From Kumamoto city, we took a 2 hour bus-ride to Sanko Bus Station . There we put our luggage in the lockers. We looked for lunch at the market and waited to take the bus to the Mt Aso Geopark. I must say the fresh milk of the Aso bred cow was fabulous, with a richer flavour, unlike what we have in our supermarkets back home. Later the bus brought us to the Aso Museum but we skipped that and went straight up a gradual climb to take photos of Mt Aso. We were disappointed that we were not allowed up Aso because of some dangerous activity in the volcano. Before this trip we had read about an active volcano that erupted in Japan and killed some climbers. So we were disappointed that we couldn’t get near Mt Aso but grateful there were early warning systems in place. In fact the next day or so there was a small eruption at Mt Aso. Later we went back to the bus station and were picked up by the guest house to the place we stayed overnight. The guys enjoyed the indoor onsen.
Our next destination was a place of natural beauty – the Takachiho Gorge. It took two buses and four hours in travel time to get us to the town. Buses were usually comfortable, punctual and manned by polite bus drivers. They had a fare display on a LED board in front of the bus. It took me some time to figure out how it worked. And as was our custom, when we reached a town we looked for the information counter from where we got directions to the gorge.
It was a long walk to a blogged about soba stall and we got lost but two children walked us about 500 metres in the opposite direction to bring us to the stall. However, the queue at lunch time was too long. Pressed for time, we went to the supermarket and bought some packed lunch.
We decided to walk to Takachiho Gorge, and with the help of locals we managed to find a route down the gorge through a lovely forest with autumn leaves. At its foot we saw a beautiful gorge for romantic boat rides. We wanted to take the boat rides but by the time we reached there they had closed the booth, so that was that. How were we to know that this was a Japanese holiday and many locals came to visit? Well anyway we saved some money here to splurge on food later.
It was the Lord’s Day so we gathered for a time of worship. We sang a song and everyone gave thanks and shared how the Lord had been with them and how they were blessed.
We patiently waited for the bus to bring us back to town where we had an evening meal at that soba restaurant which is run by a Japanese marathoner who once represented his country in the Olympics. The Japanese food was delicious. The soba, the sauce, the everything. Great quality, great value, great service.
By the time we returned to Extol Inn, it was dark and we settled for a Mos Burger before we retired for the night.
By the marina
A short walk from the hotel and my wife and I were at a marina. All the houses in front of the pier were terraced homes and most had small boxy passenger vans and boating and fishing gear in their front porch. It was a pleasant walk down the 500 metres stretch of the marina before we walked back in time for our breakfast and check out from the hotel. We headed for the pier from which we took a ferry to the Kumamoto.
On the ferry to Kumamoto
It was a pleasant trip of an hour or so. We had seagulls following us and they went into a feeding frenzy as we threw bread crumbs and crackers into the air. I must say these Japanese birds were not as skilful as the Israeli ones we fed at the Lake of Galilee. At the landing point we took a bus to the Kumamoto terminal and walked a good 10 to 15 minutes to a well situated hotel near the shopping area called Ginza and the Kumamoto Castle. The hotel is Extol Inn and the two nights stay came with breakfast.
Kumamoto Castle and Ginza
We sort of fumbled our way before we finally found the castle and there was a big crowd at the castle because it was a Saturday. We had to queue and slowly walk up the hundreds of steps and a few floors of exhibits before we reached the highest floor to get a panoramic view of the city. Japan is so rich in history with all its colourful feudal past, with its shoguns and samurais, and sword and rifles, geishas and peasants. We spent about two hours taking lots of photos. Then we made our way back to survey the shopping area and search for dinner.
Running effortlessly in the air – that is what cycling feels like to me. I used to run a lot. I mean when you play basketball for school and community centre, you have to run, run and run. That was long ago. Since I hit the late 40s I have stopped running. Getting motivated to run required such a gigantic effort. There were many false dawns as I tried to get into a habit of running for health. None lasted more than two months. There was that bright period in Chiangmai when I ran almost every other day for a month. When I returned to Singapore I tried to continue but it evaporated in hot air. Several months ago I bought a new pair of running shoes with fresh resolve to run again. I have used it less than ten times for running. Running seems to do violence to my rigid body. My knees take the brunt of the steady banging as my feet lands on solid ground. My breathing becomes heavy and laboured. It becomes a stupendous effort to jog round the Japanese and Chinese Garden.
Instead of running I found hiking or trekking a gentler more humane form of exercise. The Bukit Timah Hill became my haunt. Out there on the slopes of hills with different gradients, one gets to warm up and build up a sweat gradually, gently and without violating the body. Breath control is needed but the air is fresh and a rhythm evolves. So this has been my happy place for my recreational, meditative, sermon tuning activities. Now it has been closed for a year or more. The Hill needed a sabbatical. The visitors centre
needed a reconstruction. My good trekking friends still meet to trek different places in Singapore. They are quite adventurous and have travelled far and wide (including Gunong Datuk) since Bukit Timah Hill’s closure, but I have not been able to join them on most occasions.
I stumbled into recreational biking. A pastor talked to me about his folding Brompton bike. I was almost persuaded to buy one. Another pastor offered to sell me his few months old folding bike, a Cronus Earl 2.0, at a generous giveaway price. I took it. So I biked around the Jurong Lake since I lived so near to it. I found that I enjoyed it greatly. The feeling of movement, the gentle breeze against my face and cooling my whole body, the serenity of water and trees, fountain and pagoda and golf course, all combined to refresh me while I cycled for close to an hour, and sometimes more. It felt like running in the air. My feet never pounded the ground. I never gasped for air like a dying man. I felt I was running on a cushion of air aided by a machine that is beautiful and smooth and effortless in motion.
Change of heart
Now I understood what my friend Eric Ng was into. He was into this cycling business with serious intent. He trained for riding trips in Taiwan and the Annapura range. He invited me but I was not interested. My conversion shows that timing and change of circumstances can change a man’s heart quickly. Now it was I who asked him to introduce me to some of the park connectors he was familiar with. So off we went to the Ulu Pandan Park Connector last Sunday evening. It was a hot 6pm but even as we rode, the route was pleasantly shaded for the most part. There was the canal beside it. There were many joggers and other recreational cyclists. You occasionally catch sight of serious bikers in their expensive machines, the occasional Brompton, and many other entry level bikers like me. I was surprised by the effort put in by national parks to make the park connectors such pleasant routes for cycling, walking and jogging. God bless the Singapore civil servants for this great idea that is a gift for the public to use. One day I will write more about this park connector but for the time being here are a few photos I took during last Sunday’s ride.
Analogy to spiritual life
As an aside, cycling is like living by grace. You are aided by grace. Your motion and momentum is augmented by the bicycle the way God’s Holy Spirit powers the walk of grace. Its a gentle running in the sphere of the Spirit.
Nagasaki bomb museum
When you are in Nagasaki city you have to visit the bomb museum. It was a mere 10minutes tram ride away from our Business Royal Hotel. It exhibits some of the damaged architectural and actual artefacts as well as the human stories that needed to be told. One was a clock that showed the time the atomic bomb melted Nagasaki. Another showed melted sacred icons of the Catholic community that lived there at that time. Interestingly there were POW Caucasians as well as Korean immigrants who were also killed. We had a simple lunch at the café in the museum. Next to the museum building was a large Peace Park for visitors to ponder the serious matters of world peace.
Obama in Kyushu
We then took the local bus to Obama, a tiny hot spring town by the sea. In this town we see steam rising from various places. It is said the hot spring here can go up to 100 degrees Centigrade, the hottest in Japan. This is obviously volcanic area and onsens must be available in many of the hotels. We looked for lunch at a fresh seafood restaurant about 10minutes walk from the local bus station. The concept was simple. You choose from the live fish and shell fish in the tanks. It is weighed and you pay for it. Then you bring it out where it is steamed in volcanic steam tapped from natural sources by the restaurant. You are given a timer and when it buzzes you go get your cooked food and eat it with the available sauces. There are times to go back to eating fresh and unflavoured and steamed seafood. It tastes great and it does not cost you as much as it does in Singapore. Thanks to Abenomics.
Japanese hospitality at Shimabara
Later we took a bus to the Shimabara Toyo City Hotel. It would have the largest hotel room we would stay in compared to the other hotels in our Kyushu trip. It would also serve the best breakfast of all. But the stay was only for the night. After checking in late evening, we went to search for dinner. The hotel staff recommended us a sushi joint and we searched and found it and had udon and sushi set. The chef was generous and gave us free extra helpings of the dangerous puffer fish sushi and other freebies. They were very cheerful and the restaurant owner even guided us back to the hotel using a short cut. We were impressed by Japanese service and hospitality.
Its enjoyable. Cycling by the Jurong Lake (Tasik Jurong) is so pleasurable and delightful. The Jurong Lake is about 4.3 km from end to end along broad bitumen and cement paths. About 10 years ago they developed a promenade along 2 km of the stretch. Really nice. Its a reservoir cum leisure stretch. I love the views. I never tire of them. It looks different at different times of the day and of the year. Different stretches have different highlights and features. This time of the year the breeze is cool and ever present. I will cycle but the perspiration does not show because it is blow dried, and I do not feel it because of the cool air. There are some stretches though where I feel the sun direct on my skin in late morning rides. Other than that I have no complaints. Even the benches overlooking panoramic views keep tempting me to take a break and soak in the sight.
Its accessible too. I live so near to one end of the Jurong Lake Park. To ride to the other end (about 4.3 km) takes me about 20-30 minutes. 8.6 km may be hardly much but if I do it twice it would be almost 20 km of pleasant riding. If I were to ride the roads the intimidation of large buses, lorries and vans rambling by and too close for comfort would stress me no end.
Today I talked to someone who rode there everyday and he suggested I do night riding. He said it is a different experience. The darkness and silence of some stretches where there are no street lamps. Things look different at night. He also suggested early morning rides like 5.30 am to catch the sunrise. Hmmm…great ideas I want to take on. Now that my regular hikes at Bukit Timah has ceased with its closure, I am surprised that I stumbled on this new leisure activity instead of brisk walking or jogging the Chinese and Japanese Gardens. Maybe it is a more gentle on my body and suitable for my age. It can be a pretty good exercise. I have also found a neighbour who wants to explore the park connectors with me. Wonderful.
Thank you Lord for new ways to enjoy creation and companionship. Wish I was into this earlier, but Your timing is ever the best. Amen.
Our SIA flight took off at 1.20am. Never was good at sleeping through night flights so I managed two movies before I knocked out. We took the airport bus to some main station and from there to a station about 10minutes walk from the Sunline hotel.
It was still early, so we visited the Yanagibashi Rengo Market about 15minutes walk away to look for brunch. There is a blogged about small restaurant where we could get good sashimi. Most of us went there except those who did not fancy raw fish. I wished I ordered and ate more for I was never to find anything better the rest of the trip for those prices.
We went back to freshen up and nap and we explored a shopping area by a canal and had a night street dinner. The ramen was served steaming hot in small stalls in the open autumn air by the river. There were about 10 -14 people sitting on stools around a steaming cooking unit in the center. The stall had a Mandarin assistant. The food was great and due to the good yen exchange rate the price was lower than Singapore’s.
Then it was dessert at a Moomin café where the group celebrated my birthday. I felt blessed. We were given a treat from Karen. This café targeted courting couples and had many large animal dolls. We had a great time taking cute shots and selfies.
The hotel room was comfortable but not spacious. The size of the double bed was somewhere between queen-size and super single. The bathroom was like a ready-made capsule fitted into the hotel room. Everything was Japanese made: Pansonic water closet with bidet, Shishedo shower cream. Most of the rooms we stayed in throughout the trip were quite similar in size.
Huis Ten Bosch
The next morning we took a bus to Huis Ten Bosch a Dutch theme park. When we reached a sightseeing area our standard procedure was to look for lockers at the stations to put our luggage. Over time we got used to this ritual and were pretty efficient with maximizing space and Daniel was really the key person in this department. Once this was done at the lockers at Huis Ten Bosch train station we went to explore the theme park. We were not interested in the rides so we visited the free zone and had a local burger for lunch. The lovely browns, yellows and oranges of the autumn foliage in cool weather and bright skies made the day picturesque and refreshing. We walked quite a bit but it was pleasant. By evening we were on the train to Nagasaki where we settled into the hotel and went out in search of dinner.
One of the most widely read blogpost in 2014 is How to go to Bukit Indah by bus. I did this post to keep a record of how I went to this place in Johor by bus in case I needed it again. This is after all a personal blog of someone who happens to be a pastor. As it turned out, many have googled about going to Bukit Indah and landed on my post.
We just had a photo sharing time with the Marine Parade cell with whom I went to Kyushu, Japan. It was a time of food and fellowship. We viewed and shared photos and videos. We remembered the funny and interesting moments and had many a good laugh. I heard and saw things that I never knew happened until I saw it on video or photo. It was fun.
There were so many photos and fond memories I want to keep – too much to write about in one blogpost. So I will do it in manageable bits and tie it up together once it’s all completed. Who knows there may be people out there who are searching for interesting itineraries to explore Kyushu. This will certainly help them. Travelling by tour groups is convenient but it has its limitations. Travelling free and easy is hard work at the research and planning stage, but it later yields greater flexibility and enjoyment.
I have always wanted to visit Japan. That was why I requested to join this cell group in their Japan trip. It is called ‘tompang’ in Malay, or jumping the bandwagon. If you do not like tour groups and have no time to plan a free and easy, then ‘tompang’ is the best option. They were gracious to let me join in and I was happy to follow the leader Jasmine. My wife and I just went with the flow and it was blessed by the Lord and became a special trip for us both.
I was enjoying an article in SundayLife about two Singaporean poets. One of them is Aaron Lee, a Facebook friend and a Christian elder in a Brethren Church. It was an interesting interview but a line he quoted from his mentor caught my attention. He talked about some verses he had captured on his cellphone, lines inspired by daily life and social commentary that never got birthed as poems. He recalled how his mentor had given him some advice long ago. Aaron said: “She told me: ‘It’s got to have a story, a personality, so people can go on this journey with you.‘” The sentence held me captive and I was reminded of the several books that talked about the importance of the sermon being structured like a story, a narrative, a homiletical plot. It was such a good reminder as I tend towards the tired three pointer didactic sermon. Perhaps I should look for texts and themes that can be put on a story board and bring the congregation from tension to truth, from problem to promise, from conflict to resolution, from suspense to conclusion. I have to think and order things more like a short film director than like a teacher or textbook author.
Lord help me. It’s so easy for me to fall back into that didactic three points sermon structure. It’s a rut I so easily fall into. Set me in front of a story board, and if there is no plot let there be no sermon. Amen.
Its been more than a month since I last blogged. Since then I have gone to Japan on vacation. I have seen a wonderful successful kidney transplant between two wonderful members in the church who are not blood related. I have been moving around in a Toyota Picnic that a kind American missionary friend who left for USA allowed me to use till the COE runs out in 2 January 2015. The church worship hall will undergo renovation so I have been busy with arrangements and communications of the alternate worship service space. And I have been on Whats App in a prayer group for the kidney transplant, and quite often communicating on my personal and church Facebook page. All these took time. And they drained me of ideas and the motivation to update this blog. In other words there were things to blog about but somehow the one liners of Twitter and Facebook seemed an easier and quicker and lazier way to express my thoughts. This blog is losing out but I know that if one of my goals of blogging is to practise writing then I simply have to push aside other competing demands and shun the broad and easy highways of one liners and plentiful pictures and “likes”. So here I am on Christmas Eve. I have decided I need to start writing again and avoid the easier path. Just write the ideas that strike me and reflections of what is happening around me and in the news. Ramble if I have to. Just get started again on a regular basis.
I am so heartened by Christian leaders and pastors who have continued to blog. Many have stopped as traffic moved elsewhere but these guys still keep writing regularly with persistence and quality. They are on my blogroll links on the right hand and I hope to keep company with them.
Well this is a good enough kick-start for today. Hopefully the passion will kick in and I will have something more substantial to say.
With the cost of buying and owning a car in Singapore inching upwards with every month more car owners have had to give up their independence and mobility and become users of public transport. I had to do so and have been taking public transport for the past two months. The jury is still out, but my tentative feel is that our public transport system is good. The MRT and the buses are clean and effective and they do get you from one place to another in comfort and safety if not on schedule. However the peak hours can be suffocatingly crowded. Of course this can be alleviated by timing your trips earlier or later. It has been 30 years since I have to depend on public transport so much. By the grace of God my transition has been mainly positive. There are several things that have happened to me and I have made several observations during this transition:
My daughter had to teach me the tactics of positioning to increase your chances of getting a seat on the MRT.
I have walked more and perspired more than when I had a car.
The huge fans at the MRT stations are my favourite things about the MRT stations.
I now prefer short-sleeved cotton shirts for comfort.
I carry a small black umbrella in my bag for sunshine as well as rain. I find it cuts off 60%
of the heat and I perspire less.
I deliberately walk slowly.
Planning to leave much earlier for trips is something I am getting used to.
Review of sermons before preaching on Sunday is now done in the MRT on the way to the service.
Getting a taxi on Sunday can be difficult unless you book them.
Taking a taxi when it’s necessary is something I need to get used to as I am not used to spending that kind of money.
I have recently decided to stop carrying my laptop to office unless it is absolutely necessary. Its too heavy. The Samsung tablet is my companion and I am going to try working from an external hard disk on an extra laptop in the office.
My backpack can be full and heavy at times, especially when I borrow or return books from Trinity library.
I feel loved and humbled with the numerous offers to give me a lift, some even going the second and third mile to do that.
The transition made me consider alternative modes of transport like the Brompton, a foldable portable bike allowed by MRT and buses.The LTA has ruled out electric stand scooters.
I cannot go nearest where I want, and when I want, and at the speed I want, like when I had a car to use. Public transport tells me, You can only go thus far and by this time.
Each time I hear the “TEENH” in the MRT turnstile it is my Money Rapidly Taken (MRT).
On the whole I am amazed at my rapid adjustment during my transition to public transport. God gives the grace. He has given me a grateful heart. Thank God also for the smart phone. And also for times to be quiet before Him as you stand in the train. This is a transition many in Singapore will have to make. Most retirees will have to give up their cars and adjust too. God gives us the grace.
The Brompton evangelist
The Brompton is a folding bike with a cult following. Those who have ridden it usually became Brompton evangelists. They are unashamed to give testimony to its build, versatility, usefulness, comfort, head turning looks, and portability. It’s the BMW of folding bikes.
So it was with enthusiasm that a pastor friend “shared” with me his “testimony” and I was “almost persuaded”, like King Agrippa, as he listened to Paul the apostle. That conversation seeded me with a desire that germinated. I found myself googling about Brompton and watching YouTube videos about it. This expanded to searches about competing cheaper foldable bikes like Dahon, the largest manufacturer of folding bikes in the world.
The catch was the price. It costs $2,800 to get a Brompton bike in Singapore. It’s higher than in England or South Korea. For bike enthusiasts and serious road cyclists this price is nothing. Some bikes even go for $11,000. For a pastor like me, it is a shocking introduction to the world of biking. The Brompton bag attachment costs $200. To me you can buy a bicycle for that price at Giant Hypermarket. After all, the bike is a green machine with two wheels, brakes, a steering handle bar and a seat, that brings the rider from one place to another. Getting over the price was a hurdle.
Saved by a pastor
I was sharing this with another pastor friend who listened to me intently and at the end of the conversation made me an irresistible offer. Would you like to buy over my folding bicycle for $100? Its only 2 months old, and I bought it for about $500. That certainly shook me from my growing fixation on the Brompton bike. Let me try the bike over a few days, I said. So he passed the folded bike to me from the boot of his car and after a few days standing in my house I finally took it out for a test ride to the Jurong Lake cycling rim. It was a good exercise and pleasant to have the wind brushing against your face with the waters and trees all around. Like he said, the Cronus, Earl 2.0 squeaked a little when you lift up the handle bar too high. Other than that it was a so-so ride and I was happy there was suspension for the seat. The bicycle was purportedly French but I think it’s just a marketing gimmick. It has made in China written all over. At the end of it, the decision was still easy to make. It was a generous offer I could not say No to. As Sherlock Holmes would often reply to clueless Dr Watson, It’s entry-level, Watson, entry-level. Ha,ha.
The Brompton is still on my mind of course. This is the way I figure it. $3,000 over ten years is $300 a year. And if you use it a hundred times a year, it would mean an average of $3 each time. Furthermore the pleasure of riding a piece of British engineering genius cannot be quantified. I can see from online searches that used Brompton bikes keep their value well.
So I am still tempted to buy a Brompton or a hybrid bike so that my wife and I can ride off together into the sunset, or sunrise haha, in a common leisure activity that is also low impact and good exercise. The ride to the end of Jurong Lake and back takes about 45 minutes. There are also many park connectors to explore. Since the Bukit Timah Hill has been closed this may be an addition to my currently depressing exercise regime.
Sze Zeng has produced some interesting research that throws light on the significance of Jubilee on his blog. The many instructions given in the Law of Moses about the year of Jubilee relates to liberation of God’s people and land. It’s a kind of righting things for the weak and vulnerable so that the flickering wick will not be totally crushed. It gives hope to the poor of the land. Social justice is very much on God’s heart for people. Sze Zeng’s blog gives a list of instructions about Jubilee which I have reproduced below:
The Jubilee is to be expressed among the Israelites through the following 12 instructions:
I. The Israelites should return to their family property (Lev.25:10, 13).
II. The Israelites are not to sow or reap plantation that grow by itself, or harvest untrimmed vines. They should eat only the produce from the existing crop (Lev. 25:11, 19).
III. The Israelites should not overcharge or undercharge one another—must practice ‘fair price’ as an expression of their reverence for God (Lev. 25:14-18).
IV. On the year before Jubilee, the sixth year, the Israelites’ plantation will produce food enough for the next three years. They are to resume work on their plantation on the eight year (Lev. 25:20-22).
V. No land must be sold permanently as God is the true owner. Hence all sold land must be restored back to the original owner during Jubilee (Lev. 25:23-24).
VI. Israelites who become poor can sell their land, and their relatives should help them to buy back the land. If no relatives can help them, then their land will remained with the buyer until Jubilee (Lev. 25:25-28).
VII. Houses within walled cities can be sold permanently, though the possibility for original owner to buy back the house should remain for the first year after the sale. After that, the house will be owned by the buyer permanently. These houses need not be restored back to the original owner during Jubilee (Lev. 25:29-30).
VIII. Houses in villages can be sold, but must be restored back to the original owner during Jubilee (Lev. 25:31).
IX. Levites’ permanent possession is the pastureland, which cannot be sold. Their houses, however, can be sold though need to be returned to them during Jubilee (Lev. 25:32-34).
X. Israelites should provide social safety net to the unfortunate Israelites as how they are to treat foreigners. They should lend fellow Israelites money without interest, sell them food at cost price (Lev. 25:35-38).
XI. If poor Israelites sold themselves to their fellow Israelites, they must not be treated as slaves, but as servant. And they and their family should be liberated and be restored to their property during Jubilee (Lev. 25:39-43). The same with Israelites who sold themselves to foreigners (Lev. 25:47-55).
XII. Trade and manage the land fairly by determining the price according to its proximity to the Jubilee (Lev. 27:16-25).
Another interesting insight has to do with when Jubilee begins on the Jewish calendar. It begins on the Day of Atonement, the Yom Kippur. The day when the sanctuary is cleansed and the sins of the nation is covered by the blood of innocent animal sacrifices. To read more why this is so read the whole article: SG50 and Christianity’s Jubilee.
Christ is our Jubilee. In Him we are liberated from servitude, debts of sin and bondage. We enter into our spiritual inheritance. We enter into rest. We belong to Him. We are part of the body of Christ that cares for each other.
This may be hard for people to receive.
Why can’t a pastor earn millions of dollars?
If a Christian layperson is allowed to earn millions of dollars, why can’t his pastor? Is there one standard for Christians and another for pastors? Don’t we all follow the same Lord? We haven’t even got rid of the clergy-laity divide, and the sacred-secular divide shows itself.
Anyway the online articles have not furnished evidence that he really earned $500,000 annually and has net worth of $5 million. In fact the article was not backed by adequate or updated data. Quoting an online post that is sensational and is trying to get more hits, is not a good way to look for facts but this is what today’s online journalism gives us.
In fact the New Creation Church leadership council has reiterated what most Singaporean Christians already know. Joseph Prince has stopped receiving a salary from the church since 2009.
What is to stop a rich attendee from donating $100,000 dollars to Joseph Prince on any given day?
Why can’t Prince benefit from the royalties of his preaching and writing?
Who is to say he has not generously and secretly been giving large sums of money to the poor?
There are pastors who are bi-vocational and very rich.
There are pastors who inherited vast sums.
Or pastors whose wives bring home the millions?
What if a pastor bought a few Apple stocks decades ago and is now a very rich man?
Why do these pastors seem more acceptable than the pastor who earned them by preaching or writing?
By the way, Billy Graham is not a pastor. And neither is Benny Hinn. They are evangelists.
Maybe now more parents will encourage their children to be a megachurch pastor – adding this profession to the list of common ones.
What is your opinion?
Nobody puts out the welcome mat for suffering. Most times it hits us and takes us by surprise. Sometimes we can anticipate the storm. Whichever way it happens, when you are in the midst of it you feel the pressure, pain, loss, hopelessness and fear.
Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”(John 16:33 NKJV)
There will always be tribulation or trouble, even for Christians. Jesus said it is because we live in this sinful and broken world that Christians too will suffer. We will not be exempted. The difference for Christians is that we have a pioneer who went ahead of us in the path of suffering. Jesus suffered for what He did not deserve. He was unjustly mistreated, tried and sentenced to death. His reputation was dragged in the mud and He lost his life in a torturous and humiliating way. Yet He overcame in His suffering. Thus He understands those who go through suffering and is able to sympathize and support and supply them with the grace, faith, victory and wisdom needed. We have a companion in our suffering. It is a fellowship and sharing in suffering and victory that we should be aware of when tears and sorrow are our daily bread.
When you are undergoing great trials, see yourself in fellowship with Christ in your sufferings. He has overcome and so will you, when He is with you in it. It will be a great comfort and strength to your weary soul. Be of good cheer.
Benny Ho’s marketplace initiative
It was with curiosity that I entered the corporate penthouse of Orchard Parksuites. I was not curious about the building behind Wisma Atria, which I never knew existed, but about the meeting which was dubbed: Roundtable Discussion on Marketplace. Apparently Arrows Ministry, founded by Pastor Benny Ho, had earlier organized a marketplace retreat to hear the heart of marketplace people. This built on that and was a conversation between “pulpit ministers and marketplace ministers” facilitated with the help of Pastor Derek Hong, retired pastor of Church of our Saviour. I was invited to eavesdrop on the “conversation”. There were over 40 people present, half were pulpit ministers and half were marketplace ministers.
Pastor Derek Hong on pastors and the marketplace
After the preamble and roundtable introductions, Pastor Derek Hong spoke something pastors need to hear. He shared his journey which shifted from being a pastor focused on growing Church of our Saviour in numbers to a pastor seeking to equip God’s people to be effective in being salt and light in the marketplace. He grimaced about how he used to use people for church growth instead of powering them up to light up the marketplace. This shift resulted in him receiving reports of greater impact for Christ at all levels and spheres of the marketplace. People were saved in the workplace and though they did not end up in COOS, they were in the kingdom of God and that satisfies if you are kingdom-minded. The workplaces too were impacted by ethical applications of the gospel by ordinary people of God. What he shared really resonated at different levels. I do not know if that spoke to many pastors but it certainly spoke to my situation.
What marketplace leaders wanted to say to pastors
The conversation was interesting thus far, but it got more sensitive when Benny asked the marketplace ministers this question, “If you had a chance to tell pastors what they can do for marketplace people what would you say to them?” I wore my bulletproof vest and braced myself. Let me summarize what some of them shot said :
- Christians are not acting ethically and living out their faith and are stumbling blocks to pre-believers coming to Christ. There needs to be better formation of Christians by the churches.
- The clergy-laity divide still exists, sometimes in subtle forms, and need to be bridged. The sacred-secular divide need to be broken down.
- Most church members spend most of their working life in the marketplace while most pastors spend their time in the church and their respective views of life do not match, and this is reflected in the sermons preached, and the ministry focus, and demands of members’ commitment to church activities.
- Perhaps the fault lies with the seminaries and the way they equip the pastors.
- Pastors should harness the opportunities of mobilizing members to be witnesses in the marketplace. Part of that witness is simply doing their job well so they have credibility when they talk about Christ. The potential is too great to ignore. Instead of church based outreach activities develop workplace based outreach and prayer with a kingdom mentality.
- 80% of people feel they have not heard any teaching on the theology of work (Barna).
- Do not demand so much involvement in church ministries and activities that they cannot even do their workplace jobs well.
- We need the equipping and support of pastors for effective workplace witness.
These were all good pointers but I must admit to holding my breath at times as we pulpit ministers listened to all the frustrations of serious marketplace people. There are so many expectations to meet as a pastor, and this is another one added to the list. Of course most of us have an awareness of these issues, but many of us are already panting on a treadmill running at the speed of 12 and it would take some skill and great conviction to get off and do something different without a fracture.
What pastors wanted to say to marketplace leaders
Then it was the turn of pastors to have a chance to say what they would like the marketplace people to know and to do. We did not have much to say actually. Was an apology to the marketplace people needed? Were we too diplomatic? Were we too afraid or ignorant to say anything? Did we want to show we were above giving tit for tat? So we had a little bit of meandering here and there. However, Pastor Benny did share something worth looking at. Many members are in one of several levels in terms of being salt and light in the workplace. The levels are Struggling – Surviving – Stabilizing – Succeeding – Significance. An estimate would put most in the first three mentioned levels but need to move to the last two levels. My take is all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and we need the gospel again and again in all our churches.
I did not take many photos of people because nowadays I am not sure about the Personal Data Protection Act and maybe I was too lazy to ask permission and take photos. I did take some shots of the nice though hazy views from the penthouse and of the exquisite 7 course meal we were blessed with. These cannot complain about their photos being uploaded on the internet.
Christian veterans of marketplace
I met two Christian veterans of the marketplace. Both of them know my eldest brother Colin. One was David Chan. He was my brother’s classmate at St Andrews pre-university class, and fellow members at St Hilda’s Anglican Church. He worked for many years at senior executive level but had done theology at Regent College and is now a…take a deep breath….Chaplain in Far East Organization. I have heard of armies, football teams and hospitals with chaplains, but this is the first time a famous large corporation in Singapore has appointed a chaplain. I should not be surprised as its owner is a Christian who seems quite committed to applying his influence in the marketplace. He said his most common question is, “What do you do?” I wondered too but I could guess what kind of people would approach him with what kind of problems and it proved to be correct. “What kind of work week?” He works a few days a week. My next question was, “Do you need an assistant?” Haha.
The other Christian veteran I met was Georgie Lee, another St Andrew’s School alumni. This is the second time I have met him. Early in January, I sat beside him at one of the lunches at the Love Singapore Summit. He shared with me what he was doing as Vice President of Full Gospel Businessmen, and I was impressed that this organization, like an ember taken out of the ashes of its past glory and fanned to flame, has come up with a practical nuts and bolts plan to help marketplace people execute the more conceptual vision of mobilizing the church to influence the seven gates of arts and entertainment; business, science and technology; communications and media, divine institutions; education and school; family and home; government and leadership.
As an aside, Galven Lee his son is a first class honours history graduate who once interviewed me about the lesser known school revival of the early 1970s that was formed into World Revival Prayer Fellowship, the church I have been serving these past 34 years. He was doing his thesis about the charismatic revival in Singapore. I think it is a great contribution to Singapore’s church history, done as it was by someone schooled in research methods and under rigorous supervision.
To top it all, I had a wonderful time of talking shop with Pastor Richard Wong from Canaan Christian Church and Pastor William Lee of New Life Christian Church. It is always a blessed fellowship to journey together with spiritual friends.
Singaporeans walk faster than any other people in the world, this data from a study of 32 cities of the world done in 2007. Next in rank is Copenhagen, Madrid, and Guangzhou. Compared to a similar study done in the 1990s, Singaporeans speed increased by 30%. This reflects the hurry and pressure of the day. It points to a physical and social health that needs to be monitored with concern. Christians are not exempted from this. We live in a social system that traps us with patterns of behaviour that is difficult for us to extricate from.
As Christians we can make a difference. We have Christ who dwells in us who is greater than the world outside. We can start by realizing our hurrying does not achieve the purposes of God. Jesus was busy but was never hurried. He lived in another realm called shalom. He abided in an awareness of God and the divine activity around him.
We can imitate Jesus and learn to press the pause button in our daily life: a pause pregnant with silence and a fresh awareness of God’s presence. Be still and silent for two or more minutes at some points in the day. Breathe deeply and slowly and be aware of His loving presence. Imagine Christ smiling before you. Slow down to the rhythms of God’s grace.
Do this as a fun experiment for a start and see if it heals you of the pandemic called hurry.
It has been two years since I last went to the OMF Bungalow. This cool place in the Cameron Highlands has been a place where God had often spoken into my life and strengthened me. It had been both a “broom tree” place and a “cave” place for me – which speaks to me of physical as well as a spiritual rejuvenation respectively. Remember Elijah?
This time it was with a reservation that I embarked on this retreat to OMF Bungalow with Koh Seng Chor, former pastor of Evangel Christian Church. We would have wanted to stay six days but only four days and three nights were available. That’s a bit short for a retreat and not worth the long journey up. Nevertheless we took it. After all OMF was quite booked and my application was late and things are seldom ideal when you feel the need for extended time to rest and pray. The length turned out to be just right.
Seng Chor lived in the East Coast and I in Jurong East. He picked me at 6.30 am in the morning and we breezed through the second link and were bantering all the way up the North South highway. Pleasant company makes long drives sweet. We had a late Indian lunch at the edge of Ipoh before turning into the old road that led to Brinchang. We passed by Ringlet town, Tanah Rata and finally passed Bringchang and up the winding road past Strawberry Park Hotel and into the OMF Bungalow at 3.10 pm. We were warmly welcomed my Mrs Chye.
It’s like time stood still and the exterior of the building remained unchanged this past decade that I have been there on and off- which I like. Inside however renovations had gone on – an ensuite bathroom had been added to the room opposite mine. And they were making an additional bathroom at the upper floor of the TV and play room.
I love and hate the cool of Cameron. When it gets too cold at night as it did on Tuesday, I had to wear two layers of woollen. However the morning cool is what I love the most: crisp and fresh and rejuvenating. The afternoon cool comes with sometimes blue skies, which I love, and sometimes a dismal grey, which I dislike.
A friend Rev Dr P J John gave me Psalm 139 on my Facebook post, so I spent my prayer periods meditating and drawing nectar from a few verses in that passage. The verses reassured me that God is always with me to lead and to hold me – always and unconditionally. They reassured me that I am awesome, for I am “fearfully and wonderfully made”. Seng Chor and me shared what we reflected upon and what touched us during tea and we co-discerned for each other.
The afternoons were great for excursions and with a car that was made easy. We went down to Ringlet to explore, to Tanah Rata for Starbucks (actually more for the wireless than the coffee), to Brinchang to buy tea and other provisions, and to Kea Farm to buy farm products like cherry tomatoes, Cameron oranges, and whatever is cheap and will make our wives happy – which means buy everything. We also had a look at the Lutheran Missions House – another nearby bungalow.
One of the delights this round was fellowship over meals with other pastors who were there. We got to know two lady pastors from Penang Christian Centre and Yee Siew Meng, soon to be appointed pastor of a City Discipleship Presbyterian Church in Kuala Lumpur. Such conversations expanded our understanding of what is happening in other places and churches and what God is doing in other people’s lives. In this case we heard that the Chinese church membership in Malaysia is in ascendancy with the new generation of Chinese schooled in their vernacular and who are more comfortable with Mandarin than English. The churches today are also more politically active and united.
I had always wondered what the OMF man who replied my applications was like . I finally got to meet Alex Lee, a pleasant and committed Christian in person. He is the guy who processes all the applications for rooms in OMF Bungalow. I asked and he told me the annual average occupancy of the OMF Bungalow is 60%. They want more pastors and missionaries from Malaysia and Singapore to use this place of quiet for prayer, and for planning too. I learned that one of the busiest periods were Decembers which is surprising to me since that is the rainy season! The off peak months are March, April, July, and August. They have rooms for just over 20 people. What I do is to ask for the dates I want and also ask that if these dates are already taken to please give me other dates available before or after. They have different fees for lay people than for Christian full time workers, and for non-Malaysians than for Malaysians (see the steps to book OMF Bungalow below). If you want to book email to Alex Lee: email@example.com. He is very prompt in his reply.
STEPS TO MAKE ROOM BOOKING AT OMF BUNGALOW.
The bungalow is only opened for Christian missionaries and Christians from established churches. We are not opened at this time for others.
1. Give us your preferred date (s).
2. We will advise you on the availability.
3. If available, we shall send you our booking form. The sooner you send the form the better because reservation is ONLY done upon receipt of your form.
4. We practice first come first serve depending on whose form and deposit is received first.
5. We do not take bookings or any enquiries through phone. We have an official Booking Form. Please request for one if it is not sent to you.
PLEASE BE INFORMED THAT EVEN WITH APPROVED BOOKINGS, PRIORITY IS GIVEN TO ALL OMF MEMBERS FIRST. MOST TIMES, WE SHALL ASK FOR THE ROOMS TO BE RELEASED FOR THEM.
6. Rates (Per person per night inclusive of three main meals**) : Rates revised from 3rd July, 2014.
For Malaysians – in full time / pastors Adults : RM70.00
Children : 2 – 6 years RM25.00 ; 7 – 12 years RM35.00
For Malaysian – NOT in full time / Adults :RM110.00
Children : 2 – 6 years RM45.00 ; 7 – 12 years RM80.00
For Non-Malaysian – in full time / pastors Adults : RM125.00
Children : 2 – 6 years RM50.00 ; 7 – 12 years RM80.00
For Non-Malaysian – NOT in full time / Adults :RM160.00
Children : 2 – 6 years RM70.00 ; 7 – 12 years RM110.00
‘Full time’ means any persons who are permanent staff of a church or Christian organization.
** Meals are inclusive in the rates whether taken or not. No discount or
waive is allowed Afternoon tea Is NOT included.
7. Maximum number of adults is about 22 – 25 persons at one time. With children, the number would be reduced accordingly.
There is no official Conference room but many guests use the living room at the main block or library block.
8. Deposit to the value of 50% of the total amount for the stay would be required to secure the booking. The deposit is non-refundable in case of any cancellations. Further information on making the deposit would be given when we have received your booking form.
9. Most of the rooms are with double beds. Only three (3) bedrooms have attached bathroom/ toilet. Others share common bathroom and toilets. Room arrangements or allotment is at our discretion.
There are a total of ten (10) rooms.
10. Hot beverages is available whole day through. We appreciate guest to top up the water dispenser after using. Most of the time, cookies are also available. Afternoon Tea is NOT included in the rates but may be provided at the convenience of the care taker.
11. There is a TV room with a small amount of toys for children. At the garden, there is a playground. We have a library with quite a selection of books. Please bring your own board games.
12. Baby cots : We would encourage guest to bring their own ones especially if they have foldable ones. We have two cots located at different rooms. They are both not able to be moved out from their existing rooms.
The church today needs the word and men set apart for prayer and preaching the word. Too often the pastor is distracted by other urgent tasks that draws attending to prayer and word. This temptation and pressure is of course not new to modern times. It happened then too.
The infant church of the first century grew through the apostles’ preaching of the good news of Jesus Christ. However, after some time an internal problem arose that could have derailed the momentum of the infant church. The Greek-speaking widows were not being well cared for by the church. Pastoral help and administrative distribution of welfare fell short. It was a glaring gap in the Spirit-filled church.
There was pressure on the apostles to set aside their prayer and preaching times and made time for distributing food. However by the grace of God, spiritual wisdom and order prevailed. The apostles declared, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables….. (pick out reliable men we can entrust with this task –italics mine)…….But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” (Act 6:2-4 ESV). So other spiritual men, all Greek speaking, were appointed to the task of serving the pastoral and administrative need. It proved to be a wise move for the next verse described the outcome: “The word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith” (verse 7).
Why is the ministry of the word so vital? Well for one thing, it builds faith, hope and love. For another, “All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16,17). Pray that the ministry of the Word will prosper and be given prominence in WRPF, and anointed people will be set apart to focus on this work of grace.
On the subject of equipping, the three main tasks of a pastor are to feed, to care and to lead. Feeding entails the teaching of God’s word to God’s people. This is done through Sunday sermons, facilitating study groups, through cell group learning, and through the equipping stations. God’s people grow by feeding on the explanations and applications of God’s word. It is the hundreds of home-cooked, wholesome meals over many years, and not the occasional Michelin standard restaurant meals that grow you physically. In the same way, it is not the occasional inspiring, moving sermon that grows you spiritually but the faithful interpretation, teaching and application of the sacred text over many years.
On a personal note, the teaching and learning process is my preferred equipping task. It is what God gifted me for and what energizes me. There are pastors that find this task draining. Not I. True, the challenging and exciting moments of selecting a passage, allowing the Spirit to illuminate it, poring over what others have said about the passage, and preparing a message, can sometimes be tense and a struggle. However when all is settled, and the message is delivered and you trust the Holy Spirit to show Himself strong though a sermon that is often “five loaves and two fish”, it gives you pleasure, humility and peace. God’s word has resounded among God’s people and for another Sunday they have been strengthened in the faith, encouraged to hope, and renewed in love. It is fulfilling.