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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Year of the Pig Story

As this is the Year of the Pig, let me recall for us a piggy story. It is a well-known story called, “The Three Little Pigs.”Year of Pig Story

Once there were three little pigs who set out into the world to build a house for themselves.

The first little pig built a house of straw. He said, “I want my house to look good. I want people to be impressed by what they see. The bright golden yellow straw house will wow them. The cheap, low cost, eco friendly material I used will surely impress them.”

The second little pig built a house of sticks. He said, “I want my house built quick. I have no time. I have so much to do, like cooking my favorite corn on the cob on sticks. Aha I will build my house with these sticks. I will do the easy way. I will build my house fast. It will be the fastest house built that anyone would ever know.”

The third little pig built a house of bricks. He said, “I want a safe house. I don’t care how long it takes. I want a strong and sturdy house built with bricks. I don’t mind if it takes time, effort and sacrifice. I am willing to work hard and pay the price.”

So the three little pigs built their own houses. Each with different goal. The first did for impression. The second did for speed. The third did for safety.

And the result of what they built is seen when the Big Bad Wolf comes along.

With huffs and puffs, the house of straw built for impression and the house of sticks built with speed are blown down. But the house of bricks remains unmoved and unshaken.

Here is a story that teaches us about the importance of what you build your house of faith upon. Whether yours is a house of straw or sticks or bricks, will be revealed when the big bad wolf comes along.

When the devil comes to steal, kill and destroy, you will know how strong is the house of faith you have built.

Will you be able to withstand his huffs and puffs? No use oinking, “Not by the hair of my chinny chin chin.”

Jesus told us in Matthew 7:24-27 when the storms of life come, we will know what foundation we have been building – whether it is built on sand or on solid rock.

Only those who are not lazy, refused to take shortcuts, do for show or go the easy way but diligently build on the solid rock of God’s Word, hearing it and doing it, praying and practicing, will be able to endure the storms of life and the huffs and puffs of the evil one. They will not be moved or shaken.

I believe the story of the three little pigs also hold for us the importance of supportive relationships. The two brothers, whose houses were blown away, ran to the brother who had painstakingly built his sturdy house. He did not lock them out. He did not turn them away. He did not judge them. Instead he welcomed and protected them in his strong house. The Big Bad Wolf was unable to reach them and eat any of them no matter how hard he tried.

The two brothers probably learned their lessons from the smart, hardworking and generous brother. Eventually they went to build their own strong houses. I can imagine them sheltering others whose houses were blown down by the Big Bad Wolf.

Just so I believe there will be many more happy endings if we all learn from the story of “The Three Little Pigs.”

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Zhu Nian Kuai Le

 

zhu nian kuai le3As you TROT into a New Year, may the God of abounding love, enduring mercy and all sufficient grace, GRUNT you a BELLY BELLY PORKSPEROUS New Year.

May no setbacks HAM you in. So that, in spite of a MUDDY forecast of a LEAN year ahead, yours will be a FAT year stuffed with BACON of hope.

And as you SOW testimonies of how you have tasted the goodness of God, may He use you to spring forth new SUCKLING into the HERD of the Lord our Keeper.

All this is because you are PIG vis-à-vis “Precious In God”

猪 年 快 Zhu Nian Kuai Le

OINK OINK! Translate, “Only I Now Know!”

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PIG

Lunar New Year is drawing near. At our shopping malls and in every housing estate, you see stalls decorated in red selling all kinds of Chinese New Year goodies and stuff.

pigAnd somehow, you would know this is the Year of the Pig. The piggy icons are everywhere on decorations, Hongbaos and very soon in our video greetings.

I don’t subscribe to the auspicious interpretation of the Chinese Zodiac. For me, this is never the Year of the Pig but the Year of the Lord.

Yet the Word of the Lord tells us we are P.I.G. vis-à-vis “Precious In God.”

The God Himself says: “Since you were precious in My sightyou have been honoured and I have loved you” (Isaiah 43:4).

We are PIG, “Precious In God!”

When you look at your children, no matter how naughty, stubborn or disobedient, remember they are PIG.

When you look at your teenage youths, nieces and nephews, no matter how weird they seem in their hairstyle, dressing and the way they talk, remember they are PIG.

When you are in the advancing years of dependence, support and assistance, feeling empty and useless, remember you are PIG!

When you face the raging battle of low self worth in the lowest moments of your life, remember you are PIG!

God tells us through the prophet Isaiah that when we pass through difficult times, He will be with us because we are PIG, precious in His sight.

When you pass through the troubled waters of life, cross the swollen river of stress and pressures, face the fiery flame of crisis and challenges, God says, “I will be with you” (Isaiah 43:2). It is because you are PIG (Isaiah 43:4).

You are PIG, in spite of all your problems, weaknesses and failures.

God loves you. You are Precious In God. If God has a desktop display in heaven, He will have your picture on it. God is like some crazy lover, who tattooed the name of the one He loves. He has your name and mine inscribed on His hand. He says, “See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands” (Isaiah 49:16).

God even asks a bizarre question, “Can a woman forget her nursing child?” (Isaiah 49:15a). Not at all. Even if she could, God says, “Yet I will not forget you” (Isaiah 49:15b). 

For that, we celebrate – not the pig but the fact we are “Precious In God” this year and always.

Xin Nian Kuai Le! Happy New Year!

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Retirement Reflection

Just turned 65 and facing the prospect of a mandatory retirement. By the end of the year I join the ranks of Retired Methodist Pastors.

retirement reflectionWhat does retirement mean for me?

I learned from a fellow colleague whose father was also a Methodist Pastor. When it came for his father to retire, he was completely lost and totally devastated. His son found him sobbing away and saying, “What am I going to do now?” His identity as a Pastor was inextricably tied to his pastoral appointment.

I feel my identity as a Pastor is inextricably tied to my calling rather than my appointment. The time will soon come when this conviction will be tested. Will I feel “secure” as a Pastor without a paid salary?

I reflected further. Does retirement mean a withdrawal of service for the Lord? Does it mean I don’t have to serve the Lord anymore? Does it mean I pull myself out from all services for the Church? Does it mean “I have done my part” and now it is perfectly ok for me to be selfish and think only of myself?

I am convinced that retirement is not an excuse to stop serving the Lord. I am reminded of what the Lord said: “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10}.

 Jesus also reminds us as servants of the Lord there is no such thing as work done, task completed and time for a well-deserved endless vacation.

“So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do’” (Luke 17:10).

Retirement brings not less but more opportunities to serve the Lord. We need to redeem the time and opportunity. “Making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16).

Still, the seductive call of our day is to view retirement as a golden opportunity for self-indulgence. The advice given by many, both explicitly and implicitly boil down to this: “Relax, slow down. Take it easy. Amuse yourself. Do only what you enjoy.”

The prescription given is not maximizing usefulness but maximizing leisure.

If that’s the end goal of retirement, then the closing chapter of our Christian life is no longer significant but simply quite empty and useless.

Far from it, we should be running the last lap of our Christian life with greater zeal and vigour. As we draw close to the finish line we should be picking up pace as we see the face of Jesus coming into sharper focus. 

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith“ (Hebrews 12:1-2). 

Ralph Winter said, “Most men don’t die of old age, they die of retirement.”

I am probably never going to retire. I am heading for the gym to get fit for the last lap. I am fixing my eyes on Jesus at the finish line. There will be plenty of time for R and R on the Day of Resurrection.

For now, Let me tell about Your strength to all the people living now, and about Your power to all who are to come “ (Psalm 71:18 NLV).

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Certainties in Uncertainties

Had a chat with a friend about his outlook for 2019.

And he said, “I feel the world is getting from bad to worse. And even though he was from ACS, he said, “I cannot say confidently the ACS motto – The best is yet to be. I think the worse is yet to come.”

certainties in uncetaintiesThere is an increasing uncertainty in the world today. Treaties signed might not be honored. Agreements made can be torn apart when new leaders take over. Just one tweet and Wall Street trembles and the Asian market tumbles.

Even with heightening and tightening of security we are never certain if the world ever become a safe place. The recent months have seen more climate disasters besides man-made ones that put travel safety in question.

Who can be certain if there is ever an escalation of trade war, cyber war and territorial war? Who can know for sure what the global economic and business outlook will be? No one has the crystal ball.

No one knows for sure what heartwarming or heartbreaking news the New Year will bring. We are uncertain about our tomorrows.

We are uncertain if our health and the health of our loved ones are going to hold up for another year.

The future ahead is full of uncertainties.

But thank God, He has given us certainties. Certainties found in His Word. Certainties that can help us face 2019 with courage and confidence.

There are four certainties in Romans 8:31-39.

Certainty #1: If God is for us, who can be against us?

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)

Certainty #2: How shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?

“He who did not spare His own Son but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)

Certainty #3: Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect?

“Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us?” (Romans 8:33-34)

Certainty #4: Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword? … For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor thing to come, nor height nor depth nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39).

We must meet the uncertainties in the world with the certainties in the Word.

With these four certainties God has given we can confidently wish each other a Blessed New Year!

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A Spiritual New Year

I welcomed the New Year not with merry making but with covenant making.

A Spiritual New YearI was at the Wesleyan Covenant Watchnight Service, hours before the turn of the year. With no assigned pastoral role and duty that night I had the most contemplative time.

There was no fanfare of any sorts. The entire service was a solemn reflection on the year about to pass.

As I reflected I felt a deep sense of gratitude to God for all His mercies.

I thank God for His loving care, for giving me life, reason, purpose, calling and ministry. I praise God for being the rock of my strength in adversity and temptation. I am truly thankful to God for meeting my failures with His patience, forgiveness and overflowing grace.

During the service I made this Covenant with God:

Let me be your servant, under your command.
I will no longer be my own.
I will give up myself to your will in all things.

Lord, make me what You will.
I put myself fully into Your hands:
Put me to doing, put me to suffering,
Let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you,
Let me be full, let me be empty,
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and with a willing heart
Give it all to your pleasure and disposal.

To be sure, I said that covenant prayer with a clear mind, an open heart and a willing spirit. In actual fact I also said:

O God, You know that I make this covenant with you today
without guile or reservation.If any falsehood should be in it, guide me and help me to set it aright.

There are church members who pointed out that such Covenant is simply too hard to make, not to mention, demanding and impossible to keep. But I told them we must remember to whom we are making this covenant.

We are making this Covenant with a God whose love always abounds, whose faithfulness is ever great and whose mercies endure forever. He is a God who made Covenant with His people throughout the ages. He is a Covenant Friend of Abraham, Moses and David.

To this Covenant Friend, we made our covenant to serve and worship Him.

This new year, let us not just welcome another calendar year. Let us welcome the beginning of a new spiritual year.

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