Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Power of Right Believing: Book Review

What should we do when life throws us lemons? After all, we are living in a flawed world and are prone to anxieties, guilt, torment, depression, and all kinds of problems.

The answer, according to Pastor Joseph Prince, is to believe right. In his latest book, The Power of Right Believing, Prince teaches that "right believing always produces right living" and allows us to "let go of a life of defeat and step into a life full of victory, security, and success". Focusing our thoughts on God's love and mercy yields far better outcomes than believing in unhealthy emotions which lead to "toxic feelings of guilt, shame, condemnation, and fear" and ultimately negative behaviors, actions and addictions. 

Founder of the New Creation Church in Singapore, Prince is well known for preaching the Gospel of Grace, which is a school of thought best exemplified by the following Bible verses:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith— and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

So what are the keys to right believing? Prince outlines seven lessons for us to experience freedom from all kinds of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual malaise.

Pastor Joseph Prince (courtesy of Premier Productions)

1) Believe in God's Love for You

The first step is to believe in a God of infinite grace - one who gives hope to the hopeless, forgives unceasingly and abounds in never ending mercy. God is also full of love, and this is exemplified by the following verses from the apostle Paul:

For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39)

Quoting the book, "God is a God of grace and forgiveness. He loves you very much, and He doesn't hold your mistakes against you".

2) Learn to See What God Sees

Urging us to play the right mental movies in our mind, Prince illustrates this principle with a story of a lady named Heather who was able to experience recovery from stroke by filling her mind with mental images of herself being healthy, strong and "basking in the love of her family at home".

To quell our fears, we need to think Godly thoughts, prioritise the Word over material pursuits, and see ourselves as God sees us. By believing that our righteousness is a gift from God, we can draw from His unmerited favour, and see ourselves as precious gems in his sight. Thus, our salvation is not due to our human efforts but His divine providence.

In other words, "...When God looks at you today, He sees you as a righteous, forgiven, healed, favoured, blessed, accepted, and beloved son and daughter because of the cross of Jesus."

3) Receive God's Complete Forgiveness

Preaching that our sins are eternally forgiven on the cross through Jesus' death and resurrection, Prince teaches that "forgiveness is received, not achieved" and that we can receive "fresh Grace for every failing". By focusing our hearts and lives on Jesus and His forgiveness and grace, we are able to exceed the law.

Through dramatising the story of the adulterous woman (John 1:1-11), Prince further illustrates that we can receive victory over our bondages as Jesus has "taken all your beatings at the cross" and that we are no longer condemned as He has been condemned on the cross. Once again, the message here is that we cannot earn God's favour, which is unmerited and freely given.

4) Win the Battle for Your Mind

The next three chapters talks about the enemy (aka the devil). To defeat the battle for our minds, we need to stand firm in the Word of God, "bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5), flee from temptation, resist the devil (James 4:7), and to put on the armour of God (Ephesians 6:10-12).

Describing the enemy like a "roaring lion" seeking to devour us, we are told that the secret to being "undevourable" is to "cast all our cares upon Him, for He cares you." (1 Peter 5:7). Instead of being afraid of an almightly and fearsome God who is angry with us, we should instead believe that "God is not mad at you, He is mad about you."

5) Be Free from Self-Occupation

By shining our personal spotlight on Jesus and not our problems, we can enjoy peace of mind and rest. This is summarised by Matthew 11:28 - "Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest". Through occupying our minds with God and placing Jesus in the centre of all we do, we can dispel our apprehensions, fears, and excessive self-introspection.

Once again, we are told to feed on the Scriptures. In Prince's words, the "true gospel of Jesus Christ always produces godliness, holiness, morality, character, provision, health, wisdom, love, peace, joy, and much more". We should also "worship with the words of David", and here Prince highlights certain Psalms like the famous Psalm 23 and Psalm 34.

6) Have a Confident Expectation of Good

An ancient king of Judah, Jehoshaphat's military victory over the massive armies of Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir form the basis of this section (see 2 Chronicles 20:1-29). Like the good king, we are told to find hope in God. This is encapsulated by the Greek word elpis which is defined as a "favourable and confident expectation". In Prince's words, such hope is a "confident expectation in your heart that, bleak as the circumstances appear to be, it's not over yet".

In quite an unexpected manner, the book shared the personal story of Hyflux boss Olivia Lum and how she managed to build a billion-dollar public-listed company through favour in God. Through her experience, Prince encourages us to ask God for big things so that He can do "exceedingly and abundantly above all that we can ask, think, or even imagine" (Ephesians 3:20).

7) Find Rest in the Father's Love

Finally, the last three chapters expounds on the parable of the prodigal son, and uses it to highlight how God our "Abba Father" is like a loving daddy. Our identities as children of God is described by Romans 8:15 - "For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, 'Abba, Father'".

By regarding receiving God's love, we can be transformed by it and find rest. Equating our status as sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father also mean accepting that we are God's "beloved" in whom He is well pleased (Matthew 3:16-17). Through believing in the Father's love for us, we can receive help in our time of need, be showered by His grace, and be free from all manner of darkness.

A Spiritual Manual For Life's Difficulties

Personally, I found the book an inspiring and enlightening read during a time of soul searching and reflection. Well-written in Prince's own personal voice, the book does not deviate from its central theme and core message. I enjoyed its Biblical references and found comfort from the numerous testimonies shared in the volume.

Having said that, I am aware that pastor Joseph Prince has his critics, particularly those who feel that his message of "hyper grace" or "radical grace" may be a form of "prosperity gospel". Others have asserted that his equivalent message of a "get out of jail free forever" redemptive approach may not ring true with other Biblical passages where we are told to ask for forgiveness and seek redemption regularly.

While I may not agree totally with his religious philosophies, I do find The Power of Right Believing beneficial for Christians facing challenges and difficulties in life. That probably applies to all of us! It is easy for us Christians to forget that salvation is not just our eternal destiny but something which we can experience here and now while we are on planet Earth. Instead of attempting to do everything with our own limited strength, we can choose to let God do the heavy lifting and to relish in His divine providence as our Abba Father.

For more information on Joseph Prince, check out his website here.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

How Lee Kuan Yew Foiled Communists Through Radio

Let's do a little quiz.

How many of you know who Lim Chin Siong or James Puthucheary were?

Or this formidable sounding dude called "The Plen"?

Stumped? Don't worry. I was just as clueless.

Hopefully that will change with the re-launch of The Battle For Merger. Narrating how our first PM Lee Kuan Yew wrestled control for Singapore from communist insurgents, the book is published jointly by the National Archives of Singapore and Straits Times Press.

Brainchild of DPM Teo Chee Hean, the reprint of The Battle For Merger chronicled the series of radio broadcasts by former PM and Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew (LKY). Updated from the original edition published way back in 1962, it contains the transcripts of 12 radio talks written and delivered by Mr Lee between 13 September and 9 October 1961.

Accompanying the book launch is an exhibition featuring photographs, newspaper articles, documents and other artefacts from that tumultuous period. Jointly curated by the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI), and the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), it is open to the public at level 7 of the National Library Building from now till 30 November 2014.

Not Timed To Refute Pin Pin's Film

At a blogger's event specially organised for the launch, the "elephant in the room" in everybody's head loomed large. Was the reprint of the book a strategy to counter Tan Pin Pin's To Singapore, with Love?

After all, both PM Lee Hsien Loong and MCI Minister Dr Yaacob Ibrahim spoke out against Pin Pin's film, stating that it gave a one-sided account of what occurred back in the 1960s and did not do justice to the people who gave their lives to fight against the communist threat back then.

MCI clarified that the trigger behind the book and exhibition wasn't To Singapore, with Love. First mooted about one year ago by DPM Teo, it was timed to coincide with the anniversary date of the radio broadcasts which ended on 9 October 1961. Indeed as I perused the book and toured the exhibition, it was clear that there was no intent to rebut the views of political exiles featured in Pin Pin's film.

Political Skulduggery and Undercover Agents

What I found intriguing were the political "cloak and dagger" moves made by different parties during those chaotic years. They include Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) leader Fang Chuang Pi/ Fong Chong Pik (also known as "The Plen" which is short for plenipotentiary) and PAP co-founder Lim Chin Siong, a trade union leader who never openly admitted to being affiliated to the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM).

A leftist known for his role in the "Hock Lee Bus Riots" and "Chinese Middle School Riots", Lim was also known to be an "anti-colonialist" who formed the communist-affiliated Barisan Sosialis party on September 1961. Some of his compatriots then included Fong Swee Suan, former Singapore President CV Devan Nair (who later reformed and supported PAP), and James Puthucheary.

The clandestine moves made by political friends who became enemies, and enemies who became allies, were so convoluted that they made my head spin!

The most important takeaway was that the proposed merger with Malaya was not just a strategy to ensure Singapore's long-term survival but an attempt to negate the communist threat. A merger with Malaya would certainly stamp out the Chinese-dominated CPM.

Quoting DPM Teo's speech:

"Our hard-fought attempt to gain independence by merging with Malaya was in fact a battle for the future of Singapore. On the surface, it was a battle for merger. But this was only on the surface. Below the surface was another deeper, more momentous, more dangerous battle - that between the communists and non-communists in Singapore."

OK, enough talk. Let us take a walk through the exhibition.

The Battle For Merger Exhibition

Laid out over several panels, the exhibition featured audio recordings of Mr Lee's radio broadcasts, spread over 12 different "Talks", as well as key artefacts preserved during that period.

Each of the panels were shaped like an old-school radio, with audio recordings that you can listen to, and key highlights of each talk laid out in text. Photographs of the different players were also displayed.

These original artefacts were never displayed before. The three hand-written documents in Chinese were determined to be written by Lim Chin Siong after careful handwriting analysis by forensic chemists despite being signed with a different pseudonym.

A closer look at the faded and mottled document, circa 1953-1954, which was later deduced to be a note which Lim Chin Siong made of a talk he gave in commemoration of the death of Stalin. The talk was made to his immediate subordinates in the Anti-British League cell.

Some of the books you can read about the "Merger" era, written and published by authors both for and against the PAP-led government. The idea here is to make available all the facts, perspectives and views surrounding this issue so that readers can decide for themselves.

For some of the panels, infographics (ala social media age) were used. Reading through this panel, I learned that the PAP then was in imminent danger of losing its seat in Parliament as large numbers of cadre members and unionists defected from the party to join their communist sympathetic counterparts.

A closer view of the action then. 82 unions switched allegiance from the PAP to Barisan Sosialis, while 33 of the 51 PAP branches changed sides. Perhaps the only person who believed that the PAP would prevail then was LKY himself.

The sentiment of the day can be captured by this quote from Mr Lee:

"But we knew that there were severe trials ahead of us. And it was better to face these trials with men who are prepared to face up to them."

Through multi-media screens like this, the story behind individual incidents could be presented. What appeared to be just a car crash in Katong was actually deemed to be the work of communist terrorists in 1974.

This chart showed that almost a million man-days were lost due to strikes in the mid 1950s. According to Mr Lee, many of these were initiated by unionists working in cahoots with the pro-Communist cadres led by Lim Chin Siong and his allies.

Quoting once again from his speech:

"The Communists always do this. Exploit a real or imaginary grievance through cadres and sympathisers not generally known to be connected to them. We will always view with sympathy any genuine unhappiness of the English school teachers over the six-day week (a response to strikes by teachers initiated by the Singapore Teachers Union), but we cannot be expected to view with sympathy the efforts of pro-Communist cadres to heat up and exploit this unhappiness."

This panel narrating Mr Lee's final talk outlining the vision for Singapore if it were to merge with Malaya. It was the pièce de résistance which helped seal the fate of PAP's Communist-leaning opponents.

Hearing it once again in Mr Lee's forceful and direct voice:

"You judge the truth for yourselves from what I have said, and also what the persons involved have not been able to deny. You will notice that yesterday, October 8, these persons about whom I had told you in disclosing the Communist conspiracy have only said that all this is a smear. What we want to ask them is: which particular part or statement in any one of my talks is untrue and therefore just a smear?"

This final panel details a key timeline of the events, outlining the historical contexts behind Communism and its spread across the Asian sub-continent.

More information on The Battle For Merger book and exhibition could be found in NLB's website here. You can also listen to the radio talks made by Mr Lee in English, Mandarin and Malay from the National Archives of Singapore here.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Marketing to the Ageing Consumer: Book Review

Courtesy of Brand Genetics blog

The ageing consumer is one of the most profitable yet untapped segment.

Consider this.

In 2012, there are 20 countries whose population is shrinking. By 2020, over 40% of the adult population in "ultra-ageing" Japan will be 60 years or older. Come 2050, another 25 countries will have ageing populations, the largest of which is China.

With greater longevity and lower fertility rates across the globe, we will see more older and fewer younger people over the next few decades. What then should companies do to prepare for such sweeping demographic changes?

The answer, according to Dick Stroud and Kim Walker in Marketing to the Ageing Consumer, is to embrace age-friendly approaches.

Equating greying populations to environmental sustainability, the authors describe ageing as a "global trend that the corporate world must understand and devise policies to exploit". Indeed, as more and more Baby Boomers (born between 1946 to 1964) hit their 50s, 60s and 70s, companies must adopt age-friendly strategies or be prepared to lose their lunch!

Embracing Physiological Ageing

The best way to ride the "silver tsunami" is to develop age-focused products or adapt one's customer touch-points to the effects of physiological ageing. This is defined as

"...the systematic change to the body's ability to function caused by age-related changes to the mind, body and senses".

Key physiological changes influencing ageing consumers cover three areas:

1) Ageing senses: Loss of sensitivity in one's eyesight, hearing, touch, taste and smell. Whatever works for a 30 year old is unlikely to work well for a 70 year old. Approximately half of all folks over 60 will experience hearing loss, while 50% of consumers between 60 to 70 will have difficulty reading food labels even when wearing glasses or contact lenses.

2) Ageing minds: Cognitive ageing results in a degradation of one's memory, recall, attention, reasoning, insights, perception and knowledge. New complex information becomes harder to process. Similarly, older consumers find it tougher to focus on a task and not be distracted by superfluous visual stimuli.

3) Ageing bodies: Changes in flexibility, dexterity, strength, body mass, and urinary control are par for the course as one ages. With greater proportions of ageing consumers afflicted by osteoarthritis, overweight (maybe less prevalent in Singapore), muscle loss, menopause (women) and erectile dysfunction (men), new medical and healthcare opportunities abound.

Beyond niche businesses like healthcare, medicine, and beauty (hair, skin) which specialise in the 50s and above market, all companies should ensure that their Communications, Online channels, Retail outlets, Products and sales Support (abbreviated as CORPS) are suitably adjusted to the effects of physiological ageing. This can be diagrammatically represented below:

Courtesy of Customer Experience Magazine

Age-friendly Apple

One of the best examples of an age-friendly business is Apple. According to the authors, Apple's age-neutral status can be seen in the following:

1) Communications - advertising messages and images that focus on the products, and are clear and simple both visually and linguistically.

2) Online - easy to navigate website which minimises technical jargon, animated menus, and other distracting clutter.

3) Retail - Apple stores feature bright, spacious layouts with easy waist-height product access, clear and visible labels, and minimal ambient noise levels.

4) Product - Intuitive software interface that is simple and easy to use.

5) Sales support - Apple's call centre works well with knowledgeable, helpful humans who are patient and understanding (not automated phone answering systems).

Conducting Age Friendly Audits

To help companies evaluate the age-friendliness of their businesses, the authors have developed a scoring tool to conduct Age Friendly (AF) audits. This traces the CORPS experiences highlighted above through a customer experience hierarchy, dividing it into a sub-experience and a touch-point. Issues commonly considered include the following:

1) Shelf height - what is the appropriate product shelf height for a retail store to cater to ageing consumers?

2) Lighting - How brightly lit should a retail store be, based on ideal lumen readings for packages, labels and signs?

3) Colour contrast - At what point does low colour contrast render printed materials unreadable?

4) Seating - Are there adequate seats with the right arm rests provided for older people? Are they at the right height?

5) Web search - How easy is it to navigate and find information on a company?

An example of how such audits could look like is represented by the diagram below:

Mapping touch-points to age-friendliness (courtesy of Customer Experience Magazine)

Driving Age-Friendly Practices

To implement an age-friendly strategy, the authors propose that this must be translated from strategic intent into operational actions. Companies should appoint a board-level executive to drive the initiative, have a clear-cut action plan to measure age-friendliness, correlate age-friendliness to customer opinion and corporate/brand values, train staff adequately, and test and monitor touch-points regularly.

Towards the end of the book, the authors urge employers and governments alike to make their workplaces and cities more age-friendly to cater to ageing workers and citizens. Employee experiences include the commute, workplace, work task, employee knowledge, and employer's compliance with regulations. Similarly, governments should ensure that their cities physical infrastructure and policies can help the urban old.

As one with a keen interest in ageing consumers, I found the book's in-depth research and analysis of the aged rather insightful. While the tackling of physiological ageing alone may not provide all the answers to satisfying older customers, it does lay a strong foundation for the other layers of marketing to build upon. Highly recommended.