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Noah movie review: bring popcorn not Bible

Noah movie (2014)

Noah movie (2014)

I went to J-Cube and saw it: the Noah movie. The biblical outline was all there: the wickedness, God’s word to Noah, the building of the ark, the supernatural navigation of creatures of land and air to the ark, the floods of God’s judgment, the raven and the dove, the rainbow.

The special effects CGI ranged from amateurish to great.

As you know there is not enough tension in the biblical account to hold a film of over two hours. So here is where artistic liberties fill in the silences in the biblical narrative and adds in extra biblical elements to create more points of tension and resolution.

There was a brave attempt to show different facets of Noah’s personality: intuitive, righteous, rigid, seer, good steward of creation, introspective, anguished, obsessed, guilt ridden, mistaken, defeated, and redeemed.

Then there is the lame appeal to the younger audience with rock bound fallen angels who were punished for trying to help men without God’s approval. They remind me of the talking trees of the Lord of the Rings and the Transformers. There were the special powers of Methuselah, the grandfather of Noah. You need these to get audiences to the movies in summer. Lighten up Christians.

Would I go for a second? No, even though it cost me only $4.

Would I recommend it? Go see it with a cup of popcorn, and not the Bible in hand. Just relax and have fun speculating and let your dormant imagination stir. If you need a utilitarian reason: go see it so at least you can discuss it intelligently with friends and colleagues who saw it and have questions to ask you. You can give a reason for your hope.

And no, I doubt it would become a classic like the Ten Commandments.

The Power of Right Believing by Joseph Prince: reflection 6

rightPART 6: HAVE A CONFIDENT EXPECTATION OF GOOD

The central idea in this part is all about having hope: a confident expectation of good from God because He is gracious. It’s about what is hope, why it is important, how to have it, and bible examples of this truth in action.

CHAPTER 16: THE BATTLE BELONGS TO THE LORD

Joseph Prince used the famous battle that Jehoshaphat fought against enemies that formed an unholy alliance against God’s people (2 Chronicles 20). It demonstrated how hope comes, and how it works magic in impossible situations that God’s people finds themselves in. Inspiring chapter.

CHAPTER 17: GOD LOVES IT WHEN YOU ASK BIG

The story of Jabez’s prayer and God’s answer to him (1 Chronicles 4:9) was the basis of encouraging us to unashamedly ask big when we approach God in prayer. He tells the inspiring story of Olivia Lum, the entrepreneur who founded Hyflux, Singapore’s first water management company to be listed in the SGX.

CHAPTER 18: FINDING HOPE WHEN ALL SEEMS HOPELESS

Joseph Prince reminds us of the thesis of this book. There is power in right believing. And the secret to right believing is right listening. He demonstrates this principle by showing how listening to the stories of Jesus healing power raised the faith of the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years (Mark 5).

Well, I am surprised that I have actually come to this point. This is the second last part of the book. Most books remain unfinished on my book shelf. I am easily distracted when it comes to ideas. I move from one idea and interest to another quickly. You could say it was my earlier pledge to readers that has brought me to this point. Now I can see the finish line.

The insights in these chapters does not grab you like gems in the earlier chapters. But the stories are inspiring. I love the Olivia Lum story. Wonderful stuff. This part is an easy lap. It energises, it inspires. It is not rocket science. Hope is strengthened when we keep our eyes on Jesus and his love for us. God wants to bless us and we can have a confident expectation of good because of His unchanging love.

Trekking Pulau Ubin

Boats at Changi ferry point awaiting passengers

Boats at Changi ferry point awaiting passengers

A pleasant 15 min boat ride to the island of Pulau Ubin

A pleasant 15 min boat ride to the island of Pulau Ubin

Trekker friends: Michael, Y.K., Nellie, Jane

Trekker friends: Michael, Y.K., Nellie, Jane, Judith

The last time I went to Pulau Ubin, I was a teenager. With a few friends we took a boat across to the island and walked across the small holding farms and orchards and forest to a small beach front. We swam an hour or two and then made our way back. All I remembered was feeling weary from the long hours of walking and taking the public bus from Bukit Timah to Changi.

Now it is so much easier. We drove to the car park next to the Changi Village hawker center. The ferry point is just in front of the car park with electronic meter so there was no need to worry about the number of coupons to use.

When there was a load of 12 people, the boatman brought us aboard a boat and brought us across to the island. The boat ride took about 15 minutes and we paid $2.50 each directly to the boatman. Soon we were on Pulau Ubin and walking on bitumen roads.

On bitumen roads

On bitumen roads

Pitstop with a beach view

Pitstop with a beach view

We came across many Muslim tombstones and this is one of them

We came across many Muslim tombstones and this is one of them

Can we really call it a "wild" boar?

Can we really call it a "wild" boar?

Standing in front of what was once a chief surveyor's colonial house

Standing in front of what was once a chief surveyor's colonial house

The Chek Jawa boardwalk

The Chek Jawa boardwalk

On the boardwalk

On the boardwalk

Atapchee - sea palm

Atapchee - sea palm

Looking down at friends from the tower at Chek Jawa

Looking down at friends from the tower at Chek Jawa

At the herbal garden

At the herbal garden

We walked from 9am to about 1pm. At the ferry point on Pulau Ubin was a small village where we had a seafood lunch at one of the restaurants. The highlight of the walk was an encounter with “wild” boars that seem very used to human encounters, and the boardwalk through Chek Jawa, one of Singapore’s conserved ecosystems, a coastal walk, “a unique natural area where six major habitats meet and mix”. It was more an enjoyable excursion than a trek. Cycling would be more fun, and there were many shops with all kinds of bikes for hire. Maybe the next time, that is what I will do.

Pulau Ubin circled

Pulau Ubin circled


Kingdom Invasion 2014

Bill Johnson preaching in Kingdom Invasion

Bill Johnson preaching in Kingdom Invasion

I attended Kingdom Invasion from 19-21 March at the Singapore Expo, but mainly the morning and the afternoon sessions. The keynote speaker was Bill Johnson and we missed him the last time round but it was good to have him take more sessions this time. He was full of interesting insights into God’s ways and some of his one-liners stay with you like henna dye. Two of his powerful messages were the ones on culture of honor and the one of the role our desires and faith play in God’s sovereign plan. The basic thesis of the first is that the church needs to recover the key of honor in different aspects of relationships so that what God has gifted and graced the person who we honor may be released to us. Jesus was not honored in Nazareth and thus they were deprived of what He could have done for them. The central truth of the second is that our desires and faith have a way of bringing forward what God may have planned for the future. Jesus said to Mary his mother, My hour has not come (to perform miracles). However due to her persistent faith, that hour seemed to have been brought forward in the miracle of changing water to wine. Thus imagine if the church had the desire and faith to bring forward the promises of the future kingdom to the here and now – bringing the promises of heaven to earth – what kind of glory would the church display to the waiting world. What an inspiring, expansive vision.

James Goll was another proposition altogether. More prophetic and inspirational he spoke, sang and shared some of his encounters with angels and dreams and taught people how to intercede as a privilege, out of the intimacy that the Father offers us.

And as ever the inimitable Heidi Baker facilitate a soaking in the presence of God. We think we need more cognitive content but God knows we ministers need more time allowing the Spirit to fill us and to be inspired by her abandon to the Spirit.

The power of right believing by Joseph Prince: reflection 5

"The power of right believing" by Joseph Prince

"The power of right believing" by Joseph Prince

PART 5: BE FREE FROM SELF OCCUPATION

Part 5 shows how a reader can move from an undesirable position of self-occupation to the desirable one of Christ-occupation. This is a continuation of the whole theme of the renewal of our minds by right believing. Part 5 shows the goal and why it is important and how it can be done.

Chapter 13: Be free from self-occupation

Joseph Prince emphatically states the need to move from self-occupation to Christ-occupation. Too many are self-occupied and as a result suffer from the consequences. They are overly concerned about what others think or say about them. They suffer from an inferiority or a superiority complex. They are often insecure and dwell on negative thoughts about themselves and others. He used the example of how David slayed Goliath as an example of someone whose trust in God, rather than the bigness of the problem occupied his mind. It set him free from fear and anxiety that plagued the other fighters in the battlefield.

Chapter 14: Jesus be the centre of it all

In chapter 14 and 15 Prince moved to the practical steps that help us move from self- to Christ-occupation. Chapter 14 shows that the way to do it is to see Jesus in the scriptures. His main text is the story of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (“warm baths”). The disciples were discouraged and confused over Jesus’ death. The resurrected Lord, unrecognized by them began to show them how Jesus fulfilled the scriptures. He showed them Jesus in the Old Testament. He reproved them for being slow to understand and to believe. This then is one practical thing to do to move to Christ-occupation. Whenever we read scriptures look for God. Do not see more rules and laws to obey. See more of Jesus and his beauty. Then our hearts will have a warm bath just as the two disciples’ hearts burned with holy fire.

Chapter 15: Worship with the words of David

Joseph Prince uses a story in the life of David. He had fled from Saul who wanted to kill him. He went to Gath and pretended he was mad. They released him and he hid in the caves and Adullam. Prince used Psalms 34 to highlight how David sang and worshipped and prayed and this helped him shift from a self-occupation that discouraged him to a Christ-occupation that inspired him. Prince traced the shift from self to Christ in Psalms 34 thus showing that the act of praising God and praying moves us from self to Christ-occupation.

As a whole this was a practical part. It motivates you to co-operate with God bath yourself in scripture and prayer and praise. It reminds me of the traditional “means of grace”: scripture meditation and prayer. In fact the whole of church community life is meant to revolve around the word and the sacrament, both of which point to the finished work of Christ.

From Bukit Timah Hill to the Tree Top walk

Trekking parallel to the BKE

Trekking parallel to the BKE

We trekked from Bukit Timah Hill to the Tree Top walk in the MacRitchie Reservoir on Saturday. We were intensifying our training for the Gunung Rinjani climb round the corner. This was a good 4 hour trek. We wanted to build endurance.

We walked up the steep bitumen service road of Bukit Timah Hill and then turned right at Catchment Path until we reached a clearing next to the BKE. We turned right again before we linked to Rifle Range Road that took us over the BKE. Everywhere the effects of the dry spell that Singapore is facing stared at us. The grass suffered, and the trees were crying for rain. Even the clouds were constipated.

Constpated clouds at the Race Course flyover across the BKE

Constpated clouds at the Rifle Range Road flyover across the BKE

It was a good two hours to get to the Ranger’s Station where we could refresh and refill before we walked the Tree Top Walk and got back on the path back home. The stable steel Tree Top Walk gave us a view of part of the reservoir. Nothing spectacular, but it gave us a perspective of the trees and forests that once only monkeys and birds had.

Ranger's Station in heart of MacRitchie Reservoir

Ranger's Station in heart of MacRitchie Reservoir

Tree Top Walk made of solid metal

Tree Top Walk made of solid metal

Walking above the tree tops

Walking above the tree tops

By the time we walked back it was 12 noon. We took a short cut back using a cycling track instead of using Catchment Path. There were no inclines except at the beginning but it was a lengthy trek over fields, streams, roads, and trees and through the forests. Endurance. The next preparatory training is a trek along the raliway tracks from Bukit Timah to don’t know where and back. Not really looking forward to this because of humidity and the exposure to sun, but it will be another Saturday with friends.

The Power of Right Believing by Joseph Prince: reflection 4

"The power of right believing" by Joseph Prince

"The power of right believing" by Joseph Prince

The last reflection was on 23 Dec 2013. That was about two months ago. I have been rather occupied and there were other event-related blog posts I wanted done more urgently. However, I still want to finish the reflections on this book that I started off with. In Part 4, Joseph Prince writes about a topic that has helped many of his hearers. He has received much feedback on messages related to these chapters. The title of Part 4 is “Win the Battle for your Mind”. Let me highlight some of the main points as it appears to me and give you my reflections:

Win the battle for your mind (chapter 10): The battle of the mind has to do with replacing wrong beliefs with right beliefs. The devil wants negativity, lies, condemnation to occupy believers’ minds. These deeply embedded wrong beliefs are strongholds that affect their emotions and feelings and even their health. Thus negative emotions like fear, worry, guilt and anger find their source in people’s thought patterns and beliefs about God and the world and people. Thus the battle of the mind is won by establishing the truth of Jesus and what he has accomplished on the cross. It is won by believers knowing who they are and what they have in Christ. It is won by bringing every thought into captivity, which means to focus on the obedience of Jesus in the place of believers, the perfect righteousness of God granted to all believers by faith.

Prince shows insight into how the devil works in planting wrong thoughts in the believer’s mind: he uses the first person pronoun “I“, instead of “You” to deceive believers into thinking the bad thoughts were theirs, instead of an external evil source. Instead of “You are such a lousy Christian” he will insert “I am such a lousy Christian.” This alerts us to the devil’s tactics.

Victory over the enemy’s mind games (chapter 11): The unpardonable sin is dealt with in this chapter. Joseph Prince shares his experience of condemnation. “I was really worried that I had already committed the unpardonable sin and was on a one-way ticket to hell. The more I tried not to, the more I would have all kinds of blasphemous thoughts about the Holy Spirit when I prayed and even when I was earnestly worshiping God. It was a harrowing experience, with the devil relentlessly oppressing and attacking my mind with all kinds of evil thoughts.”(Prince, 170). The mental oppression lasted a year for Prince. He won the battle by ignoring the enemy. “When the devil suggests things to your mind, just ignore him. Spiritual warfare doesn’t have to be combative. It can be restful, peaceful, simple, and easy. It’s all about seeing Jesus’ finished work”(Prince, 173). I liked the way he interpreted the “unpardonable sin” as “simply the sin of an unbeliever continually rejecting Jesus as his or her Savior,” something any true believer simply cannot have committed.

Prince quoted an excerpt from John Bunyan’s autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, in which Bunyan was delivered from his despondency by a revelation of God’s gift of righteousness. “I saw, with the eyes of my soul, Jesus Christ at God’s right hand; there, I say, was my righteousness……………..I also saw, moreover, that it was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse; for my righteousness was Jesus Christ himself, ‘the same yesterday, and today, and forever’.”

We also get Prince’s idea of repentance. It is “metanoia”, a Greek word from the original text which literally means “a change of mind”. He debunks the caricature associated with repentance as grovelling, tears, self-condemnation and feeling bad enough for long enough so that God’s forgiveness can be earned. For Prince it is changing your mind to align it to what God thinks and has said about believers. Let right beliefs based on God’s word replace all the falsehoods planted by the devil in the believers’ minds. “It is right believing that brings about true repentance (change of mind) and hence genuine transformation”(Prince, 176).

Beware the roaring lion (chapter 12): Prince dealt with one of the greatest struggles of believers: the persistent thought that God does not approve of them. He is not happy with them. In fact, he is angry with them. He debunks this and shows that God is not mad at us but mad about us. He shows that the armor of God needs to be put on and the armor shows all the ways the devil will attack our minds. The belt of truth shows Satan will attack us with lies. The breastplate of righteousness shows that the devil will attack us with accusation and condemnation. The shield of faith is to protect us from fears and doubts. The shoe of the gospel is the peace that protects our joy from being stolen. And so on. His main idea: the armor of God has to do with what you believe in Christ. When you believe right, there is nothing the devil can do with you.

I prefer the way Arthur Wallis put it in his book, “Into Battle”. He demonstrated how Jesus fulfilled all the pieces of the Christian’s armor. He is truth. He is righteousness. He is our peace. He is the author and finisher of our faith. He is our salvation. And He is the Word. When we continually believe in Him, we have in effect put on Christ and therefore the whole armor of God, and are fully protected in Him.

However I was not comfortable with his interpretation of Proverbs 19:12 “The king’s wrath is like the roaring of a lion, but his favor is like dew on the grass.” The best interpretation is the obvious sense. The wise writer of Proverbs has simply made a wise observation that it is scary when the king is angry with you for your life is in his hands, but if he likes you, the blessings will nourish and prosper you. Prince has spiritualised the text. The king is the Lord Jesus, and when Jesus is angry it is the disease, the injustice, and what sin is doing to you that he is angry with. “But the devil comes to you all dressed up as a lion, impersonating the King. He wants to give you the impression that God is angry with you, even though He isn’t…..The devil is going about as a roaring lion because he is pretending to be Jesus and trying to intimidate you through the impression that God is angry with you. The devil is an imposter! He wants to make you feel alienated and cut off from Jesus. He wants you to think Jesus is saying, “I am not pleased with you. I am really disappointed in you. How could you make such a mistake?” His description of the devil’s tactic is spot-on but the usage of the Proverb betrays a slant for spiritualizing, when a plain reading of it has nothing to do with the devil or spiritual warfare. However other scriptures about the “accuser of the brethren” more plainly expose this aspect of the devil’s tactics.

Overall, Part 4 is very practical and useful, as our minds are a spiritual battleground in which we need to enforce the victory that Christ has already given us. The chapters give us practical handles for winning the battle of the mind.

Love Singapore Pastors’ Prayer Summit 2014

This years prayer summit was held on January 6-9 at the Equatorial Hotel in Malacca. The theme was Jubilee. There were about 500 pastors and leaders from Singapore in attendance. The speaker was Peter Tsukahira and his theme was the kingdom of God and the marketplace.

Worship preceded the sessions

Worship preceded the sessions

The prayer summit this year was Word rich. I suppose there were pastors who attended because of the guest speaker – they wanted to hear his teachings. He is of Japanese origin, speaks with an American accent, and has an Israeli passport. He is married to a Messianic Jewess and both of them lead a ministry and Messianic community in Haifa. In fact the last thing we did during our holy land trip was to visit and support his ministry. I saw pastors who never attended the pastors’ summit attend this summit giving attention to all the teaching sessions. Peter Tsukahira did not disappoint. He spoke about the formation of Israel, and its relation to the return of Christ, the gospel of the kingdom of God and how these give the framework for the marketplace ministry. I was blessed by the teaching it stirred me to return to my favorite writer on the kingdom of God, G. E. Ladd, a professor from Fuller Theological Seminary. Read an excerpt of his concept of the kingdom HERE for an example of his concise writing and clear thinking and grasp of a difficult subject with many different interpretations.

Chance meeting with pastors Lawrence and Guna

Chance meeting with pastors Lawrence and Guna

This year they also re-introduced pastors Lawrence Chua and Guna to do the stand-up comic thingy. They are two members of the team steering the Love Singapore churches. They are  pastors with hearts for community service and have led their churches to be models for such a ministry in the heartlands. They have somehow discovered a chemistry between them for stand up comedy. They brought the house of God down with laughter. Humor is serious business. You need a gift  to get pastors in a sober “prayer summit” to laugh shamelessly. So used are pastors to being serious about eternal and earthly issues. Kudos to Lawrence and Guna for their gift of getting all the stressed-up pastors laughing. However, they would do well to expand their range of subjects. They seem too constrained to introducing the chairman and the speaker or the organizing church in humorous ways. They can evolve into a stand-alone act that can help pastors and leaders laugh at themselves and alter some perspectives of church ministry and relations.

Lindy Chee, Dara Chee, and Kenny

Lindy Chee, Dara Chee, and Kenny

The pastors’ summit is one of the best places to keep in touch with acquaintances and other pastors. I met two of my cousin’s daughters: cousins once removed. One morning I had breakfast with Lindy Chee and Dara Chee. Lindy worked with YWAM for many years. Now she is in training and facilitating. Dara Chee is a trained social worker who was in Vietnam for a few years with the Anglicans, and now a residential manager for Highpoint Dayspring, a residential treatment center for abused women and teens. It was encouraging to see young people with a passion for Christ’s kingdom to be realized on earth as in heaven.

Vincent, Thomas, Kenny and Kenny

Vincent, Thomas, Kenny and Kenny

This year I roomed with priest Vincent Hoon from True Light Anglican Church. We met years ago when we were randomly put together to share a room in a similar conference. We gelled and this was the second time we roomed again. Vincent drove us all to Malacca -me and pastor Kenny Fan from Woodlands Evangelical Free Church and pastor Thomas my colleague. They were such pleasant company the road trip seemed shorter. On the way back we stopped by Yong Peng, and later, at a Gelang Petah seafood restaurant popular with golfers. Ahhh…Malaysian food.

Encounters with an awesome and living God: holy land

Caesarea by the sea: stormy and wild

Caesarea by the sea: stormy and wild

Enjoying our Israeli meals (Photo: Tiffany)

Enjoying our Israeli meals (Photo: Tiffany)

By the end of the holy land experience we were like those who came back after a successful mission trip -thrilled from seeing the living God at work. We saw how God intervened and opened doors as large parts of Israel were affected by an unusual cold snap.

The day we stepped foot on Israel we had wet and stormy weather. The sky frightened us with strong cold winds and drizzle. One moment I was,  Oh no, is it going to be like that during the whole trip? Next moment I was praying and believing.

The second night we gathered at a function room. After a fun icebreaker, a few shared how the Lord led them and opened the way for them to visit the holy land. Earlier that afternoon, we ate St Peter’s fish in a restaurant by the lake of Galilee. The fierce winds agitated the waves till all boats were recalled to shore. Our scheduled boat ride was cancelled. So that night I read a pertinent passage about Jesus, the Lord of wind and waves, calming the winds and challenged everyone to pray and trust the Lord to grant us open doors and good weather in the days to come. We had also received news that Jerusalem received a metre of snow and was struggling to cope. Thousands of homes were without power, roads were closed, many motorists were trapped in vehicles, the army had to be called in to help. The Jerusalem mayor called it a snow tsunami. We were told the last time there was so much snow was a hundred years ago. We were in a historic moment but it worried us. That night we prayed with earnest.

Feeding the seagulls at lake of Galilee

Feeding the seagulls at lake of Galilee

Wonderful joy and praise at sea of Galilee

Second trip together to Holy Land

The next morning, the lake of Galilee was safe for the boats and that was a testimony to God’s faithfulness and grace. When they played a song of praise on the boat, great joy broke out, and like little children we laughed, fed the seagulls, played and took photos. Later while on the boat, I conducted the “eucharist” which means “thanksgiving”. How appropriate.

Enjoying the Dead Sea (photo: Tiffany)

Enjoying the Dead Sea (photo: Tiffany)

Power returned: cable car to Masada

Power returned: cable car to Masada

The path to Masada

The path to Masada

The rest of the trip we had similar encounters of God’s faithfulness and power. Several places were initially closed to us because of the cold weather or power failure. The Dead Sea was closed due to the weather. Masada had a power failure so the cable cars were paralyzed. However the next day, the weather turned sunny and power was restored so we went to both the Dead Sea and the Masada with great joy.

From the Mount of Olives: a snowed over view of old city

From the Mount of Olives: a snowed over view of old city

Remant snow at Al Aqsa mosque

Remant snow at Al Aqsa mosque

The view from the Church of St Peter in Gallicantu

The view from the Church of St Peter in Gallicantu

2013 In the footsteps of Jesus pilgrimage

2013 In the footsteps of Jesus pilgrimage

It was the same for Jerusalem. With all the TV coverage of closure of roads, very cold temperatures and trapped tourists, we wondered if we could enter Jerusalem for the last leg of our pilgrimage – the via dolorosa. God opened the way. We saw cars and buses from Jerusalem with thick snow on their roofs. This meant the roads have been cleared. We were excited and so thankful when we entered the holy city and stood at the Mount of Olives. The panorama of the old Jerusalem under snow was a special, unique and rare sight. We were privileged and blessed to be there at that moment.

We came to see the holy land but we also saw the living God in action. This was one blessed and awesome pilgrimage.

Gunung Lambak trek in Kluang, Johor state

Gunung Lambak in the background

Gunung Lambak in the background

Site Map of Gunong Lambak

Site Map of Gunong Lambak

My trekking friends had planned this as training preparation for the Mt. Rinjani climb in end of April. Since they were in Kluang, Johor state, they also hoped to do some Chinese New Year shopping and take advantage of the weaker ringgit.

There were 16 of us. Some arrived in cars, others on the KTM train. It was Friday late morning and we checked into the hotel and had our usual lunch at the nearby popular Star Restaurant. We enjoyed their specialties at a price that heightened the pleasure. The rest of the day, we shopped, caught movies, had the hair done, ate and bought snacks and isotonic drinks for the next morning’s trek.

Some of us had to hitch a cab while others went in their cars. Gunung Lambak was a mere 15 minute drive away. It was a Saturday morning and there were many locals around and some stalls selling fruits and drinks. The elevation is only 510m or 1673 feet which is about three times the height of the highest hill in Singapore – Bukit Timah Hill. We estimated a four or five hours trek. The initial path was bitumen and cement and reminded me so much of the main path of Bt Timah hill. The latter three quarters to the first peak were slopes at inclines of 40-70 degrees with occasional ropes, steps and tree trunks for support. There were no flat plateaus, no break from the monotonous and challenging slopes.Going down was thankfully a different gentler route.

Sixteen Singapore trekkers in Gunung LambaK

Sixteen Singapore trekkers in Gunung LambaK

Typical of the slopes

Typical of the slopes

My wife was nursing strained thighs and that slowed us down. Vincent, Jeffrey and Goh were the rear-guard and having them around was a comfort. Before we felt tired, we reached the first peak. We rested a while, had our snacks and went on to the second peak. Along the way, Goh twisted his ankle. A few of us decided to head down. The others went on to the second peak. They later realized they were on the wrong path, and tracked back to the fork and took the correct turn, delaying their return to town by about 45 minutes. By which time the five of us who went down earlier had returned to town, and ate delicious char kway teow in three forms– the traditional kway teow, and one fried in wanton noodles, and another in mee sua. We washed all that down with yong tau hoo soup. After a relaxing bath and rest we later re-united with the rest of the trekkers for the famous beef noodles of Kluang. The way we ate you would have wondered whether we came to prepare for April’s Indonesian climb, or simply to stretch our gastronomic muscles. On both nights, we went to two different hawker centers and ordered almost every available dish for sharing and tasting. Burp. These Malaysian hawkers are simply better than their Singapore counterparts.

It was disappointing that we could not buy much pineapple tarts, love letters or other CNY goodies due to quality issues and lack of variety. However many had their massages, hair treatment, pedicure and manicure and we had a good stretch of our muscles, both legs and gastronomic. And all this without blowing a hole in our pockets. It was fun.

After the climb there is the feast

After the climb there is the feast

Experiencing the Holy Land on three levels

In the footsteps of Jesus (10-21 December 2013)

In the footsteps of Jesus (10-21 December 2013)

There are three levels at which we can experience the Holy Land. One is as a tourist. Second is as a student. Third is as a pilgrim.

The tourist

The tourist wants to experience new places, food, culture, weather and see new things and get his or her money’s worth throughout the tour. The person does not want to be taken for a “ride”. The person wants everything on the itinerary to be delivered as stated on the brochure. He or she will usually take a lot of photos and will complain or extol the tour depending on what he or she has experienced. He or she will look for opportunities to shop and buy souvenirs at every window of time. The tourist is satisfied when the tour delivers as promised and he or she has experienced many pleasant new sights, food, and places.

The student

The student wants as much information about the places and historical events and biblical background as possible. Thus before the trip the person would have read a book, or watched many YouTube clips on the holy land, or googled some of the places mentioned in the itinerary. The person would stick close to the Israeli guide and ask questions to learn more. On returning he usually continues his or her research on the Bible and internet. The student is satisfied when he or she has learned a lot of new things.

The pilgrim

The pilgrim looks forward to the trip as if it was a journey of faith. He or she longs to call to remembrance some of the Bible events and characters associated with various places and respond to them by listening to what the living God of today wants to say to them about their life situation. So during the boat ride at the lake of Galilee he or she is not just snapping shots of the feeding of seagulls, but is also meditating about Jesus sleeping in the boat, or walking on water, or feeling the panic of the disciples as water entered the boat. The pilgrim re-experiences what happened to the disciples. He or she interacts with the resurrected Lord who is in the boat there and then. At the Garden of Gethsemane, the pilgrim brings an issue he or she is struggling with, and prays, Lord not my will, but Yours be done, and wait in silence to experience the response of God to their prayer. Even in meals and conversation with others, or through the meditative talks, or holy communion, or baptism, and renewal of marriage vows the pilgrim is aware of the Lord’s action in his or her heart.The pilgrim is satisfied when he or she has experienced God through the places, and the evocation of past events and characters. It is a now encounter with the God of Israel facilitated through the holy land tour.

We have elements of all three whenever we go to the holy land but it is hoped that more and more it would be the pilgrimage that is more dominant and it is the task of the pastor leading the tour to facilitate this.

This was the first time I led a tour of 47 folks to the holy land to follow the footsteps of Jesus. The first time I went on a familiarization tour with Omega Tours my eyes were a quarter opened.  My eyes were opened wider this second visit to Israel, and I heard more and learned more. However, as a  pastor/leader,  I now feel on hindsight that there were a few places where I could have done more to facilitate this encounter/interaction with God. The next time it will definitely be better.

On Monday I am off to the Love Singapore Pastors Prayer Summit in Malacca. When I return I hope to continue blogging about this incredible trip where we experienced  the God of Israel at work in our trip, which was beset by a freak cold storm.

The Power of Right Believing by Joseph Prince: reflection 3

"The power of right believing" by Joseph Prince

"The power of right believing" by Joseph Prince

This book is deceptively simple, but the truths are gospel truths and potent. Part three of Joseph Prince’s book is titled “Receive God’s Complete Forgiveness”. Part one was “Believe in God’s love for you” and Part two was “Learn to see what God sees”. These are the ABC’s of the greatest news in the world. Does not seem like anything difficult for anyone to wrap their minds around. However I suspect many find it difficult to believe all these powerful declarations. Human propensity is to achieve God’s forgiveness, acceptance and love by one’s own goodness and effort, not to receive them by faith. Believing and receiving God’s forgiveness and acceptance without any human payment for the debt of sin is too difficult for the rational and self-sufficient person to accept. However, these are truths that the world and even the baptized needs to hear over and over again.

Let me first summarize the chapters in part three:

Receive His forgiveness and reign (chapter 7): Prince underlines the importance of believing in God’s unconditional love and accepting his full forgiveness. He also explains how these coupled with the knowledge of God’s gift of righteousness are able to transform and set free those who feel guilty, condemned, trapped in habits and addictions. It also issues forth in works of love not obligation.

Fresh grace for every failing (chapter 8): Prince opens his life and shares how irritable he can get on occasion. He shows that many problems arise out of a person not dealing with a sense of guilt or condemnation in his life. He points out that grace is not merely empowerment as some claim it to be. Grace is God’s unmerited favour and forgiveness for every failing and it is this confidence in continually receiving God’s forgiveness that enables our lives to be transformed and freed from every addiction, sinful habits and anxieties.

Experience freedom from condemnation (chapter 9): Prince uses the woman caught in adultery as the main passage to demonstrate how God does not condemn us for our sins but rather extends his forgiveness for us all. Jesus was the only one qualified to throw the first stone but instead he forgave the woman. And just as release from condemnation would give the adulterous woman the power to “go and sin no more” so it would be with us. Not only freedom from sin but also the healing of our sicknesses.

Reading this book is similar to reading the first epistle to John. There is a constant repetition and use of spiral to weave the truths into your being. There is constant overlapping of truths and applications and a clear outline may not be easily discernible at times. Do not get riled up, used as we are to western logical deductive thought and order with points and sub-points format.

I like one of his fresh insights on Jesus writing on the ground. What is the most common interpretation of what Jesus wrote on the ground in front of all the religious folks who wanted the adulterous woman stoned? Jesus was writing down the specific sins of the angry mob. Some say with their names too! Well Prince saw an interesting twist. He said Jesus wrote on the stony ground, stood up and stooped down to write again. What was he writing? He wrote on the stone ground the 10 commandments. What does this remind you of? Of God, who wrote the 10 commandments on the stone tablets twice – the second time after Moses broke the first set in anger at the sins of the people. Jesus was in effect saying to those with eyes to see, I am the Word made flesh.

Joseph Prince believes that “the root cause of many sinful habits, fears and addictions can be traced to condemnation. I want to talk to you today about going after condemnation as the root to help you receive god’s forgiveness in those areas so that you can break out of your cycle of defeat and step into a new cycle of victory”(Prince, 106). There have been others root causes put up by other Bible teachers. Those in deliverance work will point to rejection as the root cause. Those in inner healing would point to the dysfunctional relationship to the father. Without wanting to split hairs, it seems to me that theologically the root cause should be unbelief. Condemnation is one of the consequences of our unbelief. Our ancestors Adam and Eve were deceived by Satan to believe wrongly that God did not intend good for them when He forbade them from eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The whole process of redemption on the human side would then require the power of right believing. That’s why the cardinal essential for salvation and transformation and effective ministry has to be: by grace through faith (Ephesians 2: 8). However the disagreement here is major.

I hope some people are taking the opportunity to read the book along with me and to enter into conversation about it. I apologize for any delays in the approval of your comments on my blog, and also for not replying or conversing with readers. During the Israel pilgrimage the access to internet was intermittent and weak at times. I anticipate that I will be pretty busy during this period with functions and catching up on work that has piled up. Also I have just returned from Israel and I have seen God work his wonders and learned much from the pilgrimage but I need to edit the photos before I blog about that.

The Power of Right Believing by Joseph Prince: reflection 2

"The power of right believing" by Joseph Prince

"The power of right believing" by Joseph Prince

Tomorrow I fly off to lead a group of 47 pilgrims in a tour of Israel. Half the members are from our church, the other half are their friends and a group from another church. Its going to be an exciting time. We go to pray and to bless Israel, and certainly be blessed as well. Blessed to see what was once not a nation now a nation; blessed to hear Hebrew, once dead but now a living language; blessed to feel how Old Testament prophecies have been fulfilled, and God’s faithfulness revealed. All this will be energizing for us. This is also the land where Jesus lived, moved and ministered. Here He was born; here He died and rose again. Here is where He will return in glory. I’m excited. Do pray for us.

Before I go off I wanted to write this reflection on the second part of Joseph Prince’s book. If you have his book and it is lying on the shelf somewhere why don’t you read this particular part and help contribute some thoughts on how the book has helped you. You can share what you like or do not like in the book, and discuss more deeply some of the ideas in this part which covers chapters 4, 5 and 6. Imagine you are in a reading club and we are all reading this stuff together to discuss it on this platform instead of face to face.

Part 2 is titled “Learn to See What God Sees” and here is my summary of each chapter in this part:

Play the Right Mental Movies (chapter 4) - The central idea is that we have a tendency to look at the negative and this creates fear in our hearts. We play the wrong kind of mental movies. And fear like a boa constrictor suffocates us to death. We cannot get rid of such fearful ideas. The best way is to replace them. Replace them with God’s truth and right belief.

See Yourself As God Sees You (chapter 5) - Here Prince introduces the doctrine of justification in its practical implications. A great exchange has taken place. Jesus took our sins. We received his gift of righteousness. When God looks at us He sees Jesus’ righteousness and not our failures, sins, weaknesses. He looks at us and He sees a child of God deserving of favor, blessing and approval.

You Are Irreversibly Blessed (chapter 6) -  Prince takes the Old Testament story of Balaam paid by Balak to curse Israel but when it came time to curse Israel he actually blessed Israel. Balaam explained that God commanded him to bless and he could not reverse that. God has “not observed iniquity in Jacob, nor has He seen wickedness in Israel”(Num23:20,21). The chapter went on to develop further the idea of justification and how God views us who are made righteous in Christ, and how therefore God loves to pour out his undeserved blessings on us.

I am beginning to notice the use of a dominant image or life story in each chapter. For instance the mental movie, the constrictor snake, or a businessman who moved from fear to faith, or an American guy who found help in knowing how God sees him. I like it that he is using both local as well as Caucasians (with an eye to connecting to American Christians) as it shows that this message can have the same fruit across national boundaries and cultures.

When I read Chapter 6, I thought, I must digest this and share this with the church. Its a beautiful “shadow”  that points us to the amazing work of justification and its implications. Traditional teaching on justification falls shy of talking about how God will bless and favor us as a fruit of justification. They will focus on the spiritual blessings as in Romans 5. Prince boldly talks about material blessings though not in this chapter but elsewhere.

Conservative interpretation of the Old Testament also does not allow for the use of typology when the event, person, object or colour is not so used in the same way in the New Testament. Thus since Balaam and the story of Israel, and the high priestly breast-piece,  used as “shadows”pointing to the real blessings of justification was never mentioned in such a connection in the New Testament, it is not permissible to interpret the OT text in this way. I am less conservative with regards to this, and there are scholars along a spectrum on this issue. To me, such typology should be permissible. However, the text must not be artificially contorted beyond recognition and reason. It should not contradict any of the major Bible doctrines that are made clear elsewhere. Lastly, it brings out the loveliness of Jesus finished work and not shed light on some insignificant subject. If it sheds light on the overall redemptive theme of the whole Bible and I give it my thumbs up.

The Power of Right Believing by Joseph Prince: reflection 1

"The power of right believing" by Joseph Prince

"The power of right believing" by Joseph Prince

There are seven parts to this book and I hope to post my reflections on them a part at a time. This book was written to help people with fears, guilt, and addictions. Prince is convinced that the difference between those who were set free and those who were not, is simply right believing.

First a summary of the first part: Believe in God’s Love for You

What You Believe is Powerful (chapter 1):  Wrong beliefs keep you imprisoned but the truth sets you free. The truth that sets you free is the gospel of grace which when believed will uproot all your wrong beliefs.

The God Who Seeks the Shunned (chapter 2):  God is not after you for your mistakes and failings and sins. People will shun you like the village shunned the Samaritan woman, but Jesus would seek you out.  Uproot common misconceptions about God’s attitude towards those who fail him. Know and believe He abounds in mercy and love and your life will change.

“Jesus Loves Me This I Know” (chapter 3): God’s love for us is unconditional. He forgives us completely; He justifies the ungodly; and loves the sinner. It’s not about how much you love Him but about how much He loves you.

Joseph Prince’s book is very readable. I like the easy to read typo and spacing. The chapters are probably adaptations and edited versions of his sermons. They bear some characteristics of sermons. They speak directly to you in a conversational tone. Sometimes there is the occasional detour and the repetition of ideas in different words. It’s also inspirational and declaratory.

What resonates for me was the mention of how we often have mere head knowledge of the vastness of God’s love for us but when a crisis hits our lack of real belief and knowledge is betrayed by our great fears, anxiety and guilt. On reflection I realize these moments when we see a gap between what we believe about God and how we react or behave are opportunities for the Spirit to write on the tablets of our hearts His personal love letter. Through such experiences what we know in the head percolates to the heart.

From reviewing the first part, I can understand why he keeps preaching the rich theme of God’s grace over and over. For one there are always new people in the audience who need to hear it many times in different ways before it uproots their wrong concepts about God. Second, the whole Bible has a rich deep vein of inexhaustible grace to be mined and surfaced for the people to draw from. Third, faith is not built over a Sunday and often when we are facing a challenge we need to be reminded again and again to look to the God of grace and unconditional love.

Sister Beryl on home visit

S. Beryl

S. Beryl

Again my sister, Beryl, reminded me that I was the one who passed to her a book that impacted her so much it changed the course of her destiny. The title of the book was “My All For Him” by M. Basilea Schlink, the founder and leader of the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary. She devoured the book, which I received free together with other books from the sisterhood. She began to read her other books and even wrote to visit the sisterhood in Darmstadt, West Germany. That visit and later visits eventually saw her become a Sister of Mary.

She was here in Singapore for about 3 weeks. The last time she was here was when mother went home to be with the Lord about 5 years ago. She stayed mostly with my eldest brother, Colin.  Two nights she stayed with us so we could catch up with what God is doing in our respective situations. She did quite a few things. She visited all the surviving uncles and aunties and cousins. She spent time with us her immediate family. She met up with former classmates and friends. She ate all the different foods she had missed while in Darmstadt all these years. By the time she left she virtually tasted everything Singaporean with everyone eager to ensure that she gets to eat what we thought she missed.

Where I prepare my sermon

Beautiful floor to ceiling windows: let there be light

Beautiful floor to ceiling windows: let there be light

The Trinity Theological College Library is probably the most beautiful library in a theological college. I love its design. The large glass windows that bring in natural light. The courtyard in between the library and the students rooms. It gives me a sense of the vastness of God and of knowledge yet unknown to us who are creatures redeemed by God. The smell of books is stimulating. There are corners here and there where one can find some privacy and a catnap if necessary. There are three floors of books and spaces for study. The wireless there makes it possible for us to research via the internet too, or even respond to an urgent email.

My favorite quiet corner

My favorite quiet corner

More and more I find myself drawn to this space. Used to prepare the sermon in the church office but the constant interruptions and distractions would leave me frustrated at times. Furthermore there are no windows and I feel less creative in that place. The home was for many years a better place for sermon preparation. However in this recent year and a half  I have found Trinity Theological library a haven for a soul pregnant with a sermon to deliver. I thank God I live in the west. I thank God I am alumni. I thank God for the library. It’s my favorite place in the whole college. It’s a sacred workshop where many a sermon was crafted and honed, and many prayers prayed.

Ashley Madison in Singapore: like or unlike

Ashley MadisonWhy bother?

Why do you care? If people want to commit adultery, they will. No matter how you try to hinder them. Which is true. After all its their lives so why do you intrude and interfere? Anyway there are other social media that can be used for the same purpose. So goes the reactions to recent government refusal for Ashley Madison to make its bed in Singapore. Ashley Madison prides itself in having facilitated many an adulterous liaison. It describes itself as an “online personals and dating destination for casual encounters, married dating, discreet encounters and extramarital affairs”. One of its taglines goes: If cheating on your taxes is okay, so is Ashley Madison.

Family is basic unit of society

I support the government in its stand against Ashley Madison developing a Singapore based website. Simply because I am pro-family. The family is the basic unit of society and society is as strong, sound and stable as the basic unit that comprises it. Family breakups weakens and undermines the fabric of society. If adultery becomes a socially acceptable behavior, even a cultural norm, it will weaken the family and in the long run, society will feel corrosive effects.

Saying No is good

Allowing it to operate is explicitly approving and encouraging the kind of behavior it promotes. Its true that Facebook can be used for the same purpose. However, married dating and facilitating extramarital affairs is not its primary purpose. It is its abuse. For Ashley Madison, they are the websites primary purpose. In one generation, it will become acceptable behavior and embedded as a  cultural norm. It is good that the government has decided to say a clear explicit No to such a family-corrosive lifestyle. Sadly, we have allowed casinos and gambling. The gambling demon can wreak havoc on the marital relationship and family. It too should have been banned from our shores. However, pragmatism has won the day and today we have increased numbers in need of credit counselling and bans and loan shark problems. But let me not digress. For the sake of family I prefer to unlike Ashley Madison.

My old Bukit Batok neighbourhood: an outing with my new Olympus Stylus XZ 2

It was a sunny Monday morning as I went off with my new camera Olympus Stylus XZ 2, one of those models that is slightly bigger than a compact but with some versatility of a DSLR. My old Fujifilm compact died on me and to repair it was not worth it. That’s the way it is these days.

I went to the old neighbourhood where I lived for 17 years: the neighbourhood where I raised all my children. It was an apartment at Block 264, #09-13 a pre-fabricated four-roomer. This place bore fond memories for me. As I walked around the area images, sounds, memories filled my mind. I parked at St Mary of the Angels. I think it is the most beautiful church in Singapore. I love the architecture and the feel of the place. The Catholics generally give more attention to aesthetics. Their buildings generally  give a sense of the transcendance of God. The Protestants are more pragmatic in their design, more utilitarian. Here are some pictures of the church and of my old neighbourhood.

Leading to the entrance of the sanctuary

Leading to the entrance of the sanctuary

Niches and little corners for prayer and meditation

Niches and little corners for prayer and meditation

Lovely flowers outside the prayer chapel - my first "bokeh" using a compact

Lovely flowers outside the prayer chapel - my first "bokeh" using a compact

Inside the sanctuary

Inside the sanctuary

Matthew and Elaine had kindergarten here but it is now catechism classrooms

Matthew and Elaine had kindergarten here but it is now catechism classrooms

Most of the dry market stalls were closed except the fruit stalls

Most of the dry market stalls were closed except the fruit stalls

Block 264 of Bukit Batok East Ave 4

Block 264 of Bukit Batok East Ave 4

My children waited for the Pei Hwa Presbyterian Primary School bus here

My children waited for the Pei Hwa Presbyterian Primary School bus here

The back side of the apartment block

The back side of the apartment block

As then, so now, the cats are everywhere - this one is beautiful

As then, so now, the cats are everywhere - this one is beautiful

This was where I played soccer with my three kids

This was where I played soccer with my three kids

Where the community center stood was once a field where SDP held their rallies and won the Gombak seat

Where the community center stood was once a field where SDP held their rallies and won the Gombak seat

Reliability of the gospel

coconut

coconut

On Thursday, I read in the TODAY free paper that Dr Aseem Malhotra a cardiologist wrote something in a respected medical journal that busts the myth of the role of saturated fat in heart disease. That is good news if you love the humble coconut that has been falsely given a life sentence for being dangerously laden with saturated fat. We have been warned unceasingly of having coconut oils in our curries, lontong, chendol and nasi lemak. Now that life sentence can be lifted, and we do not have to settle for substitutes like yoghurt or skimmed milk. Probably for a while…. until another study comes along to tell us the opposite. The words and wisdom of men shift with time and situation and place and it can be confusing to live by man’s word. God’s word however never changes, and we can confidently live by the gospel that has once and for all been delivered to us in the New Testament. With the certainty of the unchanging gospel we can live with confidence and peace. And we can be sure that it will result in the good life.

How to get to Bukit Indah shopping mall by bus

Bukit Indah shopping mall via second link

Bukit Indah shopping mall via second link

How to get to Bukit Indah via second link

I suppose there are people who are tired of the Causeway customs and City Square gamut. That was what I felt and since I lived near the Jurong East MRT/bus interchange, I went with my wife and some friends by bus via the Second Link to Bukit Indah, a spacious and less crowded mall. You may want to venture there yourself and spend a day loitering and chilling out for  a day. Here are the steps you need to take:

(1) Go to Jurong East bus interchange (next to JE MRT) to board the Causewaylink bus that goes via the second link. Double check with the bus driver that you are on the right bus. Keep your S$4 bus ticket with you.

(2) First stop is Singapore customs checkpoint at Second Link. After clearing that, go look for any Causewaylink bus and board to go to the Malaysian customs checkpoint on the other side of Second Link bridge. Show them your S$4 ticket.

(3) After you have cleared your Malaysian customs go look for any Causewaylink bus that goes to Bukit Indah shopping mall. Ask the driver to confirm as you board the bus, and show your S$4 bus ticket.

Bus stop in front of Bukit Indah (also taxi stand)

Bus stop in front of Bukit Indah (also taxi stand)

(4) You will pass by Leisure Farm bungalows and wished you had bought one long ago. You will pass by Lego Land and wished you had gone there before. Finally you find your bus right in front of the first huge building in front of the Bukit Indah shopping mall. Get off, and get in. The whole journey would have been about an hour and a half, including customs.

Keep the bus ticket at hand - 5 Malaysian ringgit

Keep the bus ticket at hand - 5 Malaysian ringgit

(5) Do  a tour of the shops and available food outlets and go look at the cinema to see if there is a show you are interested in and can squeeze into your days program. Buy your ticket and go for your lunch. Whatever you do you try to leave the place by 430pm to avoid the heavy traffic.

(6) You wait at the same bus-stop you alighted in the morning. Always ask around to see if you are at the right place. Things change in Malaysia and we have no idea at all. The ticket home is Malaysian Ringgit 5. Pay the driver exact amount and get your ticket and KEEP IT AT HAND.

(7) Malaysian customs (make sure you have no sugar, oil, rice, and something else). Look for any Causewaylink bus and head for Singapore customs. Show the driver the ticket.

Bus stand at Singapore customs

Bus stand at Singapore customs

(8) Pass the Singapore customs and look for the Causewaylink bus that heads to Jurong East bus interchange. Always confirm with the driver and show him your 5 ringgit ticket. It gives you peace of mind.

(9) If you are Singaporean, by the time you arrive at Jurong East bus interchange, about an hour and a half later,  you have already asked yourself, Was it worth going all the way there and back?  To shop, to eat, to see a movie, to chill out and take advantage of the superior Sing dollar and be patronizing to the Malaysian brethren. Was it worth it?

If you can answer the question in the affirmative, then I trust that this step by step guide will tease you into making one of these trips preferably on weekdays if you are an introvert, and on Saturday if you are an extrovert.