Book Review – Cost of Discipleship

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Book Reviews

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I think this might be the book that completely overturned my understanding of grace and discipleship, which are concepts so fundamental to the core of Christianity. Never has any other author explained with such clarity, conviction and rawness of the truth of Christ-following.

In an age that individualism and Hedonism being so exalted in both the sacred and secular world, the sacrifice that is required to follow Christ seems distance, cold and unattractive. Even genuine Christians are sometimes taught they are entitled to enjoy – by means of loving God – prosperity, health, fame and self-fulfilment in this world, now. This cannot be further away from the truth that Jesus required his disciples to deny themselves, take up their cross, persevere in persecutions, and to pray without ceasing the Kingdom, glory and rewards in the age to come.

If following Christ means we are to expect much comfort and success in this life, why did Paul write all the letters to affirm the churches in their persecutions? Then did all the apostles and martyrs of faith suffered and died in vain?

(2 Timothy 3:12) “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Isn’t it for reasons of encouragement that Paul wrote this to Timothy?

In this age we Christians are prone to hear words that we like. We love to hear that we are children of God; we love to hear that our transgressions forgiven; we love to hear about eternal life; we love to hear we are the light and salt, city on a hill. None of the above is unbiblical, yet I believe that half-presented truth often breeds danger. We cannot, and we must not deny the harsh truth that is also in the Bible, for indeed the gate is narrow and way is hard that leads to life.

This is not just an issue facing 21st century believers, Bonhoeffer also perceived the danger of a lukewarm, softened version of Christianity in his days. He coined the term ‘Cheap Grace’, and its opposition, ‘Costly Grace’.

Grace and Discipleship are indubitably inseparable, one is nullified without the other. The moment we receive grace we are called to discipleship. The same goes with Belief and Obedience. One cannot believe unless he obeys, and also truly, one cannot obey unless he believes.

Much can be expanded on this topic, and I feel like writing on and on. In fact a great number of books have been devoted fully to explore the depth of grace and discipleship. I believe a Christian cannot live to the fullness of his calling and enjoy the abundance in Christ, until he understands the cost and is willing to submit wholesomely to Christ, and to will to suffer for Christ – as that is indeed the disciple’s joy to do so.

Obtain a Kindle copy of this book here:
The Cost of Discipleship (SCM Classics)

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Book Review – Imitation of Christ

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Book Reviews

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Obtain a Kindle copy here:
The Imitation of Christ (Penguin Classics)

In this antiquated collection of essays by a 15th century monastic, there’s a seriousness in pursuing Christlikeness that is lacking in some contemporary Christian titles. John Wesley considered this to be the best summary of Christian life he had ever read.

Instead of focusing on an elementary level of self-improvement, Kempis wrote in depth that the reality of a Christian life is to imitate Christ with utmost authenticity and with every effort possible. So hard and raw is the truth that I feel a reader is most benefited to take down this book in smaller sections, not moving on quickly but to dwell on the contents prayerfully.

Thus I have not completely finished this book, as I feel this book is worth re-reading again at a much slower rate in order to grasp its fuller meanings. It currently sits on my desk so I could read a chapter from it from time to time.

There are a lot of biblical truth spilled over the pages of this little gem.

Kempis quoted scriptures fluently and amalgamated them into his sentences very naturally, given that one of his monastic duties is hand-copying scriptures, this should not come as a surprise.

One thing I appreciate in this book is his passionate longing for holiness and eternity, and a godly hatred towards sin and fleshly desires. Kempis urges the reader to see suffering in this life is brief and finite comparing to the eternal glory if we persevere. He also strongly rejected idleness and encouraged community servicing wherever possible.

I love how Kempis wrote down his personal reflections and prayers, his inner struggles and reflections are I believe a benefiting spiritual discipline to be exercised.

However I’d like to advise the readers to be conscious of the asceticism expressed, though this is not unexpected from a catholic monk during his time.

There are some Catholic views on the concept of purgation, which is not found in the Bible.

Therefore I tend to think some solid foundation of faith needs to be established before reading this work. Nevertheless, the depth of thinking and admiration to God that Kempis presented has been proved influential and timeless, thus made it a worthwhile reading.

Obtain a Kindle copy here:
The Imitation of Christ (Penguin Classics)

Death to Beguilement

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architecture

guile

/gahyl/

noun: Insidious cunning in attaining a goal; crafty or artful deception; duplicity

One of the meanings of beguile is ‘to charm or to divert’.

    To comment on someone being ‘without guile’ is a great compliment on his character and morality.

    Unfortunately for us, we live in a world today with an unprecedented amount of entertainment and distraction. Never has there been an age (I think) that we humans are subject to such an unstoppable flood of information.

    Like an appetite to junk food can be easily cultivated, our brains are beguiled to crave for junk information, and myself a victim.

    Undoubtedly there’s a universal recognition for the need to detach from the said distractions. From the fad of ‘travelholicism’, to the recent rediscovered interest in oriental meditation and to practise ‘mindfulness’, we see the world desperately searching for an answer.

“Many of use keep a steady stream of information flowing into our brains without taking time to meditate and apply what we have already learned.”

Francis Chan, You and Me Forever, p.13.

    The important question that I as a designer need to answer is: How do we accommodate the desire for detachment? How can this desire inform certain spatial qualities?

    With hope I can also answer: How can we cultivate a character of solitude, using architecture to restore the practice of this somewhat forgotten practise of spiritual discipline?

    The answer of course, lies in the Word. Only when we reconnect to the true Word himself can we truly detach from the noise of this world.

    Therefore true detachment is to re-attach to the One who understands the deepest thoughts and desires of our heart, and in Him only can any desire be fulfilled.

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Snippet #4 Non-chronic

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Snippets

Last Wednesday I received the offer to the Master of Architecture course at Melbourne Uni. To be quite honest I had been waiting for this offer like a 5-year-old waiting to wake up on Christmas day morning. In my defence this is something I worked very hard for. Going through and redoing my bachelor years’ design late at night wasn’t the most leisurely business. The result is worth the while. Ultimately I know God has given me this opportunity to train on my talent in order to do his will through architecture. For this I am immensely grateful.

Esther turned one at the end of last month. Having her toddling into my arms is one of the happiest moments every day. One day I’ll miss this season when she’s so just tender and dependent, I know I would miss it a great deal. 

Below are some unorganised photographs. I had some time to go over the old photos, and glad to see that I am somewhat improving. I started to like the results from my camera.

Photography is one sacred corner of my creative life that belongs wholly to myself, non-subjected to anyone else’s judgment or disapproval. Behind a camera I can choose to shoot whatever I like, and post-edit them in a way that pleases me visually. It’s a selfish art. Or in a better word, it’s an unrestrained expression of the self.

In architecture I don’t get to practise such freedom. Oftentimes when you turn something you love into a profession, suddenly you have just put yourself under the judgement of others. Criticism, self-doubt and frustration would arise. However, there is no such art that is without some kind of constraint. In my least expectation art should communicate an idea understandable to some degree, an artwork that merely makes people scratch their head is not so brilliant. A lot of the modern art fails miserably in this area.

We are nearing the end of October. Where’s all the time gone? I am reminded of John Lennon singing, “So this is Christmas… what have you done?”

It’s a daunting question to pose upon yourself isn’t it? We seem to overestimate how much we can do in a certain time – for we fail to calculate the unforeseeable circumstances.

I am going over Paul’s letter to the Philippian church recently, and let us all be reminded what he said.

“Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

(All the photos were shot either with Fujifilm X-T1 & 35mm f/2 lens or Fujifilm X100T, post-edited in Lightroom)

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Snippet #3 Few Changes

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Snippets

I’m making a few adjustments to layout & design of this blog. As you can see currently things look a bit dis-organised, much like a construction site. But hopefully I will have it cleaned up soon.

What I’m trying to add is a portfolio page. Putting together a physical portfolio for graduate school has got me thinking to have my work systematically presented online. Both what I do in architecture and photography. These are the two things I love most, and spend most of my time on.

Separating out my Instagram account. Soon I will be closing down my current one as a private account. I kinda start to dislike the idea of publishing so much of private life on social media, hence I’ve quit checking Facebook for awhile, and guess what? I don’t feel like I’ve missed anything in life.

I’ve started a journaling/noting system called “Bullet Journal“. Apparently it’s been out there for quite a while and gained a lot of popularity. The idea of an analogue notebook seems attempting to me. It seems I have some kind of fetish for notebooks. Some people are into gadgets, I’m into nicely made notebooks. (Leuchttrum1917 is the best). I’ll let you know how I go with it in a couple of months time.

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En Route

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architecture

Been revisiting my university works lately, and by revisiting, I mean more like starting from scratch again. As I don’t have much of those projects left, only fragmented files, images scattered in all sorts of places on my hard drive. After all, the earliest project was almost 5 years ago.

It’s embarrassing to look back on my old works, there are so many flaws in design and as many mistakes that would make me jobless today. You might ask but did I try my best? No, I don’t think so. I don’t think I gave my 100%, or even 80%. But I have one defense: I was very new to this profession of architecture. In other words, I had no idea what I was doing, or supposed to do.

I just didn’t get architecture.

Now looking back, a lot of the subjects at uni are starting to make sense. It made sense now the teachers made us do hand sketches, and painstaking hand drafting, and to explore our ideas rather than focusing on the techniques (the computer, rendering, fancy stuff). I was hating it.

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It makes me think that if a person doesn’t know why he is made to do something, not only will he struggle, he will despise, and he will grow hatred towards it. How pitiful are we if we do not know the purpose of living? There are a lot of us. Being forced to live, forced to work a job, forced to take on this big bad world without knowing why we have to go through this. We simply cannot fathom the ‘why’ without knowing Jesus personally.

I shall be anticipating some response from the universities in 4 weeks time, meanwhile I can simply forget about it and move on with life. I’ve given my best shot.

***

New Photography Project

Driving  home from work one day, and I was contemplating on the effect of constraints on creative works. I tend to agree that to work with limits can sometimes result in brilliant creative outcomes. Interesting architecture are often made as a result of restricting/challenging site condition, existing surroundings, complex brief, limited building materials etc. So I want to start this little personal photo project and experiment, it’s named ‘Square_Mono_35’. Meaning the photos must be strictly – in square format, monochromatic (black & white), and shot in 35mm focal length. I will pick Instagram as the primary platform, photos will also be uploaded to Portfolio page.

***

Books and Other Cool Stuff

Some books I’ve read recently:

A Celebration of Discipline – Richard J Foster

(Very in-depth and thought-provoking book on Christian spiritual disciplines. The most valuable thing I got out of it is to know that disciplines are not for legalism, they are simply the course which places us in front of God to allow Him to change us. A very worth-while read)

A Million Miles in A Thousand Years – Dan Miller

(Humorous and easy language, the author unfolds the journey of how he discovered how to live a good story. It’s a simple concept, but to understand this concept will change so many facets of how we view life, and how to live it.)

In Praise of Slow – Carl Honore

(A book on the ‘Slow Movement’ in a world so obsessed with speed and acceleration. ‘Slowing down’ is an idea that I deeply embrace. It’s not slothfulness that I promote, but a mindful and deliberate approach to do things at the right speed.)

Check out also this beautifully narrated short film by Eric Reinholdt of 30×40 Design Workshop (website). His YouTube channel is doing an awesome job talking about architecture. Each one of his videos inspire me to love more about this profession and keep me wanting to become better at it.

Few Normal Weekends

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Updates

I recently found it hard to answer when someone courteously asks how my weekend was. It’d be fair to say this is a pointless question, unless the person labours on weekends, he/she has no reason not to enjoy two days off work, no matter how “plain” they were. There’s enough excitement just to keep the alarms silent for two days. Nonetheless this is a safe and sound way to start a small conversation with someone, rather than going straight into work-related nonsense.

My wife and I went on a little date and watched the Wonder Woman movie that is the talk of the town right now. I find these superhero movies very repetitive, each year Marvel and DC dish out a few fresh heroes & sequels. However it’s nice to see a female protagonist for a change.

At first impression you may find WW has a very strong feminist theme, an island-full of “strong, independent” women fighters who train & live with a great purpose. And it gets emphasised again & again throughout the movie, as Diana saved this bloke called Steve Trevor, lead a few men deep into the war zone & gained victory almost single-handedly over the bad guys. I liked the depiction. Indeed there is a fierce strength in every woman, which is created for a good reason – to protect her loved ones & to resist evil, this fierceness sometimes even men cannot contest against.

What I do find interesting, is how relatable we Christians are to the Amazons. Spoiler alert here, the Amazons were created by Zeus to save mankind from the war god Ares, hence they train very hard everyday in preparation to defeat this war god. However as peaceable time goes by, they forget about the war outside and start to live comfortably on their own isolated island. So much so they are reluctant to acknowledge there’s a Great War outside, innocent people are dying, and they are shying away from going out to fight this war, to fight against Ares – which is the very reason they are created for.

You know where I’m going with this, some Christians (and myself very much included) are becoming comfortable living within the safe religious haven. It’s safe to ignore the mess of this world, it’s safe to live a disciplined life myself and not to poke nose in other people’s lives, it’s safe to ignore the needs of this world while we attend to our rituals. Okay… enough ranting. This is very much a note to myself, that I do not forget the great mission that Jesus entrusted us with. Since our lives are redeemed by Christ, we should live with the new purpose that comes with the new identity. And best of all, he will fight for us and we all know he will prevail. It’s nice to see in the movie Diana finally rises to her identity & confront the evil with a determination that all her life is made for this moment. I think this is the determination that we should bring with us to everyday life.

So far this blog has become a movie review… which is not how I originally intended. Watch the movie for yourself, I think there’s something that we can all take away with.

It’s quite late now, next week will be somewhat a quiet week at work (after deadlines). And after that we’ll be going on a short holiday, quite looking forward to some time away.

Followed by some photos, mainly by X-T1 with Fujinon 35mm f2 lens. Or my iPhone 6s edited with VSCO. (too lazy for captions)

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Working Away and Movements

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architecture

It’s been a while since I posted anything.

Apart from work (which is a continuous rushing to deadlines), I’m also putting aside some time at night to work on my portfolio. Below is a snippet of something I’ve been working on.

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Revisiting works I did at university was pretty tough mentally – the quality of work I did back then was quite… poor. However, there was a sense of freedom and naivety in the design that could only be done by someone inexperienced – there’s some beauty in that alone.

Photography wise, I’m still carrying my camera around when the family is out and about. There just isn’t enough time to collate them.

First half of the year has almost gone by, autumn time has arrived quite swiftly in Melbourne. Esther is 7 months now, her development has been quite fast.

Returning to work in architecture has been one of the best moves I’ve made. The pressure and work load of this industry is kind of expected. But I find myself constantly excited by the challenges posed by project, client, site conditions etc. Architecture is a strife for human manifestation in the natural world. In the uncomfortable & dangerous natural environment we create comfortable & safe space – meanwhile maintaining a smooth transition from inside to outside.

The material I’ve been interested in lately is the humble brick. Brickwork has the natural rustic property that relates well to the ground, the earth – there’s both strength and vulnerability offered in a brick wall.

Here is a great collection of brick architecture by ArchDaily. (Click here for link)

Snippet #2 Slow Film

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I thought Kodak and the film industry had died… apparently not, they are still making good money with that little roll of plastic covered in chemicals.

And I just realised how slow people’s lives used to be. For example, I took a picture on the 3rd frame of this roll, then a week went by to finish the rest of the 33 frames so I can send it in for developing. Then I had to dropped it off to one of the city locations, only to learn that they would be closed for holiday until 9 Jan. Make it 5 days to process & scan the film. If all goes well I’m finally able to see the photo on 16 Jan. Then I can print it, post on Instagram and blah blah blah.

The whole process took me over 3 weeks to see one picture – I’d most likely forget what the picture is anyway. Now on smartphones it takes less than a second. That is a stunning revolution of speed.

There’s a lot of fanfare going around on productivity, new gadgets/apps, self-made millionaires, life hacks and in general that “must-optimise-every-living-second” and “get rich quick” attitude. I reckon new technologies are awesome, and they will keep coming. What worries me is that our minds are unconsciously being shaped and re-wired to catch up with the new speed, only to get easily frustrated if anything requires a little time, wait & effort.

How many times a day do we push the home button and check if we miss out on any notifications? Or refreshing the Facebook feed, only to get a little anxious if there’s nothing new? I get those.

This sounds like a “You kids get off my lawn!” type of blog. But there are quite a lot of things I enjoy doing slowly, and wouldn’t mind it costing some money, effort or time. We need some discomfort, that’s one inevitable element of living an authentic & meaningful life. Quality craftsmanship normally requires a lot of dedicated time, and that’s a very honourable act in an instantly gratified society.

Snippet #1 Esther Tummy Training

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Simple movements like lifting your head while on all-fours are easy for adults, but big efforts for babies. (Due to their bigger head to body ratio?) Esther is still too young to fully control her head. But we encourage her to crawl and train those neck muscles to prepare for rolling, sitting & ultimately walking.

Note for nerds: I used VSCO Kodak Ektar film preset for these photos, with minimal editing. Ektar looks less saturated and less contrasty – a very natural look for me.

Another film preset I love using is the Kodak Portra 400. More contrasty & vibrant colours. Though sometimes I find it a bit overkilled for skill tones, I need to tune it down.

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