Sunday, October 29, 2006

Hearing God's Voice and Spiritual Discernment

Spiritual Discernment

The million dollar question: how can I hear the voice of God and know what God has in store for me? In the midst of perplexity, anxiety, confusion and a myriad of voices offering differing advice how do I discern the voice of God? Does God speak to me through an actual vision, or is it just an audible voice? Or is it an inner conviction? If it is the latter, how do I differentiate between my own desires, and that of the Lord? How do I have spiritual discernment?

Spiritual discernment seems to be needed in so many practical areas of our daily routine life. For e.g. , how do I know the Lord’s will in the following situations?

  • To go into full time ministry or a ‘secular’ vocation?
  • Which course to take in university?
  • Which person I ought to marry?
  • To expand my business or not?
  • To emigrate or to stay put?
  • To discern whether it is mental illness or demonic possession?
  • Is this sickness unto death or does God intends to heal?
  • To opt for surgery or chemotherapy or both to remove the tumour?
  • Should my elderly father go for that prostrate operation, or not?

No wonder astrologers, soothsayers, temple mediums, bomohs and prophets are so popular. We do not like uncertainty. We want clear directions and guidance so that we can avoid pitfalls, failures and disasters. For some of us, the bottom line in wanting to know the will of God is not that we may obey him. It is more to get some leverage in areas of ambiguity or anxiety. It is akin to having some ‘insider’ knowledge that will enable us to avoid evil, harm or danger.

Such folks would welcome the formulaic approach, in knowing God’s will. The mystery of God’s will is resolved by the mere casting of the Urim or Thummim as in the Old Testament (Ex 28.29-30)

29 "Whenever Aaron enters the Holy Place, he will bear the names of the sons of Israel over his heart on the breast piece of decision as a continuing memorial before the LORD. 30 Also put the Urim and the Thummim in the breastpiece, so they may be over Aaron's heart whenever he enters the presence of the LORD. Thus Aaron will always bear the means of making decisions for the Israelites over his heart before the LORD.

Or in the New Testament, by the casting of lots. (Acts 1.26)

26Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles.

Others may questioned how the casting of the Urim and Thummin and the casting of lots differ from the simpler formula of flipping a coin? Besides what if the answer sought is more complicated than a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no”. For e.g. President Bush seeking God’s will in resolving the tensions in the Middle East?

This may lead some to favour a more charismatic approach. After all we read in Acts13 that as the church at Antioch were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit spoke "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." What could be clearer than that? But this divinely commissioned partnership was later broken when Barnabas and Paul could not see eye to eye over the continuing faithfulness of John Mark. (Acts 15.36-41). Why didn’t Paul and Barnabas took time to pray and fast and ask the Holy Spirit for spiritual discernment as to what was the wisest course of action? Weren’t these Holy Spirit filled men?

Apparently they needed to sort out the problem by themselves. The Holy Spirit did not function as their personal, private and handy consultant and advisor in all matters. Most things, it would seem from Scripture and our own experience, we need to figure out for ourselves.

Later, Paul was determined to go to Jerusalem to be a witness for the Lord there. His followers were not quite convinced that was the best course for Paul to take. In fact the local believers at Tyre, prophesied (wrongly as it would seem) through the Holy Spirit that Paul should not go on to Jerusalem. About this time, Agabus (who prophesied accurately that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world during the reign of Claudius) received a vision from God.

Agabus prophesied correctly the treatment that Paul would received when he arrived in Jerusalem. But nevertheless Luke and his friends made the wrong conclusion that the vision meant that Paul was not to go on to Jerusalem. Thus in spite of the presence of an authentic prophet in Agabus, apparently backing up the earlier prophecy by the Christians in Tyre, discerning God’s will and hearing correctly His voice remained problematic. So it seems we are back to square one. There is no assurance of correctly hearing God’s voice with 100% accuracy.

By now, it should be clear that spiritual discernment cannot be reduced to techniques, formula or methods. When Jesus called men and women to follow him, he offered a personal relationship with himself. Spiritual discernment practiced as a formula or method divorced from a intimate relationship with our Lord marked by worship, trust and obedience, is doomed to failure. It is in the context of a close and intimate relationship that our heavenly Father, speaks to us, guides us, reveals His will to us.

Going back to our discussion about Paul and his determination to go to Jerusalem, it is significant how Paul answered his friends. He said, "Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus." When his friends found that Paul could not be dissuaded, (they) gave up and said, "The Lord's will be done." (Acts 21.13-14)

Paul could not be persuaded by his friends, nor by prophet nor prophecies. Why? Because the Lord has earlier personally revealed to Paul His will with regard to his life. When Ananias was hesitant in meeting the then notorious persecutor of Christians, Saul, the Lord said to Ananias, "14Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name." (Acts 9.15,16 italics mine). Hence although he will face much suffering in Jerusalem, he did not flinch from going there in obedience to the Lord.

For that reason, if we genuinely seek the Lord’s Kingdom first, then spiritual discernment to know God’s will in a certain matter would be given to us. He can and does use many ways to reveal His will to us. For instance, there will be times when we need to hear God’s voice in the criticism of others. Sometimes He may sovereignly order a series of serendipitous coincidences of events. Looking back we know it must be the hand of God. At other times, the Lord speaks to us in a still small voice in the silence of the night. Or he may give us a vision.

How do we know for sure that it is God speaking and not ourselves? This confidence comes from a knowledge and experience of God borne out of a long intimate friendship. The apostle John assures us: “I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” (cf. Jn 15.15)

In addition, the Lord gives the gift of wisdomIf any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” (James 1.5) We will know how to weigh the pros and cons of each situation, how to sift and test the advice of others. After a time we will learn to discern the Lord’s presence in the ordinary events of life.

What if in spite of all our attempts at finding out the Lord’s will, we are still not sure? There is really no need for worry and anxiety. If we are truly desirous to obey the Lord and glorify His name, then we must learn to leave the consequences of our decision to the Lord. When the time comes when we have to make a decision, we need to have the trust that whatever decision we make, God will sovereignly rule and overrule for our good.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Rom 8.28)

Isn’t that good news?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Do you want to be in the centre of God's will?

The Centre Of The Bible

This is pretty strange how it worked out this way.

Q: What is the shortest chapter in the Bible?

A: Psalms 117

Q: What is the longest chapter in the Bible?

A: Psalms 119

Q: Which chapter is in the centre of the Bible?

A: Psalms 118

Fact: There are 594 chapters before Psalms 118

Fact: There are 594 chapters after Psalms 118

Add these numbers up and you get 1188.

Q: What is the centre verse in the Bible?

A: Psalms 118:8

Does this verse say something significant about God's perfect will for our lives?

The next time someone says they would like to find God's perfect will for their lives and that they want to be in the centre of His will, just send them to the centre of His Word!

Psalms 118:8 (NKJV)

"It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man."

Beware: we become what we think

We had fed the heart on fantasies,

The heart's grown brutal from the fare;

WB Yeats,
Meditations in time of (American) civil war

Hands that flung stars into space.....

By Paul Brand with Philip Yancey | posted 4/18/00

Isaac Newton said, "In the absence of any other proof, the

thumb alone would convince me of God's existence." After 40

years as a surgeon specializing in hands, I am tempted to

agree. Nothing in all nature rivals the hand's combination of

strength and agility, tolerance and sensitivity. We use our

hands for the most wonderful activities: art, music, writing,

healing, touching.

Some people go to concerts and athletic events to watch the

performance; I go to watch hands. For me, a piano performance

is a ballet of fingers—a glorious flourish of ligaments and

joints, tendons, nerves, and muscles. I try to sit near the

stage to watch the movements.

Unless you have tried to reproduce just one small twitch of

the hand mechanically, you cannot fully appreciate its

movements. Often I have stood before a group of medical

students or surgeons to analyze the motion of one finger. I

hold before them a dissected cadaver hand, with its trailing

strands of sinew, and announce that I will move the tip of the

little finger.

To do so, I must place the hand on a table and spend about

four minutes sorting through the tangle of tendons and

muscles. Seventy separate muscles contribute to hand

movements. But in order to allow dexterity and slimness for

actions such as piano playing, the finger has no muscle in

itself; tendons transfer the force from muscles higher in the

arm. (Body-builders should be grateful: imagine the

limitations on finger movement if the fingers had muscles that

could grow large and bulky.)

Finally, after I have arranged at

least a dozen muscles correctly, I can maneuver them to make

the little finger move. Usually, I give this demonstration to

illustrate a way to repair the hand surgically. In 40 years of

surgery, I have personally operated on perhaps 10,000 hands. I

could fill a room with surgery manuals suggesting various ways

to repair injured hands. But in those years I have never found

a single technique to improve a normal, healthy hand. That is

why I am tempted to agree with Isaac Newton.

I have seen artificial hands developed by scientists and

engineers in facilities that produce radioactive materials.

With great pride an engineer demonstrated for me the

sophisticated machines that protect workers from exposure to

radiation. By adjusting knobs and levers he controlled an

electronic hand whose wrist supinated and revolved. High-tech

models, he said, even possess an opposable thumb, an advanced

feature reserved for primates in nature. The engineer, smiling

like a proud father, wiggled the mechanical thumb for me.

I nodded approval and complimented him on the mechanical

hand's wide range of motion. But he knew, as I did, that

compared to a human thumb his atomic-age hand is clumsy and

limited, even pathetic—a child's Play Doh sculpture compared

to a Michelangelo masterpiece.

I work with the marvels of the hand nearly every day. But one

time of year holds special meaning for me as a Christian;

then, too, my thoughts turn to the human hand. When the world

observes Passion Week, the most solemn week of Christendom, I

reflect on the hands of Jesus.

Just as painters throughout history have attempted to

visualize the face of Jesus Christ, I try to visualize his

hands. I imagine them through the various stages of his life.

When God's Son entered the world in the form of a human body,

what were his hands like?

I can hardly conceive of God taking on the form of an infant,

but our faith declares that he once had the tiny, jerky hands

of a newborn. G. K. Chesterton expressed the paradox this way,

'The hands that had made the sun and stars were too small to

reach the huge heads of the cattle." And too small to change

his own clothes or put food in his mouth. Like every baby, he

had miniature fingernails and wrinkles around the knuckles,

and soft skin that had never known abrasion or roughness.

God's Son experienced infant helplessness.

Since I once apprenticed as a carpenter, I can easily imagine

the adolescent hands of Jesus, who learned the trade in his

father's shop. His skin must have developed many calluses and

tender spots.

And then came the hands of Christ the physician. The Bible

tells us strength flowed from them when he healed people. He

preferred to perform miracles not en masse, but rather one by

one, touching each person he healed.

When Jesus touched eyes that had dried out, they suddenly

admitted light and color again. Once, he touched a woman who

suffered with a hemorrhage, knowing that by Jewish law she

would make him unclean. He touched those with leprosy—people

no one else would touch. In small and personal ways, his hands

set right what had been disrupted in Creation.

The most important scene in Jesus' life—the one we memorialize

during Passion Week—also involved his hands. Then those hands

that had done so much good were taken, one at a time, and

pierced through with a thick spike. My mind balks at

visualizing it.

In surgery I cut delicately, using scalpel blades that slice

through one layer of tissue at a time, to expose the

intricacies of nerves and blood vessels and tiny bones and

tendons and muscles inside. I know well what crucifixion must

have done to a human hand.

Roman executioners drove their spikes through the wrist, right

through the carpal tunnel that houses finger-controlling

tendons and the median nerve. It is impossible to force a

spike there without maiming the hand into a claw shape. And

Jesus had no anesthetic as his hands were marred and


Later, his weight hung from them, tearing more tissue,

releasing more blood. Has there ever been a more helpless

image than that of the Son of God hanging paralyzed from a

tree? The disciples, who had hoped he was the Messiah, cowered

in the darkness or drifted away.

But that is not the last glimpse in the New Testament of

Jesus' hands. He appeared again, in a closed room, just as one

of his disciples was disputing the unlikely story he thought

his friends had concocted. People do not rise from the dead,

Thomas scoffed. They must have seen a ghost, or an illusion.

At that moment, Jesus appeared and held up those unmistakable

hands. The scars gave proof that they belonged to him, the

same one who had died on the cross. Although the body had

changed in certain ways, the scars remained. Jesus invited

Thomas to come and trace them with his own fingers.

Thomas responded simply, "My Lord and my God!" It is the first

recorded time that one of Jesus' disciples directly addressed

him as God. Significantly the assertion came in response to

Jesus wounds. Jesus' hands.

Throughout all of history, people of faith have clung to the

belief that there is a God who understands the human dilemma.

That the pains we endure on Earth are not meaningless. That

our prayers are heard. In Passion, we Christians focus on the

supreme event when God demonstrated for all time that he knows

our pain.

For a reminder of his time here, Jesus chose scars in each

hand. That is why I believe God hears and understands our

pain, and even absorbs it into himself—because he kept those

scars as a lasting image of wounded humanity. He knows what

life on earth is like, because he has been here. His hands

prove it.

This article originally appeared in the April 5, 1985 issue of

Christianity Today. Paul Brand served for 18 years at the

Christian Medical College in Vellore, India, and when he wrote

this article headed rehabilitation at the U.S. Public Health

Service leprosy hospital in Carville, Louisiana. With Philip

Yancey, who was then (as now) Editor at Large of Christianity

Today, the two coauthored Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, In

His Image, and The Gift of Pain.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

A tale retold

December at the Lighthouse

My uncle Ravichandran is an old man. He is almost sixty five. He has been a lighthouse keeper for more than thirty years. In a wild remote craggy, little island in the Indian Ocean. About four hours slow boat ride west, from the northernmost tip of Sumatra. The lighthouse is in an area known for its jagged rocks, shallow seas and unpredictable storms.

Uncle and his lighthouse had survived many huge storms. In particular he recalled one incident in the 1980s:

“I remember it was typhoon season. One of the worst storms in years hit us. Mountainous waves, thirty foot tall, came lashing and crashing against the walls and tower of the lighthouse. Can you imagine looking out the window and seeing a solid wall of water two storeys high roaring towards you? I scrambled to close all the windows and the doors. Crouching behind the doors, all my muscles taut and tense, I braced myself against the force and the power of the waves. When the waters hit, the noise sounded like the clap of ten thunders. The lighthouse shuddered and rocked under the impact”.

“It is a miracle the lighthouse is still standing,” I exclaimed.

“The lighthouse is constructed of stone and reinforced concrete. It has solid teak wood doors and its glass windows are an inch thick. It is built to last.” Uncle proudly told me.

But storms and huge angry waves are just one of the many tales uncle has to tell of the strange things he has seen in this remote corner of the Indian Ocean. But the strangest tale uncle had to tell, happened recently. In fact he only told me in December this year when I visited him. But I am getting ahead of myself.

I have yet to describe my uncle properly. Uncle is a stocky, well built man with strong bulky legs. He still has a full head of jet black hair. He has kind eyes but you almost never notice that because uncle hardly ever smiles or engages in idle chatter. Children tend to be frightened of him. But uncle is a hospitable fellow and he likes to invite friends and relatives over for a visit. At such times, he sits in his favourite chair in the corner of his living room and read. But from time to time he would join in the conversation with a shrew observation or an apt comment.

Uncle doesn’t talk much, but when he does, it pays to listen to him. You see, uncle despite his humble job is a thinker as well as a man skilled with his hands. He does all the repairs needed at his lighthouse. For recreation he reads and paints. For years an easel stood at a window in his living room with a blank piece of pure white art block paper on it.

One day, I asked him, “When will you start your masterpiece?”

“It is already finished” he teased. “It is a painting of two angels dancing in the snow”.

Uncle’s particular lighthouse was built fifty years ago. Shaped like an inverted ice cream cone, it towered 100 feet above the ground. It has an observation deck with a wide boardwalk. Iron bars encircled it for safety. On a clear day you can see for miles and miles across the Indian Ocean. Looking out at the vast empty expanse, you can easily pretend that you are the last of your kind. The only human being left on earth.

Apart from the great view, the unique thing about the lighthouse is that it also has a fog horn. The fog horn will only be sounded when a storm is brewing and it will continue blowing at five minute intervals until the storm is over. What does it sound like? Well it is a fog horn – designed so that its sound carries for miles over the open ocean and deep within. It has the most lonesome, forlorn, aching, yearning sound in the world.

Uncle knew that I loved lighthouses. So imagine my delight when I received an letter in the mail from him in October. It was an invitation to spend December at the lighthouse with him. I was thrilled beyond words. December was the month of storms, of wild winds and huge lashing waves. Perfect time of the year to visit his lighthouse.

I arrived at the lighthouse after a long but uneventful boat ride. For this time of the year, the weather was glorious. Breezy, mainly cloudless blue skies. The seas around the lighthouse were empty. No other islands in sight for miles around. Except

for the cries of sea birds whirling about in the sky above us, there were no other living creatures. Solitude and peace reign in this wild, windy, deserted place. Bustling, noisy Kuala Lumpur, my hometown seemed an eternity away. I took a deep breath and exulted in my surroundings.

But over the horizon, a hint of storm clouds. “O boy, looks like a storm is likely to build up during the night!” I thought to myself. What a delicious prospect especially as it is full moon tonight and I could see the waves in all its raging fury.

“Welcome, Mutusamy!” My uncle greeted me warmly. Although uncle seemed genuinely delighted to see me, he appeared edgy and not his usual self. But being a good host he soon settled me down in his simple bachelor lodgings. A shed attached to the foot of the lighthouse. Apart from some good quality book shelves, it is a simple living room cum dining room cum bedroom cum kitchen kind of structure. After all for nine tenths of the year, there is only one person at the lighthouse. I stored my things at a built in cabinet at the side of the upper bunk of the two level bunk bed.

“What’s for dinner?” I said brightly to my uncle.

As it turned out, dinner was nice. For starters, there was clam chowder (“in case you are wondering, uncle just opened a can!”), followed by crisply fried Ikan Kempong and nice sambal belachan to complement it. Vegetable curry and rice completed the meal. A bit eclectic taste wise I know but delicious nonetheless.

All through dinner, uncle kept looking at me.

“ Mutusamy…” he would start to say and then he would stop. He looked to be deep in thoughts.

Uncle had no appetite. He toyed with his food, and kept looking restlessly out the window. By now columns of cumulonimbus or storm clouds were beginning to cover the evening sky.

“Anything wrong uncle?”, I asked.

“Huh? Sorry. What did you say”? muttered my uncle in a distracted manner.

“Is everything alright?” I was getting worried. I had never seen my uncle behave this way before.

“No, no. nothing’s wrong”, uncle answered shortly and retreated into a tense silence for the rest of the meal.

After dinner, Uncle suggested that we go up the lighthouse tower. While he set up the light for the evening, and checked the fog horn ( by now there is a real possibility of a nasty storm brewing) I settled down in a nice easy chair and poured out two mugs of nice local coffee, sweetened with “Teaport” condensed milk, for ourselves. I was looking forward to reading Leo Tolstoy’s, “ War and Peace.”

Uncle sat down opposite me and busied himself lighting up his pipe. He seemed nervous and dropped his pipe several times. It took him quite a while before he had his pipe going to his satisfaction. Finally sweet aromatic tobacco smoke filled the room. Smoking his pipe calmed him down. Uncle had no book with him. Instead I could see from his manner that unlike dinner time, my uncle was now eager to talk.

“ How unusual”, I thought. Normally we will just sit reading quietly into the night.

“You know, being so isolated from the mainland, sometimes you get to see some pretty unusual things” was how my uncle started the conversation. “Especially at this time of the year” he continued. Needless to say he had my full attention.

“Go on” was all I could think of to say to him.

“Sometime last year, in fact exactly a year ago, at about midnight, with a glorious full moon, I saw something I have never seen before in my thirty years as a lighthouse keeper. ” He paused and glanced at me.

“ Go on” I said.

Well, the winds were getting to be gale force, huge black clouds threaten to envelop the full moon and I thought to myself, “I better sound the fog horn tonight as well”. An hour later the rains came. It poured for a solid two hours before tapering off. When I thought that the storm had all but spent itself I went up again to turn off the fog horn. As I reach out to turn it off, I just happen to glance out the window. Guess what I saw?

“Go ON!, I almost screamed at him.

“The seas around the lighthouse already turbulent because of the storm were frothing and churning with thousands and thousands of fish. Seldom seen fishes which normally are bottom dwellers were at the surface and fishes which were natural enemies were swimming next to one another. “

He turned to me, “ Mutusamy, do you understand what I just said? It is as if the wolf is laying down with the lamb”. “And that is not all”, uncle continued. “ The fishes seemed gripped by something outside themselves. The strange thing was that all the fish were looking up at the lighthouse as if they were paying homage or worship of some kind! When morning came, all the fishes were gone”. I was tempted to think that it was all my imagination”.

At this moment, the storm that was threatening all day broke. The heavens opened and water poured down. Lighting flashed and lit up the dark skies for miles. Revealing enormous waves! A shudder ran through me. It was not a night to be lost at sea.

The professional in my uncle kicked into gear and he unthinkingly stood up and turn the fog horn on.

I sat stunned and overwhelmed by what my uncle had just shared. Meanwhile the storm raged all around us – a fury of wind, waves, light and thunder. At five minutes interval, the foghorn sounded – a desolate voice calling through the night.

At last the storm abated, the clouds parted and the light of the full moon shone through. Uncle Ravichandran and I looked at each other. Then at the same time, both of us rushed to the tower’s windows.

Just like last December, the surface of the sea were again teeming with fishes. Every square inch of water was filled with jostling, squirming, wriggling sea creatures. All with their heads up, eyes gleaming and staring up at the lighthouse, just as uncle had described it.

“Quiet!” Uncle whispered urgently to me.” Do you hear it?” I strained my ear and I thought I heard something. It seemed like a faint distant echo of the fog horn. Uncle adjusted the foghorn so that it now sounded every minute.

Sure enough. Each time the fog horn sounded. There was a echo. And the echo seemed to sound nearer and nearer. Finally there was no mistaking it. It was no longer an echo, but an answering call. The unidentified call was just as lonesome, as lost and as achingly yearning as that of the lighthouse’s foghorn, but it was deeper, more powerful, more masculine.

We stood rooted to our spot. My heart was racing and my head pounded with fear and excitement. What was going on?

The teeming seas parted. A path seemed to open up among the fishes. Their heads were now turned opposite to that of the lighthouse. The fishes’ eyes seem to gleam even more brightly now. As I strained my eyes I saw the shape of a “loch ness” like creature coming slowly but surely through the path.

Soon I could clearly make up the creature. It was huge. It had a long, serpent like neck. Its massive body was the length of a blue whale. And the sound coming out of its mouth was the clear call of the foghorn! An overwhelming stench of something ancient and decaying filled the night air. It smelled like a primordial long lost forgotten swamp. And the creature was heading straight for the lighthouse.

“Switch off the lights and the foghorn” I yelled hysterically at Uncle. “it’s our only chance!”. But uncle had the presence of mind to switch them off already. We both dived beneath the coffee table and in desperation prayed, “Lord have mercy on our souls”.

The creature came upon the lighthouse. Over and over again, the fog horn- like cry sounded. After a while it seemed to me as if the creature’s cry changed. The longing turned to confusion and then anger. It was as if the creature had gone mad with anguish and torment. It attacked the lighthouse and it was like the storm breaking upon us again – a ferocity of sound, thunder, and earth shaking, tower toppling violence! The creature roared with rage and its fog-horn like voice reverberated menacingly throughout the night.

How we survived the night we never knew. But gradually, chaos, confusion, madness, gave way to quiet, calmness and stillness.! As we timidly crawled to the windows, the creature was gone. So too the fishes. The only evidence we have that what we have seen and heard was not a figment of our imaginations, was that the lighthouse tower was covered with green slime which reeked for weeks.

Moving on. This is what happened according to my uncle.

The creature must be the last of its kind in the world. How long it lay on the ocean floor grieving and pining its loss, who knows. One day, the faint echo of one its kind, the fairer species, broke through its troubled sleep and roused it from its slumber. Could it be that there is another of its kind left in the world?

Slowly, ever so slowly it began its ascend to the surface. One foot a day, thirty feet a month. Until at last it was at the surface and could hear clearly the voice of what it thought, was one of its own. The ancient high king of sea creatures carrying with it the weight and woes and hopes of its long years swam on. It raised its cry , as if to say, “ I am coming, wait for me, don’t go away”. Would its yearning at last be fulfilled and the ache of its heart healed?

Alas, it was not to be.

Would the creature come back? We would have to wait till next year to find out.

Friday, October 13, 2006

The Gold Watch (A work of fiction)

The gold watch

It was mom’s pride and joy. A Titoni gold ladies’ watch. Gold platted strap with a handsome gold casing. A good Swiss mechanical watch. With a 21 jewelled movement. It does not have batteries that wear out. Or a sophisticated computer chip board that once broken is irreparable. It steadily, faithfully kept time.

The gold watch is to be taken out of its hiding place and displayed on her wrist only during wedding dinners, Chinese New Year’s eve reunion meal and other grand occasions.

A long time ago when they were still young, in the first flush of business success, dad bought mom the gold watch. His one gesture of extravagance. His business however wax and wane many times over the years. He finally went out of business.

The gold watch’s fortunes waxed and waned with dad’s business. In bad times, to put food on the table and clothes on the children’s backs, all eight of them, the gold watch had been pawned time and time again. Always, miraculously however it got redeemed.

Mom fiddled with the watch constantly. Perhaps she feared losing it again and this time forever? Sometimes in the night when she thought I was asleep, she would go to her bedroom wardrobe. Taking up her chain of keys that she kept constantly in her trouser pocket, she carefully selected one, and opened the drawer where all her earthly treasures are stored. She does not have much. A pair of pearl earrings. A jade bangle. A silver locket. A few hundred ringgit frugally and carefully hoarded for times of emergency. And the gold watch.

One night, awakened by the sound of the key being turned, I got out of bed to be at her side looking at her trinkets in the drawer.

“Is the watch very expensive mama? Can I wear it? Can I take it to school and show my friends?”

Laughing out loud, she teased and said “it is a ladies’ watch. You cannot wear a ladies’ watch, son. You wait. One day I will buy you a gold watch.”

“When?” I asked excitedly. “On my next birthday?”

“No. When you finished Form Six and go to university. Then mama will buy you a gold watch.”

“But what happens if I don’t’ make it to university?” I anxiously replied.

“Don’t worry you will”, she reassured me.

“Did papa buy you the watch then because you did something special? Did you pass a special exam?” I was curious to know.

“No,” she gently replied. He just wanted to give me the watch. He says I deserved it.”

“Papa must love you very much” I replied.

Mom did not answer me. Instead taking a oil soaked handkerchief, she lovingly, slowly, carefully polished, oiled, and wound the gold watch up.

“Mama, why do you need to oil the watch?” I would ask.

“So that the gold strap would not lose its lustre son”, she would reply.

After giving the watch a final polish, she would put in on her wrist. Looked at it a long while and then with a sigh, put it back into the drawer. In that special honoured position, on the upper right hand corner of the drawer which belongs only to the gold watch.

The years passed. Years of plenty intermittently follow more years of hardship. Soon the children grew up. One son in particular became successful having the business acumen the old man never had.

The gold watch’s fortune at last was secure. It need never be pawned again.

Tonight the gold watch is to be taken out for the grandest occasion yet. Mom and dad’s golden anniversary dinner at the plushest restaurant in town, followed by the obligatory photographic session at the studio.

Mom looked grand, in her green translucent silk blouse and elaborate flower motif sarong kebaya. The materials specially bought and sewn in Penang.

“Only the Peranakan people in Penang really know how to sew Nonya clothes”, fussed eldest sister. And as usual she got her way.

The gold watch glittered on her wrist. She looked happy and pleased. Her beloved children around her, fussing over her, delighting in her.

“Mom you looked like a thirty year old woman tonight”, teased her favourite son who had returned from overseas just to attend the golden anniversary dinner.

Dad was his usual quiet self. Still ramrod straight at 70 years, he looked good in his suit and bow tie. These days the old man does nothing much except read his papers and listen to his “light and easy” Chinese songs from the fifties and sixties.

Dinner over, the entourage adjourned to the Studio for the family photograph. The brood of eight children had multiplied. All married, with at least two children, you do the maths. At least thirty two people were present!

The poor photographer had a hard time getting the people together and pose for a good shot.

Jackson, where do you think you are going! Come here NOW!” yelled third sister at her youngest son.

“ Where did older brother go? He was here a moment ago,” worried mom.

In the confusion, dad sat by himself in a chair by a corner, some distance from his noisy, boisterous brood. The old man took out his wallet. For he too had something that he treasured. That was his pride and joy.

It ‘s a photograph that he kept in his wallet. He often take it out to pour over the picture lovingly. The photograph is faded by now, creased and fragile through long handling. But the black and white picture is still clear. It shows a young Chinese lady, smiling for the camera, in the strained stilted manner, favoured by the photography studio in the old days.

And no. It is not the picture of mom, the woman at his side for fifty years. It is a picture of the old man’s mistress. Acquired by him in his brief golden period of youth and wealth.

Where is she now? Well, her commitment to him was only for better, not worse; for richer, not poorer, in health and not sickness and certainly not until death do they part.

She is long gone from his life. Yet the old man still dreamed dreams.

“Happy golden anniversary pa! Happy golden anniversary ma! Time to take pictures!”

Startled from his reverie, the old man peered up at his children and mumbled, “thank you son, thank you daughter”.

The golden anniversary picture occupy pride of place in my home today. Mom and dad sitting together, side by side, smiling. The rest of us beside, around and above them. Mom’s gold watch glinting in the camera’s flashlight.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Old classmates.......still good mates?

One day I received this email:

To my class mates and friends of ACS Seremban , from 1964, it has been 40 years since we started school in Standard 1 together and we still keep in touch.

40 years friendship

or is it 40 years acquaintance?

What holds us together?

What feeds the longing to keep in touch?


Maudlin sentimentality?

Memories of childhood and youth?

We have grown older

We have gone our separate ways

We are different

We are bonded only by historical ties

We have faded or fading memories of spats and arguments

Or the remembered awkwardness of being forced to sit together in class

Meeting together again after 40 years,

When the catching up, the novelty of meeting again

after so many years is over

will we have enough to talk about?

Will we want to meet together after the reunion?

The answer lies in whether

We have 40 years friendship

Or 40 years acquaintance

Spiritual Disciplines. Spiritual Formation IV

Summary of previous articles

  • Temporal and eternal perspectives– the need to restore the eternal perspective of God and his kingdom and making it central to our life
  • Need to be aware that we are embodied spiritual beings – necessity of training the body to put off old man and its deeply embedded old habits and put on the new man with new godly habits of response
  • To stir ourselves up with correct biblical motivations to want to be like Christ

We now know what we to do. We also know how to motivate ourselves to want do what we ought to do. There remains only the training that we need to put in place.

So. How do we train oursleves to be like Christ? Before we answer this question. We need to ask a prior question.

What does it mean to be conformed to Christ?

It means simply to be like him. As Willard pointed out[1], “the New Testament concept of the disciple is very simple. I am someone's disciple if I am with him learning to be like him”.

Imitating the example of Jesus

It is ultimately Jesus who shows us how to live in the kingdom of God. ( p 385)

Jesus washing the disciples feet. Leaving you an example to follow.

Jn 13.12When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. "Do you understand what I have done for you?" he asked them. 13"You call me 'Teacher' and 'Lord,' and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. 15I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.

This is what precisely Paul did and what he encourages us to do. He says, ‘imitate me in exactly the way that I imitate Christ. ( 1 Cor 11.1)

Or as he tells the Phillipians, ‘ Put into practice what you learned and received and heard and saw in me……’

Genuine apostolic succession

Note the instruction Paul gives to Timothy: to become a pattern for the believers, in speech, behaviour, love, faith, and purity …Paul called on Timothy to ‘pay attention to yourself and to the teachings, continuing in them’. For in that way, Timothy will ‘save both himself and the ones hearing him’ ( 1Tim 4.12-16)

Genuine apostolic succession is not just a matter of doctrinal faithfulness but also one of learning to be like Christ, conforming to Christ.

What does it mean in practical terms to be conformed after Christ?

Basically it involves putting off the old man and putting on the new man. Col 3.9 since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10and have put on the new self,

It is to form new and godly habits, so that instead of habitually doing the wrong things, we now habitually do the right thing, that which is pleasing to the Lord.

How? By “breaking the power of patterns of wrongdoing and evil that govern our lives because of long habituation to a world alienated from God. (The Divine Conspiracy, p 374)

These are simply our bad and old habits, our largely automatic responses of thought, feeling and action (p 375)

“we need to rely upon what the Spirit does to us or in us. However, indispensable as it truly is, reliance on the Holy Spirit alone will not by itself transform character in its depths.

The training required to transform our most basic habits of thought, feeling and action will not be done for us. The action of the Spirit must be accompanied by our response, which cannot be carried out by anyone but ourselves.” ( p 381)

The indispensable role of ordinary events, routine activities in daily life.

We must accept the circumstances we constantly find ourselves in as the place of training, discipleship and transformation into Christ’s likeness.

Trials, sufferings and tribulations

James 1.2-4

2Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Rom 5.3Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

Day to day routines of life

  • Applying the ‘cross to daily existence.
  • The first tribulation for many of us is “Getting up in the morning!”
  • Then the commune to work and the battle with the traffic jam’
  • The people and problems, difficulties and situations we face in the office
  • Coming home to face the family – family tensions not resolve will resurface at annual reunions and get togethers. Father-son, mother-daughters, sibling rivalry and jealousy.
  • Temptation to fears, worries and anxieties over health, work, money
  • Past issues, situations having an ongoing negative impact on the way we live in the present, with fears and anxieties over the future robbing us of hope and joy.

In the course of an ordinary day – temptations to lust, to covet, to be impatient, to be angry, to be self centred, to habitually think, feel and act as we have always done. This is the arena, where conformity to Christ is to be acted out. These moments, situations, problems, are our life!

The spiritual disciplines

In order to carry through with the challenges of daily life in this way we must have the constant movement of the Spirit of God accompanying us, and we must incorporate substantial ‘spiritual disciplines’ in our overall life plan. (p 382)

The spiritual disciplines we inculcate are the ones Jesus engaged in to nurture his own life in relation to the Father.

His use of solitude and silence, Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Mk 1.35

Mk 6.47When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land.

study of scripture. Lk 2. 47Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers.

Lk 24. 25He said to them, "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26Did not the Christ[b] have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?" 27And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.


Lk 11.1One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples."

and service to others

2That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. 33The whole town gathered at the door, 34and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was.

And we can be very sure that what he found useful for conduct of his life in the Father will also be useful for us.

Disciplines of Abstinence

Disciplines of Engagement
















As Willard understands it, “ the disciplines of abstinence are designed to counteract sins of commission and disciplines of engagement to counteract sins of omission.

Solitude and silence

No human contact, being alone, and silent for lengthy periods of time.

The normal course of day to day human interactions locks us into patterns of feeling, thought, and action that are geared to a world centred on self interests and worldly pursuits. (executive in advertising world, corporate lawyer, politics)

Only silence can allow us life transforming concentration on God.

Muddy water becomes clear only if you let it be still for a while.

Come to grip with loneliness – is it enough to have God and God alone in our life?

What drives, fears, anxieties, insecurities fill our minds and hearts. Illness, old age, being alone without support of family

Taking unpopular stance at work, in life – How fear of man and man’s opinions have such a crushing hold on us.

Listen to our self talk

Time to review relationships, look at old and prevailing tensions. Are we waiting for people around us to change – how about us changing first?


I fast from food to know that there is another food that sustains me. I memorise and meditate on scripture that the order of God’s kingdom would become the order and power of my mind and life. (p 387)

To say to our body and its desires, I am in control not the body

Study and worship

Rev 10.9 So I went to the angel and asked him to give me the little scroll. He said to me, "Take it and eat it; it will be bitter to your stomach, but in your mouth it will be as sweet as honey." 10I took the little scroll from the angel's hand and ate it. It tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach was made bitter.

Christians feed on Scripture. Holy scripture nurtures the holy community as food nurtures the human body. Christians don’t simply learn or study or use Scripture; we assimilate it, take it into our lives in such a way that it gets metabolised into acts of love, cups of cold water, missions into the world, healing and evangelism and justice in Jesus’ name, hands raised in adoration of the Father, feet washed in company with the Son. ( Eat This Book, Peterson, p 18)

Readers, (serious readers) become what they read. (ibid, p 20)

Willard puts the case strongly that “intensive internalisation of the kingdom order through study of the written word…help establish good habits of thought, feeling and action”. He says, “we really come to think and behave differently.

David Watson’s comments on the days before his operation for the cancer that ultimately took his life:

“ As I spent time chewing over the endless assurances and promises to be found in the bible, so my faith in the lving God grew stronger and held me safe in his hands. God’s word to us, especially his word spoken by his Spirit through the Bible, is the very ingredient that feeds our faith. If we feed our souls regularly on God’s word, several times day, we should become robust spiritually just as we feed on ordinary food several times each day, and become robust physically. Nothing is more important than hearing and obeying the word of God.” ( The Spirit of the Disciplines, p 183)

Some key scripture topics and passages:

  • Ten commandments
  • Ps 23
  • Lord’s prayer
  • Sermon on the mount
  • Rom 8
  • Col 3
  • Phil 2-4

We cannot study without worship. To handle the things of God without worship is always to falsify them ( The Divine Conspiracy, p 397)

In worship we engage ourselves with, dwell upon, and express the greatness, beauty and goodness of God…..( The Spirit of the Disciplines, p 182)

Rev 4.11;

11"You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they were created
and have their being."

5.12In a loud voice they sang:
"Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honor and glory and praise!"

13Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing:
"To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honor and glory and power,
for ever and ever!"

God is invisible – (Yancey – reaching out to the invisible God) Meditate on Jesus and his atoning work on the cross: God incarnate – read the gospels, the temptations he faced, his teaching, his compassion, his agony at Gethsemane, his death and resurrection.

Jesus and the leper, widow of Nain, woman with issue of blood.

Talking about prayer and scripture reading/study

“I did not understand the intensity with which they must be done, nor that the appropriate intensity required that they be engaged in for lengthy periods of un-distracted time on a single occasion. Moreover, one’s life as a whole had to be arranged in such a way that this would be possible. One mut be agitated, hurried, or exhausted when the time of prayer and study came. Hence one cannot tack an effective, life transforming practice of prayer and study on to ‘life as usual’/ life as usual must go. It will be replaced by something far better. ( divine conspiracy, p 390)

Final words

A recent poll shows that the gap between what Americans say they believe and what they do is great and growing. The same is true of Christians. Values don't always translate into actions.

The acid test or question is : do you have a transforming, integrated faith or just a statement of faith?


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