Sunday, June 21, 2009



I have a confession to make. For the last couple of weeks, my travels have increased, my schedule was tighter and I have been attending to different matters that were not going the way I had intended. I have felt tired. I have sensed my frustration and anger rising. And if I am honest with myself, I know that something is amiss – in the deeper places of my own heart.

And then at a recent conference, someone mentioned H.A.L.T briefly. I could not shake this off my mind and decided to sit on this concept for awhile. H.A.L.T. is an acronym for Hunger, Anger, Lonely and Tired. It is a concept actively adopted by recovery groups like Alcoholic Anonymous (AA). It basically teaches that those recovering from addictive behaviors must pay attention to their simple needs. They must not allow themselves to get too hungry, too angry, too lonely or too tired. The basic assumption here is that when one gets too hungry, too angry, too lonely or too tired, they become vulnerable points that trigger troubled behaviors or relapse into addictive behaviors. Therefore knowing how to pay attention to one’s emotions and body language is the beginning of learning to care for oneself that leads to the road of recovery.

I realized how parallel this concept is to the spiritual journey. No wonder HALT is also a concept used by World Teach in their curriculum for holiness – when one is too hungry, angry, lonely and tired, one is more prone to being tempted and falling into sin.

I suspect my personal confession is not an uncommon state of the heart that represents most Christians in the marketplace – since one is often juggling between meeting deadlines, completing projects and managing home finances. There are family obligations to meet, children to take care of and evening and weekend church responsibilities to fulfill. What about unplanned emergencies and crisis, an on-going conflict in a significant relationship and perhaps an unspoken chaos and dysfunction in the family that leaves us drained and helpless. And perhaps there is a painful longing and a prayer that doesn’t seem to be answered. There are many unmet expectations. And the list goes on.

And so the critical question is, how does one not only be attentive to what is going on within ourselves in the midst of life demands but more importantly, how does one be attentive to what is God saying and doing in such times.

H.A.L.T. as Indicators of Your Soul
Allow me to invite you to take a brief inventory of yourself. How would you describe the state of your soul in the last one month?

  • Can you remember the last time you felt your hunger? How did you respond to hunger? Do you binge? Do you skip meals? Do you ear regularly? Have you been hungry for too long?
  • How often have you been responding in anger to situations in your life? How are you responding to conflicts at work and in your relationships at home or with significant others? How are you managing the various demands in your life? What has been occupying your mind and heart that triggers frustration? Have you been angry for too long?
  • Have you been feeling an acute sense of loneliness within you even when you are with people? Have you felt lonely for too long?
  • When have you felt tired and have been longing to find rest and a place to get away? When was the last time you felt really rested and refreshed? Have you been tired for too long?
These are questions we need to ask our souls every now and then.
Although HALT is a commonly used concept in recovery programs, HALT can also be seen as indicators to help us become whole in our spiritual life. HALT are points where one becomes more susceptible to fall into temptations. One generally would be unable to make favorable judgment calls and have greater tendencies to succumb to sin. So if we recognize our HALT points, we can become aware of the state of our soul.
It may help to look at a description of each need and what is beneath them:
  • Hunger is a desire for food – something that nourishes your body is depleting.
  • Anger is an emotion resulting from a perceived loss. It is often a reaction to pain or being hurt. It is an urgent plea for justice and action.
  • Loneliness is a heart’s yearning for love without conditions, limitations or restrictions.
  • Tiredness is a message from your body telling you that your energy level is depleting. It is an indication of diminish of strength. Your body is longing for rest and restoration.

Each has a message to say. The tendency for most of marketplace Christians is that we tend to get trapped in the doldrums of life and demands that we are numbed to our emotions and have trouble recognizing HALT. And for many, when we recognize it, we turn a deaf ear to it or we hide from it. For others, we live and strive thinking that the world will collapse without us!

Do not underestimate HALT. Neither should you fear it. Talk to your anger. Do not be tempted to fill your loneliness. Face up to your tiredness. Allow them to speak to us - they are our friends with a message for us.

Knowing and accepting where you are could be the beginning of something new.

H.A.L.T as a Warning to Stop
H.A.L.T as the acronym suggests means ‘stop’ or ‘come to a standstill’. When we become in touch with hunger, anger, loneliness and tiredness, it is like the flashing red light on the indicator of our spiritual-soul-meter crying out to tell us something is amiss. We need to stop to find out what is going on.

Elijah is an excellent example of a prophet who was in a state of fear, anger, loneliness, exhaustion and hunger, when he was running away from Jezebel who was trying to kill him. (1 Kings 19:1-1). And the first thing the Lord provided was shelter for his head so that he can lie down to rest. Then he was provided with a cake of bread baked in stone and a jar of water. Then the Lord listened to his frustration which was filled with fear, anger and loneliness.

Sometimes we stop in time when we notice the flashing of the red light. Other times, due to our own foolishness and ignorance, we stretched the flashing light a little longer and we crash - by default. We all know too well that we cannot drive our car forever without refueling or servicing. And so, STOP we must. Due to the law of nature, HALT points will inevitably lead to a standstill. However, our standstill can be a choice or a consequence.

Consider unattended loneliness. Henri Nouwen wrote, “When we act out of loneliness our actions easily become violent. The tragedy is that much violence comes from a demand for love. The human heart yearns for love: love without conditions, limitations, or restrictions. But no human being is capable of offering such love, and each time we demand it we set ourselves on the road to violence. How then can we live nonviolent lives? We must start by realizing that our restless hearts, yearning for perfect love, can only find that love through communion with the One who created them.”

The truth is, unattended hunger, unattended anger, unattended loneliness and unattended tiredness will eventually lead to violence, destruction and ultimately, death of the soul and spirit. This is a standstill of consequence.

Stopping as a choice is to attend to what is going on inside – and this brings about new life. And this is crucial for the soul and the spiritual journey.

H.A.L.T. as an Invitation to Return Home
When we stop, we discover one of the most life-giving ways that God can offer to us just as He did with Elijah’s H.A.L.T. in 1 Kings 19 and His loving question to Elijah, “What are you doing here?” When we stop, we begin seeking for Him. And when we seek Him long enough, we shall find Him in the quiet whisper. We hear His question to us and we hear His instructions to us.
When we stop, we return to the One who created us. Returning to Him means returning Home – the deepest place of our heart where He resides. We rediscover who we are in Him, who He really is and what that means for us.

We have been created – to desire for eternity – the new heavens and the new earth. Anything that draws us away from this centre will always cause a dissonance within. That is why this earthly home has only temporary effect of satisfying our personal agenda - the reason why money, status, power, security, material things are constant target of pursuits but never able to satisfy.

Yet, in His goodness, He will always allow us to catch a glimpse of eternity on earth. Home gives us a sense of belonging, a place of warmth and a sense of rootedness. It is interesting to observe that when we are hungry, the most expensive meal in the trendiest eatery may not satisfy us as much as a simple home-cooked meal. When we are angry, we desire to be honest with our struggle and have our struggling voice be heard without being judged. When we are lonely, a companion offering the presence of unconditional love and acceptance gives us a sense of belonging which is more important than a thousand competing voices demanding our attention. And when we have travelled around the world and lived in the most expensive hotels, tasted the most exotic food and met the most interesting people, inevitably tiredness from travelling will set in and a desire to rest and a longing to return home emerges – even to the most humble of our quarters.

In our spiritual journey, consider every moment when we experience HALT as an invitation not only to stop and see what’s going on inside. It is an invitation to return Home – where Christ lives.

There is a striking conversation between Jesus and the disciples in John chapter 1. When Jesus asked John and Peter what they were seeking, they called Him Rabbi and wanted to know where he lived. Jesus’ response to them was an invitation to His home. And again in John 14:23, Jesus says, ‘If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.’

One of the most fascinating features that struck me about Jesus in the gospels is the way he often asked a question that point people to their deepest need –“What are you seeking?” (John 1:38). In this narrative, observe the disciple’s asking of Jesus place of stay. One wonders if that question came from the deepest place of their hearts – a longing for home.

And so it is the same with us. When we experience H.A.L.T., this is an invitation from the Lord to us in two ways. He invites us to ask ourselves what we are seeking deep within us – when we are hungry, angry, lonely, tired? Then His offer to us is - ‘Come home’ to Him.

HALT is an invitation from the Lord to return home. Come home so that He can feed you. Come home so that He can refresh you, speak to your soul and give you shalom.

Two years ago, I spent 3 weeks in a cabin in Fox Island, Gig Harbor, in the State of Washington for a silent and solitude retreat. The only thing I was allowed to do was to have my bible, journal and a 90-min session with my Spiritual Director every morning at 7.30 am. In the silence and solitude of my own company, I cannot but confront the deeper darkness of my own soul. The most healing part of the retreat was that the confrontation of the self was done in the presence of the One who holds and loves me deeply. I saw my Creator and my Father with new eyes and heart. I saw myself in new ways – in freeing ways. And they gave me new perspectives to the whole of my life story in light of the Father. In many ways, I met the Father, sometimes personified in the Spiritual Director and oftentimes in my time alone with Him. And when my three-week ended, I returned home to California and the days ahead were often filled with a new sense of me, Him and shalom. But there are days I would miss Fox Island, the cabin and the Spiritual Director. And there are days that the darkness of the self emerges as I live life in a broken world. But I know a little more now, that my dissonance was often His invitations. And my longing was deeper than just Washington. It was a longing for the true Home - the Father.

Today, when I am in the place of HALT, I remind myself about home. I remind myself that I have wandered off a little and I need to go home. I need to return to the Father.

And so, two weeks ago, in my tiredness and my anger, I attended a day’s silent retreat. I befriended my tears and I responded to His question to me as I meditated on the post-resurrection passages assigned to us by the retreat guide. The retreat ended. My situations did not change. But I noticed my anger subsided significantly!

A week ago, I had a soul-to-soul talk with a friend. It was freeing to be listened to and not be judged. The conversation was good for the soul.

A few days ago, I took a day off from work so I can take a long walk and sleep in.
My journey continues as I learn to sit with my Father – often in the crap of my H.A.L.T. – and hear Him afresh!

There is sacredness in HALT because they lead us Home – where Christ is.

What is His invitation to you?

Ng Wai Ling

Monday, May 25, 2009

Global Financial Crisis

Global Financial Crisis – How Then Shall We Live?

We are living in a new world now. Ever since the US dollar has depeg from the gold standard in Nixon days in the early 1970s, the US Fed has been at liberty to print money – creating new USD without any need to have gold as reserves. Since then the global money supply has expanded tremendously resulting in global economic growth for most years. We are living in a highly leveraged world not just in terms of borrowings, but much more so in terms of excess fiat money supply not backed up by gold or actual goods. It’s a dream world.

Now the dream is over. Asset bubbles (properties, stocks, money, credit) are bursting globally at the same time! This crisis was triggered by the subprime residential loans in the US. But that is only a small part of the overall problem that we have – too much loans/debt in the system especially in the western world. Take away the debt, and you can wipe off a huge chunk of the economy – maybe send them back to the early 1990s or 1980s level. The stock prices in US are already indicating that the past 12 years of profit growth are illusory – unsustainable. You can now buy Citigroup at less than USD5.00 bucks. Do you recall when was the last time Citigroup was trading at that price?

What’s the solution? We need to reduce the overall debt levels in the western countries. But how do you do that? The banks need to shrink their loans books i.e. become smaller. Just before the crash, financial sectors’ profit was 46% of the corporate profits in the US. It has become a huge monster sector hunting after profits to feed the lust of the CEOs, traders, fund managers etc, with the tacit support of incompetent regulators and corrupt governments [yes we are talking about developed countries here – in many ways they are worse than Malaysia !] Their overspending/greed have now created huge problems for the rest of the world. Eastern Europe countries are at the brink of collapse. Germany’s Merkel has refused to help them. This time they will be worse hit than the Asian countries in 1997 as then the crisis was only confined to a few countries in East Asia. Now it is a global recession.

I think many people are still dreaming when they hope for recovery at end 2009. This is the worse crisis since Great Depression/World War 2. We got to wake up to the new reality. It’s time to worry about return of your capital then return on your capital.

How then shall we live?
Spend below your income – you must get rid of any consumption type debts like credit cards, personal loans for weddings etc. And if you are planning to buy a house, it may be a good idea to KIV until 2010 – if you still have your job, then only proceed to get a loan. Don’t change car unless your job is very secure.

Don’t be greedy and buy all those financial products out there that promises you extra returns if you hold them to maturity etc. Extra returns mean extra risk. No free lunch.

Cut any ‘fat’ in your monthly spending. For example – do you really need Astro? ; do you really need to use the aircon every night? Learn how to eat at home/cook instead of eating out regularly. Shop wisely. Other tips:-
  • Use a debit card instead of credit card – you can control how much to spend. E.g. AmBank NextG debit card etc.
  • Try to use public transport. If you must buy a car, you can always buy a 2nd hand car.
  • Stay together with good friends; and cook in.
  • Budget – tithe, saving + investment.
  • Insurance – just get a basic life/medical e.g. Sihat.

This is a good time to learn how to manage your financial affairs properly. Learn how to invest [which will take years]. Read and read. Take some local courses that cost less than RM500. Sign up for free seminars/talks organized by people like Securities Commission, non-profits like GCF etc. Learn how to invest in places like Singapore and US where the stocks have been battered very badly. Go for the safest/biggest companies. Don’t speculate or go for the small mid caps which may go bust if the recession last longer than their cash reserves.

Biblical Principles

  • Matt 6:33 – Seek ye first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto you…
  • Malachi 3:8-10 - “…bring all the tithes into the storehouse.. and try Me now in this,” says the Lord,” if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it.”

In the bible we are exhorted to put God first, and not worry about what to eat etc. God promises to provide for our needs if we seek Him first. Are we faithful enough for that? Can we spare time for the work of the Kingdom or are we spending too much time at work & trying to earn more to retire early? Are we giving regularly to those in need be it orphanages, and support missionaries/church workers etc.?

When will the economy turnaround?
Some estimates that US GDP will shrink by 10%, and Singapore’s GDP will shrink by 15%! Malaysia – at best flat, worst maybe -5% or so. How long more? Only God will know the answer. We can analyse all the figures in the world, so did millions of smart people out there. Only so few have got it right – including Prof.Roubini of RGE Monitor/NYU, and Paulson & Co (a global hedge fund that made billions betting against the banks in the US.). What do these people have to say? Roubini thinks that the total losses in the financial system in US alone is USD3.6 trillion ! So far recapitalization by the US government is less than USD1 trillion. So what? That means the US government is still hoping that there will be no more losses. Look at AIG – they have to put in another USD 40 billion on 2nd March 2009. They should just hire Prof. Roubini to be the adviser to Obama.

Conclusion : there are some very smart Americans who got this right, unfortunately they are not the ones running the country ! (Ditto for Malaysia, perhaps only Singapore has the best in the national service).

So don’t expect this pain to end anytime soon. If it does, we are all very lucky. Historically a housing burst always lead to a banking meltdown. And the average duration is 5 years from peak to trough. So this housing decline started in 2006 in the US. Expect the house price to stabilize around 2011. In the meantime, go and spend more time with your family – enjoy life.

Save and invest wisely. Buyers beware / caveat emptor.

"This article does not constitute investment advise. No reproduction of the article in any form is permitted without prior permission from the author."

Friday, April 10, 2009

Recession and Retrenchment

Recession and Retrenchment – Coping with the Crisis

The financial meltdown that whacked the daylight off Wall Street is finally beginning to impact Malaysia. Dec 08 export figures were down 20% and the official number of employees retrenched since Jan this year has exceeded 10,000. Some are even speculating that total retrenched would hit 200,000. Even the Government with its blinkered refusal to accept realities are now admitting that getting a 3% GDP growth is ‘unlikely’…so much for misplaced positivism.

In the midst of all these, it is not surprising if there are those who may despair or others who become stubbornly defiant. Either mindset however is not terribly useful. One should instead be prepared for the eventualities.

Human Response to change
The typical human response to change is three-staged:
  • Hold on
  • Let go
  • Move on

Unfortunately as long as we remain in the state of denial and hold on to a past that is no longer possible and tenable, we would not be able to move forward. The challenge of coping successfully with change is to face and accept reality, let go of the unattainable and move on. The earlier we begin that process the better.

Dealing with the prospect of job loss and lifestyle change in the current environment entails preparations in three areas:
  • Psycho-social preparation
  • Vocational preparation
  • Practical financial preparation

Psycho-social preparation
This has to do with our mindsets and attitudes. For us to develop personal resilience that would tie us through troubled times we need to have a staunch acceptance of reality, a deep belief in the meaning of life and a uncanny ability to improvise. Coming to terms with reality allow us to more honestly assess our current situation in a rational manner and hence adjust more effectively to the changes around us. Despair and defiance are both reactive emotions and prone to distorted responses. Having a deep belief in meaning and purpose enable us to see hope and possibilities beyond the current situation. If God be our anchor, then our faith in our lovely Father who is in control of all things should give us solace and assurance in the face of what is perceived to be meaningless and unfair. It is a fact that those who have faith in a higher Power survives better than those who don’t. Improvising include first and foremost having a shift in perspectives. Reframing, anticipation, acting within one’s control, self care and taking a positive problem solving approach are all part of that improvision.

Vocational preparation
How much are we in charge of our own careers and vocation? Are we a victim, a survival, an adaptor or a master of our own vocational direction? Mastery here does not denote a life without the need for God, or an attitude of self-dependency apart from God. It is one of active consciousness of our calling and purpose in life thus giving us focus and direction for our energies and one where within the framework of a God-dependent life, to be working in such a manner that one is always ready for the unexpected, realistically aware of one’s own strength and weaknesses as endowed by our Father and making the full use of our strengths and talents to capitalise on the opportunities that He makes available. The victim, on the other hand, is one who’s the proverbial ostrich in the sand, unawares of looming change, lacking the skills and know-how to adapt or to capitalise on opportunities, blaming everyone, including perhaps God, for one’s predicament and becoming so fixated with the closed door of missed opportunity that he/she fails to see another door opening before him/her until, sadly that too is missed. It is like the story of the man who prays for God’s rescue during a flood, but when a boat comes along, refused the help because of his fixation with what his expectation of an answered prayer should be.

Vocation preparation includes regularly reviewing our strengths and weakness, opportunities and threats. It involves treating our bosses and colleagues as our clients and value-adding our service repertoire to them. It entails taking time to enhance our skills sets and to stay relevant through continuous improvement and learning. It is about life-long employability instead of the unrealistic notion of long-long employment. It includes taking the active step to anticipate future risks and threats and taking mitigating measures to turn threats to opportunities. How well are we in all these? A highly regarded, value-adding, strategic employee is always highly valued and that itself enhances one’s career options. And one who is anticipating the future and preparing for it becomes master of his/her vocation.

Vocational preparation also means being ready for the worst. What is your worst case scenario? Being retrenched? Are you familiar with your rights and obligations as an employee if such a scenario becomes reality? What can you do or what rights do you have? What can the company do and not do? Have you taken time to learn about these things?

Practical Financial preparation
It is good stewardship that we learn to practice prudent financial management. This is always true but even more so in uncertain times. We should first and foremost learn to live within our means. We should invest responsibly and responsibly provide for the needs and protection of our loved ones. We ought too, to learn to minimise credit living and learn to develop a positive attitude towards living simply. The challenge of our consumerist lifestyles is becoming over-geared. In these financially troubling times, three key things to remember:
  • Parr off your debts as soon as you can
  • Learn to live within less
  • Budget to fend for the long term

It is possible to thrive despite our uncertain times. It is done by developing and practising proactive strategies before we get hit. It is done by learning to lead a God-depending life based on faith, hope and love.

Lai Tak Ming
Managing Director, ASEAN, Australia, NZ,
Human Dynamic Asia Pacific Ltd

Friday, February 27, 2009


Prof Dr Living Lee (Feb 2009)

We have watched the news clips. We have read the arguments put forward by both sides on the Palestinian issue. While all of us are moved by the plight of those who suffer in the conflict and many are galvanized into action to condemn the aggressors or collect donations for the suffering, we are also told by some Christian leaders that we must support Israel no matter what because they are the people of God and God will bless those who bless Israel and curse those who curse Israel. Many are confused and do not know what to do. I do not pretend to have any elegant solution to such a long standing complicated contentious issue.

A church member sent me a video on U-tube ( purportedly by an Arab condemning Hamas. After watching the video, this was my reply to her:

"Dear sister,
I have watched the video. Informative but again like all the propaganda coming out from BOTH sides it is biased. The wedding massacre could easily have occurred not just because they were singing but rival factions HAMAS raiding a FATAH wedding (like our gangland killings, brutal but effective in sending a message of terror to those not with them) or someone they consider an informer. We don't know. I'm not siding or defending anybody. Its a brutal inhuman mess that will lead both sides to be so unrighteous because they chose violence that begets only more violence. Pity the innocent. Jesus wept when He saw the the coming destruction of the end times upon the Holy Land. It happened once in 70AD and it will happen again in the end-times before Christ comes again.

Israel at present is still trusting in man, that is, in its superior army and American backing for its survival. God will bring her to her knees when having infuriated the whole world with her killings (collateral or otherwise) that they would unite to wipe Israel off the face of the earth and that will bring about Armeggadon. Unless she turns to the Lord she would not be saved when all her props are removed. An Israeli then will have to chose to trust in Yahweh and His Messiah or be damned as his ancestors were when they trusted in self (and alliances with others) and not God for victory. Pray for the days to be shortened (Matt 24:19-22) so that the innocent and vulnerable will be spared prolonged suffering."

So what can we do about the situation? We prayed for for peace and God brought about a cease-fire. We now pray that it will hold and out of the ashes of destruction a lasting peace will emerge. We can join in relief efforts to ease the sufferings of the oppressed. This is a good opportunity to show that we are not anti-Muslim or pro-Israel but we suffer with those who suffer irregardless of race and religion. Most of all we pray "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven". God's blessing on Israel is not automatic but conditional upon her humble obedience and submission to Him. May the light of the Prince of Peace shine upon all in the Holy Land.

Prof. Dr Living Lee is Professor in the Department of Geology, University of Malaya, specializing in palaeontology or the study of fossils. Dr Lee holds a B.Sc.(Hons) and M.Sc. in Geology from University of Malaya and a Ph.D. from University of Liverpool. He is a past president of the Graduates' Christian Fellowship and is currently the advisor of GCF. He is also Chairman Elder of the Peoples Park Baptist Church, PJ.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Church As Peace Makers In A Racially Polarised Society

The Church As Peace Makers In A Racially Polarised Society

(Dave Chong)

Psalm 93
1 The LORD reigns, he is robed in majesty; the LORD is robed in majesty and is armed with strength. The world is firmly established; it cannot be moved. 2 Your throne was established long ago; you are from all eternity. 3 The seas have lifted up, O LORD, the seas have lifted up their voice; the seas have lifted up their pounding waves. 4 Mightier than the thunder of the great waters,mightier than the breakers of the sea— the LORD on high is mighty. 5 Your statutes stand firm; holiness adorns your house for endless days, O LORD.
We Malaysians are living in very, very interesting times. Our newspaper headlines these days are so full of suspense and intrigue that they make even Obama look so boring in comparison. Almost every other week, we have shocking revelations of sex, lies and videotapes. Statutory declarations flying here and there with allegations of political conspiracies, cover-ups, spies, murder, sodomy and C4 explosives! I think someone should make a movie out of all these drama and win an Oscar for best script!But seriously, I think our nation is at a crucial crossroads of sorts… Winds of change are blowing and powerful opposing forces are shaping where Malaysia will be for the next 50 years.

The last general election on March 8th (the so-called political tsunami) raised some interesting questions: Could we be seeing the start of a two-party democracy in Malaysia? Are we beginning to find that finally Malaysians have matured enough to go beyond racial politics? But there are also fears that in this desperate moment of transition that communal violence may flare up once again. We have different ethnic and religious communities living side by side with each other but with precious little contact and understanding in between. On the night of March 8, many of us received SMS to stay at home and stock up Maggi Mee for fear of riots. While all these things are happening, petrol and food prices are going up. A globalizing economy is getting more competitive. The Malays have this saying: "Gajah sama gajah berjuang, pelanduk mati di tengah".

As Malaysian Christians, we watch much of the drama and sandiwara like the mousedeer caught between two fighting elephants. We have no political power. Just a small minority. I wonder what are your feelings at this time of uncertainty?Some of us may feel...Fed-up: "Look at how dirty and corrupt politic is. Christians should never get involved in it."Cynical: "Aiya… What difference can small fries like us make la? We have been like this for 50 years, we will remain like that for another hundred years. Migrate better."Hopeful: "I think things are changing for the better. If Anwar becomes Prime Minister, then our country's problems will be solved."Confused: "Where is God in all this? What does God want the church to do?"The passage of Scripture from Psalm 93 points us to the throne of our sovereign God: "The LORD reigns, he is robed in majesty; and is armed with strength."

Although we are weak and needy people, God is mighty and strong. Where is God in the midst of all these events? He is on His throne. His rule was established from eternity and will last forever. He created the entire universe, the galaxies, solar systems and everything in it. He sustains the whole creation and set up physical laws that keep them from falling apart. That's how awesome and great is our God. Psalm 93 is an enthronement psalm that worshipfully celebrates the fact that God is the ultimate ruler in the nation of Israel. In the other surrounding nations, the pagan king is also considered divine and their power is absolute. But for Israel, though they have a human king, but the king is ultimately answerable to the divine King and the 'constitution' of the nation, that is, the covenant the Lord made with Israel. No one is above the rule of law, not even the king (Deuteronomy 17:18-20)

Our human rulers like Yang Dipertuan Agong and Prime Minister and Cabinet members, state governments are ultimately God's servants/ministers to bring justice and order in society (whether they know it or not). So our default position is to obey their authority and laws of the land and pray for them. But their authority is not absolute, there is a higher law/King that even our rulers must answer to. If the state acts and speaks as if it is god, demanding our ultimate loyalty and obedience, then it has become an idol and we have the freedom and responsibility to disobey unjust laws.

If our vision of God is too small, we'd be too impressed by men or too depressed by what's happening in this world. But if we see how awesome God really is and how majestic His rule is over our national affairs, we can still be aware of what's happening in the world but we'd be more impressed with God. The invisible hand of God (His providence) is quietly working behind the scenes, putting the right people at the right place to do the right things at the right time. Even the sinful actions of men, God can use it and turn it around for his own purpose.

Psalm 93 also gives us a picture of chaotic, tsunami-like waves that represent all the threats and upheavals against the rule of God. But the Lord on high is mightier than all of them. So our trust and confidence are ultimately anchored on the solid Rock, not on any politician or party. We can take comfort that God is big enough to protect and carry us through.

- The sovereignty of God is not an excuse for laziness though: "Since God in control, I dun need to bother doing anything la".

- No, the truth that God is sovereign sets us free from cynicism. For a long time, many young people are disillusioned and feel disempowered: "We are only nobodies, what can we do? We can't change anything"

- So they felt helpless ("tidak apathy"). They will complain and rant at the government at the mamak stalls but they are not interested to be part of the solution. But if our God is awesome and sovereign, and he is ultimately in control of our affairs, then no matter how difficult the problem in our country is, it's not a problem for Him…

- And that should be a powerful motivation for us to action: To do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with Him. While we do these things, we await the day when Jesus will usher in his kingdom of peace and healing justice.

- So while life won't be perfect on this side of heaven, we can work to improve it so that our church and society starts to look something like the future Kingdom of God today. It can be like a movie preview or foretaste of things to come.

In light of God's sovereignty, how then shall we live? What can we do in this time of change and contribute to nation building?

1) This may sound very basic but the obvious things are usually the most important. If God is all powerful and rules over all and we are weak and powerless, the most obvious thing we can do is to humble ourselves and pray. We need to pray for God's Kingdom, God's rule to come and His will be done here on earth as it is in heaven. If we do a stock take on our prayer life, what do we pray for most of the time? If our prayers are only limited to our own personal needs, it may show that we are too inward looking. We need to expand our horizon.

2) If Jesus is the King and Lord over all of our life, then we cannot divide our lives into neat little boxes like 'sacred' and 'secular'. I don't mean that we should form a political party called "Christian Rights Action Force" (Chrisaf) and try to make this country a Christian state. The church is called to bear the cross, not to pick up the sword. While Christian individuals could actively participate in political party, the church as the body of Christ should maintain a prophetic distance from partisanship and not be used as a tool by politicians. What I mean is we cannot isolate the gospel from making an influence in the wider society. We cannot say "OK religion is for Sundays and quiet time, but when it comes to my business decisions from Monday to Saturday, that's secular stuffs so I play by different rules"… If I'm a Christian lawyer, I can't say: "Ok Christianity is what I believe when in church, but when it comes to the 1988 judicial crisis , I don't really bother". A lawyer friend once joked, "In Malaysia we have the best justice that money can buy". We can't say that because God is not just interested in so called religious activities but how we conduct our lives in the marketplace. He is Lord of Sunday and the other six days also. For example, He is interested in integrity and transparency in business practice and justice in the government: Proverbs 11:1 "The Lord hates dishonest scales but accurate weights are his delight". Proverbs 29:4 "By justice a king gives a country stability, but one who is greedy for bribes tears it down." The biggest impact you can make for the kingdom is by being faithful to your calling and gifts that God has given you in the marketplace to be salt and light.

3) If God is the King of all people groups in our nation, then we should work towards racial reconciliation. The issue of race is sensitive and potentially explosive topic in Malaysia. Raja Muda of Perak, Raja Dr Nazrin Shah said this at a Student Leaders Summit 2007:
"To ensure sustained success at nation-building, Malaysians of all races, religions, and geographic locations need to believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that they have a place under the Malaysian sun. Only when each citizen believes that he or she has a common home, is presented common opportunities, given due recognition and is working towards a common destiny, will he or she make the sacrifices needed for the long haul." So how can we be a community of peace makers in a racially polarised society?

Here is a short and by no means exhaustive list of simple things we can do1) Intentionally cultivate friendship with people who are different from us: The people we work and play with, the friendships we make, must never be limited by race. Prejudice and misunderstanding can be removed if we interact personally with others of a different ethnic group or religion. 2) Free ourselves from racism in our language. We may not say it in polite company but do we enjoy that racist joke that our friends tell or we read in forwarded mails? People are made in the image of God so they are precious and have dignity. People are people, they are not 'babi'. 3) Help the weak and poor from other races.

4) Be informed and speak up: Read from both sides of the fence, both mainstream and not so mainstream media. Recently, the Kairos magazine carried very good articles on Merdeka and post general election analysis. We thank God for people like Tricia Yeoh (Center Public Policy Studies), Kian Ming who writes for Malaysiakini or KJ John (OHMSI) working for integrity and transparency in public governance who speak sensibly in the public square. But what about 'ordinary' people like us? What can we do?

The media has become more open in the past few years. With the internet, blogs, TV debates and radio talk shows becoming more independent, we have opportunities to write or call in to voice our views also on many issues that affect Christians and fellow Malaysians today (Proverbs 31). A lecturer at Malaysia Bible Seminary Peter Rowan wrote a good article called The Malaysian Dilemma that I believe every Christian in Malaysia should read:

"Since reconciliation is at the heart of the gospel, and since the gospel transcends the barriers of race, ethnicity and culture, and since the church is the most inclusive community on earth, the local church is a community of hope in a fragmented world. In Malaysia, the church has the task of not only proclaiming the message of reconciliation to all Malaysians, but of embodying the concrete implications of that message in its community life, so that Malaysians of all races can look at a local church community and see the gospel fleshed out in a racially reconciled group of people who can work, worship and witness together."Won't you like to be part of a community like that? Wouldn't you like to celebrate diversity of races and cultures in a local church when we gather to worship, work and witness together? In conclusion, we live in a very interesting time in our country's history. There's a small window of opportunity for us to get involved in transforming our nation. We need to be confident in the fact that God is on the throne, and live out His lordship in prayer, in the marketplace and in being a covenant community of diverse culture and race.

David Chong (otherwise known as "Hedonese") is an IT consultant in Wipro Technologies, specializing in JD Edwards solutions. He holds a B.Sc.(Hons) in Economics (University of London, UK) and pursuing a Masters in Christian Studies degree at Malaysia Bible Seminary. David is also an avid blogger at (a ministry that hopes to encourage "believers to think and thinkers to believe").

Church/Future Reloaded (Pt. 3)

Church/Future Reloaded (Pt. 3): From Word-Based to Image-Driven

Alwyn Lau

("He is the image (ikon) of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation." Colossians 1:15)

Today's culture is image-driven. Yesterday's world was word-based. While words may be the vehicles of truth, images forcefully drive home reality.

The human mind is made up of metaphors and images. The earliest recorded languages were pictographs. Do you dream in words or images? Why will you forget a name quicker than a face? Why will you remember where a quote was on a page but forget the quote itself? Because your visual memory is stronger than your textual/verbal memory. Check out these names: Michael Jordan, Saddam Hussein, Bill Clinton, Mike Tyson, Britney Spears, Dr. Mahathir – did an image of each of them pop into your brain? Think of the color of the pillows on your bed. How did you do that? Isn't it by replaying the picture of your bedroom, bed and so on, until you 'found' your pillow and '(re)-viewed' the color of its sheets? We 'do' a memory by re-presenting and recalling images.

Images come as close as human beings will get to a universal language. Propositions are often lost on today's learners, but metaphor they will hear; images they will see and understand. Image dictionaries[1] are replacing word dictionaries and image banks are becoming as valuable as money banks. Cyber-space itself is becoming less word-based and more image-based through the spread of avatars (one's self-created image online, your personal graphic identity in the cyber-world).

The greatest image in the world, the image to which we draw people into a relationship, is the image of God in Jesus the Christ.

If you want people to think differently, don't tell them how to think - give them a mental tool i.e. a metaphor or image. Metaphors lodge truth in the imagination. To sculpt a metaphor is to create and transform the world. The greatest communicators in history have used the wizardry of metaphor magic.

("The mind never thinks without a picture" Aristotle)

Jesus use parables, an image-based form of narrative. Dante created physical pictures of hell, purgatory and heaven that churches still hold on to today. Mosaic Church's[2] Erwin McManus' success in building a multicultural, multi-generational mission congregation is in part to his masterful employment of vivid images, not merely words, to embody his church's mission and values, e.g. seeing churches as "spiritual bomb shelters", "you can't wash the feet of a dirty world if you refuse to touch it." Albert Einstein liked to talk about the gift of 'fantasy' as being essential to his work. His insights came from visual images he conjured up intuitively, then translated into the language of mathematics e.g. the theory of special relativity was triggered by his musings on what it would be like to ride through space on a beam of light[3]. After watching The Passion of the Christ (the 2004 Mel Gibson-directed blockbuster on the final hours of Jesus), a Texan man confessed to the police of killing his girlfriend[4].

Visual language is no longer an option. We are a print-saturated, word-based church in the midst of visual technologies that are creating a whole new visual culture. Metaphors are the medium through which biblical spirituality will be fashioned for this new world.

("Parable is the root of the human mind – of thinking, knowing, acting, creating, and even of speaking." Mark Turner, Neural and Cognitive Scientist)

In defining realities, metaphors create realities and the most fundamental tools of thought. That's why the power of liturgy is so intense: Liturgy realigns our metaphors to conform to Christ, which transforms our lives. Julius Caesar and Joseph Stalin filled the landscape of their nations with images of themselves – images captured and subdued the imagination of the conquered. As the single-swoosh Nike will testify: The ultimate in power is not to have the first position or the last word but to have the ability to order and ordain metaphors. Images are a language of power.

Jesus exerted leadership not only through words but also via 'performances' or 'performance-metaphors'. He rode on a donkey, cleansed the temple, fed the thousands, raised the dead, turned water into wine, carried a cross, etc.

The Old Testament prophets spoke God's message using a wide range of dazzling and intense imagery (from almond rods to boiling cauldrons to bricks to furnaces and much more[5]) in addition to performing symbolic actions (e.g. Hosea and his unfaithful wife, Isaiah's public nakedness, etc.) If the Church is to present Christ to today's world, we must learn to communicate like Jesus: through metaphor, parable, icon, image.

("A religious symbol does not rest on any opinion." Ludwig Wittgenstein)


1. Take a moment and count the number of images and metaphors ascribed to God in the Bible (e.g. rock, shield, etc.). How many can you remember? Which is your favorite? Why? Finally, how about thinking of some new ones? (e.g. He is my Anti-Virus Protection?)
2. See, reflect and discuss with a close friend LIFE Magazine's 100 Photos That Changed the World at
3. Reformer Ulrich Zwingli argued that money spent on images decorating Catholic churches should be spent on poor relief. For what were the poor if not the true images of God? So the Protestants stripped churches of artwork and divested books of 'illuminations' or pictures. Did Zwingli do the right thing?
4. Neurologist Antonio Damasio said that consciousness begins, "…when brains acquire the simple power of telling a story without words…" Consider staging a drama or a mime telling the story of Easter or Christmas, without narration, using only music and pictures[6].
5. A senior Coca-Cola exec once declared that the company could survive the loss of all its assets, provided it kept possession of the Coca-Cola logo. With the logo, it would be possible to walk into a bank and receive funding to replace the entire global infrastructure of the company. Do you believe him? Is a logo that important?
6. Look at the first historical Christian icon: . Look at Nike's swoosh: If someone suggested that our Christian icons have been 'robbed' by icon-driven marketing like Nike's, would (s)he be right?[7]
7. Theologian Robert Banks called films the "parables of the 21st-Century" – assuming he's right, how can the church take advantage of the movie phenomena? How can the Body of Christ turn Hollywood to its advantage?[8]
[1] See,, etc.

[2] Visit Mosaic's website at

[3] See TIME Magazine's article Was Einstein's Brain Built For Brilliance? at,9171,1101990628-27180,00.html

[4] Read the BBC news story at

[5] For a good listing of the imagery used, visit

[6] One of the most moving videos of the Christian story circulating on the Web last year was the wordless but very powerful Lifehouse Everything skit. View it at

[7] Read Swoosh! The Perfect Icon for an Imperfect PostLiterate World at, which includes this insightful comment:
"(To) Christians the textless symbol (signified) silent rebellion against the ruling authorities. Within three centuries, the faith signified by the fish had transformed Rome into a Christian empire. Today, in an electronically accelerated culture, a symbol can change the face of society in about one-sixteenth that time."
[8] One attempt can be seen at This site is based on the founders' belief that, as "church" is becoming increasingly irrelevant in society, it is of paramount importance to use popular culture to speak to the lives of younger people and to teach older people how to begin that dialogue.
Alwyn Lau is a Researcher and Teacher at KDU College. Being an astute theological thinker, he is interested in theological methods, emerging theologies, as well as the relevance of the Christian faith to the emerging generation. Alwyn is also concerned about issues pertaining to education. He is presently studying for a Master of Business Administration degree after having his first degree in BScHons Economics (University of London, UK);. He blogs on

Friday, October 17, 2008

Church/Future Reloaded (Pt. 2)

Church/Future Reloaded (Pt. 2):
From Linear to Loopy

Alwyn Lau

In 1968, Doug Engelbart introduced something called a "mouse" before a group of mathematicians and hippies gathered in San Francisco. The computer mouse became more than just a pointing device; it changed the channels of consciousness and sold the illusion of information space i.e. the mouse brought information closer to hand. The ability to manipulate meant a hunger for more information and richer connections. Manipulation / Getting our hands dirty / Creativity = Openness i.e. Loopy.

How does innovation come about? By 'brain-storming', by turning things 'upside down', by creating new starting-points, by switching the environment, by exploration from anywhere to anywhere i.e. by engaging in loopy mental processes.
What are the best stories? Those with twists and turns and which conclude by making you look back and rethink the story's elements i.e. those which moved you into loopy recall.
Why was M. Night Shyamalan's first movie, Sixth Sense, so popular? Because the movie was a huge loop which tied the beginning and end together perfectly.

The three great inventions in the history of learning: 1. the Greek alphabet (800B.C.), 2. the printing press (15th century) and 3. the Internet (a couple of years ago). Today's 21st century learners are voracious learners cum players. (But) They value ideas for less their content or 'truthfulness' and more for their vortex of energy, vitality, joy and their ability to tickle the soul. Making the grade means more than making good grades. Rhythm is everything. They learn not by sitting still and listening, but by interacting and doing, hence game learning, team learning, e-learning i.e. by playing.

(This entire bulletin series will be playful, loopy, paradoxical and ambiguous: Does it bother you?)

The Japanese government controlled the export of Sony's PS2 game machine because it called it a "general-purpose product related to conventional weapons[i][1]". They had the jitters because in 1998, a North Korean submarine was captured by the South Koreans. The submarine's radar and global-positioning equipment were built from joysticks, game pads and play gadgets made by Japanese consumer-electronic firms.

Today's learners will be accessing and processing information very differently from the previous generation. The invention of writing led to the dominance of the left side of the brain and a general eclipse of right-brain values. Consider: In Malaysia, why is the Science stream reserved for the 'bright' students and the Arts stream for all the rest? In other words, why is calculus considered a more advanced form of high-school study than, say, drawing? Is it any surprise that the modern education system was modeled after linear, factory-produced manufacturing processes? [Insert child, go through stages 1 to 12, out comes a social product…]

Linear Thinking
Loopy Thinking
Start from the Beginning
Deductive / Inductive Logic
"It doesn't make sense"
Get the Point?
Paradox / Provocation
Begin Anywhere
Fuzzy Logic
"Let's make some sense out of it"
See the Picture?

Look at nature. How many straight lines do you see? How many right angles? Isn't life brimming with zig-zags, oxbows, razorbacks and curves? Does God appear to think straight? Systematic theology must point towards systemic theology or parabolic theology. Many of the Bible's stories and principles are far from absolutely logical:

· Want to be freed from Egyptian slavery? Sprinkle some lamb's blood on your door (Exodus 12:22-23)
· Want to conquer Jericho? Walk around the enemy fortress a few times and make lots of noise (Joshua 6:3-5)
Want to be the greatest? Be the least (Matthew 23:11)
Want to overcome your enemy? Let him slap your other cheek (Matthew 5:38-39)
Want to live? Die (Luke 9:24)
(And the list goes on)

Linear-fashioned theology must make room for an organic holistic banquet of narratives. Put linear and loop together and you get a helix (is someone thinking DNA?[iii][3])

Spiritual growth reflects organic growth more than mechanized processes. Like a tree, we grow from year to year, but we also experience cyclical seasons: progress, set-back, breakthrough, pruning, sorrow, rejoicing – year after year.

What would a loopy, spiraling, helical discipleship process look like?

***"Our traditional thinking is concerned with What IS. It isn't good at designing What CAN BE." Edward de Bono, Inventor of Lateral Thinking


1. List the ways in which Jesus taught his disciples (e.g. parables, symbol, sermons, etc.) – which are linear, which are loopy? (use the chart above) Now consider how YOU communicate (in office, with family, etc.) – what is your ratio of linearity/loopy-ness in thinking? Share this exercise with someone and discuss.

2. Think of something you wanted to know about God or theology (e.g. "How must the church deal with sin today?" or "Does God want Christians to be involved in politics?"). Now assume there are 4 people in your team-learning group – how would you go about assigning the research? What questions would you get each member to focus on? What sources – ancient and modern – would you get them to draw upon?

3. Turn to Psalms 23 and draw (or voice out) your impressions and feelings as you read it. Try to write your own psalm by mapping those images and feelings into new words.

4. Randomly generate a name from your mobile phone or computer – and pray for the person. Open the newspaper or news website, randomly pick an issue/event and pray for the victims or problems.

5. What are the benefits of attending a course entitled How To Improve Your Memory? Compare these with the benefits of learning How To Know Where To Find Things. Which course is more important for today?

6. A huge majority of Malaysian students learn by memorization. What if textbooks were to be banned from the school campus during exam days? What would be the consequences on the Malaysian education system?

7. "For Christians and the church to grow, the Bible should be outlawed." – how might this (provocative) statement make godly sense? (Hint: Think about underground Christians).


[ii][2] See for how fuzzy logic is used in classifying houses, representing age, choosing a job, image processing and so on.

[iii][3] A helix – the perfect combination of linear and loopy – is the model of DNA, the nucleic acids that contain and shape the human body's 30,000-40,000 genes and reside in the body's 70-100 trillion cells.

Alwyn Lau is a Researcher and Teacher at KDU College. Being an astute theological thinker, he is interested in theological methods, emerging theologies, as well as the relevance of the Christian faith to the emerging generation. Alwyn is also concerned about issues pertaining to education. He is presently studying for a Master of Business Administration degree after having his first degree in BScHons Economics (University of London, UK);. He blogs on