A Mother’s Day Greeting

The apostle Paul gave a mother’s day greeting of sorts at the close of his letter to the Romans.

“Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, who has been a mother to me as well” (Romans 16:13).

Of all the personal greetings to many people who have been instrumental in his life, Paul made special mention of Rufus’ mother who was like a surrogate mother to him.

He paid special tribute of honour to her. She had been a big-hearted mother who extended her motherly love and care beyond her own son, Rufus to include Paul.

Even though her name is unknown yet her motherly love is unforgettable.

Her care, support and sacrifice must have made such an impact on Paul. And Paul acknowledged her for being a mother to him.

This is significant because much of what a mother does is behind the scene and often unrecognized by others.

Paul in his greeting to her is expressing his heartfelt thanks for her motherly love and care like cooking his favourite meal as any mother would for her son, cleaning the room, doing the laundry and perhaps even tenderly applying ointment to his bodily wounds sustained during his ministry from angry mobs.

Mother’s Day should remind us of such loving care and support of every mother vis-à-vis the countless prayers she said for us, the comfort and security she provided, the skills and manners she taught us, the faith and values she has imparted to us. We can never fully condense the contribution of every mother.

Mother's DayTo all mothers who showed love and care to their own families and especially those have been like a mother to a neighbour child, to the friend of your children, to a troubled kid on the block, to a special need niece or nephew, I wish you a Happy Mothers’ Day!

May your happiness come from knowing your contributions are never forgotten, just as the Spirit of God preserved this noteworthy greeting of the apostle Paul to the mother of Rufus.

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Upward Looking Ones

I have a friend who is a bird photographer.

Barred Eagle-OwlOne day he showed me some of the beautiful pictures of birds he took. They are all found in Singapore. These include the Mangrove Blue Flycatcher, the Barred Eagle-Owl and the Buff-rumped Woodpecker. What is intriguing is that these pictures were captured using his mobile phone, which stored gigabytes of bird photos.

But what amazes me most is that these birds are found in places I frequently go for walks and jogs. I wondered why I don’t see those beautiful birds.

He said: “The reason you don’t see them is because you don’t look up.”

It dawned on me many don’t see because they don’t look up. They miss the wonders of looking up for they are always looking down. Their eyes are constantly fixated on the earthly cares and concerns. All they see day in and day out is a flawed, faulty and fluctuating world. And they wonder, “Where’s God?”

People who look down might wonder about that. But people who intermittently pause to look up might see the rare wonders of the Almighty.

The Word of God calls us to look up.

“My voice You shall hear in the morning, O Lord; In the morning I will direct it to You, And I will look up” (Psalm 5:3).

“To You I lift up my eyes, O You who are enthroned in the heavens!” (Psalms 123:1).

As a comfort to the people, the prophet Isaiah calls them to look up and behold the vast expanse of God’s sovereign might.

Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one and calls forth each of them by name. Because of His great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing” (Isaiah 40:26).

It is interesting the Greek word for man is “anthropos,” which comprises of two words. “Ana” means, “up” and “prosopos,” means, “face upwards.”

Perhaps it is not by coincidence that humans are meant to be upward looking ones.

Are you looking up?

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Endgame Is Never Game Over

imagesIf you have yet to watch Avengers Endgame, don’t read this.

After seeing the movie, I’m simply consoled for I too have a misshapen body like Thor. Even with a roly-poly torso, Thor can still fight.

That movie holds many lessons for me.

For one, it tells me that a person has to retire some time. No matter how much good he has or can do, the time would come when he has to hand his shield, baton or mantle to another. No one lives forever.

There will come a time when we have to say like the apostle Paul:

“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (II Timothy 4:6-7).

Are you prepared to let go?

I also learned that failures are not an endgame. All the superheroes failed. They lost families, friends and large part of themselves. They never imagined the world they tried to defend and protect could end in such a depressing state. It seems like endgame. But it was not game over.

Peter too thought it was an endgame when he saw his Lord and Master arrested, beaten and nailed to the cross. He thought everything he had given up for had come to an end. He went back to his original occupation of fishing.

But it was not game over. The risen Lord appeared to him like the first time He met Peter. The bountiful catch of fish was déjà vu. It was as if time turned back and he heard again the same first call of the Lord, “Follow Me” (John 21:22).

Going back in time, can you remember the call of God in your life?

The act of sacrifice stands out in this movie. Their sacrifice was greater than their super-abilities. They gave their lives that others may live. It’s so Christ-like. And so akin to the teaching of Jesus.

“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends“ (John 15:13).

Have you ever done an act of sacrifice for others?

Finally the movies challenged me about aging well.

Will I be quietly contented and happily satisfied at the closing story of my life? Will there be any regrets of missing the opportunities to show love to those I care most?

“Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10).

 If you have missed opportunities, don’t feel that’s an endgame. It is never too late to start over.

Endgame is never game over.

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Coma is Comma

Seven months have passed. A dear church member is still in coma.

Coma is a CommaIt began when he collapsed during a brief jog. Ever since he is in comatose. He has to be changed, cleaned and fed. A trachea is inserted to help him breathe. He is barely responsive.

Each time I visit, my heart goes out to him, his wife, son, daughter and helper who care for him 24/7.

I have to admit I struggled in making sense of this protracted suffering of this once active and fervent church member and his beloved family.

In those despairing moments, the Spirit of God drew my attention to a story repeated in all the Synoptic Gospels i.e. Matthew 9:1-8; Mark 2:1-12; Luke 5:17-26.

Here was a man whose name was not even mentioned. But his condition was. He was paralyzed. He could not do things himself. He had to be changed, cleaned and fed. His loved ones had to care for him 24/7.

As I read and reread the story, I realize here is a man blessed with 3 things that are extremely significant and valuable.

  1. He has caring FRIENDS

Here was a man blessed with caring friends who were deeply concerned about his paralyzed condition. They were not put off by burdensome demand to help him. When they heard Jesus was in town. They took great pains to bring him to Jesus. When they saw the inaccessibility caused by the thronging crowd, they were undeterred. They refused to give up, wait another day or go another time. Instead, they pulled their paralyzed friend with great coordinated effort to the top of the roof, removed the tiles and prepared to pay for damages just to lower their friend lying on his bed to Jesus.

And I thought to myself.

Even if there were no miracle that day yet for sure this paralyzed man has the miracle of having such great caring friends.

  1. Their FAITH stood out for Jesus

The faith of those caring friends caught the attention of Jesus.

Jesus saw their FAITH (Matthew 9:2; Mark 2:5; Luke 5:20).

What stood out for Jesus was not the faith of the paralyzed man. Rather it was the faith of his caring friends. They had no doubts Jesus can heal. They were persistent. They refused to give up. They kept pressing on.

And I thought to myself.

Even if this paralyzed man possessed very little faith, yet he is surrounded, blessed and upheld by the grand faith of his friends.

  1. His sins are FORGIVEN

It is most interesting to note that the first thing Jesus did was to say, “Son, be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven you” (Matthew 9:2; also Mark 2:5).

Jesus did for this man what was harder to do, which is to forgive his sins. He called him “son.” He gave him a new status. Where before he was a nameless paralytic in the eyes of people but now he is a “son” in the eyes of God. His sins were forgiven and he was rendered a ”son” of God. And Jesus remarked to the Scribes and Pharisees, physical healing would have been easier.

And I thought to myself.

Even if this paralytic were not healed that day yet his sins are all forgiven, which is the harder for God to do.

As I think of my church member in coma, I am awakened to the fact that he is blessed with caring FRIENDS from the Church, their persistent FAITH and the marvelous truth that all his sins are FORGIVEN. He is a “son” of God.

That said, I am still praying, believing that coma is not a full stop. It is a comma waiting for God to finally say, “Arise!”

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View to Kill

A fortnight ago, the world was shocked by the news of 50 people who died in Christchurch, New Zealand.

It’s all because of one man who feels the presence of these people is wrong. He sees them as invaders of what he feels is acceptable. He views them as enemies that need to be eliminated. And that led to a violent response.

That horrific incident highlighted to me – our view can kill. The way we see people, our perception of them, our mindset toward them determines the way we treat them. It can lead us to a view to kill.View to kill

Do we see people who have different beliefs and religious practices as enemies that need to be eradicated?

View can kill.

Cain killed Abel because he viewed him as a hated competitor in seeking the approval of God (Genesis 4:3-8). Jealousy fuelled by anger led to the first murder.

King Saul went on a hot and mad pursuit of David to take his life because he viewed David as a rival that needed to be eliminated (1 Samuel 23:7-24:22).

The crowd stoned Stephen to death because they viewed him as saying things, which were blasphemous against their holy place and the Law (Acts 6:8-15; 7:54-60).

The Jewish religious leaders orchestrated the death of Jesus because they viewed him as a threat to their religious system and their way of life.

How we view people determines our behaviour toward them.

If we view these people as rivals, enemies or troublemakers, then our corresponding treatment of them may be one that espouses exclusion, elimination or eradication. And even though we may not physically kill them yet we might stab them in our minds and on their backs. Beware of such view to kill.

Our view of people ought to be the way God view them.

Do we view people regardless of race and religion as those whom God loves and whose Son came to die for?

Do we see people in need as our neighbors whom we are commanded to love?

Do we see migrants, foreigners and the “strangers among us” as people whom God would have us treat with justice, compassion and hospitality?

And if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him” (Leviticus 19:33).

If we view immigrants as people loved by God who calls us to treat them with respect and mercy, then we would be less inclined towards xenophobia.

Let us view people as Jesus in disguise.

For I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in: I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me” (Matthew 25:35-36).

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Sleepless in Singapore

Singapore is a country that doesn’t sleep very much.Sleepless in Singapore

According to a recent study by SingHealth, 4 in 10 Singaporeans had less than seven hours of sleep.

Not surprising, the Wakefield Research in 2018 ranked Singapore second as the most sleep deprived amongst the 12 countries surveyed.

Singaporeans work some of the longest hours in the world. Such long working hours culture coupled with using mobile devices in bed or in the bedroom, has led Singaporeans to not getting enough hours of shut-eye.

The telling sign in the survey shows more than 8 in 10 Singaporeans spend their weekends trying to catch up on lost sleep.

Such poor sleeping habit can lead to health problems such as headaches, fatigue, low immune system, poor focus, hypertension, anxiety and depression. Besides, sleep deprivation affects performance, judgement and safety at work.

Not only are we are a sleep-deprived nation but we are also a nation of complainers. I wonder if the two are interrelated. People who don’t have enough sleep are usually irritable, grumpy and complaining.

The Bible mentions such an individual in I Kings 19. His name is Elijah.

He was one of the greatest prophets in the Old Testament. After returning from a big showdown at Mount Carmel, Elijah prayed long and hard for rain to come upon the land where there was no rain for three years. When the rain finally came, he ran the longest and the fastest overtaking the chariot of King Ahab.

Naturally after working so hard and long, Elijah was tired, exhausted and needing sleep. He became depressed.

He tells God, “It is enough! Now, Lord, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!” (I Kings 19:4)

Later he complains to God, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts … I alone am left; and they seek to take my life” (I Kings 19:10).

What did God prescribe for this physically exhausted and emotionally drained prophet?

He prescribed sleep.

We read Elijah fell asleep twice (I Kings 19:5-7).

Elijah was worn out. He was in no condition to listen or take in the Word of God. God knows we are vulnerable to misinterpreting our circumstances when we are tired.

Of all the chapters on the life of the prophet Elijah, I feel this chapter is the most instructive. It taught me the principle of sleep. God ordained sleep as necessary for our ability to function. God knows sleep is essential for our survival.

For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:4).

God understands that getting enough sleep is extremely important to properly process information, which He eventually revealed to Elijah.

But first Elijah needed to sleep.

There are times when we need to do the same.

Don’t neglect this basic need. Don’t wait till you are in the cave of depression. Put away your mobile devices and screens.

Too often, we won’t admit we need good quality of ZZZs.

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The Saint

The SaintMaximilian Kolbe was a Polish priest.

World War II came with the invasion of Poland by Germany. Kolbe was one of the few who remained in the monastery, where he set up a temporary hospital. Subsequently it became a secret shelter for 3,000 refugees, among whom were 2,000 Jews.

The monastery came under suspicion by the Nazis. It was eventually shut down. Kolbe was arrested and taken to Auschwitz prison camp.

In Auschwitz camp, Kolbe was subjected to violent harassment and inhumane beating. But instead of crying out, he prayed for his tormentors.

Once an SS officer took some heavy planks, laid them on his back and ordered him to run. When he collapsed, he was kicked, given fifty lashes and left to die in the mud. But his friendly prison mates smuggled him to the camp hospital where he recovered.

Despite such hash treatment, Kolbe never abandon his calling as a priest. He would move from bunk to bunk, saying “I am a Catholic priest, Can I do anything for you?” Prisoners would come to him to make confessions and ask for consolation. Kolbe would always plead with them to forgive their persecutors and to overcome evil with good.

Kolbe constantly sacrificed himself for others. He shared his meagre ration of food. At the infirmary, he would wait until all others had been treated before asking help for himself.

The doctor, Rudolph Diem recalled, “I can say with certainty that during my four years in Auschwitz, I never saw such sublime example of the love of God and one’s neighbour.”

In Auschwitz there was a rule that if one prisoner escaped, ten will be chosen to die by starvation in an underground bunker.

On July 1941, a prisoner disappeared mysteriously from the camp. It infuriated the commandant. He then picked 10 men to be locked in the bunker without food and water until they die. The ten selected included a Franciszek Gajowniczek. He cried out in dismay, “My poor wife! My poor children! What will they do?”

When Kolbe heard the anguish cry of Franciszek, he stepped forward and said to the commandant, “I am a Catholic priest. Let me take his place. I am old. He has a wife and children.”

The commandant was stunned saying, “What does this Polish pig want?” Kolbe pointed to Franciszek and repeated, “I am a Catholic priest from Poland. I would like to take his place because he has a wife and children.”

The prisoners watched in horror and thought the commandant would fly into rage and order the death of both men. Amazingly he acceded to the request. Franciszek was returned to the ranks and Kolbe took his place.

The ten condemned men went through terrible days. Kolbe led the prisoners in prayer. Thirst drove them to drink their urine. They grew weaker by the day. The loud echo of their prayers was eventually reduced to a whimper. As others were lying on the floor, Kolbe was seen kneeling in prayer or standing in the centre as he looked cheerfully in the face of the SS guards. One of them remarked, “This priest is really a great man. We have never seen anyone like him.”

Soon one after another died until Kolbe was left. The SS authorities felt it was taking too long. So they brought in a German named Bock to give Kolbe a lethal injection of carbolic acid.

Kolbe is said to have raised his left arm to the executioner with a prayer on his lips. His face was calm and radiant as he entered the glorious presence of God on 14 August 1941.

The news of Kolbe’s death reverberated throughout Auschwitz, Poland and the world.

Kolbe shows us the best of what man can be in the face of what men can do. He shows us love can still thrive in the desert of hatred. He shows us the light of sacrifice shine the brightest in the darkness of brutality.

No wonder Pope John Paul II declared him, “The Patron Saint Of Our Difficult Century.” Maximilian Kolbe was canonized as a Saint on 10 October 1982.

The man whom Kolbe saved could never forget the priest who died in his place. Every year for 5 decades Franciszek would return to Auschwitz on 14 August to honour the man who died that he might live.

Like him, every year we return to Calvary to remember the One who died that we might live.

We were once condemned to eternal death. But Christ took our place on the cross. And now we are made “saints in Christ.”

Let us live like “saints in Christ,” particularly in this difficult century engulfed with hatred, violence, discrimination, racism, radicalism and extremism.

Are you a saint? Do you live like one?

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