I Am Grateful For 2020


Covid-19 has cast a menacing shadow on the year 2020. It is the year of the pandemic. 1,816,120 deaths from Covid 19 in 2020, and these are only reported cases. 83, 260,611 infected, of which 59,049,598 have recovered. These statistics are bad, mad and sad. Singapore had also been in the valley of shadow of death. Anxiety, fear and frustration are the moods of the year. However, I do not want to dwell on these tragic details in this post. We are all familiar with the roll call of facts about the source, spread and devastation of the coronavirus. Rather, this post is about my personal reflection of 2020. Despite the darkness, I have experienced much of God’s abundance and redemptive grace. I have much to be grateful for. 


For one, my whole family is back in Singapore. For a while my wife and I were empty nesters with my son Joshua and his wife Ping studying in London, my second son Matthew serving the air forces in Australia with his wife and our two grandkids, and my daughter Elaine working in the USA. In 2019 my two sons returned with their families, and as if that wasn’t wonderful enough, my daughter was allowed to work from home in Singapore from March 2020. We were prepared to quarantine her at home but the hour she landed in the airport she was briskly brought straightaway to the Grand Park Orchard for government imposed and paid quarantine for two weeks. What a blessing and relief to know she was totally well. 

Elaine works from afternoon to about 1am Singapore time and meets her office colleagues remotely at night. Then she would sleep in but we get to see her for meals like lunch and dinner and some weekends. It was wonderful to have her around. Now I wonder when she will be recalled back to her office in Washington DC. Hopefully she won’t be recalled until June 2021. 


I am also grateful that the Covid 19 circuit breaker period and the months after necessitated the learning of new digital skills that I never had before. Speaking to an empty room with only a phone camera in front of me is something I have become comfortable with. I have also become strangely comfortable reviewing my talks on video. I used to squirm and switch off when I watched myself preach on video. Not so any more. I have also learned to use Zoom for meetings, as well as teach a Christian Education course. I can see possibilities in using these digital platforms. In the larger picture, the churches here have moved from being digital laggards to progressives, and this is a big, big positive in terms of future digital presence.

It has also forced me to purchase stuff online, mainly from Lazada. It began with buying necessary equipment to improve my recording of sermons and digital presence. Soon I moved on to stuff like bicycle lamps and camera lens that I wanted for my hobbies, to frivolous stuff like buying a linen shirt for dirt cheap price for the experience of it. I learned that when it comes to clothing, it’s better to visit the shopping mall. 


I am grateful that my retirement after 40 years of pastoral ministry in the same church was done sweetly. I am thankful that a home-grown church servant, Alvin Lim had been called by God to serve as the English Congregation pastor, and he willingly obeyed. I feel privileged to have seen God’s hand in forming a team of young people in full-time and part-time ministry, and weaving them with the more experienced staff. All this made it possible for me to step down as senior pastor with peace of mind. It was also a quiet but pleasant send-off with words of affirmation and good wishes, from the President and church leaders and members, and prayers of the three congregational pastors. All pre-recorded before a live audience and screened later for people to view on-line. I was feeling joyful during the recording of that segment, which was done straight after, the pre-recording of the ordination of service of Rev Alvin Lim on a Saturday morning.  Very joyful and moving occasions when I sensed a strong anointing of God’s Spirit.

I was also grateful for the final retreat I would have as a senior pastor. Lance Ng, my spiritual director guided me to reflect on the 40 years of pastoral ministry and the desires that the Spirit is stirring within me with regards to the future. Co-discerning what God is saying and doing is so vital and that is the spiritual director’s role. I was excited with the desires of my heart that surfaced during that five days of silent delighting in the Lord at Life Springs Spirituality Centre. I have been giving God a blank page for post-retirement, refusing to plan but instead to wait on Him, and the Lord has started to reveal the steps I am to take after retirement. Exciting new chapter.


To summarize, although 2020 was a “negative” year in terms of the adverse effects on mental health, the economy, jobs, separation and loss of loved ones, and the surfacing of ugly politics, for me personally God has graciously allowed me to experience his abundance, guidance and preparation for the future. Oddly I will remember 2020 rather fondly because I see too many positives for myself and my family and the church– the lot has fallen nicely for us.

Share this:

Read More →

Holy Saturday: patient waiting

Most Protestants do not know bother meditating on Holy Saturday. Who would blame them? As a pastor I myself hardly taught about it, or even thought about it. It is exposure to contemplative spirituality that led me to discern a rich vein of golden truths hidden in the tomb.

The waiting in the tomb speaks to me in so many ways. It tells me that many periods in life can be like being in the uncertain tomb, between the certainties of death and resurrection. To the disciples who followed Jesus it was certainly a period of anxiety, confusion, ambiguity, and the humiliation of not knowing what to do. There are times of transitions in our life when this is exactly how we feel too. We do not know for certain how things will pan out. Will I be able to get a job after the pandemic? Will I lose my current job?

We do learn however that we need to do during this time of uncertainty is WAIT. Waiting patiently is not exactly a Millenial’s favourite thing to do. For that matter, nobody of any age likes to wait. But this stillness, silence and waiting in the tomb is exactly what God is inviting us to do. For in that waiting will be birthed forth and formed the new you that will be able to cope, enjoy, endure and triumph over what is NEXT.

Waiting in stillness, silence and in darkness

Which is what this period of ‘circuit breaker’ seems to be all about. We are in our homely tombs. We feel uncertain as the daily number of covid-19 cases increases rather than decreases. Its been five days and uncertainty still prevails. It is clear we need to be more strict and careful with our social distancing. But what happens next nobody can be sure, although the graph should show a downward curve by the end of the one month of tempered lock down. We are in the in between period, the liminal space of neither here nor there, or not knowing what or how, of seeing through a glass darkly. We will learn that God’s delay is not denial, and his silence is not abandonment.

Jesus stayed still, silent and waited as the dead would. But in his faith perfected by suffering, he knew that the Father, in due time would come to rescue him from the grip of death, and breathe in him the resurrection life of eternal power. We too will need to exercise a faith that after we die in the Lord, there will be a resurrection of the dead from the graves and columbariums and the seas and the earth, and it will be a resurrection unto life, not condemnation or judgment.

Online seder-bringing together four households through WhatsApp

This Holy Saturday, my daughter in law, Ping, organized and led a seder passover meal, a Christian version. It brought together four households via WhatsApp video call. We got the bread, grapejuice, some bitter stuff (wasabi, or herbs), a candle. We gave parts to everyone, including our grandchildren, and went through the script patiently. How wonderful for family to be together in this way – pondering over the great escape from the angel of death through the Blood of the Lamb applied on the doorposts of every believing familiy! This is good preparation for the Lord’s Table on Easter Sunday tomorrow.

Share this:

Read More →

Eventful “circuit breaker” week

This has been an eventful week. The rolling out of the “circuit breaker” to halt the Covid 19 from spreading further in Singapore had commenced. On Tuesday, most businesses and offices closed or began operations from homes. On Wednesday, all the schools began online lessons. On Thursday I fetched my daughter home from a hotel in Orchard Road. She had spent 14 days there in isolation because she flew in from the United States. That very afternoon, I rehearsed and then had my Easter sermon pre-recorded together with the Holy Communion. And today is Good Friday. I went to the Teban Market to buy back nasi lemak and bread and eggs, while my wife bought vegetables in a rush. She said, It’s like Chinese New Year Eve, nobody bothers even though the price of vegetables have gone up. What a long week it had been! I felt relieved the recording had been done. I now hope the media team will give it an editing makeover, and enhance what was done using my son’s Fuji camera, and Zephaniah’s Rode wireless mic. I was anxious about how I was going to figure it our by myself. I was tempted to ask my niece Bethany over to help since she’s 10 minutes drive away, and she is from the media team. However, I was reminded by concerned people that this is contrary to the spirit of what the government is seeking to do – strict social distancing. I tried to rationalize things, Isn’t preaching an essential service that calms and strengthens people’s faith and give hope? After a struggle, I decided to err on the safe side. In the end, God worked all things for good, and my daughter after her release from quarantine, and a video call with Zeph, our media team head, provided the know-how to video my sermon and the Holy Communion for Easter Sunday’s online worship experience.

I tried to use the teleprompter on iPad but somehow it showed too clearly on camera that my eyes were leering off-centre. So I discarded that and held and referred to my sermon notes on my iPad. I hope it turns out okay. We started taping at about 5pm using the light from the windows, the ceiling light, and a table lamp. By the time we taped the Holy Communion, the room had darkened and we had a good laugh. We would need great editing from the media team, or maybe a miracle, for this home-made stuff to be usable on Sunday. It was a good experience.

First meal on homecoming after quarantine
Using my son’s camera and Zeph’s wireless mic to pre-record Easter Sunday sermon and Holy Communion
Share this:

Read More →

Christian response to coronavirus pandemic

My friend Koh Seng Chor, a retired pastor, sent me this lovely piece of timeless wisdom from Reformation giant, Martin Luther, who in dealing with The Black Death plague, wrote these wise words that can help inform a Christian response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Martin Luther the great reformer

“I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence.

If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others.

If my neighbor needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above.

See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”

(Luther’s Works Volume 43 p. 132)

Share this:

Read More →

Church response to coronavirus pandemic

The WHO has declared covid 19 a world pandemic. It is spreading around the world at an alarming rate. World wide emergency cabinet meetings and health orgainizations task forces have been trying to formulate plans to contain and defeat this invisible and clever enemy.

Over in Singapore there is a calm confidence. Yes years ago there was a panic when SARS hit our shores and we scrambled like crazy. When SARS ended there were reviews, evalutions and detailed contingency plans laid in case of another epidemic. This fine tuned plan is being implemented today. Kudos to the civil service and the government.

Together with the WHO announcement, came a speech from our Prime Minister. It was reassuring to hear from him. The thing that struck me as a pastor was his mention that religious meeting need to be shortened and the size of meetings reduced.

Pondering over this, it seems that this could be a good time for the church, steeped in tradition, and entrenched in a fixed way of dong things, to do a review and consider changes. Changes is difficult for church leaders and members. However, when something considered potentially life-threatening stares you and your family in the face, you would actually welcome change or at least accept that it is necessary.

To illustrate how difficult it is for the church to change its way of congregating or worshipping. What if we tell all church members to meet in homes in groups no larger than 20 people, on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday watching a pre-recorded service or live stream? And that would substitute for the Worship Service. Tradition will cry out, Can the Eucharist be conducted at home? Pragmatism will query, How do we collect the offerings? Will there be a drop in finances? Parents will plead, What will we do with our children without Sunday School or children’s church? Small churches will cry out, We don’t have media expertise to do pre-recorded services or live streaming?

Changes are difficult, but if the church is willing to steer a steady and determined course and discern what is best in its context, and make necessary changes, that church will be all the better and stronger after the changes.

The mustard seed must welcome change in its form to grow into a tree, and the leaven must create disruption and ferment in the flour, and change the flour’s constitution for it to become baked bread.

I would be happy to hear your comments or suggestions of how we should co-operate with government advisories like the one issued by the Prime Minister.

Share this:

Read More →