Sunday, 9 October 2016

Men for Christ: Living Out Our Faith.

What do you get when you take a man, his journey and his faith, and put them through the prism of life? You get a book entitled “Men for Christ: Living Out Our Faith” of course.

This is an honest book. It is written by 21 men, grown men, wounded men, crying men, successful men, devoted men, and fallible men. They are captains of their own industry with well-known academicians, honorary editor, ex-politician, banking head, senior pastors, renown doctors and a local history professor with a first-class honors degree leading the charge.

But they are also men for Christ and their life demonstrates to the reader and the world what it takes to be a true follower of God. These men could be anyone’s mentor and the mentee will undeniably be better, richer and wiser for it. You can’t possibly walk away from the book after reading it and learn nothing.

The message in the book is well summed up by Associate Professor Ho Peng Kee in the Preface: “No man is perfect, so it is important that we do not put anyone on a pedestal.” That’s honest self-incrimination for you even before you flip to the first chapter. Humility is indeed embodied in 21 successful lives lived for Christ.

In the book, you will read about their unshakeable belief, their candid failures, their testimonies of faith in the marketplace, and their love for their Savior. Their faith is simply poetic elegance in a world of disruptive challenges.

You will also see a mirror reflection of your own struggles in theirs, and you will come to know the reality of Christ in your life more deeply, intimately and completely. The beauty of the book is that it does not pretend to have the answers. It does not tell you that as a believer, all you need to do is to name it and claim it. But in living their life in trust and obedience, their personal narratives as they unfold in the pages stand as reliable guideposts to point you in the direction you should take in your own journey of faith.

What I like about the book is that it walks you through each life with deep insight, humble faith and raw honesty. These grown men mince no words. They tell it as it is. Their masculinity comes in a form of readily admitted spirituality of vulnerability and their clay-like life is exemplary of what the Master Potter can shape and fashion when broken dreams and broken lives fully and humbly submit to Him.

Yes, they are not perfect, but they are enduringly inspiring. Their journey sets the beaten path for the reader of faith because each step they take, that is, their failures and successes, follows closely in the footsteps of their Savior.

In the book, you have one grown man who openly admitted to this: “Every night, I cried to sleep. I cried incessantly until I could cry no more…I slept curled up like a foetus in the mother’s womb.” (Patrick Liew, Founder of Success Resources).

Didn’t they say strong men shed no tears? Well, the truth is that they are only strong because they dare to cry before the Lord as they surrender everything to Him.

To me, tears are never a sign of weakness. It is on the contrary the emblem of maturity for the mark of woundedness is also the true mark of spiritual leadership and stewardship. Here I recall this scripture: “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.

You will also read about a loving father who had signed up as a patient at the Institute of Mental Health. The reason? Because one of his children was afflicted with a mental health problem, and in his own words, he wrote: “I had decided to do this to learn first-hand the dynamics at play when a mentally unwell person is under treatment…as it turned out, it was a very useful exercise in self-discovery.” (Hsieh Fu Hua, Chairman of UOB and Tiger Airways Holdings).

One may be tempted to ask here, “It is really necessary to admit oneself into IMH just to learn about mental illness?” The answer to that is succinctly spelt out in the man’s own words: “Emerging from this journey, I began to appreciate better one’s “inner core of being” which dwells in the depth of the heart, soul and spirit. This core may be sensed as we learn and try to draw nearer to God.

At this juncture, let me speak a word or two as my takeaway from the book. All the contributors have a story to tell, a story of their life in the lowest depth and at the highest point of their struggles and successes. For them, the savouring highs are meaningless without first overcoming the crushing lows. And overcome they did not so much by confronting the circumstances around them, but by meeting the challenges within.

I earnestly believe that the greatest battle in a man’s life takes place in his consciousness where his conscience meets the serrated-knife-edge of a thought that seeks to derail him, an idea that tempts him into sin, a notion that lulls him into sleepwalking through life, and an image that draws him into captivity. This crossroad is where the first step to overcoming begins.

What makes a man a man for Christ is when he draws the courage, faith and hope from God to face his own Calvary, and nails his self to it, one nail at a time. Only when he is done with the self is he then ready for the world, that is, to be a testimony of true worth and impact for the glory of God.

One contributor in the book said, “The challenge is we need to manage ourselves. But the honest truth is that we are very unprepared for that.” (Lee Han Kiat, Halftime Certified Coach and Roundtable Facilitator). The corollary truth to that is that we can’t do it alone.

In the book, Bishop Emeritus Robert Solomon wrote this about redeeming our maleness: “We cannot approach Christian discipleship with tools and techniques. We need to follow Christ intimately.” The wise Bishop also said, “It is not so important to solve the problem, but to love the person.” And emulating our Savior as he offered himself as a living sacrifice is a good place to start in redeeming our manhood,  our maleness, our masculinity.

What touched me deeply about the book is that you have a father who gave up his promising career (fast-track promotion from finance director to CEO) for his son when his frequent absence from family caused his eldest son to ask him, “Daddy, why are you abandoning me?” (David Ang, PBM headed Dads for Life and chairs Kum Yan Methodist Church). And this scripture quoted by David Ang moved me deeply as a father of three: “…He will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers…” (Malachi 4:5-6).

You also have a businessman, the CEO of Far East Organization to be exact, who is not ashamed of the gospel of Christ when he made this declaration in the secular marketplace:-

I cannot be a Christian on one hand and a businessman on the other. I am a Christian first and a businessman second. One cannot compartmentalize; first and foremost, one has to follow Christ. I make it a point to subtly let my prospective business partners know that I am a follower of Christ. Christ is a shield that I put in front of me, and He guides the way that I do business, of which the means is more important than the end.” (Philip Ng).

Imagine that, an accomplished leader in the business world humbly admitting to all that he is no more than a simple follower of his Savior, a willing vessel for His use. You can’t help but have this conviction that their successes are not so much the result of answering to the call of their board members, trustees or equity investors, but to the call of their loving Redeemer.

And last but not least, you have a lawyer, pastor, academician and psychometric analyst (all rolled into one) who struggled with a broken heart when his prodigal daughter told him this one day: “Dad, I am 16. I want to have my independence. I want to move out of this house, I want to go and be on my own.” Dr William Wan then replied, “You’re only 16.” And his daughter said, “According to the law, I’m an adult now.” Thereafter, his daughter asked him “for a bus ticket to Canada where she was born” and “in Toronto, she was part of the drug scene for seven years.

Where is she now? What is she doing? You will be pleasantly surprised. But you will just have to get the book to find out for yourself. Trust me, it’s worth your while.

I can actually go on to write here about a dentist-turned-itinerant-pastor who took care of his mother who has dementia and his father-in-law who has Parkinson (Dr Tan Soo Inn). Or a Bishop who shares his heart out about men, sex and pornography.

Or about a barefoot doctor who left for Yunnan for 14 years to care for the poor, share knowledge with them and love the people (Dr Tan Lai Yong). Or an editor of Impact Magazine and founding elder of RiverLife Church who once had this strange conversation with an earnest lady in Church who asked him, “How big is heaven?”. He then gave the impression that it was “ginormous” and asked her why she asked. The lady replied, “Because there are people I want to avoid in heaven.” (Dr Andrew Goh).

The book has its light moments and the many serious and enlightening ones. If you want to be inspired by the unsung Biblical heroes like Samuel and Ebed-Melech, or allow a scripture or two from the Old Testament to lift your spirit (Assoc. Professor Ho), or learn about the science of evolution and the life-giving spirit of Creation (Dr Aw Swee Eng), or understand how history had transformed a passion into a personal calling (Dr Ernest Chew), or learn why women are natural-born leaders in the church (Dr Robert Solomon), or just read about the lives of grown men, that is, excellent leaders in their respective field, and most of all, imperfect Christians following their perfect Savior, you can’t not pick this book up and read it for yourself.

What endears me to the book is that it doesn’t tell you that all will be fine, just have faith and believe, everything will fit nicely, and that God wants you to prosper – full stop.

Alas, life is much more than that. It is much more than wealth and health even. And these men in their own ways and words have taught about and given me that insight (or foresight) in a way that coincides perfectly with these words by CS Lewis: “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”

This desire is definitely not about self-enrichment or self-glorification. It goes beyond what this world can ever hope to offer. It is a perspective that is eternal. It is a hope that surpasses all earthly pleasures. It is a joy and peace that are beyond human understanding. This desire is out of this world because we came from out of this world. And if this world is not our home, then all our earthly possessions are not ours to own. We are faithful stewards and not ranch owners.

Let me end with this quote by Soren Kierkegaard found in the book: “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”

Indeed, the men in the book understood this well. Theirs is a life that is humbled and empowered by their past, and with that authentic transformation, they draw the courage, love and hope to live fully for Christ in the here and hereafter. Cheerz.

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