Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Spiritual Direction and Religions

Photo courtesy of Agnes Tan

Today, a guest post by Alice Hathan.

What is Spiritual Direction?
In most religions and spiritual traditions, spiritual direction is a common practice. Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and Islam all offer individuals seeking guidance the opportunity to meet with a trusted leader or mentor to discover the important spiritual questions in their lives. The AnamCara or “Soul Friend” was the spiritual mentor in the ancient Celtic Church. Such individual, often a priest or monastic, was available privately for individuals seeking guidance for matters of the soul. Irrespective of the terms used and the tradition practiced, Spiritual Direction is a highly valued and hallowed chance to travel with others in a discovery of the divine.

In the Buddhist tradition, spiritual direction is clearly demonstrated in the relationship between student and teacher which is an integral part of Buddhist Spiritual Practice. The relationship between director and directee is one of spiritual friendship known in ancient Pali as kalyanamitta.

Buddha taught that all our problems and suffering are because we have a confused and negative state of mind. Happiness develops from a peaceful and positive state of mind. Buddha taught methods to steadily develop positive minds with compassion, love and knowledge and thereby overcome our negative minds that are full of anger, jealousy and ignorance. Money does not matter. Material possessions that can be bought with credit cards are unimportant. A freedom from this debt, money and greed obsessed world can be aspired to. Essentially the method to obtain a positive state of mind is by meditation. Through meditation “delusions” or negative mental states are identified and turned into “virtuous minds” or a positive mental state.  Out of meditation the individual must attempt to keep the virtuous mind and use this wisdom of to solve our daily problems.

In Buddhism the director through his empathy and wisdom will skilfully lead the directee to find his or her individual’s goodness and so inspiring them to, through mediation and mindfulness practices, meet their true potential.  This is a sacred friendship where through empathy and wisdom there is a depth of connection and commitment.

In Judaism Spiritual Direction or Hashpa’ah is a manner of investigating the connection with the experience of God, Spirit, Truth or the Sacred in the individual’s life. Through these explorations, the Jewish Spiritual Director will try and discern the presence of the Sacred, in the everyday lives, work, celebration and problems of the Jewish person.  The director serves as a companion and observer to discern the divine where the individual may have missed it and to assimilate that awareness into every- day life. From Jewish history and heritage the Jewish Spiritual Director will help people to connect with experiences of the holy to Jewish language and tradition, explore Jewish routes that maintain the inner life, panimiyut and inspire participation in Kehillah, spiritual community. All through Jewish history mentors such as mashpia, chaver or mashgiach provided spiritual guidance for their settings and eras.

In Islam the guidance, inspiration and support of a Spiritual Director is of utmost importance to the lifelong process of transforming the individual’s ego, opening the heart and becoming conscious of God.  Islam means to surrender to God in peace, and the support of the Spiritual Director is crucial to this journey.  Rumi, a sage in the 13th Century, stated that any person that traveled without a guide needed two hundred years for a two day journey. Also at the mystical core of Islam is Sufism.  The customs of Sufism are often thought of as spiritual medicines and sheikh or guide is the physician. The guide inspires and educates individuals to move towards realizing their inner, divine nature.  Although the individual can learn for themselves to attain spiritual transformation they need guide.

In Hindu religion it is the "Guru" who teaches spiritual knowledge and who initiates and guides the individual along a spiritual path. The great spiritual masters of Hinduism believe that the human birth is rare and that the purpose of the human birth is to attain God or to realise one's atman. God's realisation, self realisation or attaining the knowledge of Brahman is the ultimate goal and can only be done with the help of a guru. Ideally, only a God-realised (or self-realised) soul, who is truly knows by personal experience, could be the perfect guru. Such a guru is called a “Satguru.” A Satguru is actually God himself descended in human form or a human who has attained the highest level of spiritual knowledge - who has “obtained” the divine authority to transmit his knowledge to the seekers who surrender to him. According to Sri Ramakrishna, a great religious master, a Satguru is like a huge steamer that can safely carry a lot of people across a turbulent river.

In conclusion spiritual direction is a consistent aspect across many religions and a time-honoured term for a valuable conversation between two persons, in which one person consults the other, more spiritually experienced person, about the ways in which the sacred elements are in their lives.

Alice Hathan is a freelance travel writer from England who seeks to experience culture and tradition from around the world and document her experiences for a number of blogs and journals.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Bible Message in Manga Format

The series of Manga bible stories by Ryo Azumi and Shinozawa Kelly gave me hours of interesting reading. More about them on their website NEXTmanga. It is close enough to the biblical text for our children to read. More like a modern illustrated bible.

 MANGA MUTINY is the story of the beginning, the creation of the world, the struggle in the heavens, the deception of humanity, and the corruption to follow. With the fall of man, the world becomes a hostile environment where no one can find rest. But new hope is born through one who believes...

MANGA MELECH continues the drama of Abraham's descendants right where MUTINY leaves off. The people are a desperate band of wanderers. Homeless and weary in an unforgiving desert, they march toward a new land rich with green fields and abundant harvests.

MANGA MESSENGERS is the mind-bending drama of the kings and prophets of Israel. Continuing right where MELECH leaves off, the descendants of Abraham have not only found their peace in the land but have ascended to become the greatest kingdom in the world...

An unknown king enters the world under the cover of night to begin a seemingly unimpressive work. He soon becomes one of the most powerful figures in the land; intensely hated by some and emphatically loved by others. His work is unlike that of any king before or after him, and his words, strength, and life are unlike any the world has ever known. 

At first bewildered after their leader's departure, Yeshua's followers quickly see there is little time for reflection as the forces of their enemies bear down hard and fast upon them. Every ounce of courage and strength is required as this newly endangered team holds on to their faith and to each other.


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Monday, June 25, 2012

Bet She'an (2): A Good Deed Remembered

Everytime I read the account of how the brave men of Jabesh-Gilead went by night and climb the city walls to cut down the bodies of Saul and his sons, I cannot help but wonder why would they do that? Infiltrating an enemy fortified city is dangerous work and all these just to ensure four dead bodies has a decent burial? I also wondered why any of King Saul's mighty men did not attempt to salvage their king's honour?

An incident early in 1 Samuel 11 in Saul's life threw some light on the events.

1 Nahash the Ammonite went up and besieged Jabesh Gilead. And all the men of Jabesh said to him, "Make a treaty with us, and we will be subject to you." 2 But Nahash the Ammonite replied, "I will make a treaty with you only on the condition that I gouge out the right eye of every one of you and so bring disgrace on all Israel." 3 The elders of Jabesh said to him, "Give us seven days so we can send messengers throughout Israel; if no one comes to rescue us, we will surrender to you." 4 When the messengers came to Gibeah of Saul and reported these terms to the people, they all wept aloud. 5 Just then Saul was returning from the fields, behind his oxen, and he asked, "What is wrong with the people? Why are they weeping?" Then they repeated to him what the men of Jabesh had said. 6 When Saul heard their words, the Spirit of God came upon him in power, and he burned with anger. 7 He took a pair of oxen, cut them into pieces, and sent the pieces by messengers throughout Israel, proclaiming, "This is what will be done to the oxen of anyone who does not follow Saul and Samuel." Then the terror of the LORD fell on the people, and they turned out as one man. 8 When Saul mustered them at Bezek, the men of Israel numbered three hundred thousand and the men of Judah thirty thousand.

Saul and his men defeated the Ammonites and the men of Jabesh Gilead never forgot this deed. I wonder how often we forget the good deeds other people has done for us? We are very adept at remembering the bad 'things' that others have done to us and we never let them or others forget. But we tend to be forgetful of the good others have done us. Our memory are short when it come to this. The men of Jabesh Gilead did not forget how Saul has saved them from being one-eyed and they braved the dangers to repay the deed. May we also never forget the good that others have done us, and by God's grace, one day repay them.


Friday, June 22, 2012

Discerning Personal Prayer Styles

This is an excellent post by Helen who blogs at Reflections of a RSCJ

Each one discerns about her prayer life...

I am just continuing to reflect on #25 in the Constitutions of the Society of the Sacred Heart because there is so much that can be applied to anyone's spirituality... Here is the thought to reflect on today:

Each religious finds her own rhythm of prayer
and will decide how best she is to be faithful
to what Christ asks of her and of the Society.
She will discern the method and style of her prayer-life
with a person of her own choice,

I am convinced that each of us prays according to our own unique personality. We discern what God is asking of us as far as the amount and kind of prayer; I have always done this with my spiritual director. Usually, a director will just affirm one's method and style of prayer. I sometimes might give some suggestions to my directees, but usually I tell them that the best way to pray is the way they pray best. Prayer is the expression of a relationship that is unique because each of us is unique so it is better just to encourage and let the Spirit lead...

Thomas Merton said, "How does an apple ripen? It just sits in the sun."  I think that is an excellent description of prayer. 


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Conversations with my Granddaughter: On Prayer

Hello little one,

You woke up very early this morning, didn’t you? Your Mummy noticed that you have been waking up very early but being a good girl you are, you allow her to sleep. You know she works hard at her job in the daytime. You are contented to lie in the dark. Darkness is not scary to you as it reminds you of your time in your Mummy’s womb. It is more than five months since you left that comfortable place to come into this world. To amuse yourself you do push up. The fact that you are not able to do push up do not bother you as you know your body is ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’. Your guardian angel told you this. At this moment you can only lift up your head and you are happy just to do head up. You delight in your body, don’t you? Everyday you discover something new you can do. And all the big people become so happy and excited when you show them the new skill you have developed. It takes so little to make the big people happy. You like making them happy.

You then fall asleep but you make sure you wake up in time to see Mummy and Daddy leave the house. Mummy and Daddy do important thing called ‘work’ in some far away place so you want to send them off happy. You know that smiling makes them happy so you make sure that they each received a big one. You do not worry because as they have taken care of you, you know that a very big person (your guardian angel called him God) will take care of them.

After they left you look forward to going to the park with your Nai Nai (grandma). Somehow, watching the fresh morning sunlight brightening the trees and bushes make you happy. You feel good and fulfilled; a feeling similar to after a good feed at your Mummy’s breasts and you are resting on her, feeling her warmth and softness. You hope you will catch another glimpse of that yellow red bird that flies in the sky. Some big people like to stop and make funny faces or noises at you. You do not mind as this is your opportunity to make them happy. A full blast of your smile and they walk away with lighter steps.  At times some big people walked past you without stopping or looking at you. You feel sad and wish them to be happy.

Then it is back to the house for a warm bath, a bottle of milk and a nap. You hope that you will dream again of the place of brightness, goodness and happiness. In that place there is a sense of that very big person and you like him very much. Then you wake for more milk, to discover new things until you are tired, then sleep. When you wake again, you know Mummy and Daddy will be coming home soon. You can’t wait to be with them and make them happy.

Little one, Grampa is thinking about a blog post for a series called, Lord teach us to pray. I have been reading and thinking hard. Then you smiled at me. You know, little one, you are wise beyond your months. You may not know what prayer is but you know how to pray. You came into being by prayer and into the world by prayer. And now you are a living prayer. You must be what St. Paul had in mind when he taught us to ‘pray unceasingly’. Most big people think that praying is saying words. But you know better. Prayer is being - in connection with the people you love, the big person and the world you are in.


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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Bet She'an

Bet She'an is 30 km south of the Sea of Galilee. Its strategic location where the Valley of Jezreel meets the Jordan Valley near Mount Gilboa was where the main roads from Egypt to Damascus intersect making the town a thriving commercial and cosmopolitan centre. Excavations show 20 layers of occupation dating back to the Chalcolithic era (4th century BCE). Presence of Egyptian temples and stelae suggest that this was also an Egyptian administrative town. It was allocated to the tribe Manasseh who were unable to drive out the local Canaanites (Joshua 17:12). Instead they settled among them.

Bet She'an was where the bodies of Saul and his three sons were fastened to the city wall after their death on Mount Gilboa (1 Samuel 31:10). Men from Jabesh-Gilead took them down at night and gave them a decent burial.

Later Bet She'an was taken over by the Greeks and renamed Scythopolis which became one of the cities of the Decapolis in Jesus' times. After the Greek came the Romans who were great city builders. The present ruins were of that of a walled city with the agora, temples, a theatre with a colonnated street that were once lined with shops.

detailed bronze replica of Roman Bet She'an

a closer view

this hill was probably where the original Canaanite city stood


This may be where the bodies of saul and his sons were hung and their bodies were retrieved for burial by the men from Jabesh-Gilead.

the Roman theater

the bath house

pillars to hold the floor and retain the heat for a sauna
colonnaded street which may once be lined with shops
aerial view of the ruins in Bet Shean (source: The Holy Land)

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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Tales on the Shelf

One of an author's joy is to see his or her book on a bookstore shelf.

 SKS Books Warehouse is the largest Christian bookshop in Singapore. They carry a very comprehensive stock of popular and academic Christian books. They are very supportive of local authors. See here

They even have a section on spiritual formation which is amazing!


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Sunday, June 17, 2012

Conversations with my Granddaughter (4)

Movement and Freedom

Hello little one,

I can see you are enjoying the freedom of movement in the beautiful walker your Mummy and Daddy has bought you. This thing you sit in that moves is similar to the bigger thing that your daddy call ‘car.’ The car that Daddy drives is powerful. It is driven by a 250 horsepower engine. Your walker has a one babypower engine- you! Big people drive their cars for specific reasons. Daddy will drive it to ‘work’, to send and pick up Mummy from ‘work,’ to take you ‘walk walk’ (to a park), and to come to Grampa’s house. Rarely big people drive their cars for no reason other than the freedom to explore.

You, little one, however now have the ability to move independently and to explore. Before that you have to work very hard to make the big people understand where you want to go. You want to go to the hall and watch the football match which is playing on the television in the hall while Mummy is holding you and reading a book. It is hard to convince Mummy that you are a Manchester United fan and want to watch the game. Now, with the walker, you have the freedom of movement. You are free to explore, to go where you want to go and see what you want to see. I know why you are wondering why the big people are hurriedly putting all their nice stuff up in the shelves beyond your reach. You only want to touch and taste them. And why your Nai Nai (paternal grandma) is fixing wooden barriers on stairs and doors. You are learning fast that the moment you have freedom, there are others who will seek to limit them. Even the people who love you will do that.

Freedom and movements are very precious things, little one. To have the ability to move on your own and to go wherever you want are privileges that many big people take for granted. You know how hard it is to just sit (to coordinate all these muscles, keep balance and pose for your Daddy’s camera) all at the same time. I guess you are used to your viewpoint changing as you slide down. It will even be tougher when you walk. Let me tell you that when you are able to walk, then you find an even bigger world to explore. You will have even more freedom than what your walker now allows you.

Even though the writer, John the Evangelist, wrote this in the Bible in a different context, Grampa finds it to be true generally. “I [Jesus] tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go” (John 21:18). So little one, enjoy your freedom of movement and movement of freedom as much as you can as I know you will.


Saturday, June 16, 2012

Why will you climb a tree?

Last year, I made plans to travel to New York in the middle of winter to attend a 2 days retreat with Eugene Peterson. The fact that there will be 200 other pastor-leaders present did not deter me. It will be unlikely that Eugene will have time to spend personally with me. What did deter me were the comments of one of my friends. While not specifically referring to my decision, he mentioned the word ‘celebrity-sighting.’

David Benner, a well known psychologist turned spiritual director will be coming to Singapore next month. Should I sign up for the conference? I have read most of his published works. Do I expect something new or is this just another case of ‘celebrity sighting’.

Maybe Zacchaeus was also afflicted with a similar condition of ‘celebrity sighting’. He must have heard of this miracle working itinerant Rabbi with a large following. Maybe he just wanted a glimpse of this man. So knowing Jericho, he chose a good vintage point – a sycamore tree. This is the tree we were brought to see in Jericho. Now the poor tree must be the most photographed tree in the world (if it is the correct tree!)

A large tree with heart-shaped leaves and edible fruit sometimes called the “fig mulberry” (Ficus sycamorus L., not any of the plane trees [Platanus] of North America that are called “sycamores”). Sycamores were grown in generally frost-free lowland areas (cf. Ps. 78:47). Sycamore cultivation in the Shephelah, for which David’s government had a specific administrator (1 Chr. 27:28), became proverbial in its extent (1 Kgs. 10:27; 2 Chr. 1:15; 9:27). The “dresser” of sycamore trees (Amos 7:14) would pierce the unripe fruit to cause it to sweeten and thus become more palatable. Isa. 9:10 may refer to the use of sycamore wood in building. The “sycamine tree” (JB, NIV “mulberry”) of Luke 17:6 is probably the sycamore; its large size increases the impact of the saying (cf. 19:4). (Myers, A. C.1987. The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 975).
photo from Anthony Loke's FB

Luke 19:1- 10

LK 19:1 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today." 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, "He has gone to be the guest of a `sinner.' "8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount."9 Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."

This narrative contains what may well be considered the “key verse” of Luke—Luke 19:10. The incident contains several primary Lukan features: the universal appeal of the gospel (vv. 2–4); the ethical problem of wealth (v. 2); the call of a “sinner” who was in social disfavor (v. 7); the sense of God’s present work (vv. 5, 9); the feeling of urgency (“immediately,” speusas, v. 5), of necessity (“must,” v. 5), and of joy (v. 6); restitution, With goods distributed to the poor (v. 8); and, above all, salvation (vv. 9–10). (Leifeld, W. L. 1984. Luke. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Volume 8: Matthew, Mark, Luke (F. E. Gaebelein, Ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1007).

That Zacchareus did not fall off the tree when Jesus addressed him directly is a tribute to his tree climbing ability. Zacchareus is a Jew but one not well liked by his countrymen was obvious from the fact that he had to climb the tree. He was wealthy. Wealthy men often were and are able to go to the head of the crowd. Even his wealth was not able to grant him a front row view. He was wealthy and also or because he was the chief of tax collectors made him a despised person in this community. Nobody liked Zacchareus except maybe his mother and his Roman friends. It was curiosity that brought him up the tree. When Jesus called him by name and invited himself to his house, it was self-satisfaction that he came down and welcomed Jesus ‘gladly’ in front of his own people who despised him.

It was in his house, presumably over dinner that his self-satisfaction turned to repentance.  In fact he was so moved that he pledged half his fortune to the poor and out of the other half, he would pay back any one he had wronged fourfold (which is more than the required amount). Money is one the most powerful of idols and the hardest to destroy. Note that it is Jesus who took the initiative. Jesus, who after healing the blind  man (Luke 18: 35-43), walked into Jericho, spied Zacchareus up in the tree, made the contact and evoked the transformation. It was Jesus who delivered Zacchareus who was lost in corruption and wealth as he has earlier delivered another man lost in blindness and poverty. Jesus fulfils Ezekiel 34 when he brought salvation into that household that day. This narrative is another powerful reminder of our Lord Jesus who came with a mission of redemption for the lost.


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Mount of Temptation

view from Tel es-Sultan

The Monastery of the Temptation (Greek: Μοναστήρι του Πειρασμού, Arabic: دير القرنطلDeir al-Quruntal) is an Orthodox Christian monastery located in the West Bank, along a cliff overlooking the city of Jericho and the Jordan Valley. It is built upon the summit of the Mount of Temptation, rising 350 meters above sea level.[1] It currently serves as a tourist attraction and its land is under the full jurisdiction of the Palestinian National Authority, but the monastery is owned and managed by the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem.

The earliest monastery was constructed by the Byzantines in the 6th century CE above the cave traditionally said to be that where Jesus spent forty days and forty nights fasting and meditating during the temptation of Satan,[2][3] about three kilometers northwest of Jericho. The monastery receives its name from the mountain which the early Christians referred to as the "Mount of the Temptation". The Monastery of the Temptation was identified by Augusta Helena of Constantinople as one of the "holy sites" in her pilgrimage in 326 CE.

read more

photo source:Dmitrij Rodionov   Wiki


Thursday, June 14, 2012

Another Perspective of Mentoring

The Risk of Mentoring

e-Commentary - 2012 from Graceworks
Written by Soo-Inn Tan (posted with permission)
Friday, 01 June 2012 08:45

"I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow." (1 Corinthians 3:6-7 NIV)
Recently I spoke at a camp for Malaysian Care, a Malaysian evangelical ministry committed to meeting human need in Jesus's name. They work among groups like the urban and rural poor, drug addicts, and prisoners. I am deeply encouraged by their commitment to show God's love in very difficult situations. I was honoured to speak at the camp.

The new executive director of the ministry welcomed me and reminded me that I had done his marriage preparation and conducted his wedding, and had had him in one of my discipleship groups. He called me a mentor. I praised God and must confess to some degree of "parental pride." But I have another confession to make. At first, I couldn't remember. All the events he referred to took place about twenty years ago. I had forgotten. And we had not been in touch for a while. I was somewhat embarrassed but as he shared I began to recall some of the times we had spent together. It began to come back to me.

The whole incident reminded me of a key principle of ministry. We are called to be faithful, to do what the Lord has called us to do. We cannot know what our ministry will result in down the road. Indeed we may never know until the life to come (1 Corinthians 4:5a). And surely we cannot guarantee how people will turn out. There are too many variables. And finally that is God's call. We are just called to be faithful.

I have been committed to mentoring for a long time now. I am as enthusiastic about mentoring now as when I started more than thirty years ago. If anything I am even more convinced that the key way to grow people is to walk with them. Relational ministry is very demanding in terms of time and energy. I am more preacher than mentor. Mentoring takes a lot out of me. But I am committed to mentoring because it is the primary way to shape lives. It is Jesus's way. He called His disciples so that they might be with Him (Mark 3:14), to be in a relationship with Him. Lives are changed through relationships.

However I don't think that mentoring will ever be a popular ministry. It is very inefficient. Since it is so time intensive you can only mentor a few at any one time. Mentoring requires transparency. Your mentorees will come to know your strengths and weaknesses. Clay feet are soon revealed, a threat to leaders who want to maintain a facade of being people who have it all together. And mentoring, powerful as it is, cannot guarantee how mentorees will turn out. Bernice and I have found out that some mentorees who held so much promise, never fulfilled their potential while others, whose lives were a mess, turned out spectacularly.

Mentoring then, as in all we seek to do for the Lord, demands that we be faithful. Our job is to "plant and water" but only God can give the growth. I know so much more about mentoring now than when I first started. I made all sorts of mentoring mistakes along the way. Yet once in awhile you meet someone like the present executive director of Malaysian Care. And you know it's God. Who are you walking with?


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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Mentoring and Spiritual Formation

In Homer's great epic, the Odyssey, Odysseus, king of Ithaca, sets sail to lay siege to Troy, leaving behind a young wife and an infant son, Telemachus. However, he also leaves behind his trusted friend to instruct, train and guide his son to be the future king. "I leave with you this son, whom I so tenderly love; watch over his infancy if you have love of me, keep flattery far from him; teach him to vanquish his passions."[1] This man's name is Mentes (Greek) or Mentor (Latin). Thus the word "mentor" entered the English language. A mentor, as defined by the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, is a trusted counselor or guide. A person who is being mentored is called a protégé. If I were to ask you to name the greatest mentor in the New Testament aside from Jesus, who would you choose? I believe most people will choose the Apostle Paul. My vote is for Joseph of Cyprus. This unassuming man, after knowing Jesus Christ, sold part or all of his lands in Cyprus and donated the proceeds to the church in Jerusalem. He stayed on in Jerusalem and had such a wonderful reputation that they called him Barnabas, which translates as the Son of Encouragement.

It was Barnabas who chose to be a mentor to Paul when he first came to Jerusalem to meet the church there. The disciples were understandably suspicious of Paul, their former enemy who persecuted Christians. It was Barnabas who sponsored Paul and won the confidence of the rest of the apostles (Acts 9:26-27).

Barnabas and Paul were sent out on a missionary venture and it may have been Barnabas who convinced the companions who joined them in Paphos that Paul was trustworthy (Acts 13:13). When Paul and Barnabas disagreed over giving John Mark a second
chance, it was Barnabas who took John Mark under his wings (Acts 15:36-38). Later Paul
came to depend on this young man. I believe that it was due to the mentoring of Barnabas that Paul became such an effective mentor himself. He proved that when he wrote as a mentor to Timothy, "And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others" (2 Tim 2:2).

Without Barnabas, Paul may not have had such a profound influence on the development of the early church. After Barnabas had mentored Paul, Paul started mentoring a large number of protégés. One of Paul's strategies was to mentor protégés from different parts of Asia Minor. At one time, Paul's entourage consisted of nine men: Sopater (Berea, Macedonia), Aristarchus and Seccundus (Thessalonica). Luke (Philippi), Gaius (Derbe, Galatia), Timothy (Lystra, Galatia), Tychicus and Trophimus (Ephesus, Asia) and Titus (Achaia). When Paul's protégés returned home, they could effectively spread the gospel. Hence with this precedent in the early church, it is surprising to discover that mentoring is not commonly done in our churches nowadays. Instead mentoring has become popular in the secular world, especially among those in management.

How is mentoring different from discipleship?

Discipleship is different from mentoring as the table below shows:

Is it scriptural?
Taught and modeled in Scripture
Modeled in Scripture
Models in Scripture
Primary basis of interchange 


Type of role
Teaching new believers spiritual truths
Caring for and helping a person in all aspects of life
Whose agenda?
Discipler's agenda (spiritual disciplines)
Protégé’s agenda (goals/problems)
Training required
Academic knowledge and personal mastery of the spiritual disciplines
Practical experience relevant to protégé

Time frame
Limited time for duration of study
Life-long as needed

Focus of time together
Teaching the spiritual disciplines
Supporting toward maturity in all areas of life
Modern role parallels
Disciplined mature teacher
Loving uncle, aunt or close, more mature friend
Essential message
To mature spiritually, here is what you need to know, do, or become
How can I help you get where you are going?

(modified from Biehl, 1996, 29-30)

As we can see from the table above, discipleship is narrower in its objectives while mentoring is broader and helps to develop a more holistic person. This involves a long time and is not as objective-oriented as discipleship. Basically in mentoring, a more mature Christian is helping a younger Christian grow spiritually, emotionally and mentally through the stages of his or her life. It is a long-term commitment. As my mentor Dr Philip Cheong once commented. "We can help develop a spiritual life one-mile wide and one inch deep or one-inch wide and one-mile deep." Mentoring is building a spiritual life that is one-mile deep.

To show how mentoring can fit into our ministry, Bobb Biehl, who has consulted with the various ministries of Campus Crusade for Christ since 1980, has this to say:

In a year’s time, you may see 300 students come to Christ in your Campus Life program. Out of this 300 you will probably have 30 that become involved in a leadership program in which you will disciple them over a years period in the Ten Steps to Maturity. But when the year is up, you may say, "God bless you. Go in peace!"

This is great! You do wonderful work! But consider what would happen if you were to choose one to three students out of your discipleship 30 who you think have the most long-term potential, the greatest heart for God, or the highest potential to lead all of Campus Crusade someday and say to them, "I'd like to be one of your life mentors." Mentoring can be a logical extension of the discipling process for a few students per year, and the discipling can continue.[2]

Mentoring means building deeply into a few disciples for more lasting influence. It may
be considered an extension of the many discipleship programs available. Mentoring builds up spiritual maturity in life situations and the stages of life. In some cases, mentors choose the persons they want to mentor and approach them. In other situations, Christians who want to develop in their spiritual life seek out mentors to help them.

The mentoring process

The mentoring process is a process of spiritual formation both in the mentor and the protégé. Frequently mentors have shared that they have learnt as much from their protégés as their protégés have learnt from them. Mentoring is not a teaching program but a sharing of life experiences. Often it involves spending time together and the protégé sharing what problems or difficulties he or she is facing at the moment. The mentor then shares out of his or her own life experiences in similar situations. Eugene Peterson wrote, "The life of Christ emerges from within the actual circumstances of our seemingly very unspiritual lives — the daily stuff of ordinariness and accidents and confusion, good days and bad days, taking the humdrum and the catastrophic both in stride."[3]

The mentoring process should also be saturated with prayer and study of the Word. In any mentoring process there are three parties present: the mentor, the protégé and the triune God. Both the mentor and the need to learn to be sensitive to the leading of
the Holy Spirit who will lead them into the depths and mysteries of God in everyday life.


Good mentors are hard to find. A good mentor can make a lot of difference in our spiritual formation and can help us discern the presence of God in our lives. Mentoring can help to facilitate our spiritual growth. The church needs a great number of good mentors — godly, mature men and women who are willing to invest their lives in a few younger people. What a difference that will make in the expansion of the Kingdom of God.

Published in The Great Commission: building movements everywhere, March 2007, 10-11,13

[1] Quoted in James M Houston, The Mentored Life: From Individualism to Personhood (Colorado Springs: NavPress. 2002). 33
[2] Bobb Biehl, Mentoring: Confidence in Finding a Mentor and Becoming One (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers. 1996), 31
[3] Eugene H Peterson, The Wisdom of Each Other: A Conversation between Spiritual Friends (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), 53

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Monday, June 11, 2012

Enneagram and Spiritual Direction

The enneagram is a psycho-spiritual tool for determining personality types for the purpose of spiritual and psychological growth. Its origin remains unknown though there are claims that it link back to Evagrius, one of the Desert Fathers. However there are also claims that it has its origins with the ancient Greek philosophers such as Pythagoras. There are also claims that it draws from Kabbalistic teachings, and Sufism. The modern enneagram has been popularised by George Gurdjieff, Oscar Ichazo, Helen Palmer, and Richard Rohr. An interesting overview of the traditional enneagram may be found here from the Enneagram Institute.

The followings links from the International Enneagram Association (IEA) website gives a brief overview of the enneagram system:

Personality Defined
Read a brief definition of what is meant by the word personality.

The Three Centers of Intelligence: Head, Heart, and Body
This provides a brief description of the Three Centers of Intel-ligence -- three different ways of perceiving the world and experience -- and how each of the nine types is based on one of these three centers.

Enneagram Wings: The Types Adjacent to Your Enneagram Type
The Enneagram wings are the types on either side of your core type that can affect the way your personality is expressed.

Security and Stress Points: The Interconnecting Arrows
The Enneagram Stress and Security Points are the two types on the interior lines to your core type. These two types can also affect the way your personality is expressed.

Enneagram Subtypes: Self-preservation, One-on-one, and Social
Whatever your type, your personality expression will also be affected by whether your subtype is self-preservation (focusing on self-survival and protection), one-on-one (focusing on close relationships with another person), or social (focusing on social groups).

Descriptions of the Nine Enneagram Personality Types
Each of the nine Enneagram types is described in detail. This includes each type’s focus of attention, coping strategy, major traits, strengths, and challenges.

Is there a place for the enneagram in Christian spiritual direction? 

James Empereur. S.J. who taught Liturgical and Systematic Theology at the Jesuit School of Theology and Graduate Theological Union attempts to address this question in his 2007 book, The Enneagram and Spiritual Direction: Nine paths to spiritual guidance. Empereur defines spiritual direction as

The process in which a Christian accompanies others for an extended period of time for the purpose of
clarifying the psychological and religious issues in the directees so that they may move toward deeper union with God and contribute
to ministry within the Christian community (43).

In using the enneagram as a tool for spiritual direction, Empereur argues that it is useful to help people to focus their attention on their feelings and their thoughts. It also offers people opportunities to explore ‘spaces’ in other personality types which they would otherwise not know. He notes,

Preliminary to much spiritual growth is the ability to know how and when the attention shifts among thought,
memory, and planning and among fantasy, feeling, and sensation;
also necessary is the knowledge of how to visit the other spaces on
the enneagram besides one's own to experience other styles of attention. (12)

However he deviates from the standard teachings of other enneagram practitioners by offering his own interpretation of the system. On the movement on the arrow with regards to stress and security points, he argues from more freedom that comes from choosing.

I prefer to understand the arrow theory as having to do with
way we choose to grow. That is, in times of stress, one can move
toward one's stress point in order to gain certain energies to move
forward while in times of relative calm, there are qualities in the
security point that one can utilize to further one's journey. (16)

This argument becomes more pronounced when he argues for more freedom in the enneagram system theory itself. He felt that the theory is too rigid and does not allow the element of ‘freewill’ or choice.

Rather I see healthy and holy persons as those who have
integrated their own space into their lives by moving to both stress
and security spaces, by picking up there whatever is useful for their
growth at any moment of their personal journey, by drawing strength
from both wings, by depending on the need at hand, as well as
by being able to visit all the spaces on the enneagram as required
or desired at any moment of their lives. Thus, healthy persons
those who move around the enneagram at choice. They always
main firmly based in their own space, where their principal energy is
found. But they are not limited in their journey to leaning on one
or both of their wings, nor are they required to move in one or other
direction such as the 1-4-2-8-5-7 internal structure. Rather they
can visit all the spaces at different times depending on their changing
circumstances. (20)

Empereur seems to be willing to use the enneagram in spiritual direction but he has modified and changed it in order for it to be 'Christian' which makes it very different from the models Helen Palmer, the Enneagram Institue and the International Enneagram Association proposed. In fact, there is so much variation in the different models that no one can be sure which one is the right one.

Another important observation is that after three decades of enneagram literature, there is still lack of sufficient scientific data to support its claims of describing personality types.

It is also worth noting in the section of Enneagram of Personality in Wikipedia, there is this concluding paragraph:
In 2000, the United States' Committee on Doctrine produced a draft report on the origins of the Enneagram to aid bishops in their evaluation of its use in their dioceses. The report identified aspects of the intersection between the Enneagram and Catholicism which, in their opinion, warranted particular scrutiny and were seen as potential areas of concern, stating that "While the enneagram system shares little with traditional Christian doctrine or spirituality, it also shares little with the methods and criteria of modern science... The burden of proof is on proponents of the enneagram to furnish scientific evidence for their claims."[20] Partly in response to some Jesuits and members of other religious orders teaching a Christian understanding of the Enneagram of Personality, a 2003 Vatican document called Jesus Christ, the Bearer of the Water of Life. A Christian Reflection on the 'New Age' says that the Enneagram "when used as a means of spiritual growth introduces an ambiguity in the doctrine and the life of the Christian faith."[21][22]

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Random Glimpses of My Desktop (24)

St Peter carved from olive wood from Bethlehem


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Saturday, June 09, 2012

Facing our Jerichos

Jericho called “fragrant place” is also known as the City of Palms (Deu. 34:3). It is claimed to be the oldest city in the world, settled about 8000 BCE. Actually Babylon in Iraq where the Tower of Babel was built will be the oldest (Gen. 11). Jericho, because of its strategic location, was destroyed and rebuilt 23 times! There are actually three Jerichos. The Jericho, mentioned in the Old Testament is sited at Tel es-Sultan (a 400m long mound arising 15m from the bedrock), the New Testament Jericho which was built by Herod the Great as a winter palace about a mile south of the OT site. Modern Jericho, which we visited includes the other two Jericho and is presently under Palestinian control.

The Old Testament Jericho was the first city to be taken by the invading Israelites led by Joshua (Num. 22:1; 26:3, 63). Joshua sent spies to reconnoiter the land and the city. Rehab the harlot took them in and later engineered their escape. For her cooperation she and her family were spared when Israel destroyed the city and put its inhabitants under the ban (Jos 2, 6). The fall of the city itself occurred after the Israelites had marched around it in silence once a day for six days and then seven times on the seventh day. Then when the priests blew the trumpets and the people shouted, the walls collapsed. During my visit there, the guide suggested that the walls are Jericho were made of two layers-one upon another. The lower layer is of rocks and upper is of mud. Hence when the walls collapsed, it was the mud wall which did and hence the Israelites ‘went up’ to enter Jericho.
So the people shouted, and priests blew the trumpets; and when the people heard the sound of the trumpet, the people shouted with a great shout and the wall fell down flat, so that the people went up into the city, every man straight ahead, and they took the city. NASB

Other biblical facts about OT Jericho are:
*      Joshua laid a curse on anyone who might rebuild Jericho (6:26), which was fulfilled in 1 Kings 16:34 when Hiel rebuilt it at the cost of two of his sons about 500 years later.
*      In 2 Samuel 10:5 (see also 1 Chr 19:5) David had his humiliated soldiers wait there until their beards grew back.
*      Elijah was taken to up to heaven near Jericho (2 Kgs 2:4-18).
*      It served as a kind of headquarters for Elisha and apparently was where the “company of the prophets” lived (2 Kgs 2:5).
*      During the time of Ahaz a return of prisoners took place there (2 Chr 28:15).
*      When Jerusalem fell in 586 b.c. the reigning king, Zedekiah, fled to near Jericho but was caught by the Babylonians, who later put out his eyes at Riblah in Syria (2 Kgs 25:5; Jer 39:5; 52:8).
*      The last OT references to Jericho are in the census lists of Ezra (2:34) and Nehemiah (7:36).
*      Men from Jericho also helped rebuild the Jerusalem wall (Neh 3:2).

New Testament Jericho was build by King Herod at the mouth of the Wadi Qilt.

*      It is possible to sort out the healing of the blind men episodes in the synoptic Gospels by understanding that Jesus was passing from the site of ancient Jericho (Matt 20:29; Mark 10:46) and approaching Herodian Jericho (Luke 18:35). 

(Matt. 20:29-34)
MT 20:29 As Jesus and his disciples were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him. 30 Two blind men were sitting by the roadside, and when they heard that Jesus was going by, they shouted, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!" :31 The crowd rebuked them and told them to be quiet, but they shouted all the louder, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us!" 32 Jesus stopped and called them. "What do you want me to do for you?" he asked.33 "Lord," they answered, "we want our sight." 34 Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes. Immediately they received their sight and followed him.

(Luke 18:35-42)
LK 18:35 As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. 36 When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. 37 They told him, "Jesus of Nazareth is passing by." 38 He called out, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!" 39 Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!" 40 Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, 41 "What do you want me to do for you?" "Lord, I want to see," he replied.42 Jesus said to him, "Receive your sight; your faith has healed you." 43 Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.

*      Jericho also figures in the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30–37).
*      Jesus passed through Jericho (Luke 19:1) and ate with Zacchaeus, the tax collector.

Facing our Jerichos

Jericho must be a frightening sight to the nomadic Israelites when they crossed the Jordan to conquer the Promised Land. Its high walls and fortifications would make it seem impregnable. The warriors led by Joshua would have been trained in desert warfare but capturing fortified cities would be something new. Jericho would seem like an impossible obstacle to overcome. All of us have our Jerichos. It may be some obstacles in our past. Some of us may be meeting our Jerichos now. 

How do we respond to our Jerichos? Do we set forth to stormed its fortified walls? Or do we stand before its gates and tremble and worry? Do we withdraw, rationalising that wandering in the desert is preferable to dying while trying to destroy our Jerichos. The OT narrative of how the frightened Israelites captured and destroyed Jericho (Jericho is one of the three cities that God decreed should be destroyed by fire) is interesting. There were no calls to build siege machines and ladders to storm the walls. It was just a call to obey the Lord and worship Him. And God will do all the work and He did. The walls fell down!

There will be many Jerichos in our lives that cannot be conquered by human might, influence, power, money or technology. Jesus’ recorded healings in Jericho involved giving sight to the blind. Maybe we are also blind. If God should open our eyes to His awesomeness, maybe then we will not be so fearful and bothered by our Jerichos.If God wills that our Jerichos fall, they will fall. It requires faith, worship and obedience. That and our willingness to ‘let God and let go’.


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