An eight-year-old boy was not doing well in Math. So his dad hired a tutor and asked him, “How many drills will you give my son so that he will learn?”

The wise tutor asked back, “What makes you think drills are the answer?”

See, the parent was assuming that all his boy needed was practice. But when the tutor checked the boy’s skills, he found out that the boy’s problem was that he didn’t understand the equations.

So through patient explanations and creative exercises, the tutor brought the boy to grasp the math principles. The boy’s grades began to improve.

Can you imagine had the tutor took the parent’s word for granted?

Can you imagine the torture upon the boy, being made to practice, practice, practice on what he had a weak foundation to begin with?

This is the power of Explain Then Answer (ETA). When someone asks you a question, don’t answer right away. A better approach is to explore first what is driving the person to ask you that question. Who knows, what that person’s need may not be new information, but transformed thinking.

What makes ETA a worthwhile practice?

First, you will come across as showing curiosity and empathy. We all know that in today’s marketplace, skills on communication, critical thinking, and collaboration are highly prized. Part of that is to be open-minded and sensitive. Engaging in an enlightening conversation, done with psychological safety, is a valuable lubricant in human interaction.

Second, you will surface assumptions. From our story, it was clear that the parent presupposed that what his math-challenged boy needed was relentless practice. When you are asked a question, especially when it involves strategy, take time to uncover the thinking behind it. That way, you can spot flawed reasoning and unverified assumptions. Correcting them at the onset will save you costly misunderstanding and mistakes.

Third, you will seek better solutions. When flawed thinking is exposed, the door is open for sharper clarity, analysis and problem-solving. As you are asked for your opinion or advice, resist the urge to blurt out knee-jerk answers. Instead, take time to surmise the drivers behind the question so you can frame better answers.

In the next post, I will share what those drivers would be.


Holy Week 2023 Reflections

Sooner or later, some (if not all) of our dreams won’t come true.

When our cherished dreams go unfulfilled or suppressed, in one sense they have died. It is seasons like this that we need to reconnect with Easter.

The wonderful news is that death does not have the final word. Christians worldwide celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. We believe that He died, was buried and rose from the dead. In this way, He validated His claims to be the Son of God, Lord and Savior of the world.

Let us embrace the world as it really is, not as how we want it to be. It is great to dream big and set goals. But goals that hinge on the behavior of other people or on favorable circumstances can be recipes for frustration. When people or events don’t go our way, our goals are blocked and this begets anger.

It sounds like a big gamble, but sometimes we have to let go of cherished goals before we can discover loftier ones. Such is the power of Easter. Dreams have died, but new meaning sprouted to life.

I will be honest: it is scary to surrender our failed dreams. Will we be doomed to drift through life? What is in store for us in the future? Dr. Gordon Smith offers this sage advice: God will lead us every step of the way, but He leads us one step at a time. God knows the end from the beginning, but we in our finiteness can’t even see what lies around the corner.

We cook up great dreams for ourselves, but God has far more wonderful dreams for us. Since He is in full control of people and circumstances, we can be sure His goals for us will come true. We must believe this even if, for the meantime, the path is dark and difficult.

Remember, one cannot have Easter without the Cross. Even if our present life is the product of poor choices, God can use even that for our blessing. As long as we entrust ourselves to Him, no failure is final or fatal. In due time, He will redeem even our heartaches and disappointments.

Death could have barred Jesus from being with us in our triumphs and tragedies. But the good news of Easter is that He overcame death so that indeed He can be by our side. Not only in this world, but with God for all eternity.

May God open doors of blessing for you, just as He opened the door of a tomb that fateful Sunday.


Holy Week 2023 Reflections

African-American singer Marian Anderson started in a poor section of Philadelphia and sang in a church choir. People saw her innate talent and raised one hundred twenty-six dollars in pennies, nickels and dimes (remember these are poor people) to send her to voice lessons.

At eighteen, she sought to be mentored by a famous instructor but was rejected. She then sang in a town-hall concert but received scathing reviews from the critics. There was one time in Washington, D.C. where she was barred from singing because of the color of her skin.

Anderson wallowed in self-pity until her mother said, “Marian, I want you to think about your troubles and your failures a little—and pray a lot.” Then the mother said something she never forgot: “Marian, you must learn that grace comes before greatness.”

By 1957, Marian Anderson became a famous opera singer, performing for the Eisenhowers and their guests in the White House. She was also appointed a delegate to the United Nations and received a Medal of Freedom. These happened because she took her mother’s lessons to heart.

In this Holy Week, what are the lessons we must take to heart? The Bible is laden with encouragements and promises about grace before greatness. Here are but a few:

  • “I am still confident in this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.” (Psalm 27:13-14)
  • “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you… When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned…” (Isaiah 43:2)
  • “For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Matthew 23:12).
  • “Let us not become weary of doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)
  • “Consider [Jesus] who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:3)

Devotional writer Stephen Davey reminds us, “Learning to fail, yet to persevere, comes as we learn to live a life of faith. Times of trial are not only necessary to teach us humility, but they remind us where our true possessions lie—in Christ. What better example than Christ—the Model—who shows us that grace comes before greatness…. humility before honor.”

Take time to ponder at Jesus Christ, Who went through astonishing opposition and difficulties, even the ignoble death on the cross. You may be in a very exasperating period of your career or of your life altogether.

But even painful times are a gift from God. He specializes in redeeming the pain, if you will learn the lessons well. In time, that crown of thorns on your own head will be transformed to a crown of honor.

P.S. That’s Marian Anderson in the photo.


God is Unfair!

April 7, 2023

Holy Week 2023 Reflections

Here’s another astonishing thing about Jesus. Even while hanging from the Cross, in excruciating agony, shame, and fatigue, He was still saving people!

Case in point was the thief who was crucified beside Him. A composite reading of the Gospels will show that he started out hurling insults at Jesus and taunting Him to save Himself (Matthew 27:38-40).

Then, for some reason, he had a change of heart and asked Jesus, “[R]emember me when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:39-42).

Thus we have one of the Seven Last Words: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (v 43).

Wait a minute. That’s unfair!

There were thousands of people who led upright lives, but this miserable criminal had the express lane to Heaven!

Shouldn’t this thief make some penance for his sins? Like make restitution, do some charity work or something? Oh, wait, he was nailed to a piece of wood.

The thief implicitly acknowledged Jesus as his King, but he was not vetted, he did not pass some tests, he had no backers or character references.

So Jesus took him into His kingdom… just like that?

It’s so unfair. But it was unfair in the thief’s favor!

That is the reality of salvation. God sacrificed His sinless Son for us sinners. Jesus got the raw deal, took the bullet, absorbed the blow, while we get to be forgiven, cleansed, and adopted as children of God. His Heavenly Father was being unfair, but He was unfair in our favor.

We are as helpless like the thief; there’s nothing we can do to deserve such grace. But it’s there.  Again like that thief, the response is a genuine repentance and embracing Jesus as our King.

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Yes, God is unfair. But this is one instance I am grateful for it.


Holy Week Reflections

John 13 carries an astounding yet often-missed truth.

Consider:  during what we now call the Last Supper, Jesus took off His outer clothing, wrapped a towel around His waist, poured water into a basin, and proceeded to wash His disciples’ feet, drying them with that tower around His waist.

Did that include Judas?

Yes, THAT Judas.

We have no problem with Jesus picking off the crusted dust from, say, Peter’s toes. Or John’s. Or Thomas’.

But Judas’??

We know that Jesus washed Judas’ feet too, because after washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus put His clothes back on and dropped the bombshell: “Very truly I tell you, one of you is going to betray me” (v 21).

He gave a piece of bread to Judas. After Judas had taken the bread, he left the room (v 26-27, 30).

So Judas was there. Jesus washed his feet, too.

Think of it. Our Lord already fully knew of Judas’ betrayal, but still loved him anyway to the point of taking the role of a lowest servant and washed his feet.


  1. Jesus sees the worst in us – all the muck and mess – but loved us anyway, proving it not by washing our feet with water, but by washing away our sins with His own blood.
  2. Jesus washed all the disciples’ feet, but it doesn’t mean all were clean (v 10). It was still up to Judas to repent or reject such grace. In the same way, let no one say that just because Jesus died for everyone, everyone will go to heaven. It is still up to each of us to repent or reject such grace.
  3. Jesus could have spared Himself of the Cross by exposing Judas and letting the other eleven disciples do the rest (if you know what I mean). But He allowed God’s plan of salvation to run its course. And we know what happened next.

What an amazing Savior! Yes, the same Jesus Who washed Judas’ feet will also wash your sins away. If you will do the very opposite of Judas:  believe, repent, and receive eternal life.


Holy Week 2023 Reflections

“Why this waste? For this perfume might have been sold for a high price and the money given to the poor.” (Matthew 26:8-9)

Ever prioritized dinner with your family and next morning your officemates will say, “Why this waste? You could have taken a customer out last night and clinch some juicy deals”?

Ever refused to marry someone who doesn’t believe in God and your own family will say, “Why this waste? You’ll be an old maid soon if you don’t get your act together” ?

Ever dedicated your talents to the Lord, and your colleagues will say, “Why this waste? You could have fame and fortune”?

In a poignant scene in Bethany, Mary knew that in just a few days, her Friend will be taken away and killed.

Gone will be the sweet times she’d sit at His feet and hang upon His every word.

Gone will be the radiance of His love with which He loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.

Gone will be this wonderful Man who dared describe Himself as the Resurrection and the Life, with her brother, quite literally, as the breathing, walking proof.

So Mary took the very costly perfume – a pound of pure nard – and slowly, reverently, poured it upon the head and feet of Jesus.

As the liquid trickled down His cheeks and splashed onto His garments, was she mournful that He had to go and die? Did Jesus cheer her up, saying “Let not your heart be troubled. Believe in the Father, believe also in Me”?

As she emptied the alabaster jar over His feet, and wiped them with her own hair, was she praying that God will change His plans, so Jesus will remain with them after all?

Love doesn’t always have to be practical. Just look at men buying flowers for their sweethearts, knowing that in a few days those flowers will only wither and die.

A waste of money, you might say. And yet this was exactly what Mary did. In pouring out her perfume, she was pouring out her adoration for Jesus.

But it seemed a criminal waste to others.

Have we become coldly calculating in our service for the King? Fussing over the impact of our endeavors, yet forgetting the pleasure of our Lord?

If Jesus were to ask for your alabaster jar of costly perfume, would you lavish it at His feet with what Oswald Chambers called “reckless abandon”? Or would you clutch it tightly against your chest, and say you have a better use for it than Jesus?

Whatever your “costly perfume” is… your dreams, your talents, your treasures, your valuable time, whatever you hold dear…offer it all to the Lord with a fresh love for Him.

And we have His assurance that no good thing we’ve done — simply because we love Him — will be erased from the memory of Eternity.

Is your life an outpouring of adoration, like Mary’s perfume?


The Curse

April 4, 2023

Holy Week 2023 Reflection

Honestly, when I first read this passage, I didn’t know what to make of it.

In Matthew 21:18-19, we read that Jesus was hungry and went up to a fig tree. But the fig tree bore no fruit, it was all leaves. So He cursed it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the fig tree withered.

Wait. Wasn’t that a tad harsh? Couldn’t He just tell the tree to produce fruit?

It was as of Jesus was not just hungry but hangry.

One scholarly interpretation is that the fig tree represented fruitless Israel. In the Old Testament, the nation of Israel was likened to a vineyard or tree. It was supposed to be a blessing to the world (Isaiah 27:6), but God found it to be barren. In fact, it found itself under Roman subjugation. Fruitlessness was seen as a divine curse (Deuteronomy 11:17) and Jesus only made the picture starker.

We are under the same peril.  We all have broken God’s laws. I doubt there’s someone who can say he has perfectly obeyed the Ten Commandments. Therefore, we are cursed (Galatians 3:10).

But the astonishing Good News is that instead of Jesus cursing us as He did with the fig tree, He took up the curse Himself. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole” (v 13). In other translations, the last word is not “pole” but “tree.”

Think about it:

  1. Jesus has every right to curse us for our sins. But instead, He took up the curse so we have every right to become children of God.
  2. Jesus cursed a fig tree. But to become a curse for us, He had to hang from a “tree”, the Cross.
  3. If we can get to heaven on our own, then why did Jesus have to take up that curse? Therefore, we receive eternal life not by our works, but by faith.



Holy Week 2023 Reflections

We usually think of Jesus as this meek and mild person, radiating so much love and gentleness, that you can feel perfectly at ease with Him.

But that’s not how the Passion narratives paint Him.

In the Monday right after Palm Sunday (Mark 11:12), Jesus was outraged at what He saw at the Temple. It was meant to be a holy place where people can commune with God, but it was converted into a marketplace where people do commerce with goods.

It made His blood boil so much that He overturned tables of the money changers and benches of those selling doves. What’s more, He even barricaded merchandise from entering the temple courts.

He raised a ruckus so big that the chief priests and the teachers of the law connived how to kill him. Mind you, not just how to stop Him, but how to remove Him from the face of the earth.

Make no mistake. This is a Jesus Who is not meek and mild, but mean and wild!


1.  Actually, at the end of Palm Sunday, Jesus visited the temple and likely saw what He saw the following Monday (Mark 11:11). But because it was late, He did nothing.

When we are doing something wrong and God is not apparently calling our attention, never mistake the silence as His approval.

2. The same Mark 11:11 says that Jesus looked around at everything on the Temple courts. In the same way, Jesus sees everything about us.

Would there be something that will make His blood boil? Why wait for that to happen? Why not start ordering our hearts right with God?

3. When I think about it, it is good Jesus is not a softie Savior. I am glad that He strove for what is right when He drove the money changers away.

Because it means that He strove for what is right for ME when He died on the Cross to take my iniquities away.


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