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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Contrasts of Hope

Unknown“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (II Corinthians 4:16-18).

In this passage the apostle Paul tells us not to lose heart. He gives three reasons. They are couched in contrasting terms. I call them, the contrasts of hope.

  1. Outwardly and Inwardly

“Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day” (verse 16) 

Our hope lies in the fact that even though outwardly we are physically wasting away through age and ill health yet inwardly we are being renewed and refreshed by the Spirit of God day after day.

We may look weak and worn outwardly but we can be assured that inwardly we are being kept strong and vital by the daily mercies of God. His mercy for us is new every morning (Lamentation 3:23). 

  1. Momentary and Eternal

“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (verse 17).

The journey in life is often filled with troubles and afflictions. No one is spared from the pains and struggles. Yet apostle Paul deems all that as “light and momentary.” It is because at the end of this long and winding journey, there awaits “an eternal glory” that will make all our pain and hardship pale in comparison.

Our hope lies in the truth that our momentary troubles will lead us to eternal glory.

Pain and suffering do not have the last word. They are momentary for the eternal waits.

  1. Seen and Unseen

 “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (verse 18).

What is seen is temporary, be it your material wealth, your bank account, your house, your car, your career, status, achievements and accolades. What the human eyes can see are temporal.

But what is unseen is eternal. The Lord Jesus whom we believe and yet not see is eternal. He is in us, for us and with us till the very end of age  (Matthew 28:20).

Our hope is anchored and kept strong by fixing our eyes “not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.”

“Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him” (I Corinthians 2:9).

When it is darkest on the side of the outward, momentary and seen, hope shines brightest on the other side of inward, eternal and unseen.

That’s the contrasts of hope.

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Fake Flight

The Covid-19 pandemic has devastated air travel. Flights are cancelled. Planes are grounded. Borders are closed. People are left to consider staycation.

For those who miss the thrill of flying, an airport in Taiwan is offering, “fake flight.”

Fake FlightPassengers can go through the entire check-in process of passport control and security. They can even board a plane. They are welcomed by smiling airline stewardess. They are served snacks and drinks onboard.

But the plane never takes off. It never leaves the airport. It’s just a “pretend to go abroad.” It’s a “fake flight” experience. Any takers?

You might be surprised to know there are 7000 eager travellers on such flights that go nowhere

Are you one of those who would take a flight to nowhere?

If truth were known, many of us take flights that go nowhere.

We take the flight of worries that go nowhere.

We routinely go through the gamut of wondering what if that happens or what if that doesn’t happen. We worry about the past that we can no longer change. We worry about the present that we think we cannot cope. We worry about the future that we cannot foresee.

Erma Bombeck rightly pointed out: “Worry is like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere.”

Jesus said, “Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (Matthew 6:27)

Don’t take that fake flight.

Still others take the flight of busyness that lead to nowhere.

We find ourselves spinning in the wheels of activities that get us nowhere. We are busy all the time but not accomplishing anything. We go to the frustrating cycle of meetings that don’t achieve any goals.

Then there are many who take the flight of fantasy that brings us nowhere.

We spend hours bingeing on dramas in Netflix. We live in the fantasy world of characters and plots in long running drama series episode after episode. Needless to say, such voluminous time spent in front of the screen does not accomplish anything productive.

Do we really need that much time to unwind in front of the TV? We need to evaluate and avoid such fake flights.

May the Lord strengthen our resolve to turn away from these fake flights and many more.

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Trinity of Thriving Together

The digital church has become our new default. We have entered the new normal of safe distancing and avoidance of large gathering due to the corona virus pandemic.

Within a short run into our stay home quarantine, small groups are thrust into the fore as the scattered church at homes and gathered church on Zoom.

The vital question is whether our church members can thrive in virtual meetings and cyber connection. Can they still learn, grow and care?Trinity of Thriving Together

I believe we can, provided we hold on, embrace and persevere on Word, Walk and Watch. These 3 “W”s form the trinity of thriving together.

First, in our small group zoom meetings we need to ensure Word content. When our conversation revolves round the Word we heard via online worship services, I believe we will learn and grow in our faith.

If small group meeting online only talk about their latest cooking recipe, health supplements and newfound hobby of gardening, then it would be at best a warm fellowship that does little to help each other become a better follower of Christ.

Discipleship happens when there is conversation round the Word.

Jesus says when He prayed to His Father, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your Word is truth” (John 17:17).

“For the Word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

Secondly the road to discipleship begins with Walk. It is no use talking about the Word when you have no intention of walking by it.

Thomas Watson once said that God did not give us His Word merely to talk about, but to obey. He went on to say that if God had merely “given us His word to talk about, He’d have given it to parrots.”

The purpose of studying and discussing the Word is not about filling ourselves up with Bible knowledge. It is not about making us Biblical know-it-alls. Rather it is about making us more like Jesus.

The Word is not just for us to understand. We need to walk according to what we understand.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22).

Finally, we need to Watch.  

Watch the expression, condition and reaction of your fellow members gathered in Zoom. Watch their faces in the boxes of the Zoom window.

If you watch carefully you might see the telltale signs of their sad-looking eyes, the drooping shoulders and tired look. Their lack of exuberance and participation may be telling you something. Their silence and withdrawal may be indicative of some inner hurt, pain and struggle.

Don’t just focus on expounding the Word; watch the expression of your fellow members. It might reveal a state that warrants immediate attention, prayer and support. The best part of watching them closely in Zoom is that no one knows you are doing so.

The Bible is full of this injunction to watch.

“Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock …” (Acts 20:28). 

“Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted” (Galatians 6:1). 

“Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (I Timothy 4:16).

The Methodist movement under John Wesley was an impactful life-changing phenomenon in the history of the church because the believers in their classes or bands (the equivalent of our small groups today) were watching over each other souls.

Word, Walk & Watch – These are the trinity of thriving together.

The pathway of transforming discipleship is strewn with Word, Walk & Watch.

Will you join me to follow this pathway?

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My Vote

My VoteCome 10th July, 2.65 million Singaporeans will be heading to the polling stations to cast their votes in a General Election. They will be choosing a government that will serve the nation for the next 5 years.

Voting is a moral obligation and a sacred duty. It takes great discernment to choose great candidates for the leadership of our country, especially in this uncertain time of global pandemic crisis, chaos and changes.

May our judgments not be made based on charismatic personalities, great speeches and attractive promises.

May we not be swayed by the opinions of friends and the influx of social media that often blurs the lines of truth and falsehood, right and wrong, good and bad.

I asked myself who or which party I would vote for. I felt a tug towards the kind of government I hope to see.

I vote for a strong government, not a weak one that panders to the whims and fancies of the populace. I noticed countries with a “weak” government don’t fare very well in the handling of the pandemic crisis. By “strong” I do not mean the kind that is an autocratic bully who listens to no one, not even the experts. A strong government is one who holds dearly to what they believe are right, sound and good. Their fundamental principles based on true values, reason and fact, are not easily shaken by the cries and clamors of the people.

I vote for a decisive government, not a divisive one that is stymied by differences in views, opinions and approaches. I realized that countries with decisive government did well in stemming the spread of the corona virus. This is not so in countries where partisan fractions slowed, delayed and even objected to the making of an urgent decision. I don’t want a government whose decisive ability is curtailed by the stalemate of a gridlock of opposing views. There can be no progress in such a stagnated arena.

I vote for a clear-sighted government, not a blind-sighted one that cannot perceive the looming signs of dangers, challenges and hardships for the people. I don’t want a government that makes short-term gains but long-term losses for the people. I want a clear-sighted and far-sighted government.

I vote for a gracious government, not a guarded one that has no room for slips, failures, opposing views and dissenting voices. I certainly would not want a government that goes all out to silent those who disagree with their methods and policies. I pray for a government that is open to contrasting ideas and viewpoints.

I vote for a compassionate government, not an unsympathetic one that makes no genuine effort to help those who are trailing behind at the lower end of society. I want a caring government who not only push for progress but also help the marginalized, the needy, the handicapped, the aged, the technologically challenged, even the migrant workers in our midst.

Is all this too much to ask of a government?

Perhaps so, but it is never too much to ask of our God who said, By Me princes rule, and nobles, all who govern justly” (Proverbs 8:16).

You can be sure of this – I will be praying before I cast my vote.

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Aliens

I am not thinking about aliens from another world. Rather I am talking about the aliens in our country. Aliens are foreigners that are working and living amongst us.

Singapore is home to about 1.4 million foreign workers. They make up nearly a quarter of our entire population. They work as domestic helpers, construction workers and manual labourers. They are essential in building and keeping our country functioning.

Yet for the most time, these foreign workers were quite invisible to the average Singaporeans. Perhaps it’s because they are housed in self-contained dormitories away from the plain sight of the general public.

AliensIt was not until the “explosion” of Covid-19 infections in the dormitories that the plight of these foreigners is highlighted. Many are shocked to learn of their crowded and filthy living quarters. No wonder the virus could spread so rapidly because there are no way any of them could self-isolate and avoid contact.

Whilst the hearts of many Singaporeans go to these hardworking foreigners living in poor condition yet there are some who showed little sympathy, attributing the spike in numbers to their unhygienic habits even suggesting they should be sent home. Thankfully such xenophobic sentiments were quickly thumped down.

The Bible is very clear about the way we should treat aliens or foreigners in our land.

The Lord who saved the people from slavery in Egypt said this to them:

And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt“ {Deuteronomy 10:19).

The injunction to love means more than just tolerance and co-existence. It implies caring and treating them fairly, justly and kindly.

“Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt” (Exodus 22:21).

The Lord reminded His people that they once had been under the same predicament. The people of Israel are not to repeat the mistakes of Egypt. Instead they are to love foreigners as themselves.

“The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:34).

Most countries do have laws to protect their own widows and orphans, but the people of God are unique in caring for foreigners as well. The gleaning laws are a poignant example.

“When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:9-10).

This is an act of social responsibility – not keeping and hoarding everything but leaving what they can spare for the poor and the foreigners.

In the Bible, aliens are not invisible and forgotten people.

We are called to care for them as we ourselves are also “aliens and strangers on earth” (Hebrews 11:13).

Not forgetting the forefathers of Singapore were migrants that came to make this island their home.

It warms my heart to hear our Prime Minister in a recent address said: “To our migrant workers, let me emphasize again: we will care for you, just like we care for Singaporeans … We will look after your health, your welfare and your livelihood. We will work with your employers to make sure that you get paid, and you can send money home … This is our duty and responsibility to you, and your families.”

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Homeless

Jesus was a homeless Person.

He was born a homeless baby in a borrowed manger of a stable. His parents were rough sleepers seeking shelter after shelter as they ran from the murderous intention of King Herod.

Right after his baptism, he began his ministry as a homeless person. He said of himself, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head” (Matthew 8:20).

Foxes and birds all have sound safe sleeping places. But Jesus, the Son of Man did not have a place where he could lay his head on a pillow and call it home. He lived most part of his earthly life and ministry as a homeless Person.

He died a torturous death on a cross, homeless without the care that dying person can expect in a home.

There is no person who can identify with the homeless better than Jesus. Even more, he is a friend of the homeless.

In Mark 5:1-20 Jesus met a demon-possessed man in Gadarenes. He was a homeless man living alone among the tombs. People distanced themselves from him because of his destructive behaviour. But without being asked, Jesus delivered this homeless demoniac and brought wholeness to his body, mind and spirit.

Jesus cared about this homeless man. And he was not the only one.

In those days, lepers lived lonely lives away from their family and loved ones in isolated communities. In Mark 1:40-45 a leper flouted safe distancing, came to Jesus, fell at his feet and said, “If you choose, you can make me clean.”

Jesus’ heart went out to this lonely desperate leper. And his healing touch allowed this leper to no longer sleep rough but return to his home and family.

HomelessA recent nationwide study revealed there are about 1,000 homeless people in Singapore. They slept on the streets and in places like our housing void decks, commercial buildings and playgrounds.

They are at our doorsteps in our neighbourhood. We might even walk pass them without noticing or perhaps couldn’t imagine there are homeless in our affluent society.

Jesus told the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31. He painted the painful contrast of the rich man who enjoyed every good thing but ignored the homeless Lazarus who had nothing.

The painful contrast continues after their death. Lazarus was carried away by angels to be comforted in Abraham’s bosom. Whereas the rich man had gone down in Hades to be tormented . When he looks up, he sees Lazarus at the side of Abraham. He pleaded with Abraham to “send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in agony in these flames.”

But Abraham pointed out there is now “a great chasm” between them. During their earthly existence, they lived a very short distance from each other. The rich man had every means to help the homeless but he conveniently or cruelly omitted to do so. Now they are eternally apart and even if Lazarus wants to help, he is unable to do so.

Mother Theresa said, “I see Jesus in every human being. I say to myself, this is hungry Jesus, I must feed him. This sick Jesus. This one has leprosy or gangrene; I must wash him and tend to him. I serve because I love Jesus.”

Can you see Jesus? Do you see his face?

He is on the face of every homeless.

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Zoombies

In this time of safe distancing and stay home, zoom has become our primary means of meeting, working and communicating.

Zoom is our new selfie as we view and project ourselves virtually on screen, hopefully presentable at least for the top half.

Zoom has now become a large part of my life.

I have regular staff meetings on Zoom.

I have daily morning devotion on Zoom.

I have evening teaching every Monday on Zoom.

I have evening vesper every Tuesday and Thursday on Zoom.

I have church prayer meeting on Wednesdays on Zoom.

I have Friday Fun Fellowship on Zoom

While I am thankful for the Zoom Apps that allowed us to stay connected with people, yet I am starting to feel the increasing fatigue that comes with staring at tiny boxes of people on my computer screen.

Zoom ZombiesThere can be no doubt I am bitten by Zoom. I have red eyes like zombies from the strains of staring at the screen for a long time. I look like a zombie with dark eye bags from the exhaustion of being continuously online.

I have turned into a Zoombie.

Before you give me a headshot to put me out of my misery (the way to kill zombies) I want to tell you there is a cure for this “Zoombie” virus.

It will take deliberate effort.

Go for breaks from your computer screen.

Go for walks in the parks and look at trees, plants and flowers. These are not virtual things.

Go take your dog for a walk round your neighbourhood.

Go read the Bible or a book that is not e-version.

Go for a structured time of play (non-video games) with your kids.

Be sure to wear your facemask when you are in public places. You don’t want to catch the Covid virus. What you want to kill is the “Zoombie” virus.

It is in such a time as this, the call of Jesus is as vital and essential as ever.

He said, “Come away from the people (which may include those online). Be by yourselves and rest” Mark 6:31.

Story was told of a man who challenged another man to a wood-chopping contest. The man who challenged his friend worked very hard, stopping only on occasions. The other man took many breaks and had a good lunch. When the day came to an end, the challenger was surprised and annoyed to find that the other man had chopped more wood. “I don’t get it,” he said. Every time I checked, you were taking rest, yet you chopped more wood than I did. “But you didn’t noticed,” said the winning woodsman, “that I was sharpening my axe when I sat down to rest.”

It is tempting to imagine the harder you work like a zombie, the more you would accomplish. But remember it is always good and necessary to take breaks to reflect, recharge and refresh. Believe me, you need that.

Don’t become a Zoombie like me.

 

 

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Beginning of End

Last week I journeyed with a dear friend in the few remaining days of her life. To me, she was a great sister, servant and saint.

After she had resolutely decided not to seek further treatment I visited her everyday in the hospice until she finally stepped into the glorious presence of our Lord.

For seven days I saw her condition deteriorating. She struggled with extreme discomfort. She hardly slept. She didn’t eat at all. Meals were brought in and carted away untouched. She had great difficulty breathing. Coughing frequently because of the phlegm forming in her throat.

It saddens me to see her in that state.

I was very disheartened that her life should end with such agonizing discomfort. I even entertained the thought, “Why God she has to bear such painful discomfort? She lived well. She served You well. Surely she deserved an ending like Enoch or Elijah or any of those who died peacefully and painlessly.”

And God spoke to me in the Scripture passages I read to her during her wakeful moments. One of these is II Corinthians 5:1-10.

“For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

The Bible reminds us our human body is like an earthly tent. It is temporal and not intended to sustain us forever. A tent is not a permanent building. It will eventually wear out through usage, tattered by age and the effects of the natural elements.

And one day, it will be taken down after having served its purpose. But thank God, there awaits for us “an eternal house in house, not built by human hands.” “Meanwhile we groan” with the physical pain and changes, longing for our heavenly dwelling. “For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened.”

Beginning of EndA picture came to mind – that of a butterfly in the cocoon. She struggles in the confines of the constricting cocoon. There is no skipping of this end stage of agonizing laborious discomfort. But no sooner she emerges as a beautiful butterfly flapping to a new life.

For my dying friend, that was her hallelujah moment. Her groaning with bodily discomfort gave way to the promised transformation. Her perishable and mortal body puts on the imperishable and immortal body that is fit for heaven (I Corinthians 15:50-58).

In that instant, like “the twinkling of an eye” when she breathed her last, she shouts hallelujah! “Death has been swallowed up in victory! Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!”

That’s the beginning of her end.

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Covid Lepers

Nothing scares people more today than hearing someone says, “I’m Covid-19 positive.”

It makes them jump in fear and quickly walk away, covering their mouths and noses.

Such reaction was common in ancient times when people encountered a leper telling everyone, “unclean.” Those nearby who heard it would quickly walk away.

Are we treating Covid-19 cases like Covid lepers?

In those days, when there was no cure for this dilapidating disease, lepers were treated like outcasts. They were doomed to lived in isolated communities away from their families and loved ones.

Today we read reports around the world of the Covid fear that triggers discriminatory, racist and xenophobic behavior.

People, particularly foreign workers are deemed, “unclean” like lepers. They are been turned away from shops, restaurants and even their rented homes. Some were verbally abuse, harassed and even physically assaulted. Even those who have recovered fully from this deadly virus feel they are being stigmatized and shunned by others. No one wants to be around them. They make people uncomfortable.

Are we treating people who are Covid-19 postive like lepers?

How did Jesus treat lepers?

It is clear from the Bible that Jesus is not disgusted with lepers and their dreadful condition. In all the accounts in the Bible (Matthew 8:1-4, Mark 1:40-45, and Luke 5:12-16) Jesus reached out to the lepers, even touching them to heal them. He demonstrated for us the great compassion of God towards the sick that are mostly despised and loathed.

If Jesus is our example, shouldn’t we do the same?

Instead of shunning the Covid positive, we should be serving them. Providing whatever help they might need like delivering food, care packages and sewing facemasks for them. Bless the hearts of those did.

Instead of ostracizing the infected we should be offering our prayers for them to recover quickly. After all God is always on the side of health, wholeness and well-being.

Instead of treating them like lepers, we should be touching their lives. There can be no better time than the quarantine period when their hearts, souls and spirit are desperately open to the living God.

Just during the past Holy week saw more than 117,000 came to faith in Christ across more than 100 nations. It has been dubbed, “The Great Quarantine Revival.”

covid lepersThe Covid-19 pandemic has brought untold and unprecedented woes on many people. This shouldn’t be a time for us to be retreating for self-preservation. Rather this a karios time for us to be entreating our God to show His love and mercy and be engaging in acts of love for those in need.

May this be the defining moment for the Church.

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