Top photo, L-R: Nigel, Alissa, Darryl, me, Wei Aun (who worked for awhile in SU, and is now a doctor practising in Sabah).
Bottom photo, L-R: Dad, Mum, me, Sara, my uncle from Singapore, my cousin Michelle, Kevin.
(Warning: long post ahead)
Last night, I went for the Christmas Eve midnight service at St Paul's Anglican Church with the Rodes (Nigel, Alissa and Mr and Mrs Rode) and Darryl; then this morning for the Christmas celebration service at Glad Tidings with my family.
(Never two more contrasting experiences, though I have yet to explore the Orthodox church in Brickfields and the famous Acts Church.)
Some highlights from St Paul's:
We ushered in Christmas with a celebration of the Eucharist. Just imagine: Holy Communion at 12 a.m. on Christmas morning! It really brings a whole new perspective to the multi-faceted phenomenon we call the Incarnation.
After the Eucharist, our candles were lighted, and the lights turned off. At one point, one of the altar servers' candle went out, so he came to me to relight it. As he turned his wick towards my flame, some of the wax from his candle spilled onto my hand.
That happened quite a bit at the d'NA graduation, as my candle melted. It's hot, but doesn't really hurt. Yet I found it instructive to note that upholding one another in a fellowship of love, involves not only sharing our light, but also bearing the 'wax' of others.
We sang 'O Holy Night' before the benediction; it remains one of my favourite Christmas carols:
O holy night, the stars are brightly shining;
It is the night of the dear Saviour's birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
Till He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary soul rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.
Fall on your knees,
O hear the angel voices!
O night divine, O night when Christ was born!
O night divine, O holy night,
O night divine.
Some highlights from Glad Tidings:
The Children's Church put up a sketch, which brought to light some deep and important questions. It was creatively executed, especially with the background animation which suggested the passage of time using music and sounds from different eras within the 20th century, highlighting the timelessness of the Gospel.
One of the characters remarked, "Everything seems more interesting than the Word of God today." Perhaps it is indeed apt that the theme for the KL/PJ School Christian Fellowship Convention next year is 'The Berean Call':
"[The Berean Jews] were more receptive than those in Thessalonica, for they welcomed the message very eagerly and examined the scriptures every day to see whether these things were so." (Acts 17:11)
I believe the theme of the performance was, "Jesus is more than just a story on a page." How true it is! Jesus is a story, but a living one who is made incarnate in every other story, for he is the Great Story in which we find ourselves: the narratives of our life--indeed, of all creation--are merely parts of the overarching narrative that is He.
Pastor Vincent drew our attention to Luke 2:25-35 in his sermon, which centred around the question, "Who is Jesus; what child is this?" The last two verses caught my attention:
"...This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed--and a sword will pierce your own soul too." (emphasis mine)
He then cross-referenced Matthew 16:13-20; I was reading The Message and Peterson's paraphrase of verse 18 stood out:
"And now I'm going to tell you who you are, really are. You are Peter, a rock. This is the rock on which I will put together my church, a church so expansive with energy that not even the gates of hell will be able to keep it out."
I may be very much mistaken, but I believe 'energy' in the kingdom vocabulary, also reflects 'Spirit.' More on this later.
We know we have seen the living God, not necessarily because we see him in all his glory, but because by him we see ourselves for who we really are. C.S. Lewis concluded his lecture 'Is Theology Poetry?' as follows:
"I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else."
And even if one does not see the sun, one can tell it has risen because it brings light to everything. Likewise with the Son. He is the mirror in whom we see ourselves for who we really are; in his eyes are we judged. No wonder Simon exclaimed, "Depart from me, Master, for I am a sinner."
At this point, I cannot say I comprehend the Incarnation. But I am beginning to see newer dimensions to it, of which I was previously ignorant. Michael's lectures on the book of John offer much insight into this great mystery as well.
Just read John 1 and 3 (NOT the 1st and 3rd epistles of John, but chapters 1 and 3 of John's Gospel); they're really mind-blowing chapters.
Now, about the Spirit, which I mentioned briefly just now. Michael pointed out the for God to become human, there must have been an enormous release of energy (forget enthalpy; no measuring device could possibly measure the magnitude of the Incarnation).
This also suggests that the Incarnation still happens today, for the Spirit of God works in and through believers and non-believers alike; by his power are all things held together. We are all, as someone once pointed out, 'after-Christs' who reflect the glory of God in this world.
(It is too much for the human mind to imagine, let alone understand. There comes a point where theorising must end, and reverence begin. And that is here and now).
I received, from my uncle and his daughter, Michelle, Mark Haddon's book 'The Curious Incident of the Dog at Night-time' and from Ronny, Leanne and Cassandra (three of my cousins on my father's side) a desk calendar themed 'Poetry Speaks.'
(Actually, I thought of buying the calendar ever since I saw it in Borders, Times Square. Good thing I didn't! It's going to adorn the Editor's Desk in school; watch out, Denise!)
I shall end this relatively long entry with an excerpt from T.S. Eliot's poem 'Journey of the Magi':
All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.
Sunday, December 25, 2005
These are some pictures from the d'NA graduation on 18 December. The graduates are in the top photo, and the d'NA group photo below. All around are the graduates' families. Jimi couldn't make it for the ceremony, but he graduated all the same!
All in all, I consider myself a rather stoic person. It is usually difficult to make me cry, and I cannot remember ever crying when reading blogs. But some things Janice and Sam wrote recently, brought me very much to the brink of tears.
Janice (on d'NA):
Honestly, before this camp, I was pretty upset and really didn't wanna go. I was thinking, "Why am I going for this camp?? It's gonna be a waste of time!" And I really thought that I wouldn't be able to last for 11 days.
And I was TOTALLY wrong. What I expected turned out to be totally different and i really enjoyed myself as well as learnt so many things and really pray that whatever I learnt will not go to waste but I'll use it for God and not myself.
When I remember d'NA Stage 1 in 2003, I realise that all our expectations and preconceptions were shattered. And how wonderful it was to know the meaning of the phrase, "You ain't seen nothin' yet!"
God's still pulling surprises, leading us all deeper in his abundant, infinite grace and love.
Sam (addressing the CIMP graduates, Sunway College):
My fellow graduates, the experiences that we have gained here, will be a guide to us in our future undertakings...
This journey could not have been possible without the support and encouragement from our parents, lecturers, friends and families. On behalf of the graduating class, I would like to say A BIG thank you to all of you. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank my peers and friends in CIMP for making this journey a memorable one.
One interesting part of the journey through CIMP was the door that exposed us to community activities. This semester, the focus was on the Selangor Cheshire Home which is a home for the handicapped and disabled. Together students and lecturers worked hard to organize and run a week long food sale to collect funds for the home. On the 23rd of August the residents of the Selangor Cheshire Home visited the Sunway University College where a forum entitled “overcoming challenges” was held. The 10 hours of community service required to graduate this programme is a very good course component, because through these activities, we were able to develop our people skills and become more aware of what is actually happening in our community outside our comfort zone.
After today, all of us will be heading our own ways to continue on with this journey of life. We all will be graduating with a diploma today. This diploma is just a stepping stone to the future career decisions we will have to make. Learning is a life long process which will never end. We must always strive for more knowledge and never be content with what we have.
Today, we stand, as if before a row of thousands of doors, each door different from another, each potent with opportunities for every one of us. We must try all these doors, opening them to look at what lies within. We should pass through these doors with an open mind. Sometimes some doors may be shut, but we cannot be discouraged. Instead, we must look forward to the opening of other doors.
We must always seize our future and tirelessly strive towards excellence. "It is clear the future holds great opportunities. It also holds pitfalls. The trick will be to avoid the pitfalls, seize the opportunities, and get back home by six o'clock."
It dawned upon me that if Sam were at d'NA, he might have said those very words.
But as I read the last portion, the difference between graduating from college and 'graduating' from this community, is that in the latter, the trick is not to 'avoid the pitfalls, seize the opportunities and get back home by six o'clock.'
Rather, our journey is something that time cannot contain, and there will be many pitfalls, into which some or even all of us will fall. Our assurance is only this: that we have one another to count on, and a God whose mercies go deeper than the deepest pits of life.
Graduation is not the end of the road; it is the end of this phase, just as the harbour is the end of the land. But the endless seas that lie before us are in want of exploration; the sails could use some wind, and it seems the sailors are dying for a lame joke or two.
On Friday night, I watched The Last Samurai on Astro. This is one of those unforgettable silver screen movies, and I remember when I first watched it with my Standard 6 classmates, early 2003.
Everything about it bears a certain majesty and awe, from the stunning cinematography and dazzling battle sequences, to the thought-provoking philosophy and soaring score by Hans Zimmer.
This time around, two things Tom Cruise said in the movie resonated with much of what I have learned this year. (It's not quite verbatim, but the gist of the thoughts is there):
"The word samurai means servant."
"From the time when they [the people in the samurai village] get up, until the day is done, they commit themselves to the perfection of whatever they pursue."
Servanthood, and perfection. Themes that arose throughout this year, were consolidated at NSCF, and continue to challenge me even as 2006 dawns.
These are messages of the Kingdom:
"The greatest among you will be your servant." (Matt 23:11)
"Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly father is perfect." (Matt 5:48)
It was John Wesley who said, "What is Christian perfection? Loving God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength."
In other words, loving God with our nous.
Perhaps this is where the 'conspiracy' comes in. Observe the link between the following words:
(Hint: keep an eye on the TMsquared blog. The third adventure is coming soon!)
Friday, December 23, 2005
Three years of d'Nous Academy. The entire family is in the above montage; Jon was absent in the Stage 1 picture (dengue), but made appearances in Stages 2 and 3.
Shern Ren was whisked off midcamp at Stage 2 to deal with the Petronas Scholarship, but is clearly visible smack in the middle of the Stage 3 picture (look out for the Zheng cameo here as well!).
There is much to write, but I have neither time nor space here. In fact, many thoughts are likely to go unwritten, let alone on this blog. Rather than being something I feel compelled to comment on, d'NA influences everything else I write.
Suffice it to say, the d'NA community will live on. And perhaps as far as my life is concerned, that is enough. Thanks, everyone; we move in phase!
Just now, I was reading through C.S. Lewis' The Horse and His Boy. I liked the very last paragraph:
Aravis also had many quarrels (and, I'm afraid, even fights) with Cor, but they always made it up again: so that years later, when they were grown up, they were so used to quarrelling and making it up again that they got married so as to go on doing it more conveniently...
A friend of mine believes we are likely to quarrel more and more in days to come. Now if we keep making it up again each time, I wonder if our future might not lie along the same path...
I was born on the 31st of July, right in between Julius and Augustus Caesar, two of the greatest rulers Rome would ever know. My Zodiac sign is Leo, reminiscent of the great lion Aslan. My Chinese name is wang, 王, which refers to 'king.' So many kingly symbols, yet I am not a king, heheh... still, it's a nice thought.
As I try to do my backlogged Maths homework, I finally realise why I dislike it so much: I'm a person of words, not numbers or symbols. And not just any kind of words, but on the side of literature and language. Hence I find even Hebrew and Greek less puzzling than Mathematics, but history and economics on the same level of obscurity as, say, Physics.
Mart de Haan, president of Radio Bible Class (RBC) Ministries, publisher of the well-known Our Daily Bread devotional guide, wrote the following in his Decemer 'Been Thinking About' column, which I received via e-mail:
Christ may come today. Or He may come tomorrow or 100 years from now. But that’s His decision, not ours. Our part is to make sure that if He does come today, He will find us doing His business rather than our own.
Doing His work means looking for His return, but not waiting. It means living with an expanded anticipation of possibilities.
Maybe today we will find the grace of Christ to be better than the relief we are seeking. The apostle Paul repeatedly asked the Lord to remove an unnamed “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7). But when the problem remained, Paul surrendered to God’s purpose in the pain. He discovered that he would rather experience God’s strength in his weakness than to have no problem and no sense of how desperately he needed the enabling grace of his Lord.
Maybe today we will have an opportunity to bring the rescue of Christ to someone in need. This is the high purpose of God. All who have discovered the love of Christ have been called to care for others as He has given Himself for us. Our call is to work together with Him as His hands and feet to the needy and lonely people in our lives. The challenge is not merely to wait, but to keep on praying, working, and watching, in the spirit and purpose of our Lord.
Maybe today we will see our Lord rescue us through physical death. Because we don’t know if Christ will return in our lifetime, we need to be realistic about our own mortality. While the will to live is a gift of our Creator, we must also come to terms with a willingness to die in Christ, if that is the will of our God. Only by being ready to meet Him in life or in death can we find the courage to live without an obsession with self-protection and fear.
Maybe today Christ will come. This is the hope that re-emerges when we have our eyes refocused on the ultimate rescue of Christ.
The parts I highlighted above resonate very much with me. I believe this is what incarnational faith, which is a reflection of the great Incarnation some two thousand Christmases ago, is all about:
To know that grace is present in the midst of trial and pain, to be 'wounded healers' (to use a Nouwen phrase) ministering to others in their need, to be mortals aware of just how fleeting our lives are, and to be concerned with the business of the Kingdom rather than the businesses of the earth.
I really admire Isaiah the prophet for saying in Isaiah 6:8, "Here am I; send me!" But more often than not (and a lot more so lately), I find my sentiments echoed by Moses more than most other prophets; "Here am I; send somebody else."
In the Renovare Spiritual Formation Bible (NRSV), Gregory of Nyssa is quoted in the profile on Moses. He wrote in The Life of Moses;
This is true perfection: not to avoid a wicked life because like slaves we servilely fear punishment, nor to do good because we hope for rewards, as if cashing in on the virtuous life by some business-like arrangement. On the contrary, disregarding all those things for which we hope and which have been reserved by promise, we regard falling from God's friendship as the only thing dreadful and we consider becoming God's friend the only thing worthy of honour and desire. This, as I have said, is the perfection of life.
There is yet another prophet in the Bible with whom I identify, more so than Moses (for Moses was a leader, yet I hardly consider myself one; David [Tan], yes, but not me). His name is Jonah. Here I need to reflect a little bit more, but I will certainly write about it in due time.
Thursday, December 22, 2005
The full article on Datuk Dr T.P. Devaraj is here.
"Sometimes all you have to do as a doctor or a nurse is just to sit and listen to your patients and see how best you could help them cope with their illness..."
[Dr Devaraj] has been involved in community work since he graduated from the University of Singapore in 1952.
After completing his housemanship in Singapore, he returned to Malaya in 1954 and served at the Penang Hospital until his retirement in 1979.
He was among the founder members of the Malaysian Medical Association (MAA), was its president in 1983 and had served many years in MAA’s ethical committee.
At camp, Michael said several times, "We are all nerds, right?" After awhile, it occurred to me that this 'label' was not at all derogatory at d'NA, though it might be a painful stigma for some in school/society.
And this afternoon, a possible reason dawned upon me: God indeed uses the foolish things of this world to shame the wise. So who knows what he might do with a bunch of ambitious nerdy teenage monkeys?
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
A Man and a Woman (U2)
Little sister don’t you worry about a thing today
Take the heat from the sun
I know that everything is not ok
But you’re like honey on my tongue
True love never can be rent
But only true love can keep beauty innocent
I could never take a chance
Of losing love to find romance
In the mysterious distance
Between a man and a woman
No I could never take a chance
‘Cos I could never understand
The mysterious distance
Between a man and a woman
You can run from love
And if it’s really love it will find you
Catch you by the heel
But you can’t be numb for love
The only pain is to feel nothing at all
How can I hurt when I’m holding you?
I could never take a chance
Of losing love to find romance
In the mysterious distance
Between a man and a woman
And you’re the one, there’s no-one else
You make me want to lose myself
In the mysterious distance
Between a man and a woman
Brown eyed girl across the street
On rue Saint Divine
I thought this is the one for me
But she was already mine
You were already mine…
I’ve been sleeping in the street again
Like a stray dog
I’ve been trying to feel complete again
But you’re gone and so is God
The soul needs beauty for a soul mate
When the soul wants… the soul waits …
No I could never take a chance
On losing love to find romance
In the mysterious distance
Between a man and a woman
For love and sex and faith and fear
And all the things that keep us here
In the mysterious distance
Between a man and a woman
How can I hurt when I’m holding you?
On 24 November, a little stray mongrel puppy set foot upon my grandparents' garden next door. George was all excited at first, but they warmed up to each other very quickly and became friends.
We decided to keep the puppy until its rightful owner came to collect it.
After a few days, it became apparent that the owner either did not exist, or wasn't bothered about the missing charge. So we decided to keep the puppy and named him Roger.
He had really sharp teeth, though not quite the jaw strength to work them. I still remember when we were playing one day; I very quickly moved my hand across his mouth, and my thumb slid across his teeth, leaving a minor skin-deep cut there.
Roger loved playing with George, and I daresay our Dachshund was equally fond of the pup. Roger would frequently gnaw on George's coat, with special preference for the neck.
In the mornings, Roger would be sitting expectantly outside the house door, so that he was the first sight to greet whomever opened the door that morning. Above all, he loved to eat.
The day before I left for d'NA, we took him for his vaccination, choosing the 7-in-1 course instead of the 6-in-1; it cost more, but offered better protection. We also picked up a food bowl, water bowl and dog shampoo for him.
Then, on 15 December, eight days into camp, I received an SMS from Kevin, saying that Roger was sick and in hospital (the vet's clinic happens to be called a hospital, by the way). "Please pray for him," it ended.
The next day, Roger died. It had something to do with a case of tick fever and a relatively soft object that wound up in his intestine. It wasn't hard enough to prevent x-ray penetration, and apparently took on a roundish shape.
They offered to do a post-mortem, but it would've been expensive and wasn't really worth it. (For the record, George once swallowed a pebble from the garden, and was operated upon successfully. That was some years back; I think in late 2003).
He was so small, that he could easily slip out of the house through the spaces between the gate's vertical metal bars. So, we fixed a netting across the lower portion of the gate using twistine wire.
Yesterday morning, I set about undoing the twistine to remove the netting. George had taken his bath earlier (while I was asleep), and was drying near the gate. I told him, "We don't need the twistine anymore; Roger's gone home."
Immediately after saying that, I realised it was true. When Roger first came, I told myself that we would look after him as if he were our own (that would only be standard hospitality for any stranger or guest under our roof), and until his owner came to claim him.
That person, it is now clear, did come. He said, "I am the master of this dog. From my hand he came, and to my hand he will now return."
I look forward to meeting Roger again.
Thursday, December 08, 2005
For now, I just want to make two brief comments regarding two significant journeys in my life thus far.
TMsquared, Soo Tian and my joint blog, is not dead. It is our adventure together, and so long as both halves are alive and in contact with one another, TMsquared is alive. I shall return to it after d'NA.
The link is on the sidebar; do feel free to hop along on our journey, or maybe eavesdrop from time to time. The beginning (sometime June 2004) would be a good place to start.
On the second journey, this song was played in MPH Mid Valley just now; I have not heard it in a long time. Here's to you, my friend, whatever the future might hold for us.
Perhaps love is like a resting place
A shelter from the storm
It exists to give you comfort
It is there to keep you warm
And in those times of trouble
When you are most alone
The memory of love will bring you home
Perhaps love is like a window
Perhaps an open door
It invites you to come closer
It wants to show you more
And even if you lose yourself
And don't know what to do
The memory of love will see you through
O love to some is like a cloud
To some as strong as steel
For some a way of living
For some a way to feel
And some say love is holding on
And some say letting go
And some say love is everything
Some say they don't know
Perhaps love is like the ocean
Full of conflict full of change
Like a fire when it's cold outside
A thunder when it rains
If I should live forever
And all my dreams come true
My memories of love will be of you
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
The book is divided into three parts: solitude, silence and prayer.
Went through solitude on the way up north, silence while at Soo Tian's place, and prayer on the way down.
Really deep. And if In the Name of Jesus is anything to go by, this Nouwen book will only get better over time.
So many starting points for reflection, and this is not the time for it. I have yet to read again, go slow, and let the words sink in this time.
Will write about it some time in the not-too-distant future.
Thursday, December 01, 2005
Tee Ming was baptised on Sunday, 27 November in her church, SS Gospel Centre. Alissa, Jon, Tee Keat and I were there to witness it.
I believe there are two things inherent in the act of baptism; a challenge and a promise.
The challenge is to surrender all that we are to follow Jesus wholeheartedly. No one has expressed it more bluntly than he, and I quote from Luke 9;
"If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it."
Even children are familiar with the song;
I have decided to follow Jesus
I have decided to follow Jesus
I have decided to follow Jesus
No turning back, no turning back
Prior to the baptism itself, a two-fold question is asked:
"Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, and that in believing in him as Saviour and Lord you shall have eternal life?"
Yet I am inclined to think that baptism goes beyond that. I think it is a public declaration of the decision to follow Christ, and this probably reflects much of what I have written in the past week.
As for the promise, we need only look at the baptism of Christ himself;
"At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him."
The Spirit descended. It should come as no surprise, for I am not convinced the Spirit does not at that moment indwell the believer who has decided at baptism to follow Christ, with no turning back.
This is our assurance. Later in his life, the apostle Peter wrote;
"Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you."
When we decide to surrender to God, he promises his Spirit to counsel and to comfort, to strengthen and to guide. The unforced rhythms of grace begin to work when we let go... and let God have his way.
On that night, Tee Ming recited a poem she had written not too long ago, and I think it is an excellent prayer;
Only You know what's in my heart
All the little things that are troubling me so much
It may not be an issue to somebody else
But You know exactly how I feel
I hate myself for being so emotional
Taking things as if it were the end of the world
Why can't I take it as others do
To live each day as it comes
You have always been here for me
Why can't I seem to trust you and lay everything down
For you are far above all my tears
You're the almighty, loving God
Love me, I pray,
Help me fall lost in your embrace
Let me sleep well, rest well and free myself
To die to self and live again in you
Words, so many words,
Do I have to say so much?
Don't you already know
What's in my heart?
Surrender, surrender, O my soul
To your Creator...
(The painting of the waves I did with my art teacher, Mr Apollo Hui, in June 2001. It seemed to suit the occasion, and rests now in Ming's house)
Wednesday, November 30, 2005
At this point, some are beginning to wonder; "Ben's NSCF reflections are getting longer and longer. When will they ever end?" So, I officially declare, this is the final entry!
On Saturday morning, Uncle Jason gave the most inspiring closing challenge I have ever heard for any event/camp. He talked about the Chinese characted 'tu' (above), which means 'disciple.' It is a compound word, comprising 'two persons' and 'walking,' and implies that discipleship is 'a Master and an apprentice walking together.'
He described our lives as Christ's apprentices, as a series of arrivals, journeys, celebrations and departures, and illustrated our journey thus;
Walk with God...
Walk away from God?
Walk back to God!
Walk again with God...
At one point in the middle of his challenge, he gave some examples of the problems that plague today's youth--the very context into which we apprentices of Christ will be plunged upon our return to the 'real world':
Disco and clubbing
Foul talk and thoughts
Lying and cheating
Cigarettes, liquor and drugs
Lust and pornography
If I remember correctly, he said that these would usually become more of an issue as a person grows older. Having seen eighteen years of life, I cannot disagree with him, and am myself guilty of many of them.
And this is where we must consider question with which he began; is it easier to die for Christ, or to live for Christ?
Indeed, it is harder the live for Christ, for it requires a daily dying to self, an hourly denial of desires, thoughts and actions that oppose the Spirit of Christ.
There's a J. Oswald Sanders quote in the Teachers' Christian Fellowship (TCF) of Malaysia's newsletter, In Step, Volume 15 Issue 4, which reads as follows;
"In most decisions the difficult part is not in knowing what we ought to do; it is in being willing to pay the price involved."
But Uncle Jason pointed out, very wisely, that there is no real sacrifice. To give something up in order to receive something greater is no sacrifice. The price we pay is nothing compared to the reward which awaits us.
I didn't understand this until I read similar thoughts in Willard's 'The Divine Conspiracy' some days later;
"There is no such thing as a dreadful price for the 'pearl' in question [Matt 13:45-46]... The point is simply that unless we clearly see the superiority of what we receive as his students over every other thing that might be valued, we cannot succeed in our discipleship to him."
Paul famously wrote to the Philippians (and do bear in mind that he wrote this while under Roman house imprisonment);
"...I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him..."
Wow! I consider my Cambridge Ph.D rubbish; my Olympic gold medals are worthless; the datuk-ship is nothing; all authority I wield amounts to nought.
Uncle Jason put it bluntly when he said, "The King James Version uses the word 'dung,' but Uncle Jason says, 'I consider them shit."
For what? Why do we consider them shit? Because we have found something worth so much more, against which all that we now possess can register no weight. The excerpt from Philippians closes with what is unmistakably the prayer of an apprentice;
"I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead."
And this is where the encouragement comes in.
In John 21, Jesus asks Peter three times, "Do you love me?" Willard points out that Jesus uses the word 'agapas' the first two times, then switches to 'philo' on the third. Peter answers all three with 'philo.'
So, far from being an exercise in redundancy, Jesus is showing Peter just how small Peter's love is, which cannot rise above 'philo' to the perfect 'agape' love.
But that did not deter Jesus, and he turned this flimsy apprentice into the rock upon which the church was built. Even from the beginning of his ministry, Jesus gave him the name 'Peter' which means 'rock.'
We may not be good enough to answer God's call, but that's no excuse. As Sanders writes in 'Spiritual Leadership';
"When God calls us, we cannot refuse from a sense of inadequacy. Nobody is worthy of such trust. When Moses tried that excuse, God became angry (Exodus 4:14). Let us not pass the buck of leadership because we think ourselves incapable."
We must follow, not because we are capable, but because God is. Indeed, as Sanders adds elsewhere in the book, quoting the Salvation Army preacher Samuel Brengle;
"The axe cannot boast of the trees it has cut down. It could do nothing but for the woodsman. He made it, he sharpened it, and he used it. The moment he throws it aside, it becomes only old iron. O that I may never lose sight of this."
In camp, Nigel said again and again to remind us, echoing the words of John the Baptist, "He must increase and I must decrease." In retrospect, he admits that it was really God who ran the camp.
Prior to camp, I actually told Nigel I wanted to put on a different image. Eventually, I remained myself at camp, because that was what I was meant to be. And the image I wanted to try was some radical, John-the-Baptist-type character.
But now I find that I could not be John the Baptist, simply because I wasn't ready. And that is the challenge that now lies before me; to yield to Christ, and let him increase in my life, displacing the power I have over myself.
In an amazing irony, as C.S. Lewis wrote, it is once we fully surrender to God, that we truly become ourselves and realise our full potential.
Some four years ago, I took a course in evangelism. Every week, we would gather as a class to discuss and evaluate our respective team's work during the week. The purposes of these meetings were for Instruction, Inspiration and Intercession.
At the end of the course, I would've gotten a perfect score in the exam, had I not forgotten the word 'intercession.' Never again would it slip my memory.
I never mentioned one of the most moving experiences I had at camp. After Uncle Earn Soo's last talk on Thursday night, I went forward for the altar call, and spent some time there kneeling.
Only when I got up did I realise that it was Simon who spent a long time kneeling beside me, and who prayed for me, after Runa and an unidentified intercessor did so much earlier on.
Intercession is what the Christian community in many ways exists for. It is the hallmark of what I believe d'NA stands for: being there for one another, representing each other before the throne of heaven.
At the end of the day, it was just a six-day camp. So what? Why bother writing so many reflections? Isn't this all just a sudden spiritual high?
If I may say so, with no hint of dishonesty or exaggeration, I don't think so. I do not believe the work God started in camp will amount to nothing. After all, the entire Christian movement has been based on a wooden crossbeam and three nails... not to mention a giant rock which ones sealed a cave.
There is no power in objects or humans alone, but it is God who gives meaning and significance and purpose.
When camp began, Nigel posed this question to us all, "Why are you here?"
I wrote something then. And at the reflection on Friday, I wrote something again, as we were supposed to evaluate our purpose as we saw it differently after the few days.
Now, if asked that question, I can only say, it was the will of God. By his grace I was led to the camp, for purposes which I am only beginning to discover. In short, I do not yet know.
But God does, and I pray I may find out by following him ever so closely, walking with him and watching him do what he does. Being his apprentice in the unforced rhythms of his boundless grace.
When I consider the KL/PJ School Christian Fellowship Convention committee meeting this morning, I realise that the kingdom of heaven isn't very popular amongst most people today. Somehow a lot of comments made were not in the spirit of constructivism, let alone the Spirit of God. And on the whole, it seems that God was present only in the opening and closing prayers. Methods and personal ideas seemed to dominate much of the discussions.
In a way, it disappoints me, for the ones present at the meeting are leaders of their respective school Christian Fellowships. If the leaders cannot see clearly, what of their followers? But I rejoice that hope is not lost, for if God could change me, of all the sinners in this world, he can surely do more with these enterprising young lives.
I don't know if Simon will ever read this (he finds my blog too tedious, heh), but the theme he suggested, 'The Berean Call,' probably reaches deeper than he realises. It is based on Acts 17:11, which goes;
"Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true."
This is missing from the Christian community at large. Many are eager and enthusiastic when it comes to organising programmes, events and the like. But how many are interested in Jesus anymore? Bible studies don't attract large crowds. We are becoming shallow people.
I believe the convention should be a follow-up of the NSCF camp, at least in spirit and tone if not in substance. And to do that, we must return to Scripture, the written word, and thence unto the Living Word. It is instructive to note that Simon based his theme on words of Scripture, while many others today would seek out Scripture merely to go with their themes, because "must have Bible verse mah..."
Later in the afternoon, I was having lunch in the same mamak restaurant in Section 14 where Alissa, Tee Ming and I had dinner exactly a week ago. After finishing my indo mee goreng, I turned to J. Oswald Sanders' 'Spiritual Leadership' (compulsory reading for d'NA this year; Annette's class!) when I looked up and beheld a familiar face: Darren!
Darren Cheong was the VI Christian Union's vice-president last year, and the best any president could ever dream of having. He has recently finished his Monash University Foundation Year (MUFY) at Sunway College, and intends to do some lay courses at the Bible College of Malaysia (BCM) next year, before heading to the UK in August if his results are good.
It was a blessing to meet up and chat with him, if only for some twenty minutes. One thing dawned upon us as we talked: a new generation is rising, in and out of the Christian community. This was somewhat evident during NSCF, as Nigel pointed out, and Darren and I could see that the same is happening in our school. The present third formers are in midst of this transition, and the first formers are the new shoots.
The difference between this generation cycle and the one that came before it lies simply in the way they will see and do things; indeed, they will redefine much of what the present cycle leaves behind. Just now, as I pondered this while in the bathroom (a wonderful place for thought), it occurred to me that the present cycle must at all costs avoid the greatest mistake it can make: attempt to produce clones.
And that is why the way in which we approach the coming convention is so important. We must not seek to pass on what we are to the rising generation, but who we are: it is our lives and the heart of God's Spirit that we must share with those who will come after us.
While discussing the sketch for the convention, several remarks were made about the "blur Form 1s and Form 2s." Hello, these people are the future! No one should ever look down on the young ones, ever. Five years ago, I stepped into the VI a spiritually unstable/immature person, not rooted in church. The leaders of the Christian Union did not look down on me, but encouraged me so much that I must say they were giants of patience, for I was frequently irritating and over-talkative.
In that way, the CU became my church, and whatever I have become, I owe it all to these people. And Nigel, I would have never shared 'Magnificent Obsession' and 'God Follower' with you if Mikael Lai, then a fifth former, did not share his passion for Steven Curtis Chapman with this musically ignorant first former.
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
What if I were to suggest that the one thing missing from many Christian communities and churches, is the Christ himself?
Well, Dallas Willard has beaten me to it. In 'The Divine Conspiracy,' one of the most striking sub-chapters is entitled "The Case of the Missing Teacher."
This theme runs throughout much of the book, as Willard exposes the areas in Christianity where Christ has been relegated to nothing more than a symbol.
He writes in the Introduction;
"Very few people today find Jesus interesting as a person or of vital relevance to the course of their actual lives. He is not generally regarded as a real-life personality who deals with real-life issues but is thought to be concerned with some feathery realm other than the one we must deal with, and must deal with now. And frankly, he is not taken to be a person of much ability."
Later in the book, under the aforementioned heading "The Case of the Missing Teacher," Willard points out that we are more inclined to refer to the 'latest studies' to learn about everything under the sun, rather than Christ himself.
To further illustrate just how irrelevant Christ has become, he wonders why there are no church courses on how to "love your enemies, bless those that curse you, do good to those that hate you, and pray for those who spit on you and make your life miserable."
Indeed, the entire ministry of Jesus seems to have been condensed into the following statement and its many variations:
"God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to die for our sins, offering forgiveness so that we can go to heaven after we die."
And we will certainly have to admit that evangelism at present is centred around that. Never mind that reconciliation in the Jewish sense has more to do with a full-life rather than an after-life, and never mind that Jesus was the greatest revolutionary the world has ever known.
How can we be the living body of Christ if Christ himself is not incarnate among us? How can we claim to represent a Christ who isn't even real to us anymore? And how can we expect to pass on the legacy of apprenticeship, if the Master from whom it comes no longer seems to exist?
Matthew 10:7-8 says, "...Freely you have received, freely give." The legacy is that of passing on the torch of apprenticeship unto the Master to others, and especially to the generations that come after us.
In Lewis Wallace's 'Ben Hur,' Balthasar the Egyptian (one of the Magi in his story) says to the other two Wise Men;
"The Spirit brought me first; wherefore I know myself chosen to be the servant of my brethren."
What a contrast this is to the world's 'first come, first served' motto! The duty of seniority is service to the younger ones, to the ones who come after. Jesus himself demonstrated this by washing his disciples' feet.
And this is precisely what the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20 is all about; it is not a call to go out and make converts, but one to seek out and train others to be apprentices, even as we apprentice ourselves to Christ. Willard calls this 'discipleship evangelism.'
In the six amazing days of NSCF, this challenge was, to me, the greatest of all. I am a living legacy of the great leaders of the Christian Union who came before me. I have mentioned their names before, but this seems a good occasion to remember once again;
Alvin Kang Nathan
Loo Huai Zhi
Chan Weng Ken
God forgive me if I have forgotten any.
In a particularly instructive experience at camp, I remember the treasure hunt we had on Thursday. At one point, group John's flame was snuffed out. So, Simon (of Philip) and I (of Peter) went over to U Shen, to relight her candle.
Shortly after that, they found their last clue, and so won the treasure hunt, although it was later discovered that they had actually missed an earlier clue, and so hadn't actually won.
But never mind that. The point it that their group made it to the finish because others 'passed the light.' Incidentally, groups Peter and Philip finished second and third respectively, in what must've been an irony to lose a place to the group we helped.
Yet, we cannot complain, because at some points in the game, our candles also went out, and it was because of other groups that we could continue. At the end of the race called life, we will not be able to say we made it on our own, for we owe our lives to many who have shared their flame with us.
And this is the legacy: to pass on freely the flame which has been bestowed freely upon us.
During our extended reflection on Friday, we were to rewrite Psalm 139 in our own words. I reproduce mine here (with some updating of punctuation and tense):
Searching, finding, yet never quite knowing
The thoughts of the Man-maker,
We are as a looking glass, a clear holder
Through which the light of the ages shines through,
Knowing thoughts and words
Before the glimpse of them rises o'er the horizon.
And none can flee the heavenly hound
In great pursuit of Adam's fallen race;
We are nought and nought in us is found,
But he is nought if not full of grace.
Hide! Try it! This path where you walk
Is already darkened by the Shadow of Shaddai.
The grave cries out, for even it
Cannot bear the death that lingers.
Flailing, fledgling, failing, falling--
Fall into the full earth's core
Where you become nothing more than dust,
Where dying you shall be dead,
And dead be raised to life eternal;
As when a seed is given burial before it grows,
So are we when at this journey's end
We make the turn into the final bend,
And fall into his arms whom God has sent.
And, resurrected time and time again
As was spoken, "Kamikaze, my death is gain."
Raised to thy life, may I ne'er look back,
But remembering my chains run evermore
With passion like never before,
Carrying your name as with a torch;
And walk the road you've marked for me--
The road to where thou call'st the free
To live without anxiety
To live in life eternally:
Path of the Everlasting One
Who knows the path of the setting sun
The Creator of all, the Risen Son.
(Thanks for bearing with the poem's length).
When I shared it with my group, Runa commented that I am a philosopher. But these are not my words; if there is any vestige of that in my writing, it is because of my 'masters'--people like C.S. Lewis and T.S. Eliot.
I am one of their many living legacies, and indeed one of the least. Like U2, who claim to be a 'punk rock band trying to play Bach,' I am a rookie philosopher/poet trying to hold discourse with these giants of faith, intellect, and heart.
There is yet hope for apprentices of Jesus everywhere, as Willard writes:
"For to be a disciple in any area or relationship is not to be perfect. One can be a very raw and incompetent beginner and still be a disciple."
Again, I find U2 a remarkable example of this. Their early albums, such as 'Boy,' 'October' and 'War' exhibit a lot of raw energy. But their most recent albums, 'All That You Can't Leave Behind' and 'How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb' display the depth of heart that has, after all these years, come to characterise this incredible band.
Their journey has been for some twenty-five years, and it is far from over. Beginning with humble roots (Bono could not play guitar, drummer Larry could not play drums, and bassist Adam could not play bass guitar), they dared to experiment (as with 'Achtung Baby,' 'Zooropa' and 'Pop' in the nineties) and grew so much along the way.
No apprentice--no one, for that matter--is perfect. But the only way to achieve perfection (clearly the goal of the Christian, as expressed in Philippians 1:6 and Matthew 5:48), is to keep learning and growing each day.
We learn from our experience, from our teachers and mentors, and above all, from our Master Jesus Christ. The challenge that comes, as we progress in the kingdom, is to train younger ones whom others would normally underestimate and/or overlook.
Paul writes to Timothy in 1 Tim 4:12;
"Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity."
At camp, Simon and I came to experience this firsthand with the youngest members of our groups, Joshua and Aaron respectively. In my opinion, the photo above, with the four of us in it and Christ's symbol in the centre, probably best sums up the camp.
This is apprenticeship: that even as we ourselves are flawed apprentices, we seek to build others up, as we apprentice ourselves together to the Master of all.
And often, if not always, we will find that in training others, we ourselves are built up too.
At the end of the day, there was nothing new I learnt at camp. All of these were lessons I had heard before. But they were suddenly thrown into a new light, into a context I had never quite known. And the connection between all of them became clearer.
I would not venture as far as to say I have discovered my calling in life, but one thing I do know: God has called me to ministry, wherever I am planted, whatever my vocation may be.
I have been called to train others in the manner in which I myself have been trained; to share the light that has been passed to me; to build others up and encourage them; to live a life worthy of Christ, bearing the fruit of his Spirit; to learn to sacrifice and surrender to the Master.
Indeed, I can echo the words of Dallas Willard at the end of his Introduction;
"In these three books ['In Search of Guidance,' 'Spirit of the Disciplines' and 'The Divine Conspiracy'] there is very little that is new, though much that is forgotten. Indeed, if I thought it were new, I would certainly not advocate it or publish it."
NSCF was a timely reminder of our place in God's kingdom, and our role in it. The theme reached far deeper than I ever thought it would, and so I have chosen to frame the picture above with the words "Apprentice of Christ" in Greek; the first is a variation of 'matheteutheis' (disciple) and the second, 'Christos' (Christ).
Cycles of apprentices will come and go; so let us fulfil all that we have been called to while we still have breath. May we seek first his kingdom, and trust him to provide all that we need even as we press on in this journey to be like him, and to help others do likewise.
Dallas Willard's chapter, "On being a disciple, or student, of Jesus" in his book 'The Divine Conspiracy' is simply amazing. In this entry I shall quote extensively from it.
Matthew 13:44-46 (parables of the field and the pearl) characterises the inherent 'condition of soul' (in Willard's words) in one who chooses to be Christ's apprentice, and I think this is a good starting point for any discussion on the subject.
"[There is a] sense of the goodness to be achieved by that choice, of the opportunity that may be missed, the love for the value discovered, the excitement and joy over it all..."
Many are familiar with the acronym 'WWJD'--What Would Jesus Do? But I am convinced that the question should be 'HWJD' instead--How Would Jesus Do? If we are Christ's apprentices, then Willard's words again ring true:
"I am not necessarily learning to do everything [Jesus] did, but I am learning how to do everything I do in the manner that he did all that he did... [Whatever our vocation], it is work that should be done, and it should be done as Jesus himself would do it."
This implies also another acronym, 'WIJD'--What Is Jesus Doing? (I first came across this in a quote on the back cover of Brian McLaren's 'A New Kind of Christian').
Indeed he is at work, fulfilling the divine conspiracy of subverting evil with good, and darkness with light. As apprentices, we must join him in this.
What, then, are the practical implications of such a lofty call?
Brother Lawrence, the famous monastery cook who wrote 'The Practice of the Presence of God,' put it thus:
"Our sanctification does not depend upon changing our works, but in doing that for God's sake which we commonly do for our own... We are as strictly obliged to adhere to God by action in time of action as by prayer in the season of prayer."
Hence I find that my calling is to my immediate working environment: my classroom and my editorial board. These are my ministries, and I am called to be a student and an editor unto God, not doing what he did (for Jesus was a carpenter), but doing what I do in his way.
Also, we each experience God differently. Matthew 13:52 says;
"When, therefore, a scribe becomes a disciple to the kingdom of the heavens, he is like a householder who can produce from his store things old and new."
We are certainly not all scribes, but we must teach and build one another up from the storehouse of our experiences with God in the day to day events of real life. His presence made manifest in the seemingly mundane drudgery of each day is truly the kingdom of God working in secret--working a conspiracy.
It is also a call to live joyfully. Willard, again, puts it succinctly;
"It is his joy... a robust joy, with no small element of outright hilarity in it. For nothing less than joy can sustain us in the kingdom rightness that possesses us, which truly is a weighty and powerful thing to bear. It was not for nothing that Mother Teresa of Calcutta required her sisters of charity to be people who smile."
Nowhere have I experienced this more clearly than within the great community called the d'Nous Academy. It was a camp that was supposed to be the most 'serious' of all the SU/FES camps, but indeed turned out to be a storehouse of hilarity and laughter.
But in an incredible irony, it is true that only laughter of the most robust sort can bear the great burden of the kingdom of God. As C.S. Lewis once said, there are some weights so heavy, only weakness can bear them.
This reminds me of what Ernest Hemingway wrote in 'A Farewell to Arms,' quoted in Jars of Clay's album 'Who We are Instead';
"The world breaks every one, and afterward many are strong at the broken places."
Only God can hide treasures in jars of clay, only he can imbue the ordinary with his glory. And, as many a Christian writer has come to understand, it is precisely this divine irony--expressed most clearly in the Sermon on the Mount--that confounds the forces of evil.
However, there is a cost. Above all, it is to make a clear decision to follow Christ, as Willard writes, quoting William Law's 'A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life';
"And if you will here stop and ask yourself why you are not as pious as the primitive Christians were, your own heart will tell you that it is neither through ignorance nor inability, but purely because you never thoroughly intended it."
That is why Jesus can only go as far as to say, "Count the cost, and follow me." The final choice rests in our hands.
Steven Curtis Chapman's song 'God Follower' (here quoted in part) expresses the heart of one who desires to be an apprentice to Christ;
...A blinding flash of light falls down into the darkness
Slowly I notice strange new markings on the trail
The crimson drops are calling out to me come and follow
"I am the God who made you, let Me show you how to live"
And I cry...
I want to be a God follower
I want to go wherever He leads
I want to be a God follower
I want to walk the trail He's marked for me
And be a God follower
(More than anything)
And now I journey on with purpose and with passion
Just like a dead man who's been given breath again
And though this path can still grow dark with tears and sorrow
I know He will never leave me...
At the end of it all, we would be wise to consider also the 'cost of nondiscipleship.' Cheap grace, or 'costly faithlessness' as Willard puts it, is the prevailing Christian notion that one does not have to be an apprentice of Jesus to enter heaven.
Willard poses a great question, which I paraphrase: "Can you stand heaven?" It is taught that once we 'accept Christ,' our names are written in his Book of Life. It may well be so, but it says nothing of what our experience in heaven will be like.
In a scathingly honest and real statement, Willard ponders;
"I often wonder how happy and useful some of the fearful, bitter, lust-ridden, hate-filled Christians I have seen involved in church or family or neighbourhood or political battles would be if they were forced to live forever in the unrestrained fullness of the reality of God... and with multitudes of beings really like him."
If we do not strive towards God's standards of righteousness and goodness here in our limited time on earth, how can we expect to live forever in a world permeated by that same righteousness, then fully realised?
And so, let us 'berhenti' (see picture above) and consider carefully the call of apprenticeship. It is simple enough, and yet it is heavy. Christ's teachings are our guide to righteousness, and they can be easily located in the Bible.
The question that remains, however, is whether we will devote our lives to cultivate such fruit. When we count the cost and find the divine conspiracy of subverting evil with goodness, more appealing than any earthly reward, we are able to make the decision to leave everything and follow Jesus.
Something I read in the Star paper yesterday offered a contrast between the kingdom of the earth and the kingdom of the heavens: an Australian convicted of possessing drugs in Singapore is about to be hanged.
The report went on to note that Singapore has one of the heaviest drug penalties in the world, and that Australia is threatening to give Singapore the cold shoulder in diplomatic relations.
I think all this just goes to show how low our level of righteousness is: we are executing people for offences like drugs, rape, murder, terrorism and even littering.
Now I condone none of the above, but if Jesus would have his way, indeed those who even say 'You fool!' would be thrown into hell, the eyes of those who look lustfully at a woman would be gouged out, many would lose the limbs that cause them to sin, and many an 'other cheek' would be hurting from sacrificial love.
It should be noted that while Singapore would execute anyone above the age of 18 found possessing 15 grams of heroine, men's magazines with scantily-clad women on their covers are on display in virtually every news-stand in the island republic.
And this is the challenge of apprenticeship to Jesus: non-cooperation with the forces of evil prevalent in this world. We must look beyond the surface 'evils' of this world, and into the heart of the matter--the hearts of people everywhere.
If we were judged by the Ten Commandments alone, more would be executed than in the entire history of the laws of all civilisations from the dawn of time until now.
Monday, November 28, 2005
At Epoch, I found a copy of Lat's comic book, 'Dr Who?' Flipping through it, I came upon this particular cartoon, which I found very amusing when I first saw it some weeks/months back.
This time around, it struck me rather profoundly, probably because I was already in a reflective frame of mind. So I took a picture of the page.
Just before we left, I saw this newspaper clipping on the side of the bookshelf, and I found the words apt to my reflection. The glass chess set, on the other hand, was on display on one of the levels in the shelf.
Someone once said, "All the world's a chess set, and the men and women chesspieces." OK, not quite... I can already hear Shakespeare fanatics preparing to stone me for heresy.
But the metaphor remains. We each have our own callings in life, and our own roles to play. Paul nailed it when he described the church as a body, with each of its members playing a specific part.
And so it is that a bishop is a bishop, and a knight, a knight. Castles don't move diagonally, and pawns can only walk a step at a time. Each of us is divinely appointed to where we are.
This is precisely what Jesus wants of us: to give him all that we have, all that we are. An excuse like, "I cannot go out there and preach," holds no water if preaching is not what one is called to do. God wants what we have, not what we don't.
So it is that Dr M. must jaga the Multimedia Super Corridor, and leave the office corridor to the janitor.
Let us search ourselves, and find the corridors in which we have been placed by divine grace, and let us learn to jaga our respective corridors.
As Jesus once said to his disciples, "If I want [John] to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me."
Last Wednesday, Keat Lim, Tee Ming and I visited the Epoch Youth Resource Centre in Sentul, along with his friend Soo Aun (who manages a music equipment store in Times Square) and fellow Shelter colleagues Anderson and Angela.
There, we were briefed on Epoch's ministry by one of its advisors, Mr Neil Rode (Alissa and Nigel's father... how many Rodes are there, anyway?) and Ryan, a YWAM-er (Youth With a Mission) who volunteers there. And, of course, we met Alissa, who returns to Singapore this week.
Generally, Shelter intends to start a youth centre somewhere in PJ, to be something of a safe hangout place for the youth, and an environment in which good values and character can be cultivated. So they decided to draw inspiration from Epoch.
One of the key differences is the population demography: the Sentul neighbourhood comprises mostly of the lower-income class, whereas much of PJ consists of the middle to upper-middle class.
As such, the availability of reference resources, music lessons, multimedia facilities and a cafe--all at minimal cost--is something of a treasure for the people among whom Epoch ministers. In PJ, the scenario will be quite a contrast.
What Ryan said made me think of connecting points; one of the things he does, is teach the children there guitar and drums. He said his job was made easier by the fact they listen to the same music as he.
In any case, a centre which is established to serve a particular community, must meet that community where it is, and so work to fill its voids. Otherwise, whatever it does is certainly not service, but more of a pointless pandering to some imaginary need.
Nevertheless, what made the strongest impression on me during the visit, was the nature of the centre. Cafes are always great places to lepak, and our famous mamak is a fantastic example.
This reminded me of other famous cafes in television series, such as Central Perk (Friends), Cheers (OK, this is a pub/bar) and Kopitiam.
For the purposes of fellowship, there is no setting more apt than a place where food and drink flow freely (metaphorically, of course... there's always the bill to contend with!).
Ultimately, all of these are 'ministries of wasting time,' to quote something Francis Dunn said at NSCF. Nothing quantitatively productive emerges from such trivial pursuits as having a meal or tea with a bunch of friends... but little seeds of hope and love are planted, and lives are changed forever.
Here's something that might interest d'NAers, or anyone acquainted with the Koh family: Soo Aun's full name is Kok Soo Aun. Tee Ming and I thought it sounded very much like a hybrid of Koh Earn Soo and Koh Chien Aun--with the Koh somehow morphing into a Kok... close enough, lah.
(By the way, just to dispel any doubt, Epoch is pronounced 'ee-pock,' not 'epic.' The Oxford English Dictionary has spoken).
Friday night, I met up with Kishan and Danial for Jit Murad's stand-up comedy show, 'Jit Happens.'
I hadn't seen Danial since July, during the inter-school choir competition, and I can hardly recall when I last met Kishan. Dinesh was still in the Kolej Tuanku Ja'afar campus, and so could not join us.
The photo below, L-R: Kishan, Danial, Jit and me.
After the show, the three of us adjourned to Chili's for dinner/supper. We shared a Fajita Nachos and Brownie with Ice-cream between the three of us.
Somehow, I seem to be living off the grace of others lately. that night, it happened that Danial's brother, Adam, was at Chili's with his friend Avinash's family; they had also attended the show. Avinash's father paid for our meal, and it came as one of the most pleasant surprises of the day.
Was at the Scripture Union office earlier in the day, working through camp photos with Aunty Siew Khim, and later meeting Keat Lim and Tee Ming to discuss our visit to the Epoch Youth Resource Centre in Sentul (more on that coming soon).
Spent the evening at Tee Ming's, talking about biology and her baptism, and playing/singing 'Reflection' from Mulan, amongst other things. We parted with a prayer said in the car, outside the Taman Paramount LRT station... and by grace I made it to the Actors' Studio right on time.
Saturday, November 26, 2005
(What follows has little direct bearing upon the overall manner in which the camp has challenged--and is challenging--me, but is more of a reflection on an ongoing journey in my life more than anything else.)
ON Wednesday night, Uncle Earn Soo read from John 15. I quote the following from John 15:5, The Message;
"I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you're joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant."
This brings to mind one of the most fun songs sung during camp--'Yesus Pokok.' (In fact, the only artificial 'trees' in the montage above are the officers doing the actions for the song.)
Yesus pokok dan kita cabang-Nya
Tinggallah di dalam-Nya
Yesus pokok dan kita cabang-Nya
Tinggallah di dalam-Nya
Yesus pokok dan kita cabang-Nya
Tinggallah di dalam-Nya
Pastilah kau akan berbuah
I suppose all of this meant a lot to me because they reminded me of the Fruit of the Spirit--the theme Darren, Leon, Chien Yih, Jon Kuek and I chose for the Christian Union in our year (2004).
What good is 'life on the vine' (also the title of a book by Philip D. Kenneson, which I used as a reference guide for that year) if we do not produce fruit? Galatians 5:22-23 puts it thus;
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control."
I fall far from this mark of spirituality, and along the way have learned never to underestimate God. Indeed, as Steven Curtis Chapman has sung, he 'gives purpose to chance': the fruit of the Spirit happened to be an interesting theme, so we chose it.
But at that time, I could never have guessed just how much God would do with it. Until now, the cultivation of this fruit in my life remains ny greatest challenge as far as apprenticeship to Jesus is concerned.
There are other instances in which agricultural symbols are used in the kingdom message, such as the mustard seed. In the picture above, you can see some of the largest trees in STM, before which Caleb and Aaron are standing, and beneath which Yi Jing and Shueh Yi are doing their quiet time.
And yet, all these giants began as inconsequential, insignificant seeds. Hence I was also reminded, in the course of camp, never to despise the day of small beginnings. God got some things moving in camp--little beginnings, one may say.
I want to be a part of whatever he is working out in the lives of these students. And then, there is the 'divine conspiracy, which is what Dallas Willard calls God's effort to subvert evil with good, via his apprentices, whomever and wherever they may be.
Truly, this leads us back to life on the vine and the fruit of the Spirit; how else can the apprentices of Christ subvert evil with good unless they themselves live lives that exhibit the fruit in abundance?
In so many ways, this is the failure of the general understanding of the famous verse, John 3:16;
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."
It has been taken to mean that those who believe in Christ will get into heaven after they die--and little more. However, this 'everlasting life,' especially as the first-century Jews would have understood it, seems to imply a full life, both here and now and in the hereafter.
In not perishing, those who have chosen to follow Christ will not be 'unfruitful,' and in having eternal life, they will bear the fruit of the Spirit in all seasons.
Something Willard wrote stirred me. He suggested that the fires of heaven may indeed be hotter than the fires of hell. Many will say they look forward to heaven, without giving any thought to what they make of their lives on earth.
But, as Willard writes, death simply confirms what we have become. And, in Brian McLaren's words, we are becoming on this side of heaven's door, the people we will be on the other.
What are we living for? What are we living towards? Are we living a merely mortal life, concerned with our own selfish pride? Or are we living God's 'divine life'? Are we indeed living 'the vine' life?
Those who will enjoy God's joy in eternity, are those who are learning to live in that same joy now.
No song gripped me at camp with such emotion as 'O Mighty Cross,' whose chorus brilliantly illustrates the connection between Christ's sacrifice, his teaching on the kingdom of heaven, and his purpose for those who choose to be his apprentices: a full life lived in goodness.
And just as a seed must be buried before it can become a tree, we must die to ourselves, denying our selfish ambition before God's will can have any effect on our lives.
His sacrifice on Calvary
Has made the mighty cross
A tree of life to me.
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
Originally uploaded by mincaye.
Name: Benjamin Ong
Camp: Pinggiran Pelangi, Muadzam Shah, Pahang
Name: Darryl Chong
Camp: KK di bawah Bayu, Tuaran, Sabah
Interesting camp names, no? The 'edge of the rainbow' and 'beneath the mist.' Almost surreal, and yet, the experience at National Service was anything but magical.
One lesson I learnt through much pain and trial this year was that of sacrifice. I will remember the bridge and chorus lyrics of Steven Curtis Chapman's 'For the Sake of the Call':
Not for the sake of a creed or a cause
Not for a dream or a promise
Simply because it is Jesus who calls
And if we believe we'll obey
And we'll answer...
We will abandon it all
For the sake of the call
No other reason at all
But the sake of the call
Wholly devoted to live and to die
For the sake of the call
When we are called to sacrifice unto God, it is often easier said than done, especially in the area of our gifts. God has given me a powerful mind, and that I do not--cannot--deny. But can I, like Paul, truly say I count it loss for the sake of the gospel?
This year, I also learnt an important word: no. Being an avid writer and a rather well-known personality in school, I was approached by various parties seeking my assistance/service in various projects.
Thing is, I actually liked the offers. I found them good opportunities to make full use of my talents and interests. But then to accept all would be to spread myself too thin--it would have been suicidal.
So I passed on many chances to do great things, and discovered a few callings along the way. I am called to study to the best of my abilities; I am called to lead my editorial board in righteousness and good ethic; I am called to serve the brethren of the Christian Union faithfully in my capacity as committee advisor.
Even Shueh-Yi had a similar experience: she quit the Seri Bintang Utara cheerleading squad--for several years the best in the country--because it simply took up too much of her time.
I suppose opportunity always knocks, but we have every right not to open the door, and focus instead on the few things to which we have been called, that we may do them well for God's glory.
In Lewis Wallace's masterpiece, 'Ben-Hur,' the character Gaspar (one of the Magi) says:
"When I think of the purpose I am sent to fulfil, there is in me a joy so inexpressible that I know the will is God's."
The things that give me the greatest joy, I know without a doubt to be the path of the will of God. But that is not to say that all will always be well, for there will be trials to test and strengthen faith.
At NSCF, we read the first few chapters of Daniel for our morning devotions. I found to be particularly stirring, the stand of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, when told to worship the king's statue:
"Our God is able to save us from the fire. But know, O king, that even if he doesn't, we will not bow down."
Maybe this is where the cost of sacrifice really shows. We often rest confident that God will provide, so our assurance is something along the lines of, "If God has called me to be a missionary, he will protect and provide."
But what if God does not? What if he doesn't save us from the fire? Will we still follow?
Out of many struggles with questions such as this, has my faith emerged over the last few months. It began with NS, where I learnt to die to self and live in the care of God. Cut off from Christian community, I had to come to terms with the darkest depths of my heart.
And then it continued into Lower Six. I am learning, little by little, to live as a Christ apprentice in the daily routine of what seems to many a path of drudgery--bringing life to an arid desert.
In all of this, I claim a promise of God's that Paul experienced firsthand:
"My grace is sufficient for you; my strength is made perfect in weakness."
The unforced rhythms of grace have been shaping me, breaking me, building me over the last few months, with an intensity I never before knew. And the journey is just beginning; there's more to come!
I would like to share from the chorus of the Clay Crosse song, 'I Surrender All' (which I might have quoted before in a previous entry, but never mind that--it still speaks), written by Regie Hamm and David Moffitt:
I surrender all
My silent hopes and dreams
Though the price to follow
Costs me everything
I surrender all
My human soul desires
If sacrifice requires
That all my kingdoms fall
I surrender all
Reflecting on this, it's so hard to sacrifice all my kingdoms, my silent hopes and dreams. It is to relinquish my self-made sense of purpose, to let my passions fall to the ground--and let God replace them with his.
But that is the Lord's call, for when we pray, "Thy kingdom come," we are not referring to some future rule of God's kingdom, nor are we speaking of some disconnected heavenly realm.
Nay, we are saying, as Willard would put it, "God, let my kingdoms fall, and build Thine in their place." So it is that Matthew adds, "Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven."
At the end of it, I don't think we were ever meant to build all those kingdoms. Maybe that's why so many people are haggard and drawn, chasing after dreams and that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
But to live carefree in the care of God, as Peterson puts it, means enjoying the rainbow and the mist while it lasts, giving thanks to the Giver of all things for the halcyon pleasure.
The physical effects are notable; I do feel more youthful lately, and it's great taking each step as it comes, leaving the unanswerables to the Creator, and being content with being his apprentice.
There is only one Master, and he is not me.
In coordinating the camp group photo (above), I learnt some things about problem-solving. Aunty Siew Khim first suggested the grassy area, one floor down to the right of the sanctuary, where it would be possible to take an elevated shot so none would be too far behind.
But that would mean the photographer could not be in the photo, so I suggested the basketball court or playground, where an elevated shot would be possible and the photographer could run into the picture.
Eventually, when we arrived, Darryl suggested the steps leading down to the playground. As is obvious from the photo, the camera isn't elevated, and everyone can be clearly seen in the photo.
Many times, ideas and suggestions may never be used ultimately. But that doesn't mean they should be discarded; for often, raw ideas fuel us to places where we can arrive at solid, workable solutions.
Aunty Siew Khim's idea of elevation led to the selection of playground/court as photo site, which led to the final arrival at a different angle altogether: one which, in my opinion, gave us one incredible camp picture.
Speaking of playground, it is to me the finest spot in STM for reflection. There is a good balance of people, well-spaced apart--some on the slide, some see-saw, others still monkey bars and swing--and nature.
Even the external noise coming from Seremban (including the famous KTM train that winds through the town several times a day) helps to keep me mindful of the world around us--that we are not completely isolated from human existence.
Sitting on the monkey bars makes me feel somewhat closer to God. Reflecting amidst playthings also brings me back to one of Jesus' strongest words: "Unless you become as a child, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven."
Towards the end of the three-hour reflection accorded us on Friday, I tried praying in a posture mentioned in Dallas Willard's The Divine Conspiracy--to stand in the shape of the cross, arms outstretched.
It hurt so much--and yet I only did it for a few minutes! I cannot begin to imagine what Jesus himself must have felt, his arms open in that position for six hours... also on a Friday, nearly two thousand years ago.
That position also brought me back to another moment in the not-so-distant past: the d'NA reunion at Audrey's earlier in February. The twelve of us present past midnight, huddled in a circle to pray, arms upon each other's backs.
It was no less painful, but it keeps reminding me that this is how we're to uphold one another--with our arms outstretched in love, as our Master's was. To our left and our right, we hold out open arms, welcoming one another in fellowship and love.
As reflection ended, Caleb picked up a dandelion from the edge of the playground, and blew the white, downy fluff away. To him, it symbolised complete surrended to God, removing all masks and pretensions, leaving the naked stalk which lies under the fluff.
And I wonder; when all that we've built is passed through the fire, when our castles and kingdoms are razed to the ground by the Divine Wind, what will God say of the stalk that remains? Will it be found to stand on the One Foundation? Will he find faith on earth?
On the very first day of camp, during the Arrival session, Nigel read from Matthew 11:28-30, The Message:
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me--watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly.
The phrase, 'unforced rhythms of grace' became overused at camp, much as Michael William's 'complicated' two years ago. But, while 'complicated' was more of a joke, here we really experienced God's unforced rhythms of grace.
Now, we all know that all man-made rhythms are forced: drum beats, handclaps, footsteps, and so on. But the rhythms of the Man-maker, who can predict? As God might have asked Job, can we trace the path of thunder, or find the source of the ocean's roar?
I find the wind a good example of such unforced rhythms. A kite floats in the sky, by no effort of its own, as Bono wrote in 'Kite'; "Who's to say where the wind will take you...?"
To me, the unforced rhythms of grace involves--but is by no means limited to--the complete surrender of oneself to the workings of God's Spirit. It is to stop flying the kite by ourselves, and let it soar in his Wind (Spirit=Breath/Wind in the Hebrew and the Greek).
Throughout camp, there were many obvious--even overwhelming--evidences of the presence of God's Spirit. And even now, as Nigel would agree, many of us are still coming to terms with what we saw/felt/heard at camp. The challenge has just begun, and the unforced rhythms will lead us on, if only we will yield.
One final thought about the camp photo: it is very symbolic.
The tree reminds me of what Uncle Earn Soo said about the mustard seed: do not despise the day of small beginnings. Elijah heard God's voice in a whisper, and great mustard trees start as a seeds that are--in Uncle Earn Soo's words--harder to find than contact lenses.
The sanctuary in the background represents the community of believers as the Temple of the Holy Spirit. As the song goes,
Lord prepare me to be a sanctuary
Pure and holy, tried and true
With thanksgiving, I'll be a living
Sanctuary for you
The steps on which we stood for the photo, can be seen as representative of the journey we are on, in which we are called to follow the Master step by step, further, deeper and higher.
And finally, there is the sky, which in total occupies nearly a third of the photo. What is this kingdom we preach? It is the kingdom of the heavens--a world above ours, whose King is above our kings, whose goodness triumphs over our evil, whose light conquers our darkness.
Go back and tell John [the Baptist] what you have just seen and heard:
The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the wretched of the earth have God's salvation hospitality extended to them.
(Thanks for your patience in reading this long post!)