Hell: its for real!

My colleague Alvin Lim preached an impactful sermon on Hell. He spoke on a topic which pastors seldom, if ever preached. I remember having preached about it only once. Mentioning it in passing whenever it was a part of a story, parable or text: yes, quite a few times. But as a main topic exploring different aspects of it, once in 38 years of ministry. Not a very good record. Now why did I not preach more about Hell? Well, it is not good news, not positive and probably offensive too. It’s not a topic members will get excited about. I think it has to do with warfare too. If there is one topic Satan hates it is mention about his final and eternal abode.

Alvin did a great job. First he described hell – what it looks like, what it feels like, who will be there. Then he went on to describe the fruit of the teaching about Hell. For those who are lost, it can spur them to repent and seek God. For those already saved, it could deepen their appreciation of grace, spur them to the fear of God and holy living, and motivate them to share Christ with the lost. He also went on to explain how to share about Hell to the lost. For older traditionalist, the existence of Hell is more or less accepted and to talk about it is not problematic. But to reach the younger ones with this message, it has to be argued. Young people value tolerance and believe if you are good you will avoid Hell. They find the Christian idea of hell too exclusive. We have to show them that Christianity is more tolerant and inclusive. The Heaven they prefer is exclusively for those who are good. That leaves a lot of people out. But the Christian Heaven is for those who believe in Jesus even though their past had been terrible. This means it is more inclusive, because all kinds of exes will qualify: ex-prostitutes, ex-robbers, ex-deceivers, ex-convicts, ex-self righteous religious, ex-adulterers, ex- cheaters and the list goes on and on, regardless of race, language, or previous religion, or age, or gender – as long as you trust in Christ for forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

Jesus is the prophet who preached more than anyone about Hell. He did so because He knew Hell was a horrible realm for He created it for Satan and the demons. Never meant for people. But those who follow the prince of darkness will also end there. We preachers, followers of Christ, should follow suit and preach more about Hell.

Upgrading in Seven Fountains

The Seven Fountains Ignatian Spirituality Center keeps upgrading itself. It is almost like it has a Singapore spirit. Upgrading and improving is a passion that drives the country. I see it here in Chiangmai. If I remember correctly there were so many improvements over the last seven years. One major one was ensuite bathrooms. Another was the bitumen repairs. Then the rabbits and turkeys came. And the wooden hut was renovated and air conditioned to be another great prayer space. Yesterday, when I came in, I saw the new elevators.

New elevators to the joy of seniors

Apparently the sight of older retreatants lugging luggage up the staircase moved the priests with compassion, and in addition the financial means was there for the lifts to be done. I also noticed the enlargement of the dining space to accommodate more dining tables and chairs. The grounds have also been spruced up, with the unwanted plants and weeds and ponding and stagnant water removed and the grounds looking like a newly barbered head. All in all it gives the sense of hope, freshness, and progress.

Additional dining space by extending into the garden grounds

Where did they get the money from? From donations, many of which I suppose to be from Singaporeans.  It is a lovely partnership or fellowship where giving and receiving is the order of the day; the priests and their generosity of opening the retreat and giving direction freely, the Singaporean retreatants so blessed and transformed by the ministry, giving generously in return. What a fellowship, what a joy divine, leaning on the Everlasting Arm!

In a sense this upgrading is what also happens in our lives as we learn to be silent, and pray in solitude, with the help of spiritual directors. The Lord draws near, we become sensitive of the movements of the Spirit, we become open to Him and obey Him and we are transformed or “upgraded”.

That is why I am here this week. I feel tired physically and weary emotionally. I have not been praying well. I have lost my appetite for lectio divina. I spend more time on reflection and journaling. Is this a season I have gone into?  I need to understand what is going on. Is it perhaps my tiredness and weariness dulling my appetite for God? I look forward to a deeper love for the Lord, which is the grace I desire and seek.

Extended Bangkok stay and self-discovery

Fun places and activities

After the church camp my wife and I, her brothers -Simeon and Kenneth, and Kenneth’s wife Maggie. extended our stay in Bangkok by eight days. We stayed with Jack and Baby Lee in Bangna, about fifteen minutes’ drive from the airport. We did lots:

  • We went to the Amphawa Floating Market and took a boat ride.
  • We went to Khao Yai National Park a UNESCO World Heritage Site twice the size of Singapore, where we visited Palio Khao Yai, a Tuscan themed shopping village, the little Italy of Thailand.
  • We visited the UNESCO World Heritage site called Ayuthaya, the ruins of the capital of an ancient kingdom called Sukhothai.
  • We went to a local beach area south west of Bangkok on the way towards Pattaya. It is called Bansaen beach and is frequented by locals.
  • We went to a few large shopping malls around Bangna.
  • I had time for lunch fellowship with Leslie, the camp preacher, as he resides in Bangkok.

Whatever is charming

I reflected on the activities and it dawned on me that I enjoyed most those times when there were interesting, beautiful or unique things to see and take pictures of. That was why I enjoyed being in Palio Khao Yai, that Italian themed village in Khao Yai National Park. It was like a part of Italy landed north east of Bangkok. There were many pretty and charming spots.

One of the many charming corners of the Tuscan themed village
There were a few interesting stores selling local and Italian stuff
Even a clock tower to complete the atmosphere

Whatever is unusual

Another place was the floating market with its vibrant colour, the crowds of people, the intense humidity, and continuous rows of stalls selling food, clothes, fruits, snacks, footwear, amulets, containers, toys, beverages, stationery, bags and cutlery -anything you would need to wear, eat and drink, or use at home. There were lots of interesting scenes to video as well as take pictures of. I liked it. I love taking pics with my mobile.

Having our noodles lunch in a store as hot as an oven
On a boat ride along a tributary of the Chao Phraya
Baby invited Tiffany and Steven to join us
Paid my respect to Elvis Presley at a cafe dedicated to him

Whatever is interesting

A surprise unplanned visit to the ruins of Ayutthaya, the ancient capital of Sukhothai kingdom was a thumbs up for me. I could not stop taking videos and pictures and found the red and orange and brown and black of the ruins absolutely stunning . Why did this ancient city become ruins? What happened? My curiosity was piqued and I did some research afterward: Looks like a Myanmese kingdom invaded and destroyed the city.

Fallen, fallen is the great Ayuthaya
Do as the king says!
In the shade, a cool breeze, a good rest

Whatever is beautiful

And the apartment that we were staying in had all kinds of interesting household and decorative items that fascinated me. I took many photos of them. They were beautiful; they were unusual, exotic, and most were made locally and bought from local markets or given by Baby’s friends. I enjoyed photographing those items.

This arrangement in itself a work of art
Eye-catching display
Sir, to clean the sole of your shoes, the hedgehog will assist you

Capture them in pictures or buy them!

In fact, of late I noticed I have been attracted to beautiful objects like crystal cross (which I bought at half price for church use), a charming wooden botonee cross which I bought from a thrift shop for $8, and a ceramic set which could be used for Holy Communion for $15. The idea of buying beautiful items, useful or purely decorative, at a bargain price is growing on me. This is a new facet of myself I never knew. I feel like this could be another hobby! Should I be worried it grows into an obsession? Yes! Therefore, I must not get carried away. Moderation. Moderation.

Beautiful Trinitarian botonee cross commonly used by the Russian Orthodox Church
Interesting ceramic set that can be used for holy communion in small groups

 

Church camp 2019 in downtown Bangkok

Feeling very good

Perhaps I experienced a tiny bit of what God felt when it was said of Him in Genesis, “And God saw everything that was made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen 1:31). That was how I felt about the WRPF Church Camp 2019 in Bangkok: it was very good. Like a gentle spring in my soul, I felt the stillness of peace and a joy that quietly bubbled up throughout the days of the camp. There was no hurry: no huff and no puff, no rush from meeting to meeting. I felt a welcome restfulness throughout the camp. It was very good.

The hotel in downtown Bangkok was hosting us a second time

Fed fresh Bread

To sit back and receive fresh truth from heaven and be in presence of Christ felt like I was a mobile phone seated on a wireless charger. The invited speaker was Leslie Quahe. He was enlightening, edifying and entertaining. He stirred me, stretched me, and seized me with his humorous, riveting and transforming proclamation of His Story and his stories. I felt very blessed. At the end of the four sessions, I felt energized 100%.

Leslie Quahe

I heard of Leslie Quahe from theological college days. He was one year my senior. My only image of him was of him playing soccer, and him with his motorbike. Thus when my sister in law Baby asked if I would like to meet him, I did not hesitate. Why not? We met in his home in Bangkok and got to hear about what he had been doing all these decades, and his stories amazed me, and I concluded this guy can potentially be our camp speaker in future, but I should first invite him to preach a sermon one Sunday when he was in Singapore. He duly did so, and that’s why he was our camp speaker.

With Leslie Quahe the camp speaker

Church encouraged, leaders affirmed

I was encouraged when he affirmed and prayed for the leadership at the last session, releasing what I believe to be prophetic words that confirmed that our last six years of emphasizing on intimacy with God through walking ancient paths of prayer; of emotional health and growth, were on the spot with what God had wanted for WRPF’s destiny as light to others of what first love is.

It is tough to slow down and to wait and to listen to God in prayer.  We are a society that values productivity and obviously silence, waiting and prayer seems highly unproductive. We had to be strong in conviction in order to resist the pressures and temptation to be like other churches and the rest of society. “Do you love Me?” was Jesus question to Peter who had been scarred by the failure of his activism and self-sufficiency. It was not, “What have you done for Me?”. To have this heavenly assurance when you are going against the current of worldliness, is an approving nod from the Master.

Hotel food

The food the hotel served was better than any of the church camp foods I have had over many decades of church camps in Malaysia and Batam. The food was delicious and we had long meal-times of one and a half hour or more, so that people could mingle and fellowship at leisure. No need to gulp your food to rush to an afternoon workshop! No afternoon sessions – they are all free and easy.

Missions component

I was happy we had a missions component and we were greatly helped by Ruth Center in Bangkok who organized three activities for us to serve the residents of the slum. Some went about visiting the elderly poor with rice packets and prayed for them. Some went to play games with the younger ones who lived in the slum. I joined the construction crew whose assignment was to build five platforms with water cisterns. This was laborious work and I loved seeing how the young people did the main bulk of the work. They were awesome in strength and power. It dawned on me that I was not of much use, not even for photography, so I helped minimally in carrying concrete slabs, and spent most of the time chatting with Simeon Siau, another person who shouldn’t be there. We were kindly and tactfully excused from the rest of the afternoon while the rest of the construction crew finished the job!

I loved the idea of creating mission platforms so that men with more practical skills and know-how (like Bezalel and Company who built the tabernacle of Moses with the help of the Holy Spirit) can serve God with their gifts.

Camp organizers

Yes, I do rate this camp with five stars. I was very pleased with the organizing committee and I hope they too were very satisfied when they saw that their hard work made possible the spiritual and eternal impact we felt at the camp!

Website problem resolved, but not the blogging problem

Apologies for the website problems recently. I was about to write a post last week when I realised my website had vanished and been replaced by something else. I asked my friend Vee for advice and she said it is because I had not paid for the domain name. The last time I paid was five years ago and must have forgotten. I am now thankful its back again thanks to the belated but successful intervention.

I am struggling with writing posts as a discipline, and sometimes am blank for some weeks, like in June. I write a draft but just do not post it because I was not convinced its worth putting out. I struggle to write about the latest happenings like the attack on the mosque in New Zealand, significant news reports like Taiwan’s acceptance of gay marriages, etc. It just feels tiresome. So I am asking the Lord to help me, guide me, and inspire me. And if He so leads, to stop writing for a season. More likely He seems to be helping me find my unique voice in a space that is full of better informed writers, researchers, academics, pastors, and creatives. So pray along with me.

The earth was void and empty and the Spirit was hovering over the mess. Then God spoke, and sparks flew, and something beautiful, useful and meaningful came out of it. Praying this will happen to my blog.

Rev Dr John Sim

This morning my Tung Ling Bible School classmate came to preach  in the church service. He is John Sim and we renewed contacts through Facebook a few years back. Rev Dr John Sim had been in the pastoral ministry for at least three decades and currently lectures and administrates at Vanguard University, California. He holds several theological degrees, including the MDiv and MTh(Princeton), and a DMin (Fuller). He is featured in Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in Religion, and Who’s Who Among Asian Americans. John works at Vanguard University, a Christian Liberal Arts university belonging to the Assemblies of God, where he teaches Bible and Theology. We met up after our Facebook contact, and I have been inviting him to take the pulpit whenever he came to visit family.

This would be the third time he preached in WRPF but this time I added two afternoon lectures. He preached on the subject, “Can I trust the Bible?” during the Sunday service, and in the afternoon he lectured on “The Land of the Bible”, which explained the significance of knowing some geography to better understand the Bible.  We were blessed and enriched by all the sessions.

John, myself and Ben at a cafe in Jurong

Before this, we had met for lunch, three of us, all classmates from Tung Ling Bible School when it was still situated in the borrowed premises of the Church of Singapore, Marine Parade. There was John, myself and Benjamin Foo, who studied in Moody Bible College, planted a church locally while working in the Stock Exchange of Singapore. We talked a little about everything: the past, the Celebration of Hope, our families, the future, and what we were currently doing. We met for a meal and fellowship every time John is around. It was a blessed and encouraging time.

 

Looking forward to silent retreat in Seven Fountains

Air fares to Chiangmai are daylight robbery. Direct flights would easily cost upward of SGD$300 even rising to SGD$600 in peak season. For anything under SGD$300 you would have to include a stopover, which meant a long wait at a Bangkok airport.

This was what I was rudely made aware of as I tried to book a flight to Chiangmai in mid-July. It’s not the school holidays; it is the rainy season, so I thought it would be inexpensive. SIA’s direct flight was close to SGD$500. By God’s grace, the God must have brought to my mind Scoot.  Thank the Lord, I have finally managed to get a Scoot ticket for SGD$350. I was over the moon.

I am heading to Seven Fountains Ignatian Center for a 8 days retreat and rest. The pastoral ministry does take a toll on most of us, and we all do need that time-out to rest, sleep, eat, drain out and process the negative emotions and experiences, deal with the shadows in our life, draw closer to God and feel His unconditional love, practical care and the peace that passes all understanding. To know Him more, to love Him more, to follow Him more closely.

One feature of the prayer grounds in Seven Fountains

Why is it important to have an experienced priest or minister trained in spiritual direction to accompany you? Most times, we are violent towards ourselves – condemning ourselves, pitying ourselves, angry with ourselves, regretting missed opportunities and mistakes. It can get depressive and self-harming. A director would be quick to spot that, alert you, and direct you gently to green pastures and still waters of God’s mercy and grace. They will help you be more gentle with yourself. No more bashing of oneself but rather basking in the grace and love of God.

I am thankful the church I serve, World Revival Prayer Fellowship, gives its pastoral staff five days paid leave and a reimbursement of up to $600 for directed retreats annually. This has been very helpful. I wish such an enlightened policy had been around when I was new in the ministry. The purification, the healing, the strengthening of faith, and simply the rest of mind, body and emotions all add up to a restorative, redemptive, regenerative time in the Lord. I always return with more grace, more peace, more love, more resolve, more energy. Always! And the church people benefits when their pastor is renewed in the Lord, or is more in love with the Lord, or simply more rested in body and soul.