31 July 2007

Books read this Month

It has been a long while since I picked up a book to read. In the past I used to read quite a bit, averaging about 20-30 books a year. For this year, this is my 1st book in 7 months (other than some PC/Website related books). Sin and dissappointments has really taken a bad toll on me and my individual growth. Sin is really a bad master.

This book is entitled: A Mandarin and the Making of Public Policy, Reflections by Ngiam Tong Dow. It is edited by Simon Tay, and published by NUS Press in 2006.

Strengths of this book:

It contains many candid stories of Ngiam's life in the Civil Service (He was Perm Sec for many Boards & Ministries) and inside stories on Singapore's leaders. One of his more memorable analogies is that of the Government giving too many handouts so that the monkey has now become an un-controllable gorilla. Another is that of soft power, e.g. market research company (Boeing Company) rather than pure production companies (which Singapore cannot compete on).

Weakness:

It contains a few repetitive stories; only has one man's version of the truth.

Lessons to apply:

1) Be more flexible, don't whine when difficulties come.

2) Compete on your strengths - know your strengths.

Am I a good teacher?

What makes a good teacher?

My own take is that he must be passionate about his job. He must also have a good grasp of the content knowledge. What differentiates a good teacher from a great teacher, is that a great teacher is able to bring the class to a higher level, to enthuse them and to put into them a desire to learn more.

I don't think I am a good teacher. I tend to be dictated by the class' moods rather leading them to meet the lesson's objective. I am not able to change the climate of the class around. When they do not pay attention and are doing their own things, I find it very challenging to catch their attention. Perhaps it is the lack of support systems in the school that hampens my ability manage the class to the desired discipline levels.

What should I do then? Can I improve and how?

On reflection, a huge part of it is internal. My content knowledge is adequate, as my Section Head and mentor attest. I am lacking in self-confidence when it comes to confronting and disciplining the students. I chose often to back down when I should perhaps have scolded them.

Why do I fear? Embarrassment. Loss of face. Uncertainties. No support. My real fear is that when there is a serious confrontation with the student(s) and it is not properly resolved, i.e. he gets away with it, then I do not know how to face the class for the rest of the semester. Sigh, so far my training does not train me for these situations. I do not know whether this is a real fear or an imaginary fear - but it is powerful.

Student discipline is but one arena of a teacher's work. Today at the canteen, my colleague mentioned about helping to guide his student by putting into him the need to think about long term benefits rather than short term quick gains. He has this real desire to help the students beyond the confines of the classroom. This is also another area that I am weak in. For me now, I seldom go the extra mile for the students. Maybe, I'm too frustrated by the bad ones. Perhaps there is a need to grow in Christ-like love for the students.

Am I a good teacher? Or one that is in it for the money to pay the bills? Deep inside I strive to be a good teacher and to learn by God's grace to overcome the growth challenges. Lord, help me as it is not an easy road that I am walking. Give me opportunities to learn from my better colleagues. Grant me the courage to move out of my comfort zone and risk saying the needed corrective words.

Wisdom, courage and love.

28 July 2007

Emotional dwarfs

My pastor used to say that a difficult testing area for a leader is in the area of emotions. We can rise up and lead and attempt great things for God. But down from the stage and in our own rooms, we may crumble when someone uttered a word against us. Our whole world may just collapse for that day or that week.

Last week, in my classes, I faced that challenge from my students. One of them shouted at me with, "'Cher, I am talking to you! Can't hear is it?" when I was busy trying to take attendance of my class. I retorted back straightaway that I was busy and asked him to hold on. Obviously he was not happy and neither was I. We had a cold war there and then. Later when I tried to explain to him, he simply walked away and ignored me totally.

What do I do? Scream at him? Report him to the discipline master? Take revenge and fail him? I let the matter cool down and did nothing then. Inside, I was in emotionally turmoil. Anger took over. Questions raged all over my mind. I was not able to handle it well, especially when a 17 year old teen shook my world.

At home, I realised that I would get angry very fast. It takes a little wrong word from my gals and I'll be screaming mad. It doesn't help when one of my gals is more difficult to handle. It must have been tough and frightening for my neighbours to hear the outbursts! If my wife wrongly accuses me, I will yell back. So totally un-christian like. Sigh. I noticed that my children have caught this bad behaviour from me too. Sigh, sigh.

How do I get a hold of my emotions? How can I be less angry?

I remember John's words, "He must increase, but I must decrease" Jesus said it well, "the seed must die" (Jn.12.24). Dead people have no anger. I am frequently angry because I have not died to the world and its lusts. I am still very much in the world. I need to die to self (ego) and to the world.

Simple words. Difficult words to do.

Die.

Egypt, Red Sea and Wilderness

Today's sermon, Nehemiah 9:9-12, touched a chord in my heart. All of us have our Egypt (times of bondage to sin), Red Sea (dissappointments after a great deliverance) and Wilderness (times of confusion). Are we able to see the Lord as the Mighty One who can deliver us? The Compassionate One who will provide for us a way out? And the Wise One who will guide us? What is our view of God?

I used to see God as the Almighty (in theory) but in practice, the mighty one subject to my rationalisations. When my mounting bills come crashing down on me and there are additional expenses and unexpected items to fork out, I would be down, crumbled by the mightier dollar rather than the comforting hand of God who said that He will provide for me (Mt.6.32, 33). I rest better in the simple maths of income greater than expenses, rather than on His promises.

Unfortunately, finances is not the only arena in my life. Work struggles, relationships, family matters, and in fact every area of my life is subjected to the test. Most of the time, I fail and trusted in my own provisions than His. And the sad thing is that I am a slow learner in all these sessions.

Today I stood up in response to the pastor's call for prayer. It is when we are weak then He is strong. Lord, I cannot. I believe you can. Come and take over. Amen.

Right now there is a big test waiting for me. The $500 that we are supposed to trust God for in booking a table for the 29th Anniversary-cum-Church Building Celebrations. My finances does not look so good especially with the many unexpected items to pay this month. Can I still pay this sum? It is not a small sum, and can last my family till the next paycheck. If I give it to the fund, we may be in need and may have to borrow from the bank cashlines to make ends meet.

I have drawn out the money this afternoon. Just do it in faith and see what will happen next. Don't delay or I'll be tempted to shrink back.

Lord, help. Show yourself as the Mighty One to provide.

My Heavenly Father in pain

It has been a while since I did my Quiet Time. My week was emotionally tiring and it affected my spiritual life as well. All I wanted to do this week was to escape from it all and vegetate (do nothing). So it was quite an achievement to finally open up the Bible and read His word. Yet His words do not disappoint. It was particularly poignant this morning.

1 Sam.2. 23 And he said to them, “Why do you do such things? For I hear of your evil dealings from all the people. Here Eli admonished his 2 sons for their wayward ways before the Lord for taking the offerings and misbehaving themselves at the temple.

As it spoke to them, it spoke afresh this morning to me, "Why do you (me) do such things?". I had been far from the Lord for a while. While my 'things' may not be as bad (but how do I compare? Self-righteous?) as theirs, it is nonetheless sin in God's eyes.

I am painfully reminded of my situation, especially in the many days that I chose to walk away from His will and go my own ways. Why do you do such a thing? It is a cry of a painful father in the passage. One who cares. One who knows what should be done and is pained that his sons did not do it. With my heavenly Father, I am face-to-face with a saddened Father too.

“it is no good report that I hear” – is equally painful.

The key here: will I listen to the Father? The sons of Eli did not and they were punished by the Lord. I need to listen and return to the Lord and ask for forgiveness. I need to stop doing whatever is displeasing to Him.

Forgive me O Lord, for my wayward ways! I am wrong.

The past busy week

It has been a blur of a week. Things passed by so quickly. No time to rest and reflect. It was a week of downs and "down-ers" at school. It was a week of bad and "bad-er" spiritually.

Last Monday was difficult as I had 2 cases of ill-disciplined students. In the 1st class, the girl class rep simply refused to close her laptop during lesson time to listen in class. The rest of the noisy boys group by the side finally complied with my instructions but not her. And she was their class rep! Needless to say the next minute everyone else' laptop was up and playing away. What a way to spoil your whole week!

I felt defeated by a cheeky and defiant 17 year old kid. And am powerless to do anything to restore my "teacher" pride and dignity. I mumbled an impotent resigned phrase, "Alright, those who want to listen, just listen" and just carried on, trying to put the incident behind me.

The 2nd lesson (for another class) that day was bad too. Previously, in the former lesson, 5 students walked out of the class. I complaint to their Class Advisor, who then compelled them to write a letter of apology to me. When these 5 walked in, their faces were defiant and it screams of "You wait and see t'cher!". It was almost impossible to teach that afternoon. Students were talking loudly, walking in and out of the room without a care. Only about a handful were listening, or appear to be listening.

What do you do in such cases? scream at them? Pack up and dismiss the class earlier? or just carry on? I chose to do the latter. I felt weak and too drained to do anymore for them as I still have a 3rd class that day. And that was only Monday.

My colleagues noticed the change in my countenance. I refrained from telling them the whole truth. I had my pride to protect, sigh. I did something new that lunch time - I bought fruits and offered to share with them. They nearly fell off their chairs. One of them remarked, "It must be quite bad right?" She was right, but I just smiled and uttered, "Well, its just one of those days."

My pastor was right. Take your work seriously, but don't take yourself seriously. Here I took myself too seriously - my ego, and I was hurt by the teens, who would have forgotten about the whole episode the moment they walked out of the classroom.

Thankfully, the rest of the week's classes were not as dramatic, just the norm of poor attendance, students pressurising you to end class earlier, and wise-cracks wanting to escape class early.

Teaching is really challenging and draining. No wonder the government is increasing our pay next year.

18 July 2007

My Taciturn Dad

Each week my parents would come to our home to help us look after our kids. Today is one of those days where the kids get to meet their grandparents after school and play with them.

My time with dad is only at dinner time once a week and in the car as i fetch them home. Was this an increase during my youth? I don't really know. Growing up, my time with dad was also negligible, a few words here and there. He was not one who likes to talk. I was a boy of few words too. 

We communicate with actions and gifts rather than with words. He would wake up early daily to buy us breakfast each morning. Though we always tell him that we don't really like his breakfast food items, he would still buy the same items (Chwee kuey and chee cheong fun. I have since grown a liking for these food and eat them for breakfasts now). 

He will always provide amply for our needs. Whatever we asks for, he will give and not hold back (hmm, so unlike what I am doing now to my own children). I remember that there was once, I lost my key pouch, including our house keys. Without any nagging or scolding, he made another set for me and gave me some money to buy a new key pouch. If it was my mum, she would have scolded me for a long time. But not my dad. He does not scold, he gives. 

Tonight, the 2 of sat side by side at the dinner table. The rest were engrossed with the 7pm Chinese serial on TV. As usual, our conversation were limited and topic-less. But my love for him was real though invisible. I too do not know how to express love and how to carry on the conversation. With other people, I do not have difficulties conversing, but with dad, it is different and at times awkward. 

My dad has aged quite a bit in the last few years. Soon he may be hard of hearing and suffer from other diseases that old people are prone to. Would I still be able to love him then? Or will I see him as a burden and distance myself from him?

I trust I will love him. Even if I had to go the extra long mile. 

Human dads give us a glimpse of how our heavenly Father is. In my dad's case, he showed me the generosity of the heavenly Father. One who gives without asking why or for proofs of results. Sigh, and in this area, I have a lot to learn and grow in. 






15 July 2007

Sunday Worship: Routine or Re-energized?

Today seems like an ordinary Sunday. Arriving late for worship. Mumbling through songs, because they are new to me, and also they are too fast to sing at 8am. Listening to the Pastor preach and unconsciously criticising his sermon. Standing up for the closing prayer and song. Leaving quietly by the back door. 

Is this what Church is, or should be? 

I asked myself where is the part that I commune with God. Where are those times where He spoke clearly through the speaker and draws a tear and a poignant response in me for action? Is it because God is not here? Or that I am mentally somewhere else? 

For the whole process to work well, it need to begin on Saturday night. I need to sleep early and prepare to meet God throughout the week doing my regular devotions. These I did not for the past week and hence I struggled.

On Sunday morning, it did not help when the kids wanted to sleep later and are a "pain in the neck" to wake. After waking the family, and getting them out of the main door, I felt that my  worshipful frame of mind has been skewed towards anger and sometimes frustrations. I need to re-focus here and settle down quickly in the sanctuary. 

It would help, for myself, at least, if there are some tangible things for me in worship. The professional singers and preaching have sometimes turned the whole thing into a performance and me into a spectator. In the OT era, the people brought the unblemished animals for sacrifice. It was a hands-on thing. There was blood and gore, smell and splattering. They cannot be sleeping through the whole process. True, I understand  it is difficult for something like that to happen now. But, some increased level of involvement would be good. 

Maybe, that's where ministry comes in. And maybe since I'm not serving, that's why I'm feeling dry. 

Reminded from the sermon today in Nehemiah 9, that God is the One who gives because that is His character, and He is committed to give because He is faithful. He has provided for the Israelites (2 million plus people) for 40 years in the wilderness, and they are not in want (Neh.9:21). I have strayed away from His provisions, struggling to give myself peanuts and am constantly in want. What a sad contrast! 

It is time for me to return to Him. I should start to be giving (by serving), after idling for so long. Take me Lord...

 

14 July 2007

Puppy Love

I must confess that I am a not a very good dog owner.

I fare alright in terms of feeding and cleaning of my pet. But in terms of walking him and giving him the right amount of exercise, I failed badly. We failed too as a family to play adequately with him and to provide for him the attention and exercise that he needs.

This afternoon, I did brought him out for a long walk. His routine is to urinate right at the pot of plant outside my main door when he is allowed out. He is very energetic. He will gallop and I will have to pull hard to restrain him. Once on the roads or at the park, he will bark at every person that he meets. I have a tough time pulling him back. Beating him firmly at his thighs do not seem to work yet.

Yet all these do not dampen my joy of seeing him enjoying himself in the walks. He brings out the life, the zest, the curiosity that I used to have for life.

A dog is an amazing animal. Men's best friend. You can beat him, scold him, starve him, but he will still love you and wiggle his little tail to show you that he adores you. When you come home, he will bark excitedly, as if he has missed you for a long time. His love for our family is truly wonderful! When we leave for shopping, he will quietly stay at home, without uttering a single word of complaint (so unlike my children :-) no matter how long it takes. That fanatic welcome is always there upon our return.

I learnt a lot about devotion and adoration for my Heavenly Master from my dog. I know that in this aspect, I have much more to learn from him. I complain. I would not come when called. I sulked and do not respect God as I should. I want my ways and not His ways.

Sigh. Give me a greater devotion for you Lord. I have not love you as I should. Help me to do so Lord. Amen.

10 July 2007

Students' Seminar or Adults' conference?

"'Cher, what are they talking about? See, no one is listening..." And he is right.

Not only were the students not listening to the distinguished speakers, even the directors, those in business suits seated at the first few rows were either talking to each other, or fiddling with their PDAs. One of them was definitely dozing off in a 'strategic way'.

This is a classic case of missing the audience's needs totally by the speakers. These so-called distinguished speakers spoke to impress each other, while their targeted audience, the students, were lost in all the 'distinguished' languages, and just switched off. The HK students were not paying attention too.

What do we want our seminars to achieve? Is it planned for students to learn? Or is it for the schools and even the countries to impress one another?

The best joke of the seminar was where a student rose up to ask a question to the panel speaker. It was a great question, remarked the panel speaker and everybody clapped. The only problem is that it was written by the teachers and taught to the student to ask so that we do not 'look stupid' to the other schools. Hmm, so much for integrity.

The only part where the students pay attention and stopped taking photos of themselves, were the dancing performances and the sand drawing display. When would the organisers start to take notice of what the students are attracted by? Who listens to long boring talks? Isn't it sad to bore these students?

Besides the happenings at the main conference, the daily logistics proved to be an interesting exercise of patience. Every morning we were bussed in different buses with different configurations of students. This was due to the different needs of those going for rehearsals as well as top management's requests for special side tours. My colleague was especially unhappy at being shouted by a fellow staff. Tempers flare easily when we are under pressure.

For me, I re-learnt again that those who are in charge, must be present and be decisive to set clear guidelines if not those below them will have a tough job of leading and dealing with ambiguities. There will always be many "Indian chiefs", each trying to out-do and impress others. But the designated leader must rise up and lead.

There was a nice ending to the whole students seminar episode.

My students and I started off initially as cool to each other. After a few months of working together, they open up and were more responsive. At meal times, they will reserve places for us at the dining table and asked us to join them. When they see us during shopping time or at the hostel areas, they will wave at us and called out to us. It was truly heart warming! When we returned, one of them sent a thank you SMS. Another sent an email thanking all of us, and specifically mentioning our names.

At the end of the hassles, it was worth it. They have became our friends, our allies in the educational journey. Praise God.

3 July 2007

To HK we go...

Tomorrow is the day where 300 students and 30 facilitators will assemble at the airport to fly to HK for our Student Seminar. Our flight is at 0810hrs but we are told to be at the airport by 0530hrs, and of course, teachers must come earlier. 

This trip really brings out all the bureaucratic "kiasu-ness" in all of us. "You must make sure your students are at their best behaviour!" "Please remind them to bring umbrellas!" "Please tell them to bring 3 sets of the given T-shirt and no jeans!" and the list of "You must..." go on and on. 

My fellow colleagues were sighing to each other, we will be very glad when all these are over. Which is this weekend. But then, the new school term starts on Monday - what holidays??? No wonder we teachers are very tired. 

In all these admin 'madness', we need to keep sight of the greater goal - education of the students rather than individual school glory. What do student A learn from this trip? Hopefully it is not just about shopping or girls in HK. I pray they will pick up some important lifeskills, e.g. the plane and ferry waits for no slothful student. Our students have a tradition of being late, let's see how they can wake up and be at the airport by 0530 hrs when they cannot get up and be in school for the 8 o'clock class. 

Shirt and tie 2 sets - checked. Students' passports - checked. Lanyards - checked. Medical supplies - yes, brought extra for them. All ready for the big day tomorrow. Family? ok, they are excited for me and will miss me. 

Lord, please grant onto me extra eyes to be vigilant, increased measure of grace to be patient and plentiful doses of energy to be alert for the 4 days. Amen. 



When others are more successful than me...

Recently I read the local papers and saw someone that I knew well got promoted. He was 2 years my junior. For him everything seems to be progressing fine, career, houses, family, and ministry. My bosses were also younger than me and am advancing, while my life seemed to be in a rut. Unmoving and stagnant like the dregs in left over coffee.



What do we do when we are caught up in envy and self-pity?



My QT today on John the Baptist reminds me that this is not a new phenomenon. 2 thousand over years ago, he faced it when he saw a young man, Jesus, overtaking him in popularity. John's comment?



"The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease." John 3:29-30.



John accurately noted that he is only the friend of the bridegroom, the best man probably in our modern day context. What made John stands out is his ability to 'rejoice greatly' at the bridegroom's voice. John has great joy and wants the bridegroom to increase and himself to decrease. What struck my heart was the phrase, 'but I must decrease' (italics mine). John ensured that he must decrease, and that He must increase.



Was it hard for John to do so? I am sure it was. They were born within months of each other, and their parents knew each other. Comparisons were bound to be rampant. And yet in John's mind, he knew that Jesus must increase and he decrease.



I am not John the Baptist. When I see others around me succeeding while I floundered, I get depressed and envious. While I would not go out and harm them or intentionally sabotage them, I did not rejoice in their success either. I find it difficult to 'rejoice greatly' over their success.



What helped John to do so? I think he was very clear on his purposes in life - to prepare the way for the Master. John knew that he was not the Messiah. He was just the voice that cried out to prepare the way.



What about me? Am I perhaps doing or eyeing things that are not meant for me? But does that mean that we do not aim for better things or be ambitious?



Here I am reminded about the red and blue bar principle. The red bar are things that stands out. The glamour. The fast track Hollywood glitz. The blue bar are the background things. The unimpressive, the obscure, simple lifestyles. When Jesus was on earth, He was a blue bar person, living in obscurity for 30 years. He never go for the limelight. And yet He achieved so much more than any fast-tracked yuppie.



Am I going for the limelight - red bar? Can I be contented and rested in God to go for the blue bar things in life? Here the latter option involves much more faith to trust that God still has something better for us, in the midst of seemingly nothing-ness.



Sometimes, being ambitious is a good camouflage for being carnal in wanting or lusting after positions or fame.



I saw my Uncle P recently in a cousin's wedding. Here was one whom I despised in my younger days as one without ambition. He was just working for my dad as a furniture shop worker for the large part of his life. Today, he was still working in the furniture line for another boss. He had three children, all grown up now, with the youngest just graduated from NTU. He is the typical blue bar person. A quiet non-achiever in the eyes of the world. But here was a cheerful man, having done his part to bring up his family. He was still strong at 61 and working and contributing to the society. A decent good citizen and one who will finish well.



I need to constantly remind not to envy others. Sigh... it is a real struggle. But rather, place my trust in God who is my heavenly Father. Remember, He knows, that I have such needs, and He will take care of them for me. Be at peace. Cease to strive for such things that gets me no where.



Praise God.

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