Thursday, June 3, 2010

Friday, January 22, 2010

RBS: Basic Beliefs & Apologetics

Thank you so much for being part of the Basic Beliefs & Apologetics class. I hope you found the discussions helpful. Do continue to grow in your journey as thinkers after God's heart and mind.

Below are some links to some of the topics we discussed - please review them and think through the questions you have:
Recommended websites:
You are absolutely encouraged to post comments, ask questions, share your thoughts, etc. Also, don't forget the "Are You A Heretic?!" quiz!

In His Warmth,
Alwyn Lau
p.s.: This blog was discontinued, but for your sake I'm opening for this post alone!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

My Decade That Was (Final Upload)

10 years. Many memorable moments and phases. Here are mine:

  • Meeting my wife-to-be, Chrissie, whilst working on a project at Malaysian National Insurance (2000)
  • Climbing Mount Kinabalu and walking like a crab for days after that (2000)
  • Getting a job in Singapore and living half a year in a hotel (2001), something repeated the following year in Jakarta
  • Seeing the North - the first - Tower collapse and not believing it (2001)
  • Doing a Bachelor of Divinity part-time and (finally!) putting all those books to use (2001-2004)
  • Starting a part-time stint at Malaysian Care (2002)
  • Staying in Jakarta for 5-6 months on a banking project (2002) and resigning by accident(!)
  • Holding my grandmother's hand as she breathed her last (2002); my maternal grand-mum would also leave us 2 months later
  • Preaching my first ever sermon, something on Jesus, the paralytic and his mission-impossible-minded pals (2003)
  • Getting married and going through the whole 'wedding planning' project cum headache cum joyride cum celebration (2003); I guessed I'm still amazed how Chrissie can 'stand' me after about 7 years (smile)
  • Beginning my journey into "post-modernism" via Leonard Sweet's Soul Tsunami (2003); I've never looked back since (though I have stopped reading Sweet)
  • Becoming an 'official' teacher at Fairview International School in what would be, I suppose, a vocation-defining half-decade (2003-2008)
  • Visiting San José and San Francisco and sharing an unforgetable 3-4 days with Derek, my cousin (2003), my first trip to the States (there may be another one in about 3 months' time, but I'm not holding my breath...)
  • Beginning a blog (2003-2010)
  • Seeing my firstborn child, Nicholas Lau, emerge from the hospital's Operating Theater after 1.5 hours of waiting (2004)
  • Being part of the Emergent Christian Movement / Church / Network conversation in Malaysia and globally (2005-ish and beyond - in true emergent fashion it's kinda fuzzy, *grin*)
  • Visiting Australia (2005), Thailand (2006), The Philippines (2007) for the first time
  • Doing an MBA (2006-2009)
  • Giving my first ever conference presentation at the International Thinking Conference in Sweden (2007)
  • Seeing Tottenham Hotspur win their first trophy in 9 years! (2008)
  • Joining KDU College (2008) and being introduced to a whole new world of learning (which I'm still exploring, btw)
  • Holding newborn Melody Lau in my arms (2009)
It's been an adventure with God cheering and lighting the way. What comes next - I can't wait. This blog, though, has run its course. I hope it's helped some - even as I pray it hasn't angered too many! - who've visited.

Do share your best moments between 2000 and 2010 and leave the link in the Comments area if you will.

Goodbye (for now).


Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Virgin Birth (5 Views)

What's all this gobbledygook on Jesus being "conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary"?

1. Traditional View (booo-ring)
God and sex don't mix. And no way the birth of the Christ would have anything to do foreplay, orgasms, nasty thoughts and stuff.

Key element: Avoiding the sinful associations of sex.

2. Traditional View (stiff) 
If Christ was 'conceived by Joseph and Mary, and born of the non-virgin Mary' He'd still have the taint of original sin in His DNA. This jeopardizes Christ's capacity to be the Saviour of all mankind. Christ is fully Man, yes, but He's also the new kind of Man able to save the old kind i.e. a new Adam put on earth to undo the devastation wraught by the offspring of the old one.

Key element: Christocentric 'composition' required for the redemption plan to take effect.

3. Historico-Critical View (bad) 
The early Christians included it into oral tradition and, eventually, the Gospels as further (contrived) validation of the divine status of Christ.

Key element: Historical fictionising, myth-making and tale-spinning for community window-dressing purposes.

4. Historico-Critical View (real bad) 
Mary wanted to hide the truth of Jesus' conception, which was most likely due to her being impregnated by a Roman soldier (with consent or otherwise, it's not important).

Key element: Brushing over harsh realities of Second Temple Judaism life under the heel of Rome.

5. Historico-Critical View (wic-ked)
A wonderful story like the virgin birth makes perfect sense in a narrative about God redeeming and re-creating the world by giving Himself and doing something New Creation-scented. This is the kind of thing a world-transforming and creation-renewing God would do i.e. it simply makes sense as part of a beautiful whole. Furthermore, Matthew and Luke would hardly want to risk the ridicule and suspicions (wouldn't the miracles have created enough problems already?)

Key element: Beauty and 'fit' of virgin birth within overall Gospel narrative.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Web 2.0 Marketing for Educational Institutions - What Should Happen Before

In considering an e-marketing strategy oriented around Web 2.0 technologies for educational institutions, it’s best - in line with the theme of Seth Godin's Meatball Sundaes - to go back to the overall ‘structures’ and ‘culture’ of the organisation and work from there to the gadgets and tools (e.g. blogs, twitter, facebook, the works). The spirit of a visionally transformed corpus must come first, then the flesh of technology will follow.

It would help to use Godin’s principles cum questions for Disney (see p.223-6 at the end of the book) :

1. Direct communication between producers and consumers – after students fill up the forms or make an enquiry or initiate the ‘first contact’ with XYZ College, do they hear from it again in a way which isn’t intrusive and which in fact brings delight? Do these potential and on-going clients receive anticipated, personal and relevant messages (a Godin mantra)? And, of course, do they receive it in the medium they prefer (e.g. some may not like email)

2. Direct communication between consumers and consumers - the New Marketing is consumer-driven i.e. ultimately the students are the Marketing Department because their Word-of-Mouth is more powerful than all the brochures and flyers. What is XYZ doing to encourage student reviews, student influence, student sharing? This goes beyond ‘friend2friend’ promotions and must go deeper to ‘unofficial sharing’ (see no. 3 below)

3. Amplification of the voice of the consumer and independent authorities – how much does XYZ respect the influence and voice of everyone who visits our sites, of our students, our partners, our clients, etc.? Does XYZ ‘host’ any platform or space as a way of allowing and encouraging peer reviews of educational products? Is XYZ seen to ‘amplify’ the voice of the average man on the Web?

4. Stories spread, not facts – what’s the ‘story’ of XYZ's next educational offering? What’s the ‘story’ of its new lecturers, its next events, its latest branch? What will people be spreading after they attend or are exposed to its latest function, PR event, communique, etc.? (Note: here is where YouTube, Facebook and Blogs could be most effective, because every upload is a potential story – colleges need to give people a reason to include it into their RSS feeds)

5. Extremely short attention spans – how is XYZ tackling the fact that students and consumers nowadays have extremely short attention spans? (Tip: send shorter and more frequent messages instead of longer and less frequent ones); this is also where content must always catchy, helpful and worth remembering! Again, people need a reason to ‘come back’

6. Tuning in to ‘spare time’ – why would the average student want to think about XYZ college in his/her spare time? What would make the college attractive/engaging enough for young adults to want to make room in their minds for XYZ marketing/community material after classes?

7. The Long Tail (mass customization/diversity) – what is XYZ doing about the customization of education? Instead of giving ‘fixed’ educational offerings to students, can they be allowed to choose what and how they wish to study? Can XYZ raise the level of student-selection and student-design of programs?

8. Google and Search Engine – apart from manipulating search engines such that XYZ ‘shows up’ more often, can the college offer great experiences which many students will talk, blog and/or leave updates about thus leading to more serach-result pages with XYZ at the top? What can the college do to encourage more people to hyper-link to the college’s website or blogs? (Tip: provide online education!)

9. Triumph of the Big Ideas – what redefinition or reinvention or re-conceptualisation is XYZ pioneering? Is XYZ known as an innovator, constantly coming up with new products to get people talking?

10. Shifts in Scarcity and Abundance – what is so rare that people intuitively value (e.g. clean open and creative space)? What’s so abundant that people hardly bother anymore (e.g. classes!)? How does XYZ College stack up in the abundance/scarcity ratio and is it focusing on improving this ratio?

Godin’s point is that unless the above are dealt with effectively, unless the ‘spirit’ of the organisation has changed, simply adding more gadgets or Web 2.0 tools may be nothing more than a façade (which people can very easily ignore anyway). So it’s best to get the substance and culture right – the technology will take care of itself.

The substance is key; the gadgets merely the key-chain.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Traditional & Emerging Worship Styles : Walking the Fine Line

The worship wars and segregated worship dilemmas have plagued the church for at least two decades now. Being the card-carrying pluralist that I am (grin), I wouldn't insist on any particular answer or solution. What I would make compulsory, though, is clarity of thinking about what's good and bad in whatever we do.

So at the cost of super-simplification, I've divided Christian worship services into two forms - Traditional and Emerging - and what follows is a listing of what's good and bad about each.

The obvious reminder is that the non-traditional folks need NOT 'condemn' the liturgical guys, nor vice-versa. The hope and plea, though, is that whatever 'structure' we decide on, we do it well, for God's glory, and walk the fine line between the Devil of lifeless fossilization and the Big Bad Sea of spineless selling out to culture.

1. Traditional Worship (done poorly):
  • everything in the tradition remains - everything the way it's always been done (regardless of Biblical priority or emphasis)
  • denomination is king
  • multi-media and younger age-groups largely ignored in favour of fixed liturgical structures
  • missional outward/other-ish focus de-prioritized - it's all about the members themselves
  • fossilization

2. Traditional Worship (done well):
  • everything helpful in the tradition remains to encourage spirituality, growth and discipline; there exists a recognition that structures were forged in specific historical contexts and that some facets of said structures may no longer be supremely relevant (e.g. the robes?)
  • denomination is important but tradition can 'give way to new movements of the Spirit' (a phrase I borrowed from a certain Pastor Peter Harritz)
  • mild experimentation allowed to add creative/contemporary flavour to worship
  • members educated on the process and discipline of 'ancient practices'
  • stability and strong sense of the sacred

3. Emerging Worship (done well) :
  • focuses on what Jesus told us to do(!), e.g. baptism, eucharist (obviously I can't hide my Lutheran bias here...*smile*
  • emphasizes what's helpful to the world and what's beneficial for the kingdom/ministry i.e. a missional focus a'la "the church exists chiefly for its NON-members"
  • creativity and learning encouraged
  • the Word made fresh (and delivered in an infinite variety of forms)
  • rich multi-media experience to reduce 'dis-connect' between Sanctuary and Life i.e. encourages a blending of the sacred with the secular (or a sacralisation of the everyday things of life)

4. Emerging Worship (done poorly):
  • do whatever we feel like doing - emotions and culture reign supreme
  • disregards tradition entirely, baby dumped out wiht the soap-water
  • poor theology, poor foundations - tossed around by cultural winds

Monday, November 30, 2009

"We're about to go out for lunch..."

That's what the nurse/receptionist told me when I registered for my check-up at the Kumpulan Medijaya in Damansara Utama. I gave a disgruntled non-smirk and eventually I had my check-up, though one can easily tell from the demeanor, the eyes, the faces (and the lack of colour in them) that they didn't want me to be there.

I left swearing I'd never go there again, not unless I was stretchered in because a hydrant, then a tree, crashed into  me and my car.

We're about to go out to eat - can you come back at 2.00 (the time was 12.15-ish). So let me get this right: You do not wish to serve me because you're hungry? Well, why don't you pop a biscuit whilst you scan me for rabies?

Blurred categories and marginal concepts are great for creativity but c'mon, when it comes to lunch you're EITHER "In" OR "Out". When it comes to your doors, they're EITHER "Open" OR "Closed". If you want them to be closed, then say we're closed. Nobody wins if you want to be closed but are forced to admit you're open.

That's messed up - and it shows in your service.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Christian Core Doctrines and Apologetics : A Workshop Outline

(Note: The below outline is almost certainly unsuitable for the group of U-20 participants in January and will be modified accordingly)

Next January's 2-day workshop at the Residential Bible School should be fun. The outline below obviously leans heavier towards apologetics but I hope to slip in additional basic beliefs throughout:
1. Trinity and the Question of God
  • How do we know that God exists?
  • Why choose Christianity instead of another faith?
  • How can we make sense of the Trinity?
2. Jesus: Person, Message, Work and Resurrection
  • Who is Jesus? Did He really exist?
  • What did Jesus mean by the Kingdom of God?
  • Why should we believe what the Gospel writers wrote about Jesus' miracles?
  • What happened on the Cross?
  • What is the significance of the Resurrection? How do we know Jesus truly rose from the dead?
3. Suffering & Evil
  • Why does a God of love allow evil? What is He 'doing' about it?
  • Why doesn't God stop tsunamis, earthquakes, typhoons, etc.?
  • Why must God create Hell for non-Christians?
4. The Nature and Process of Revelation
  • How can we be sure the Bible is reliable?
  • Why can't God do 'sky-writing' to make His revelation unambiguously clear?

If You Sell Jesus, People Won't Buy

There is a prevailing temptation among Christians to focus on 'selling' Jesus instead of helping people discover and know Him. In marketing parlance, it's the tendency to be product-oriented instead of being marketing-oriented.

Christians generally have this 'thing', this template, this experience, this absolute truth, that they expect others to appropriate and embrace, failing which we judge (albeit quietly and sometimes not so) that everyone else except us are the ones who need fixing.

And may be the case that people need to find the Lord in their own ways, come to Him with their own hang-ups, their own categories of thinking/doubt, their personally nuanced questions. I recall (with regret) my response a colleague some years back. She told me she found that church services were kinda boring. I was thinking in my heart that if she tried to live the principles taught she wouldn't find it boring i.e. either she didn't understand or she didn't try.

This was my problem (and still is in some sense): I focused entirely on what she hadn't been doing right.

I didn't ask her what her spiritual-emotional needs were. I didn't ask her what she expected from church.
I didn't ask her how she felt church could be improved to present Jesus in a more accessible manner. I didn't ask her what she was in fact 'looking for' in life.

I all out fired my guns, mentally (and triumphantly) categorised her as a hedonistic anti-religious dud and. Of course I didn't say all this to her. I ended up telling her, well why don't you just switch church? She eventually left it - whose 'fault' was that, you think?

Apologetics: 6 Pre-Answer Attitudes to Adopt

In a typical 'Christian apologetics' session at a local church group, the typical mix of questions (based on my experiences) would roughly consist of the following:
  • 60% Apologetics/Philosophy/History (e.g. "If God was good, why [fill in your favourate global problem]?", "How can we be sure that Jesus was raised from the dead?"),
  • 30% Christian Education (e.g. "What is the rationale for infant baptism?")
  • 10% Misc/Uncommon/Weird Questions (e.g."Why is God referred to in the Bible as HE and not SHE?").
Whislt it was tempting to focus on the answers to most of the above, I'm glad I didn't (and besides it was only an hour-long gathering). Instead I tried to target the pre-answer attitudes, especially when doing apologetics (i.e. 'defending' the faith intellectually). Here are some:

1. It's okay to remain silent or say, "I don't know" - especially if you don't know the answer (duh) or the malice/hostility index is too high, or you're too emotional or angry, and you just know it's no longer a debate but a debacle. We don't see Jesus arguing very much during his passion, right?

I still remember Glenn Miller saying that we can raise more questions in 5 minutes than we can answer in 50 years. Read: There is simply NO NEED to feel helpless when barraged with questions you can't respond to. Because if satisfactorily answering EVERYTHING asked was a criteria for legitimate belief, no one could believe anything!

2. It's more important to communicate lovingly than logically - basically an extension of no.1, and this wouldn't be worth saying if not for the fact that there are many apologists and theologians who are EXTREMELY logical but whose logic seem to correlate very well with their arrogance and unkindness.

Apologetics is about ministering to people. It's a good chance to prove not only that Christians have good reasons for their faith, but also to demonstrate that we care MORE about merely giving answers (and sometimes we make the 'point' that scoring argumentative points can be a bad way to live).

We're not mini-professors each one of us; we are mini-replicators of Calvary. And Calvary was one BIG BLOODY answer beyond answers and reason and even words.

3. Think about (or find out) the real question/charge being thrown, not just the presenting one - "Why do Christians have so many denominations?" may be a simple historical inquiry OR a thinly veiled insinuation (i.e. "Why are you Jesus freaks so messed up and always breaking away from each other?"). When we focus on the real issues, as always, time and energy is better spent.

4. Ask what you can learn from the question - it keeps your eyes fixed, if not on ministry to the questioner, then on self-development. Much better than aiming for just another intellectual triumph which usually comes along with the idea that, "Ah, this is just another ignorant anti-Christian attack by a dude who has an attitude problem and who's either stupid, incoherent, heretic or all three!"

5. Read 1st Peter 3:15 and 16 - take to heart the 'gentleness and respect' (15b) parts, the Christlike behaviour part (16a) and the slander-reversal parts (16b). Don't get carried by the 'always be ready to give an answer' thinggy, as if you just GOTTA respond like a pro if you're challenged (grin).

(Finally a more 'technical' one...)

6. With simply outrageous, near-illogical questions, refrain from answering and work on the questioner's logic - e.g. for something like, "If we're made for God's glory, does this mean we are puppets for His amusement?", it's best to ask - gently and respectfully - for the thought patterns and the process leading up to the conclusion. Like, "I'm really curious as to how you went from one point to the other...I'm really interested to understand why you would equate A and B, etc."