Right Parables, Wrong Perspectives Intro 6: Luke 6.43-49 (II)


I continue into the series of introductory excerpts from book Right Parables Wrong Perspectives. These are used with the permission of Wipf and Stock Publishers. You can get your discounted copy here or on Amazon. Today’s excerpt from pp. 10-13 talks about the basic elements of the Luke 6.43-49 parable itself.


Telling It Normal: Key Elements in the Story

43 For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, 44 for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from brambles. 45 The good person out of the good treasury of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasury produces evil, for his mouth speaks from what fills his heart. 46 Why do you call me “Lord, Lord,” and don’t do what I tell you? 47 Everyone who comes to me and listens to my words and puts them into practice—I will show you what he is like: 48 He is like a man building a house, who dug down deep, and laid the foundation on bedrock. When a flood came, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built. 49 But the person who hears and does not put my words into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against that house, it collapsed immediately, and was utterly destroyed!

People with ADD often have other issues associated with the dysfunction. In my case, it’s mostly my dyslexia. When I’m tired, it’s hard for me to make sense of words, whether spoken or written. For others, they can’t stay on course in a single conversation because their minds are racing like a Formula One car around the track moving from scene to scene. Words however are important. Jesus here dealt with words.

The section of Luke 6:43–49 is a conclusion to Jesus’ speech (I will discuss the context of Jesus’ whole speech at the end of this section). Jesus’ speech concluded with two images: the fruit-bearing tree and the parable of the good builders. First, Jesus started with the fruit-bearing tree. He started with the negative stating that no good tree bears bad fruit. The words describing both the good and the bad are interesting. The “good” could describe something with good and healthy appearance, in an agricultural sense. The word “bad” denotes bad quality.

After Jesus spoke about the usefulness and health of trees, he began talking about humans. Since humans aren’t trees, Jesus used other Greek words for “good” and “evil” in Luke 6:45 that denote moral quality in humans. In other words, Jesus was saying that quality of a human would be analogical to quality of tree and its fruit. Thus, the morally good person who possesses a clear vision would bear fruit that benefits, much like figs and grapes would help the farmer. The morally bad person who possesses a muddled vision (with a deadly plank in his eye) would bear fruit that benefits no one. What then did Jesus consider the source of this goodness or evil? Luke 6:45 says that the quality of the person came from the heart.

The language he used to describe the heart resembles that of storage. No reasonable person puts rubbish in his storage. The rubbish belongs in the trash pile. The storage is for beneficial treasures one wishes to keep. Based on the metaphor, one’s heart ultimately brings forth good or evil words. Jesus concluded with a parable of the builder. This parable is a reinforcement of the previous one, especially regarding good work. This conclusion demonstrated to Jesus’ disciples that now that they had listened to Jesus, they needed to perform the compatible good work. The problem the builder story wants to address is in Luke 6:46. Many called Jesus “Lord” but didn’t do what Jesus said. The word “call” is in the Greek present tense (something different from the English present tense), denoting either a continuous or habitual action. In other words, Jesus was asking, “Why do you keep calling me Lord and do not (as a habit) do what I tell you to do?” The repetition of “hearing” in Luke 6:47 and 6:49 shows the context of the discourse for the disciples. These disciples were hearers, but were they doers? Now, they must perform what they heard.

We must read the saying on two levels. In Jesus’ time, before people really recognized his entire status, he was viewed as a respected teacher. The word for “lord” did not have to mean what it means for the church later. Within the story of Jesus in Luke, the repetition of “lord” shows the highest form of respect toward a revered holy man who could also perform miracles. For Jesus’ disciples, the saying could mean something like “Why do you keep on claiming that I’m your most revered mentor and not do what I tell you?” The logical incompatibility between the claim and the action is the point of the saying. For the churchly reader however, the saying would grow into a true understanding of all that Jesus meant to the church. Thus, readers should obey even more and not less, knowing all that they knew about Jesus in retrospect.

A careful reader will notice that in the modified telling of the story at the beginning of this chapter, I took out the storm that hit the houses. It is important to note that the missing storm makes what Jesus said somewhat less harsh. So what if people heard but didn’t do? There were no consequences (i.e., no storm). At worst, their laziness just made them bad people. However, there were consequences. The emphasis shouldn’t be taken away from the consequences. When a person did what Jesus taught, he would be like a man who has built deep foundation and remains unshakeable in the face of the storm-induced flood (Luke 6:48). Commentators interpret this storm in various ways, from divine judgment to the general storms of life. Within the close context of Luke 6:22–23, 26, 28, the storm seems to be persecution from enemies. What then happens if a disciple does not live by Jesus’ principles? He would be like a man who did not build a house on proper ground. Building a house on bad ground would be an amateurish mistake. Especially in denser cities, the people would build and cluster together. The chance of building on bad ground would be fairly low because people watched for where others built and then would build close to those areas. Thus, Jesus was talking about a near impossible situation unless it happened in a rural farming community. The well-learned disciple wouldn’t make such a mistake but maybe some did. If built on bad ground, the house would not be able to stand when storm water washed away its foundation (Luke 6:49). Thus, when dealing with a tough season, a person who followed Jesus’ principles would be able to withstand the persecution or opposition that would come (Luke 6:22).

What exactly did Jesus teach or what did they hear? For the answer, we need a broader understanding of what Jesus just taught within the event of the story. Let me summarize. In Luke 6:20–26, Jesus talked about disciples being aware of their place in the world as the persecuted “others.” In Luke 6:27–36, Jesus talked about how disciples were to react to oppression: with love and generosity. In Luke 6:37–42, Jesus talked about disciples as those who would be accurate and fair in judging while making sure they did not commit the same error. These are the basic teachings of Jesus, and he expected all those who called him Lord to follow them with love, generosity, fairness, and integrity.

While the fruit bearing metaphor speaks primarily of good work, the builder story extends further to the stormy part of living on this earth as disciples. Jesus was not contrasting a believer with an unbeliever. He was talking to his disciples. The builder story is in some ways more severe than the fruit tree metaphor because safety and lives are at stake with buildings. Safe buildings provide shelter. Shoddy buildings create liability and even death. Somewhere, some disciples will build their houses on the bad foundation of inconsistent lives, while claiming Jesus to be Lord. As they ignore his teachings, they will be like the builder who built a house on a bad foundation. The house will fall on the builder and destroy his life when hardship and persecution come.

While fruit bearing focuses on good judgment and good works, the good builder parable focuses on good works as a foundation of faith. Many who are from the Protestant Reformed tradition may find this troubling because Luke seems to be going against Paul’s theology of justification by free grace. This is not a description of a full soteriology. It is talking about the corporate body of the kingdom containing individual disciples who called Jesus “Lord.” Those calling Jesus Lord will build their faith on putting Jesus’ teachings into practice. We mustn’t read our theological concerns into Luke’s. It was natural in that society for people to obey whomever they called “lord.” Jesus’ words here are very much based on that system. Lordship implies thorough obedience. Lip service had never been enough when it came to “lordship” in Jesus’ society. Neither will it suffice for a vibrant faith today.

Right Parables, Wrong Perspectives Intro 7: Luke 6.43-49 Context


I continue into the series of introductory excerpts from book Right Parables Wrong Perspectives. These are used with the permission of Wipf and Stock Publishers. You can get your discounted copy here or on Amazon. Today’s excerpt from pp. 13-14 speaks of the context of Luke 6.43-49.


Let’s now look at the meaning of the images, especially the parable in context. Once more, the transition word at the head of the sentence in Greek is “for,” connecting the present discussion to what Jesus taught within the event of Luke 6:17–42. Jesus talked about the eye in Luke 6:41–42 in connection with the fruit bearing metaphor. In other words, good fruit comes from good vision. Why did Jesus want his disciples to judge properly? A self-righteous person is too blind to be a good teacher who bears good fruit. The good vision necessary for bearing good fruit is also essential to good judgment. Thus, the tree is compatible with the fruit it bears. The key, though, is having clear vision. Jesus then illustrated with different kinds of fruits what he meant by “good fruit.” He talked about fruits that could be eaten in Luke 6:44, figs and grapes. Neither figs nor grapes could be picked from thorns and briers. Thorns and briers were bad trees. They were of no value because they produced nothing for human consumption.

Within context, the logic of the whole teaching of the tree goes something like this. The “for” at the head of Luke 6:43 should cause us to connect between the teachings of Luke 6:43–45 with Luke 6:41–42. This reconstruction creates a clear message. Vision comes from an accurate self-evaluation. Such a clear vision is important so that when words come out, they will be like good fruits being beneficial to the recipient. In other words, the disciples’ words reflect the inner quality they possess. When reading these teachings, it is easy to get casual with them. Not being able to listen well is certainly a problem, but the problem lessens when there are no consequences. However, if one’s very life or death depends on listening, the problem of hearing and practice becomes much more serious. That really is what Jesus (or Luke) was saying. Listening but not doing has its price and the price is deadly. Jesus’ warning was stern. The text still speaks sternly now.

Right Parables, Wrong Perspectives Intro 4:


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I continue into the series of introductory excerpts from book Right Parables Wrong Perspectives. These are used with the permission of Wipf and Stock Publishers. You can get your discounted copy here or on Amazon. Today’s excerpt from xii-xiv talks about the steps by which we can read parables that are both true to their original meanings and to their cultural context. The following is the excerpt.


In writing this book, I’m not only talking about Luke’s message, but also walking through an easily accessible method that both lay readers and preachers can use in their reading. I will consistently follow the following steps to show the possible meanings these fictional stories Jesus told might hold. Through this method, I hope to move the reading from the first-century world to twenty-first-century reality for anyone who seeks their relevance beyond literary entertainment.

To begin with, in the introduction that follows this preface, I will talk about Luke’s world and paint a picture of the readership that originally received his message. Certainly, Luke’s world was somewhat different from the world of Jesus and his followers. I’ll be mindful of the world of Jesus as well when reading the parables. One thing is certain: authors wrote to audiences.

As modern readers, we may want to think that the Gospel writers were writing to us. They weren’t! They were writing to an ancient audience within certain social conventions. Admittedly, my own experience as an Asian-American Christian with teaching experience in Asia may color my perspective. Such coloring may not be bad because there are some points of convergence between my own culture (or any other culture) and the biblical world. We shall see. In any case, having a background roadmap to navigate these stories from the perspective of the biblical audience is very important for modern understanding. This paradigm will be something that guides our ethical and homiletical reflection at the end of each parable, but we’re jumping ahead.

The first step to reading each parable, after we have reconstructed Luke’s world, is a reconstructive reading of the parable in an alternate way. In this first step, we look at one way Jesus could’ve told the parable. In this process, we should let the parable speak for itself instead of trying to theologize and moralize it. Quite often, in modern preaching, people do not let the parables speak for themselves but import their own narratives into them. There were obviously many possible ways to understand the parables in Jesus’ day. In this study, we’ll explore one way as a sample of how the parable could have functioned within its own cultural environment. I shall change what I consider the key element within the parable to see how the parable might have gone in a direction quite different from the intent of the storyteller. The characters of the parable will play an active role in determining how the story would have turned out. Another criterion I use in determining the key narrative element is the overall intent of the parable. In most parables, Jesus talks about what issue or question the parable is trying to address or answer. We can change the key element to address the issue in a different way and see what comes of it. In this step, I will provide my own altered version of the parable. Readers themselves can surely imagine other ways the parable could’ve been told to address the issue raised by Jesus and his situation.

In the second step, after coming up with an imaginary variation to the parable, I will establish the meaning of each parable as Jesus told it. In so doing, I will address the broader context from which the parable arose. How do I determine where the boundaries are for the broader context? It’s quite simple. I use the change of occasion and location in Luke’s story to determine the exact event that gives rise to Jesus’ parable. After discussion of the meaning of the parable, I will have a subsection called “context” to explore how narrative context influenced the formation of such a parable. This is an important element in determining the initial meaning a parable had for Jesus’ original audience. While range of meaning is a relatively open system, this step allows us to attend to what meanings are impossible and therefore narrows our scope. In this second step, we should be attentive to Jesus’ background if possible so that we don’t read Jesus outside of his own culture.

With the third step, after understanding the parable within Jesus’ context in Luke’s Gospel, we are ready to jump into more practical discussions. This third step has three phases. First, we discuss what Luke’s writing of the story would have meant to the original readers by connecting the meaning of the parable for Jesus’ audience with Luke’s readers. Second, we look at how the meaning from the original readers transfers to our world by looking at converging points between our culture and theirs. Third, we can look at how knowing all this can impact our preaching and Bible studies. The third step will provide some homiletic suggestions for busy preachers and Bible study questions for the busy Bible study leader. Here we’ll explore possible misreadings that can be found in the popular teaching of these parables. I’ll point out those pitfalls so that we can avoid future mishaps.

These three simple steps will always consider the metanarrative we’ve reconstructed from Luke’s world and they will highlight for us the possible and impossible meanings. This multidimensional reading will end up presenting a Jesus who was socially subversive for his time and ours. Readers will hopefully be able to follow and benefit from this intellectual exercise to further and deepen their personal reflections.

Right Parables Wrong Perspectives Intro 3: What if parables have imaginary varieties?

I continue into the series of introductory excerpts from book Right Parables Wrong Perspectives. These are used with the permission of Wipf and Stock Publishers. You can get your discounted copy here or on Amazon. Today’s excerpt from pp. xi-xii asks the important question that shows interpretation not only as a science but also as an art.


In Right Kingdom, I asked the question, “What if the parable gets turned upside down?” This is a legitimate question due to the subversive nature of Jesus’ parables. Jesus could’ve told his parables in many different ways, but he chose to tell them in one way. That one way triumphs over the many other ways.

In my colleague Sze-kar Wan’s back cover endorsement for Right Kingdom, he reminded me that Jesus’ parables can be told from “all sides and in all manners.” We must recognize that the backward way is not the only way to read a parable. In this study, I shall be more flexible. I ask a slightly different and wider question, “What if parables have imaginary varieties?” What if Jesus endorsed certain mentalities while attacking other mentalities? Whatever Jesus endorsed or attacked would show parts of his teaching that did or didn’t fit his society’s ideas.

Parables are cultural pieces, or as Amy-Jill Levine suggests, “short stories by Jesus.” These are fictional narratives created by Jesus out of the cultural milieu of his day. In other words, Jesus could have told his parables in an alternative way or two, but he chose to tell them the way he did. If we see Jesus’ parables as part of a larger cultural conversation, we should also attempt to imagine the other possible ways a parable could have be told, to appreciate its full meaning. Through our imaginative efforts, we can begin to get a glimpse of how value systems that favored or opposed Jesus’ value system might implicate our own modern way of looking at life. If we read Luke within the context of each event in Jesus’ life, we will find a consistent social message that flows from Luke’s understanding of the kingdom and the “gospel.”

I hope this book ultimately serves readers from all walks of life, as a part of a spiritual and ethical reflection, which will help shape the way we think and live. All scriptural translations are taken from the New English Translation, just as in Right Kingdom. I’m grateful to the NET for granting me permission to use their translation.

Right Parables, Wrong Perspectives Intro 2: What is a Parable?


I will continue to share excerpts from my book Right Parables, Wrong Perspectives. These are used with the permission of Wipf and Stock Publishers. You can get your discounted copy here or on Amazon.


Today, we’ll look at what a parable is. The following excerpt from pp. x-xi gives a very simple discussion on what a parable is.


In order to study a parable, it is important to define the term. Scholars have debated what parables essentially are.

1 Are they fables or allegories? Do they have one or multiple points? These questions tend to drive the discussions.

2 Whatever agreements or disagreements, we can’t dismiss the fact that these parables had relevance for Jesus’ original Jewish audience and Luke’s original readers. Thus, their origin was decidedly Jewish but their reception in Luke was Gentile. We shall discuss this matter shortly.

In past discussions regarding parables, many have sought to find a universal model to describe Jesus’ parables. Jesus’ parables however seem to defy such efforts. While many parables seem to have one clear message, many do not. I think it’s probably going to be a tough effort to find that one clear universal model. Perhaps we’re asking the wrong questions. Models may or may not determine the meaning. Forms may or may not determine the meaning. So what does?

The interaction between Jesus and his Jewish audience, per the description in the text, determines meaning. Then, the interaction between the author and readers also determines meaning. In other words, every parable encompasses two layers of meaning. How many points a parable makes ultimately doesn’t shed enough light to make the debate worth our while. Rather, two boundaries (the interaction between Jesus and his audience and the interaction between Luke and his readers) give us the range of meaning. The parable is the word picture reflecting the issues that are brought up by the two interactions.


Right Parables, Wrong Perspective Intro 1: the Purpose for Writing


I’m starting a series of blogs to give excerpts on my new book Right Parables, Wrong Perspectives: A Diverse Reading of Luke’s Parables. Feel free to share these excerpts with everyone who likes to read the Bible or on your Facebook wall. These are used with the permission of Wipf and Stock Publishers. You can get your discounted copy here or on Amazon. Maybe with the holiday coming up, you can give your friends and families the gift of reading. Today, I’m going to address what this book is for with the following excerpt from pp. ix-x.

Jesus’ parables are polyphonic. His parables could represent one voice, while there are also multiple voices of ways the stories could have been told. This explains my title and subtitle. The title refers to the wrong perspectives. Jesus was a polemical teacher who didn’t hesitate to disclose and denounce the wrong perspectives of his day. The many voices could be the many perspectives people used to view a particular issue, while Jesus emphasized his own perspective. When reading as modern readers, we should keep in mind these perspectives. There have been a number of very good books on parables in recent years. Klyne Snodgrass’s Stories with Intent probably provides the most thorough methodological demonstration of various ways to read New Testament parables. Amy-Jill Levine’s brief work Short Stories by Jesus also provides a uniquely Jewish perspective, demonstrating the provocation Jesus was bringing to his audience while correcting anti-Semitic readings common in the modern West. In this book, I try to be more concise than Snodgrass and focus more on the original readers in addition to Jesus’ own audience. My book serves the curious and nontechnical reader who wishes to understand Jesus’ parables in Luke.

In this book, I will take sample parables of Jesus in the Gospel according to Luke to show how reading them within their literary and cultural context will challenge both the ancient and modern readers. Inevitably, I shall skip over a few of the parables simply because my purpose isn’t to write a thorough commentary on Luke’s parables, but to see how a certain way of reading can help us understand any of Luke’s parables more accurately, creatively, and clearly. At the end of our study, we shall discover that Luke had a very practical and social message that often addresses how resources ought to be used within the faith community and by the faithful individual. It remains a challenging message today in our churches.

I write to serve two primary groups of readers. I serve the busy pastor who wishes to get the gist of Jesus’ parables while juggling a busy ministerial schedule. I also serve the lay-person who wishes to go beyond the usual popular studies on Jesus’ parables to something with a solid intellectual spine, but without the academic jargon. This effort will cause me to be selective about presenting technical information that may be better suited to academic commentaries on either the parables or on Luke (and there are so many excellent ones out there). My goal is simple. I wish to help my readers appreciate the fact that we often retell Jesus’ parables in ways opposite to Jesus’ intent. When certain essential elements are missing in our interpretation, we not only risk interpreting a partial truth, but we often derive the opposite message. This book hopes to correct some of our misreading by looking at how ancient audiences could have read them, and then how that also reflects modern misreadings.

This book is also a continuation of my book on Matthew, Right Kingdom, Wrong Stories. Readers of Right Kingdom will notice similarity in format and differences in content. I will not rehash in detail the preface from Right Kingdom. The summary below will serve our purpose in reading Luke’s stories.

Forgive and Forget? A Hurtful Christian Cliche


“Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica…. Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you because he’s helpful to me in my ministry.” 2 Timothy 4.9-11


Forgive and forget! That’s the Christian mantra to describe the process of forgiveness that isn’t quite as biblical as people claim. I’ve already talked about the the importance of repentance and confession in different blogs. In this one, I wish to focus on the idea of forgetting or forgetfulness. My purpose is to show how forgetting or forgetfulness isn’t always the best policy.


On August 13, Pastor Rick Warren writes on his Facebook that God thinks all lives matter as an alternative to Black Lives Matter movement. Thereafter, a firestorm erupted on this thread with an almost unifying voice of condemnation from our black brothers and sisters and almost a unifying voice of support from our white brothers and sisters. A simple appeal to God’s name shouldn’t divide the church, but it does and it has. Why? We no longer hold slaves. We no longer call black folks the N-word. Well, at least most of us who sincerely try to follow Christ don’t. Slavery and mistreatment of blacks are something that belong to a distant memory … at least for some folks, namely the white brothers and sisters who defend Pastor Rick. The same is not the case for the black brothers and sisters who still feel like second-class citizens. That explains the chasm, but it doesn’t explain the spirituality that causes the chasm.


The spirituality that causes the chasm is precisely what is wrong with the innocent Facebook post. Such a post is usually posted by a well-meaning person who doesn’t understand that the struggle is real for some folks today. The logic of such a person usually reads something like this. Since I’m not racist and I have minority friends, the world must be a better place already. And since the world is already a better place, why not forget the past, forgive the trespass (since I’m not racist) and move forward to bigger and better things. This logic is pretty much repeated in many posts that defend this attitude of “I’m OK; you must be OK.” It doesn’t work.


I remember growing up in the new South (Florida) as an immigrant and many of my classmates told me many racist Ching Chong jokes. Believe it or not, some of them are still my friends today (well, some aren’t). You know why? It’s because I’ve forgiven them. Whether they apologized personally to me or not doesn’t matter because they themselves have moved on to bigger and better things and they themselves have grown into better people. Many of the same folks have grown to be open-minded and mature Christians. So, we remain friends. Forgiveness doesn’t mean I forget those incidents. Forgiveness only means that I don’t hold grudges. When I see parallel incidents happening today, my radar is still up. Why? It’s because I forgave but I didn’t forget. Forgetfulness is spiritually harmful not just to the individual but to the Body of Christ.


Just because some people have grown up to be better and become “OK”, it doesn’t follow that everyone and the system that promotes that has been fixed. We don’t forget history. The church’s spirituality to forgive and forget has abused and will continue to injure many a member before someone calls her out. Easy forgetfulness isn’t progress. Easy forgetfulness is folly. It’s the naivety that causes historical terror to repeat itself.


As I type this blog, our nation still has a long way to go. Fraternities and sororities in the universities across the nation are some of the most racially segregated organizations. So are churches. It doesn’t matter that Pastor Rick’s churches have members that speak 67 different languages. So what? Some of those churches are foreign churches. Of course, these people would speak the local languages. The problem of Black Lives Matter is an entirely different issue. It isn’t merely about diversity. It’s about the present injustice that can sometimes happen to black folks as we non-black Christians forcefully ask them to forgive past trespasses so that we can forget any historical lesson that can prevent the PRESNT system from abusing more black folks.


If we read the writing of 2 Timothy, we must understand that forgetting past wrongs isn’t a biblical requirement. The author pointed out that he didn’t forget those who had abandoned him. He didn’t hold grudges but he also wasn’t naively believing that everything was “A OK.” Nothing is “A OK”. The author didn’t forget, even though he seems to have forgiven Mark’s possible trespasses when he abandoned the Pauline mission. Just because one guy came back to the Pauline mission, it doesn’t mean that other guys didn’t replace him in being derelict in their duties.


The spirituality of the Bible is realistic. It isn’t some impossible ideal. Forgiveness doesn’t require forgetting or forgetfulness. Instead, it requires gracious memory that teaches a historical lesson. To forget the historical lesson or fail to identify the present problem is to damage the Body of Christ because when one part is hurting, the other part should advocate for it or risk further injury. The biggest offense that comes from posts like Warren’s isn’t the truth it proclaims, but its failure to acknowledge the pain in the Body of Christ. Such half-truths are schismatic and ultimately will split the Body of Christ unnecessarily via the racial divide.

“Like” it or not, we’ve become non-thinkers: the impact of social media on our thinking



“All lives matter!” says the meme.


Some of the most widely shared memes on Facebook are the ones that create dichotomies while sporting a cool photo. Usually, these memes have to do with the latest ambulance bloggers are chasing. I want to sit back a bit and look at the way such dichotomous memes play out their logic.


The logic goes something like this. Why are we crying out about Cecil the lion when lions in fact kill REAL African people? Why are we crying over the suicide of Heath Ledger when hundreds of thousands are killed everyday everywhere? Why do we lament the overdose of Whitney Houston when many of our troops are being injured and killed every week? Why are we crying “black lives matter” when “all lives matter”? The list goes on.


The problem isn’t that these memes aren’t bringing a message; they do.  The message however stops us from thinking. Instead of seeing the angle that comes from both sides, we are forced to choose sides by being outraged for at least 5 minutes.  Perhaps both sides of the issue have legitimate points, but social media have forced us to think in terms of “either-or”. Is it okay to be upset at both the deaths of celebrities like Heath Ledge or Whitney Houston and the lost lives of our soldiers or innocent children? I can’t imagine my readers saying “No.” Is it possible to think that black lives matter in a society whose narrative seems to cheapen black lives at times while seeing that people of all colors deserve justice and fair treatment? No one can say “No” to that. See the problem?


Sometimes, these artificially created dichotomies aren’t even logically compatible, but are deliberately framed by the meme creator to set illogical fire for his or her own cause, and we feed into that fire with our thoughtless “likes” or “shares.” What we need isn’t dichotomies these days. What we need is the ability to think independently, issue by issue. What we need is the destruction of such unhealthy binaries. The problem with social media is that we often are so reliant on them that we lose our ability to think independently or to create our own categories. Then, there’s the additional problem of visual appeal. Many people don’t even think through some of the updates and hit “like” and “share”. Why? It’s because the update has an appealing photo attached to it. Even if we’ve read the update, we probably didn’t think too hard on it. We aren’t ruled by our clear thinking; we’re ruled by images and false dichotomies. In so doing, we’ve lost the precious ability to use our brains. The worse thing though is that we’ve lost our ability to be tolerant even in our apparently civil and free society.


In our seemingly tolerant era, social media like Facebook and Instagram have taken away our ability to have “both-and” thinking by creating a hegemony of “either-or.” This phenomenon cheapens thinking the way selfie sticks cheapen professional and artfully constructed photography. There’re a new global colonialism. It’s no longer bound by ethnicity or nationalities. It’s transnational. Social media have become king.


How does the above affect Christians? I think it affects Christians tremendously. Many Christians these days are activist ideologues. In favor of activism, many dismiss deeper and calmer thinking. In favor of ethics, many dismiss the importance of what’s the right thinking before the right doing. In favor of jingoism, many no longer want to discuss what the true meaning and implication of any given jingo. More importantly, if social media are the rulers of our lives, we’re no longer ruled by scriptural reasoning and theological thinking that make God our King. In our claim for more of a global Christianity, we’re more local than ever with the think tank being the computer screen in the comfort of our bedrooms. We think that the virtual reality of this global faith in the microcosm created by our screens is the only reality. Instead of thinking about why we “like” or “dislike” certain ideas, we’re ruled by our own feeling of “liking” something. We’re in grave danger of losing the intellectual essence of our faith.


A further negative impact that social media have exerted over our faith is our ability to tolerate different ideas. I’m not talking about cheap tolerance of political correctness but real intellectual tolerance that allows different ideas to exist. Once we “like” something, we are committed to the original writer’s ideology. We’re temporarily committed to the whole idea. The “like” button forces us to choose ideas because there aren’t too many other alternatives such as “I like this part but not that part.” The problem is, intellectually vigorous reflection requires all sorts of alternatives. Real thinking doesn’t force us to mindlessly like something because the image was nice or certain phrases were catchy. It searches the “why” and “how” of each issue. In other words, the “like” button is potentially anti-intellectual. If our intellect is part of our spirituality, we can also say that many times, that same button is anti-spiritual because it blinds us from more nuanced thinking. Thus, I will always insist that social media, like our TV or movie screens, will never be a place of serious intellectual inquiry. Such media are purely for entertainment. If you think I’m wrong, think about the last Facebook update you liked yesterday and how much of it you remembered. The same goes for hundreds and thousands of Facebook or Instagram updates and hashtags.  I think my point will be proven without any doubt.

(Dis)Honorarium in Speaking Ministries


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The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.  For the Scripture says, “Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.” 1 Tim. 5.17-18 (NIV)


An article has been circulating the internet on speaker honorarium by Dr. John Stackhouse, a professor at Regent College, on how churches abuse and underpay outside speakers.  As a frequent outside speaker (since I make my living freelancing), I concur that his picture is accurate, but even his picture can be a little too optimistic at times.  Reality can be much worse.  The above verses deal with the payment for elders in the early church, but it also implicates all sorts of ministerial honoraria.



One lesson I learn about freelancing is that there’s no fixed rate.  If an organization thinks your service is a priority to the its health, they’ll pay you whatever you ask for.  If someone just wants you to fill a hole in the program, the sponsor will just say that you’re too expensive or try to negotiate your price down or the organization will try to nickel and dime your expenses.  One very large (non-Chinese) conference I know pays a speaker a seemingly large amount until the speaker has to pay for his own travel and food.  Well, the whole hassle comes out to about much less than a speaker who does his own speaking in a church for a weekend.  In some cases, if you’re a big enough name, they’ll even try to profit off your speaking by selling your DVD’s or MP3’s without your permission.  The plot looks something like this. They’ll come to you after and say, “Well, you’re OK to give us permission to record and sell your DVD’s, right?” If you somehow object, they’ll tell others that you’re all about the money and never about serving God’s people.



To make matters worse, many places that invite speakers to speak never think of the financial matter from the perspective of the speaker.  Most places won’t pay for even a  premium economy seat.  This is quite a small matter until you have to arrive at a place jet lagged, and are expected to speak immediately. The worst are the long-haul flights (let’s say, over 5 hours) where you’re cramped next to some overweight guy who takes up two seats while breathing really heavy.  You get off the plane feeling infinitely worse than when you got on. Then, they expect the speaker to perform.  In contrast, we don’t do that to our (both amateur and professional) athletes. We let them adjust to the time changes, jet lag and changed locations.  Not so the church, even though speaking is also a physical act! Somehow the church often expects the speaker to work immediately without break, even having to stand for hours during the speaking engagement (we stand for hours because after the worship team sits down, we’re still standing to speak).  If the speaker wants to arrive one day early to adjust, s/he would have to pay for meal expenses on those days.



These above situations are true scenarios in my own experience because honorarium is all about power and transaction. The one holding the money bag has the power in the transaction. Money is power and the more money someone possesses, the more power he holds.  Of course, as speakers, we also have (disproportionally less) power to say no, and I’ve learned to say no a lot more lately.  The fact is, the church doesn’t always get its priorities straight, amidst all these “programs” it creates.



In my travel and speaking, many people have the mistaken notion that speaking for huge churches often pay better.  Sometimes, this is the case, but quite often, it is not. I can only speak from my own experience.  In fact, the ones that paid me the most reasonable and bargain the least are small churches.  Why? The reason is simple.  Small churches don’t always have the luxury of running many out-of-control programs that also drain funding.  For example, I know for a fact that some churches spend huge money for “evangelistic meetings” (aka proselytizing via guilt trip, glamor, and manipulation) because they think head count is the most important thing.  One particular Christian celebrity, who’s known more for his heretical and outrageous preaching than his theological acumen, charges something like 200,000 HKD (almost 30,000 USD) per event. Wow, that’s a GOOD living.  I won’t tell you how much I charge, but this amount is way above my fee.  The fee is based purely upon what they think each speaker or his/her ministry is worth.  Visible and immediate results take priority every time.  The usage of money is based on transaction between the giver and the taker.  The giver weighs the value, and the taker represents value. Somehow, Jesus taught something quite different about money and the kingdom.



Another thing that churches skimp on is the hotel. If you aren’t prepare to pay for a decent hotel, don’t bother inviting a decent speaker. The reason is simple. We can’t think when we don’t have enough sleep. The problem isn’t whether the hotel is nice or not. That’s usually the mistaken notion people have about hotels. Get us business hotels where the clients aren’t on holiday, and their next day performance in front of the boardroom is dependent on a good night of sleep. One of the best accommodations I had (pictured in the blog) is a service apartment in Australia where I got a peaceful night of sleep to recuperate from the busy activities of the day and evening.



Before booking a hotel, find out whether there’s heavy construction going on because sometimes a good hotel puts up a sale because of the renovation. I’ve stayed in nice hotels that have continuous drilling in the wall from morning to night. Forget about sleeping and not getting a headache. I’ve had to leave the hotel to avoid a headache. Hotels where people spend holidays are the worst because people come in and out at all different hours, making horrendous amount of noise right when we’re about to fall asleep OVER AND OVER AGAIN. Some hotels have an indoor pool that isn’t aired out properly and is located very near the room. I’ve gotten ill just from smelling the fumes of chlorine before. I may sound like I’m asking a lot, but think about this, when you conduct your next biggest contract sale out of town, would you put yourself in my hotel and expect to make your next biggest sale? Well, there’s your answer. At the end of the day, many such decisions are based on priorities.



Kingdom is much more about priorities.  The reason 1 Timothy talks about payment for elders is mainly because the Ephesian church had some troubles with their existing eldership/leadership system, evident in the list of qualifications of 1 Tim. 3.  The passage in 1 Tim. 5 is based on qualification first and foremost.  In other words, qualified people get better pay period!  These days, our societal value causes us to pay athletes more than teachers by a ton.  Entertainers make much more than educators.  Has society’s value somehow crept into the church?  The honorarium system and salary scale for ministers indicate that such social value has penetrated the thick walls of the church, even if the church fails to reach beyond its thick walls into society.  While visitors might find our thick walls hard to break through, secularized value practically got a free pass though.  Often enough, money is simply the means to transaction for immediate gratification.  Good stewardship isn’t merely about financial planning. Good stewardship is about healthy thinking.  Money is only the means. The end is where the problem exists. Money was never the problem! It’s only the symptom.

Burning Money Like Trash for Jesus


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“When you give a luncheon of dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and you will be repaid.  But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lam, the blind, and you will be blazed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”  Luke 14.12-14


I’ve been contemplating on financial integrity lately, especially in the way churches use their money to celebrate different milestones.  I see a lot of funding misdirected.


One area of misdirected fund is anniversary celebrations for almost ALL Christian organizations.  It’s almost out of control.  I remember one time when I suggested to a certain organization that perhaps the best way to celebrate the anniversary is to do what Jesus said to do, invite all the poor and the oppressed to eat instead of throwing another food-wasting extravagant banquet.  Someone told me that I just didn’t get it.  SADLY, I DO GET IT. I exegete the Bible and write about it for a living.  Look at the above passage from what Jesus said in Luke.  What is so difficult about the plain meaning of Jesus’ teaching? It isn’t a metaphor. He really meant it.  I suspect our problem isn’t money. Our problem is priority.  The above teaching shows that the way we use money should be above a mere transaction.


Is Jesus against banqueting? Of course not.  He’s often seen eating with both the privileged and the underprivileged.  Jesus was talking about priorities.  Jesus was demanding that our priorities shouldn’t always be based on the idea of transaction of visible gains.  I emphasize “visible” because Jesus did use a lot of transaction and stewardship metaphors to describe the often invisible benefits of the kingdom.  The visible benefits are almost immediate as they come in real repayment (see Luke 14.12).  It’s all about what “I” can get out of it “now”.  The “I” and “now” aren’t what the kingdom is all about.  That’s what Jesus was saying.  The church ministry is never just about the money.  Neither is the church budget.  It’s about priorities.  IF Jesus’ saying “where your feature is, there your heart will be also” is true, the souls of many churches and Christian organizations are already dead.


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