27 Aug 2015

Think about it - you may save a life

This morning as I sat with my tea and kaya* toast, I thought once again of two friends who I no longer am able to contact. I have searched for them...but they are now elusive. This isn't the first time I miss people in my life.

Last night when I was at Ang Mo Kio Central, I avoided the huge exhibition on the late Mr LKY.

When you have touched grief, every death reaches a nerve that has been awakened it seems, and it relays quickly to tear ducts and places of loss. It's not a pleasant feeling and I did not want to go there as I am carrying some heartache within.

Eventually though, I walked among the black and white photos, the art pieces, the In-Memory lines penned by those who met, knew, and respected the man.

part of the exhibit at Ang Mo Kio Central Stage

I am not sure if this morning's longing to know if my friends are doing well is connected; but I refused to let my longing go to waste. What was it trying to tell me? This after all, isn't the first time I have longed for my friends.

In this case, these two friends - unconnected with each - had come to me in their time of confusion. They were at a loss about their life and they have tried some pretty rough routes. They were successful in some ways but yet they felt really lost.
I have known them both for years. We were not food or drink buddies and did not have any regular hang out time. One of them lives overseas. I'm probably not the first person they turned to; but along the way, my face and name came to them. As I thought about it, I wondered if they reached out to me perhaps because I was a pastor (even though a young one then).

The memory of their visits returned to me vividly one day. Then years ago I had prayed and left it in God's hands. Today though it seems the Spirit has more to say. As I put myself in their shoes, I realised how sorely disappointed they might have been - because - I could not enter their pain and so failed to offer any real hope. I can see their body language, the many pauses and moments of silence, and yes, the way they left.

Even as I reflected, I feel aware of my emotional state at that time: I was mired in my own struggle and it loomed so large, it was always casting this shadow over me that the Light was not shining freely around. It's hard to see clearly when it's dark and dreary.

As a result, my heart and mind was not engaging the way my friends needed me to.

This morning, this verse came from 1 Peter 1 came to me:

"...prepare your minds for action.."
 "put your mind in gear.."

Interesting that engaging and activating our thoughts is so critical.

Peter is talking about our new future in Christ, building up to His return. The allurements of self and society are many; being faithful and fruitful in our lives requires us putting all our horsepower behind it.

At risk of sounding harsh, sloth is a huge problem for many of us. Otherwise, we are busy over the wrong priorities, such as serving up our opinions on a myriad of things on social media.

What should we apply our minds to?
What should we take time to think about?

2 things:
what is diluting or threatening my identity as God's child
how in my circumstances do I live the new God-given life in Christ.

The answers to these two essential Qs will help move us towards a way of living --
- where we know what matters and what doesn't
- where we realised how immeasurably valued we are that God would send Jesus to die for us
- where what we do now will usher in a whole new existence some day

Back to my friends. I re-imagined the scene. What if we took time to think about how each other is doing, really doing, the world will know a whole new level of peace.

If we dare risk asking the Q: what are you really saying?
If we listen to the heart behind the words.

Instead we live with a lot of assumptions. We assume the family is okay. We assume the church is alright since things are humming along. In some instances, we even pretend; because we have a hunch that things are not fine but we don't feel the energy or motivation to find out the truth.

But imagine if we did.

What will happen if we took some time at the end of each day to reflect on the interactions we had. Perhaps there is someone we need to go back and check on, someone to pray for, some issue to think about. Perhaps we find it's a whole new area we may need to do some research and asking around...Perhaps we will hear fears and anxieties; but we may well hear brilliance, off-beat ideas and passion. Or we may hear pain and frustration, lostness...

...and if we have been preparing our minds, that is to say we have given thought to some of these things in the light of what God has revealed... the Spirit would draw out from the reservoir of our 'homework' and we would have hope to offer.

I cannot roll back the clock. I still hope to locate my friends and apologise for failing them. It is a huge comfort that I can turn to prayer.

You may think I am beating myself up. But this reflection leading to repentance for my self-centredness and my callous attitude towards other's pain is going to save my life and someone else's one day.

I am being saved from a false sense of myself. I see how far I am still from Christ's likeness. This does not make me 'work harder' but turn to God to find security and steadfastness. God is the one who gives the growth and matures us. Our own ideas of growth and transformation are often mixed in with the self's need for attention. No, only God's agenda is pure and true.

I trust that as He does, I will feel and fare differently in the coming days when others turn to me with their need.

* kaya - an Asian bread spread made of eggs, pandan and coconut. yummy! ref: Critical and Explanatory Commentary by Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown and published in 1871.

19 Aug 2015

Why think so much? Because it shapes you up.

Why ask so many questions?
What's the use of thinking so much?

Rodin's Thinking Man

Not everyone loves mental calisthenics. Most of us are happy to be done with school. Mental (metal as in the music is the same for me) anguish where we feel lost and cannot quite figure out an answer is tormenting. Philosophical questions of 'why', 'what', 'therefore' is daunting for most of us.

So we should avoid it. Don't worry, be happy. What's done is done. No point crying over spilled milk. 

I disagree.

Firstly, we all worry as surely as we all want to be endlessly happy. (and if we were, would we still be happy?) Worry seems to come with the territory. Worry happens because we want certain outcomes but we cannot ensure it occurs. We worry if the boss will like the presentation. We worry if eating that weird piece of meat coz all our friends were digging in would make us sick. We worry if we can retire. We worry about the kids (big worry today!). We worry about sagging skin, thinning air, thickening waistlines and blocked arteries.

Someone wisely said, "worrying is like a rocking chair, it keeps you moving, but gets you nowhere!".

So between our tendency to worry and the pointlessness of it - is the necessary work of reflecting on what it is we are worrying about and how much worry-power we want to give it. A little sitting in the rocking chair can be quite useful to help us figure out what is important to us and whether we are being sensible about what we are doing about it.

I worry quite often over my children; but I pause to talk to my worries and find out what they mean. Maybe my expectations are way off the chart. Maybe I am expecting too much of myself. Maybe I slipped and should be doing something.

What's done is done -- unless it can be undone. 

There is an old idea called Restitution. This is where we set right what we did wrong. I fear we have forgotten those days. It appears we are in such a haste that people move on and carry much baggage of unresolved conflicts within their bosoms often.

Angry eyes
Sad faces
Sudden explosive outbursts
Panic attacks

are the outcomes of accumulated soul barang-barang*. Disappointment with self and others, being unfairly treated, being out down, neglect, other's anger, very high expectations, failures and setbacks -- all of these are wounds that need time to heal.

Each wound is unique and require some special care and the appropriate salve.... often involving crying over spilled milk.

The milk mattered! It costs. So it's totally okay to cry for a bit.

Through those teary eyes, consider why this mattered so much, why it hurts they way it does.

Our gains may be useful indicators of our life's potential.
Our pains are not less useful. In fact, they may tell us more.

Humans are pack creatures in a way, so we all go after the same rewards very often. But our pains are unique to each of us.
Why does someone hurt over an insensitive remark while another find it fairly easy to shrug off (assuming this person is not pretending}.
Why does the death of a loved on impact one family member differently from another?
Why does a change in plan upset one much more than another?

Our pains are wonderful indicators for who we are, what we cherish, and what we find security in.

So think much - about what brings your pleasure. Also think much about what brings you pain. This thinking and processing will yield much fruit including:

1. you are able to empathise better with others and speak wisdom they may need
2. you are shielded from the deception of the enemy who loves to disguise as an angel of light (the easy way out, the get-over-with-this). 

A solution at hand is not the same as a resolution that leads to peace and a deeper, richer life.

"leave your simple ways and you will live, walk in the way of understanding" ~ Proverbs 9v6

*Singapore slang for stuff

12 Aug 2015

a personal Jubilee: starting over happens everyday


It was much anticipated. Singapore's wildest, biggest, most extravagant national party! There have been many movements and moments leading up to it... groups doing craft, entire blocks of flats getting a makeover with all kinds of motifs (I just saw a block that had koalas on it!), folks making videos, writing songs, doing new and wondrous things! As citizens we were given SG50 goodie bags, and over the long celebratory weekend, there will be carnivals, free rides and museum entrances. On the first day of that weekend I even bought a yoghurt at half price!

For someone convalescing and with a few commitments to attend to; I resorted to a vicarious experience of it all via social media... everyone was totally soaking up the celebratory atmosphere over the four-day long weekend. One friend wrote, "hopping from one activity to the next, the fun never ends!". Sounds rather odd for Singapore honestly!

And of course it culminated in this parade la grande ~

largest fireworks in our history


amazing black knights flew '50' formation 

-- which the family caught on TV. I totally missed it, having booked to spend time over a very special conversation with someone who just flew in. I must say I feel a hole in me for having missed our Jubilee Parade.

But losses don't have to be total! On the last day of the long weekend break, we finally headed to one of our favourite places: the Botanic Gardens, now a Unesco World Heritage site. It was so heartwarming to see families and folks strolling, enjoying the vast gardens... there was laughter and one family even did a little race across the lawn. Lovely, energetic fun with a generally cool weather to boot. It felt so good to be alive after the brush with death, and just soak up the Jubilee atmosphere!

So we're 50; and how old that feels depends on who's talking --

As a nation, this has truly been a poignant year. The fact that we are a tiny lil isle in a vast sea that is now bobbing with tremendous uncertainty is not lost to us. Looking back at our journey from colony to statehood to affluent cosmopolitan city-state is an exercise in wonder. So much and so many could have gone awry. Still, it's as if Providence charted a course for us and shielded us through it all.

Jubilee as a notion is of course far more than a mere counting of years. It is a biblical concept that is all about justice, equity and second chances. When the fiftieth year rolls around, everything must be restored. Slaves must be set free, land that was mortgaged must be returned, loans must be canceled. 
Jubilee is all of our cherished hope - the chance to start over. Can someone please wipe the slate clean? Take back my harsh words, rash decision, too quick to press 'enter' trigger finger? Can someone pls cancel away my debts, let me off the hook?
The Jubilee sounds too good to be true. It is also easily abused. The Bible warns against the abuses, and appeals to the heart that desires hope to offer it to others.

But we grasp for ourselves - first.
We want the Jubilee. We may not be so quick to offer it to others. Just forget, forgive, let go? Ask the person next to me.
The Jubilee can be mighty uncomfortable too. We are all creatures of habit and routine. To have to change course, loose bonds, re-imagine what you truly own is quite unsettling. If Ami has been making your breakfast, you could well wake up to having to make your own! From these small shifts to larger ones including taking out title deeds and handing them over; the Jubilee is hard to live out!
So each heart is squirming in the juices of calculation and wariness.
A Jubilee can only happen when we want things God's way and not ours.

It is easy to glibly raise our voices and blow our shofars at the prospect of it; but within our hearts nothing really shifts. We return back to our old ways and set patterns.

Unless -- we realise that the message of the Jubilee is about a just society that depends on God - and that happens when we are personally set free  to depend on God and not see each other as competition, see the world as a limited pie that must be carved up, see our lives as desperate, lacking, unfulfilled.

Jubilee for any society can only happen when it becomes a personal Jubilee.

We must reach for the freedom God offers us in the paradox of offering it to others.
We must reach for the freedom God offers us in the releasing of what we have crafted and engineered for our safety, security and significance.
We must reach for the freedom God offers us in the forgiving of others, and in seeking their welfare.

Listen to this:
Things We Leave Behind
It's hard to imagine
the freedom
 we find
from the things we leave behind

There is some nervousness about the future of Singapore. We have an election coming. We are maturing, asking questions and challenging norms.
There is always some anxiety in our hearts, especially those of us who are parents!

But it's the Jubilee - try to imagine freedom. And pray about finding it in your own heart first.
And that is a daily prayer, a daily discovery, a daily commitment.

More God-years Singapore!