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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

God of the Living

My aunt passed away suddenly just over two weeks ago.  My sisters and I took it upon ourselves to make the arrangements for a Christian funeral for my aunt who was a baptized Methodist.  My old uncle has no children and worse, he has limited mobility since his stroke many years ago and is hardly able to speak.
I told the undertaker to make the funeral as simple as possible, not wanting to burden my uncle or any of the relatives.  I asked my pastor, “Can I do away with the memorial wake service?”  He advised, “No, it’s important for your uncle.”    
Having funeral wake or a memorial service is necessary for the living, I explained to my sister.  These give the living the opportunity to engage in and to express their grief as fully as they can and to have a proper closure towards the dead. 
We may think that one day is sufficient for relatives and friends to come and pay their condolences to the living and their respects to the dead, or that the funeral service on the cremation day will encompass all the essential rites for the dead.  Not so.  The funeral wake, held over several days, helps the immediate bereaved family members to gradually face the shock and reality of death.  I remember my youngest sister lamenting why my late mother’s funeral wake was just three days and not longer.  She found it difficult, then, to accept my mother’s death. 

Why conduct a memorial wake service if we already have a funeral wake over several days?  With relatives and friends in attendance and showing support, I think a memorial service helps the immediate family members to create memories of the final phase of the Christian’s journey on earth.  The memorial service affirms in public the faith of the deceased and the message in the service gives the assurance and comfort to the living that the deceased is in a better place – in heaven with the Lord Jesus Christ.  At my aunt’s memorial service, the pastor talked of this better place as where there will be “no more death, or mourning or crying or pain” (Rev 21:4) and where the street was of gold (Rev 21:21).
For the epitaph to be engraved at the columbarium niche, I chose for my aunt the same Bible verse as my mother:

“Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”  (Psalm 23:6)

The God whom we believe in is the God of the living. Because Jesus, the Son of God, has risen on the third day after his crucifixion, we who believe in Jesus will rise too from the dead.  We believe this, because the resurrection had already happened for Jesus, because we trust Jesus’ promise that we will share in His resurrection.  
“Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection. But in the account of the burning bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.”  (Luke 20:34-38)
With Easter coming round the corner, we are reminded once again that life exists beyond death.  Happy Easter.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Wait for me in Heaven

"Wait for me in Heaven” – these are the words spoken at the funeral wake by the mother of Nigel and Donavan who were killed by a cement-mixer truck (Straits Times report, 30 Jan 2013).  As a Christian, the boys’ mother believes that they are in heaven right now (Straits Times report, 31 Jan 2013).  The ST photo shows clearly part of a Bible verse:  “He who believes in me will live even when he dies.”     

The complete Bible verses in John 11:25-26 read:
“Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life.  He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. ” ”

I empathise with the boys’ parents.  Not just sympathy for the heart-rending loss of two young lives.  I believe, too, that all who believe in Christ go in heaven at the end of our earthly life and, there in heaven, we meet our departed loved ones who are believers. 
When my 76-year-old mother was on her deathbed in 2005, I saw her shed tears for the first time in my life.  “Why?”, I asked her then.  “Because I am leaving all of you,” she replied.   “Jesus had already prepared a house for all of us in heaven.  You go to heaven first, keep the house tidy and wait for us”, I tried my best to comfort my mother.  She had just accepted Christ, a believer in her old age. 

“Dot let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God; trust also in me.  In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you.  I am going there to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”  (John 14:1-3)
A few days later, my mother told me she had a dream.  She dreamt that her funeral was at two places and there were two persons in white with her.  “The two persons in white are angels bringing you to Heaven”, I explained to my mother.         

I have hope – hope that my mother is now with Jesus Christ, waiting for me in Heaven.  Whenever I grieve for the loss of my mother, I cherish this hope – that I will see her again.  Death is not the end of all things; as believers in Christ, we have the hope and the expectation of life with Christ in Heaven.  This hope is not wishful thinking; it is a certainty because we have faith in Christ, we trust and believe in what Christ says and promises.
“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”  (Hebrews 11:1)

Heaven is where Jesus is.  Heaven is where our loves ones who believe in Jesus Christ go to when they die.  Heaven is where I want to go when I die.  Heaven is where I will meet my mother again.
I am looking forward to Heaven.  Are you?

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

God's Mountain, God's Creation

那是神的磐石”, my friend said to me in Ban Orn, nodding his head towards the mountain in front of us as we stood outside the mission house.  磐石 means rock, 神的磐石 is God’s rock, God’s mountain”, he explained when I protested that the mountain was not a stone ().  Indeed, the mountain rising from the picturesque padi fields down in the valley presents what I call “a million-dollar view”.  It’s awesome just to gaze at it. 
All around us in Ban Orn and Maetoh, we could see, hear and sense the marvel of God in the nature that He created.  During a half-hour solitude (part of our silent retreat at the end of the missions trip in Maetoh), I had a heightened sense of the sight, sound and feel of the wonder of God’s creation :

-        An intricate spider web stretched out at the balcony and swaying in the gentle breeze; little birds flitting among the bamboo grove; dew drops falling intermittently from the leaves up in the trees; the sun’s rays breaking and streaking through the clouds in the mid-morning.
-        Twittering of the birds; chirping of insects; melodious clanging of cow-bells in the nearby field next to the river.
-        Warmth of the sun on my body as I stood at the balcony of the dormitory in the morning chill, the warm comfortable feeling moving down my body as the sun rose higher and I was gradually cast in shadow by the building. 
In the Canadian Rockies and California, too, I had a similar sense of the wonder and majesty of God’s creation last June.  Who could create the glorious snow-peaked mountains, falling snowflakes, pristine lakes, rushing rivers, thundering waterfalls, crashing coastal waves, multi-hued wild flowers, towering redwoods, cuddly (seemingly) black bears, ……. ?  Only God – the one and only living God who is the Creator of the whole world and everything in it. 

“The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it;
for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters.” (Psalm 24:1-2)

The book of Genesis in the Bible records the beginning of the universe – how God created all things in six days.  He created:
-        on the 1st day, light (so there was light and darkness);
-        on the 2nd day, sky and water;
-        on the 3rd day, land seas, vegetation;
-        on the 4th day, sun, moon and stars (to govern the day and the night and to mark seasons, days and years);
-        on the 5th day, fish and birds ( to fill the waters and sky);
-        on the 6th day, animals (to fill the earth), man and woman (to care for the earth and to commune with God).
And on the 7th day, God rested from His work of creation.

How do we know that God did all this work of creation?  Lee Strobel gives very compelling evidence for God as master designer and creator in his book, The Case for Creation.  More on this another time …..

This Is My Father's World (Hymn)
This is my Father's world,
and to my listening ears
all nature sings, and round me rings
the music of the spheres.
This is my Father's world:
I rest me in the thought
of rocks and trees, of skies and seas;
his hand the wonders wrought.

This is my Father's world,
the birds their carols raise,
the morning light, the lily white,
declare their maker's praise.
This is my Father's world:
he shines in all that's fair;
in the rustling grass I hear him pass;
he speaks to me everywhere.

This is my Father's world.
O let me ne'er forget
that though the wrong seems oft so strong,
God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father's world:
why should my heart be sad?
The Lord is King; let the heavens ring!
God reigns; let the earth be glad!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


(Devotion prepared for Short-Term Missions Trip to Ban Orn and Maetoh in Northern Thailand, 9 – 19 Dec 2012)

28 Do you not know?  Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.”
(Isaiah 40:28-31)

Context of Bible Passage

· Beginning with Chapter 40 (till Chapter 66), the prophet Isaiah predicts that the Israelites in the kingdom of Judah will be taken into exile in Babylon.

· Isaiah gives God’s words of comfort and promise of deliverance from suffering and discouragement.

How does God give us strength?
·         Verse 31 says:  Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.

·         Even though the promise that God gives through the prophet Isaiah is to the Israelite people, it is relevant to us today as well.

·         Today, our strength is increased physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually – when we look to God in the midst of our difficulties, when we wait patiently for his help, when we believe and have confidence in his love for us, when we trust in God’s continued presence and care.

·         Do you feel inadequate or unfit to serve the people in Ban-orn?  Do you feel worn-out and need to be refreshed and strengthened for the rest of Ban-orn trip?  Look to God today.  Look to God every day. 

·         God does not give strength to us wholesale – He does not give us strength on Monday morning to last through the whole week.  He renews our strength day by day.  As our day, so shall our strength be – by the grace of God.

What happens when God gives us strength?

·         Verse 31 says – we will soar like eagles, we will run and not grow weary, we will walk and not be faint.

·         When we exchange our weakness for God’s empowerment, God equips us to perform the tasks that He calls us to do in Ban-orn, whether it is medical clinic or Vacational Bible School or just the simple acceptance and enjoyment of the simple life in Ban-orn. 

·         God enables us to rise above the difficult circumstances we may be in, to run our race against the many challenges we face, to walk with God in the daily routine of our life.

Who is this God who gives us strength? 

(1) He is the eternal God, the Creator God.
Verse 28 says:  Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.

·         God is from everlasting to everlasting unchanged.  He is the One and only Living God.  His nature is eternal – His faithfulness, His truth, His goodness, His mercy, His love.  He is timeless – He was able to meet the needs of the Israelite people in Isaiah’s time and He is able to meet our needs in our present time. 

·         Since God creates the earth and everything in it, He is the owner and ruler of all. We belong to God and God takes care of us His people.

(2)  God is all-wise and all-powerful.

·         The work of creation requires infinite wisdom and power.  Our Creator God is all-wise and all-powerful.  Verse 28 says: “He will not grow tired or weary and his understanding no one can fathom”.  Since God is all-wise and all-powerful, He knows our needs and difficulties and He is able to care for us today, tomorrow, and in the days to come.

(3)  God is the one who gives strength to his people.

·        Verse 29 says:  God gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.  Verse 30 says: Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall.

·         Man is weak, even young people in the prime of life.  But God is strong; He is Man’s power source.  The power that we do not have, God gives to us.  When we are weak in ourselves, then are we strong in God. (2 Corinthians 12:10)

·         The Apostle Paul says:  I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength.  (Philippians 4:13). Do you need strength for the day?  Look to Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and all things are possible – for you, for me. 

“Ask and it will be given to you.
Seek and you will find.
Knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7)

May our heavenly Father’s grace be sufficient for us.  When we are weak, then are we strong in Christ.  Amen.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

That We May Be Known As Christians

There were 142 of us in the group touring Israel, led by the Armenian priest, Samuel Doctorian.  All but one was Christian.  My sis was the only non-Christian, then, in that group.  She commented to me:  “I have never seen Singaporeans like these; there’s no rushing to be first in line even with such a large group.”  That was more than ten years ago.

I had a sense of déjà vu during the recent short-term missions trip to Northern Thailand in Dec 2012.  My uncle, who was in the missions team though he was not a Christian, commented to me:  “These people (referring to the Christians in the missions team) are very polite to one another.”  A non-Christian friend in the same missions team was impressed by the team unity.  On the last day of the missions trip as we made our way down the winding mountain roads to Cheng Mai, a young lady sacrificially went to sit at the back of the van even though she had vomited on the way up the mountains; she vomited again on the way down, notwithstanding the anti-motion pills.
So what are Christians like?

Jesus teaches us:
 “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it:  Love your neighbor as yourself.”  (Matthew 22:37-39)

“A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  (John 13:34-35)
And so the distinguishing mark of a Christian is love – for God, for our neighbor, for one another.

Is love shown only to or among Christians?  Not so.  The Apostle Paul urges Christians “to do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers”.  (Galatians 6:10)  Yes, we do good to fellow believers; we also do good to those who have yet to believe.  
The mobile medical clinic during our missions trip served all who were sick, whether Christian or non-Christian.  Even after the clinic was closed for the day, a late-comer who brought his sick child was promptly attended to.  In the words of our pastor-doctor who led the medical clinic:  “This is what we come here to do – to serve and show love to the community.”  This love was even extended to that which was dear to a patient – his ailing chicken.  And our pastor-doctor calmly and carefully examined his chicken to allay the patient’s anxiety.  This, then, is love – God’s love to all. 

As Christians, we show our faith by our deeds (James 2:14-26).  We do not become Christians by doing good deeds; we become Christians because of the love and grace of God, because of our faith in Jesus Christ who died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins.  Good deeds come later, after we accepted and received the love of God and Jesus Christ.  It is because of the love that God gives us, that Christians have the love to do good deeds.      
And so we sing in the chorus of the song, ‘We are One in the Spirit’:  “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love.  Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

We Are One In The Spirit (Worship Song)
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord,
We are one in the Spirit, we are one in the Lord,
And we pray that our unity will one day be restored.

And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love.
Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.

We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand,
We will walk with each other, we will walk hand in hand,
And together we’ll spread the news that God is in our land.

We will work with each other, we will work side by side,
We will work with each other, we will work side by side,
And we’ll guard each man’s dignity and save each man’s pride.

All praise to the Father, from whom all things come,
And all praise to Christ Jesus, His only Son,
And all praise to the Spirit, who makes us one.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

What would Jesus do? What would you do?

I read the book “In His Steps” by Charles Sheldon in two days.  I could have read it in one day or even one afternoon, but gone are the days when I could immerse myself totally in a book.  There are just too many distractions these days  - principally the many Korean dramas available online and the DVDs that I bought from Amazon.   

Still, the book engaged me as before when I read it for the first time years ago.   It tells in story-form the pledge made by a group of Christians to do everything in their daily lives after asking the question,  “What Jesus would do?”, regardless of the result to them.   What would a newspaper editor do when he considers the loss of revenue from ceasing advertisements on liquor and tobacco?  What would a rich heiress do to help the needy with her wealth when she considers her family opposition and societal gossip?  What would a railroad superintendent do with the discovery of a commercial breach of law when he considers the loss of his job after whistle-blowing?  ….. 
The situations faced by the Christians in the book are fictional.  The book was written more than a hundred years ago in 1896; the situations depicted may not even be relevant in our modern world today.  Yet, each of us remains challenged in our daily lives – What would Jesus do?  What would we do? 
As I ponder over these questions, I recall what 3 young girls did recently in Dec 2012.  They were part of the short-term missions team to Northern Thailand.  They are modern, fashionable, accustomed to urban conveniences ….. unexpected volunteers to rough it out in the tribal villages up in the mountains.  They most likely did not consider the question, “What would Jesus do?”, when they made the decision to go.  But what they did in Maetoh – showing love to the orphans and school children - demonstrated what Jesus did in His earthly life. 
The girls’ love for the Maetoh children reflects Jesus’ love for us, for the children of the world. 

“We love because he first loved us.  If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar.  For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.  And he has given this command:  Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”  (1 John 4:19-21)
These 3 young girls have committed to go to Maetoh again in 2013.  They see the children’s need for love; they are not deterred by the unappetizing food, the murky water in the bath water, the winding mountain roads and bumpy dirt tracks which send some into dizzy spells, nausea and vomiting despite the anti-motion pills, …….  It’s as if they have asked themselves the questions : “What would Jesus do?”  “What would they do?”
And what would I do?  That’s another story …..

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Perfect Gift

The Perfect Gift : Message for Bethel Bi-lingual Service’s Christmas Celebration
By Preacher William Heng on 25th Dec 2012

(Message is slightly abridged, with the permission of Pr Wiliiam, for this blog.)

Christmas is a time of giving. Do you find buying a perfect gift for someone difficult? Especially someone who is special in your life?
Finding the right gift for the right person is a big challenge. For example, you have to know what are his/her likes and dislikes, character, style, taste and even color.  In short, to find and buy the right gift for the person, you need to know who you are giving to.

What makes it even tougher is the ability to find the right gift, from the right outlet and with the right price, and according to your budget.

Are you aware that a gift usually conveys 3 core messages.

1.      It conveys a message about the giver’s economic, social status plus moral value in life. For example, an expensive gift generally gives the perception that the giver is rich. If a gift has religious bearing, we often think that the giver is a pious person.
2.      While a gift may not tell the true worth of the recipient, it conveys the importance of the recipient to the giver. For example, the gifts of the Magi convey their recognition of Jesus’ significance. The gift of gold symbolizes that Jesus is king. The gift of incense symbolizes that Jesus is God. And the gift of myrrh symbolizes that Jesus is our Redeemer.

3.      Gifts are also given to strengthen relationships or to mend a broken one.  A gift is a symbol of good will. The story of Jacob and Esau illustrates this point very clearly. In Genesis 32: 13-21, we find Jacob selecting precious gifts to be given to his brother to pacify his anger and ultimately restore their broken relationship.

The question is “What Makes a Gift the Right Gift?”

1.      Different persons have different ways of evaluating the rightness of the gift. Some people believe that the right gift must be expensive. The more valuable the gift is, the closer it is in the category of being right.

2.      Others believe that the gift is right if it meets the particular need of the recipient. Hence, the most expensive gift may not be the right gift at all, if it does not meet the need of the recipient. Every so often, the most inexpensive gift may be the right gift if it meets the need of the recipient.

3.      A gift is considered right if it is wrapped with pure, unadulterated motive in the heart of the giver. For instance, you can give an enormous diamond but it may not be the right gift because of the motive and the reason.
So, what makes a gift the right one? Is it the right price? To some extent, yes!  The right solution to a particular need? Of course! But the right motive is most important! Sometimes, it may not measure up to the material expectations, but the love that it bears is most important.

As human beings, we tend to focus on the financial value of the gift rather than on the spiritual aspect of it.
Hence, the need that this gift meets is often those at the surface rather than what is deep inside. Even our motives at times are deceptive, often with grains of selfishness if not outright boasting. We give because we have to and not because we love to.

The Perfect Gift of God
This, however, does not leave us without the right gift. The birth and life of Jesus offers us the perfect gift.

If we apply the three evaluation questions that we have discussed earlier about what makes a perfect gift, we will find that the gift of God surpasses our human expectations.

1. The gift of Jesus is, in fact, all the treasures of heaven given to the whole human race.

2. God’s gift is the perfect gift that offers the right solution to our sin problem. Romans 6:23 reminds us of our human condition. “For the wages of sin is death. But the gift of God is eternal life.”
1 John 5:11 declares to us that this eternal life is only found in Jesus.

As you see, regardless of the price tag, everything that we give is temporary. They don’t last for a long time. If today I gave you a new car, that car will break down a few years from now. The clothes that you receive will eventually wear out. Everything will pass in time. But the Bible tells us that God’s gift lasts forever. His gift through Jesus is eternal.

3. God’s gift is given not out of compulsion but out of love. Jesus himself said, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16).

4. It is a gift given to restore our broken relationships not only with our loved ones, not only with our friends, but most important of all, with God.

Let me conclude this message with a story:

Long ago, there was a wise and good king ruling in Persia. He loved his people. He wanted to know how they lived. He wanted to know about their hardships. Often, he would dress in the clothes of a working man or a beggar, and went to the homes of the poor. No one whom he visited knew that he was their ruler.
One time, he visited a very poor man who lived in a hut. He ate the food the poor man ate. He spoke cheerful and kind words to him. After that, he left.

A few days later, he visited the poor man again and disclosed his identity. The king thought the man would surely ask for some gifts or favour, but he did not. Instead he said, “You left your palace and your glory to visit me in this dark and dirty place. You ate the food I ate. All these that you did brought gladness to my heart!  To others you might have given your rich gifts. To me you have given yourself!”
Brother and sister, let me ask you a question: Do you want to receive this perfect gift that God has prepared for you?  Do youwant to receive Jesus Christ? God is offering Jesus to you, His perfect gift, the best gift heaven can offer. God is offering this precious gift to you because He loves you. Will you receive this gift? This gift is special; no one can receive this gift on your behalf. You have to receive it personally.

How will you respond to such a precious gift?
All you have to do is ask. Come to him in prayer; confess your sins, ask for His forgiveness, ask Him to come into your heart. That’s all you have to do.