Hoping for a Hero

Today I went to watch with my kids the blockbuster movie, “Avengers: Infinity War.”Hoping for a hero

I must admit that I came away feeling rather sad because many of the superheroes vaporized to dust. Despite their combined effort and strength, they could not bring down the villain who eventually achieved his goal.

It was sadly tragic for me.

Deep within me is a longing for a superhero that triumphs in the face of evil and injustice.

Perhaps it is reason why so many of us love to watch superhero movies. We are fascinated with superheroes because we crave for them in our lives.

We live in a broken and troubled world torn by political, economic and climatic upheaval. Greed, pride and self-survival seem to rule the hearts of those who have the power to decide changes for the good of the world.

We need to be rescued from hopeless despair. We need to be delivered from mad men and mad policies in this fragile world fighting for survival.

We need a hero. Aaron Waters and Ryan Taubert express in songs that deep longing in our hearts. Bonnie Tyler also sang:

I need a hero

I’m holding out for a hero ‘til the end of the night

He’s gotta be strong

And he’s gotta be fast

And he’s gotta be fresh from the fight

I need a hero

I’m holding out for a hero ‘til the morning light

He’s gotta be sure

And it’s gotta be soon

And he’s gotta be larger than life! 

Come to think of it, I found my superhero.

He is strong. He has power over the elements. He commands the winds and the waves. He drives out evil forces, legions of them.

He is wise. The wicked and cunning tried to put him in a spot but they could not trap him. People clang to every pearl of wisdom that comes from his lips.

He is good all the time. In him there is no hint of darkness or shade of moral greyness.

And He says to me:

“In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33)

His name is Jesus, Saviour of the world.

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April Fools

April Fool’s Day is also Easter Sunday this year on 1st April.

There will be pranks by people and proclamation by Christians all over the world.

Many will be April fooled, hope to April fool others or think everything may be an April’s Fool joke that day.

Easter Sunday is a day that rejoices Jesus is alive. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead is not a trick. It is the truth.

I can imagine Satan laughing and snickering in the background as he saw Jesus riding on a donkey into the city of Jerusalem. He have must thought, “This is it! This is the end of the road for him. In a few days’ time it will cumulate in his betrayal, his arrest and his most painful death by crucifixion.” And wringing his hands with sinister laughter, he thought he had set a perfect death trap that day. But he was April Fooled.

Easter was God’s plan for the redemption of the world. Jesus’ resurrection is proof.

“He was delivered over to dead for our sins and was raised to life for our justification” (Romans 4:25).

But the religious leaders in that day refused to accept the fact of Jesus’ resurrection. They tried to April fool others by calling the resurrection a fake.

“When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, “His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep” (Matthew 28:12-13).

And many were April fooled (Matthew 28:15).

Then there were some who thinks the resurrection is an April fool’s joke. Like the doubting Thomas that said, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it” (John 20:25).

But Jesus is truly alive. That’s the joy of Easter. Don’t be April fooled by anyone who says otherwise. The Bible makes this absolutely clear.

“And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (I Corinthians 15:17).

That’s the heart and focus of our celebration on Easter Sunday.

Christ is risen! He has conquered sin and the grave for us! He is risen indeed!

This is not an April Fools Day joke.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 …

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