Lent Lament

Our Heavenly Father who seek true worshippers, may You find them amongst those who worship You online today. 

Forgive our casual worship. We confess watching the service online like spectator worshippers instead of participating and engaging in the offering of praises and prayers. We no longer sing openly, pray silently and give enthusiastically.

Forgive our careless worship. We confess at times our minds are on everything else rather than on You whom we come to worship. Our attention divided between the preaching of Your word and the messages on our mobile phone. We think no one can see us in our pajamas lying on bed with one hand holding a cup of coffee and the other the remote. But You see and You know the condition of all our hearts.

Forgive our consumerist worship. We confess we sometimes channel surf to find another church online that is more sleek and interesting, looking for singing and preaching more suited to our liking. Forgive us for clamoring to be entertained. 

Forgive us, our living, holy and sovereign God of the universe. By the inspiration of Your Holy Spirit, help us today and always to be true worshippers that worship You in truth and spirit. For the glory of Your Son Jesus Christ and in His wonderful Name we pray. Amen.

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True Ox Blessing

This year we celebrate the Chinese New Year of the Ox.

The ox is a symbol of strength. Without the strength of the ox, there would be no harvest. What would take many donkeys and horses to do – the ox could do it easily. Hence the idiom “As strong as an ox.” 

The ox is an animal of blessing.

There is a Bible verse about the blessing of an ox.

“Where no oxen are, the trough is clean; but much increase comes by the strength of an ox” (Proverbs 14:4 NKJV).

The wisdom of this scriptural verse is that blessings come with mess.

Oxen bring abundance of crops and harvest but they also bring along the mess in the trough and manger. There can be no blessing without the accompanying mess.

Oxen make the work of ploughing easy but it also get our hands dirty and our feet wet.

So often we want the blessing but not the mess.

We longed for a mighty harvest of souls and not realized that the blessing comes with messy consequences. With more people in church, the car park will naturally be a headache, the fellowship hall messy and the toilets a lot dirtier.

If you want to see growth in the church, you’ll need more hands on the plough and more feet on the harvest fields. You will need to discard the old ways, the old methods, the old structures and fixtures. Church growth is a messy deal.

The blessings of joy and fulfilment in marriage and raising a family are also a messy deal.

Still some lament and reminisce the days of freedom to go wherever and do whatever before they were married.

Remember the perceptive wisdom of Proverbs 14:4 says, “Where there are no oxen (i.e. spouse and children), the manger (i.e. house or bathroom) is clean.” 

So are the blessings of a job promotion or highly paid position. They come with a mess. They complicate life and daily routine.

We long for the blessings of having cars and owning several properties. They too have messy consequences. They divert your time, energy and resources for upkeep, maintenance, repairs and the yearly hassle of insurance renewals and taxes.

Are there blessings without some mess? 

“Where no oxen are, the trough is clean; but much increase comes by the strength of an ox.” That’s a true ox blessing.

On this Lunar New Year, I wish you and your family the blessings of the Ox (“Niu”). 

Do bear in mind, blessings come with a quite bit of mess. Still, they are totally worth it.

Happy “Niu” Year!

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Pairing of An Ox

This coming Lunar New Year will be rather muted due to the restrictive measures of Covid-19. 

But surprising timely, we celebrate the Year of the Ox, symbol of strength that is so needed in this time of global upheaval brought by the pandemic.  

As this is the Year of the Ox, let me draw your attention to an Ox-related Bible passage.  

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30)

In the ancient agricultural world, oxen typically work in pairs. 

Two oxen are yoked together. One is a trained seasoned ox. The other is a new young ox. Naturally the experienced ox bears the majority of the load. And since the older one leads, the younger ox does not have to wonder what to do. He learns from his mentor and gains the knowledge and skill to teach others.

This very much resembles discipleship. 

Jesus invites us to “learn of Him,” which is another way of saying, “Be my disciple.”

Jesus also declares His yoke is easy, which does not mean “simple” but “good.” 

Jesus is saying, “Yoke with me. Let me disciple you. I’ll bear the weight of the burden of responsibilities, no matter how overwhelming it may seem to you at times. For My yoke is good and you will find rest and companionship in our labour together.”

Our Lord is saying He is our co-partner in the work of His Kingdom. When He gave us the Great Commission, it means together  (“com”) in “mission.” 

We can trust God to do His part as He expects us to do ours.

We are not alone in our commission. 

We are not alone in our labouring for the Kingdom. 

We are not alone in our ploughing for the harvest. 

We are not alone in pulling the heavy load. 

Remember you are yoked with the One whom you can gain strength and direction.

Remember always you are yoked side-by-side with the One that you can lean on and into.

On this Lunar New Year of the Ox I wish you a very blessed Christ-yoked year.

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Role Reversal

As a Pastor I visit the sick in hospital. 

I have never been hospitalized before. So when I was recently warded for my angioplasty and had to stay in the hospital I experienced a role reversal. The pastor is now the patient.

Let me share that experience with you.

Assurance

I met my doctor for a pre-op briefing in the morning prior to surgery. What he said to me was extremely candid and hardly very reassuring. He told me there is a two percent risk and went on to describe what could be some worst possible outcomes. “Are you scaring me?” I asked. He replied in candid fashion, “I need to protect my backside.”

I realized that when one is going for a major surgery, what he really needs is the assurance of what could be better. 

I decided I would turn to Scriptures for assurance. 

“When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you. For I am the Lord your God … your Saviour” (Isaiah 43:2-3a NKJV)

The surgeon gave me the worst-case scenario. But Scripture gives me the best-case scenario.

Family Bonds

I never had my family showing so much care and concern to me than when they heard the op I would be having. Suddenly they realized our human mortality, the fragility of life and their parent’s health, which they could never take for granted.

The night before I was warded, they came to my bedroom to pray for me. My wife led using the prayer I composed in my blog. I saw the somber look of my four children. They prayed and pleaded with God. 

I never had a family prayer like this. I deeply treasured this sacred moment of our family life. There is nothing that gives you more reason to want to live on.

On most days my children are not that sensitive and responsive to my needs. But now one took leave to be with me in hospital. Others said they would buy me stuff that I like to eat. I literally bask in the attention they gave me. For me, it was a family bonding time. My heart surgery has caused a change of heart among my children.

Witness

I told quite a few that my stay in ICU was a staycation. The nursing staff kept checking in to see if I need any thing. I thought this is the best room service I ever had in any hotel stay. 

When the nurse asked me what I do for a living, he opened the door for me to witness to my faith. In many ways my life as a Pastor is quite cloistered and I don’t usually come in contact with people outside the circle of church people.

Prayers of the saints

I really felt that throughout the surgical procedure and hospitalization, I was kept afloat by the “prayers of the saints” (Revelation 8:3-4)

I was felt cheered on by their faith and prayers. The feeling is like having a shouting crowd watching you run the race and telling you – “Don’t give up. You are almost there. Press on!” Mine was a crowd of prayer warriors shouting, “You are safe. God’s peace is with you. We will see you with a 20 year old heart!”

Tap it right

During the night in ICU, the reading of oxygen concentration in the monitor was unusually low (85). I was given the oxygen tube. My wife thought the tapping on the finger of my punctured wrist might have skewed the reading. The nursing staff didn’t think so. Thought I might have sleep apnea for I snore quite a bit. To prove it, he confidently switch to the other hand and was stumped when the reading of oxygen shot to 100. 

My final point is we need to tap it right. Healing does not come from the doctor. The doctor only prescribes. But God is the One who heals. All healing grace comes from God. 

I look beyond the skills of my talented surgeon, great anesthetist, trained nursing staff, the host of medications and tap my perspective on the God who heals.

This I say with conviction not as a pastor but a patient. 

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The Surgeon Psalm

Just back from the hospital today and feeling utterly blessed and grateful.

I feel more blessed than the paralytic who was carried by four friends into the healing presence of Jesus (Mark 2:1-12). 

I had more than four who carried me in prayer throughout the surgical procedure. That alone, I am truly blessed and grateful.

Today I am coming back to thank God for a successful surgery.

I don’t want to be numbered among the nine lepers who were healed and didn’t return to thank Jesus.

With grateful praise and deep adoration for the Lord, I wrote:

The Lord is my Surgeon. I have nothing to fear.

He wheels me to the operating theatre. 

He leads the team of doctors and nurses. 

He makes use of their skills and training to aid my healing. 

He wants the restoration of health and wholeness to bring honour to His name. 

Yes, even if it takes many hours under deep sedation, I will not be afraid of anything, because He is with me and for me. 

His scalpel will make the right incision and precise excision. 

He sees every area with His scope and targets His treatment. 

His scalpel and scope they comfort me. 

He prepares a table of nursing care, rehab support and dietary needs for my full and complete recovery. I have everything I need. 

Surely, I will testify and give thanks for His goodness and mercy follow me all the days of my life. 

Indeed I live in the presence of my Lord now and forevermore.

I called this, “The Surgeon Psalm.” 

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Prayer Before Surgery

My God, our loving Father, 

As I prepare for surgery, I take comfort You are “God with us.”

Your Word in Hebrews 13:5 assures me, You will never leave me nor forsake me.

Your Son Jesus reminds me in Matthew 28:20 “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Your Presence will follow me as I am being wheeled to the operating table. 

You will watch over me throughout the surgery. You will stand by the side of the surgeon to guide his hands. You will direct his decisions. You will be with the doctors and nurses assisting in the operation. You will use the knowledge of their skills and training as means of Your healing grace. 

And so I entrust my being and this body, which is the temple of Your Holy Spirit into Your Fatherly care and goodness.

I believe You are always on the side of health and wholeness as Your Son Jesus had revealed in His earthly ministry by healing people of all kinds of sickness and diseases. 

I therefore will rest in Your loving embrace.

I will embrace the peace that only You can give (John 14:27).

I will soak my spirit with the knowledge of Your comforting promises.

For You are my keeper and You shall preserve my going out and my coming in (Psalm 121:5,8).

Let this surgery be a testimony of Your loving care, goodness and mercy.

I shall cast away every fear and worry for I believe You are our good Father who knows what good things to give to His children (Matthew 7:11).

With full and complete recovery I shall live to glorify You in every area of my life.

I pray this in the name of the greatest Healer, Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior. Amen.

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Musing @67

Today I turned 67. With major health challenge, I am beginning to see the finishing line in the horizon.

I started to muse about what I truly value at the end of the day when the race of life is over.

Guess what? The 3 Fs came to mind – Faith, Family & Friends.

For me, these 3 Fs gives the greatest sense of meaning, purpose and fulfillment in life.

In the end what matters is our faith – believing Jesus is with us, has been with us and will be with us forever in glory.

At the end, what really counts is not the riches we accumulated but the righteousness imputed by our merciful Savior Jesus whom we serve and worship.

By the end of life, I would have to say as with the apostle Paul:

“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ — the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith” (Philippians 3:7-9).

I treasure my faith. 

I value also my family.

I have seen it – the one thing that affords the dying the greatest comfort is having family members around their deathbed.

Family ties are always the lasting value at the end of the day. There can be no deeper serenity than having your spouse, children and family members around you when you breathe your last. I have witnessed the peace, calm and tranquility when loved ones held the hands of their departing beloved, said their parting words of love and sing a hymn commending their loved one to God. 

It is very saddening to see family members drifted away in emotional and geographical distances. You have sacrificed so much for your children to ensure their wellbeing and secure their future. But now when life is fleeting they are not around. That’s most heartbreaking. That renders life so meaningless and purposeless at the end of it.

Besides family, I also value my friends. 

I feel good friends are lasting relationships that one ought to treasure. They bring meaningful, joyous and enriching gratification throughout our life. Often we share with them our happiest moments, our deepest struggles and darkest secrets. True friends are soul mates in the journey of life. They are there when you needed someone to listen to you, to give you an encouraging word and lend you a helping hand. 

People with good, caring and supportive friends are very blessed.

Conversely, those who are rich in things but poor in friends are the loneliest like Zacchaeus (in Luke 19:1-10).   

The Bible says in Proverbs 17:17 “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” These are lasting relationships. They are often our greatest source of joy, healing and encouragement.

My apology if I sounded morbid in my musing. 

But when looking back at 67 and looking beyond, the 3 things I truly value and treasure are my faith, family and friends. 

To all who are 67, join me to praise God in Psalm 67

“God be merciful to us and bless us,
 and cause His face to shine upon us” (v. 1).

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Right Questions Restful Outlook

Recently I went for a CT scan and the result threw me off.

Three blocked arteries. All of which are over 50% blocked.

Naturally I was devastated and the “Why” questions started to creep in. 

“Why is this happening? Why me? Why is it so unfair? I have been exercising regularly. Walking 10,000 steps every day. Why this must be a mistake?”

But CT scan results don’t lie.

When the turmoil of “Whys” eventually died down, I settled into the imminent reality of an angiogram/angioplasty and began asking the “What” questions.

What is God’s purpose for me in this situation? What is the “good” in Romans 8:28 God is working out for me? What did He promised to do? 

For He Himself has said, ”I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we may boldly say, “The Lord is my helper, I will not fear” (Hebrews 13:5b-6a). 

I realize asking the right question is so vital to our faith and response to bad news.

Asking the wrong questions, like the “Whys” will eat away our peace, erode our hope and decimate our faith. 

But asking the right questions, like the “Whats” will help bring a restful outlook and a purposeful perspective.

I am thankful by His grace and Spirit that I was able to move from “Why is God letting this happen?” to “What is God teaching me in this?”

Indeed He is teaching me many things. Things like, “Do you walk the talk?” It is so easy to preach, “God is in control.” But when the scary situation comes, do you still believe what you preached. 

Do you embody what you always prayed for the sick, “Jesus is in you, for you and with you”? 

Do you believe God can turn any life-threatening circumstance for His glory? Like He did for Lazarus when He said, “This sickness is not unto death but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (John 11:4).

The restful outlook and purposeful perspective led me to give thanks to God. 

I saw this episode of my life as evidence of God’s love. Even though I am feeling fine with no symptoms yet my doctor insisted on a CT scan during my annual medical checkup. I want to believe the block arteries were not a chance discovery but definitely the divine providence of God.

Being physically fit and active, I was so prone to think I am quite invincible and invulnerable to all sickness and diseases. Not any more. I am confronted with the stark reality of mortality, fragility of life and the need of God’s daily mercies. I am brought to my knees in prayerful humility.

All said I am going to put my trust in the Lord, not the surgeon. You can be sure I will be singing, “Lord, I give You my heart” all the way to the operating theatre.

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2021

The New Year has come. The celebrations muted. The lockdowns have not eased. The entire world still faces the prospect of new waves of infection with new mutated strains.

As the clock ticks into 2021, I sat quietly in the darkened sanctuary during Watchnight. I was drawn to think of a scriptural verse. 

“Give thanks to the Lord for His love endures forever” (II Chronicles 20:21)

The context of this verse and its numerical reference are so similar to what we are facing now.

The combined armies of Moabites, Ammonites and Meunites came to wage war against King Jehoshaphat (II Chronicles 20:1).

Today we are besieged by pandemic wars, trade wars and political wars. No nation is spared from these waging wars.

In that dire straits situation and hopeless despair, King Jehoshaphat turned to the Lord. He cried out in II Chronicles 20:9.

“If disaster comes upon us — sword, judgment, pestilence, or famine — we will stand before this temple and in Your presence (for Your name is in this temple), and cry out to You in our affliction, and You will hear and save.”

Notice the description of disaster is not quite unlike what we are facing today. 

The “sword” that put an end to human lives, jobs and businesses. The “judgement” of what is essential, equality, greed and climate change. The “pestilence” of viral outbreak. The “famine” of closed borders and unopened economy. 

Even more surprising is the strategic move King Jehoshaphat took in his battle plan as he face off the advancement of three invading armies.

He did not send his elite commandos. Instead he sent his elite choir. He deployed them ahead of his army. They were singing, “Give thanks to the Lord for His love endures forever.”

How did the king, the people and the soldiers confront those formidable enemies, the bad news and the dark prospect of imminent death, loss and end of a nation? 

They made their eyes fixed on the Lord, their lips sing His praise and their hearts believe His love endures forever.

Such military strategy is unheard of. 

But then the battle belongs to the Lord.

“This is what the Lord says to you: ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s” (II Chronicles 20:15).

Fast forward, the Lord set ambushes against the invading armies and they utterly killed and destroyed themselves.

The Lord turned what could have been a disastrous ending into a prosperous outcome for the people of Judah.

It took them 3 days to gather the valuable spoils they found because there was so much.

But it all began at II Chronicles 20:21 “Give thanks to the Lord for His love endures forever.”

Let’s step into 2021 in faith with this verse in our hearts.

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The God We Never Knew

Can you picture an exuberant God?

Can you imagine a God rejoicing over you with gladness and loud singing?

Can you envisage a God dancing with joy over you?

That’s the God we never knew.

Perhaps because the picture that often looms large in our mind is a God seated high and mighty on His throne in heaven. He hardly moves. When He does, He is spewing wrath on the wicked and meting out judgments on the unjust.

But the side of God we never knew is a God singing, dancing and rejoicing over us.

That’s the picture painted for us in Zephaniah 3:17.

“The Lord your God in your midst,
The Mighty One, will save;
He will rejoice over you with gladness,
He will quiet you with His love,
He will rejoice over you with singing.”

That day when you whispered, “I believe,” He was rejoicing over you with loud singing. Just like a father overcome with joy and rapturous delight when he beheld his newborn child. He simply couldn’t hold back but burst into singing along the corridor of the hospital.

Those two words, “I believe” coming from your heart, sprung a spiritual rebirth that made God “rejoice over you with gladness.”

Nothing makes God glad than hearing you say, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Those words are like music to God’s ears and God “rejoice over you with singing.”

Even when you fail God and didn’t live up to what you have hoped yet “He will quiet you with His love.” Just like me telling my son, “I still love you.” when he failed the Second Language exams despite his best effort.

Perhaps right now you are feeling God seems so far away because of overwhelming relational conflicts, financial challenges, health issues, job losses and fear over the uncertain future. Be assured of this promise:

“The Lord your God in your midst,
The Mighty One, will save.” 

The God we never knewWhenever you trust those words of His promise, you can be sure the Lord your God takes great delight as He looks at you.

“He will rejoice over you with gladness,
He will quiet you with His love,
He will rejoice over you with singing.”

I believe you will be dumbfounded and speechless if you could hear God singing with elation and dancing ecstatically as He rejoices over you.

You have made Him glad because you believe, you trust and you cling on to Him.

I know with certainty for I feel the same way every time my children do the same.

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