Easter Encounters

Easter is the day that changed history.

“And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (I Corinthians 15:14).  

Easter EncountersThe New Testament records for us ten appearances of the Risen Christ. What is most striking are the ordinary day-to-day circumstances of these post-resurrection encounters.

The risen Christ appeared to a group having a meal behind closed doors, two men along a road, a woman weeping in a garden and some fishermen catching nothing in a lake.

One might expect Him to dazzle the crowd that earlier shouted, “Crucify Him!” Or swaggered into the synagogue or Pilate’s court like Arnold Schwarzenegger saying, “I’m back!”

But Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances were hardly showy or sensational. He only visited individuals who followed Him and select groups of people to bolster their faith. There were no reports of His appearance to unbelievers.

The only spectacular miracle was the haul of 153 large fishes (John 21:11). It takes something like that to jolt those fishermen back to their calling when they first left their boats and nets to follow Jesus.

Over breakfast, the Risen Lord restored and reinstated Peter asking, “Do you love me?” three times, one for each occasion that Peter denied him. The Risen Lord also charged him three times, “Feed My lambs. Tend My sheep. Feed My sheep.”

The very ordinariness of these resurrection encounters changed those disciples in a very extraordinary way. Their lives were never the same again.

Just so is the ordinariness of our celebration this Easter.

In our Lent observance, fasting as individuals, praying at home and in small groups, at our holy week services, Jesus might just turn up.

Question is will you recognize Him? Will you be excited to sense Him saying, “Here am I, here am I” (Isaiah 65:1). Will you allow yourself to be challenged by the Risen Lord?

Let this Easter change everything for you.

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Ashes to Ashes

Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent. It marks the first day of self-denial, prayer and fasting, prior to Easter.

On this day during the service, there is an imposition of ashes on the congregation invited to receive the ashes. The ashes came from the burnt ashes of Palm branches used at previous year’s Palm Sunday. The ashes are mixed with olive oil.

ash-wednesdayThe Pastor would use the ashes to rub the sign of a cross on the foreheads of worshippers reminding them of Genesis 3:19 “For dust you are and to dust you shall return.”

The significance of this tradition is a stark reminder of our human mortality and fallibility.

This is a time to get real. Life is short and we all fall short (Romans 3:23). We must therefore seek to live fully for the One who gives it and the One whom one day we shall return.

Hence the beginning of Lent is a time of reflection, repentance and return to the Lord who created us from dust, redeemed us from dust and turns the ashes of our repentance to the beauty of His glorious restoration.

This tradition of receiving and donning ashes is a sign of penitence. It is a common practice found in saints of old, like Job who said:

“Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6).

Let’s take time during Lent for self-examination and repentance. Take an honest look at yourself and see if there are some things you should repent of.

Repentance is not just feeling remorse. Godly sorrow always includes amends and restitution.

The difference is like Judas and Zacchaeus. Judas was deeply remorseful. His regrets led him to take his own life.

Zacchaeus was also deeply sorrowful about his lifestyle after his meeting Jesus. But his regret was followed by amends and restitutions.

“Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold” (Luke 19:8).

Salvation came. He was thereby marked as “a son of Abraham” (Luke 19:9). He bears the mark of life, forgiveness, hope and glory.

It’s the mark of the cross. It’s the symbol of Ash Wednesday.

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Botak

Botak“Botak” is a Malay word, which means bald or having no hair.

A friend of mine whom I have not met for years wrote to me. He tells me he could no long part his hair as they are all departed. None left on his scalp he said. He refuses to send me his recent photo but said he looks just like Howie Mandel in America’s Got Talent. The only difference is he doesn’t have his wits and judging talent.

Most men go through various stages of baldness.

A colleague told me an interesting interpretation of the pattern of baldness on the head. Those who are bald in the front are great thinkers. Those bald on the back are great lovers. Those bald on the back and front think they are great lovers.

In our younger days when we were kids, we used to tease those who are “botak.” Back then we have not heard of the story of the prophet Elisha who called out bears to maul down forty-two of the youths that made fun of his baldhead(II Kings 2:23-25).  

We were fortunate not to end up like the forty-two. The lesson in that story is clear. Disrespect will not be tolerated. Everyone no matter their appearance deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.

My wife who has been my barber for over 35 years noticed my hairs are thinning each time she crops them. She reminds me of the scripture, “Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered” (Luke 12:7).

The day will come when I can save on shampoo but spend on caps.

My only consolation is the scripture in Leviticus 13:40 “A man who has lost his hair and is bald is clean.” 

The context is that a person who is bald cannot conceal the dreaded disease of a leper.

Ultimately what matters is not becoming a clean head but becoming a clean vessel.

“If a man lives a clean life, he will be like a dish made of gold. He will be respected and set apart for good use by the owner of the house” (II Timothy 2:21 NLV).

Amen.

 

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TWG

If you truly want to go deeper in your relationship with God, you need to embrace 4 TWG.

  1. Truthful With God

You have heard it said: “You are my closest friend. I have shared everything with you. I am totally transparent and open with you. There are no secrets between us.”

Just so, the first TWG on deepening your relationship with God has to do with being truthful with God.

It is about coming before God and being able to say truthfully, “There is a spirit of lust creeping in my life right now. I don’t seem to be able to close the door of my life to it. Or there is that spirit of greed growing in heart. I can’t pull it out. Or there is bitterness whose roots have grown long and deep over the years. I can’t remove it.”

When you are truthful with God, you draw near to Him and God draw near to you for “a broken and a contrite heart … God will not despise” (Psalm 51:17).

But those who keep secrets from God and hide from God are far from Him.

God never demand we be perfect to show our love for Him. He desires only that we be truthful. “You delight in truth in the inward being” (Psalm 51:6).

  1. Time With God

In any relationship, you can’t be close to that person unless you carve out time to be with him.

When our lives are so busy and we have no time for God that is when we find ourselves distant from God. Busyness is the ach-enemy of being close to God.

When our lives are so hectic and we are always on the fast lane, it will be hard to hear the still small voice of God. Even when God does speak, we can’t hear Him in the noisy furry of our activities.

If you want to go deeper in your relationship with God, then you need set aside time for God. Not give Him our leftover time. Not give Him our throwaway time. But scheduled an unhurried, uninterrupted, quiet time totally dedicated to giving our whole attention to this living and communicating God.

Jesus did that in Mark 1:35. So should we.

  1. Talk With God

You can never be close to a person if you do not talk with him. Prayer is talking with God.

But don’t just talk to God when you need something from Him. Talk to God even on days when you don’t need anything. Talking with God always draws us close to Him.

  1. Trust Word of God

Isn’t it true the person we love the most is the one we trust the most. We are closest to the one we trust.

Trusting God is a way of knowing God and finding out what He can do. When we learn to trust Him and His Word, we will to know Him more personally and love Him more fully.

Abraham was a man who trusted God. It was that trusting relationship that bonds Abraham to God so much so that he was called, “the friend of God” (James 2:23)

Therein are the 4 TWG that can make your relationship with God deep and strong, alive and real, close and intimate.

TWGIncidentally TWG is a magnificent brand of tea made in Singapore. It is a globally acclaimed luxury tea that is quite pricey. Its premium quality is revealed when it gets into hot water.

Just so the quality of your faith and relationship with God will be revealed when you are in hot water.

Only those of the TWG kind will stand out.

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Go Deeper

The prophet had a vision in Ezekiel 47:1-12.

In that vision, Ezekiel saw water flowing from the Temple. He followed the flow of the water. At the first stop, the water is only ankle-deep. At the second stop they are knee-deep. By the third stop, the waters are waist-deep. And further on, after another third of a mile, the waters are so deep that you cannot touch the bottom but swim along with the strong current.

The unmistakable picture of that vision is the progression. It is a vision of going deeper. It is saying something to us.

Go DeeperDon’t stay ankle-deep. Don’t remain knee-deep. Don’t be happy with just waist-deep. Go deeper.

As you have by faith stepped into the river of life, which originates from the throne of God, don’t frolic like little children on shallow ankle-deep waters. Don’t behave like the immature that just want to play and have fun. And every now and then run back to the land from where they came.

Don’t remain knee-deep. Knee-deep people only go on their knees when they need God. But most times when the going is good, God is far from their minds. It is because the waters of their spirituality are only knee-deep.

Don’t stay waist deep where you are always half in and half out of the water. Waist-deep people are half-hearted towards God. Half the time they want what Christ offers but the other half of the time they also want what the world offers.

You need to progress on. Go deeper. Till your feet can no more feel the security of the riverbed. Till you surrender fully to the flow of the river. Till you know it is pointless to fight and swim against the strong current. Till you are no longer in control. And your self-will is aligned with will of the river that takes you to your final destination.

Still there is more to that vision.

As you flow with the river of life, you discover the amazing wonders of transformation. The desert condition of your life is being transformed to fruitful garden. The Dead Sea condition of your life is being transformed into a sea teeming with fishes.

“Everything will live where the river goes!” says Ezekiel 47:9.

Once there were no trees in the desert. Now there are flourishing trees with leaves that bring healing.

Once there were no fish in the Dead Sea. But as the river pours in fresh water, the Dead Sea is teemed with life.

The transformed landscape attracts people, especially those who come to fish. Its shore is dotted with fishermen (my favourite part of the vision). Families gather near the riverside. They come to picnic there and to bond. Many take walks along the river to clear their minds and rejuvenate themselves.

Do you see that vision? Can you catch it?

Don’t stay ankle-deep. Don’t remain knee-deep. Don’t linger at waist-deep.

Go deeper. Be swept off. Be an unstoppable movement.

Just like in the days of the early church when deep people attract many to the River of Life. And onlookers were saying:

“These who have turned the world upside down have come here too” (Acts 17:6).

Don’t hang around the shallow waters of spirituality. Go deeper.

Deep people are attractive people.

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Chap Goh Meh

Chap Goh Meh means 15thnight in the Hokkien dialect. It marks the close of the Chinese New Year celebration. And it is often associated with love and romance.

On this auspicious night young eligible throw oranges into the sea, river or body of water in hope of finding good suitable partners.

It is believed that the person who picked up the floating orange would be the future match. Hence Chap Goh Mei is dubbed as the Chinese Valentine’s Day.

Chap Goh MeiYoung hopefuls write their phone numbers and e-mail addresses on oranges before throwing them. Talk about data disclosure in this age of personal data protection. But often in the desperate hope of finding prospective husbands, all good cautionary sense is cast to the wind.

It seems in more recent times, while ladies toss oranges, men are throwing bananas inscribed with their contacts. All this is done in the craze of finding partners.

I can imagine the high exorbitant prices of oranges and bananas sold on this day. Then again, who says love is cheap?

Even though we may laugh at this Chap Goh Meh tradition yet in the light of the growing number of online dating websites, it seems marriage is preferred to singlehood.

But the Bible does not see marriage as a norm for everyone.

Jesus affirmed both the sacredness of marriage and the acceptability of singlehood (Matthew 19:1-12).

Some are given the gift of God to live a meaningful, fulfilling married life. And some are given the gift of God of living a meaningful, fulfilling single life.

Both are treated with equal respect. Neither is right for everyone. Neither is better for everyone.

Being single is not a shameful thing. It is not a curse. Nor a state that needs to be fixed. It is a gift.

The apostle Paul recognizes that.

“For I wish that all men were even as I myself. But each one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that” (I Corinthians 7:7).

If you are truly happy with your single life, don’t join in the craze for partners on Chap Goh Mei.

Don’t throw that orange. Eat it. Don’t pollute the waters. Don’t give in to the pitiful sighs of friends and aunties who offer to fix your unmarried state.

Celebrate your gift. After all only the single and unmarried can give “undivided devotion to the Lord” (I Corinthians 7:35).

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Ultimate Valentine

Valentine’s Day is here again. Every year on 14 February people celebrate this day by sending messages of love and affection to their loved ones, friends and family.

Ultimate ValentineIn my younger years I gave the excuse for not giving chocolates or candies, by sending cards with these lines: “Roses are red, violets are blue, sugar is sweet and that is bad for you!”

Back then I was not aware of the origin of Valentine’s Day or St. Valentine’s Day.

As I look into the historical origin of this celebration, I realize that it is anything but romantic. They were bloodied accounts of martyrdom.

There were three different martyrs named Valentine.

The first was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine felt the injustice of such decree. He defied the Emperor by secretly performing marriages for the soldiers. According to legend, Valentine is said to have cut hearts from parchment, and gave them to these soldiers “to remind these men of their vows and God’s love.” This could well explain the widespread use of hearts on Valentine’s Day.

When his actions were discovered, the emperor ordered that he be put to death. Valentine lost his life but gained the reputation for believing in the importance of love.

The second was a bishop of Terni. Back then Christianity was still outlawed. Valentine was incarcerated. During his imprisonment, he helped and ministered to Christians who were often harshly treated, beaten and tortured. He also befriended and restored the eyesight of the blind daughter of his jailor. It was a miraculous healing. It resulted in jailor’s daughter and forty-six family members coming to faith in Jesus and getting baptized.

Before his execution on 14 February 270 AD, Valentine wrote a farewell letter to the jailor’s daughter who was no longer blind. And he signed off his letter with, “From your Valentine,” which became the expression still in use today.

The third Valentine was also a martyr in the Roman province of Africa.

In reading the origin of Valentine’s Day, I realized that the spirit of Valentine was not the receiving of cards, roses and chocolates. Rather it is the giving of oneself.

It reminds me of Jesus who gave of Himself for us. He died for my sins, even the sins of the whole world. He rose again from the dead and made us the promise, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).

For me, He is my Ultimate Valentine!

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