Organisational Lessons from Captain America 2

*** spoiler alert ***

Having watched “Cap 2” and its TV cousin “Agents of SHIELD”, I believe there are important organizational lessons to be gleaned from the taking down of SHIELD by HYDRA:

1.  Even well established organisations are not free from corruption

s-h-i-e-l-dFor decades, SHIELD was made out to be THE law enforcement agency, thanks to the help of some swashbuckling superheroes assembled by Col. N. Fury. Who knew that it was all along infiltrated by (Hail) HYDRA agents, even to the highest level of authority! Like it or not, organisations are organically made up of various people with their own intent and motives. Just because it claims something in its vision or mission statement doesn’t mean all its staff adhere to it. SHIELD’s vulnerability is a reminder that even the most renowned and reputable companies can be corrupted from within.

2.  Office politics can be so well covered up that you don’t realize its there

In the both the movie and TV series, one would have no inkling that several of its more well known SHIELD agents actually belong to HYDRA. They go about their daily business just like the rest, even contributing to the organization’s success. But they secretly draw others into their evil ranks, plotting harm to the organization and the world. Indeed, only time (and sometimes good discernment) will tell and reveal one’s true motives. Fury had his suspicions that something wasn’t right, and hence started developing trust issues with the people around him. He’s not to blame for being cautious. He was pushed to do so by office politics.

3. Your friend might be brainwashed to join “the other side”

cap2 - TWSIt may sound bleak, but you never know if your friend has joined the other side of office politics. It happened to Bucky – Cap’s best friend from his childhood. Having been brainwashed by HYDRA, Bucky made bringing down Cap his mission. As the adage goes – not all who smile at you are your friends. And not all who oppose you are your enemies.

4.  The man who appointed you might be the worst asshole

cap2 - pierceFury was given his appointment by SHIELD’s top honcho Alexander Pierce (marvelously portrayed by Robert Redford), who now heads the World Security Council. And he also happened to be the mastermind in plotting HYDRA’s infiltration of SHIELD. Who would have known that even Fury’s climbing up the corporate ladder was part and parcel of Pierce’s grander scheme of things? Simply put, Fury was employed to be a sucker for the organization – doing all the work for an idiot.

5. The man who rebels might become the savior

cap2 - coulsonNot all rebels have ill intent. Some, like Agent Phil Coulson, are reacting against office politics and flawed management policies because they still believe in what the organization stands for, and looks to a restoration of things. But others will perceive his unconventional practices as a threat.






You’ll Never Walk Alone

This marks the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster where 96 Liverpool fans died in a stadium accident. Liverpool’s motto – You’ll Never Walk Alone – serves as a stark reminder that incidents like this affects not just individuals, but the entire communities. Shankly Gates in Anfield is over run with scarves and candles. The fans in the stadium delivered the most heartfelt rendition of the anthem before Sunday’s match. Church bells all over Liverpool rang in unison.

A tight knit community this town is. And it’s not only about Hillsborough.

During my visit to Liverpool, I was invited by a local youth centre to attend a children’s charity soccer event in commemoration of a student who was killed by a speeding car years back. Never forgotten, the town folks rallied to bring down the speed limit in school areas and small roads to 20 mph.


The lads having a ball of a time








With a council member of the city










A small park opposite Anfield stadium

A small park opposite Anfield stadium









A mosaic in Anfield with names of the 96










Incidents can rally the people into solidarity. Especially for a team who has not tasted league victory for 24 years. Steven Gerrard shed a tear after beating Man City 3-2 on Sunday as he was reminded of his own cousin who died in Hillsborough. But it was also tears of hope that Liverpool has every chance to top the league this season with 4 games remaining.

I really hope they do.


Feasts and the Poor

As Chinese New Year looms, here’s a thought about feasting.

It’s our Chinese culture to feast during major festivals. And it was also the same for Israel! In the midst of Israel’s 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, God instructed Moses to institute a number of Feasts which Israel was to proclaim as a sacred assembly when they enter into the Promise Land. For example:

  • Feast of Passover: celebrate God’s redemption of Israel
  • Feast of Pentecost: gave thanks to God for the first crops from the land
  • Feast of Tabernacles: commemorated the time when Israel was dwelling in the wilderness

The purpose of the Feasts was not just about eating, but also to commemorate important events that took place in the history of Israel, and for Israel to remember what the LORD their God has done for them.

Lev 23 lists out all the Feasts. One interesting point to note is that in midst listing out instructions for the Feasts, God threw in a verse to do with the Law of Gleaning (Lev 23:22):

“When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God.”

Why do you think the Law of Gleaning is situated in this context of Feasts?

  • Gleaning is the process of gathering grain and produce that are left behind in the field by the farmers.
  • This law was put in place to safeguard the needs and dignity of the poor. The Law of Gleaning stated that landowners were to leave produce missed by the initial harvest so it could be gathered by the poor, enabling the poor to provide for themselves without being dependent on charity.
  • The ‘poor’ refers to widows and orphans, while the ‘aliens’ refer to the immigrants. They are those likely to be excluded, in need, and in distress.
  • This law instructs the land-owning Israelites on how they should handle their harvest and treat the poor after they enter the Promised Land. Situated in the midst of a context of rest and feasts, the Israelites would be reminded not to forget about the poor when they are feasting. They are to remember them when they are feasting by providing food for them as well. The biblical audience would also be reminded of God’s concern for the poor, which was embodied in the Mosaic law – “I command you to be open-handed towards your brothers and towards the poor and needy in your land” (Deu 15:11).

Discussion: Are there similar or modified principles found in the New Testament?

  • James 1:27 – care for orphans and widows
  • Mat 22:34-40 – love for neighbours
  • Luke 10:25-37 – love for neighbours crosses social and geographical divide, including ‘aliens’ and those outside of the covenant community
  • Mat 25:31-46 – caring for the ‘least of my brothers’
  • Luke 14:12-14 – not just gleanings, but the great eternal banquet!

Discussion: How can we, individually and as a church, help and empower the poor in our midst?

Closing thoughts:

  • Since the wilderness wandering, Israel had undergone ups and downs, culminating in the Exile to Babylon. Upon returning back to the Promised Land, the Feasts continued till the time of Jesus, with new festivals incorporated, e.g. Hannukah.
  • However, it is interesting to note that there were no Feast commemorating the return from Exile.
  • Some scholars believe that this is because Israel did not believe that the Exile has ended. They were still under foreign oppression and awaiting the Messiah to liberate them.
  • In Jesus, esp through a typological survey of Matthew’s gospel, we see how He was proclaiming that His reign signified an end to the Exile.


1. We need to remember the poor  and provide for their physical needs.

2. Ultimately, what the poor need is reconciliation with God, bringing an end to their spiritual exile.


From the bookshelf of an emerging ecclesiologist

Here’re some of the books that occupy the “church” section of my book shelf.

church books combine

What can I say… I’m an “un-churched” who’s terribly interested in the church!


Stout & Mission

guinness beerAs we commemorate Arthur Guinness Day today, I’m obliged to share about his missional legacy. Little is known about the Christian side of Arthur’s story. Arthur, borned into a protestant family in the post-reformation days, brewed the stout with social action and mission in mind. He exhibited practical missional living that impacts the community around him. Here’s a tribute by Michael Frost:

In 1759, a determined man named Arthur Guinness, thirty-four years of age, rode through the gate of an old, dilapidated, ill-equipped brewery situated at St. James’ Gate in Dublin. He had just signed the lease on the property for nine thousand years (no, that’s not a typo!) at £45 per annum. Mark Rainsford’s Ale Brewery (as it was known then) was no different from any other, and it had been for sale for ten years, with no one having shown any interest in it. At that time, beer was almost unknown in rural Ireland, where whiskey, gin, and poteen were the alcoholic beverages most readily available. Cheap to buy, high in alcohol content, and readily available, these drinks were responsible for widespread alcoholism and indolence.

Arthur Guinness was a builder. He was an entrepreneur who could dream up business plans and marketing strategies, who could make a worthless brewery into a booming industry. He was also a devout Christian with a deep social conscience. He was concerned about the plight of young Irish drunks who wandered aimlessly around the whiskey and gin houses found on nearly every street corner. Once, while walking the streets of Dublin, he cried out to God to do something about the general drunkenness of Irish society , and he felt overwhelmingly burdened to be part of the answer to his own prayer. Like a true apprentice-child, he decided there and then to brew a drink that the Irish would enjoy and that would also be good for them.

Guinness decided to brew a beer relatively new to Ireland at that time. The beverage contained roasted barley that gave it a characteristically dark colour. This brew, well known in England, was called ‘porter’ because if its popularity with the porters and stevedores of Covent Garden and Billingsgate in London. But Guinness’s recipe produced more than your average dark beer. With it’s rich creamy head, it’s the beer we’ll drink in heaven. Full-bodied, smooth, creamy, slightly bitter, it’s a wonderfully delicious beverage. In fact, it’s more like a meal, since it is so full of minerals and natural trace elements. It has incredible qualities to it. Guinness was so heavy and full of iron that most drinkers couldn’t drink more than a couple of pints. This, coupled with the fact that that it has a considerably lower alcohol level than whiskey or gin, meant that fewer people were getting drunk.

So young Arthur Guinness made a beverage for the Irish that was good for them. Soon, his porter was overtaking the sales of Irish ales and English porters, and then it became even more popular than Irish whiskey. Today it is the national drink of Ireland. I don’t doubt that many preachers today would have difficulty seeing the building of a successful brewing business as the work of God. But by following his impulse as an entrepreneur with a social conscience, Guinness showed himself to be a faithful apprentice-child, a creator and builder.

(Quoted from Micheal Frost’s book: Exiles: Living Missionally in a post-Christian culture, p190-191)

To Arthur!


Protecting the flock

Part of the duties of pastors is to protect the flock that God has entrusted into their care. This includes educating them about false teachings and unbiblical theologies that are making their rounds. The Apostle Paul warned the Galatians about the Judaizers. Ambrose launched a campaign against Arianism. William Seymour sought hard to bring racial reconciliation in a time when white supremacists marginalized the blacks. More recently, some pastors in America have publicly singled out prosperity gospellers such as Joel Osteen, Benny Hinn and Joyce Meyer.

Why educate? One cannot simply assume that every lay church member knows these false teachings when they come across one. The deception is not always that obvious. For instance, the prosperity gospel, or the health and wealth message, can appear to be scriptural for its wide use of biblical references. Without proper theological grounding, one may find it difficult to pinpoint the error. Joel Osteen’s books are best sellers, even in secular bookstores. Each time I step into Tecman or SKS, I see many raving over the books of Benny Hinn, Kenneth Hagin and Kenneth Copeland. Earlier, I posted about the prosperity gospel:

Unwrapping the prosperity gospel

Prosperity gospel & the lie of total victory

Prosperity gospel & the lie of consumerism

I find that in Singapore, pastors generally hold back from bringing these issues up publicly to the congregation. Here’re some possible reasons why:

  1. We value religious harmony. It’s a Singaporean thing. We don’t want to cause any dissent or be seen as being judgmental or holier-than-thou.
  2. We are afraid to offend. It’s a small country, so you can’t hide. And the false teachers are usually the big players. No point setting yourself up against Goliath.
  3. We are passive. Besides minding our own business, we prefer not to initiate something unless someone else does it first (and does not get into trouble doing it). Moreover, the National Council of Churches in Singapore (NCCS) doesn’t seem to be bothered.
  4. We have absolutely no idea what’s going on.

But if we continue to stay silent, it will be detrimental to allow our congregation to continue to gravitate towards these false teachings. For instance, the recent news of City Harvest allegedly misappropriating funds could serve as an excellent platform for learning. But churches were told to zip up, and keep the accused in prayers (made to sound as if it’s the most loving thing to do at this point in time). But love also requires us, not to judge, but to protect our flock from erroneous beliefs and uphold the truth of the gospel.

As one pastor faces potential jail term for his costly misappropriation of church money in Singapore, it is wise to consider the words that one other pastor wrote when he was jailed for the cost of discipleship:

Dietrich Bonhoeffer“To make a start, the Church should give away all its property to those in need. The clergy must live solely on the free-will offerings of their congregations, or possibly engage in some secular calling. The church must share in the secular problems of human life, not dominating, but helping and serving. It must tell men of every calling what it means to live in Christ, to exist for others. In particular, our own church will have to take the field against the vices of hubris, power-worship, envy, and humbug, as the roots of all evil. It will have to speak of moderation, purity, trust, loyalty, constancy, patience, discipline, humility, contentment, and modesty.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison


Blast from Puritan Past: Baxter on Duties of Husbands

baxterIn my previous post, Richard Baxter has some great advice for wives. Now, let’s look at what directions he gave to the husbands!



1. The husband must undertake the principal part of the government of the whole family, even of the wife herself:  Labour to be fit and able for this task!

2. The husband must so unite authority and love that neither of them may be omitted or concealed, but both will be exercised and maintained:  As your love must be a governing love, so your commands must be loving commands.

3. The husband must preserve the authority of their wives over their children:  Do not let your kid be rude to your wives.

4. The husband is to exceed the wife in knowledge and be her teacher in the matters that belong to her salvation:  But if you are ignorant, your wife is not bound to seek your for advice.

5. The husband must be the principal teacher of the family:  If you are unable to do so, shame on you. If you are unable and your wife can, dishonour be onto you. If both you and your wife can’t, “sin, shame and suffering will be common to both”.

6. The husband is the chief provider for the family:  Be careful that your family lacks nothing that is fit for them!

7. The husband must be the strongest in family patience:  Preserve the love and peace in the household.

And all the wives say “Amen!”