Archive for January, 2007

The Gospel Revolution

“Being believers, saved by the blood of Christ, our walk is already an unconventional one. The world’s convention says: “Earn your redemption, work for your salvation, do good to get good.” That’s why the gospel is revolutionary. It turns the tables on what the world says is right, because we go by the Word, not the world. What does it mean to be accepted by the world, when it’s qualifications and definitions of what is good or accepted shift with such uncertainty over time? If that is so, then who can truly measure up?

But I tell you this: You are accepted. You are declared pure and perfect because you have laid aside your flesh and said, “In my flesh I am nothing. Only by Jesus and His sacrifice, I am everything.” You have been given the inheritance of all of Heaven, everything that Jesus possessed as the Son of God is yours. This is the irrevocable promise established by His blood at Calvary. You have been given all things that a righteous man blessed by God possesses, as well as being crowned and ordained as a priest and king; all the authority and power inherent in those positions are bestowed upon you as well.

Yes, it might be difficult to accept that if we see it with our physical eyes. Don’t look at the world around you, but place your eyes on Jesus instead. Just keep doing so, and I promise you, by Jesus’s finished work, that everything will fall into place after that. The grace of God assures it.”

I wrote this in a comment to a brother’s blog entry, and wanted to post it here so that I could remind myself of what I wrote if I ever needed the encouragement! 🙂

Thank you Abba.

Treasure in the Man

Today was my first time serving in Campus ministry. It is somewhat odd to think that this is the first time that I have ever served in campus, despite first attending it in 2001. Ever since then my attendance has been sporadic at best, and while I eventually joined a caregroup, I never really got down to serving in a ministry. It’s hard to actually come up with an exact reason why, but I believe it is only by Abba’s timing that I now find myself a member of the logistics team in Campus.

Pastor Chin’s sermon was blessedly timely as well; what he shared regarding the trials and challenges a believer goes through echoed what I had been mulling in my head for the past few weeks and now allows me to express those thoughts with greater clarity.

As everyone in the same church would know, Pastor Prince declared 2006 a year of acceleration. For most of 2006 I felt that it was a Year of the Roller Coaster for me instead; I had ups and downs but for most of the time, it seemed that my life had an uncanny preference for plunging into the valleys instead. In 2006 I ended a difficult relationship, while my father passed away in late August.

However, even in the midst of these.. dark times, Abba was still faithful. As I now realise in hindsight, it was a season of accelerated character moulding and growth. Everything I’d been put through was not a punishment from Abba, but they were opportunities for me to grow as a child of God.

“We rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”
Romans 5:2-4

I think it will be impossible to describe in its entirety how Abba has been growing me as I continue in this journey with Him, but all I know that it shall most definitely be good and unto His glory. All I hope in Him is to be a living testimony of Jesus Christ in my life, that when people look at me they shall say “It must be God”.

This verse voices the essence of what I have wrote, most beautifully:

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
1 Peter 1:3-9

Lydia wrote in her blog, “It’s a growth, to be less pre-occupied with outward manifestions, to understand His heart, not just His works”. This really encouraged me and was confirmation for me as well. There is no life when we attain the outward ‘blessings’ apart from the grace of God.

This is why I thank Abba for all these challenges He placed before me in 2006. I am grateful for these opportunities that allowed me to grow, not only in character, but also in the capacity to receive from Him. Trials and tribulations are not times when we ought despair at our circumstances, but instead chances when we can yield them before Abba that He may glorified even in the midst of them. Even so, one must understand Abba’s heart for us and His promises.

When Joshua and Caleb spied the giants in Jericho and the land flowing of milk of honey, the people of Israel saw them instead as insurmountable challenges. Yet Joshua and Caleb declared that these so-called challenges were not in any way an obstacle, but rather, bread for them! Our challenges are bread for us, for they shall give us nourishment and growth. Is Abba not good? That these challenges are not impossible to overcome nor to be feared, for they shall instead cause us to increase in Him just as He is glorified!

The death of my father was a turning point for me in that year as it set in motion things in the spiritual realm that continue to reverberate even today. I learned to put away the childish things that I could fall into. Abba led me to see the importance of responsibility, family and accountability. Even though I am the second son, I became the son that my mother relies the most upon, and it is not that I am the most able. The phrase feels odd in my mind and more so on my tongue, but Abba says He has placed me as a vessel for Christ as the “head of the household”.

Believe me, it seems as strange as me as it probably does to you, even when in the natural it is not completely so. But it is a change in the inward man that must begin before it can manifest outwardly, and so it is for the Lord’s work in me. When I was younger, I did everything I could to avoid seeing my parents. I would stay at my friend’s houses for days at a stretch, return home late after they had gone to bed or shut myself in the room and have my meals away from them. It is only by Abba’s grace that my relationship and my attitude towards my parents changed in the last few years.

Now, after my father’s passing, I sense the change Abba is making within me, into the man He intends me to be. When my mother asks me to do all manner of things on her behalf or for the house, I do so out of the love for her and my family, a love that is borne from Abba’s own love for me. I admit there are times when I felt I had better things to do or simply being plain lazy, but I still did what my mum asked anyway, because I realise that part of being in a family is being able to put their needs above your own. Be not mistaken that I do it grudgingly with teeth grit and with a snappy comeback caught in my throat, but by Abba’s grace I do it with a joyous heart. Such is the amazing transforming quality of Abba’s endless love!

Realistically speaking, just as it shall be with my wife and children, I know that there will be times when I would feel that I would rather lie on my sofa and watch football instead of spending time with them. Certainly there will be times when my flesh will fail, such is our fallen nature; yet I know, by faith in the redeeming sacrifice of Jesus at Cavalry, that Abba is making me into a man who would love his family with the love spoken of in John 15:12 – “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends”.

That said, there are things we do that Man does not see; be it prepping the stage as I do in logistics, trying to fix a broken washing machine, lugging heavy furniture or boxes, driving to the market to buy lunch, or like Twilight Seibei, giving up his katana for his family. Ordinary, everyday things that can be troublesome or a hassle, things we usually do not wish to be concerned about when we dream of bigger things like ministering to thousands or being a worship leader. Yet oftentimes these ‘small’ things are necessary, like it is said of such things: ‘Somebody has to do it’.

But I am comforted: Abba sees. He sees what the rest of us might miss, and that is the most precious thing. Furthermore, Abba honours even the humblest actions that are committed to Him because He is also God of the smallest details. When we do these things unto Him, even our most mundane acts are transformed into acts of faith. And wherever there is faith, the Spirit moves to answer, and there is a full and abundant joy in performing these ‘small’ thing as we see them; know this as well: in no way are they small in Abba’s eyes!

Man’s opinion of us will always waver, but the way Abba sees us and all these ‘small’ acts is unchanging: heartbreakingly beautiful in Jesus Christ. This is why I can lift my head high and have a grin on my face even in the midst of these nondescript things I do, because I know my Father’s heart for me.

Perhaps this is why I find such affinity in Seibei’s character in The Twilight Samurai. I see the love he bears for his family, that he would give up his samurai status to preserve the life he shares with them. He sought not glory won with the sword, one of the driving forces of a samurai, but to love and care for his family. I think that I want to be that kind of man to my wife and children. I choose not to dwell or seek after the worldly things such as money, a high-powered career, what to eat or wear; instead I want to love my wife and delight in my children just as Abba loves and delights in me. All other things will be added unto my life, just as He promised.

With all that said, I just want to be a man, an ordinary one who is content with the simple pleasures that life has to offer… an ordinary one in himself, but made extraordinary only by the grace of the living God. A man who walks by the Spirit, who realises the utter weakness of his flesh and yet knows with conviction the immeasurable extent of his Abba’s ability to assume authority in all aspects of his life, in the place of his own inability.

Ito, Seibei’s daughter, says this of her father at the end of the film:

“In the new Meiji era, many men who had worked with my father rose to positions of great authority. I often heard them say, ‘Twilight Seibei was an unlucky man’.

“But I do not agree.

“My father had no desire to rise in the world, and I don’t think he considered himself unlucky. He loved his daughters and the beautiful Tomoe loved him.

“His life, I think was short but full.

“I am proud to have had such a father.”

The Heart of Worship

In the failing light of day and onset of dusk, I went to sit up on my bed and took my guitar with me. My guitar is a humble thing, a classical one that I pulled metal strings on to make sound like an acoustic. I usually play a set of four chords together, very simple but something I always play when in my quiet time with Abba.

I didn’t really have an idea of what to do, but there was something that I wanted to bring before Abba. A part of my old self that I wanted to leave behind forever. I knew that I had to step boldly before my Abba and surrender it to him.

“Make me deepened in Your love as I seek You, Abba.”

After that I kept quiet, playing the few chords that I knew, focusing on Him, inviting His spirit to sweep the small room as the sky darkened and bled into the evening. As minutes passed I started to pray and sing, paying no heed to being in tune or blending lyrics into the melody. I sought Him desperately, in words and music that would have sounded terrible to anyone who would have heard it.

I came to Him in utter brokenness, for what was I without Him? How can I lift my head before Abba outside of the covenant established in Jesus? Can Abba’s work in us be done without the fullness of His grace?

Abba, I said, take all that I am. Take every broken piece of my self, and transform it into wholeness in the light of Jesus’s sacrifice.

I yield all that I am unto thy hands.

Take all of me and make me all of You.

Make me new.

As I played with my broken chords and haphazard singing, all too frequently stumbling with both the words and strumming, Abba gave me glimpse of the way He saw me. He didn’t see me as I saw myself, being inept and inexpressive with music or unable to sing with both verve and skill.

No. Not in any way did He see me as inadequate.

Right at the moment, the tears just started streaming forth from my eyes. The Spirit burst from within like an open dam, and I felt the love of God pulsating throughout the very core of my being as if I was immersed in the flood.

Don’t you know how beautiful your worship is to me? He asked.

I was struck speechless, more overwhelmed than I had ever been during praise and worship in church. I could not form the words to say anything being caught up as I was in the endless tide of Abba’s love. I saw David, worshipping God as he was out alone, with only a harp and his sheep for company, in the fields far from home.

Abba then said, All the psalms in the Word cannot describe the fullness of the beauty I see in you as you worship.

So, so beautiful.

I am not ashamed to say it; I cried. I cried like I never have before, in the presence of my loving God. Tears rolled down my face to fall damp on my shirt. Not tears of grief or sorrow, but tears of awe and joy and love and gratitude and everything else about Abba that cannot be described in language.

My shoulders heaved with soundless sobs as the waves of His love washed over me. There really are no words to explain it; be it that I could! Yet the love of God defies human understanding, for it cannot be discerned by the mind.

Abba didn’t see the four same chords played to death over and over again. He didn’t frown at the ineloquence of my prayer and my dull, croaking voice. He didn’t shake his head at my poorly guitar and its woeful sound. Nor did he disdain my humble surroundings, or even me, clad in t-shirt and shorts, sitting alone in my room with no ears or eyes around me to witness my worship.

What had I to offer? What can I possibly give unto Him that did not already belong to Him?

Worship springs from the heart that is turned towards God, He whispered.

And I am the heart of worship.

Success!

I’ve finally managed to get this site to allow comments without having to register to WordPress.

Comment away! 😀

The Twilight Samurai (Pt. I)

twilight

What comes to your mind upon hearing the word “samurai”?

Do you of imagine men in kimono or armour, with katana drawn and executing deadly swordplay? Or perhaps hurtling themselves unhesitantly into a melee, seeking glorious death or honour for their lord? You may have heard of bushido, or ‘The Way of the Warrior’, the code and tenets which the samurai lived by; an uncompromising doctrine that demanded unwavering dedication of duty to one’s lord and considered ritual suicide the way of salvaging one’s pride and honour.

Earlier this year I finally managed to watch Yoji Yamada’s The Twilight Samurai in its entirety (my copy is damaged). This entry isn’t a review, but as all good films should, it made me think. Now, Twilight isn’t anything similar to the overwrought The Last Samurai (Tom Cruise), for instead of epic battles, ninjas and a considerable body count, Twilight tells the the humble story of a reluctant samurai, uneasy with the title bestowed upon him by his family’s name.

Yamada weaves an intimate tale of human character in a time of turmoil (Edo period on the brink of the Meiji Restoration), revolving around the life of Iguchi Seibei, a debt-ridden samurai widower responsible for a senile mother and two young daughters. The title of the film refers to Seibei, who is unkindly given the nickname of “Twilight Seibei” by his peers, given that Seibei departs hastily from his workplace at the quartermaster’s when dusk arrives, choosing to return home to his family rather than going out for a night of drinking with his fellow samurai.

Seibei, as we eventually come to learn, is a simple, unassuming man. His concerns centre completely around sustaining his family, even resorting to taking on odd-jobs like weaving insect cages (which was considered a woman’s work and shameful for men to do) for extra income. He carries a bokuto (wooden sword) in the guise of a real katana, having sold the sword passed down from his father, in order to pay for his wife’s funeral.

The implications of this are tremendous;  a samurai’s katana is not only his weapon – it is a symbol of his authority and status, the personifaction of his identity as a samurai. Without his sword, a samurai is nothing. Seibei, however, does not appear to be perturbed by this, and confides to his closest friend Iinuma that he wishes to relinquish his samurai status, preferring to live as a farmer and watch his daughters grow up.

It is not that Seibei is an ineffectual samurai, inept with a sword. He is rusty and ‘slow’ due to lack of practice, but his foundations in the art remain. We witness this when Seibei rescues his childhood sweetheart, Tomoe, from the harrassment of her drunken ex-husband, the captain of his feudal lord’s guard. When Tomoe is ushered into the house, Seibei hastily agrees to a duel with the captain to prevent him from further stirring a ruckus at Tomoe’s family residence. Eventually, Seibei, driven more by his affection for Tomoe rather than the pursuit of a romantic ideal of honour, resoundly defeats the captain by using only his bokuto against the captain’s katana. Seibei makes him promise to leave Tomoe alone, and pleads with Tomoe’s brother, Iinuma, not to tell her of the duel.

Tomoe rekindles her childhood friendship with Seibei and bonds with his daughters immediately, sharing several lighthearted moments with them. These scenes are the highlight of the film and are the few times when we see Seibei truly happy. When Iinuma proposes that Seibei take Tomoe’s hand in marriage, he staunchly refuses, though we glimpse the sense of inner conflict in his eyes. By marrying him, Tomoe would be condemning herself to a life of poverty, which was what had caused his higher-born wife to die of consumption.

In the final arc of the film, stories of Seibei’s skill with the blade has spread throughout his clan, who then seek his sword-arm to hunt down a rebel samurai retainer who refused to commit seppuku (ritual suicide by disembowelment). Unlike The Last Samurai, when samurai leap into battle with die gloriously with honour, Seibei is fiercely reluctant, close to outrightly disobeying his lord. He fears for his family and what they would do if he were slain in combat. However he has no choice; he has to agree, and takes up his sword again to confront an old aspect of his life he thought he had left behind forever.

seibei and tomoe 2

One of the most beautiful, poignant scenes in the film is when Seibei requests Tomoe to help prepare him for the confrontation with the rebel retainer. She brushes back his unkempt hair and drapes his kimono around him with such loving restraint that it is almost painful to watch. They maintain propriety even as it stifles the cavernous yearning in their hearts terribly.

seibei and tomoe

Alright. I actually haven’t got to the point of this entry and I think I will end this one off and continue this in the next post. This post is just establishing the context 😉

edit 28.1.07: The follow-up entry to this is in Treasure in the Man, near the end of the long post 🙂

Hope and a Renewal of Fellowship

With every single day that passes I feel an increasing sense of destiny for this year. It is a quiet knowing that Abba has placed within me that I grasp for words to describe in its fullness. I believe that as the days of 2007 lead into the next, Abba will likewise lead me to see the fulfilment of His promises, not only in my life but in the lives of the people around me as well.

It is a promise that moves me terribly, that a person such as myself can warrant such undeserved love and favour. How can it not humble me utterly when I realise that Jesus Christ, the Son of God himself, would lay his life down for me, the black-hearted sinner that I was, rescuing me when I was at my lowest and ugliest? For all the evil that I have done and being the most unworthy of such divine mercy, He would still go to Calvary, shouldering the cross he would later die on, trudging up the hill to suffer in completion the punishment that I most rightfully deserved. Jesus wept and suffered and bled so that I would not have to. He died to wipe my slate clean so that today I can stand before God and say, “I am the righteousness of God in Christ.”

“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Romans 5:1

Such an honour and privilege it is to come before His throne of grace in loving acceptance! He is no longer a distant God, but a Father unto us by Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross, for Romans 5 continues:

“Through [Jesus Christ] we [also] have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” v.2

This hope is not the kind of hope as the world understands it, which at best is only a “maybe”. However, for us, the beloved of Abba, this hope is an absolute certainty! It is a “definitely“! As the New Living Translation of the same verse puts it: “We confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory”. Amen and amen! Pastor Lian once spoke of this hope as well, calling it a “confident expectation of good”!

Such is the promise of our ever-loving Abba! In addition, in verse 5 He gives us further assurance: “Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Indeed, those who place their hopes in Him shall never be put to shame.

I know not exactly what Abba will do in my life for 2007. All I know is that surely it shall be good and it will reveal His glory in greater measure than before. As I had said in an earlier entry when I quoted Wigglesworth, “God is always moving us on to something higher.”

Ephesians 2:6-7 confirms this as well: “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.”

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”
Romans 15:5-8

One of my hopes for this year is to see a restoration and renewal of old friendships. Friendships that were built over years, over simple things like games, over ICQ, over barbecues and sake, over bus-rides to Orchard Road and countless films, over D&D at Suntec City, over many meatball sandwiches at Subway; I treasure these people deeply and I hope that what ever we shared in the past shall be restored in its fullness and be exceeded in the way only Abba can.

Abba, this is the hope that I place in You. Amen.

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”
John 15:12

All Your Tunnel Are Belong To Us

All Your Tunnel Are Belong To Us

Adding some variety to the reams of text in this journal, here are some photos we took at the Fort Canning Tunnel which is due to open to traffic on Tuesday.


There’s always someone making a monkey face.


Then you notice it’s usually the same people!


See what I mean?


ZK wants to Turn Left, Turn Right

group

At the end of the day, we’re all children of a loving Abba, who all know how much we need Jesus in our lives. 🙂