of you? How will you walk humbly with God?
(2) How will you simplify your lifestyle so that you will have more opportunities to act justly and show mercy?
(3) Are all the many church activities or programs necessary? Ask yourself if any of these activities or programs is serving God or man. Also think of any activities or program your church should be doing but is not.


Forgive us in the way we have made a mockery of your church. Forgive us for adding so many rituals, demands and needs to your church that your people have been separated from a true worship of You. Lord, help us to simply our life and our religion. Help us to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with You. We thank you for the work of your Son on the Cross and for the Holy Spirit who will help us to keep it simple.



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We are all Becomers

Eight Principles of Doing The Right Thing the Be-ing Way

(1) Be Aware of Your Calling/Vocation
COL 3:1 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

(2) Be a Person of Integrity
COL 3:5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. 7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived.

(3) Be Growing into Christlikeness
8 But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices
10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.

(4) Be Different
COL 3:12 Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

(5) Be Part of a Community of Faith
COL 3:15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.

(6) Be Grateful
17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

(7) Be Building a Godly Marriage
COL 3:18 Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. 19 Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.21 Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.

(8) Be Excellent
COL 3:22 Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

soli deo gloria

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Thursday, October 18, 2007

A Need for Personal Integrity

Recently I have been very bothered by the loss of personal integrity of people in power as the newspaper and online aggregators daily bring news of corruption and bribery in high places. Personal integrity is character. What we do flow out of who we are.

Fred Smith was a well respected Christian leader, businessman, mentor and writer. He died in August this year. This article which he wrote for the Leadership Journal tells us about what he had learnt about character building from another great Christian, Francois Fenelon who lived more than three hundred years before.

He wrote:

(1) Self love is subtle
(2) Suffering is useful
(3) One test of relationship with God is peace.
(4) Growth and changes are the work of the cross
(5) Give grace to yourself and others.

read complete article here

Os Guinness from Trinity Forum (a Christian think tank) edited a book (1999), Character Counts, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books in which scholars examined the character and leadership qualities of Washington, Wilberforce, Lincoln and Solzhenitsyn.

Each of these persons were examined from their biography to determine what molded their character and made them who they are.

...that adversity, apart from its power to overwhelm, has the potential to reveal the moral character and create life-changing leaders.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A Christian Marriage

“It is the statement about marriage that is repeated four times in the Bible. The Bible does not speak very often about marriage. Therefore it is the more striking that this statement appears four times in very decisive places. First, it sums up the story of creation in the second chapter of Genesis. Then, Jesus quotes this statement in Matthew 19:5 and Mark 10:7, after He is asked about divorce. Finally the apostle Paul relates directly to Jesus in Ephesians 5:31”

Genesis 2:24
GE 2:24 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.

“This verse has three parts. It mentions three things which are essential to marriage: to leave, to cleave, and to become one flesh.”

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The Resurrected Life

The resurrection life is a practice…we engage in a life that is permeable by the presence and companionship of the resurrected Jesus in the company of friends.

Eugene Peterson postulated that we are now living resurrected life. This resurrected life involves:

(2)Resurrection wonder
(3)Sabbath keeping

We need to practice living a life as if we are already aready death and are already living a resurrected life.

The resurrected life awakes in us the forgotten sense of wonder in knowing God.

Sabbath keeping as a constant reminder and discipline.

Eucharist as the communion with God.

Resurrection lives are to be lived with friend.


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Conformity to the Kingdom of God now

It (the sermon) portrays the pattern of conduct under kingdom authority, a pattern that demands conformity now, even if perfection will not be achieved until the kingdom’s consummation

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The Pattern for Ethical Living

It (the sermon) portrays the pattern of conduct under kingdom authority, a pattern that demands conformity now, even if perfection will not be achieved until the kingdom’s consummation

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God's Calling for our Vocation

Calling (or vocation) is the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion and dynamism lived out as a response to his summons and service…

Our primary calling as followers of Christ is by him, to him, and for him.

Our secondary calling, considering God who is as sovereign, is that everyone, everywhere, and in everything should think, speak, live, and act entirely for him… we can therefore properly say that as a matter of secondary calling that we are called to homemaking or to the practice of law or to art history.

Os Guiness, one of the sharpest mind in American and part pf the Trinity Forum rightly helps us in our understanding of calling and vocation. This is a good book for those who seeks to understand the call of God on our lives


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Thursday, October 11, 2007

Interesting Questions

While thinking about and preparing a lecture for a varsity student conference, I find myself wrestling with few interesting personal integrity questions.

•“Everyone is doing it, so why shouldn’t I?”

•“It’s not illegal”

•“They did it to me, so I’m going to do it to them.”

•“If I don’t do it, someone else will.”

•“Why follow standard operating protocols? Others don’t”

•“I am not supposed to but here’s something I must tell you”


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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader

Anne Fadiman (1998), Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Ex Libris recounts a lifelong love affair with books and language. Anne Fadiman, like many passionate readers, regards books that she loves as chapters in her life story. I can remember certain books that I read at certain periods of my life. Star Trek novels saved my sanity as I was training in Edinburgh for my postgraduate degree, far away from home and family.

Writing with remarkable grace, she (Fadiman) revives the tradition of well crafted personal essay, moving easily from anecdotes about Coleridge and Orwell to tales of her own pathological literary family. As someone who plays at blocks with her father’s twenty-two volume set of Trollope (“My Ancestral Castle”) and who considers herself truly married only when she and her husband had merged collections (“Marrying Libraries”), she is exquisitely well equipped to expand upon the art of flyleaf inscriptions, the perverse pleasure of compulsive proof-reading, the allure of long words, and the satisfaction of reading aloud.

A jolly good read for bibliophiles and bibliomaniacs and those in between.


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Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Do You Like Sentences?

Books & Culture, September/October 2007



By Alan Jacobs posted 10/08/07

In her wonderful book The Writing Life, Annie Dillard tells this anecdote:

A well-known writer got collared by a university student who asked, 'Do you think I could be a writer?'

"Well," the writer said, "I don't know … . Do you like sentences?"

Since I first read this story many years ago, I have thought that the unnamed author—was it Dillard herself?—gave one of the best possible answers to that eternal question. For writing, the writing of prose anyway, is largely a matter of making sentences: hammering one together, connecting it to another, eventually framing a whole edifice. But one sentence at a time is the only way you can do it.

read complete article here
I love sentences. The problem is I love long complicated convoluted sentences with plenty of adjectives, verbs, nouns, and an ocassional pronouns. To allow my reader to draw a breath while reading my sentences, I sometimes insert a comma.
I know, I know. It drives my editors crazy. Sentences must be short and simple. Like Earnest Hemmingway's. Last time I looked, I am not Earnest Hemingway and I will not be able to contain all the thoughts I want to convey in a short sentence like his.

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The Impossible Dream

Watching the song, The Impossible Dream being sung on YouTube on Kansas Bob's blog brought back strong memories of how idealistic I was when I was young. I was a sucker for lost causes and will sally forth to fight windmills. I actually thought I could beat them. I wonder where is that young man now.

I never had the opportunity to watch Man of La Mancha (Don Quixote) on Broadway in 1968. I first heard the song sung by a very young Peter O'Toole in the movie of the same name.

"I come in a world of iron to make it a world of gold"

"The Impossible Dream"
from MAN OF LA MANCHA (1972)
music by Mitch Leigh and lyrics by Joe Darion

To dream the impossible dream

To fight the unbeatable foe

To bear with unbearable sorrow

To run where the brave dare not go

To right the unrightable wrong

To love pure and chaste from afar

To try when your arms are too weary

To reach the unreachable star

This is my quest

To follow that star

No matter how hopeless

No matter how far

To fight for the right

Without question or pause

To be willing to march into Hell

For a heavenly cause

And I know if I'll only be true

To this glorious quest

That my heart will lie peaceful and calm

When I'm laid to my rest

And the world will be better for this

That one man, scorned and covered with scars

Still strove with his last ounce of courage

To reach the unreachable star



Understanding the Trinity (1+1+1=1)

Essential Elements of the Trinity

(1) God is One.
(2) Each of the persons within the Godhead is Deity.
(3) The oneness of God and the threeness of God is not contradictory.
(4) The Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) is eternal.
(5) Each of the persons of God is of the same essence and is not inferior or superior to others in essence.
(6) The Trinity is a mystery which we will never be able to understand fully.

read more here


Monday, October 08, 2007

Hawkeye as Alan Alda

Alan Alda (2007), Things I Overheard While Talking to Myself, New York: Random House

Personally I am not a big fan of celebrity autobiography. However I am a big fan of Dr. Hawkeye Pierce a very human surgeon in a M*A*S*H unit in Korea during the Korean War. This was a popular television series that ran for eleven years. It is a comedy, like ER in a War Zone, and House, MD with his attitudes all rolled up in one.

I have not read his previous autobiography Never Have Your Dog Stuffed to which this book is a sequel. Alda ended his last book by relating his experience of almost dying on a mountaintop in Chile. He was saved by emergency surgery.

In this book, Alda records that he had been changed by his near death experience. He begins to ask himself, two questions:
(1) What do I value?
(2) What exactly is the good life? (And what does that even mean?)

Alan wrote about the various experiences he had, especially on occasions when he that to give a speech, and there were many, in which he tried to explain about his values and what he regarded as a good life. On a few occasions, he also shared about what he had shared with his children.

Basically the values he espoused are very humanistic values of doing good whenever possible. In this book, he did not touch on his religious beliefs. And the good life is living life to the fullest. In between stories of his acting experiences, his friends, and his questioning, we can catch a little glimmer of Alan Alda, the man behind the actor.


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The Political Teachings of Jesus Christ

Tod Lindberg (2007), The Political Teachings of Jesus, New York: HarperCollins Publishers.

Recently Kar Yong gave a lecture on ‘Was Jesus Political?’ It can be found here, here, and here. I found his approach fascinating as he first broadens the definition of ‘politics’ and then went on to portray a Jesus that seems to have a politico-social revolutionary agenda.

Todd Lindberg is a political analyst and research fellow at the Hover Institution, Stanford University and editor of the prestigious Policy Review. In his new book, Lindberg wants to examine whether it is possible to separate the political teachings of Jesus from his religious teachings. He is upset with the fact that everyone in the USAmerican political scene is quoting Jesus, left, right and centre to support their political views.

Lingberg’s thesis is simple: It is possible to separate the political and religious views of Jesus. The basis of the political teachings of Jesus is the Golden Rule. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” He called this the ‘Jesusian’ teachings as opposed to his religious or Christian teachings. The Jesusian teachings are about living with one another. A Jesusian society will be one in which there is freedom (within limits) and all men are equal (with limits). This freedom and equality are governed by the Golden Rule. According to Lingberg, the foundations of many of the varieties of democracy we are living in are the results of the Jesusian teaching.

He examined the political teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, the Four Gospels and in Jesus’ parables. This is an interesting approach to Jesus’ teaching. However, I wonder whether it is possible delineate so clearly the political teachings of Jesus from his religious teachings. Lingberg struggled in defining the Kingdom of heaven and the need for a king. He also has problems fitting the miracles that Jesus performed into his Jesusian teachings. However, it does bring out the important point that Jesus’ teachings is not so much for the hereafter as how we are to live with one another in the here and now.

There is an ongoing Quest for a historical Jesus. I hope this is not the start of a Quest for a Political Jesus.


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Saturday, October 06, 2007

Three Sentence Novels

I was book shopping in Kino in Singapore yesterday when I came across a reprint of a book by Fenelon. Apparently, Fenelon was writing three-sentences novels to the French newspaper for many years.

One day the publisher of the paper decided to compile and publish all his novels. The book was such a hit that it was translated into English (I believe by Penguin).

How about that. I shall do it slightly differently. I shall write a couple of three lines novels (thanks, pearlie for pointing this out). Here's one

It was a dark night. There was a loud cry and the sound of a body falling down the stairs. What's that, the wife cried out. That's my trousers falling down the stairs, the husband replied. "Why so noisy?" inquired the wife. "I was in them," replied the husband.

Or this

The farmer worked hard ploughing the dry soil. The seasons for planting and growing crops are short. Life is hard. Near the fields are the graves of his wife and children. Nevertheless the farmer gamely soldiered on. Terraforming Mars is difficult.

another one

The spaceship Enterprise shuttered as a pair of Klingon birds of prey fired on her. Their rescue mission had led the Enterprise into a trap. Commander Riker said, "I wanna go home." "Make it so," replied Captain Picard.

Anyone wants to contribute their three lines novels?


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Friday, October 05, 2007

Free Online Books

Some good books from the Reformed and Puritan traditions are found here


Thursday, October 04, 2007

The Dark Cloud

It is said that laughter is the best medicine. This post is dedicated to a brave young medical student with a screw loose (literally). She is recovering from an operation to have the screw removed. May the Lord bless her and heal her.

The Dark Cloud

A person of dark complexion symbolizes hard work and determination. One day two neighbours were arguing over whose father was darker in complexion. One neighbor said, “My father’s complexion was so dark, that when he went to give blood, the doctors were shocked because his blood was so dark.”

“That’s nothing,” said the other man. “My father’s complexion was so dark that when he broke his leg and went to the hospital to have the broken bones set, the doctor was shocked to find his bones was so dark.”

The two neighbours continued arguing in this manner until they spotted Pak Pandir. “O Pak Pandir,” they called out to him. “Can you settle a dispute for us please?” they asked him and proceeded to relate the story of their respective fathers.

Pak Pandir listened very carefully, stroking the white hairs of his beard. At the end of their story, they asked Pak Pandir to decide whose father had the darker complexion. “Neither,” replied Pak Pandir promptly. “You see, my father’s complexion was so dark that when he farted one day, the whole village was cast in darkness.”


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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Too Many Baby Christians

From 02 October, 2007

So Many Christian Infants
Why are we so good at leading people to faith and so bad at prodding them to maturity?
by Gordon MacDonald, Leadership editor at large

I have been musing on the words of Martin Thornton: "A walloping great congregation," he wrote, "is fine and fun, but what most communities really need is a couple of saints. The tragedy is that they may well be there in embryo, waiting to be discovered, waiting for sound training, waiting to be emancipated from the cult of the mediocre."…

And the way to produce saints or mature Christians are

But mature Christians do not grow through programs or through the mesmerizing delivery of a talented speaker (woe is me) or worship band. Would-be saints are mentored: one-on-one or, better yet, one-on-small group (three to twelve was Jesus' best guess). The mentoring takes place in the streets and living-places of life, not church classrooms or food courts. And it's not necessarily done in Bible studies or the like. Mature Christians are made one by one through the influence of other Christians already mature.

Additionally, mature Christians become mature by suffering, facing challenges that can arouse fear and a sense of inadequacy. Mature Christians learn to wrestle with questions that defy simple answers. They learn to say strategic and tactical "no's" when others are indulging themselves by saying "yes." Oh, and mature Christians wrestle against the devil, you could say, and sometimes even lose. But they learn to get up again. Could I add, while I'm on a roll, that mature Christians are experts at repenting and humility.

Again, they learn this stuff under the tutelage of one who has gone before them and is willing to open his/her life so that it becomes a textbook on Christ's work in us…

Read complete article here.

There is a crying need for Christians to grow in their faith. It is unfortunate that many of us are contented to be consumer-baby-Christians, enjoying our pacifiers.

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Should You Give Your Baby a Pacifier?

Pacifiers: Are they good for your baby?
Special to

Babies are born wanting to suck. Some even suck their thumbs or fingers before they're born. Beyond nutrition, sucking is often an important method of self-soothing — a comforting, familiar and calming mechanism in a new world.

That's why many parents rank pacifiers as must haves, right up there with diaper wipes and onesies. But are pacifiers really OK for your baby? Although the answer to that question is often debated, new guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics give pacifiers the green light throughout baby's first year.

The pros

For some babies, pacifiers are the key to contentment between feedings. Consider the advantages:

-A pacifier may soothe a fussy baby. Some babies are happiest when they're sucking on something.
-Pacifiers offer temporary distraction. When your baby's hungry, a pacifier may buy you a few minutes to prepare a bottle or find a comfortable spot to nurse. A pacifier also may come in handy during shots, blood tests or other procedures.
-A pacifier may help your baby go to sleep. If your baby has trouble settling down, a pacifier might do the trick.
-A pacifier may help reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Researchers have found an association between pacifier use at naptime and bedtime and a reduced risk of SIDS.
-They're disposable. When it's time to stop using pacifiers, you can throw them away. If your baby prefers to suck on his or her thumb or fingers, it may be more difficult to break the habit.

The cons

Of course, pacifiers have pitfalls as well. Consider the drawbacks:

-Early pacifier use may interfere with breast-feeding. Sucking on a breast is different than sucking on a pacifier or bottle. Some babies have trouble learning how to nurse properly if they're given a pacifier too soon.
-Your baby may become dependent on the pacifier. If your baby uses a pacifier to sleep, you may face frequent middle-of-the-night crying spells when the pacifier falls out of your baby's mouth.
-Pacifier use may increase the risk of middle ear infections. Ear infections are most common in children younger than age 3. However, rates of middle ear infections are generally lowest during the first six months of life — when the risk of SIDS is the highest.

Do's and don'ts

If you choose to offer your baby a pacifier, keep these tips in mind.

Wait until breast-feeding is well established. Be patient. It may take a few weeks or more to settle into a regular nursing routine. If you're breast-feeding, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends waiting to introduce a pacifier until your baby is 1 month old.
-Let your baby set the pace. If your baby's not interested in the pacifier, try again later — or skip it entirely. Don't force the issue.
-Choose the one-piece, dishwasher-safe variety. Some pacifiers have been recalled due to the risk of breaking into two pieces, which poses a choking hazard. The shape and firmness is up to you — or your baby.
-Buy extras. Once you've settled on a favorite, keep a few identical backups on hand.
-Many babies refuse a substitute pacifier.
-Keep it clean. Before you use a new pacifier, wash it with soap and water. To keep fungus at bay, soak your baby's pacifier in equal parts white vinegar and water for a few minutes a day. Allow the pacifier to air dry thoroughly before returning it to your baby. ---Resist the temptation to "rinse" the pacifier in your own mouth — you'll only spread more germs to your baby.
-Watch for signs of deterioration. Replace pacifiers often. A worn or cracked nipple can tear off and pose a choking hazard.
Use caution with pacifier clips. Never use a string or strap long enough to get caught around your baby's neck.
-Let sleeping babies lie. If the pacifier falls out of your baby's mouth while he or she is sleeping, don't pop it back in.
-Try other ways to calm your baby. Don't use a pacifier as a first line of defense. Sometimes a change of position or a rocking session may be all that's needed. If your baby is hungry, offer the breast or a bottle.
-Know when to pull the plug. Most kids stop using pacifiers on their own between ages 2 and 4. If you're concerned about your child's pacifier use, consult his or her doctor for suggestions.

The bottom line

The decision to use a pacifier — or not — is up to you. Let go of any guilt or pressure as you learn what works best for your baby.

Read more here


Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The Dark Night of the Soul

The Dark Night of the Soul

The spiritual term ‘dark night of the soul’ is one of the most misused or abused term concerning the spiritual life by both Christians and non-Christians alike. Many Christians will describe having a negative spiritual experience, experiencing a bad life event or feeling dryness in their spiritual life as a ‘dark night’ experience. The term ‘dark night of the soul’ is like a classic literary book. Everyone has heard about it but nobody has read it!

‘The dark night of the soul’ was coined by a Carmelite monk called St. John of the Cross who lived in the 16th century. John is a Christian mystic and poet with extraordinary experiences of God and his teachings have shaped much of our understanding of spiritual theology today. The ‘dark night of the soul’ is a metaphor in which St. John describes the journey of a soul in its purification and progress towards union with God.

John of the Cross actually taught that there are four ‘nights’. They are
(1) The active night of the sense
(2) The active night of the spirit
(3) The passive night of the sense
(4) The passive night of the spirit

According to John, a new believer or beginner comes to God because of the pleasure God gives him or her. I am sure we remember the glorious day when we first became a Christian. It like falling in love. Everything is a fresh and vibrant. Every spiritual experience is pleasurable. Reading the Bible, prayer, and fellowship is a joy. God feels so real, loving and warm. John wrote that God gives new believers pleasurable spiritual experiences of the senses. This is the beginning of the spiritual life and as spiritual infants we crave for the pleasurable spiritual experiences which God is giving us. This is the active night of the sense.

Unfortunately we become addicted to these spiritual pleasures. We want more and more of these spiritual pleasures. If we do not get it, we begin to work harder to experience it. We think that by working harder at the spiritual disciplines (reading the Bible, prayer, and fellowship) we can recreate such pleasures for ourselves. This is the active night of the spirit.

During these two active ‘nights’ we have been loving God for what He can give us rather than who He is. We also believe that by our spiritual disciplines we can achieve deeper love for God (which means more pleasure). God needs to wean us off (1) our dependence on spiritual experiences, and (2) our idea that spiritual growth can be the result of our trying harder. He does this by moving us into the passive night of the sense.

The passive night of the sense is when we do not feel God’s presence. We also do not feel pleasures in spiritual experiences. It is not that God has abandoned us. He is still with us and within us. It is just we do not ‘sense’ His presence. We often call this a ‘darkness’ and describe our spiritual life as dry, arid, duty, obligation, and boring. When we are spiritual infants, God feeds us with spiritual milk by using a ‘spiritual milk bottle.’ When we are spiritually older, He starts us on a weaning diet. However, most of us still prefer the bottle. And how do we react to this? We react by looking for the presence of God. We work harder at our spiritual disciplines, attend more spiritual retreats, and even by artificially creating emotionally stirring ‘worship’ by music and choruses. Yet, we always leave empty.

It is by His ‘absence’ that the Holy Spirit is able to work to detach our spirits from their attachment to pleasurable spiritual experiences so that we can love God for who He is, not for what He can give. It is moving us from meditative to contemplative prayer. This is like a marriage. Initially a marriage is defined by the relationship of what the husband and wife can give to each other. Later it is the relationship itself. This inner work of the Holy Spirit to detach us from our attraction to spiritual experiences and worldly things is called the passive night of the spirit. It is passive because we now realise that our spiritual growth is purely by grace and not by our efforts. The dark night of the soul prepares us for union with God.

The dark night of the soul is brought by the grace of God and the work of the Holy Spirit. Personally I do not think every Christian will experience this. However, I do know of some Christians who are in the ‘dark nights’ and has been for many years. How do we know we are in a dark night phase and not because we are harbouring some sins or suffering from depression? This is where a spiritual director, a mentor or a Christian counsellor will be of help. The dark night experience is painful. The person who is devoted to God cannot understand why he or she is in the dark; crushed, powerless, and abandoned. This is the final purification. The other side leads to a deep mystical union with God.

Helpful reading

Download text of The Dark Night of the Soul by St. John’s of the Cross here

Kieran Kavanaugh (ed.) (1987), John of the Cross: Selected Writings. The Classics of Western Spirituality series. (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press)

R.A. Herrera (2004), Silent Music: The Life, Work, and Thought of St. John of the Cross. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans).

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Monday, October 01, 2007

It's All about Us

It’s all about Us

Sally Morgenthaler in her article Worship as Evangelism published in September 2007 issue of NEXT-WAVE e-zine takes a long hard look at worship in the megachurches and contemporary worship as evangelism for the unchurched. She came away convinced that we have missed the path somehow and are now lost.

On the good occasions, the worship experience was transporting. (I dug a little deeper when that happened. Invariably, I found another value at work behind the worship production: a strong, consistent presence in the community.) Too many times, I came away with an unnamed, uneasy feeling. Something was not quite right. The worship felt disconnected from real life. Then there were the services when the pathology my friend talked about came right over the platform and hit me in the face. It was unabashed self-absorption, a worship culture that screamed, "It's all about us" so loudly that I wondered how any visitor could stand to endure the rest of the hour.

Were these worship-driven churches really attracting the unchurched? Most of their pastors truly believed they were. And in a few cases, they were right. The worship in their congregations was inclusive, and their people were working hard to meet the needs of the neighborhood. Yet those churches whose emphasis was dual—celebrated worship inside, lived worship outside—were the minority. In 2001 a worship-driven congregation in my area finally did a survey as to who they were really reaching, and they were shocked. They'd thought their congregation was at least 50 percent unchurched. The real number was 3 percent.

read the complete article here

Maybe it is time we take a real hard look at our worship service and see what it is all about.

may God have mercy

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