Wednesday, September 30, 2009

If Your Feet Are Still Dry...Pray

TIME (Mike Alquinto / AP Photo)

Please pray for the millions of Filipinos who have been affected by the tropical storm Ketsana:
1. Pray for those who are incharge (civil defence authorities)- that appropriate decisions and action made in a timely manner.
2.  Pray for provision for the victims - food, clean water, shelter.
3.  Pray for protection for the people from sickness.
4.  Pray for salvation - that the lost souls would find their way to God through this calamity.
5.  Praise God for we know that He has a purpose in this crisis.

O LORD, I call to you; come quickly to me.
Hear my voice when I call to you.
May my prayer be set before you like incense;
may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.
Psalm 141:1-3

Thank you and may God our Lord look upon you with pleasure. 

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Whose Favor Matters*

"... Esther won the favor of everybody who saw her". Esther 2:15

Favor, the preferential treatment or approval from others, is something that humans all long to have. Regardless of personality differences, every person aspire to have the approval of someone for various reasons. It could be of an employer, neighbor, relative, acquaintance, classmate, churchmate or even an enemy. There are two questions that are worth asking regarding this matter: 1) Is favor free? 2) Who gets it?

It appears that favor is a prize that is bestowed to someone who deserves it. How one deserves favor is totally dependent on the one who gives the favor. The requirements or criteria are completely under the control of the giver. It hangs above the head of everyone and it remains suspended until the one who holds it decides to grant it. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, one could say that favor rests in the heart of the giver. A number of stories are based around this same basic idea. Cinderella won the favor of the prince but how much effort did she invest to gain such profit?
Often times people work hard to gain favor. On the other hand, favor that has been previously granted can be revoked without prior notice. We see it all the time in all sorts of relationships, like in marriages ending in divorce and friendships in break-ups. Couples who are so in love see each others characters and then decide to be with each other all the time. They even go to the extent of spending a lot of money in order for them to celebrate a promise that they give to each other (called wedding). This promise basically says, "You will have my favor above anyone else no matter what!" Very touching! However, there is one problem. People change and often the original basis of approval is gone. This commodity called favor is very volatile. It dissipates in the air and the promise is nullified and forgotten. All too painful.

"Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ." Galatians 1:10

Seeking the approval of men seems like a difficult job and yet there is no assurance of keeping that favor. God's favor is based on His character not ours. He loves us because He is love. To rely on that love is to please Him and to please Him is obey Him. Esther could not have done anything to win the favor of King Xerxes and the people of Persia. If he was looking for a trophy wife, Queen Vashti was The beauty Queen! Esther, however, choose to win the favor of God. She was not afraid of the consequences to break the King's orders in favor of doing what is right. She said, "If I die, then I die." In the end, everything falls into place according to God's good plans for her and her people.

A life that is focussed on chasing the aproval of men is a stressful life. A life that seeks to win the favor of God is a life worth living.
*This is adapted from an older post in my other blog - Helen's blog.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Calaveras Big Trees

Every young child wished they were older so that they would partake in the privileges of the grown-ups.  Days go on and they reach the maturity that they once dreamt.  Yes, the ideal age of beauty, freedom and vigour.  Absent from the dream are the pressure and stresses in life as one garners independence and survival.  Before they know it, these children begin to age - age beyond the ideal.  Vigour, beauty, and independence are running away.  Then the ugly and unnecessary battle against ageing begins. 

Life on this earth can be meaningless, a chasing after the wind (Ecclesiastes 2).  We need to learn to appreaciate the power and grace of our Creator more than the things that we can do.  Our works and efforts to change the value of our life is all meaningless, a chasing after the wind.  God is the ultimate source of our happiness and the determiner of the kind of life we all have.

I'd like to digress and point out the relationship between plants and the gardener.  Plants come in different kinds.  Potentially, some live to last two months, a year, two years, and still some 200 years.  All of which has the chance to get eaten by a worm when they are still a young succulent seedling, a chance to be infested with a virus that would distort their appearance, a chance to be trampled, and a chance to be shaded by a competing weed.  Beyond all the mechanisms that a plant can do to fight for its survival and success, however, the gardener will decide whether to protect,  water,  prune, or rogue his plants.  

  "Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these". - Luke 12:27

Song -  "Grandmother" by Rebecca Pidgeon,

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Beauty in Being Different

She was different.  She did not conform.  She broke tradition.  Esther was not like any of the candidates who competed for the throne to be queen to King Xerxes.  In a world where excess was equalled to accomplishment, she presented herself as a minimalist.  After a year of beauty treatment, right when it was her turn to be presented to the king, she could have all the jewelry to adorn her.  Instead she relied on her inherent beauty that shows well regardless of treatments or decorations.  The scripture says that Esther won the favor of everyone who saw her and later on captured the heart of the King.   For someone to capture the approval of both the king and the masses,  I can only imagine that she combined superiority and humility in one person. 

In our modern society, superiority are often measured by the things that are visible.  We are carried away by the lie that beauty comes with the cosmetics that we layer on our faces.  We enslave ourselves to the lie that class is synonymous with expensive clothing, that our image is stamped with the insignia on the car we drive.  Furthermore, we believe that we gain the favor of everyone when we are all this made up. 

Real beauty comes from within.  Complexion eventually changes it's name to Wrinkles but the beauty that comes from the heart is forever beautiful and superior in the eyes of God.  Real beauty is clothed in humility while the beauty that fades sports pride.  If you are truly beautiful you proclaim to the rest of the world, "You matter" (instead of "I matter").  Only then will you win the favor of everyone who sees you.  It seems simple but it involves a change of heart.

Esther was different...beautifully different.  She changed the world around her because she was willing to be different.

Video:  Think Different by Apple Computer Inc.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Calling all Beth Moore Fans

Beth Moore maintains a blog where she along with her daughters collectively feed it.  Here you will find cute, crazy, and beautiful pictures.  You will get tidbits of information about her family including grandchildren, their trips, food they eat, toilet paper they buy, and just about everything everyday-mundane stuff.  The one thing that she does not include there are serious matters like answering your deepest question about God.  I think she saves those ideas for her next book.

Check out her blog, she might inspire you!  She already inspired me to make her Beth Moore's Texas Sheet Cake.  Nancy Bagdanov saw it first and she copied the recipe onto my FB.  I'll let you know what happens today when I try it.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Opening the Megillah

Today our study of the Megillah began.  In Hebrew, megillah means a scroll containing religious writings.  To the Jews it refers to the biblical narrative of the book of Esther which is read publicly in its entirety during the festival of Purim.  Still colloquially, megillah means a long, boring tediously detailed or embroidered account.

We listened to Beth Moore (BM) give the introductory spiel.  Basically she described the uniqueness of the book compared to the other books in the bible. 

1) absence of any reference to God   The entire book of Esther make no mention of God.  BM spent a big chunk of the hour trying to make her point that there are times in someone's life (herself as example) when God is absent.  BM seemed to indicate that when God came back to her she was all energized and bouncing again.  The fact that God is not mentioned in the book does not mean that God was not present. He was standing from a distance waiting for the right time to intervene.  Mother Theresa once described a time of "spiritual dryness" in her own life, when God seemed distant.  It is interesting to find out that she only had a brief period when she felt that God was always very close to her yet she carried out all her ministries just the same till she died. 

2) title bears a woman's name   BM contrasted Esther with the book of Ruth by the type of cross-cultural marriage in the story.  Ruth was a Moabitess (gentile) who married a Boaz, who was a Jew.  The case of Esther was the other way around.  Esther was a Jew,  who lived incognito in Persia, married to Xerxes, a Persian king.  In this section, BM talked or joked a lot about "hormones, and "estrogen" (which I didn't particularly appreciate).  I wished that she emphasized the roles of the male characters in the story in bringing out the true character of the woman Esther.  There was Mordecai, Xerxes, Memucan(Haman) who made all the drama in the story.  Esther did what she did, not because of her fluctuating hormones but because she was triggered by the evil deeds of one man (Haman).  She was placed in high position not because of her estrogen level but due to the pride of another man (Xerxes).  She choose to risk her life because she trusted her wise guardian (Mordecai) and she cared for her own people.  I guess BM will discuss all of these during the course of the study. 

3) God-ordained emphasis on human responsibility  I didn't seem get a lot from her third point.  BM was quoting the Word Biblical Commentary a lot that she lost me.

I look forward to doing this bible study and listening to BM some more.  She indicated that "we are going to be dangerous women for the kingdom of God" by the time we're done with this megillah.  Hmmm... I wonder what she means.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Xerxes and Memucan

Inspite of his great anger and fury regarding Queen Vashti's insubordination, King Xerxes followed the proper protocol which is to consult his advisers. His advisory board is composed of the seven greatest nobles of Persia and Mede. 

He asked a direct question "According to the law, what should be done to Queen Vashti?"  He also described the action accurately, "She has not obeyed the command of King Xerxes that the eunuchs have taken to her." On all parameters, King Xerxes was politically correct. 

 Although it is not explicitely stated in the bible, it is generally accepted that Memucan is the same as Haman.  Memucan, who appeared to be the voice of the advisory board, did not match the directness of the question with his answer.  Instead he came back with his interpretation of Vashti's action. "Queen Vashti has done wrong, not only against the king but also against all the nobles and the peoples of all the provinces of King Xerxes." He also extrapolated his own interpretation. "For the queen's conduct will become known to all the women, and so they will despise their husbands... This very day the Persian and Median women of the nobility who have heard about the queen's conduct will respond to all the king's nobles in the same way.  There will be no end of disrespect and discord."   Can you say he's politicizing? This statements definitely aggrevates any attitude that was there originally.  This did not only add insult to injury but he also tried to get the vote of all the nobles in the advisory board and the sympathy of men in the land towards the proposal that he is about to state. 

Sometimes we get into the shoes of King Xerxes.  When things are not going right, we consult our trusted friends or family.  We go to them for advise, clarity, and confirmation on things that we already have thought.  Other times we are in distress that we just need someone to listen to us and not give us any advise.  Just like King Xerxes, instead of feeling better, we come out from that session with our ears and nostrils fuming with smoke.  When we feel helpless it is much better to seek God for guidance.  Later in the book when Queen Esther appeared in his presence without invitation, he did not ask Memucan (Haman) what to do.  Instead he trusted his own judgement and did what he believed was right. 

Sometimes we are Memucan.  The one who would dispense the elixir to our friend's problems.  In our desire to make our friend feel better we fuel their anger.  We feel as though we need to say something when in fact "Xerxes" just need to download.  I've thought about this and I came to the conclusion that the best way to help "Xerxes" is to alleviate his own emotions towards the problem.  He has control over his attitude and a friend can help.  The rest of the matter will be better resolved when anger is no longer part of the issue.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Xerxes & Vashti

King Xerxes and Queen Vashti were the royal couple of the land that stretched from India to Ethiopia (486-465 BC). He was king and military leader.  For a wife he had the most beautiful girl in the land. Vashti herself was of royal descent, being the daughter of Belchazzar, the last king of Babylon.  She was a young princess when Darius captured her during the Persians and Mede invasion of Babylon.  Darius later presented her to Xerxes, his son, to marry.
Excessive Wealth and Generosity  His empire was undoubtedly wealthy, or perhaps, doubtfully wealthy, since he felt the need to show off.  It took him about six months.  This must be a stressful exercise, always on display, knowing that there is always a chance for guests to see something that needs improvement.  Xerxes was probably extremely insecure, since it seems he had to prove his greatness.  

 "For a full 180 days he displayed the vast wealth of his kingdom and the splendor and glory of his majesty.  When these days were over, the king gave a banquet, lasting seven days, in the enclosed garden of the king's palace, for all the people from the least to the greatest, who were in the citadel of Susa.  The garden had hangings of white and blue linen, fastened with cords of white linen and purple material to silver rings on marble pillars. There were couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl and other costly stones. Wine was served in goblets of gold, each one different from the other, and the royal wine was abundant, in keeping with the king's liberality. By the king's command each guest was allowed to drink in his own way, for the king instructed all the wine stewards to serve each man what he wished."

After a long display of his wealth and glory, Xerxes opened a  week-long banguet in the garden.  This was not the time to go on a diet!  Every guest was allowed to have what ever he desired.  At the end of this period of royal partying, Xerxes decided to surprise his guests with his grand finale.  Vashti, his beautiful wife, was not in the mood to cooperate with him.  It was a humilition that Xerxes was not going to bear.

"On the seventh day, when King Xerxes was in high spirits from wine, he commanded the seven eunuchs who served him—Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar and Carcas- to bring before him Queen Vashti, wearing her royal crown, in order to display her beauty to the people and nobles, for she was lovely to look at.  But when the attendants delivered the king's command, Queen Vashti refused to come. Then the king became furious and burned with anger."

Vashti refused the king of the land, her husband. Kings ought to be honored by their subjects and husbands by their spouses. Vashi is doubly guilty.  No one knows the reason for Vashti's refusal to obey Xerxes. There is only speculation.  The Veggie Tales movie, "Esther, the Girl Who Became Queen,"  indicates that he asked her to make a sandwich in the middle of the night.  The movie, "One Night with the King" suggest that she is anti-war and he is pro-war.  What was the real reason?  Could it be that Vashti has always been an arrogant and strong-willed girl? Since this is happening during the third year of his reign as king, they must have been married about five to seven years.  If Xerxes has managed to survive living with her all those years then something changed. Could it also be that Xerxes has always been an unreasonable husband?  If so then Vashti must have been a patient and devoted wife.  But why did she ignore his order now?  Or, if Xerxes was a good husband and king, why did he make an unexpectedly unreasonable order this time? 

Vashti: Wife  From a marital point of view, she should have obeyed him and went out to present herself to the most enthusiastic and intoxicated audience. Wives are admonished to submit to their husbands out of respect.

 Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. (Ephesians 5:22-24)

What went wrong?  Vashti, being a king's daughter, is no doubt educated and proper.  It would be right to assume that her choices were carefully considered before she would make them public.  She would know not to publicly show any hint of disrespect to Xerxes.

Xerxes: Husband  Along with his guests, he was in high spirits - in other words, severely drunk.  Some scholars think that he actually asked Vashti to come out with nothing but the royal crown!  Surely, he was the head of the marriage but such action do not show love.  Husbands are called to love the wife as they love themselves and to present their wives without imperfection and shame.  If the speculation is accurate, then Xerxes can take the blame for his wife's refusal. 

"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself." (Ephesians 5:25-28)

The Real Authority 

Vashti, just like Esther, was faced with a decision to follow the exception.  They both had to face the consequences of such decision. Queen Vashti’s story was not as fortunate as Esther’s but I believe that both stories were part of God's plan.  
Xerxes was the authority that was placed above Vashti.  He was also the one who should love and lay his own life for her welfare.  There is an authority that rules above and beyond the authority of a husband or king--the King of Kings, who rules with love and justice. When forced to choose--when authorities are in conflict--we are called to choose and respond so that the name of this Great King will not be stained. 

Friday, September 4, 2009

Sticky Ideas

Duct tape on a book cover? Tim Lewis, my husband, was reading "Made to Stick" by Chip Heath and Dan Heath and he commented later that it was an interesting book. I asked him to write a brief summary of the book for this blog. Tim writes the following as he brings home some grains from the book:
"A lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on." Charles Spurgeon on[1]
Why is it that "lies, urban legends, conspiracy theories and bogus public-health scares circulate effortlessly" while important ideas seem to struggle?
To what reason do we attribute the difference in the spread of the two types of messages? Is it the message it self? Is it the speaker ? Is it the hearer? Chip and Dave Heath in their book, "Made to Stick" [2], analyze the reasons for certain ideas, and more specifically, reasons for presentation of certain ideas make them more likely to "stick" in our minds. They give several explanations and examples to demonstrate those reasons. In summary, they identify six key characteristics of such ideas and they dedicated a chapter to each of these.

1. Simple This is finding the core of our idea which means "stripping an idea down to its most critical essence." How long do you have to speak before they get your idea?

2. Unexpected How do you generate curiosity and interest? When your idea is predictable you will loose their interest before you get your idea across. “The most basic way to get someone’s attention is this: Break a pattern. Humans adapt incredibly quickly to consistent patterns. Our brain is designed to be keenly aware of changes." (pp. 64, 65)

3. Concrete Make your ideas clear. Use concrete images when describing your idea like a flat-screen television, red rose, oak table, or a real person with a name. Our brains remember those things. Concepts that are already established are more readily remembered than those that are abstract.

4. Credible Make your ideas believable. Very few people will entertain ideas that are not accurate. “How do we get people to believe our ideas? We’ve got to find a source of credibility to draw on. A person’s knowledge of details is often a good proxy for her expertise. Think of how a history buff can quickly establish her credibility by telling an interesting Civil War anecdote. But concrete details don’t just lend credibility to the authorities who provide them; they lend credibility to the idea itself.” (pp. 138, 163)

5. Emotional Get people to care about you ideas. Make them feel something. Bridge the gap between your idea and the things that they already are passionate or care about. These are "strategies for making people care: using associations (or avoiding associations, as the case may be), appealing to self-interest, and appealing to identity. All three strategies can be effective but we've got to watch out for our old nemesis, The Curse of Knowledge, which interferes with our ability to implement them." (p. 199) Once we know something so well, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it. So we tend to talk in ways that assume that the other person has already taken all of the mental steps that we have taken.

Imagine tapping out the rhythm of a song with your fingers on a table and trying to get someone else guess what song you are tapping? It is extremely frustrating because you can already hear the song in your head, but the other person just can't seem to get it. That is the "Curse of Knowledge". Scientists for example, spend so much time working and discussing with fellow scholars about a subject matter that they can't imagine an audience that doesn't know. Frustrating for them! Frustrating for the audience!

My wife Helen was coached, when presenting her research work to "assume that they don't know what you know." Listeners need to take the journey from where they are now to where they need to be.

Pastors may also fall into this trap when preparing a sermon. They spend hours and hours poring over the text and thinking about the deep ideas. Then, on Sunday morning, they are confronted with the congregation and they must now help those folks make the same journey. But because the pastor has been changed by his study and meditations, he can easily forget how it is for those listening. This is "The Curse of Knowledge" and generates blank stares, boredom, and doodling.

6. Stories Convey your idea through a story. "Stories have the amazing dual power to simulate and inspire." (p.237) Jesus told many stories to convey spiritual realities, because the drama inherent in the story pulled people towards the conclusion Jesus wanted them to read.

To test "stickiness", go back to the gospels and watch Jesus in his parables. Take the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10). It had one simple point: Who is your neighbor? It was unexpected: The Samaritan, the "undesirable", is the good guy! It was concrete: the road to Jericho, the bandits, the coins, the salve-they were everyday items. It was credible: people recognized Jesus as rabbi and the situation was plausible. It was emotional: the traveler's plight. And, of course, it was a great story. It was sticky.

Now try a more recent story: Susan Boyle, the surprising voice talent. But look at her story and how it invaded a household that never turns on an "Idol" or "Talent" TV show. I heard about Susan Boyle two days after her performance through an email sent by a church mate which prompted me to check out a YouTube clip. The story was simple - local woman hits it big. Her performance was unexpected because she didn't fit the stereotype of the silky voiced diva; flummoxing Simon Cowell who is normally so quick to snipe at contestants. The emotion of the underdog who surprises a nation. That story drew many of us in for a few weeks as we watched the drama to see if this Cinderella story could last.

We are ambassadors of the gospel. But it is tossed like junk mail when we take the message of God and hide the significance by the way we talk. Paul even killed someone with his preaching (Acts 20:7-11) and God had to perform a miracle. That's why he prayed: "Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me.." (Ephesians 6:19) How to make the gospel stick? Knowing and idea is half, but showing is the other half.

Make your ideas stick for God.

[1] Sermon preached April 1st, 1855.
[2] "Made To Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die", Chip Heath and Dan Heath (Random House, 2007)