Latest Publications

The New Covenant Church: recent developments

Observing this young church

Our 2014 church camp was held in Everly Hotel in Putrajaya. I decided to visit my favourite church in Petaling Jaya, the New Covenant Church. My friendship with the pastor, Peter Sze, was started and maintained by social media via this blog and Facebook. I have been a keen observer of this grace-based church that has taken Joseph Prince’s melody of grace and made the song uniquely theirs. It has been nothing short of amazing what God has done, and I have been observing the development of this young church since its formation. You can read the various posts I have written by doing a search on the top right hand of this blog.

Hosted warmly by the family

With Yew Juan and tallest tissue prata in PJ

With Yew Juan and tallest tissue prata in PJ

On Friday afternoon while church campers went home to Singapore a Mercedes Benz shuttled me and my wife off to the pastor’s home where we received a warm welcome from Seefen, the pastor’s wife. Pastor Peter is a managing director of a company and flew back from Singapore late in the afternoon. By around six, he and his wife had to go launch a new community group of the church. Running a company and leading a church requires bi-vocational stamina and passion. Meanwhile we were brought out for an evening meal in IPPUDO at the Bangsar Shopping Centre. Filled up with ramen and pleasant conversation with Yew Juan and Suzanna (the pastor’s daughter), we then had dessert at a kopitiam: roti tissue tower, teh tarik, and chendol – calories for tomorrow’s hike, that’s how we justified our intake.

the tncc regular hikers of Gasing Hill

the tncc regular hikers of Gasing Hill

Hiking Bukit Gasing

Pastor Peter hiking with us

Pastor Peter hiking with us

It was about seven in the morning on Saturday when we got ready and went for the morning’s hike up Bukit Gasing (literally “hill top”). The hill is located on a narrow sliver of green,  smack in between Kuala Lumpur (federal territory) and Petaling Jaya, a city of Selangor. At 160 metres tall it is the small brother of Bukit Timah Hill’s 163 metres. There was a group of hikers from the church who regularly hiked here. Many had climbed Mt Kinabalu recently and some had stories of weight loss and better health as a result of regular hiking.

We enjoyed the hike. It had interesting features like a watch tower, a suspension bridge, and various detours from the main route. One of the steeper slopes was tougher than the toughest slope in Bukit Timah Hill. It was a good workout and we adjourned for breakfast with the group while Pastor Peter had to rush off for a meeting with his leaders. He was busy but had accommodated our desire to hike. If not for us, he would probably have had opted for sleep, glorious sleep. That afternoon we talked shop over lunch and coffee at One Utama.

Recent developments in the New Covenant Church

The New Covenant Church used to have a mid-week fellowship that meets for teaching of the word and small group interaction. Now in addition to this they have developed home fellowships for the caring and belonging of community. I thought this was an important development for as the church grew to its current 600 in attendance, feeling a sense of belonging can be easily lost. These home groups that met fortnightly for fellowship are spread over more locations, making it convenient for members to attend. The increase of such groups will certainly increase body ministry and participation, develop shepherds and leaders, and give the church a greater capacity to assimilate and initiate new guests or converts into the life of grace. It will lay foundations for further growth in grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus.

TNCC Educenter

Another interesting development I got wind of was the formation of the TNCC Educenter. The stated mission was to provide an education alternative for young people at affordable costs. They use a programme called Eduseeds. It is multimedia-based online learning combined with classroom interaction. It is done at the pace of the student. And it prepares students to sit for the Cambridge IGCSE. It is done as a community service too. Pastor Peter shared how the Lord opened the door for them to start this and provided the right contacts, champions and students.

Ian and Charmaine, the worship stalwarts

Ian and Chermaine, the worship stalwarts

On Sunday I saw the large auditorium that tNCC uses for its worship services. This was their third one and it seated 800. I preached there on the new covenant way of finishing well, and gave an invitation for sick people to be prayed for with the laying on of hands. Nowadays, I find that my doctoral research on ageing and spirituality have crept into my preaching and writings. I guess this is inevitable and I do not mind if that is relevant to the text my message is based on, which it was, as I spoke about the biblical Caleb, that senior with great faith, and how he finished well.

Christine, Aileen, and us

Christine, Aileen, and us

Catching up with Aileen and Christine
I couldn’t book a return bus ticket for Sunday and I asked Aileen, who attended our church when she lived in Singapore, for help. She invited us to stay in her home on Sunday and book a ticket on Monday morning. We had a lovely crab dinner near her place and then we visited her daughter’s new start-up café. It was in a glass house situated in a university, and we loved the coffee, lava cakes, macaroons and decor. On Monday morning, we slurped up fish porridge at a local coffee shop, and left for Singapore on First Coach at One Utama.
What an enjoyable and blessed weekend of ministry, fun and fellowship.

The tasks of seniors

People aged 65 to 75 are called the young old and people 75 above are called older old. Throughout the senior years, and indeed while you are in your early or mid-50s you have several tasks you need to begin to navigate if you want to make your senior years meaningful, spiritual and impactful. In my research on ageing and spirituality, I have discovered there are at least seven tasks that have to be processed through. Here they are:

  1. Preparing for retirement
  2. Doing a life review with biblical lenses
  3. Clarifying your life purpose
  4. Developing a healthy sense of self  and community
  5. Deepening your faith in God
  6. Grieving and handling losses well
  7. Preparing to die well

Each of these tasks has to be worked through in a safe, loving and interactive environment. When these are done, the senior years can be adventurous, purposeful and meaningful.

The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Deuteronomy 31:8.

Growing old with grace

Do we have misconceptions about the old?  There are plenty swirling around in society but often we who are becoming seniors have too easily accepted them without thinking. Let me give an example. They say the old deteriorate mentally.  Forgetfulness is a common sign of this deterioration. The young forget to do their homework, forget their multiplication table, forget appointments but do not say to themselves, I’m getting old!  Seniors should not say that they are mentally deteriorating just because their memory sometimes fails them. This is just one example.

Other misconceptions about seniors are:

-seniors are weak and are often plagued with illnesses.

-seniors are irritable, stubborn and unteachable.

-seniors are less productive than their younger colleagues.

-seniors are generally withdrawn from life and activities and prefer to vegetate.

The first thing we need to do is to set free the mind of such misconceptions. If you are becoming a senior, do not allow such misconceptions into your mental software. If you are young, do not look at your brothers and sisters who are growing older in this light. See them differently and treat them differently. This is kingdom thinking and living.

Love anxieties: can we trust God

Love and marriage is one of the important issues of life that a person in his twenties and thirties are usually eager or anxious to settle. I use the word anxious because society and media has increased the pressure on the plain, the ordinary and the nerdy. It seems like the good looking, the intelligent, the highly qualified, the charming are the ones that are desirable and if you do not fall in those categories, good luck to you.

The pressure is greater for the Christian because they see the wisdom of marrying someone of the same faith, but this means the choices are already limited as only about 18% of the population in Singapore are Christians.  Added to this the fact that there are more Christian girls than guys in most churches and this decreases the odds of a successful pairing, that is, unless we put God in the picture.

The ten spies did not put God in the picture and saw giants and fortresses in Canaan.  Joshua and Caleb saw God and said the land can be taken, the giant soldiers and fortresses can be gobbled up. We need to put God in this pathetic, problematic picture of love anxieties. We need to trust God in prayer for a life partner.

Just as important, we need to realize that though having a life partner is important, it is not the most important thing in life. Jesus and Paul the two most impactful men in the New Testament were not married, but they were fulfilled and served God’s purpose well.

We are all created to serve His purposes and to glorify Him. This can be done in the married state or in the single state. The most important thing is that we serve His purposes in this life and for all eternity, and not whether you got married or not. We were created to glorify Him, and this may be better served in one state or the other. (1 Cor 7)

Mid year reflection

lights to illuminate your path in the middle of the year

lights to illuminate your path in the middle of the year

The middle of a year is a good time to retreat and reflect. You can have a personal retreat in your bedroom, or in a public park or in a quiet place like a library. Some are able to do it in a café with the help of caffeine in the air.
If you have a journal, it’s a great help. Our memory fails us but a short note triggers fruitful paths of reflection. If you do not journal, just mentally look backwards from the most recent happenings to those at the the beginning of the year. Note down a list of blessings: events, people, experiences, learnings, and gifts you have received. List down all the ways God has used others to bless you, and used you to bless others. How has the joy, love and peace of God and other fruit of the Spirit been displayed in your life these few months?  As you roll back the curtains and count the blessings, some painful moments will surface too and should be noted in the margins.
When the list is done have some secret time with your heavenly Father. Thank him from your heart for each of the blessings one by one.  They reveal how real and active God has been in your life. Then tell him how you feel about those painful moments you have had, and wait in silence for his response. He may give you a word, an advice, an experience of assurance and comfort, or all you may have is silence and a strange peace and strength. Receive them in good faith.
With this done you will face the second half of the year free from unnecessary emotional baggage, and with a sense of assurance that the Lord will go ahead of you and be with you into the next half of the year.

Fallen fathers: upheld by grace

father and childWe are all fallen fathers. There are no perfect fathers in case you think that there are. The fall has made sure of that. Every father has strengths and weaknesses. Often the immediate family members are most aware of these, especially the weaknesses.
The Bible has many examples of fallen fathers: from Adam to Abraham, from Jacob to Judah, from Samuel to Solomon, and not to forget that man after God’s heart, David. You would want to add your name in that list because it does look impressive, and you should, to be honest, because we too have our weaknesses as fathers.
The big difference for us who live in the new covenant is that there is hope for us. We have Christ who dwells in us to give us the hope of transformation and glory. We all with unveiled faces can behold and contemplate the Lord’s glory in His finished work. And the Spirit promises us He will do a work of transformation for those who have faith and patience. We will be transformed into Christ’s likeness from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18). We will be better fathers as we grow in grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.
This transformation is a long process. In the midst of that process there will be many shortcomings, failures and lapses. However, we can be comforted that God’s grace is there to provide forgiveness and can redeem the consequences of our poor parenting, imperfect example, and bad decisions.  He can work all things for His good and His glory (Romans 9.28, 29).
It’s good to be a Christian father because we can look to a heavenly Father to help us.

National Museum of Singapore: a refreshing change

Against the grey the museum still exudes grandness

Against the grey the museum still exudes grandness

The last time I stepped into our national museum, I was probably a 10 or 11 years old primary school boy on a class excursion to the National Museum of Singapore. All I remember from that time was a huge mammoth bone structure hanging suspended in a huge hall. I also remember hosts of specimens of plant and seeds and stones and I cannot remember what else.

50 stained glass panels to commemorate Queen Victoria's 50 years reign

50 stained glass panels to commemorate Queen Victoria's 50 years reign

So it was refreshing to visit the newly done up Museum. It is located in the same place next to Wesley Methodist Church. The old British colonial building still looked impressive. It was a wet day but even in the backdrop of grey it looked dignified and classic. I had wanted to visit since it was announced that it would be free admission for Singaporeans. That was months ago. It took a welcome invitation from friends for us to set aside a morning for this visit. Nick and Lai Lin gathered 8 others to this specially guided tour. Nick was a volunteer with the museum and had undergone rigorous training. We looked forward to this special tour.

Nick talking about the Malay annals

Nick talking about the Singapore Stone

We were promptly given tickets on showing our identity cards. Mine was a snap of my i/c in my mobile. It passed muster. Immediately Nick began with an introduction to the history and architecture of the building. Now I know why there are 50 stained glass on the dome that was the central feature of the roof. He told us about all the various sections and the exhibits in them but began the tour with the most important: the Singapore Living History.

At basement famous photographer Salgado's "Genesis" prints are on show

At basement famous photographer Salgado's "Genesis" prints are on show

It was a tour that was engaging and interesting. I learned things I didn’t know before about Singapore’s beginnings, the political background of significant events in our nations short history and some interesting bits about Singapore’s culture then. What heightened the experience was not just Nick’s expertise but also the enthusiasm with which he delivered detailed interesting information in an engaging, interactive way. The guided tour took more than an hour and a half but it did not seem long. We enjoyed it. And that was topped up with lunch at a museum restaurant of Chef Chan.

Chef Chan's restaurant at the museum annexe

Chef Chan's restaurant at the museum annexe

If you have not gone to the museum, go there as soon as you can. Free guided tours are available for the first 15 who sign up for them at the 11am and 2pm slots. Who knows, Nick may be your museum guide.

What if church members stopped dyeing their hair

More are hitting their fifties and sixties

More are hitting their fifties and sixties

What if everyone in church, men and women, stopped dyeing their hair for a year? Before the end of the year there would obviously be more grey and white heads in the congregation.

There would be a greater awareness of the relentless ageing process of members who we previously thought were forever young. Without treated hair, we would look different. For the women, the difference would be more telling. Most men do not dye their hair and it is usual to see some grey hair, mostly men’s, in most adult congregations. But if everyone stopped dyeing, there would be a sea of grey and white, since there are usually more women than men in church. We would be surprised, perhaps dismayed, at how old others and ourselves appear. It could even be depressing, or devastating for some.

The members of the leadership team would have a heightened awareness of the ageing process in the congregation. They would think of the various implications of that. The financial implications would certainly surface. So would the need to renew leadership and mentor the next generation. The urgency of outreach especially to young people would be highlighted. The need for new blood would stare them in the face. Maybe special fixtures to aid the seniors, need to be added and the building made senior friendly.

The pastor would likely have already been aware of the greying of the congregation. However the colour of hair can be shock therapy for a pastor. Suddenly the needs of the grey haired senior become urgent. Hopefully the pastor would do some research or ask other pastors about how best to equip and serve the seniors in their churches.

So it may be a good thing for everyone in church to stop dyeing their hair for a year. In addition, more people will offer them their seats in the MRT during peak hours.

My Pentecostal heritage

Pentecost: come Holy Spirit

Pentecost: come Holy Spirit

I have always been thankful for my Pentecostal heritage. Like a river of life, it has enriched, fertilized and nourished my spirituality. I have many reasons to be grateful and here are just a few of them:

The Pentecostal experience has made the reality of God’s presence and activity in my life is undeniable and unforgettable.

It  gave me a vision of how great and alive and loving our God is.

I have a deep assurance of faith and never doubted the reality of God throughout my Christian life.

I have experienced the spiritual empowerment and abilities of God’s Spirit in diverse ways.

I am glad to be part of such a vast and enriching spiritual movement.The Pentecostal movement has resulted in the salvation of millions of unbelievers around the world as well as impacted social concerns like political oppression, poverty, racism, unemployment, and even the green movement.

Pentecostals and Charismatics: the main difference

Pentecost: come Holy Spirit

Pentecostals and charismatics carried along by Spirit

“In 2011, there were an estimated 584 million Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians worldwide. They made up 8.5 percent of the world’s population and 27 percent of all Christians. There were 279 million Pentecostals and over 300 million Charismatics. Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity is second in size only to the Roman Catholic Church.” (Source: David Barrett, “Christian World Communions: Five Overviews of Global Christianity, AD 1800-2025,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research, Volume 33, No. 1, January 2009, 31.)

Pentecostals are Christians who believe that the gifts of the Spirit described in the New Testament like the gift of tongues, healing, and casting out demons, are available and expected to be experienced by God’s people today. Our worship is characterized by lively responses to a palpable sense of God’s presence. We are so named after what happened to the disciples on the Day of Pentecost (read Acts 2) and our insistence that the essence of such experiences are to be normative for today.

Charismatics are believers who originally worship in mainline churches such as Methodists, Anglicans, Lutherans, and Presbyterians. They had Pentecostal experiences and hold almost similar beliefs and practices as Pentecostals, but continue to attend and serve in their traditional churches.

Admittedly, there is considerable overlap in usage of both terms and such strict definitions have become porous and interchangeable in the recent decade or two. Who cares anyway? Probably the theologian and the researcher.

Reminder: 8 June is Pentecost Sunday.

Neglected Pentecost

Pentecost: come Holy Spirit

Pentecost: come Holy Spirit

Why do we neglect Pentecost? We celebrate Good Friday and Easter, and even Palm Sunday. We have Lent but do we have “Pent”? The mainline churches have the church calender and lectionary that give at least a nodding acknowledgement to Pentecost Sunday. The shame is that it is the independent and Pentecostal churches that ignore this important opportunity to shed light on the vital and vitalizing ministry of the Holy Spirit, and to rejoice and give thanks for their precious heritage. I plead guilty. Perhaps we need to start a “Pent” – 10 days of waiting expectantly and praying for the Spirit’s empowering. Here are 10 suggestions:

  • We could encourage members to take extended time to pray in silence every day for 10 days until Pentecost Sunday.
  • Or encourage that members follow a 10 days reading plan that include all the relevant Scriptures in Old and New Testament about the coming person and work of the Spirit.
  • Be on the alert to the Spirit’s prompting to share the good news of grace to anyoneHhe directs during this period.
  • Be sensitive to give a prophetic word of encouragement, comfort and strengthening to someone who is weary and burdened.
  • Meet with other Christians in school, homes or workplace to pray with during the 10 days.
  • Reflect on your spiritual gift and how it has developed and how it has been deployed. What is God doing through your grace-gift?
  • Exalt Jesus in worship because that’s what the Spirit came to do. Use the gift of tongues, spiritual songs and hymns.
  • Pray for 10 nationalities living or working in Singapore: Vietnamese, Chinese and Indian nationals, Thais, Myanmese, Indonesians, Malaysians, Bangladeshis, Japanese, Koreans, Filipinos, Sri Lankans, Taiwanese, and whoever else.
  • If you are a pastor, how about preaching a sermons series on the Holy Spirit and open the altar for prayer at the end.
  • Write a personal letter to the Holy Spirit appreciating Him for his faithful help and presence in your life.

Don’t procrastinate: do what you dread and fear

Time to act

Time to act

There are many things we procrastinate because we dread doing them. A talk to correct someone. An apology to make. An appraisal to do. An assignment to complete. A household chore begging to get done. A meal with someone you dislike. Attending an important training you think will mean less time for other pursuits. A textbook you have to read. How do we find courage and grace to do them?

Well, why not try this. Talk to the Lord about it. Lord, I dread this, I am afraid of this, I feel inadequate for this, but I am going to depend on You to be with me and together we do this thing that has to be done. Then step out of the safety and inaction of sitting in the boat and go out and walk on water. He is there. The water will hold up. It is an adventure you will later reflect on with some relief and celebration. His presence and empowering grace makes all the difference. It illuminates puzzling situations; it eases the pain; it energizes the hopeless case; it lifts up your countenance; it elevates your faculties to perform beyond what you think you are capable.

“For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control”. (1 Timothy 1:7 ESV)

Thankful for Olympus customer service

Olympus lens cap perimeter damaged

Olympus lens cap perimeter damaged

After I came back from Rinjani, I discovered that a fragment of the perimeter of the lens cap of my Olympus Stylus XZ 2 broke off. I did not drop the camera and it was okay when I was in Gili Trawangan. I was puzzled how it was damaged. So I tried to buy a spare from camera shops but they do not carry them, and they pointed me to Olympus service center. I wrote to them explaining my situation and they were very sympathetic and graciously offered me a free one on a once-off basis. Thank God for good customer service. After all, how much does a lens cap cost? But good service stories spread goodwill towards the company and is priceless. Wise policy, Olympus.

Rinjani: dirtiest park I have ever seen

Litter at campsite

Litter at campsite

Gunong Rinjani National Park is slightly more than half the size of Singapore’s 716 square kilometres.

The park is amazing and beautiful with a variety of vegetation and interesting geographical features from caldera-lake and hot springs, to active volcanoes and a recently formed new mountain; from grasslands to alpine and equatorial forest. The air is fresh and the views awe-inspiring. The sunrise and sunsets are stunning. It is a national treasure to be preserved and enjoyed for generations to come. It is God’s gift to Indonesia to be treasured and managed well so that all can enjoy and give praise to the Creator.

Yet during this trek I was appalled that this rare natural beautiful park is marred by litter. Litter of all kinds. There were paper, plastics, and even human excrement. Sweet wrappers, plastic water bottles, paper, empty food containers, plastic bags and paper can be seen every 500 metres along the route. The litter was concentrated where the camps were set up but much lesser along the trekking paths. They were an eyesore. It marred what God has made and given for people to enjoy. It assaulted my senses; it stirred up anger and disgust. And this is not my country. I am sure there are many Indonesians who are angry with this too.

One of my friends said, Mt Ophir used to be as dirty. But now the mountain is clean. The park officials have taken action. One of them is to insist that people who climb pay a money deposit and can claim it back only if they show proof they have brought back litter they were responsible for. How true this is I do not know, as I have not been there in the past nor more recently after the changes. But this was what I heard. If Malaysia boleh, then Indonesia boleh.

I also understand that local guides and porters make regular trips to pick up litter but I suspect this is not true. I heard that Singaporeans organize two trips each year where scores of young adults climb Rinjani to pick up litter along the way to bring back. How true this is I do not know but that was what the guide told me when I asked whether efforts have been made to clean the park.

It’s obvious more can be done. I wish for Rinjani what I saw at Kinabalu – a relatively clean park for all to enjoy. I wish for Rinjani what I saw in Nepal. It can be kept relatively litter free. It is not impossible.

So please when you do your treks keep all litter with you till you return back to the villages for proper disposal. The plastic wrapper of your energy bar, chocolate or sweets can be kept in your pocket. The water bottle can be kept in your backpack. Be responsible for your own trash. This will help keep other people’s land clean and litter free and later generations can enjoy it too.

Mt Rinjani vs Mt Kinabalu: which is tougher?

Mt Kinabalu (4,096 m) in Sabah, Malaysia

Mt Kinabalu (4,096 m) in Sabah, Malaysia

Mt Rinjani (3,726m)  in Lombok, Indonesia

Mt Rinjani (3,726m) in Lombok, Indonesia

At the end of our trek, we compared the level of difficulty of the Rinjani trek with the many Kinabalu treks we have done. Most of the trekkers have done Kinabalu a few times. It was unanimously agreed by all who have done both, that the Rinjani trek was tougher. I had talked about this with trekkers – people I do not know – I had met in Bukit Timah and most of them tell me Rinjani was tougher. When these fellow hikers in Bukit Timah mentioned the comparative difficulty I found it hard to believe because Mt Kinabalu is higher than Mt Rinjani. However, now that I have done Rinjani and am in a better position to compare, I have to agree with all the other people’s opinions.

Perhaps one factor that weakens my opinion is that I climbed Kinabalu about 5 years ago. Memory of the hardship and challenge has faded. However, my friends have climbed Kinabalu recently and their opinions are that Rinjani is tougher.

My friends and I are easy trekkers. We are kiasu, kiasi, and kia bo. These friends have done several treks in Nepal like Poon Hill, Annapura Base Camp, Thorong la Pass and other Everest treks. They have done Mt Fuji in Japan, Mt Agung in Bali, and a tough Trans Gopeng Cameron trek. When compared all other treks with Rinjani – everyone said this was tougher.

The comparison between Rinjani and Kinabalu will look like this in a table of comparison:

Aspects

Mt Rinjani

Mt Kinabalu

Height

3726 m

4096 m

Difficulty level of first leg

2.5 out of 4

3 out of 4

Ascent

3.8 out of 4

3.5 out of 4

Nature of challenge

-Loose gravel that sinks as you step forward.

-Sleep overnight in tents and inconvenience.

-Possible altitude sickness and thin air.

-Sleep overnight in relative comfort.

Return leg

3 out of 4

2.5 out of 4

Rinjani: heavens declare glory of God

In my treks, I often feel the majesty, intelligence and beautiful designs of God’s creation. It could be the sunrise or the sunset. Sometimes it’s the feeling of being above the clouds. Sometimes it’s the waterfall or the vast grasslands or cultivated fields. Or the play of light on leaves and slopes and water. Other times it’s the minute: the patterns on leaves, the saturated colours of flowers, the amazing insects. Here are some pics from this trip that makes me want to sing with the Psalmist:

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork.

Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge.

There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.

Their line is gone out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.

Psalms 1:1-4 (King James Version)

The flowers and grasses that dresses the fields

The flowers and grasses that dresses the fields

Brunch

Brunch

Gentle slopes covered with grass

Gentle slopes covered with grass

Craggy rocky slope overlooking the caldera lake

Craggy rocky slope overlooking the caldera lake

Brown coat of grass and bush

Brown coat of grass and bush

Sometimes the lake looks blue, sometimes green

Sometimes the lake looks blue, sometimes green

Clouds of witnesses seeing you summit

Clouds of witnesses seeing you summit

The sun retires after a long day

The sun gently, quietly peeps through the clouds

The skies sing a slow song to awaken the mountains

The skies sing a slow song to awaken the mountains

Covering the lake in cottonwool

Covering the lake in cottonwool

The lake beckons us to its still waters

The lake beckons us to its still waters

This little creature stands out in white

This little creature stands out in white

Bejewelled monster of the dark

Bejewelled monster of the dark

Sunset at Gili Trawangan

Sunset at Gili Trawangan

Walking in the dusk with the music of the waves

Walking in the dusk to the music of the waves

Trawangan dawn

Trawangan dawn

Tranquil silence

Tranquil silence

Sunny side of a lazy morning

Sunny side of a lazy morning

Rinjani trekking companions

Somebody said, “When you want to travel with others, start by looking for congenial companions, not for desirable destinations.” In my case it was relatively simple. I have been traveling with this group of mature, congenial friends of different backgrounds for years. Two common threads holds us together. One is a shared interest in trekking. The second is the pleasant memories of past trekking trips dating as far back as a decade. I like this bunch. They are wonderful people and I feel relaxed with them, even though a few new “trekkies” joined in recent years.

Zoe and Linda (the organizer and leader)

Zoe and Linda (the group leader)

Vincent and Judith

Vincent and Judith

Nellie

Nellie

Yu Ting and Judith

Yu Ting and Judith

Eric and Vincent

Eric and Vincent

Michael and Jane

Michael and Jane

Kenny and Jenny

Kenny and Jenny

These folks typically plan for 4-5 trekking trips a year. This year they have plans to go to the Everest Base Camp and to climb the Pinnacles near the Mulu Caves. I usually join them for at least one trip a year. This Rinjani trek was the big one for me this year. I have missed out on quite a few interesting ones in recent years because the planned dates clashed with church priorities. Hopefully next year I can make it for at least one of the big trips.

Rinjani trek: spectacular views, frustrating ascent

Mt Rinjani (3,726m) is second highest active volcano in Indonesia

Mt Rinjani (3,726m) is second highest active volcano in Indonesia

Loose volcanic gravel coupled with frustration is the big challenge of summiting Gunung Rinjani, the second tallest active volcano in Indonesia. At 3,726 m, not a frightening height, it is the fifth tallest mountain in Indonesia. The three tallest mountains are all in Papua province.

We have made what we thought was adequate preparation but the mental challenge was what was most crucial. We had been training weekly at Bukit Timah hill, did a few endurance treks, in addition to two treks to Gunung Belumut and Gunung Lambak in Kluang, Johor. We did staircases during the weekdays too. At least I tried. This physical training was all necessary but the desire, the determination to summit is the crucial piece that was the crown of all preparations.

Easy walk in grasslands at the beginning

Easy walk in grasslands at the beginning

Then the hills get steep and misty

Then the hills get steep and misty

Drizzles and mist and constant change of apparel

Drizzles and mist and constant change of apparel

The trek began with pleasant grasslands and rolling hills, cloudy and misty weather and some drizzles. The hills gradually became three steep uphill climbs to reach the Sembalun crater rim where we pitched tent, ate, rested and prepared for the final ascent to the summit at 2am the next morning.This was outside my comfort zone – living in tents. Most of us used wet wipes to clean ourselves, change our clothes and used a miner’s torch to pack ready for the ascent. I slept soundly to my pleasant surprise.

Thank God for porters who got everything ready before you reach Sembalun crater rim.

Thank God for porters who got everything ready before you reach Sembalun crater rim.

Tuna lemak with white rice tasted like lontong.

Tuna lemak with white rice tasted like lontong.

We woke at 2am but preparations, breakfast and getting all geared up caused a delay and we started at 4am. It would be too late to catch the sunrise. I did not mind. I planned to trek at a pace I am comfortable with. I do not mind reaching the summit after sunrise. And so it was that I reached the summit with my wife and three other friends at about 12 noon.

Trekking up at 5 am with head torch

Trekking up at 5 am with head torch

Glorious sunrise came before we could reach the peak

Glorious sunrise came before we could reach the peak

Rinjani sunrise arrests your attention

Rinjani sunrise arrests your attention

Sengara Anak crater lake is beautiful and so is the newly formed mountain in its foreground

Sengara Anak crater lake is beautiful and so is the newly formed mountain in its foreground

Short breaks to re-energize and re-hydrate

Short breaks to re-energize and re-hydrate

What was supposed to have taken us 3 hours took some of us 8 hours. Of course along the way we took in the sights, the sunrise, the scenery and took numerous photographs. The journey was to be enjoyed and there was no prize for the fastest. The toughest stretch was 1 km slope of loose gravel to the peak. This took us several hours. It looked so near but it took so long and so much out of you. It one long  frustrating plod. Three steps forward, two steps back. The incline was about 60-80 degrees. The ground was soft, and the gravel loose, and our feet kept sinking backwards. It was frustrating till the very end. However, you see others ahead of you, and some at the top, and talk to some on the way down, and that encouraged you to keep going.

The last 1 km was tedious, frustrating and morale sapping

The last 1 km was tedious, frustrating and morale sapping

There is always that "a bit more" before we reach the summit.

There is always that "a bit more" before we reach the summit.

Lord, strengthen my legs and my hands. Guide my feet to solid ground. Bring me to the summit. Help me to get up there. And with patience and endurance, my wife and I got there and were filled with relief that the worse was over, and we made it to the summit. We were the last group to be there – we took our photos in peace and quiet. Setting your heart to reach the top was vital. The rest was God’s grace and moving step by step in the right direction.

Kenny, Ye Ping, Jenny, Eric, Judith - the last ones at the summit.

Kenny, Ye Ping, Jenny, Eric, Judith - the last ones at the summit.

The day after - having breakfast.

The day after - having breakfast.

Makeshift $10 toilet with a million dollar view

Makeshift $10 toilet with a million dollar view

Lovely spectacular views of the volcanic crater lake.

Lovely spectacular views of the volcanic crater lake.

We started on 28 April (Monday) and ended on the 1 May (Thursday). We stayed three nights in tents in the mountains. The first and second night we stayed at the crater rim: Plawangan Sembalun. It overlooked the beautiful Segara Anak crater lake. On the third night, we clawed our way to Pos III along the Senaru route, and camped there. There we spent the last night, and looked forward to the short trek back through equatorial forest back to civilization and the Villa Ombak Hotel Resort on Gili Trawangan.

Heading for Mt Rinjani

Packing is as tough as the climb

Packing is as tough as the climb

I am still packing. Packing is always a chore that has to be done. A list of items. Searching for some rarely used items in the storage. Buying some stuff. Organizing which goes into the bag that the porters will carry and which goes into the bag in the hotel and which goes into the bag you are carrying. From miners torch, to woolen gloves, to camera and energy bars – you want to be sure everything you need will be inside.

Tomorrow at dawn the MaxiCab will take me and four others to the Changi Airport Terminal 2. From there we fly to the island of Lombok, east of island of Bali, in Indonesia. There is a challenging climb up the volcano called Gunung Rinjani (literally mount princess). I will get to admire my Father’s world. Marred by sin, His world is still beautiful and wonderful and awesome. Imagine the new earth and the new heavens!

As usual the ascent of the peak is a challenge. And so is the overnight camping in tents for three nights. However when I look at some of the photos and videos of the crater lake and the volcano, the pleasure and delight ahead outweigh the hardship of weeks of training, and of the trek itself.

So here I go for a whole week. I hide under the shadow of the Almighty – and that is a very big shadow, like a huge mother ship in the sky, watching and backing us up. Praise God.

The Power of Right Believing: reflection 7

rightPart 7: Finding rest in the Father’s love

Now at last I have come to the last part of the book. It’s rare that I finish a book. Making a public promise gives me that little push to complete it. So I am glad to announce this Good Friday: “It is finished – the reading of this book of course.”

Chapter 19: Receive the Father’s love for you

This chapter has interesting insights into the parable of the Prodigal Son or some say the Waiting Father. JP does a good job of showing that this is all about the waiting father’s prodigal lavish love and grace to both of his sons. The first son was accepted even though his motive for returning home was suspect with self-interest, and his mentality is one of works – “Let me try to earn my keep by working for you like one of your hired servants”. The second son, also had that same works mentality: “I have slaved for you all these years and you never gave me what I deserved, but this son who never deserved anything, has a barbecued fatted calf!” Both sons showed the flawed but common approach to Christian life of many Christians.

Joseph Prince himself personally does confess and admit his wrong to God (310) but it is done as one already forgiven, as one secure and deeply loved: “Do I say “sorry” to God and confess my sins when I have fallen short and failed? Of course I do. But I do it not to be forgiven because I know that I am already forgiven through Jesus’ finished work. The confession is out of the overflow of my heart because I have experienced his goodness and grace and because I know that as His son, I am forever righteous through Jesus’ blood. It springs from being righteousness-conscious, not sin-conscious; from being forgiveness-conscious, not judgement-conscious. There is a massive difference.” An earlier quote (308,309) shows the belief he finds harmful: “Some people think that fellowship with God can only be restored when you are perfectly contrite and have perfectly confessed all your sins. They think that you must apologize to God before He can be appeased. Please understand that I have nothing against saying “sorry” to God or confessing our sins. All I am saying is that we are not as important as we make ourselves out to be. The father was the initiator. Before the son even had thoughts of returning home, the father had already missed him, was already looking out for him, and had already forgiven him. Before the son could utter a single word of his rehearsed apology, the gather had already run to him, embraced him, and welcomed him home.” I thought it good to quote extensively here, as there has been some controversy and confusion about JP’s statements about confessing sins that are often not accurate reflections of his understanding. Hope this clarifies and settles some dust from your eyes.

Chapter 20: Be transformed by the Father’s love

The focus in this chapter is our propensity to try to earn the Lord’s love and favour. JP demonstrates that both sons had that mentality. Believers therefore need to come to a place of believing and receiving God’s love and let it transform them. All his love and spiritual resources and blessings are already ours not because of our perfect performance but His perfect finished work. And when we learn to receive God’s love, we will be empowered to live free from the pig sty life that the prodigal son would never think of going back to after experiencing the love of the father.

Chapter 21: Finding rest in the Father’s love

The best way to sum up this last chapter is to quote a “simple but critical truth”, one that you should memorize “even if you forget everything else you have read in this book”. Here it goes: “As a child of God, no matter what happens in your life, your Father in heaven loves you dearly and nothing you do can ever change that.” Believing this will free you from the performance trap; give you power to overcome mistakes, failures and sins in your life; triumph over temptation; and make you unshakeable.