Wednesday, June 24, 2009


“and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work.” (1 Cor 3:13b)
Main Point – Each of us need to take time to check the quality of the work we are doing. It is the attitude of the mind and heart that dictates the quality of the work of our hands.

One of our most used, or misused phrases in the Christian Life is Quality Time in the midst of a busy lifestyle. We use it liberally when we try to live a balanced life of work and family. It usually means making the best use of what little time we have. However, is that possible? When a person’s work expectations piles up high and the available time runs down low, everything on the to-do list gets done quickly, often superficially. If I am doing something to someone so that I can achieve a target, my accomplishments may be more short-term and will not last the journey. However, if I am finding the joy of spending ‘quality time,’ everything becomes peripheral to the desire to spend that quality time. The Apostle Paul reminds us that Christ has already laid the primary foundation. The rest of us need to build upon this cornerstone. The day will come when the fire of judgment will test the quality of every person’s work. How do we know if our work meets the required standards of excellence? Let me suggest three layers of work that we face daily.

Layer 1: To-Do List Layer
Layer 2: Purpose-Driven Layer
Layer 3: Enjoyment-Led Layer

Layer 1: A To-Do List Motive.
Some of us go through life like checking off a grocery list of to-buy items or to-do list of activities. We clock in our reports. We achieve our sales quota. We kiss our kids good-night quickly so that we can go on to the next item on the list. We meet with employees simply because upper management tells us to do so. Like a mechanic who gets a repair slip, he simply goes through the motion and follows exactly the steps written in the manual. When things go wrong, he blames the manual saying that it is not his fault as he has merely been following instructions. As we all know, bad quality work only leads to more complaints and dissatisfaction.

Layer 2: A Purpose-Driven Motive
A better step is to be more purpose-driven in what we do. Many of us work for a purpose, often for pay. We plan our resources accordingly and allocate work according to the priorities needed per task. If we need to meet a client in order to get a sale, we prioritize them. In church, Sunday School superintendents try to set up coffee meetings so that they can persuade people to teach in the Sunday School. Some pastors call up individuals not exactly to know about their life, but to find out if they can fill a certain vacuum in various ministry roles that never seem to be permanently filled. Under heavy expectations, ministry leaders often become more social when they felt a need to involve people to get things done. Some of these tasks are honorable, but let me suggest that while they may work, they do not last. Individuals can feel ‘used.’ Others can feel that it is meaningless to continue to feel like a tool to meet other people’s ends. There is a better way.

Layer 3: An Enjoyment-Led Quality
Indeed, a To-Do motive emanates superficiality from all fronts. A Purpose-Driven Motive seems to dehumanize persons that they are only targets of usefulness regardless of how honorable the goals are. When I peel an onion, the first layer is usually the first one that is trashed. It is rather pleasing to remove the yucky outside to reveal the yummy inside. The process of peeling onions can be a tearful experience. If we persevere, it can be highly rewarding. The quality of one's work is linked tightly to the attitude of enjoyment.
  • Quality time with loved ones and kids means to ENJOY listening to their inner desires, happiness and joys, to keep that moment sacrosanct from other cares and concerns;
  • Quality time with our work means to ENJOY looking for the right resources, not only to do the right thing but to do the right thing in the right way;
  • Quality time with our God means to ENJOY that holy moment, to render it untouchable by the world.
Keeping that moment sacred is a spiritual practice of ENJOYING the people we love. If we can learn to practice the presence of God in our quiet times, we train ourselves to be present to other people as well.
Brother Lawrence said: “…I do my work in simple faith before God, humbly and lovingly, and I carefully apply myself to avoid doing, saying or thinking anything that might displease him.” (Brother Lawrence, Practice of the Presence of God).
What then is the key to quality living? It is enjoyment of being present. My personal goal is for quality rather than quantity. I encourage you to do the same.

THOUGHT: What is your quality of life? How do you spend your Quality-Time with the people you love? Whatever it is, if it is a worthy person or a worthwhile effort, enjoy the process.
"Quality is not an act; It's a habit." (Aristotle)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009


"There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up." (Exodus 3:2)
I drive my car on a pretty regular basis. It could be sending my kids to school, or making a trip to the Supermarket. After all, a car is meant to be used, isn't it? Is it? Driving may save us some time, but it can also deprive us of the opportunity to slow down and observe the neighbourhood around me. I remember the walks I take with my wife in the early years when we do not have a car. Often we will say to each other things like:
- "I didn't know there is a community center here."
- "How convenient. There is a small shop that sells essential grocery items."
- "Hey, there is a church here."
- "I didn't see this small path. Beautiful flowers we missed."

We do miss out on a lot of things in our neighbourhood when we rush out each morning to work in a car, and return the same way late at night. Life on the fast lane can give us less opportunity to appreciate the surroundings. Walking can be a very good form of exercise. It can be done casually without much gear. It does not cost anything save calories. It can also be profoundly spiritual. The pace allows one to take time to notice the trees and plants around them. It perks up one's nose to smell the flowers. I notice cars parked in the same place every day. I see traffic attendant, faithfully doing her job of ensuring that vehicles stop to let kids cross the roads safely. I see notices pasted on lamp-posts and walls, hawking either wares or community activities.

If Moses was driving a car, he probably would have missed the burning bush. If Elijah has been too impatient, he will have become more attracted to the strong winds, earthquakes and the many loud noises and miss out the small still divine whisper. It takes an intentional heart to sift away the conventional sounds, in order to discover various gems embedded in daily life. Barbara Brown Taylor laments the loss of attention caused by a quick-fix modern lifestyle.
"The practice of paying attention really does take time. Most of us move so quickly that our surroundings become no more than the blurred scenery we fly past on our way to somewhere else. We pay attention to the speedometer, the wristwatch, the cell phone, the list of things to do, all of which feed our illusion that life is manageable. Meanwhile, none of them meets the first criterion for reverence, which is to remind us that we are not gods - if only we could find some way to do more faster."
(Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World, p24).
One way is to walk rather than drive. Walk without having the pressing need for a destination. Make it casual. Take it easy. Let time simply pass by. If you like, take a small MP3 player, with some soothing music. Walk and be ready to stop and chat with neighbors. These small little acts can be hugely therapeutic and can effectively counter any terrible inner insecurity that drives us to constantly catch up with the Joneses.

I remember one night back in 1991, when I was struggling to find some sense of direction whether or not I should marry. I have fallen in love with this girl, and we have been enjoying each other's company. Yet, there was something that does not seem right. Where is the cross that God has asked me to carry? That night, with my heart heavy with questions, I decided to take a walk around the neighborhood, quietly asking God to show me a sign. I walked past many blocks, quite intent to keep walking until I see some sign. I glanced at cars, stared at billboards and gazed at the dark skies. Nothing seems extraordinary in a very conventional night. It took more than an hour of aimless walking until I saw a large building hidden among some big trees. The leaves were thick and the lights were not bright enough to light up the surroundings. Apparently, something behind the trees seem to want to play hide and seek with me. The green tree is apparently a poor pretender that it has nothing to hide. Edging past some obstacles, I peered to check out what the trees are hiding. What I saw was a revelation not just for my eyes but cuts into my heart. A prominent cross stood proud under the moon's searing spotlight. It was like a heavenly stage played before my eyes for my enjoyment. The cross was the sign that spoke to my heart in ways no book can ever express. I would not have seen this cross if I have not taken a walk. I would not have noticed the building if I have simply rushed around from place to place. I married my wife in 1992, with our hearts united in Christ. That moment of heavenly revelation gave birth to many years of joyful celebration of marital blessing. To God be the glory.

Thought: How do we deal with frantic living or high expectations and low tolerance for error? Do we simply keep running to compete? Or have we learned to ground ourselves on solid ground, to learn to say 'no' when we ought to say no.

Take time to walk. While walking, pray our concerns and enjoy God's creation. Walk in the Lord, spiritually and literally. Perhaps, during one of our walks, we may chance upon an opportunity to see the 'burning bush' that burns but is not burned up. Like the parable of the treasured pearl, such an encounter will cause us to give up everything to buy the pearl; that divine moment with God.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Looking Forward

I was glad when they say to me: ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’ ” (Ps 122:1)
I remember in my first job, someone asks the question: “So do you look forward to the weekend?” One said that he is looking forward to spending time with his family. Another said that he wanted to finish a personal project. Others simply appreciate the coming of a needed rest from work. Humourously, one engineer said: “Weekend? Oh No. It means: ‘Monday is coming!” Many of us certainly appreciate the weekend because it is a break from a week of work. Yet, for some, a week is simply a temporal respite from the stress and challenges of work. Like my funny colleague, weekends simply mean the coming of the dreaded Monday instead of anticipating optimistically a Saturday.

Do you look forward to weekends? Do you thank God it’s Friday or dread them because of the coming of Moody Monday? What does weekends mean for us? Is Sunday another day of trying to get ahead of others in terms of competitive advantage? Or is it another day to do a different kind of work? The Old Testament reminds the Israelites to take the Sabbath seriously; ‘ Six days you shall labor and do all your work,’ (Exodus 20:9). The longest commandment out of the Ten, appears to be the fifth commandment to keep the Sabbath. Keeping the Sabbath is considered mandatory to the Jewish people. An ancient legend tells us about the encounter of the children of Israel with God.
My children, if you are willing to accept the Torah (the law) and observe its mitzvoth (precepts), I will grant you a most precious gift.

Eagerly, the children asked: ‘What is this precious gift?

God replied; ‘The world that is to come.

The children: ‘Tell us more about this world that is to come.’

God said: ‘I have already given you the Sabbath. The Sabbath is a taste of the world-to-come.’ “
(adapted from Alfred Kolatch’s “The Jewish Book of Why”, NY: Penguin Compass, 2003, p154)

The Sabbath is a gift of the world that is to come. What an amazing thought. Although this is considered a legend, it does provide another angle to see what the Sabbath means. Sometimes we may see the Sabbath as another time to simply take a break. For the busy executive, it can be a needed rest from stress built up in the office. It can be a temporary pause from a crazy world of high expectations and competition. For many Jews, it means a time to enjoy the gift of looking-forward to that eternal rest in God. Many Christians take Sunday as their form of Sabbath, yet I know of many who see Sabbath as another day of accomplishing and doing work, albeit a different kind of work. David is a busy king heavily engaged with the political and national needs of the nation of Israel. The psalms describe many of his ups and downs of life expressed to God. Ps 122 starts off with an optimistic look toward the entering into the house of the Lord. He said: “I was glad.”

I know of people who do not look forward to church. Some shun church because they feel the church is a place of hypocrites. Others avoid church claiming that it is full of middle class or elite people merely wanting to gather in a rich-people-environment. Some go to church expecting to be pampered with an entertaining sermon or to be cuddled with nice songs during the worship service. Let me suggest that we do not confuse Church Sunday services with keeping the Sabbath rest. The Sabbath is an opportunity to glimpse the future. It begins in the heart. It fills the mind with expectations not of people but of God. It anticipates the reading of the Word of God and the contemplation of the kingdom together with the people of God.

Barbara Brown Taylor, a well-known Episcopal preacher even describes the Sabbath as a day in which we learn to say: “No!”
• Say ‘No’ to a culture of accumulating ‘more’ things by keeping ‘less’ stuff through giving away;
• Say ‘no’ to a world infatuated with ‘more-is-good;’
• Say ‘no’ to work at least one day a week;

Sabbath rest is a time to deny ourselves the pressures of getting ahead or accumulating stuff. Instead it is a time to allow us the pleasures of slowing down and giving up the work mindset we face each week. It is a time to learn to say to one another: “Enough. We have enough.” Like going to a buffet meal, rather than topping up our plate with loads of food, and then struggling to finish it all, we should not pile up our week with loads of work that we cannot joyfully finish. Remember that the Israelites who tried to look for manna on the seventh day found nothing? The sixth day they had double the normal amount of manna. The Swiss theologian Karl Barth said:
A being is free only when it can determine and limit its activity.
How true it is. We need to observe a day of rest each week, every week. For in doing so, we not only say no to the pressures of the office at least a day a week. We practice saying yes to the simple pleasures of life. We look forward to a future of a time with our heavenly Father, by reminding ourselves that we are not of this world. True. Sabbath time is a time to practice the enjoyment of God and what he has provided us. It is a time to look forward like David to a house of God. Yes, the house of God may be filled with people we may like or dislike. It can also be a place that we dread because certain persons irritate us. Let us not be troubled. Recognize we are often not angels ourselves. The house of God is not simply a gathering of people. It is a community of God’s people looking forward to meeting God. Eugene Peterson’s title of a book says it very well. We need to come together with an attitude of “A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society.” We need to desire more of David’s heartbeat for God by saying:

I am glad when they said unto me, Let us go to the house of the Lord.

Personally, one thing I do on Sabbath Day each week is to turn OFF the computer. I encourage you to do the same at least for one 24-hour cycle each week.

What should we do when someone gives us a wrapped present on a Sunday? Like little children, eagerly open it up! Keep the Sabbath and to keep it holy to the LORD.


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Lest We Forget

DT 8:10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. 11 Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. 12 Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, 13 and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. (Deut 8:10-14)
Capacity to Remember; Tendency to Forget
The human mind has an amazing capacity for memory. Ask a pianist who is capable to remembering precisely the key to the right note on the keyboard. Ask anyone who can remember their past. Ask anyone who can pinpoint exact places and faces straight from their memory bank. The human brain easily beats any world-class image processor, sound analyzer and technological gizmos that try to emulate the five major human senses.

Yet, one of the saddest things about human being is the tendency to forget. The gift of memory can be neglected so easily in our daily lives. There are many reasons for absent-mindedness. A BBC report says it is due to ‘early stress.’ It is a popular belief that old age is also another factor. Dr David Myers, a psychologist comments on an experiment, that early adulthood (before one turns 40) represents the peak in terms of the ability to recall and remember. In that same project, there was an amazing 3x improvement in memory recall when the activity is repeated the third time. The conclusion is that, if lack of use can cause memory loss, an increased use will enhance memory recall.

Deut 8 seems to emphasize this. God tells the Israelites that their duty is to regularly praise God for all the good providence showered upon them. In verse 11, there is a positive and a negative verbs, (a DO and a DO-NOT). Israel is to ‘keep watch’ or ‘be careful’ (positive verb); as well as ‘not forget’ (negative rendition of remember). In fact, Hebrew parallelism uses both to emphasize the main point, which is to honor God ESPECIALLY in times of multiple blessings. Lest we forget.

Two Ways to Remember
Let me suggest two ways. The first is the important act of rituals. We need to repeat our family rituals as often as possible. In our families, special events like Birthdays, Anniversaries, and all manner of remembrance should be celebrated. In Church, we should hold fast to traditions of worship, prayer and various recitations of the creeds and doctrines. In the office, we need to continue to center ourselves back on the mission and purposes of doing what we are doing. In fact, leaders in any organization are not primarily called to get things done. Their primary task, I feel is to be able to bring the whole company back to the founding principles of the company. That is why mission and vision statements are core competencies of any organization. The leader is the one who is able to recall straightaway, to anybody at anytime, what the company stands for and why they are doing what they are doing. The leader is expected to repeat this mantra continually to employees at all levels, and to train managers to do the same. Failing which, the cycle of forgetfulness will slowly and surely take charge and eventually destroy the company over time.

The second way to remember is actually a simple principle: De-cluttering. When we have too much responsibilities or things to do, our lives become cluttered and often confused. Not only will we face problems in prioritizing, we confuse the important with the urgent. What things are first in our lives? Who are the people that matter the most to us? What is our chief purpose in our daily work? Suppose you are asked to draw a 2-column table where these three questions are placed on the left side.

Write down all the activities on the right side of the table that support our statements of what’s important, who matters, and what’s our purpose in life. If it is a good list with solid details, good. If you find it difficult to fill in the right column, you are properly too cluttered up for long term good. If you feel cluttered, perhaps an exercise at decluttering your life will be helpful. Get down on your knees and pray. Talk to a friend. Read good books (including the Bible) pertaining to spiritual direction. Remember that de-cluttering means putting first things first, and to continually remind yourself of that. That way, we will remember.
"So little is clear. So much is fuzzy. Bring us to clarity, God. Lift one layer of confusion and clutter so that we may see. . . . . Remind us of all the times we have been lost before - and of all the times you have already found us." (Prayer by Donna Schaper, Sabbath Keeping, p41-42)