Almost two months into the sabbatical

trekking the Bukit Timah hillListening to my body

Almost two months have passed. Physically, I have rested well. This April and May has been months when I listened closely to my body. Whenever I felt tired, I laid in bed and napped or slept. Most mornings I do not force myself to wake up. So it has been usually 8.30am or 9am when I have my breakfast. They say this is the best way to know how much sleep you need. My tentative conclusion is that I need about 8-9 hours of sleep each day.

Though I began with walking and jogging at the Chinese Garden, my preferred form of exercise and recreation is still trekking. So I have revived my Saturday trek with friends, and above that, during the weekdays I try to trek once or twice at Bukit Timah Hill or MacRitchie.  Such treks are gentle on the knees and on the heart. The air is great and the forest sounds and sights perk me up. Over the several weeks, I have been gradually trimming down and firming up.

Outside enrichment

The AGST MTh(Ed) modules were fun and the subjects and readings, lectures and interactions have been fruitful learning experiences for me. Forcing myself to research, reflect and write my papers have also been pleasantly smooth riding, despite my early anxiety.

Helping out as a facilitator once a month with the Focused Leaders Network (Church Resource Ministry Singapore) together with James Creasman, Bishop Moses Tay, and Rev. Walter Lim has been enjoyable. This is a platform for me to journey with pastors, in this instance, pastors from the Foursquare denomination in Singapore.

Spiritual refreshment

More time also meant more time for meditation, reading, reflection, prayer and journaling, and listening to sermons with my wife, mostly Paul White and Andrew Wommack. This last month I have been slowly nourishing my soul on Psalms 42 and taking time to pour out my heart or be quiet before Him.

Visiting churches as a layman is so nice, so nice. To be free from having to preach or minister and to fuss over program or people problems is like one prolonged sigh of relief. It was plain good, a cosy and relaxing change. It was pure indulgence: like peering into the horizon with sunglasses, and sipping watermelon juice at a beach, as white clouds quietly tiptoed by. And then being able to indulge my spiritual palate in different church services and sermons, like a wandering charismatic, has become a prolonged epicurean feast I hope I do not become addicted to.

Anxiety squashed by word

Even as the days passed, colourful as they were, with a Kuala Lumpur jaunt and a chest thumping week of witnessing the Singapore election, anxiety about whether the days were productively spent bugged me for a while. For a Singaporean, even resting and restoration is an objective to strain for. So as the days passed quickly you wondered if God will get everything done that I wanted Him to get done in me. Mercifully, some peace prevailed after the Lord gave me a status update, “Enjoy each day as a gift and trust Me to accomplish in you all that needs to be accomplished by the end of the sabbatical”. That is so assuring and going forward, I will rest on that word.

Google reader

Recently, I have also learned how to use the Google Reader. Transferred all the blogs and websites I usually read from my blogroll and Favourites and moved them all there for efficient access and pleasure. This has been available for some time, but I am usually a late adopter when it comes to such things. I am still not on Twitter.

On sabbatical finally

My sabbatical begins

The sabbatical has finally begun. First of April came and went without event. Lurking underneath was an anxiety that  the chairman of the Board would call me –Pastor, I am sorry but it was all an April Fool’s prank. Report to work tomorrow. But that did not happen, and I am still pinching myself.

The last time I had a sabbatical was for three months and it was about eleven years ago. At that time, I had served in the same church for close to 20 years. No complaints from me as there are pastors who have never had a sabbatical. And there are those who had a sabbatical every six years. Comparing my situation with other pastors will only make me glad or sad. I would rather not compare and be grateful and contented with what I am blessed with.

Eugene Peterson, well known pastor, lecturer and writer about spiritual formation and prayer, wrote in one of his books, that sabbatical is “the biblically based provision for restoration. When the farmer’s field is depleted, it is given a sabbatical – after years of planting and harvesting, it is left alone for a year so that the nutrients can build up in it. When people in ministry are depleted, they also are given a sabbatical – time apart for the recovery of spiritual and creative energies.” For some years now I have been feeling the need for spiritual replenishment. This morning, on the Lord’s day, I woke up praying- Lord heal whatever brokenness You find in me. I commit the whole six months to You and trust You to order my steps and restore me fully in spirit, soul and body.

Community of Praise Baptist Church English service

Visit to church nearby my home

This was my first Sunday. Community of Praise Baptist Church is nearby my home and  their worship service starts at 10am. My wife came with me as we had to hurry off to Yip’s 50th birthday lunch in Sentosa. The worship hall was gorgeous. The decor was tastefully done and I could see that they were willing to spare little expense to do the hall up. It looked like it had a seating capacity of about 500. The songs were familiar and I asked the Lord to minister and speak to me. A song touched me, encouraging me to trust Him to accomplish His purposes in me through this sabbatical. That was a good start, to start receiving at the first service of the sabbatical.

A few faces were familiar to me. I saw Jackie and pastor Bernie – both of whom I am acquainted with from a prayer retreat I attended last November. And there was Dave Tang who sits on the CRMS board and the senior pastor Rev George Butron who together with other pastors were attending a Focused Leaders Network facilitated by the CRMS founder James Creasman, former Anglican Archbishop Moses Tay, pastor Walter Lim of Grace II and myself.

The congregation were mainly folks in their 40’s and 50’s, as their young people, the Mandarin speaking and the children were worshipping simultaneously in other halls nearby. There were quite a number of Caucasians in the congregation and a surprisingly wonderful mix of different races. The Chinese formed the majority but there were quite a number of Indians, Filippinos and other folks too. It reminded me of Pentecost at Azusa Street. The Spirit brings people of all races and status and marks it with His kind of love.

George Butron’s sermon

George Butron taught from Nehemiah chapter one, the beginning of a series of messages. Detailing the historical and cultural background without boring the audience, he taught the Word, reading often from the text. It was obvious he loved the Word and that shone through. Near the end, he got on fire and the temperature in the congregation went up. From informing the mind earlier, he was now warming our hearts as he poured out his heartfelt convictions about what he saw God doing in the church and what he believed God was about to do. You could say he started with teaching and ended up prophesying. Black preachers call it celebration.

The insight I took home was about how Nehemiah mirrored the Holy Spirit’s ministry in our lives.  Just as Nehemiah rebuilt the broken walls of Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit wants to rebuild our lives on the inside. That was the pivot on which the sermon’s effectiveness rested on. It resonated with me because of what I prayed in the morning. At the end of the sermon, I whispered to the Lord – I trust You to rebuild the broken walls during the sabbatical.

Long walks resume

My wife and I resumed the long walks and the usual Saturday treks. These have been laid off for quite a few months. So while the early morning Saturday trek up Bukit Timah Hill was cancelled because it rained, my wife and I went with Linda Teo, Tan and Christine in the evening. The hills are alive with the sound of music, and I do hear them when I trek. And it always feels good, yes priceless, when after an hour and a half of trekking up stairs and slopes, you walk down the tar and cement main road to the rangers’ station at the foot. There are other places I would like to trek during my sabbatical: Pulau Ubin, Sungei Buloh, Sentosa, MacRitchie, some parts of the city, and some hills like Belumut in Kluang.

Off to Kuala Lumpur

This Friday, I ride First Coach from Novena at 9.30am and will be in Kuala Lumpur for about ten days. Do my MTh(Ed) module under Perry Shaw whose lectures are about “Building Formative Faith Communities”- it may not appeal to you but just the title makes me salivate.  Of course “ lim kopi” with some New Covenant Church friends like Pastor Peter and Simon and whoever is free. Preach there on Sunday morning. Possibly a peek at Stillhaventfound’s girlfriend. Maybe he’ll change his blog name now that he has found. Maybe attend Roger Sapp’s healing seminar. Quite a few maybes. And finally, a visit to an old friend, Mrs Ang, as we affectionately call her, who had ministered many times to our church in the past. Looking forward to this trip.

Riding the elephants and the rapids

The Chongs and the Shins blessed Simon, Rinda and myself with two days in a four star hotel and two days tour around Chiang Mai. The second day, we just had to do the elephant thing. Watched the elephants do tricks like dance, paint and even take penalty kicks. Touched them, posed with them, fed them and rode on them. It was a 6 out of 10 experience, because of the waiting, waiting waiting. The Tupperware group of over a hundred salespersons from Malaysia were on an incentive trip. They were late and upset the schedules of everyone else.

riding God's mamoth creature

father n daughter: Francis and Ethel Shin

Rinda and Simon Tan

The highlight of the day came from whitewater rafting the Mae Taeng river. Driven up river to an attap facility, had a light lunch, given a demonstration of safety and teamwork, wore safety equipment and we were off. This was one unforgettable ride on Grade 3 river rapids. Unforgettable for the thrills and spills, getting stuck between two rocks in the rapids, and other incidents. Its about 10 km long and the rafting was close to 2 hours but time just rushed by by as we paddled, squealed, laughed, screamed, had anxious moments and got drenched to the skin.

Mae Taeng whitewater rafting

Mae Taeng river rafting

CHIANG MAI - WATER-RAFTING

CHIANG MAI - WATER-RAFTING

CHIANG MAI - WATER-RAFTING 028

CHIANG MAI - WATER-RAFTING 030

CHIANG MAI - WATER-RAFTING 034

CHIANG MAI - WATER-RAFTING 040

CHIANG MAI - WATER-RAFTING 041

CHIANG MAI - WATER-RAFTING 066

Sunny Chong shared some lessons from reflecting on the adventure:

1. To move ahead we have to work in unity. Everyone has to paddle together in the same direction.
2.  Let our hearts not be troubled, when we go over troubled waters.
3. In our life, there are always “Up & Downs” and “Twist & Turns”.
4. We may move very fast when the Flow is strong.
5. We may feel calm when the river is still and quiet (Psalm 23).
6. Sometimes we can feel depressed and get stuck between the rocks.
7. The Lord delivers us out of danger.
8. Always celebrate and rejoice on reaching a milestone along the journey.

Circling Dairy Farm Loop

wooden steps up Dairy Farm path

lost umbrella awaiting owner

up the steps of Jungle Fall path

When under stress, the most important thing for me is to meditate and pray, relinquish the desire to have things my way, and rest in His love and power. Going to the hill for a trek also does quite a few things for me.  Its an exercise that I do not mind doing during a time when I’d rather eat and space out. Heading for a sweat-it-out at Bukit Timah Hill does certain things for me. It breaks my bad habit of taking short breaths when under stress. It forces me to breathe more deeply, particularly when I climb the wooden or track steps. Every time I pause to catch my breath or drink, I look around with camera in hand and look for a picture worth capturing. The air is fresh, the sounds of cicada and birds catch my attention, the deliberate act of placing my feet safely to avoid root stumps and wet mud, forces my mind off problems at hand, onto intentional walking and listening and looking.

along the path to Wallace Edn Center

an orchid

whatever

banana flower

Wild tigers in Dairy Farm

free carpark off Dairy Farm

Compared to the Bukit Timah hill, parking was a breeze at this large carpark off Dairy Farm Road.  The entrance to the Wallace trail looked new, with a large map and seating area. Beside this section, were airy, lightly fragranced washroom facilities. Impressive. I turned left and followed the clear directional signs to the 1 km trail. Ladies shouldn’t walk without company, as I was virtually alone at 10am. I sauntered up the bitumen road and turned into the jungle trail.

Wallace loved durians

The picture of Wallace stared at me from a poster. What struck me: he was a friend of Charles Darwin; he lived and explored the Malay archipelago; and he loved durians! An angmoh who appreciated the king of fruits, and those were the wild durians, not the modern hybrids.

out of bitumen into mudtrail

across streams

roots

The path was narrow and damp, and at times muddy. I could see why they used this for education. The singing of birds and cicada, the hum of traffic from the Bukit Timah expressway, the variety of fauna and butterflies caught my attention at various points in the trail, and would certainly be talking points for the nature guide. Under the shade of tall trees, the air was cool. A monitor lizard about 4 feet long crawled nearby.

hunting for tigers

This jungle area was once  infested with wild tigers. Unfortunately, the last tiger was shot in 1932. Can you imagine if there were still wild tigers in Bukit Timah and Dairy Farm as there were a hundred years ago? Wouldn’t it be interesting to see the amount of respect for wild animals and nature that would generate? Now all that can be seen were  immoveable fat cows, haunted houses and fungi.

fat cow

haunted house?

fungi ?

The leisurely trek took about an hour or so. There was another trail leading to a quarry but I decided to stop, because the path that led there was exposed to the late morning sun and heat.

Another day lah.

Off to trek in the Annapura trails in Nepal

nepal

Early this morning I sent my wife and two trekking friends to the Changi airport.Together with nine others they flew off to Kathmandu.

She had been packing for close to a week and even then last night she was at it past midnight, and this morning she was again at it before we went off at 6.20am.

Are women different from men in the way and the amount they pack? Or is it just that my wife would be in the scenic and cool mountains for many many days? When I went two years ago it was for a less than a week. This time they would be trekking about ten days.

How many days would it be before the fun and sense of wonder evaporates, and the drudgery and hardship and longing for ease and laksa kick in?

For me it was the connect with the Creator, and the good company of friends that sublimated the hardship, sacrifices and weariness.

A great incentive was to become toned, healthier, and to have achieved it while enjoying a holiday.

As I waved goodbye to them I felt a tinge of longing to be with them. Nostalgia descended as I viewed slides of two years ago.

Have a look, and consider planning a different kind of vacation one day.


Jewels of Nepal from Blogpastor on Vimeo.

A slow down at Bukit Timah hill

 

Out of decay of hurry can come new life

hurried living cuts us off from His life

On Monday, a friend told me that we need to learn to be fully present and learn to savor life. Singapore is all rush and no hush. We do not savor our food; we gulp it down. The same with people. We are  not fully present with them. Our minds wander. We think we know what they want to say before they have finished. We are even assessing various solutions in our minds while nodding our heads. Children and their surprising spurts of growth and spasms of emotional turmoil are glossed over while we check on their school assignments. We are well off, yet poor. We have a high standard of living but a low quality of life.

 

This morning I decided to trek Bukit Timah hill alone and slow down and taste fully the sights and sounds of the forest. When I began walking I said to myself, “Slowly…..slowly.” Ever so often I paused to look around. When I see a good angle or the play of light on forest trees or floor, I take the mobile and shoot. I stopped at different points to drink and rest. Several times, I stood still and muttered the Lord’s prayer with heart and soul. It helped bring my frisky mind to rest. I would like to do this again…..and alone. Solitude with the Lord amongst trees and open skies heals and fills me. (put your cursor over pics and pray)

spring water for the thirst...and the brave

journeying with Christ is never without color

if love is not the greatest, then what is