Hope is Here

The message of Advent is that hope is here. A Savior is coming. Christ is born. That is good news.

The bad news is that the world is getting from bad to worse. One would have thought the world is better educated and enlightened from its history of wrongs, mistakes and foolishness. But that’s not to be. The newspapers keep reminding we have not progressed and move forward. Selfish greed, self interest and self protection reign supreme in our social, economic and political world.

This is a darkening and decaying world. Traditional views and beliefs are debunked. Violence is employed to register a cause. It filters into homes where domestic and gender violence is happening.

Perhaps the world may be thinking about going green. But it is a bit too little and too late. It is so hard to hold back the tide of greed over the care for creation. Would we ever or could we ever sacrifice profit margins to reduce carbon emission and plastic waste? Climate change is sounding a warning on this sick world groaning for recovery.

But hope is here. Isaiah 9:2 announces,

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined.”

Our sin-sick world needs a Savior. And He has come. 

“And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

Hope is hereNo matter how rotten you may feel about yourself. Hope is here.

No matter how discourage you may be about your situation that you feel like giving up. Hope is here.

No matter how dark and dim you may feel about your future. Hope is here.

“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace “ (Isaiah 9:6).

That is the glad tidings of Christmas. Jesus Christ is born. Hope is here!

 

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Blood Brothers

Never in his wildest dream Durkes imagined he could make it through Primary School.

Durkes has cerebral palsy. It affects his muscles in the lower body. When he was born he was not able to crawl until the age of 4. Even after an operation to help him walk, he was wheelchair-bound until the age of 6. Now at age 13, he still has difficulty walking and relies on his crutches to move around.

When he enrolled at Pioneer Primary School, the real concern was whether he could fit in, do what other students would do, travel to school on public transport, walk from one classroom to another and buy food from the canteen.

But Durkes’ greatest fear was whether his peers would look down on him due to his medical condition.

Recalling his first day of school, he said: “I don’t usually talk to new people and when I entered my class for the first time, none of my classmates were like me, so I was scared.”

However his fears proved unfounded. His peers understand his condition. They accepted him. Best of all he has 3 very close friends whom he called “blood brothers.”

They supported him in every way they could. They helped him navigate through the crowded canteen. They held him on rainy days when his crutches had less grip on slippery floors. On days when he had to be admitted to the hospital for asthma attacks or fever, they took down notes in class and gave them to him so that he could keep up.

Blood BrothersThese 3 blood brothers helped Durkes overcome the challenges of his disability.

When Durkes walked up on stage with his crutches to receive his Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE) results, his 3 loyal “blood brothers” were there to support him.

I am deeply moved when I read this story.

It reminds me of the 3 mighty men that David had.

David was at the lowest ebb of life. He was on the run. Trapped and holed up in the Cave of Adullam. He had a deep longing, which he voiced out.

“Oh, that someone would give me a drink of the water from the well of Bethlehem, which is by the gate!” (II Samuel 23:15)

Three men overheard what David said. They risked their lives to go deep behind enemy lines to Bethlehem to the well, drew water and brought it all the way back to David.

These 3 men were like blood brothers to David. When David saw what they did, he said, Is this not the blood of the men who went in jeopardy of their lives?” (II Samuel 23:17)

That act of sacrifice was so precious and sacred that David could not drink the water. Instead he offered it to God in honour of their sacrifice.

Durkes has his blood brothers. David has his blood brothers. Their acts of services are precious. Their acts of sacrifice are sacred. They moved our hearts. But most of all, they moved the heart of God.

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Dropping the Lines

Today I brought 3 teenagers to a fishing pond. They have never been fishing. They are disadvantaged kids from broken homes. It’s their school break. I wanted to break their boredom.

The day started with a drizzle. We gather under the shelter of the pavilion. As I was speaking to them I found myself dropping lines of gospel.

I assured them we would fish despite the rain. It doesn’t mean we stop fishing when it’s raining. It doesn’t mean we stop living when the weather is bad and troubles are raining on us. We don’t give up when it rains.

But before we fish, I briefed them about some safety points. Fishing hooks are sharp. Whenever they thrown their lines they must always look behind them to ensure no one is there and the back area is clear. Otherwise they might be throwing out someone’s eyeball.

That is always a good principle in life I told them. Whenever we cast a decision, we want to ensure clearance and everyone is okay with it. But often we are so focused on throwing out a good idea without looking behind us to see some are hurt by it. Look before you throw. It is a good life principle.

I showed them an aerated pail of live baitfish. I said, “Baits are important.” Good baits catch good fish. Junk baits catch junk fish. That’s says a lot about the way people dress to catch the fish of their life. The skimpy outfit attracts the leering kind. If you want to catch good fish be sure the bait you use are of the right kind.

We started fishing. The lines were cast. Within minutes, the lines were running and the reels screaming. Everyone was excited. Rushing to pull out the bending rods from the holders. We lost two. Maybe three. The mistake was the lines were not kept tight and taut. When the line slacked, the fish somehow was able to throw off the hook.

And that reminds us of the biblical truth Revelation 3:11.

“Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.”

To hold fast is to hold tight. Don’t let it become slack or you’ll lose what you have.

Hern ShungThe hit rate was superb. But these fishing newbie failed to land the fish. I told them never to let failure discourage them. Rather they should learn from their mistakes. Thank God they were fast learners. They were “pumping” in the lines in the right manner instead of jerking it. They fought the fish well for “honour and glory” even though they felt great exhaustion.When the fish was brought near, a fishing buddy was ready to help net up the fish. It taught them fishing is teamwork. In the long and tiring battle with the big one, they can count on their friends to help. They took turns to reel in the fish. What a great lesson of life.

We ended the day with the most gratifying catch of all – a monster Chao Praya Catfish weighing 30 kg.

But for me, the best part of the day was dropping the lines of gospel truths.

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Peace Or Pissed

Passing the peace is a major and necessary part of the ritual for Word and Table Service in the Methodist Church.

The Peace is sandwiched between Confession/Pardon and the Great Thanksgiving. The celebrant says, “Let us offer one another signs of reconciliation and love.” And the congregation rises up from the comfort of their seats, reach out to their neighbours, grasp their hands and say, “Peace” or “The peace of Christ. Shalom.”

The gesture is simple yet the meaning is profound. But we have often denigrated it to be a form of greeting rather than a sign of reconciliation.

Peace or PissedThe purpose of passing the peace of Christ is to affirm with one another, “I am at peace with Christ. And I am at peace with you.” This is not a greeting. This is not an intermission when we catch up with each other or meet new comers. This is an intended sign of reconciliation.

And which congregation in the church doesn’t need that?

In any circle of relationships, there will always be people who pissed you off and those who are pissed by you.

Yet we are called to Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).

Passing the peace is a major step towards that. It is saying, “I am at peace with God and I want to be at peace with you.”

Otherwise, in other occasions you would rather avoid people who pissed you. You would rather not speak with them. But now you touch, shake hands and speak “Peace.” And the silence is broken, the bad vibes canceled and the negative feelings drained out.

Passing the peace is an important tradition we need to keep and practice. It expressly identifies us as peacemakers. It trains our hearts, our hands and our lips to speak peace. Just like we train our children to say “please” and “thank you.” And even though initially they might do so without much sincerity or doubt the value of such gestures yet over time through regular practice, their hearts are eventually filled with grace and gratitude.

In fact our Lord Jesus encourages us to do so. In Matthew 5:24-25 He said:

“Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”

It is for this reason passing the Peace always comes before Communion. Before you offer your gift at the altar, Jesus says, “be reconciled.”

Let the peace that guides you to the Lord’s Table be the peace that guides you to your coffee table and lunch table.

Let us remember we are reconciled people of God whom Jesus invites to His Table.

Like any family, there will always be strife, hurts and resentment. Don’t be pissed. Pass the peace.

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Me?

A church member told me this story, which I have her permission to share.

She was about to board a plane at Taipei Airport. She placed her hand carried bag on the conveyor belt for the X-ray machine. Went through the metal detecting gantry. Had her body checked. Then as she was queuing to have her passport stamped, a custom officer hollered at the top of her voice, “Who left this bag?” And the immediate thought that came to the mind of my church member was, “Who can be as stupid as that to leave the bag?”

As she turned to look, she was shocked to see it was her bag with the specially tied yellow ribbons on it.

Me?Such is the surprising truth of life.

We wonder, “Who can be as stupid as that?” then we realized, “It’s me!”

We think, “Who would say such hurtful things that leave unimaginable pain in the hearts of those you love?” then we realized “It’s me!”

We ponder, “Who in the world would eat things that damage the health of their bodies?” then we realized, “It’s me!”

We imagine, “Who would ever fall romantically for another when they have caring spouses and loving families?” then we realized, “It’s me!”

And the list goes on.

Deep within we know we are just as stupid, wicked, selfish, proud, envious, lustful, lazy, addicted, bigoted, biased, bitter and more.

We are just as capable and culpable. We are just as vulnerable if given the same circumstances, timing and mood. No one is spared except for Jesus.

So the Scriptures warn.

“Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (I Corinthians 10:12).

“Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment …” (Romans 12:3).

There was a farmer who sold a pound of butter to a baker. One day the baker decided to weigh the butter to see if he was getting the right amount, which he wasn’t. Angry about this, he took the farmer to court.

The judge asked the farmer if he was using any measure to weight the butter. The farmer replied, “I am primitive. I don’t have a proper measure, but I do have a scale.”

The judge asked, “Then how do you weigh the butter?”

The farmer replied; “Your Honour, long before the baker started buying butter from me, I have been buying a pound loaf of bread from him. Every day when the baker brings the bread, I put it on the scale and give him the same weight in butter.”

When you don’t like something you see, don’t scoff, sneer or sue. Look intently within for you might just see your mirrored self and whimper, “Me?

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Moved by Unmoved

On bended knee I come,

With a humble heart I come;

Bowing down before Your holy throne …

This song was sung during a recent Bible Study. Somehow it brings to my mind a rather common scene in many Korean dramas.

A man sought to have an audience with the King. But the King did not want to meet him. But the man refused to be turned away by the court officials. He went on bended knee, knelt and waited outside the King’s chamber. For a long time he remained kneeling. By then there were whispering concerns by worried onlookers. The night began to fall. The rain came. Still the man did not move an inch from his kneeling position. He waited and waited. All this time the King was watching from His royal chambers. He was moved by the man who remained unmoved. Eventually he came out to meet the man and hears his cause.

It is so easy to give up and give in to thinking that waiting is a waste of time.

The Bible is full of the injunction to wait.

“Wait on the Lord; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say, on the Lord!” (Psalms 27:14)

“I will wait for You … My God of mercy shall come to meet me” (Psalms 59:9-10). 

“My soul, wait silently for God alone, for my expectation is from Him” (Psalms 62:5).

We read biblical accounts of those who waited.

Like Abraham who was promised a child, waited some 24 years before he became a father.

Like Simeon whom the Holy Spirit revealed that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. He waited his entire life to see the child Jesus.

Or like the prophet Anna who year after year, decade after decade was waiting with fasting and prayers night and day hoping to see “the redemption of Jerusalem.”

Their wait was rewarded.

Just so we need to go on bended knee. Wait upon the Lord

– When circumstances are uncontrollable and uncontainable

– When people are unreasonable and unchangeable

– When problems are unexplainable and unmanageable

Moved by UnmovedThe promise is clear:

“No eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for Him” (Isaiah 64:4).

It’s because God is always moved when we are truly unmoved in waiting for Him.

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Remember

When I was training for the marathon, I told my running friends that my wife does marathon. They were utterly surprised. And I qualified it’s the Korean Drama Marathon. She can spend hours on end watching over 50 episodes of a Korean drama all the way to the finish line.

Occasionally I join my wife to watch not the entire drama but few episodes where she will bring me up to speed the characters and the plot.

It wasn’t long I noticed there is always the typical scenario.

Boy loves girl. Girl loves boy. But there is a rival love interest. Developing situation has caused the boy and girl to seriously consider breaking away from their relationship and turn towards their competing interests. It was a critical moment because both knew it would be a decision of no return.

RememberAt that crucial moment as they were about to walk away, the flashback came. Repeated scenes from earlier episodes came on. That’s why Korean dramas are so long. And the couple’s minds went back to that day they met each other. They remember that moment they fell for each other. The surrounding blurred as they eyeballed each other with googly eyes. They remember falling into each other arms. They remember embracing each other. They remember holding each other tight.

Typically the outcome of that remembering changes everything. It halts them from gravitating towards the pull of competitive rivals. It guides their decision. It influences their outlook. Eventually they return to what they hold most dear.

And the viewers sob, tear and cry with relief as the tissue box emptied out.

There is something deeply powerful about remembering.

The Lord in the institution of the Holy Communion said twice, “Do this in remembrance of Me” (I Corinthians 11:24-25).

He also said to the Church of Ephesus, Remember therefore from where you have fallen” (Revelation 2:5).

Can you remember when you first met Jesus?

Can you remember how in love you were with Jesus?

Can you remember how fervent you were in witnessing for Him?

Can you remember how you longed to share the Gospel with everyone you know?

Can you remember how fervent you used to pray – often kneeling on the bedside or on chair?

Can you remember how you used to read the Bible as if it was a love letter from God?

Can you remember how enthusiastic you were in serving the Lord, giving to the Church and going on mission trips?

Can you remember how passionately you used to worship God with teary eyes?

Can you remember that first love?

Since we are in the month of September, there is a popular song by Brothers Four. If you know this song you are the Merdeka Generation (those born in the 50s).

The lyrics go:

Try to remember the kind of September
When life was slow and oh so mellow.
Try to remember the kind of September
When grass was green and grain was yellow.
Try to remember the kind of September
When you were a tender and callow fellow.
Try to remember and if you remember
then follow … follow.

Note the ending of song: and if you remember then follow … follow.”

The point is remembering is not complete unless you follow through and act on what you remember.

Remembering is never nostalgic. It is not enough to remember how far you have fallen. You need to do something about it. You need to repent. You need to make amends.

Remember that.

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