Saturday, August 30, 2014

Peace & Preaching


In the past few days, I have experienced great peace, a peace that surpasses understanding. Now coming to the end of 2 months of my sabbatical, I shall be preaching tomorrow, God willing. The invitation more than 1 month ago as I was attending a Preaching Conference and it happened that I chatted with 2 people from the church that I shall be preaching on Sunday. It will be my first sermon in 9 weeks, after conducting a Bible class last Sunday. Soon I will be heading back to Sabah and 4 more sermons await me, 2 in Ranau, near Mount Kinabalu, the highest peak in South East Asia of 13,455 ft.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Future Studies & the End-Time


A couple of days ago. Straitstimes reported on a Professor who majored in Future Studies (see link). As one who has studied prophecy, looking into the future is my "specialty". I don't predict the future but I study what the Bible teaches about the future, especially the last book of the Bible, Revelation. I must say I was intrigued with what the Professor said about Singapore's exposure to earthquakes of 8 richter scale, even if it hits Sumatra, a neighbouring island. Tall buildings especially those built on soft soil will sway and could be at risk of damage. The book of Revelation speaks much of earthquakes and Jesus in Luke's Gospel speaks of great earthquakes attending the early signs of his coming. Also in Luke and Revelation, another disaster that will befall the world is plagues, deadly diseases spreading like Ebola and before the current Ebola epidemic, we had SARS and different strains of bird flu. Climate change is also predicted, especially droughts for in the days of the prophecy of the two witnesses, there shall be no rain (Rev 11,6).

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Life's Threshold & Destiny

One thing about my homestate, Sabah is that the word, "sabbath" in Hebrew sounds like sabbat. I guess I come from a place of rest and I shall be returning to my hometown in a week's time. How long I am going to be in Sabah is entirely dependent on how things pan out for me in Singapore. I may return to Singapore at the end of September and begin a new ministry. If not, possibly a short stopover and onto New Zealand for the next phase of my sabbatical. Or I will stay put in Sabah as long as the Cloud remains in the Land Below the Wind. I feel like Joshua at the edge of Jordan, at life's threshold, ready to cross over and conquer the promised Land. Where that promised land for me is entirely in God's hands. Kiergegaard, the Danish philosopher wrote some 150 years ago that we, like Abraham, serve a God of all possibilities because He is the great I AM and the I will be what I will be.

Monday, August 25, 2014

A Fool's CV


This is the title of an essay given by a former colleague (still a good friend) when I first came to Singapore more than 6 years ago. What would Paul the apostle put in his CV if he were to apply for a job? I have learned from experience that I should not give out my CV too readily. CV or resume usually contains the nice or presentable parts of one's qualifications, work and experience but in the ministry for the Lord, qualities and skills needed to do the Lord's work may not be found in any CV. I know that my CV does not even pretend to tell half the story, probably 25% of my story, my history with God. What about my tears put into the Lord's bottle? Is that presentable in a CV - "I cried a lot before the Lord", but yet it is said of our Saviour that in the days of his flesh, he cried out to God with loud cries, tears and weeping.." (Hebrews). What about getting up early in the morning at 5am and wait 2 or 3 hours, apparently doing nothing except waiting on the Lord? How can you measure these things? How about a heart beating with the love of God and compassion for lost humanity? Can anyone really see into the heart except the Lord himself? "Man looks at outward appearance but God looks into the heart". What about character - love, humility, gentleness, self-control, peace...against which there is no law?

Sunday, August 24, 2014

"I Stood Up, I Cried in the Congregation" (Job 30, 28)

Sometimes God can speak to us in the unlikeliest of texts, Job 30,28. As the preacher read from the ESV, I was reading from KJV and the Lord used his Word to confirm what he was showing me. I was as if caught up in the wind/spirit, caught up into his presence. I felt a sweetness and tenderness in God's presence, indeed we are nothing but little children in the arms of the heavenly Father. How great is his love for us that we should be called the children of God. Did not Jesus say, "unless you become little children, you will not enter the kingdom of God." Again, after his resurrection, Jesus called his adult disciples, "Come my children and eat".

Job goes on to experience that, "my substance is dissolved." Even as we are united to him, we melt in his presence and our substance becomes like the spirit as those who are united with the Lord is one spirit with him. It helped today that the songs we sang were some of my favourites. "All glory belongs to you" and "peace that guards my heart." He is indeed waiting for us to enter into his presence and worship him in spirit and truth.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Jacob's Travails

The story of Jacob takes up the second half of the book of Genesis, sandwiched between the story of Abraham, his grandfather (Gen 12-24) and his son, Joseph (Gen 37-50). Because it overlaps with the Joseph's narrative towards the end of Genesis, we can say that the life and adventures of Jacob are given the most space in the first book of the Bible. Perhaps God knows not everyone will have the faith of Abraham and can identify with the rise to political power of Joseph but with Jacob, almost everyone can identify with him in one way or another. If you are a grieved employee, look at Jacob, twice he said his employer, Laban cheated him ten times though Jacob worked hard and Laban even acknowledged that God had blessed him on account of Jacob's presence and work. If you have family conflicts, sibling rivalry, Jacob's spat with Esau his older twin deserves much study and how at the end they are reconciled though Jacob feared for his life when he met his brother after 20 years away.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Soekarno: Malay Language as Third Language

"Soekarno" now showing at the cinemas is one of the most beautiful films I have watched for a long time. It trumps even the movie on Margaret Thatcher which I also watched 5 years ago. Maybe I am a history and politics buff with love for all things regional, which to me is the "Golden Triangle" of Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. Soekarno, the film is especially poignant now that President-elect Bapak Jokowi is confirmed to take office on the 20th October after the Constitutional Court last night threw out presidential candidate Bapak Prabowo's challenge to the Elections results. The movie was 2 hours 20 minutes long, just the right length for an epic on the founding President of Indonesia. In the later years of his Presidency, President Soekarno launched the Konfrontasi (Confrontation) against the newly formed Federation of Malaysia and Singapore which was then a part of Malaysia suffered when two Indonesian agents bombed Macdonald house leading to several deaths. This 50-year incident somewhat came back to live when the Indonesian Navy named a warship after the two agents, executed by the Singapore government for their role in that short time of terror.

If anyone understands Indonesian history, it is a modern miracle that the Malay archipelago (Nusantara) of 17,000 islands achieved independence in 1945 under Soekarno-Hatta leadership. What impresses me about its early history is how Indonesians achieved nationhood through a strong sense of nationalism that led to independence and patriotism that binds different peoples, tribes, languages and religions together as one nation, satu bangsa Indonesia Raya! Part of their success is due to the Pancasila, the five foundational principles of nationhood where there is no State or one official religion and that no religion dominates another though close to 80% of Indonesians are Muslims. This sense of nationhood is the strongest in Indonesia, more so than in Malaysia and Singapore. Malaysia's former premier Dr M lamented recently that Malaysia could never become bangsa Malaysia because of racial, language and religious divisions in the country. Dr M cited Indonesia, Philippines and Thailand as countries that exhibit strong national identity where citizens identify themselves as Thais, Filipinos and Indonesians as the case may be. I could go on as to the causes of division in Malaysia but I will leave it to the political analysts and academics. One thing I learn and observe is that prosperity, even shared prosperity can never really binds a nation together.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

"Ye Men of Little Faith"

Jesus rebuked his followers several times: "Ye men of little faith!" Should not the Father who feeds the birds in the air and clothes the grass in the field, feeds us his beloved children? Why are then many Christians behaving like the pagans, always asking what they are going to eat, what they are going to drink or cloth themselves or worry about their retirement savings? (Matt 6:33). Yesterday I went past a woman holding a child selling tissues on the streets. Normally I would walk past without a thought but this time my heart was stirred to do a good deed - I gave her $10.00 and did not take any tissues. She said, "Terimakasih" and there was good enough for me. As I was hurrying away, my heart continued to stir and heard the Lord spoke, "If you had concern for that child and you thought your $10.00 could help her, who you think I am? Am not I able to provide for you?" I moved quickly through the crowds and the voice subsided. It's rare kind of experience that many religious scholars are slow to talk about. I was encouraged by a book I am currently reading by William James, a Harvard Professor, medical doctor and psychologist, written more than one century ago, The Varieties of Religious Experience (Oxford Classics, 2012). In it, Prof James recounted a story given by George Fox, the founder of Quakers movement of how Fox travelled through Lichfield and felt the word of the Lord came to him and he had to cry out against Lichfield right in the midst of the market-place. It was only later that George Fox understood why he thought the Lord wanted him to cry out against the town because many centuries ago, 1,000 or so Christians were martyred there. How can you explain what George Fox experienced? Was his religious experience valid, contestable or simply illusory?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Retirement Savings: Is God in the Equation?

I watched the National Rally speech on Sunday from 8pm to 9.20pm, missing the last ten minutes. I thank God for PM Lee and he came across as a sincere, honest man and Singapore will do well under his stewardship and steady  hands. I have no qualms in engaging him as my financial planner if I ever needed one. There is only one statement I will take issue with - when God was mentioned as if He could do little for those in financial straits. By the grace of God, I am a living example of how God can help those who trust in Him. If I had worried about my retirement savings whether there will adequate savings for me in my old age or otherwise I would not have given up my legal practice. I would not have served the indigenous peoples of Borneo for 14 years if I did not trust God to provide for me financially. In the first 4 years of my work in church I lived on 5% of what I earned as a lawyer. Not possible humanly speaking but for every month, 48 months in all I can testify that God had provided extras for me on top of my salary. Even when I was not preaching and there was no honourarium, God used individuals to bless me financially. I once received a red-packet at my doorsteps with RM 500.00 in it and many miracles besides.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Time in Timelessness

Eternal life could be defined as time in timelessness. And Sabbath is a sign of the coming age (Hebrews 4) when we fully enter God's Rest once and for all and we cease from all our labours. Wonderfully, in Hebrews those who believe have already entered that rest and we have ceased from our labours as God who rested on the Sabbath day. Even now as we believe we are granted eternal life, a life that will not end, so time now, historical time is relativized in the light of eternity which we have already entered in through faith. John, who knows Jesus more than anyone else, for he lays on Jesus' bosom, has this to say of life eternal - to know the one true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent (John 17:3). As God has created time and time is a creature of timelessness since God dwells in eternity, we who know God, know time in timelessness and a Sabbath is a sign of this present and future reality.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Bamboo Shoots & ASEAN Theology

Bamboo shoots are a local delicacy in Myanmar, Borneo and some other Asean countries. ASEAN hope to celebrate a common market and doing away with trade barriers next year. It is a good time to be in ASEAN. For the past 6 years, I have gotten to know students from 8 Asean countries. My first MTh graduate is a Burmese who is serving in northern Myanmar. One of my best students was a Vietnamese who was in my first NT class in 2008 and I was thrilled to receive news that he would be getting married soon. Perfect excuse to visit Vietnam and meet my former students. I have only been to Thailand once for ministry and did not stop even for an hour to tour Bangkok. It was from the airport to the place of Retreat and back to Airport after the Retreat ended. My Thai visit was memorable as I watched the news of Osama's killing on a TV (I take no delight in the death of the wicked , saith the Lord) at the Bangkok airport waiting to fly back to Singapore with airport security suddenly increased considerably.

Today & Tomorrow: The Greek of Luke 13:32


If you are frequent reader of this blog, you will realize that I like to read and write about enigmatic texts of the Bible, those that you don't hear about in sermons or even by reading commentaries (though I am sure some commentaries by nature as a commentary would have something to say about it). The text I am referring to is Jesus' saying in Luke 13:32-33. The Greek is especially illuminating. "I am performing cures...today, tomorrow and on the third I shall be perfected". First, it is quite clear that Jesus is speaking metaphorically, using a kind of chronology or time-line to convey some enigmatic details about his life and ministry. Second, the word, "day" after the third is missing in the Greek, so Jesus is literally saying on the third (implied on the 3rd day) he will be perfected. The previous verse talks about his work of healing illness and diseases of all kinds and bringing relief to many. Jesus is completing today his ministry of healing and by tomorrow he will continue this work though perhaps in a different form and phase. third I shall be perfected indicates Jesus' life reaching its maximum potential and having reached it gained perfection, the crown of his life-ministry. Jesus says in John's Gospel that his food is to do the will of God and complete/finish it (John 4) and on the cross as he was dying, Jesus exalted in the fact that, "It is finished!" (John 19:30).

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Whom Shall I Send?

There is this Romans passage about those who are sent out to preach in Rom 10,12-17. How are they to call on him they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one they have not heard of? And how are they to hear without someone preaching to them? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?...but not all have obeyed the gospel/good news...for Isaiah says, "Lord who has believed our report?

Significantly, the role of faith or belief is crucial in this passage. For people will only call on one whom they believe. Often when we say to people God can help them and they look at you in disbelief. Why? They have yet to believe in this God and how can they call on him whom they have not believed. Paul goes on to say that the people need to hear first before they can believe which means the Gospel had to be articulated verbally to convey God's message of salvation to mankind. With this aurality, the Spirit works to convict hearts until some will believe in him.

Paul goes on to argue that people will only listen if there are those who preach the Gospel. Hence, the crucial bridge between faith and hearing the Gospel is actually a human instrument, the preacher. Note that it is in plural, those who preach the Gospel following the Isaianic verse on how beautiful are the feet of those preach the good news. Interestingly, Paul does not think everyone will believe, perhaps only few will believe by citing another Isaiah quotation, "who will believe our report?", with the rhetorical question giving a sense of discouragement and doom for few will find the good news good for them.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

What is Preaching?

Preaching is not a skill to be learned but a life to be lived in devotion to God who has called the preacher to His service. Preaching is a gift given to them who tremble at His Words and the fear of the Lord is his treasure. The law of God is in his heart and he is ready to preach in a moment's notice in season and out of season.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

National Day & National Language (Part 2)

I did not think that I will write on this again so soon barely 20 hours since my last post. But I just experienced or had an encounter that proved my point. I was asked by a counter sales-girl at a busy 7-Eleven to listen in her mobile and helped her made sense of the English instructions given therein. I tried to explain to her with my limited Mandarin, perhaps got through 50% of my faltering Mandarin. She could not speak a single word in English, except thank you and sorry. I have met many Chinese nationals who are now Singaporean citizens and PRs but they know little English. Perhaps I always put on my friendly persona with strangers and I got to know quite a few uncles and aunties who could not speak English but happy to put up with my broken Mandarin.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

National Day & National Language

August is an august month. It is the month where three close neighbours celebrate their National Days, beginning with Singapore today, Indonesia on 17th August and Malaysia, 31st August. The last is still being disputed by most Sabahans and Sarawakians since Malaysia's National Day should fall on 16th Sept 1963 when these two States together with Singapore formed the Federation of Malaysia. At least Singapore and Malaysia share a common history and 49 years ago today, Singapore achieved independence from Malaysia.

Perhaps the first thing I like to note about these shared histories in this region is that National Day should be called as it is or Independence Day rather than "Birthday". I always feel that something is not right when someone uses the phrase, "Happy Birthday" for nation-states. In Malay, it would be Hari Kebangsaan or Hari Kemerdekaan and it is not hari jadi.

Speaking of Malay or the Malay language, it is the national language for both Malaysia and Singapore. Indonesia would prefer that their national language be known as Bahasa Indonesia which is derived from Malay and probably 80% similar to the Malay spoken in Malaysia and Singapore.

Significantly, Indonesia by calling its national language by its nation's name shows the political discourse and wisdom of her founding fathers who thought this one national language could unite the diverse tribes and races spread across 17,000 islands over 3,000 kms. Indonesia has achieved national unity and cohesion through its national language. Though it may be weak in the use of English where it is only taught in Secondary One in most national schools, Bahasa Indonesia has given Indonesia a sense of identity not found in her much smaller neighbours, Malaysia and Singapore.

Singapore has achieved much prosperity and its GDP per capita among the top in the world, 4 times higher than Malaysia and more than 10 times Indonesia's. However, Singapore's national identity is still weak, partly due to a lack of a national language. Not many Singaporeans know that its national language is Malay because very few politicians highlight this fact and the use of Malay is limited to army commands and certain State protocols. National identity is bound with its national language and Singapore must choose.

Friday, August 8, 2014

"They have profaned my Sabbaths" (Ezek 20)

This verse from Ezekiel 20 serves as a kind of refrain why the Lord poured out his wrath on Israel leading to their desolation and exile (Ezek 20:13, 16, 20-21, 24). "They have profaned my Sabbaths." Also at the end of 2 Chronicles, a telling summary of what had happened to the Israelites for the duration of their exile in Babylon is that the land (of Israel) kept its Sabbaths (or sabbatical years) [2 Chr 36:21). Why is it so difficult for the Israelites to keep the Lord's Sabbaths from the weekly Sabbath, sabbatical year (7th year) and the two years on the 49th and 50th year? From the time of the wilderness, the Lord had already begun to teach his people to trust him for their daily provision. When on the normal days they collected too much, the manna became stale and they had to collect the manna daily for six days. But on the sixth day, double portion was allowed and it did not go stale so that Israelites could rest on the Sabbath, 7th day and ate the portion collected on the 6th day. When they went out on the Sabbath to collect manna, there was none as the Lord rested from all his works on the 7th day and did not shower the manna on the Sabbath. Similarly on the 7th year, the Lord had promised (Lev 25-26) that he would provide double portion so that when the land rests on the Sabbatical year and the Israelites rest from their labour they are provided for with the double provision of the sixth year. The commandment coupled with promise of the Lord obviously was not heeded by most Israelites. They did not trust the Lord to provide for them. They did not rest on the sabbatical year (7th year) but tilled the land yearly because they lacked trust in the Lord to provide for them. In fact, Lev 26:10 is telling - one Sabbath principle is that we clear out from the old that is to eat from what is stored and clear the old for the new ("You will be still eating from the previous year and will have to clean out what is stored from the previous year to make room for the new" NET). But most people only know to accumulate and they never stop accumulating as Ecclesiastes writes that they are some who will make much money and gather much possessions but not enjoying them and not knowing who they will leave their fortune to. How do we keep our Sabbaths now as Christians?

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Fruits of the Land

Whenever I conduct End-time or Revelation seminars, I would pose the question that if we should live in the last days of the Great Tribulation before Jesus returns, how will we survive? I tell my audience that we should live off the land and for most Singaporeans that would prove extremely difficult because there is no land. Singapore imports more than 95% of their daily food from neighbouring countries.. But I come from a land called the The Land below the Wind, 100 times bigger than Singapore. I grew up in my father's house surrounded by mango trees in the front and at the back. Now in my little plot of land at the backyard I have a few mango trees and I have been eating mangoes for 5 years since the trees were mature enough to bear fruits.
My wife and I have enjoyed the fruits of the land. And every time I see mangoes or rambutans or bananas about to ripen, I ask myself - Does my life also produce fruits for the Father's glory?

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Famine in the Land

There is famine in the land, not a famine of food and drink since in Singapore as well as in Malaysia there is food aplenty. There is famine, a famine of hearing the words of the Lord (Amos 9). When Jesus preached his inaugural sermon in Luke's Gospel, his audience was at first impressed and astonished at Jesus' teaching, but that amazement quickly turned to anger and murderous wrath. What in Jesus's sermon made him so offensive? He told his country folks two stories they knew so well. It is about the twin prophets of Elijah and Elisha. According to Jesus, in the days of drought and famine lasting 3 and a half years, Elijah was sent to minister to only one person, a foreign woman at Zarephath, in the land of Sidon and no one else in Israel benefited from Elijah's ministry.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Leadership & Healing (LXX Zech 10:2)

 

If you ask me about the three most important things in church or Christian organisations, I would say this. It is leadership first, leadership second and leadership third. This is not unlike the order of church leadership in 1 Cor 12:28; apostles first, prophets second and teachers third. Even though we may not have apostles in our midst today, we should recognise the prophets and teachers who are called to lead the church. That's why Antioch of Syria became the missionary centre for Paul and Barnabas because there were prophets and teachers in the church of Antioch, sensitive to the Holy Spirit and guiding the church to obey the Lord's leading and direction (Acts 13:1ff).

I am still reading the Septuagint every morning. Today I got up especially early, perhaps due to the stress of the past week. There are many things to do and several more emails to reply - offers of ministry opportunities, etc. I thought I were on sabbatical!

The second hour is important. I learn to stretch my quiet time into the 2nd hour. I know for some, 20 minutes a luxury. But I am on sabbatical. So in the 2nd hour today I read the LXX of Zechariah 10:2. Interesting text - instead of the Hebrew, "my people are afflicted for they are like sheep without a shepherd", the LXX has my people are afflicted and "they have no healing". Perhaps reading the Hebrew MT and LXX texts together give us the sense that a shepherd's task is to bring healing or health to the body of Christ. No leadership, no healing. Without leadership God's people will be afflicted with all kinds of spiritual travails - complacency, lethargy, false teachings, every wind of doctrine, immorality, lure of the world and worldly riches.

"Foodie" & Hospitality to Strangers

On my flight back to Sabah a couple of months ago, I sat beside a Middle Eastern man who engaged with me in conversation for almost the whole duration of the 2-hour flight. I gave him my name card and asked him to call me and I promised I would take him and family of seven (5 children and wife) to eat Laksa mee-hoon or one of the local cuisines. He did call but somewhat it was recorded on my voicemail. I tried calling the hotel but could not get the reception to locate him. On the last day of his visit, I remembered him telling me when he was flying to KL from KK, so I went to the Airport hoping to meet up with him at the 2nd Terminal, AirAsia and waited for him for nearly 2 hours. At the end I did not see him (perhaps the plane flew off from Terminal One) but while waiting I met a Singaporean friend with his family whom I knew through a Church Camp I just conducted in Malacca. I wanted to show hospitality to someone I befriended on the plane but it just did not happen.

Over the past week in Singapore, I was nearly stressed out for I had meetings with people six days in a row from last Tuesday. I attended the Preaching Conference at SBC, Tuesday and Wednesday and caught up with a number of SBC Faculty members. During the Conference I had a good time meeting with former students, fellow pastors and church leaders whom I got to know over the past 6 years in Singapore.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Sabbatical?

I think I might have to move away from Singapore if I truly want a sabbatical. I have been torn whether to return to ministry almost immediately. With me staying on in Singapore has proved a blessing in many ways but challenges are coming my way. When my friends know I am available, a few of them have taken upon themselves to help me find a new ministry. I have received emails asking whether I am interested in this or that ministry or unsolicited advice that I should speak to this or that church? Maybe in a couple of weeks' time I will decide what I really want to do.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Rome, Ephesus, & Corinth

Apostle Paul wrote to seven major urban centres, Rome, Ephesus, Corinth, Thesaloniki, Philippi, Colosse, and Galatia. The last, Galatia is not actually a city but a province, hence you find Paul directing his letter to the churches in Galatia whereas in other cities, he would normally use the singular "church" though no doubt in bigger cities like Rome and Ephesus there would be at least several house churches but yet considered as one church in the city. Colosse was not a prominent city as Corinth or even Thessaloniki as we see that John of Revelation did not address a letter to the church in Colosse but to the sister city, Laodicea. What types of teachings stood out in the three main cities of the Roman empire? Not that Athens was not one of the main Greco-Roman cities in Paul's time which it certainly was but that perhaps we have a hint in Acts 17 that Paul's preaching in Athens was not particularly successful though it was quite probable a church was started there sometime shortly after Paul's visit. So what makes Rome, Ephesus and Corinth different from the rest?

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