Blue Marlin Blues

I thought my line was “sangkut” (Malay word for snagged on some underwater debris or structure).

Then it started to move and gather speed.

Fish on! “It’s a marlin!” Shouted our boatman. I couldn’t

Blue Marlin

believe my ears. What? Marlin? We have never seen one let alone caught any since we started fishing in these waters. But the boatman was right. The fish jumped up in close distance within our full view. It’s truly a Blue Marlin! Confirmed and double confirmed.

The line was spooling out fast. My fishing buddy started pouring water on my sizzling reel. I was holding on to my bending fishing rod for dear life.

Everyone on board the boat thought I was going to get spooled out. I was pumping in my line as much as I could. But for every three turns I made, the fish took out more lines.

I fought the fish for twenty minutes. My buddies could see I was pretty exhausted. We took turns to reel in the fish. Passing the rod gingerly making sure the line was tight. As it got closer to the boat, it made a desperate attempt to throw off the hook. It leapt up again in full view. It was a monster. We reckoned it must be at least 40kg.

When it got closer to the boat, it made successive jumps. Not twice. Not thrice. But seven times. We were counting numbers like kindergarten children.

Then the unthinkable happened. The line burst at the seventh count. And my fishing friend who took the last turn reeled in a slack line with utter saddest echoed by all.

It was Marlin 1 and Fishermen 0.

Losing that blue Marlin has left us feeling blue. We consoled ourselves by saying we were going to let it go anyway. But deep within we felt it would be good to have a photo with that rare beauty. That day we suffered a Blue Marlin Blues.

As we approach the Passion Week, I am reminded once again how blue the disciples must have felt losing not a Marlin but their Master on that Good Friday. They had followed Jesus for three years. Heard all his teachings, seen all his miraculous and tutored under his watchful eye. And to finally lose their beloved Master on the cross was a huge blow to their faith, hope and future. They were feeling blue to a T. Then came the joy of Easter. Jesus is alive! He lives! He showed himself to them.

“On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord” (John 20:19-20). 

That blue Friday is now a Good Friday. God did something wonderful for all people by Jesus’ death and resurrection that every day henceforth no longer be blue but good.


When A Dog Came

A friend of ours brought a dog home. Ever since then everything changes.

when a dog cameWe used to meet for Bible Study at his home in an air-conditioned room. But now it houses the adorable Siberian husky. Its coat is thicker than that of most other dog breeds. It’s why the dog stays in that air-conditioned room.

Giving up one room in the house is not the only change. The family has to remove wall paintings and furniture to avoid being chewed up by the dog.

Many parts of the house, especially the carpets have to be deodorized because this male dog takes his territorial marking seriously.

Smell may not be the only issue. Shedding hairs is a biggie. The vacuum cleaner could never remove the dog hairs entirely. They stick to your clothes. And whenever he brings the dog into his car, there will always be hairy evidences inside the car.

Not only living spaces have changed, his daily routine is affected as well. Now whenever he’s back from work, he picks up the dog leash to take his dog for his walk. He does that no matter how tired he may be. On those days one wonders if the dog is still man’s best friend.

The upside of it all is the dog has kept him very active. He has to make regular trips to the vet for vaccination, to the dog groomer and the pet mart for food and shampoo. All that chalks up quite a bit in his budget.

Everything changes when the dog came. Living space, daily routine and expenses included.

Today if you were to ask this friend of ours, he will not hesitate to tell you it’s all worth it. Nothing could replace the joy of having a dog you love.

Just so, everything changes when God (the reverse spelling of dog) came into your life.

Your routine changes. Sunday is no longer the same. No more sleeping in. You get up early for the weekly trip to church.

You smell different. There seems to be “the fragrance of Christ.”

“Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ …” (II Corinthians 2:14-15).

Your values, beliefs and behaviour have changed. They are now different. They seem to be out of place with the world like dog hairs in the house.

So Jesus says, ”If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19}.

Before you were tight-fisted. Now you won’t mind giving generously to the God who came into your life. You know deep within you’ve found the pearl of great price.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking beautiful pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it” (Matthew 13:45-46).

If someone were to ask, you too would say as I did that nothing could ever replace the joy when God came into my life.


Year of the Dog

Lunar New Year celebration is just round the corner.

The festive mood started a few weeks ago. By now most of us would have done our shopping for food, clothes and decorations for the coming long weekend festivities.

In every shopping mall, heartland market and retail stall, we see this ubiquitous animal icon. And you know this is the Year of the Dog in the Chinese Zodiac calendar.

I have to admit that I do not subscribe to the astrological meaning of this zodiac sign.

I believe every year is the Year of the Lord. And every year we “proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD” (Luke 4:19).

Year of the DogI must confess I do love dogs. My dog, Yuzu, a Golden Retriever taught me many things about my relationship with God.

She taught me patience and how to wait. I would place a biscuit on her snout and told her to “wait” until I say the “ok.” She manages marvelously well. And I notice she kept her eyes on me all the time and not on the tempting treat.

It was for me a lesson on how to wait on the Lord and how to deal with temptation – keep your eyes on the Lord.

I might be showing off this to my friends and relatives who come visit.

And since many of us would be texting our Chinese New Year (CNY) well wishes, I thought it good for me to let my greetings connect them to God.

Here’s what I wrote and sent:

May you always BARK about the goodness of God, BOW at His sovereign wisdom and WOW at His all-sufficient grace, assuring you of a PAW-sitive future. For our FAITHFUL God always STAY by our side to POOCH-tect us even when we STRAY re-CUR-ringly. He is MAN’S BEST FRIEND ever. WOOFING with you on this Lunar New Year of the DOG. For those who are dyslexic it is GOD.


Transformational Treatment

For most of us the picture of a prison is a depressing place of deprivation, punishment and penance.

But there is an island prison in Norway that is unlike any.

Bastoy prison is an hour away by ferry from Oslo. This one square mile island prison is home to 115 prisoners.

There are no high walls, iron bars or wire fences. The prisoners are free to walk around.

Some of them are murderers, rapists and drug traffickers. Yet they don’t wear shackles or electronic monitoring bracelets. Neither do they live in isolated high security cells. They live in small wooden bungalows that accommodate up to 6 people. These brightly painted cherry red houses dotted the landscape.

Every prisoner has his own room. They share a common kitchen and other facilities. Only one meal a day is provided in the dining hall. For the rest of their meals, everyone has to work and use their earnings to buy provisions from the island’s well-stocked mini-supermarket.

The working day begins at 8.30am. Some work in the farms tending to sheep, cows and chickens. Others work in the gardens growing fruits and vegetables. Still others work in the laundry or in the stables looking after the horses that pull the island’s cart transport. Quite a few work in a repair shop for bicycles, which many prisoners had bought with their own money.

Transforming TreatmentIn their free time, the prisoners would fish, play tennis, ski, sunbathe or swim off the beach.

When most of the prison staff leave for home, only a small handful of guards are left to watch the prisoners.

Bastoy prison started as a social experiment to rehabilitate prisoners.

“The idea is they get used to living as they will live when they are released.”

The belief is when people are treated like animals they are likely to behave like animals. “Treat people like dirt, and they will be dirt. Treat them like human beings, and they will act like human beings.”

And it seems to work.

Today Norway has the lowest rate of reoffending among released prisoners in Europe.

That treatment of prisoners transformed them from an enraged killer to a gentle farmer; from a vicious rapist to a good-natured repairman and from a violent drug dealer to a friendly ferry operator. They would say, “Before coming here I never really cared for other people.”

Treating people with respect transform them. Believing in their potential to change and trusting them to prove their worth gives them hope to start on a new page again.

It is exactly what happened to Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10.

Zacchaeus had the bad reputation of being a chief tax collector. He got rich by defrauding other taxpayers. People looked him upon as the worst of sinners. They despised him. They hated him. They treated him like dirt. They even ignored him for they didn’t even know he was there on the tree when Jesus was passing by. There is nothing more painful for any human being than to feel invisible and non-existent.

But Jesus did not condemn Zacchaeus in spite his appalling reputation. He treated Zacchaeus with respect and dignity. He called out to Zacchaeus by name and asked to stay in his home. He did not see Zacchaeus as a hopeless scumbag imprisoned by his greed and riches. Rather Jesus saw in Zacchaeus, a sinful human being with the potential to change and prove his worth.

And he did.

“Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount” (Luke 19:8).

Zacchaeus became a completely changed man. And that is solely because of the way Jesus treated him.

Such is the transformational power of treatment.


Bond Over Food

I returned from a 3-day staff retreat at Phnom Penh, Cambodia. My wife asked how did it go. My immediate reply was, “We eat and eat.”

The fried fishes were so good they were eaten to the bones. The pork ribs were the best ever. Pizzas were yummy and came extra large. We had to play a silly game to finish it all. Our last meal together was a finale with the widest spread of Cambodia cuisine.

Needless to say, the food was great and so was the fellowship. But I wonder if the former accounts for the latter.

As a new comer to the ministry team, this was my first extended time with them. I don’t know any of them. None of them knew much of me.

Bond over foodBut the mealtime acts as a great unifier. It plays a key role in building our team spirit. It is a place of community.

As we eat we talk about a wider variety of topics rather than work related matters. Those conversations somewhat change our perspectives of each other. It reduces perceptions of one-upmanship we felt of each other.

In just 3 days we become closer. We bond over food.

Fellowshipping over a meal is an important part of our life we should not neglect. It fosters closer relationship. For when we’re eating together, we’re actually conversing. We learn much more about each other’s concerns and issues. Eating together increases interpersonal closeness.

No wonder family reunion at Chinese New Year is marked by an elaborate meal.

Jesus often talked to his disciples in the context of a meal. In fact He describes His entry into our lives as dining with Him.

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me” (Revelations 3:20)

Food is such an important means of human connection. We bond over food.

It is not surprising we had a grEAT retrEAT. Burp …


Cockroach in Car

What would you do when you see a cockroach in your car while driving?Cockroach

  1. Scream your lungs out (Hopefully that would scare it away).
  2. Wind down your windows (and pray it would crawl out).
  3. Whack it (hard, fast and accurately) with your handbag or mobile phone to give it a merciful end.

Our Straits Times recently reported a woman who while driving saw a cockroach crawling in her car.

It gave her such a fright that she swerved her car. It mounted the pavement.

Fortunately no one was on the pavement. Unfortunately it crashed into an overhead bridge. Sadly, the car sustained major damage but thankfully the woman driver only sustained minor injuries.

Who could blame this woman for reacting in such fashion towards a cockroach in car?

I withhold all judgment. I too share a similar feeling of dread and disgust towards such creepy-crawly. I always thought cockroaches are a mistake of creation. And I suspect I may be in good company.

Most of us, if not all are terrified of something, if not cockroaches, then lizards, spiders or snakes. Others may be fearful of being alone in the dark or losing everything they have worked so hard for or hearing the “C” word during a medical checkup from a doctor.

We have our terrifying fears. From time to time they spook us.

Mathew 14 recorded for us a time when Peter was spooked – not by creepy-crawlies but by rolling waves.

Jesus was walking on water towards Peter and his friends on a boat during one dark stormy night.

“When the disciples saw him walking on the water, they were terrified. In their fear, they cried out, “It’s a ghost!” But Jesus spoke to them at once. “Don’t be afraid,” he said. “Take courage. I am here!” Then Peter called to him, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.”

“Yes, come,” Jesus said. So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted” (Matthew 14:26-29 NLT).

Peter answered the call of Jesus to step out of the boat. He was walking on water towards Jesus. But for a brief moment, Peter took his eyes off Jesus.

That was when he saw the choppy waters under his feet.

That was when he was startled to see the little fishing boat bobbling far away on the rough sea.

That was when he felt threatened by the gusty wind.

That was when he saw the rolling waves all around him.

That was when he was gripped with terrifying fear.

That was when Peter started to sink.

Everything was going fine until Peter lost his concentration on Jesus and became conscious of the surrounding situation.

What happened to Peter can happen to any of us.

What happened to the driver when she saw a cockroach in her car can also happen to any of us.

The key is to keep your eyes on the road and not on the roach.

The key is to keep your eyes on Jesus and not on the storm.

I tell you if Peter had not taken his eyes off Jesus, he would have walked across the Straits of Johor or even the Atlantic Ocean.


Prayer for APBF President

Last night I was at the Inauguration Ceremony of Asia Pacific Baptist Federation (APBF).

apbfThis august body represents over 33,000 local churches and 59 conventions in 21 countries across the Asia Pacific region.

My dear friend, the Rev Edwin Lam was installed as its new President. He invited me to pray for him.

This was what I specially asked of God for him:

Dear God our Father,

As our brother, Your servant, Rev Edwin Lam assumes the office of President of APBF we pray for Your divine unction.

That by an outpouring of Your Holy Spirit –

You will confer on Edwin the mantle of Elijah, whose prayers are always effective (James 5:17-18).

You will grant him the wisdom of Solomon, who was able to discern truth from falsehood, right from wrong, good from evil (I Kings 4:29-30).

You will bless him with the faith of Abraham who walked not by sight but by faith (Hebrews 11:8).

You will bestow upon him the courage of Joshua who inspires others for conquests in battles (Joshua 24:15).

You will give him the meekness of Moses whose humility always exceeds his authority (Numbers 12:3).

And most of all, grant him the heart of David whose heart is always chasing after Yours (Acts 13:22).

We ask all this to the end that APBF might prosper under his leadership, that Your will be done and Your kingdom come, for the glory of Your Son Jesus Christ.

In His wonderful name we pray. Amen.