Thursday, May 28, 2009

May magic ramblings

I have been rather "busy" the last few weeks not so much overwork ... but I think not being my normal 100% health wise has made everyday things harder than they normally would be. And my boys schedules are getting a little bit messy and being the one who has flexi-hours, I tend to be the main chauffeur. Not too much of a problem except that for someone like me who works best when there is a "flow", too many such interruptions can be tough as it takes a lot more effort to get back into the "flow". If that makes no sense ... then think "rhythm" instead of "flow" and if that still does not make sense, be thankful as it probably means this is not something that affects your productivity! :-)

Re-centering exercises do seem to help and I guess indulging in hobbies. Been a while in the area of indulging in hobbies ... But yesterday I did. I received a 3 DVD set I bought on trademe. Brand new and what I found interesting was that there were three auctions for the same sets with starting bids at very different prices. 2 sets started at $27 and $30+ respectively but another was at $12?? Hmmm... of course I bid for the $12 set! And I won! Cost me a total of $15.50 (with postage and handling). The DVDS? World Magic Awards 1999 and 2000 and a bonus DVD Impossible Escapes. Watched the 1999 DVD yesterday and thoroughly enjoyed it there were some classic great performers I have always liked. Worth the money even if I have already seen some of the acts. It was nice to watch on a high quality video rather than low quality youtube resolutions.

Also watched performers I am unfamiliar with is alwasy nice ... Curious though that while it was a 1999 award show, I have not heard of those who won the "Best up and coming magician" and "Best rising star in magic". I wonder of their "rising stars" have faded? But then again they are so many great performers so it is hard to keep up.

But again, a great bargain for 3 original UK DVDs. I love trademe! :-)

I particularly enjoyed Penn and Teller and watching the late Tommy Wonder, and of course Franz Harary. Amazing stuff. On my Malaysian magic club forum, a friend posted a link to a video yesterday that I have embedded below. Very nice act by a magician called Topas. I love how he integrates his musical ability and sense of timing into his manipulation act. So entertaining. I think you will enjoy it.

I hope that tonight after games I will have some time to fool around with a couple of magic items. Been a long time. Bit of motivation now especially sine I did promise to do a little magic for a dinner engagement tomorrow night. I have to work on some "old" sleight of hand stuff that I have been putting off. I think everyone in church knows my sponge ball routines too well :-)

After the fun I had with my "a stranger kissed me" episode and my cold reading success last week, I decided to be a bi more adventurous so yesterday I did a magic effect for one of the bank tellers at my regular branch (as it was a very quiet period - I just happened to be the only customer). She loved the effect. I think I had better come prepared the next time I drop by the bank in case I get her again ... I am sure she would want to see more.

Anyway, got to work on my sermon and make another pastoral visit so here's video of Tommy Wonder. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Ramblings on my first Sunday preaching outside KCC

Last Sunday I preached at Lincoln Road Bible Chapel. My first Sunday preaching outside KCC. Some of my Kiwi "European" church members tried to make me nervous by teasing me about how I need to be extra careful about my accent, speed and mannerism etc because the congregation would find it hard to understand me ... unlike them who had gotten used to me :-)

Well, it wasn't as tough as they made it out to be ... phew! Was interesting though ... As part of my introduction I "apologized" ahead of time that I was not a "politically correct" person and that if anyone had a problem with what I said, to please let me know after the service. LOL. Not even sure why I said that as it was not in my script.

I certainly was not very politically correct and it would have been hard to be too due to the topic I was asked to preach on (relates to migrants adapting and serving in NZ). Anyway I did things like tell stories about my "unscientific research" of Kiwi approachability ... giving PI people the highest scores, Kiwi-Europeans a decent score and most Asians the lowest scores ... but then I also made a comment on how no one (except the chairman and one of the elders who knew me) spoke to me despite my sitting alone for 30 minutes before the service began. I was also dressed in suit and tie so it would have been clear too that I stood out (very "Westie" church so most were causally attired) and was clearly a visitor.

Long story short, quite a number made a bee line for me! LOL. But they were positive with one
man (Kiwi European) telling me how happy he was that I made such un PC comments - he had been coming to the church for 8 weeks in a row and he says ... "nobody" talked to him and his wife and he was praying about whether he should leave the church or not. Yikes!! Good part is that part of my message was adapting and listening to God about where He has placed us and blessing others in order to be be blessed.

He told me that her was going to stay! (Whew! Big sigh of relief). One key factor I gathered was his appreciation of LRBC's pastor because he made the effort to visit him. Another reminder to me from God about how crucial visitation is for some people!! (Though in my church quite a few are really not keen about me coming to visit! :-)) What was nice too was that when this guy told me this, I was talking to one of the church elders, so he got to hear this man's comments and apologized to him, and so they were able to connect. This poor church elder was away for 4 weeks so he did not realize this. BTW seems he was in Malaysia for the Missions conference and met people from PJGH who knew me... hmmm... I wonder what kind of impression he must have gotten about me! LOL

Anyway only one person challenged me on my "no one took the time to talk to me" remark and told me in a very nice way that people usually talked to visitors after the service not before the service. He was nice but the 8 weeks visiting story is quite a rebuttal.

LRBC people are nice and my church has a long history of close relationships with the leaders and people of this church. Many of the core group of people that helped restart KCC 13 years ago came from LRBC. As I reflected on the comments and conversations with these church members, it made me more convinced (if there is such a thing) that my push for a well developed ushering ministry is so crucial as visitors can be missed out if no one keeps a special eye out for them.

I had a few other interesting conversations with members and one that stood out because it was so funny was this Kiwi European couple who told me they enjoyed listening to my accent. Huh?!! Were they being sarcastic? I found out they meant what they said as they lived in Singapore for 6 years and they missed their Singapore's pastors preaching. The accent and I think style brought back fond memories! LOL

Oh and I also uploaded my Pastor's Notes for 31 May 09 bulletin. for those who read it.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Hometown Acoustic Rock Worship Leader Wins American Idol Competition

For the record I have not been following "American Idol". Stopped watching after the season where the cute Jasmine Trias (the one with the flower behind her ear) got kicked out :-) Not sure what season that was ...

Anyway once in a while I watch the show (if it is playing in the background) and I thought this guy was good. Did not realize he was a "worship pastor"! (never heard of that term either ...) Interesting ANS report and I wish Kriss all the best in his ministry ...

ASSIST News Service (ANS) - PO Box 609, Lake Forest, CA 92609-0609 USA
Visit our web site at: -- E-mail:

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Hometown Acoustic Rock Worship Leader Wins American Idol Competition

By Michael Ireland
Chief Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

LOS ANGELES, CA / CONWAY, AR (ANS) -- More than 100 million votes were cast in the American Idol final to catapult a Southern hometown Christian worship leader to stardom against a West Coast glam-rock guyliner who seemed to have the title all sewn-up from early days of the competition.

American Idol 2009 competition winner Kris Allen

In the end, America voted for quiet,mild mannered 23-year-old acoustic rock singer Kris Allen from Conway, Arkansas, who seemed shocked at the announcement by Idol host Ryan Seacrest at the season eight finale at the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles.

The underdog singer, who beat out the expected favorite, rocker Adam Lambert, looked stunned at the announcement that he had won the competition, saying: "I'm sorry, I don't even know what to feel right now. This is crazy," as he leaned on program host Ryan Seacrest to keep from staggering.

Allen is the worship pastor for the Chi Alpha campus ministry location at University of Central Arkansas and at New Life Church in Conway and Little Rock, Arkansas.

According to Peter Elliott, a veteran news and sports journalist who writes the blog, and who enjoys interviewing others about how God works in their lives and sharing that with readers, ministry colleagues describe Allen as "humble, compassionate and dedicated to God."

Elliott says American Idol finalist Kris Allen is a humble young man with a heart for Christian service according to two pastors who know him well.

Allen's rise to fame joining Danny Gokey (also a worship leader outside Milwaukee, Wisconsin), Adam Lambert and Allison Iraheta in the Idol final four brought plenty of attention to Conway -- population 52,000 -- and the UCA campus.

Amid the excitement, Allen, 23, has used his faith and his marriage as cornerstones, Elliot writes.

"I think he's doing really well," said Matt Carpenter, 34, UCA Chi Alpha director and an ordained Assemblies of God pastor. "This is probably the biggest challenge he's faced, but I know him and (his wife) Katy and they are both dealing well with it.

"Kris is a guy who takes a lot of things in stride. He's not too dramatic."

Allen advanced out of the 'Idol' Louisville audition round and tried out along with his brother, who encouraged Kris to participate.

Elliott says Allen gained perspective on his faith by traveling on Chi Alpha mission trips to Spain, Morocco, Thailand, Mozambique and South Africa.

"Especially for the ministry here at UCA, we have done a lot of mission trips," Carpenter said. "We feel it is a deep core value to reach out to the poor and oppressed at all ends of the Earth, and I know this is what in Kris' heart too. "God gave Kris a heart for compassion and empathy, and to reach out to others."

Allen had been playing part-time at New Life before taking on a more permanent performance role in August 2007, said the church's worship pastor Brandon Shatswell. Fellow finalist Gokey is also a worship musician, hailing from Faith Builders International Ministries in Milwaukee, Elliottwrites.

"It's weird to think just last June he talked about going to do this," Shatswell said. "As soon as he said that, because of his talent, I knew his time here was going to be very, very limited.

"For a while he was able to come back and forth (from California). He is a really, really great friend and on the selfish side, sure, I'd like him to come around and sing and play with us. I know he has expressed to me that he just wants to be doing good music in whatever contract he is a part of."

Carpenter said Allen has returned to campus to help with worship even while he has been in Hollywood.

"Kris is an incredibly humble guy," he said. "He has led worship for us for years. He is not like a lot of worship leaders who tend to be prima donnas where it's half about his own spirituality and half about God's glory. Kris has always used his talent not to get glory for himself.

"When he tried out, it was more just to spend time with his brother than anything else. He has handled it with a lot of humility. From a faith standpoint, the show really has nothing to offer him that he doesn't already have. He has an incredible relationship with God and with his wife. He has great people around him and he uses that as a source of strength."

Elliott writes that Shatswell has seen the faith component in play as well.

"I think Kris and his family are mindful of their faith and it's definitely at the forefront," he said. "There have been situations arise with money provided for the family to travel and just the overall support. It has been an amazing time."

Carpenter also noticed a difference in local support for Allen of people who know him well as opposed to those who may be riding a popularity bandwagon.

"I think it's interesting for at least the people I know that know Kris well is that it's neat, and they support him, but it's not at some fanatical level," he said. "Part of this is just wanting what's best for Kris. Whether he is a star or not he's still my friend.

"Once you get a little distance away where people say, 'I know someone who knows Kris,' and that type of thing, it becomes a little more fanatical. Those of us who are a lot closer to him are proud of him and want what's best. It would be totally fine for him if he just came home."

Elliott said that Allen will be part of the summer concert tour all Idol finalists take part in and will almost undoubtedly release an album before the end of the year.

Would Allen be open to recording on something other than a Christian label? "Yes," Shatswell said. "I think he is open-minded about a particular genre or label."

Shatswell said New Life church has received attention because of Allen's success and agreed that his performance in front of large crowds may have helped him. New Life draws between 5,000 and 6,000 worshippers each Sunday between the two campuses where Allen has sung.

"I think the church is very, very excited and the community is very, very excited about what happens, but I don't think we have the mindset of what this necessarily does for us a church. We are pleased to have provided an environment that may have made him a little more prepared for performing in front of a large crowd," Shatswell said


In another blog entry, Elliott writes that Carpenter, director of the Chi Alpha ministry at the University of Central Arkansas where Allen was enrolled, says: "I don't think my prayer is any different than it has been all along. My prayer is God will be able to use it (the American Idol show) and Kris will use the platform He has given him.

"I pray for Kris that this doesn't change him," Carpenter said. "It really doesn't need to. I think Kris feels God has entrusted him with everything he needs in life. It's an incredible feeling to see him use his gifts and talents for God's glory."

Elliott says that for those who know Kris Allen the initial amazement over seeing someone you know gain fame so quickly has passed, but the excitement associated with it hasn't.

"Around church, overall, everyone is really excited," explained Brandon Shatswell, New Life's worship pastor, adding that during the past couple of weeks more and more people around church began thinking that Kris really was going to win.

"It's not quite the same as earlier on. It's not the same shock factor as at first of seeing someone you know in that position. It's not as unbelievable to people."

Shatswell has spoke to Allen since he advanced to the final.

"He said, 'Dude, I never thought it would end up like this,'" Shatswell said.

"In post-show interviews I saw where he said the (final three of himself, Lambert and Danny Gokey) would all have good careers. I think that's true and he knows that's what this is really all about is having that great start to a career, but yeah, he's excited to have a chance to win."

Allen saw the depth and breadth of local support when he returned home a couple of weekends ago.

Sonja Keith is part owner of 501 Advertising and Publishing and member of the Kris Allen Kick Awesome Task Force comprised of local business and community leaders. The group had a large role in working with American Idol production staff in pulling off the visit, which drew large crowds at several locations.

"I was at several events Kris attended and I heard him say more than once, 'This is nuts,' Keith said. "He was taken aback and surprised by the reaction. Kris is a pretty humble person and had no concept of the amount of support people were sending his way."

Elliott said the galvanizing of local support was something remarkable to see to for Rachel Dickerson, who has covered the story in recent weeks for the local newspaper, The Log Cabin Democrat.

"The turnout for the homecoming was pretty incredible, and I don't think that's an exaggeration," Dickerson said. "For the story I did I talked to people who waited outside the arena at UCA at 5 or 6 in the morning and waited all day to hear him play one song. The whole crowd demanded he played another song and he did. The parade through downtown was pretty wild, too."

'Idol' host Ryan Seacrest mentioned to Allen and Lambert that 88 million votes were cast after last week's Tuesday edition of the show with just one million separating the two of them. For Shatswell, the local show of support was more significant.

"To see the viewing parties every week and watch the hometown visit being planned with the number of people involved, I was just blown away," he said. "To see that persistent effort and see people working their tails off for Kris who have no relationship to him outside of watching the show is remarkable."

What happens next for Allen is a summer tour with other 'Idol' finalists and an inevitable record deal. The hope for Conway in particular and Arkansas in general is a perceptual shift, said Elliott.

"I think this is going to have a long-term positive effect," Keith said. "When I travel around the U.S. and especially outside of the country, most people associate the state with Bill Clinton. I think that may change and people will associate Arkansas with Kris. He is such a great ambassador for the community."

Shatswell wasn't quite as sure if Allen's success would cause any long-term perceptual changes about Arkansas, but he echoed Carpenter's hope that Allen remains the regular guy he knows him as.

"I've heard people say from early on that Kris is someone we can be proud of on any level," he said. "That is for sure."


After Wednesday night's final, Elliott wrote that Kris Allen's stunning victory on the season finale of American Idol came as quite a surprise.

"Adam Lambert had been the front-runner for months, but like the horse that charges late in the race -- does the Kentucky Derby ring a bell? -- Allen came on fast and strong at the end," Elliott writes.

He believes that Allen may have split the 'mainstream' vote with Danny Gokey, nudging him in to the finals.

Allen's homespun appeal apparently was the ticket that carried the day, Elliott writes.

"As shocked as I may be, Allen has a door of wide-open musical possibilities. His worship musician background could lead to a folksy brand of contemporary Christian music, although that genre seems in the short-term more likely for Gokey. Seeing Gokey cover a Casting Crowns tune on his first album, for example, would be a natural fit."

Elliott believes that Allen "could conceivably go down a country music road. He has the look and the guitar-playing flair, as his duet Wednesday with Keith Urban illustrated."

The blogger says the most important thing for Allen as his faith-walk begins a whole new dimension in stardom is to stay true to who he is.

As Matt Carpenter, director of the Chi Alpha ministry at the University of Central Arkansas where Allen performed, told Everyday Christian: "I pray for Kris that this doesn't change him. It really doesn't need to. I think Kris feels God has entrusted him with everything he needs in life. It's an incredible feeling to see him use his gifts and talents for God's glory."


Elliott also writes that Kris Allen and Adam Lambert made it as clear as they probably could Monday in Los Angeles, 'Don't focus on our faith perspective when you vote tonight for the American Idol winner,' they said, loud and clear.

According to Elliott, Allen had the most to gain by appealing to a Christian audience. "While he may do that during his career, for now he wants the focus on his voice,' he wrote.

"For me, I hope that having the Christian vote doesn't help with anything," Allen said, according to the Associated Press. "I hope it has to do with your talent and the performance that you give and the package that you have. It's not about religion and all that kind of stuff."

Writing for , Ramin Setoodeh, says the Christian factor played a huge role in Allen's winning of the coveted American Idol title.

Setoodeh says that last week, rocker Adam Lambert's groupies, ".overlooked a possible roadblock to the title. Idol is the No. 1 show on TV at least in part because it's so family-friendly, and it also appeals to a large demographic of Christian viewers.

"These are the same fans who made High School Musical and Dancing With the Stars huge TV hits.

"Many of Idol's previous winners -- Jordin Sparks, Carrie Underwood, Ruben Studdard -- are devout Christians. Coincidence? Perhaps. But we don't know much about Lambert's faith, and that might hurt him with Christian voters. He could be extremely religious, but he's kept his religious beliefs quiet."

Setoodeh says that Lamberts two competitors, on the other hand, "are a different story.

"Kris Allen and Danny Gokey both introduced themselves as devout Christians who are very involved in their churches, and both have gotten substantial interest from Christian blogs and websites. In February, multifaith website reported that: 'Before Idol, Danny Gokey was the praise and worship leader at both Faith Builders International Ministry locations, in Beloit, Wisconsin, for the morning service and then he headed to Milwaukee for the afternoon service, as well as doing mid-week services. Faith Builders is his home church.' "

Setoodeh also says said: "Kris Allen has been working with the worship ministry at his home church, New Life Church in Arkansas, on both the Conway and Little Rock campuses since 2007. He is also involved with Chi Alpha Campus Ministries at the University of Central Arkansas."

He continued: "I wrote about how Adam (who hasn't spoken about his religious beliefs on the show) might be hurt by the fact that he was going up against two devout Christian finalists, Kris and Danny Gokey.

"Most of Gokey's fans probably ended up voting for Kris over Adam, giving him the boost he needed to win. You could say -- as many of you have in the comments -- that religion is an irrelevant criterion for judging a singing competition. But the fact remains that Idol is one of TV's most family-friendly shows, and it draws a large number of Christian viewers. Five out of seven of the past Idol winners have been very vocal about their Christian faith. Kris Allen had the edge here."

The Log Cabin Democrat at says that on Wednesday night's finale, the top 14 Idol contestants performed together, and several of those who made it through more eliminations performed additional songs.

Allen performed "Kiss a Girl" with country music artist Keith Urban, and Lambert performed with Kiss. Top three contestant Danny Gokey performed with Lionel Richie. Other artists who performed included Cyndi Lauper, Carlos Santana, Queen Latifah, Rod Stewart and Steve Martin. Allen and Lambert teamed up with Queen to perform "We Are the Champions."

The internet newspaper stated: "Following the announcement that Allen was the winner, the crowd at Simon Park began screaming, jumping up and down, waving signs and generally celebrating. They did not stop for Allen's acceptance speech when he received the award or when he sang his final song.

"As the crowd began to disperse, cheers could still be heard around the park. Cars honked their horns as they drove around downtown."

According to the website, Kristopher Neil Allen was born June 21st, 1985, grew up in Jacksonville, Arkansas but now lives in Conway, attended College Station Elementary, Fuller Junior High, and Mills University Studies High School as a student in the gifted and talented program.

The site says Allen leads worship at New Life Churches in Central Arkansas and is a member of Chi Alpha at the University of Central Arkansas, and has taken part in missionary work in Morocco, Spain, Mozambique, South Africa, Thailand, and Burma.

Allen can play a variety of instruments, including the guitar, piano, viola, and ukulele, and started playing the viola in 4th grade, became All-State in high school and received opportunities to play in college orchestras, but declined. He is a fan of the Packers and the Braves, and even played varsity baseball throughout high school.

He is married to Katy Allen, a former homecoming queen at the University of Arkansas and is a business major at the UCA. He has one sibling, Daniel, has a Shetland sheepdog named Elvis (well, at least his mom and dad, Kim and Neil, do) -- and has one less rib that had to be surgically removed while he was in junior high school.


A blog entry posted in April of this year, entitled "An Amazing Story About Kris," at , says: "We heard a story about Kris that we felt we just had to share. As some of you may know, Kris has been on mission trips across the world to Spain, Morocco, South Africa, Mozambique, Burma, and Thailand.

"While the most predominant story that has circulated on the Internet has been Kris's near death experience in Morocco when he fell gravely ill, this story is heart-warming and telling of Kris's character. Please circulate this to your friends and family.

"Before traveling to Thailand, Kris decided that he wanted to bring along his new $700 guitar, a beautiful Takamine, that his parents had recently given him. Of course, Kris's parents thought he should leave his prized-possession at home and go without this guitar. Promising to keep it safe, Kris chose to take the Takamine.

"During his trip across Southeast Asia, Kris managed to transport the guitar unharmed. But one day, Kris attended a worship service at a large refugee camp in Thailand. There was a local girl leading worship playing a guitar, though her guitar wasn't compatible with the plug for the amps and most of the crowd had difficulty hearing. Without complete knowledge of why or what he was doing, Kris began to cry; and, feeling moved to act, he approached the stage and the girl. He laid down his guitar and plugged in his new, expensive guitar into the amp and walked away.

"Kris later called his parents, worried that they would be upset with him for having given away his new Takiname guitar. But, of course, the Allens were simply moved by Kris's gesture and proud of the man they had raised. Now, on American Idol, Kris has received many free gifts from clothing designers and from the show, but none of which are more meaningful than a number of new, Takamine guitars."

The blog includes this quote from Kris's campus minister who led the mission trip: "The guitar that they had at the Karen refugee camp outside of Mae Sot Thailand was missing pegs and I think it only had 4 strings. Also, they were unable to tune it."

The blogger concludes: "Definitely a great story that speaks to Kris' character."


New Life Church:

Chi Alpha:

Kris Allen site at American Idol:

Conway Log Cabin Democrat photo gallery:

501 Life photo gallery:

** Michael Ireland, Chief Correspondent of ANS, is an international British freelance journalist who was formerly a reporter with a London (United Kingdom) newspaper and has been a frequent contributor to UCB Europe, a British Christian radio station. Michael has traveled to Albania and the former Yugoslavia, Holland, Germany and the former Czechoslovakia, Israel,and Canada. He has reported for ANS from Jordan, China, Russia, Jamaica, Mexico, and Nicaragua. Michael's volunteer involvement with ASSIST News Service is a sponsored ministry department -- Michael Ireland Media Missionary (MIMM) -- of A.C.T. International at: Artists in Christian Testimony (A.C.T.) International where you can donate online to support his stated mission of 'Truth Through Christian Journalism.'

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A stranger kissed me today ramblings

Yup. It's true. She actually asked me for a cuddle, and then she snuck in the kiss ...

The stranger was a Maori (I think) woman about 5 feet tall ... but it's obviously not as racy as it sounds ... she's a grandmother with grown up grandchildren and I think she is around 70 years old. Oh and the kiss was a peck on the cheek :-)

Ah ... the magic of balloons helped. What happened was that I went to the post office to check the church mail, then popped over to buy a box of printer paper (sale) and since I felt a little hungry (I was over confident and just packed for my lunch 2 slices of bread) so I thought that on the way back to the office I would drop by the local supermarket and see whether there were any special breads or pastries on offer. Duh! I forgot, it was too early for that - half price stuff is I only on offer at the end of the day, late evening ... so thought I might as well get a loaf of bread for tomorrow. Then as I was waiting in line at the express checkout I noticed a sale on bluebird potato chips (2 for $3), so I thought might as well get a couple - the boys love it.

So I gave up my place in the line ... then I got back in and noticed that there was a sale on Griffin biscuits .... 3 for $5. As I had no idea what they tasted like, I thought ... "hey, might as well take the opportunity to try all the 3 types that were on offer.... If you haven't fallen asleep yet, they were ... "Vanilla Wine", "The Original Malt" and "Milk Arrowroot". So I gave up my place in line to get the biscuits to this short old lady. Yes .. this is the kissing lady, so I am getting there ...

I was observing her the whole time. Not a smile. Just quiet, sad looking with her little basket half full. On the way to the carpark I saw this young girl eating an ice cream cone, sitting next to her mother. She was cute and smiled at me and I thought, this is a chance to bring out my balloons and do another act of "random kindness".

Side note: I recently bought through a clown friend a high quality small hand pump that is quite easy to slip into my inner jacket pocket with a small stash of balloons without too much of a bother. Much slower of course but it is perfect for doing a few balloons and ideal in size for my Thai 130s.

Anyway ... her mum seemed a bit grumpy so I thought I had better back off...

All that little delaying resulted in my reaching my car the same time as this old lady reached her car which happened to be parked next to my car. She was still not smiling and still looked a bit sad (maybe tired?) so I took a deep breath and piped up, "Good afternoon. That's a lovely car you have there". It was a shiny purple compact 2 door Nissan March. She looked up (she was opening her car door), looked at me and in what seemed like 10 seconds (it was I am sure just a second or two) she broke into a big smile and said, "That is so nice of you to talk to me." Interesting comment, don't you think? And for the next few minutes we chatted about her car and my car.

I wasn't sure what to do next so I asked her about whether she had grandchildren etc and spent a minute or so talking about that. Then I said, "I want to give you something." I struggled to open my jacket (it was cold so it was all zipped and buttoned up) but finally managed to whip out my pump and ... of course I chose a purple balloon... twisted her a nice "snoopy style dog" and gave it to her.

She was so pleased with the dog gave me a big thank you. Then she said. "It is so nice of you to take the time to talk to me. Come here and give me a cuddle." Now that caught me off guard for a split second but her arms were already opened so I went in and she gave me a big hug and so I also hugged her as I was coming out of the hug, she gave me a peck on the cheek.

As we were getting into our respective cars to leave, she gave me a big smile and said "God bless you!"

Cool! :-)

Side story ... On Mother's Day we went out for dinner at our favourite Malaysian restaurant. I wished the proprietor's wife "A Happy Mothers Day" and made her a balloon swan. I told her not to cook it (yeah, I know lame line but it works for me) and said it was for Mothers Day especially since she had to work that day. She said thank you .... 15 minutes later when we had begun our meal, she came back with 4 satay sticks on the house. Very unexpected ... Balloons rock!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Two articles I read after finishing my sermon preparation

It feels great to have completed my sermon preparation, I think my "re-centering" yesterday contributed to a good flow today (despite my having a bad sore throat which seems to be trying to develop into a cough!)

No home group meeting tonight too so this evening I am off to visit 2 new people by the invitation of a church member who has been helping them. Am stoked as he called me last night to make the arrangement for me to visit and pray for them! A privilege to be called and so wonderful to see this man so excited about sharing his faith ... telling these 2 his testimony and how good Jesus is! I think it is significant that two Hindus are willing to allow a Christian pastor who is a stranger to them to come to pray for them!

Anyway with the sermon done and a short free slot in between stuff, catching up on some reading and here's two articles I found challenging (posted a third on the MBS alumni blog) ... Are you a good Christ?

The following article is located at:

Messy, Costly, Dirty Ministry
The risk of welcoming those nobody else wants.
Mark Buchanan

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Tuesday night prayer meeting at Brooklyn Tabernacle felt like skydiving into a tornado, exhausting and exhilarating all at once. I'd read about the meeting in Pastor Jim Cymbala's book Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire, but nothing prepared me for the event itself: 3,500 God-hungry people storming heaven for two hours.

Afterward, my friend and I went out to dinner with the Cymbalas. In the course of the meal, Jim turned to me and said, "Mark, do you know what the number one sin of the church in America is?" I wasn't sure, and the question was rhetorical anyhow. "It's not the plague of internet pornography that is consuming our men. It's not that the divorce rate in the church is roughly the same as society at large."

Jim named two or three other candidates for the worst sin, all of which he dismissed. "The number one sin of the church in America," he said, "is that its pastors and leaders are not on their knees crying out to God, 'Bring us the drug-addicted, bring us the prostitutes, bring us the destitute, bring us the gang leaders, bring us those with AIDS, bring us the people nobody else wants, whom only you can heal, and let us love them in your name until they are whole.'"

I had no response. I was undone. He had laid me bare, found me out, and exposed my fraudulence. I was the chief of sinners. I had never prayed, not once, for God to bring such people to my church. So I went home and repented. I stopped sinning. I began to cry out for "those nobody wanted."

And darned if God didn't bring them. But then I found out why nobody wants them: they're messy and costly and dirty. They swear at you, lie to you, steal from you. Worse, they make you love them, and then often break your heart.

It reminds me of a scene from Entertaining Angels, the story of Dorothy Day and her ministry during the Depression. Dorothy is praying before a life-size crucifix. "Why," she asks Jesus, "did you have to wear such a revolting disguise, covered in vomit, smelling of urine, dressed in rags, cussing?"

But when God brings messy people, it does two things: first, it makes you real, and then it makes you desperate. It makes you real, because you're dealing with a magnitude of sin that bromides and platitudes are powerless against. You have to name sin in all its ugliness and minister the cure undiluted. A crack cocaine addict recently agreed to go through a year of intense rehab because I knew he was bluffing me and I called him on it. I leaned into his face and told him that unless he stopped BS-ing me, and right now, I was walking. He was in rehab in three days, and has now been there for three months with nine still to go. Anything less than hard reality at that moment would have fallen short.

Messy people also make you desperate. Until I began to cry out, most of the people I counseled were struggling with sins that, for the most part, had minimal social consequences. They became angry too quickly, or gossiped too often, or ran up their credit card too high. Problems, yes. Sins, indeed. But any of it, all of it, they could more or less manage on their own.

Ministry under those circumstances is like being in a boat when the wind kicks up. You strain against the wind and it's comforting to know Jesus is somewhere nearby, but you can tough it out alone. You can fall back on your basic nautical skills to get through it.

But that doesn't work with sex-trade workers and crack addicts. With them, ministry is like being called out of the boat to walk on the water: you've never been here before, there's no three-step technique, and unless Jesus is with you, ready to catch you when you fall, you are going to sink all the way down.

Some days I wish things were tidy again. But if ministry and mess are inseparable, I'll take them both.

Mark Buchanan is pastor of New Life Community church in Duncan, British Columbia, and a contributing editor of Leadership.

Copyright © 2009 by the author or Christianity Today International/Leadership Journal.


The following article is located at:

Salvation on the Strip
The Porn Pastor's strategy for reaching Sin City is unconventional, and what he's doing in Vegas can't stay in Vegas.
Leadership interviews Craig Gross

Friday, May 15, 2009

Las Vegas by day is a marvel of architectural achievement. The four-mile stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard known as "the Strip" is lined with theme-based hotels, casinos, and restaurants that re-create the world in the Nevada desert. Rome, Paris (complete with faux Eiffel Tower), New York City, and ancient Egypt are all within walking distance.

Las Vegas at night is a different story. The impressive buildings are obscured by a barrage of neon light and stories-tall television screens that preview nearly nude showgirls—and boys. Men on the sidewalks wear sandwich boards advertising "Girls Direct to Your Room" while others pass out trading cards for call girls. From the innocuous to the sinister, you can find any form of entertainment or vice on this short stretch of desert highway.

Enter Craig Gross. Craig began ministry as a youth pastor. When he realized that many of his kids were struggling with Internet pornography addictions, he founded an online resource for recovery and accountability called Since then, Craig has become something of a chaplain to the porn industry. He has traveled with porn star Ron Jeremy to debate the dangers of pornography on college campuses, in public forums, and on news programs like ABC's Nightline. More recently, he's been taking teams of volunteers to adult entertainment tradeshows around the world.

Wearing t-shirts that say "Jesus Loves Porn Stars," Craig and his crew hand out Bibles, share the gospel, and help men and women escape the sex industry.

In 2008, Craig, his wife, and the small team that runs XXXchurch moved their families from Michigan to Las Vegas to launch a ministry they call The Strip Church. Leadership editors Skye Jethani and Brandon O'Brien met with Craig in Las Vegas to learn more about The Strip Church and how ministry needs to change as the temptations of Las Vegas become available to every church member on their desktop.

What brought you to Sin City?

I was leaving Las Vegas last year after the porn show, and I thought: What if we stayed here? Vegas isn't where a lot of the porn is made, but it's where a lot of it's on display. So why not start something on the Strip.

Are people in Las Vegas interested in the gospel?

Just because a person goes to a porn show or out with a hooker doesn't mean he has no interest in Jesus. Zacchaeus was a crook, but he still wanted to see Jesus. Just because someone isn't looking into your church doesn't mean he's not looking for the gospel.

So if they don't find the gospel in church, where do they find it?

We take it to them. Vegas is the convention capital of the world. Every week thousands of business travelers leave their families and come here. And the same temptations exist whether they are at a porn convention or the electronics convention. But none of the churches in Las Vegas are doing ministry on the Strip. They are focused on reaching the residents on the outskirts of town, not the business travelers who are here for a few days and then leave.

Our plan is to reach people on the Strip at trade shows with the gospel, give them the support they need to avoid making bad decisions while they're in Vegas, and then hopefully connect them with a church back in their home town.

What people don't understand is that trade shows are almost like flea markets. At the porn show last week, I bought Egyptian cotton sheets and some insoles for my shoes. I even got my teeth whitened. We just buy a booth at the conferences, hand out Bibles, and talk to people about spiritual things. So we are able to reach out to people without thinking, Will they come back? Are they going to tithe? Someone called it intervention evangelism.

How are other churches in Las Vegas responding?

One pastor said, "I like the plan, but what about the other fifty-one weeks out of the year?" I told him, a few days in this town can screw up your life and your marriage forever. Vegas wants us to believe that what happens here stays here, but it never does. We may only have contact with people one week a year, but it is a really important week.

As our culture becomes more addicted, how does the posture of the church need to adapt?

I'll never forget the red light district of Amsterdam. The area is covered with brothels, sex, drugs—every vice you can think of. At the center of the district is an abandoned church building with boarded up doors. There is a church literally in the center of the red light district, but it's completely lost its influence.

I've met a lot of younger people that don't want to be a traditional youth pastor or worship pastor or senior pastor. They want to take the gospel into the darkness, into the red light districts, but traditional churches aren't structured for that.

The Strip Church is obviously structured differently.

A lot of people are bothered by the fact that we call ourselves a church when we don't have a storefront. But long gone are the days when we could expect people to come to our church just because we had a building and a cool band.

How are you taking the church into the darkness?

We just spent a weekend at a gay porn show. They invited us, gave us a booth, and asked us to bring Bibles. We have a team of gals that does outreaches to the strip clubs. Two week ago, I went to the world famous Chicken Ranch [a brothel] with my pastor. We knocked on the door and told the lady we were pastors and that we were there to care for them. She said, "Craig, I've worked here for twenty-two years, and I don't know if it's what I want for my life. There are some girls you need to talk to." We're not going to hold a worship service at the Chicken Ranch, but we're going to bring the church there.

What is keeping more churches from going into those hard places?

You've got to be willing to throw out the rulebook. We've limited what we think the church can be. A lot of people think the church is three songs and a sermon. But if you want to have an impact on people, you've got to do it differently.

Jesus wasn't afraid to dine with sinners. I'm not afraid to go to porn shows. We have an attractive message of hope to share. People respond well to that. Why are we so afraid?

If you're not leading a traditional church, are you involved in one?

I have two kids and our staff has kids. We're not going to take them to church at the Chicken Ranch. So we needed a place our families could engage and where we could be involved. We've plugged in at South Hills Church (see page 24). They were the first church to offer us help. Because of our ministry, we've never needed the support of a church more than we do here.

Do Strip Church volunteers come from other local churches?

Some do, but we are also bringing in teams from other churches around the country. We want them to see ministry at a Vegas convention as a missions trip that doesn't require a passport. We just had a team from a church in Seattle help us at the porn show last week. One volunteer said she shared Christ with more people in four days than she had her entire life as a Christian. I hope her experience gives her more courage to talk with people back home about Christ.

Is going to a porn expo dangerous? Are you sending Christians into the lion's den?

I understand why people think that, but the porn show is not sexy. It's not glamorous. Porn is about fantasy, but when you see these people and the emptiness behind their eyes, the fantasy is broken. When they tell you, "I don't want to be doing this," or when you see girls running to the bathroom in tears to escape all the guys touching them, you realize how ugly this world is.

Everyone that's gone to a show tells me the same thing—it's so much easier than you think, because you suddenly see these people as human beings, not as images. When your heart breaks for them, it's pretty difficult to lust. For example, at one show I met a porn star signing autographs who used to be a girl in my friend's youth group. After you hear her story, you can't look at her image on a poster the same way again.

How is pornography addiction different than other vices?

If you're an alcoholic, you're eventually going to get behind a steering wheel. You're going to stumble in drunk. People are going to smell it on your breath. The Internet has made porn more available, but it's also made it more secretive. It's easy to cover up, and it's everywhere. You don't have to pursue porn. Now it finds you.

A significant part of your ministry is helping churches talk more openly about pornography. Is it working?

Yes, but there are still a lot of pastors who are uncomfortable with the subject. Every time I speak at a church, like clockwork, a woman comes up to me crying and says, "Pornography is why I lost my marriage." If I'm a pastor and I know this is happening in my church, why wouldn't I address it? People want to hear about the things they are dealing with. Not to knock sermons about the end times, but porn is killing people in our churches. We've got to talk about it.

What about pastors struggling with porn?

One study found that 48 percent of pastors said they were struggling with porn. On the XXXchurch website, there's a page with over a hundred confessions from pastors. If this is an issue that a lot of pastors are dealing with, then I can understand why they don't want to preach about it.

I know numerous people that have left ministry because of porn, and none of them would have to be out of ministry if they had just come clean. Craig Groeschel says, "If someone comes into my office and says they're struggling with porn, they keep their job. If they wait until I catch them, they're out of a job." That's pretty biblical. The Bible says confess your sin, you'll prosper; you conceal it, you won't.

What keeps pastors from coming clean?

Most pastors don't have true accountability because they're afraid. They think, If I'm really honest with someone, they could fire me. So they don't want people to know what they're really struggling with. We offer accountability software that monitors where you go online. It sends a report of any questionable sites to a few people of your choice. We gave the software away for free to everyone at a large ministry conference one year. Only 89 pastors out of nine thousand actually installed it on their computer. They just don't feel safe.

I have four guys on my board that care more about me than about the ministry. More pastors need that kind of trust and safety in order to be honest. Maybe you can find that with another pastor, or it could be someone outside your city and outside your church.

Do you think churches are doing a better job addressing other addictions?

I'm afraid not. We've started another ministry called Heart Support to help churches talk more openly about other difficult issues like depression, suicide, eating disorders, and self injury. We've actually found more churches are willing to host a Porn Sunday than talk about eating disorders.

That's surprising. How do you explain that?

Pornography is an uncomfortable subject, but it gets people's attention. A church can advertise that they're hosting a Porn Sunday or a Porn and Pancakes men's breakfast, and suddenly they're seen as relevant and edgy. But nobody get excited about a sermon series on depression or eating disorders.

Those vices aren't sexy.

Right. There are parts of the Bible that warn us about gluttony and lust in the same passage, but we usually skip right over the food part and go straight to the sex. We are facing all kinds of health issues in this country because we are eating too much, but I've never heard that issue talked about in the church.

Whether the issue is porn, anorexia and bulimia, cutting, or overeating, there's something going on in the person's soul. Our struggles are going to look different, but people in our churches have a lot of baggage. We need to be talking about it; getting at the root. That is the key.

What is the first step for churches that want to address these things?

Pastors need to begin dealing with reality—hearing what the people and families in their community are actually dealing with. Families today are dealing with the same issues whether they are in the church or not.

Last summer we spoke to 25,000 kids at a series of conferences. We asked them to write down their secrets on a card: What are you struggling with? What have you not told anybody? We mixed up the cards in the audience to protect their privacy, and then asked kids to stand up and read what was on the cards. I was blown away every week by what I heard—thoughts of suicide, struggles with drugs, porn, anorexia, kids who were molested. And these were all church kids. We need to hear the truth about what's happening in our churches.

How can pastors begin to hear these stories?

Just ask. I think people are more willing than ever to share. And then put those people in positions to lead. Get the woman that pulled out her hair to run the small group for the other girls that have hurt themselves. Just because you've not struggled with something doesn't mean your church can't address it. It didn't stop me. I was never addicted to porn. I hardly saw it before starting XXXchurch. You need to find people that have those stories and then plug them into your church.

Do you ever think you've crossed a line or you've gone too far?

I don't have any regrets. We've certainly gotten criticized for some of the things we've done, and there are things I wouldn't do again. But there's no roadmap for what we're doing. I'd rather try and make a mistake than not try at all. A friend likes to say, "We'll do anything short of sin to reach people." That's what I believe.

Copyright © 2009 by the author or Christianity Today International/Leadership Journal.

Forty Hour Famine 2009 (Pastor's Notes)

This coming Sunday's Pastor's Notes have been posted up. It is related to the World Vision's Forty hour famine. Glad my church young people keep this as an important part of their calendar every year.

Food crisis facts

BangladeshAround 55 million children around the world suffer from acute malnutrition (ACF-IN and MSF"One Crisis May Hide Another: Food Price Crisis Masked Deadly Malnutrition", 2009)

Around 1.5 million children die annually due to wasting - a severe form of malnutrition caused by acute food shortage and illness (World Health Organisation, 2008)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Reflections and ramblings ... but not fully on "The Silence in the Noise"

It has been a busy week and weekend. Fruitful but tiring. Yesterday's day off was great but I guess to many things have been happening that has thrown me a little off centre. So instead of working on my growing "to do list" I thought a few hours of reflecting and "re-centering" and with it blogging (which is kind of my "journaling") would do me good.

On Sunday I preached on "Can you hear the voice of the Lord?" using Psalm 29 as a launch pad. In response to the sermon received a good word of encouragement and thanks from someone I greatly respect for both his strong grasp of theology and ministry etc which was great. But nothing from anyone else. Not that I feel the need to have people praise my sermons :-) and it could be that it was a "crazy" busy Sunday with new people to talk to, and some quick pastoral encounters etc so there wasn't that much time for people to speak with me. But it did make me wonder about whether my approach to the sermon was helpful to the average church member / attendee.

Basically I was working on varying my approach to try to cater for different types of audiences and not just make the message super clear, as in this is exactly what you need to do or here are 3 examples of what you could do (one of my favourite approaches) and reduce everything down to very simple statements. This time (not to say that I though it was too deep) but I was working on not doing any "spoon feeding". I suppose to rephrase how Ravi Zacharias might put it (not that I am anywhere at his level, mind you), I put the food on the top shelf and it made it harder to reach. The sermon was not so much about "10 steps to hearing God's voice "but more towards "coming to God to worship that we may better know God and respond to his invitation of intimacy that we might hear God's voice and respond with more worship and service".

Side note: One of the workshops I attended at the Kiwi Made preaching forum was "With application, how does the preacher get beyond spoon feeding the text and enable a wrestling with the text?" This is something I am still wrestling with!

Anyway .... the one thing good about being a pastor of a church is that even if there are "bad sermons days" most members would be quite forgiving as that they thankfully do not just judge the pastor thought the lens of how well he preaches. :-)

I guess one reason I am stressed out a bit is that of late I have been having headaches very often. Manageable but pretty irritating and I try not to take pain killers unless I really have to.But I had a good Monday afternoon as I went to see STAR TREK. I know Faith was a tad disappointed that I went to the smaller theatre but to me and Jennifer it was way cool as the cinema for a 1 PM show on a working day is practically empty! Almost like private viewing! I think the producers and directors did a great job of "re-booting" the Star Trek universe. I love how they re-introduced the characters, especially the minor cast members. I especially loved the new Sulu, Chekov and Uhura and Scotty and the way JJ Abrams injected humour in the midst of the fast paced action. I think "Sylar" makes a superb Spock.

I wish that Marvel could have done as good a job with the way they introduced their charaters to the movie audiences.....

Anyway ... back to more serious stuff... Here's chapter 12 from Alex Tang's "Spiritual Formation on the Run" and some of my reflections. (BTW, I hope to blog on chapter 13 in a few weeks as they are closely related .... )

The Silence in the Noise

A legend has it that there was a temple built on an island which held a thousand bells, big and small, fashioned by the finest craftsmen in the world. Whenever the wind blew or a storm raged, all the bells would peal out in a symphony that send the heart of the hearer into raptures.

But over the centuries, the island sank into the sea, and with it, the temple bells. It is said that the bells continued to peal out ceaselessly, and could be heard by anyone who would listen. Inspired by this legend, a young man travelled thousands of miles, determined to hear those bells. He sat for days on the shore, facing the vanished island, and listened with all his might. But all he could hear was the sound of the sea. He made every effort to block it out. But to no avail, the sound of the sea seemed to flood his world.

He kept at his task for weeks. Each time he got disheartened he would listen to the village elders who spoke with passion of the mysterious legend. Then his heart will be aflame... only for him to be discouraged again when weeks of further effort yielded no results.

Finally, he decided to give up. Perhaps he was not destined to hear the bells. Perhaps the legend was not true. It was his final day, and he went to the shore to say goodbye to the sea, the sky, the wind, and the coconut trees. He lay on the sand, and for the first time listened to the sound of the sea. Soon he was so lost in the sound that he was barely conscious of himself, so deep was the silence the sound produced.

In the depth of that silence, he heard it! The twinkle of a tiny bell followed by another, and another, and another.., and soon every one of the thousand temple bells was pealing out in harmony, and his heart was rapt in joyous ecstasy.

This story teaches us two important lessons about listening and awareness. First, all of us have a desire to hear God's voice. We want to hear what he is saying to us. We want him to speak peace and comfort to our trials and tribulations. We have been taught early in our Christian life to set aside time for prayer and Bible reading. We call it the "quiet time.” We are told that if we have our quiet time regularly, we will hear the voice of God. If not audibly, at least we know that he speaks to us in answered prayers or through the Bible passages we read.

Two things can happen with our quiet time. One is that we come too busy and do not have time to pray and read the Bible. Then we feel guilty, and we think we have lost the opportunity to hear God's voice. The other possibility is that we continue faithfully in our prayer and Bible reading, but we find it dry and boring after a while. We also find that we do not hear God speaking to us. We must be aware that God speaks to us in many ways. He speaks to us through Word. He also speaks to us in our prayers, through other people, circumstances and dreams, and in our daily living.

For those of us who are too busy for prayer and Bible reading, aware that God still speaks to us in our busy lives. For those who disciplined in prayer and Bible reading, be careful that we do not try too hard. Like the young man on the beach who tried so hard to hear the bells by consciously shutting out the ocean sounds, we too may try too hard to hear God's voice. In the spiritual life, it is not the effort that counts. Spiritual growth is not something we build, but who we become. Sometimes, we try too hard in our spiritual life. For example, we want to have faith. Now, faith is not something we can create. There is nothing we can do to make us have more faith. Faith is a gift, something that only God can give. The only thing we can do is ask God for it.

Many of us live hectic, busy and noisy lives. A recent scientific study showed that cities have a high level of ambient noise. This level of noise can be disruptive to our well-being if we are exposed to it for too long. The noise can also cause deafness. Yet it is in our hectic, busy and noisy lives that God speaks to us. Unfortunately, many of us are already deaf to him because we have not learnt to embrace the noise until we can hear the silence within. The noisy world is like a weather storm, a typhoon. There is always a centre called the "eye" of the storm. This "eye" is a calm, quiet and peaceful area within the raging storm. We must learn to be aware of the noise around us. We can embrace the noise of the world and move beyond it into the silence within. It is in this silence that we hear the voice of God.

How do we not try too hard, and enter into the silence of our busy and noisy lives? We begin by being aware that God is in our busy and noisy lives. God is not only just present in church on Sunday. We do not leave God behind when we leave the church building after a service. God is not only present in our daily lives, but he is also speaking to us all the time. Speaking to God is prayer and Paul has taught us to pray "unceasingly." This means that it is possible to be speaking and listening to God 24/7. Since God is already with us, there is no need to try too hard to reach him. If possible, set aside some time for him alone; this is your quiet time. If not, listen for him in the happenings of your daily lives. Try to be aware of God's presence and voice in the routine, mundane activities of your daily lives. Catch a glimpse of God in a sunrise, a beautiful flower, a friendly smile, a loving touch, an opportunity to offer help, and an opportunity to receive help. When we become aware of God's presence in our lives, each encounter is dazzling, like a sudden burst of joy. Time seems to stand still. There a deep, warm silence. And in the silence you will hear the voice of God who calls you his beloved. It is possible to hear the harmony of a thousand bells.

BTW this chapter was "coincidentally" related to my last Sunday's sermon. :-) How amazing is that? To me it is, ok? :-)

I have been well aware of the fact for a long time that God speaks to us in that quiet gentle voice when we learn to be silent. Verses like "Be still and know that I am God", powerful episodes like God speaking to Elijah when he was depressed .... It has been a good reminder for me that in the hustle and bustle of life, I need to be aware of the noise around me and find God in the centre . As I reflected on this Psalm 29 added for me an additional perspective - that God can also be found in the noise and chaos! The LORD is in in control of all the "violence" and is Almighty. The more chaotic things are, the more I can be assured that God is still in control! Sounds contradictory I know but .... not sure how to express it :-)

I love to the reminder that I can and should try to catch a glimpse of God in everyday things like a smile, the sunrise etc. For me God blessed me by opening my eyes to something I have always seemed to miss until just a couple of weeks ago. THE RAINBOW! (Yes, I know the colours are wrong :-))

Now everyday I look out for rainbows (as it is the rainy seasons) and almost every day I see rainbows! NZ rainbows are incredible, I must try to carry a camera with me and take one and post it up! In Malaysia, I mostly see small incomplete looking faint faded looking ones. Here they are HUGE and WIDE so clear. I think it must have something to with the better air quality, and the fact that there are more areas where the land is level as well as the very low angle of the sun can be blinding) a few hours after sunrise and before sunset. It's as if the rainbows end is actually touching the ground.

Wow ... long post so I had better end here with this great true story from an old copy of Leadership magazine that has stuck to my mind for 20 years or more now. I can't find the actual original wordings now so excuse me if you have seen it elsewhere. This is my years of retelling of the story, adding my own sensory details :-) ...

Two friends were walking together along one of the busiest streets of New York city, during peak hours when the city was at its busiest and nosiest. As they were walking, one of them (who happened to be a Native American Indian ... a Sioux I think) suddenly stopped, grabbed his friend's hand and said, "Hey, wait, I hear a cricket!" His friend (sorry it is the white guy!) looked at his friend with disbelief and said, "You can hear a cricket? Here in the middle of the busiest street in NY city?" You got to be crazy. There's no a cricket here and even if there was, there's no way you can hear a cricket in the midst of all this noise. Why we can barely hear each other talking!"

His friend, unperturbed responds, "There is a cricket somewhere here. I tell you, I can hear it." He stops, listens intently and then with his friend moves towards a street light where there is a small plant next to it. They both bend down to look and to the amazement of his friend, there it was, a small cricket!

His friend looks at him with amazement and asks, How could you hear that tiny cricket in the midst of all this noise?" His Native American Indian friend looks at him with a smile and says, "You can if you ears are tuned to listen for such sounds." And then he continues, "Let me show you something". He puts his had in his pocket and takes out some loose change. Then he deliberately opens his hand and lets the coins drop. And immediately the people hurrying in the streets to get to their destinations, instinctively stop and their all eyes turn towards the sound of the coins hitting the pavement.

The man turns to his friend with a smile and says, "Despite their busyness and all the noise, people stopped and looked. It all depends on what our ears are tuned to listen for."

Friday, May 15, 2009

Wow, 2Timothy 2:2 - a response to a Grace@work commentary

Another great piece by Soo Inn. This is my first re-posting of any of his e-commentaries in my new blog (now that I have closed down my Multiply blog) so a quick promo ...

1. He is a great guy - genuine and down to earth (though some may think too "down to earth"! :-) )
2. I consider him a mentor and I miss our sessions as part of a mentoring triad.
3. I am a financial supporter of grace@work and I do commend it
4. He makes a lot of sense

Ok, some additional comments. While I am seeking to see how I can "formally" work at developing leaders as well as be developed as a leader, I think the reality is that most of leadership development (also called disciple-making for the more spiritually / biblically inclined :-)) happens informally ... as a natural part of trying to living our lives honestly by the grace of God.

I am so glad for this as a wise man commented (and then prayed) on Sunday something along the line of "God has raised up leaders" and that "leadership development is happening!" Made me think hard as the comment was in response to my concern about so many up and coming leaders moving away due to the work related issues. And of course with it the seemingly shrinking pool of leaders, and my trying hard to figure out how to implement a leadership development programme to help those who are already serving.

For the curious ... the wise man is Dr. (Uncle) Max Liddle, my church's former pastor. :-) And yes, he is right as through the lives of people looking out for each other, praying for each other, encouraging each other etc, leadership development / discipleship is taking place in a real way as God pours out His grace through our lives. Amazing.... and I too am being "mentored" in the process by a godly older man's insights and walk with God.

Ok,. enough rambling ... over to Dr. Rev Tan Soo Inn ...

May 15th, 2009 Edition.
This ecommentary is sent out free but your donations help this ministry in
its commitment to bring truth to life. Details below.
(Grace@Work Mail is a ministry of Graceworks:

Commentary: Wow, 2Timothy 2:2
By Soo-Inn Tan

Last weekend, I met two key leaders at the church where I gave a
seminar. One was on staff, the youth pastor. The other was a lay leader.
They both shared that their lives had been impacted by a guy named
Nick. I first met Nick more than twenty years ago. He was in engineering
school. I was pursuing theological studies at Regent College (Vancouver).
We worshipped in the same church. I haven't seen him since. Last
Monday I asked him to take Bernice and me to the best congee place in

In the years that we had not seen each other, Nick had graduated and
worked as an engineer. He had also gone on to do a Master in
engineering. Somewhere along the way the Lord nudged him in the
direction of a church-related vocation. He too went to Regent and has
been ministering as a pastor since.

As we chatted, he told me how I had impacted his life. He remembered
that I was feverishly trying to finish my master's thesis, but that
whenever he contacted me, I made time for him. This is how he put it in a
recent email: "I hope you remember me ... the kid who used to interrupt
your Regent thesis writing with teenager issues." Truth is, I can't, I can't
remember the times we chatted. I remember Nick of course but I can't
remember the conversations that had meant so much to him. It has been
too long and too much has happened.

My friends in the Navigators and others, see 2 Timothy 2:2 as a key
programmatic verse for their ministry:

[And the things you heard me say in the presence of many witnesses
entrust to reliable people who will also be qualified to teach others.

My present visit to Vancouver allowed me to catch another glimpse of the
truth of this verse. I guess some time has to pass before you are able to
see the truth of this principle in action. In my case more than two decades
had to pass before I had the delight of meeting these two key individuals
in God's kingdom who had been influenced by someone I had influenced.
There are some benefits from growing older. But let me quickly say two

One, I am who I am today because others had invested their lives in me.
I am in Vancouver at the invitation of Dr Ward Gasque. He was my thesis
supervisor for that same thesis I was feverishly trying to finish all those
years ago. I remembered that we had all our consultations over pizza and
cider and Italian ice cream. After each session I had to go home to take a
nap. But Ward was an excellent teacher and thesis supervisor. He taught
me key lessons about the New Testament. But he also taught me about
life. In particular he taught me about friendship.

In the years since I left Regent, Ward has kept in touch and has
encouraged me through some of the toughest times of my life. He has
gone to bat on my behalf many, many times. I am glad for any
opportunity to work with him. I owe him. I need to make it clear to Nick
that if I had blessed him, I was only passing forward what I had received
from Ward and from many others.

The second thing I need to say is that I made time for Nick, not as an
expression of any intentional discipling programme. Nick was a friend.
And we make time for our friends. Now I am all for discipling
programmes, but much of life cannot be programmed. As Nick puts it in
his testimony, "Unlike my prior work as an engineer, I have learnt that
encounters with God cannot be engineered. Genuine experiences of God
are His doing." The same can be said about encounters with people.

I cannot take any credit for intentionally discipling Nick, choosing him
because of some foreknowledge of how he would turn out, and that he
would go on to disciple others. We cannot engineer a disciple. Perhaps we
should follow Paul and take our metaphors for discipling from the world of
agriculture rather than from the world of technique.

[What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through
whom you came to believe --- as the Lord has assigned to each his task. 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. (1Corinthians 3:5-7 TNIV)]

In blessing the people that God puts in our way, we plant seeds, but only
God knows how those seeds will grow. Indeed, only God can grow a life.
But we have the privilege of being God's coworkers (1Corinthians 3:9)
and sometimes that means putting aside your thesis to listen to a
teenager with teenager issues.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

May "Catch up" ramblings

Haven't been blogging much of late as I have been busy and fell sick. It's been two days now since I caught some bug. Headaches, nausea, vertigo, vomiting and diarrhea. Miserable two days but feeling much better now. Just headaches and diarrhea now.

Mothers Day was nice despite being a busy day. Preached the Mothers Day sermon and then we had a finger food lunch prepared by fathers and children. Mothers were not allowed to cook or bring food, or clean up etc. There was a lot of food and I was pleasantly surprised at the variety and how enthusiastic everyone was. Some of the food was prepared and cooked by young children and it was very good. My experimental curry puffs was well received despite the weird sizes and shapes. LOL Duh! Don't know why I never thought of cutting the pastry into circles!! :-( Oh well, next time ...

After lunch was our overdue church leadership committee meeting. Then home for a short rest and early dinner (Malaysian food at our favourite Malaysian restaurant) and then off for a youth teachers / leaders meeting.

Monday I went for a minor op. (Don't ask! :-)) so I took two days off to recover and relax ... and of course had to catch some kind of stomach bug which ruined my R & R. *sigh* It happens :-(
At least I wasn't as miserable as when I was at Langkawi and got so sea sick on the ferry and platform that I threw up a record 21 times. Yes I counted as it was one of the things I did to try and keep sane and not spoil everyone else's holiday...

Andrew is learning about learning to deal the "poilitcs' of working life. Good life lessons ... as we believe he was taken advantage of (i.e. cheated) by his immediate boss. Hopefully he will be bale to settle the matters tomorrow. And I think it is great that he is learning about some of the challenges of leadership as a youth leader. A lot to do and he will have to learn to lean on God.

Not sure about how much time I have to blog ovet the next week or so. A lot to do. Preaching the next 3 Sundays, a few important extra matters to handle in addition to my usual responsibilities. But am looking forward to the challenges. Will be preaching the Sunday sermon at another church too for the first time in 2 weeks so that too will be a new experience to look foward to. Am blocking out Tuesday nights too as a ministry free night which I think is a good thing to do. This is one way to make sure I get in some R & R.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Ramblings on Kiwi Made Preaching Forum - 5

First a joke (From Reader's Digest) to set the mood (and NO, it wasn't told in the seminar... )

During his children's sermon, our assistant pastor asked the kids, "What is gray, has a bushy tail, and gathers nuts in the fall?"

One five-year-old raised his hand. "I know the answer should be Jesus," he began, "but it sounds like a squirrel to me."

One workshop I attended and enjoyed was by Mark Strom, Principal of Laidlaw College (formerly Bible College of New Zealand). The title: "Must every sermon from the Bible find its way back to Jesus?"

Bottom line, Mark says YES. Some reasons(I may be paraphrasing ...):

1. Because what is distinctive about Christianity is Jesus!
2. From the perspective of the NT writers ... "To whom else would we go!!"
3. Good news is Jesus and Jesus alone!
4. Fundamental good news is the "resurrection of Jesus"
5. The whole OT is screaming out for a resolution - and that resolution is Jesus!

He is an impressive speaker as he has notes but doesn't seem to need them and he can just go on and on and on and I still want more.

The big problem he feels is that many preachers do not see how the big story of Jesus fits into the whole of the biblical narrative. .. hence he thinks many sermons fall really short because they kn the end kind of try to append Jesus to the end of a sermon and it seems very strained and doe not fit. Hmmm...

He gave an example of OT Christocentric preaching by telling the story of Saul and David ... bottom line he compares the kings to the ultimate King .. Jesus and see how they fall short. Interesting. ... He seems to indicate that he cannot accept any other theme as significant / the main point.

Hebrews is an example of how OT is re-examined from the lenses and template of Jesus (I agree this is clear!)

For him, any attribute of God in the Psalms can be best seen in Jesus.

Food for thought. In many ways I agree with him as I do see (Thanks to Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart) how OT has many levels of story and that Israel and God is always in the "background context" even if it is not overtly mentioned.

But still, now as I work on a sermon (Psalm 29) I am trying to see how these insights ought to work out and help me be even more focused in my sermon content and delivery.

But one other comment that he made (probably off the cuff) struck me and I had to ask him afterwards what he meant. He said "NZ Christianity is pragmatic, superstitious and has very little understanding of the Gospel!" (BTW he is an "Ozzie" ) and has been at Laidlaw for I think less than 3 years ... around the same time as me :-)

I think it is not just NZ Christianity's problem but in many countries as well ...

Political madness in Perak

This is so sad ... don't know what to say except pray for Malaysia, especially Perak ... and God have mercy!

Anthony Lokes' blog has a compilation of reports. Read them yourself if interested.

Here's a video (thanks Sivin)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Egypt's Swine Destruction Threatens Coptic-Run Industry

This is so sad. ...

ASSIST News Service (ANS) - PO Box 609, Lake Forest, CA 92609-0609 USA
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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Egypt's Swine Destruction Threatens Coptic-Run Industry
Government vows to continue slaughter in spite of international criticism

By Jeremy Reynalds
Correspondent for ASSIST News Service

CAIRO, EGYPT (ANS) -- Authorities yesterday pressed ahead with the slaughter of Egypt's pigs - crippling the livelihood of thousands of swine breeders, nearly all Coptic Christians - in spite of World Health Organization (WHO) criticism that the measure was unnecessary for fighting the A(H1-N1) flu strain.

According to a story by Compass Direct News Service, no cases of the so-called "swine flu" have been reported in Egypt, but the government last week ordered the slaughter of the country's pigs as a precautionary measure, which Copts saw as an attack on the minority Christian population.

After WHO criticized the move as unnecessary, the government rebranded the slaughter as "a general public health measure."

Egyptian human rights lawyer Nadia Tawfiq told Compass the pig slaughter was a form of attack on Christians.

"All of that business is Christian," she said. "You know that for Muslims, the devil is in the pig."

Compass said between 300 and 400 residents of the Manshiyat Nasr area of Cairo, nearly all of them Coptic, took to the streets on May 3 and set up blockades to try to keep government teams from removing their animals. The protest took place in an area where mostly Coptic Christian scrap merchants known as zabaleen raise pigs to eke out a living.

The protesters threw stones and bottles at riot police, who reportedly responded with rubber bullets and tear gas. Eight protesters were reportedly hurt, including two who were injured as police dragged them away.

Compass reported that about 250,000 mainly poor Christians in Cairo reportedly make their living from collecting garbage and raising pigs in slum areas.

Compass said the government's decision to destroy as many as 400,000 pigs was also criticized by the United Nations as being basically unnecessary,. This fueled speculation that the directive was motivated by the Islamic prohibition of pig consumption and that Egypt's pork industry is run almost entirely by Copts.

"They were not so radical against the birds (during the bird flu scare) as they are now against the pigs," said the president of the Society for the Protection of Animal Rights Egypt, Amina Abaza. "We would like to ask them, 'Why?' Is there a special reason?"

Compass said a U.S.-based Coptic rights group has condemned the slaughter as a deliberate targeting of defenseless Christians, and a continuation of a long campaign of discrimination against the Coptic community.

"Destroying these families' livelihood without proper compensation is a clear example of discrimination and a violation of human rights, because it directly threatens the existence of an already impoverished population," the Coptic Assembly of America said in a press statement.

Copts make up 10 to 12 percent of Egypt's population, and although the community comprises some of Cairo's richest residents, it also includes some of the nation's poorest.

Compass said those in the pig industry say that the slaughter cannot be justified on health grounds. They say their livestock are healthy and pose no health threat.

"Health comes first, absolutely," said Helena Morcos of Morcos Charcuteries, a delicatessen with four branches in Cairo and its own small breeding farm. "Health comes before business, money, everything. If it had been proven there was a danger with the pigs, we would have slaughtered them readily."

Animal rights activist Abaza, who is a Muslim, said she has no qualms about protecting pigs and knows like minded people who are willing to help.

"Why are we so eager to destroy such a fortune and the people who live with their pigs?" Compass reported she said. "I think we should give them a chance to raise their pigs in better circumstances with better food. I even have persons who are ready to pay for this, and I am one of them."

Ripple Effect

Compass reported the government has denied that the swine slaughter is related to Muslim prohibitions against pork, saying that more hygienic pig farming will begin in two years using imported animals.

Confusion over proposed compensation for the slaughtered swine was compounded by the sentiment that any amount would not equal the sustained livelihood that breeding pigs provides.

Compass said the state-run Al-Ahram newspaper suggested that pig owners would receive 1,000 Egyptian pounds (US$180) per head, but there were varying reports about how much the government would actually pay and under what conditions.

"I called the chief vet, and he said they were paying 100 pounds (US$18) for a mature pig, and 50 (US$9) for a baby," said Abaza. "The real cost of a mature animal is 1,000 Egyptian pounds, so look at the loss."

Compass said Egypt's agricultural minister has suggested that meat from butchered pigs could be sold, thus rendering compensation unnecessary. This idea is impractical, said pig breeder and delicatessen owner Morcos.

"We are not well experienced in freezing this large an amount of meat," said Morcos. "We are not sure if many storage houses would agree to rent space for the storage of pork."

Compass said as pigs are considered "unclean" in Islam, finding that freezer space outside of the Christian community might be hard work. Were this possible, there would still be the problem of a saturated meat market and the resulting fall in profits.

Egyptian officials have begun killing hundreds of pigs and say that they will continue the slaughter in spite of international criticism, including WHO's statement that pork is safe to eat.

Compass reported that Girgis Youssef Boulis, head of pork producer Ramsis Meats, told the Associated Press that the slaughter will result in layoffs in the largely Christian-run industry, affecting the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands farmers, producers and meat delivery drivers, among other industry workers.

Although the pig keepers will feel the effects of the slaughter most keenly, Morcos told Compass that businesses such as hers, which offers a wide range of pork products, will also suffer.

"How is this affecting us?" said Morcos. "It could ruin our business."

Jeremy Reynalds is a freelance writer and the founder and CEO of Joy Junction, New Mexico's largest emergency homeless shelter, He has a master's degree in communication from the University of New Mexico, and a Ph.D. in intercultural education from Biola University in Los Angeles. His newest book is "The Face of Homelessness." Additional details are available at Reynalds' latest book is "We All Need a Little Help." It was released on October 3 2008. He lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. For more information contact: Jeremy Reynalds at Tel: (505) 400-7145.