Where Are You? Gen 3:9

Well, Lord, I was on the mountaintop enjoying the fresh air and views with You. Freed from pastoral work in church, and able to do only what I love and want to do, I felt a new lease of life and vision. My physical health improved and the doctor took me off blood pressure pills. I enjoyed the slower pace of life, the simple joys of home-bound living during the two years of the covid pandemic, and enjoyed preaching in my home church and in other churches as well as in teaching missions. I received formation as a spiritual director with a wonderful community of brothers and sisters, many of whom became friends and fellow ministers. I was blessed by an ecumenical community of spiritual directors and religious who taught, formed and loved us. I tasted the privilege and joy of accompanying others in their journey of growth. Thank You, Lord, for a sweet retirement and transition in new avenues of ministry.

Lord, this year I found myself in the valley of distress and uncertainty when my wife was attacked by bacteria on her spine which caused unbearable pain for her, and anguish for me as I felt powerless to relieve that pain. Thankfully, even in the valleys of life, You are actively present. You gave me this verse in Isaiah 43:2, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.” You spoke and I was strengthened (Daniel 10:19).

My wife was in the ward and the community hospital for a total of 51 days. You were with her in her pain and her deliverance from it. She went through the spinal operation You granted us a godly surgeon, Dr Reuben Soh, and his skillful hands stabilized her spine and removed the cause of her pain. She had antibiotics infusion for weeks on end. You gave the infection specialist Dr Jean Sim the wisdom to treat my wife. It was a medical emergency and she was in grave danger, but You, O Lord, was with her, and today she is recovering well.  You moved many pastors, friends and my church family to pray and You heard and answered them: today she is well and no longer in pain. Lord, You are so good.

Lord, I thank you that now I am out of the valley and in the plains. My wife Jenny is at home getting stronger with her twice-a-week physiotherapy sessions at St Luke’s Hospital and she continues with an oral antibiotics course. I am less tired and at peace. I am also beginning to return to the routines and joys that were a part of my usual schedule.  I continue to preach and teach and this gives me joy. I continue to give spiritual direction to a few persons who want You to direct their lives. I have begun to edit and refine the first draft of an e-book that I have written. I was able to continue playing pickleball twice a week whenever possible. Beginning in May, I will be putting on my backpack and hiking shoes and preparing pilgrims for their camino in October 2024. Lord, You also answered one of my longstanding prayers as I did not know what course to use my Skills Future Credit on. Soon I will attend a course on Artificial Intelligence, and it will be conducted near my home too. Thank you for sending Susan who talked about and recommended the course and helped me to sign up.

Lord, I know there are some limits to ministry and meetings when they conflict with physiotherapy and medical appointments. These limits, I believe, are necessary and will only be temporary.  I believe Isaiah 43:2 and You will strengthen my wife and make her as active and healthy as before.

Lord, does this answer Your question?

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Combining Two Pleasures

To be able to combine two pleasures is a great blessing. I enjoy catching up with pastor friends and cycling, so to have these two pleasures combined is time well spent. I have had the pleasure of doing this recently in two cycling trips with pastors. One was from Khatib MRT to Labrador MRT following the Round the Island route. A second was from East Coast Park (car park D1) to Changi Point and back. 

Khatib to Labrador (RTI)

When National Parks published the partially completed Round The Island (RTI) route, it inspired me and I asked a more experienced pastor, cyclist and YouTuber, Eng Hwa if he would like to do this route. He said yes and we agreed on the date. Later I invited one pastor Paul Loh to join us. Paul was a pastor in charge of logistics in New Creation Church before he began his own regional ministry of equipping pastors and church planting. They both lived in the north, one in Sembawang and one in Yishun. I lived in Jurong East. So I folded my Brompton bike at Jurong East MRT and took the train to Khatib MRT station. It was 23 Feb at 7am when I boarded the train. The ride all the way to Changi Point was predictable with a few familiar scenic places, where we stopped at to take pictures and rest. 

At Changi Point we ate at the hawker center and we got to know each other better, lingering over cans of 100 Plus, a necessary isotonic drink for such long-distance rides of over 70km. It helps to prevent cramps. 

After lunch we continued our ride and took regular timeouts to rest, drink and chat. We were stuck for about 15 minutes at a bus-stop along the East Coast because of sudden rain. After that we kept going all the way to Marina Bay and passed the many bridges along the Singapore river. 

Fatigue began to set in along the Alexandra PCN. From then the going was tough but somehow by God’s grace, sheer perseverance and 100Plus, we finally reached our destination with great joy and a sense of satisfaction. We reached Labrador MRT station at 5.23pm. From there we took the train home with our folded bikes. What an unforgettable trip. I now have a deeper respect for those who do the full round the island route like it was a piece of cake. 

East Coast D1 to Changi Point

There were more pastors on this trip because it was organised on a Monday so a still-working Anglican pastor Vincent could join us. Another pastor Richard Wong is executive director of T-NET, a disciple-making ministry. Although he is working, he has a flexible schedule. The rest of us are retired pastors Eng Hwa and Seng Chor and myself. We enjoy doing whatever the Lord bids us to do in this new season of our lives. We have the greater flexibility.

This was not our first pastors cycling trip. We met at a free car park D1 at the East Coast Park. The day was beautiful but according to the weather report, sunny at noon and rainy in the afternoon. It was one of those days when the weather forecast was highly accurate. We had fun riding all the way to Changi Point and chatting over Tiong Bahru chicken rice, and later downed with chendol dessert at another location opposite the hawker center. The talk over the table was about the church during the pandemic, catching up with each other about what’s happening in our lives, and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

On the way back, the rain hit us in the afternoon, and we had to speed up and ended in the exact same bus stop as during the February cycling trip, all wet from the rain. After a while we decided to ride in the drizzle until we reached the hawker center near the Bedok Jetty. There we loitered for quite a while over hot teh tarik, and left under a drizzle because the rain refused to stop. 

I gave a ride to pastor Vincent who lived fifteen minutes from my home. Thankfully we could put two foldable bikes in the car. Although we were drenched, it was an eventful outing, and I enjoyed the ride of 40km, and the camaraderie. This is one kind of environment that helps men to build relationships: doing things we enjoy together and tossing in some meaningful conversations. We are planning another cycling trip, this time from Jurong East to Marina Bay and back.

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Retirement Update

It has been a year since I retired. There is only one word to describe it: SWEET. 

I looked at my TO DO list and saw what is left undone and they are:  Use Skills Future Fund, CPF Inquiry, Look at camera Fujifilm xs10 manual, Paint all ceilings (one ceiling left – the biggest one), Set up Pay Now. Twenty four of the listed items have been done and many, many more that were not listed.  It’s been sweat, not sweet.

I treated the year as a sabbatical I never had in forty years of pastoral work. My sabbaticals were from three to six months. I longed for a “biblical” one year sabbatical. My first was a short sabbatical in 2000 when I attended conferences with Pastor Lawrence Koo and Andrew Khoo at the Toronto Airport Church, Willow Creek Church, and Brooklyn Tabernacle Church. On the second three months sabbatical I mainly learned to fish – literally. The third one was six months and the most fruitful: I was 35 days in a prayer retreat in Chiangmai. The most recent one was three months and I did the Camino Ignaciano, another meaningful retreat.

When I retired as the senior pastor, I felt I had to stay away from church so that the new pastor in charge of English congregation can settle in with ease as the new leader. Thankfully this period coincided with Covid-19 and made staying away less painful. Church services were just a few clicks away every Sunday. Initially, I thought six months was sufficient. Near the end of that period, I decided to extend it to a year. 

Rest for the body and soul

It was a good year of sweet rest. I listened much more to my body and paid attention to its needs. I am healthier now than before I retired. I could sleep-in most days and sleep came easily for me, so I felt very rested. Thankfully, I did not have to force myself into some regime of strict exercise or diet. After all, I enjoyed outdoor sports activities and, without gritting my teeth, health was a natural outcome. In addition, being extricated from pastoral cares and burdens also freed the soul to rest and this is so good for health, and so sweet.

The art of relish

During retirement, I could do the things I enjoyed most. I went back to blogging and writing and am currently working on two ebooks for distribution (pray for me). I blogged more regularly than before and have seen a return of readership.  I have read more widely: novels, thrillers, non-fiction and others. I have returned to leisure cycling and hiking, but could not return to tennis because I had tennis elbow the first time I did. I am also learning photography and joining my wife in a new sport called pickle ball. 

Family time had expanded and contracted. For over a year my daughter was working remotely and stayed with us and that was such a joy, and my sons and their families came back from overseas. My grandchildren were fun to have around whenever they came by my home. But now they have gone to the US for work though it’s a comfort that we still have a son and his wife around. The nest is empty but my wife and I have much more time together and this is also a privilege to treasure and enjoy as we are in our mid-60s and only God knows how much time left we have together. Retirement is sweet with no working hours hindering our full enjoyment of God’s gifts of family and pleasurable activities.

Intimacy and friendships

The most delightful and fruitful of all activities was simply time spent on fellowship with God. I loved prayer, reading, journaling, and having the luxury of time to slow down and be quiet before God. I was worried that my life of prayer would taper off when I retired, but it was not so. I still made prayer a priority even though there were no sermons to preach, nor decisions to make, nor people problems to grapple with, nor emotional turbulence to process. Part of this delight was reading Christian books that nourished my soul, and theological stuff that stretched me intellectually. I could also go on a prayer retreat albeit locally.

Another delight is my continued fellowship with pastor friends, some retired, some not. I continued fellowship with individual pastors as well as small group of pastors, including a recent addition: some pastors from Ministers Fellowship International, Singapore. I am also blessed to be a part of a small Catholic community that organizes caminos (journeys) and prayer retreats.

Did I still preach during the past year? Yes, I did. I took a four-month hiatus, and then began to preach after that, but only occasionally in the English and deaf congregations, and mostly in pre-recorded services, which I have gotten used to!  I enjoyed the lighter preaching schedule as you have more time to to conceive and gestate and carry a sermon before delivery.

With the recent news of a new strain found in Africa, called Omicron, and which WHO viewed as a “variant of concern”, I pray that the current move back to on-site vaccinated services will not falter but continue to bring God’s people together.

“Lord, have mercy. Waves upon waves of infection have touched so many nations and our tiny island. Stretch out you hand to save us. Help us point people to Jesus as the only Hope of the World. Free us from fear, frustration and depression and fill us with new joy and peace that can only be found in YOU! Amen.”

This was how the sabbatical year panned out but I will leave to another blogpost some updates about the near future. 

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Retirement: Graced With Identity

I was forewarned that the loss of identity would be a tough loss to manage. After all, for 40 years I served in the same church as a church worker, associate pastor and then senior pastor. My sense of identity must surely have been so entwined and defined by my job and role as the senior pastor of World Revival Prayer Fellowship. I was wary and anticipated some struggle. But I was surprised that the transition into retirement was so smooth and sweet. It had to be God’s grace.

HELD WITH HANDS OPENED

Thankfully, I was never enamoured with the senior pastor’s job, role or title in the first place. I never held it with a tightened fist but with an open hand. I was willing to let go of it when push comes to shove. It felt nice to be addressed as, or referred to, and deferred to as senior pastor but the weight of responsibility and pressure that comes with it rapidly evaporates all the niceness. It was an onerous calling. This push factor eased and facilitated the letting go process required in retirement. It did not require a hammer to open my hands. I felt relief to let go of this role that is as close and all-embracing as my skin. 

TEMPORAL VERSUS ETERNAL

During the six months since my retirement, I did not find myself grasping for a new role to fill up the loss in identity. I am still a husband to my wife, a father to my two grown up sons (and their wives) and a daughter, and a grandfather to my two grand-daughters. My new ministry role is still being etched out. I let God determine what is in this new chapter of life. I wait patiently as He helps me to locate avenues and platforms for my teaching gift, whether through guest preaching or writing or producing video content on YouTube. I take small steps and movements towards these God- invitations. 

However, circumstances can change and these are at best temporal roles and not stable, unchangeable or permanent. God has graciously provided me an unshakeable and eternal anchor on which to rest my sense of identity, an identity that is based on God’s adoption of me as his child. Since I was born again, I have been aware of my identity as his child. However, the sense or conviction of my identity deepened over the many years as the Spirit testifies to my spirit that I am deeply loved, His beloved child (Romans 8:16) despite all the trials and tests, when everything that happened around me said quite the opposite, that He was not treating me like I was His child. This deeply anchored sense of being His beloved child is so tightly secured that when temporal roles like being the senior pastor was removed, the waves and currents of people’s opinion or treatment could not move me much from where I am anchored. For this I am grateful to the longstanding assuring work of my faithful friend, the Holy Spirit.

It is a grace, something I do not deserve, and I am so grateful to the Lord for helping me transition this loss of identity that many have experienced after retirement. I have found the assuring work of the Spirit invaluable for this transition. It is something you too can experience if you would sit in quiet before the Lord, and cultivate a growing awareness of His presence with you in silence. 

“Lord, as I wait patiently in silence before You, heighten my sense of awareness of Your presence and movements within me – in what I sense, feel and imagine. Let me feel Your assurance and love again and again. Let me know I am Your beloved child in whom You are well pleased.”

What are your experiences when you retired? Share with us lessons you learned that helped you navigate the loss of identity that accompanies retirement.

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Retirement: Keeping Yourself Occupied

A good friend of mine who knows I have retired and is concerned, asked me, “Brother, how are you keeping yourself occupied?”. As I framed my reply, I thought, “Hey, this would make a good blogpost.” I decided to post my reply to him in my blog, thinking there may be retirees, pastors and laypeople, asking how best to occupy themselves after their retirement.

I am still in the honeymoon and adjustment period and this may not be what I will do after the “honeymoon” is over. Some retirees tell me that after a year or two of feeling happy to be free of all burdens and responsibilities, time management issues, social and financial realities kick in. I doubt I will face the challenge of having lots of free time with nothing meaningful to do. Perhaps, a later blogpost would be needed for an update then.

For the time being, I use a model that served me well when I had my weekly Monday off, or when sabbatical months were given to me. I would be mindful of three key words which I derive from Bible study on the purpose of the sabbath day in the Old Testament. The key words are REMEMBER (to attend to God’s word and presence), REST (to give attention to physical and soul rest), and RELISH (to take delight in activities and matters that give you life).  I give priority to meeting these three purposes each day, and if not possible, then to each week.

The activities or matters that belong to each purpose can be different and is flexible day by day, week by week. And the listed items too will get changed. To be more specific this is what the categories and items look like:

REMEMBER

Scripture meditation (currently Psalms)

Bible study (currently Ezekiel)

Prayer

Review of the day

Intercession

Reading Christian literature (dipping into various books)

Participating in worship service 

REST

Adequate sleep and afternoon naps when needed

Swimming

Walking/hiking

Cycling the park connectors

Stretching and strengthening exercises

RELISH 

Time with grandkids and family

Meeting with friends and pastors

Journeying with younger pastors

Writing and social media

Books, dramas and movies

Photography

In addition to these, there are all the household chores and tasks that seldom get done when I was actively pastoring the church. Things like decluttering, re-organising stuff, car maintenance, purchasing stuff I need, filling up warranty cards, and tiny repair jobs. I was surprised the amount of time and attention to details it took, and doubly surprised by my energy to do it. What seems to be left behind are big projects like clearing and tidying up the store room, painting all the ceilings and rooms, using my Skills Future credits, and learning how to better use my new mirrorless camera.

These, as you can see easily fills up my calendar, fills up my emotional tank, and my spiritual reserves. I suppose that with time, some items will be taken off the list, and new ones added. Some will be more frequently done, some regularly, and others occasionally. There is structure but spontaneity and flexibility as well. 

I am contented with the place I am in. I do not feel restless. I used to take pleasure in the fact that I did not have to bear certain leadership responsibilities on certain days like Tuesday staff meetings and Sunday Worship, thanking God for being free from that, while others carry them, but not anymore. I have a settled rhythm and feel the Lord has brought me to a place of space, abundance and peace. I focus on being faithful in obeying the Spirit and what he has assigned me thus far. After all the main idea is not to occupy the time productively but to be occupied with Him and what he wants of us.

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