Grace Alternative

The art of making lemonade out of the lemons life throws at us all.


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talent

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What a weekend i had.
A weekend with punch.
A weekend seminar where i was forced to think about what kind of (financial) future i will have if i continue to live present-minded like i do now.
Dun get me wrong. I’m not a wild spender and nobody who observes my lifestyle would think so.
But here is where it gets me nervous: i only care about my current habit (ie. “as long as i limit my spending”) but very little about my future finance: have i prepared about retirement? have i saved enough so in retirement age i would not have to downgrade my lifestyle violently? am i sufficiently insured? am i aware that $1000 now is worth very little 20 years from now?
These got me nervous not only because most of the answers are “No”, but also the fact that I was a finance graduate! I knew these stuffs! I understood the material. And yet i didnt live accordingly. Oh boy.
But i was grateful to be reminded. And also encouraged, by the life-experiences of the speakers, who are wise brothers and sisters who lived out “kingdom perspective” not only at church but also in their wallets (!) and bank accounts (!!).

So, packed with a conviction that we should be wise stewards of the wealth and possessions that the Lord has blessed me and my family with, i shared some key points with my church friends.
Because it was a fellowship setting, so naturally i “had” to begin with something “spiritual”: the parable of talents.
Here it is:
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(Matt 25)

14 “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a man going on a long trip. He called together his servants and entrusted his money to them while he was gone. 15 He gave five bags of silver[b] to one, two bags of silver to another, and one bag of silver to the last—dividing it in proportion to their abilities. He then left on his trip.

16 “The servant who received the five bags of silver began to invest the money and earned five more. 17 The servant with two bags of silver also went to work and earned two more. 18 But the servant who received the one bag of silver dug a hole in the ground and hid the master’s money.

19 “After a long time their master returned from his trip and called them to give an account of how they had used his money. 20 The servant to whom he had entrusted the five bags of silver came forward with five more and said, ‘Master, you gave me five bags of silver to invest, and I have earned five more.’

21 “The master was full of praise. ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together![c]

22 “The servant who had received the two bags of silver came forward and said, ‘Master, you gave me two bags of silver to invest, and I have earned two more.’

23 “The master said, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together!’

24 “Then the servant with the one bag of silver came and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a harsh man, harvesting crops you didn’t plant and gathering crops you didn’t cultivate. 25 I was afraid I would lose your money, so I hid it in the earth. Look, here is your money back.’

26 “But the master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy servant! If you knew I harvested crops I didn’t plant and gathered crops I didn’t cultivate, 27 why didn’t you deposit my money in the bank? At least I could have gotten some interest on it.’

28 “Then he ordered, ‘Take the money from this servant, and give it to the one with the ten bags of silver. 29 To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away. 30 Now throw this useless servant into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

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Now, as you can see here, the Lord doesnt condemn money, but even encourage its growth. It’s his gift, and he demands accountability. How can we be wise in this? By spending purposefully, giving generously, and investing wisely.
As soon as I finished my sharing, a brother kinda showed uneasiness and reminded everyone that it’s a parable about “the Kingdom of God”, and as such it’s related with things of the Kingdom, like the natural and spiritual gifts he gives us, how we should multiply and put them to work.
He’s right, of course, it’s a parable, and it’s about God’s Kingdom.
The parable right before this one, is the Ten Bridesmaids, and the point is to be watchful.
This one, is different, it’s about being productive with whatever we’ve been given.
Notice that nowhere does He condemn money. How could he? He’s the one giving them the talents.
So what is wrong with saying that one of the ways to faithfully obey the parable is by managing our wealth wisely?
Naturally I was perplexed why he got uneasy about it.
For a splash of background info, in the past this same brother and I did have theological differences. I always thought it’s fun to have differences and felt no annoyance. Well…a tiny bit…just to be COMPLETEly honest. But i was quickly reminded that it’s better to lose the argument and win the relationship.
This time is no different, I just nodded in agreement.

The danger, though, with spiritualising the whole parable is that it gives people excuse to be financially careless.
“Oh it’s about God’s Kingdom! How dare you twist God’s words and tell me what I do with my money!”
When the time of reckoning comes, he’s the one on the losing end.

In the world of ISIS and other attacks on Christian faith, we need to stand together with ALL brothers and sisters, regardless of theological agreements.
A Philippino sister (a “pinay” they say) said she admired the culture in Indonesia where all Christians and Catholics live harmoniously. I said, how could we not? In the biggest muslim country in the world (thank God it’s a moderate one), how could we not gather all the help we need?
So, as I said, I nodded in agreement. Even with no ISIS around.

Theological concrete-ness, is always better, than theological correct-ness.
(James 2)

14 What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? 15 Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, 16 and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?

May you be wise in managing your talents, money or whatever else.
Thanks for reading.

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in love with a vending machine

Insane, right?
who in their right mind would be in love with a vending machine.
after all, we pop some coins and get what we want out of the big fridge and thats pretty much end of the story.
well, yeah, and a lil bit more.

let’s go to japan for a visit.
japan is perhaps known for cleanliness and its determination to live efficiently.
they walk around bringing plastic bags to contain their own trash items, and bring them back home so they won’t litter around when there’s no trash can nearby.
when i think about this, it totally makes sense as it’s not that inconvenient at all.
most of the stuffs we throw are light anyway: empty cans/bottles, tissue papers, etc.
now here’s another interesting fact about efficient living in Japan: it’s perhaps the country with the most vending machine population. almost everywhere you go, on any street you’re bound to find a vending machine.
no, strike that, you’ll find A FEW machines clustered together.
Suntory machine would want to be near Kirin, and soon Asahi would join the gang.
i can think of 2 reasons for this: the law prohibits street selling (in HK the street sellers ARE the tourist attraction), and the labor cost and operations cost are just too high so they delegate the selling to…vending machines.
these became my attractions. so i went from machine to machine looking for interesting drinks.
when i think about the whole transaction: rather than the human interactions involved in buying a drink, you know: saying hi, asking the price, telling which one we want, perhaps asking which one is best-selling, some chit chat with the vendor, handing the money, receiving the change (stingy bastards! haha) and saying bye, there’s now none of that. we just popped with coins, get the drink and off we go.
we dun even remember the colour of the vending machine.

imagine if in the next decade or so the world becomes vending-machine-ised, and most transactions are done mechanically or electronically. when buying from a PERSON becomes so RARE and EXPENSIVE and reserved for high-value items only.
proponents of this scenario would say…hey then we’ll have more time for our kids and loved ones, right? theoretically. with so many instant messaging medias around we’d think that it improves communication, no? well, perhaps not so clearly improved but more like substituted. we have less value for the “now”. we’d rather communicate with the “far” thru instant messaging than verbal interaction with the “now in front of us”.
in the case of vending machine, we lost the opportunity to have human interaction with the human vendor and possibly learning one or two things from him, and cant wait to quickly come back to our little world again.

and what if, just what if… the vendor or the vending machine, wants to…talk to us?
and perhaps more than that, some kind of….relationship with us?
a technological heresy, no?
not really.
i realise that i’ve treated God that way all this while.
i wanted joy, happiness, blessings, good grades, health, good life, out of this “vending machine” and now HE wants a relationship with us.
something to think about.

thanks for reading 🙂


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in the boat

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L: Now sometimes I can accept this with the knowledge that God knows what He is doing…But most of the times I wonder why this? I feel numb toward life…I didn’t give up tho…I join ministries to hospital and pray for them n forget about my situation…but when I return to my day I feel condemn…I feel being a widow is a disgrace! *tear
Me: Ruth is a widow…
L: Which Ruth? How old is she?
Me: Ruth in the bible
L: Oh…I thot somebody from church…

——————
The picture is Rembrandt.
The story is Marie.
She lost her hubby Ken five months ago, to one of the most baffling medical mysteries I’ve seen in my life. Ken admitted himself to a hospital after not being able to pass stool for few days, something most of us would laugh and wonder if it justifies going to hospital for. But the doctors certainly thought it necessary. As they administered some medication, the next day he developed acnes or little blisters on random parts of his body. And the next day most of those “acnes” bleed, making the hospital sheets and pillows look like there’s been a bloody fight. And the next morning, Ken was gone. The docs said he developed a severe allergic reaction to what was meant to cure him. “Meant” to. Imagine that.

As Marie is slowly picking up the pieces and pulling herself together, my friends and I sat down with her one evening and talked, about life, kids, and stuffs. She admits being in a mental prison of sort, not wanting to engage with the world. When she goes out of the house, it’s mostly for the kids: schools, the doc (if any of them gets sick), malls, etc and never really gaining pleasure for herself. Numbed. Oh I sort of knew how that feels. Being singles when most of our friends are already hand-in-hand with their kid (or kids) kind of made similar feelings: we’re not “normal”, what is wrong with us, we’re not “wanted”, etc. A disgrace? Something like that.
Then, out of thin air, I said “Ruth is a widow”. That got Marie interested: wait, I’m not the only one? there’s another one like me?
Yes, but no, not our peers. It’s Ruth of the bible.
But she’s a widow, nonetheless. And had she not been a widow, there would not be Boaz. Or Jesse. Or David. Or…Jesus.
Let it sink in for a minute, cause I’m gonna take you to a sinking boat. Sort of. Almost.

Rembrandt is painting what seems to depict Jesus in the boat with his disciples, when a violent storm broke out.
Yes, as ridiculous as it sounds, storms just had to pick on this particular day, this particular spot. Talk about picking fights.
Sure we know what happened next.
What’s interesting is that if you count the number of people in the boat you will have Jesus plus 13. Whoa, a false gospel? Who’s the no.13? Rembrandt cleverly put himself there as if by that he could experience what the disciples experienced that day.
So what did they experience that day? Aren’t they seasoned fishermen? surely they are quite familiar with storms, rite?
Apparently this fight-picking storm is scary indeed.
Some may say, hey if you know how the fight ended then the whole thing doesnt look scary at all?
Oh yeah? Try getting in the ring with Mike Tyson and be told you’re gonna win in the 10th round.
Rembrandt wanted to be in the storm. He wanted to feel it.
Or perhaps the extra baggage wasn’t Rembrandt at all. So it could be anyone. You. Me. Your ex. That cheater. The corrupt politician. Anyone. It’s open to whoever want to witness God’s power. One tiny condition: get in the boat. Oh it sure rocks. Life often does. And I have a feeling that for Marie, like Ruth, this is not the end.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

 


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emotion

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“MEN ARE RATIONAL, AND WOMEN ARE EMOTIONAL!!!” said Fabio, full of energy and conviction he thought was necessary to make me believe him.

Well judging from his tone of voice and slightly condescending manner I think he just proved it otherwise.
You see, a “rational” person would care to measure how much raw emotions are necessary to make a point (especially about emotion!), because too much will spoil the message, whatever it is.
I know someone who is consistently choosing my opposite it becomes almost predictable that if i want him to choose A, I’d choose B. I can sort of sense it coming when I made a suggestion and he started to show signs of being annoyed.
Fascinating.
Now in all fairness I did try to analyse whether my tone of voice somewhat clouded his reception and made my message offensive in any way.
And I concluded that if I were to flatten my tone even more it’d sound like robocop.

So in what sense is men more rational and women more emotional?
I’d say…and this is completely devoid of any research or surveys, that men are more emotional on things that are important to their manliness. For instance, men are instinctively sensitive about achievements in life. So when you make fun of a guy’s salary you’d better have an exit plan, literally. Unless you’re a member of Fight Club or something.
Now this means guys may do worse in corporate of business setting because in arguments it’s often about “MY point” rather than “my POINT”. You see, losing an argument matters less when a real cure to cancer is found. And even if it’s somebody else‘s idea, hey it’s a cure to cancer, right? Right. Now it does become so painful if the other guy happens to be your ex’s new boyfriend (ha!).
I’ve seen ugly moments in meetings and honestly, rarely did those originate from or involve women.

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A second factor on why guys can be so emotional at times is, i think, based on the fact that guys are not multitasking like women. So when something dominates his mind, he can’t help but coast in that direction.
Now consider a situation when a guy thinks he’s self worth is threatened, he will muster all his intellect to defend his position and so forget about what truly is the matter at hand. He will, as the pic suggests, listen to reply. To find weakness. To beat back (with words). But not to understand.

Just today I read something about the real life of Japanese porn actors.
Taka Kato, the James Bond calibre in the Japanese adult video world, recently announced retirement, according to news.
You see, some Jap porn actors like him do have real families. So when asked about is sex different between a “job” and “wife”, one says the feeling is different. There is happiness in the ability to satisfy someone he loves.
In other words, guys can separate between the physical and the mental / heart. Whatever he does with his physique he can so compartmentalise so it doesn’t affect his heart.
I wonder, whether women generally can do this.
A film that comes to mind is Lust, Caution by Ang Lee.
In that movie, a spy girl is tasked to bind the object sexually and to place him in weak and unguarded moments so the rebels can act.
What turns out is the other way around, completely. The girl becomes so intimately involved that she ends up saving the guy from a planned ambush.
I think, when people refer to women being “more” emotional is that for women, physical is on the same side as emotional. Girls can easily get friendly because they are more physical in their interactions.
And this may not be a one-way street, meaning an emotional touch could as easily lead to physical signs like crying. And by crying it reinforces the emotions again.

But if any of this sounds rubbish to psychology majors and practitioners, well…I won’t get too emotional about it 😀 haha

Thanks for reading.


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nothing to hide

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an old friend popped up an FB message recently, someone very dear to me.
someone who i once pursued in the past but fate seemed to be against us somehow.
she asked how have i been and if i had any plans coming to singapore.
i could lie and say no, thinking why should i be entertaining something with emotional baggage like this, knowing she’s already a family woman with 2 kids.
i was thinking how should i protect my emotional health and move away from this kind of thing.
and suddenly, out of the blue, something popped up in my mind: i’m also running away from other things in my past.
things that made me reluctant to face my old friends from the past.
things that deep down in my heart i know: i owe them my honesty.
not that i cheated them financially or anything like that, God forbid (financial sins do have huge social costs: it severely limits your physical movements as well as emotional freedom).
no, none of that kind. i owe them honesty because in the past i wasn’t being authentic enough. subconsciously i gave them a version of myself that was…well…half true.
to illustrate this, just last nite, over a course of a normal chattery dinner we joked about some girls in college who made themselves “available” commercially. i told them thats quite common, girls making extra money on the side, as some of them may not be too well off.
but something caught me offguard: when they mentioned the price of how much they are selling themselves. GOSH…it’s just equivalent to 1-2 times of fine dining. WTF, really.
a bit of sadness creeped in.
and then i asked, which was a huge mistake, in comparison how much is the going rate at the local red district area? and so quickly they pound on me “what??? you dunno whats the going rate? r u gay???”
no, am so not gay, in case you readers are wondering.
i’m just living in a world so protected from taboos of life.
back in my good old uni days in Sydney, i presented myself with squeaky clean morality and reputation that i never (in my 7 years there!) even once went to a strip bar in Kings Cross.
my weekends were spent in fellowship and church, discussing theological issues, but never got anywhere near the “world”.
oh yeah we know stuffs, but we spent very little exercise on how to love God and love others.
how to increase our surrendered-ness to God.
how to have more faith.
and other “soft” things the Bible speaks about so loudly and yet we ignored because it’s more juicy to discuss about more “hard” stuffs like inerrancy of scripture, the reformed doctrines, TULIP, etc etc.
(and many times even when i felt running away from “ministries” i forced myself anyway, in the name of “not being a stumbling block”, being “obedient”, etc)
my adventure only went as far as renting R-rated videos in my nothing-to-do afternoons.
lame huh?
and so i graduated from all that, with no skills to handle life.
now repeat after me: NO SKILLS. because I was to busy playing it clean n safe tat I didnt let myself / my personality gets formed naturally through rich variety of experiences of life.
as i grow up, now that i’m in my late 30s, i realise how equally important authenticity is to good reputation. dun sacrifice one for the other.
that life is an adventure to be lived.
that mistakes (including grammar mistakes, ha!) are a part of life.
that God’s grace covers those mistakes.

the picture on top (i’m sure you’re wondering) speaks of purity and openness and…”here i am. this is me. i got nothing to hide.” moment.

thanks for reading.


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unusual

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The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening” (1 Kings 17:6)
the ravens.
i’ve seen enough movies to learn that ravens eat off animal carcasses, and to appreciate that this bird is certainly no pet.
but yet the Lord chose them to FEED the prophet Elijah. interesting!

i was reminded of this when i got hold of a little book, which i must say is a rather unusual one.
you see in Indonesia, it’s quite common to appreciate the guests attending a wedding by giving them a sort of souvenir which can be in the form of a mug, photo frame, diary, desk calender, etc. it was definitely my first to receive a book, written by the couple, describing their love story.

now, honestly (and shamefully) i had such a low expectation of the book, because i didn’t know they are so down-to-earth spiritual people who put God so centrally in their (love) lives. and that they’d be so daring and open about it all.
writing about God is always tricky. it’s always a big bet. what if they mess up in the future? wouldn’t it better if they hadn’t published anything earlier? imagine the labels people will stick on me. the dreadful H word: hypocrite, and its cousin SB: stumbling block.
you see, this exposes me to my own faulty thinking: that imperfect/fallen Christians are worse than unbelievers.
i realise  now how i’ve been raised on an evil premise that if you are to be a Christian at all then you must be perfect at it. otherwise, dun be a Christian at all?
i have yet heard a parallel argument for other religions: that unless you’re a perfect Moslem then dun be a Moslem at all? Or Buddhist at all? or Hindhu at all?

the Samaritan woman at the well, whom Jesus specifically included in his agenda during his earth trip, immediately share about him to the whole town, i suppose she wasn’t thinking about my “what ifs”. she just did it. no subsequent records are written about her, of whether she continued as travelling evangelist, or settled down as a good housewife, or perhaps…(horror!) back to her old profession? or simply lived as a normal Christian with ups and downs just like the everybody. unlike me, the scripture doesn’t seem to worry about what next.

so…what’s in the book, anyway? well the book tells us about how Molly had her love journey, her relationships, broken engagement, and finally settling down with Umar. it describes how she involved God in little things and how she believes God is interested in those little things. God works in unusual circumstances even when the odds are against her: leaving a bigger city and going back to a (much) smaller home town (consequently a more limited social exposure) and yet hoping for a mate. yet in her heart she sensed God is saying He will send one. this is where the parallel hit me. cause i’m like so disgustingly SWOT oriented even in social circumstances: should i be joining lunch with this group after church instead of that group? which one has new or better looking people? everything is about the odds. ah…this must be the fault of my college education, for shoving too much SWOT thinking into my system (ha!)
now i had thought hard about how best to illustrate this without sacrificing my pride on the altar.
but couldnt think of any. so here it is. be sure to laugh only on my cue, deal?
you see, i’m a movie lover so i was kind of hoping that coincidences would be a part of my love life, one that no doubt people would say “this must be God’s working”. so in order to “make” this happen i “help” to create the scenarios. “making way” for God, so to speak. i would often take a book, and go to malls and cafes, to “enhance” my chance of meeting someone. you understand what i’m doing? i was trying to “cook” a coincidence(!!!). yes, you may laugh now.

few years back, when i first heard about her broken engagement, i thought to myself “ah how immature…she should realise she’s not the cream of the crop. why be so picky?”
i’m now so ashamed of this.
because compared to her i’m so unspiritual.
it took me a little book, by unknown authors, so unresearched and surely failing any editors’ standards, to point me to the right direction.
to play the hand i’m dealt with, having God at my side.
and let the unusual comes.

thanks for reading.


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unscathed by bitterness

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another global mourning, as we lost Nelson Mandela recently. among many comments by public figures around the world, Oprah’s seems to “speak” to me in a peculiar sense.
this is what she said:
“One of the great honors of my life was to be invited to Nelson Mandela’s home, spend private time and get to know him. He was everything you’ve ever heard and more – humble and unscathed by bitterness. And he always loved to tell a good joke. Being in his presence was like sitting with grace and majesty at the same time. He will always be my hero. His life was a gift to us all.”

unscathed by bitterness.
you  see, many people are kind.
but few are kind despite what happened to them, and the chief of whom…is Nelson Mandela.

this feeling comes to me, in part because of my recent experience.
a relative and i were discussing about business issue and of course with any conversations you can expect agreements or disagreements. pretty much in life our progress is consistently about how we deal with disagreements with people. many have written and so helped people to navigate in this area, like How To Win Friends And Influence People by Dale Carnegie, or Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Coleman. it’s just simply not enough to be “brainy”.
now this relative of mine is surely not lacking in intellectual capacity.
but i began to notice that he often take the debate personally (even when it’s business issues) and shoot back using anything he could think of, including my personal issues.
imagine this:
A: “this division needs to rethink its approach on marketing as it suffers bad image in recent years. we need to look at big projects as “marketing” opportunity as opposed to “selling” opportunity.”
B: “but that means sacrificing margins. that’s gonna hurt.”
A: “what option do we have? none. we either do this now or we’ll have no more image left in the future. we need to reverse the trend created by the lost years.”
B: “hey what do you mean? you think you’re so good at criticizing others you forgot you also needs improvement!”

yes i admit also have areas of improvement…BUT WHAT THE HELL DOES IT HAVE TO DO WITH THE TOPIC AT HAND???

people hit back when they feel threatened.
and i think that’s exactly what happened here.
in case you all think in that moment i reacted gracefully like Jesus, well, sorry to disappoint, i didn’t.
but i didn’t lash out big time, either.
i managed to hold myself (hurray! :p) and ask myself what insecurity or bitterness caused him to hit back.
and was somewhat reminded not to do the same next time i’m in similar situation.
and to even to do a little mental calculation: what form/level of anger should i be displaying? is it worth it?

imagine what Nelson Mandela must have felt when he finally got out.
when he reached the seat of power as president.
when he finally got what it takes to hit back.
it’s one thing to withhold anger when you know you’re weak or overpowered.
but it’s simply out of this world when you can do it with just one flick, but choose not to.

thanks for reading.