Wednesday, November 26, 2008

An Ever Present Hope


There is surely a future hope for you,
And your hope will not be cut off.
– Proverbs 23:18

--

Let us now sing Hymn number thirteen –

The Fall of Hope

The fall of hope, the death of dreams.
The decay of passion, the end of light.
How mesmerising now the serenade of death.
How enchanting the requiem of despair.

Promises are but a platitude served to assuage fears of cruel reality.
Assurances are but trumperies deterring man from facing the inevitable.
Covenants only call us to live lives of sham and fa├žade.

A dash of despair and a cup of destitute.
Blotting out all dreams, except for the bleakest, dreariest nightmares.

No more laughter and enjoyment for this bitter, vitriolic self
No more comfort and rest for this beaten, beleaguered soul
Not that I am ever a dreamer. I am merely a child.

Perhaps someday, when light ever returns to this dark, gloomy scene.
Perhaps someday, when clarion calls of hope resound again in this blank, empty space.

Perhaps then shall life arise again.
Perhaps then shall this brief insignificant existence find meaning again.

– The Requiem of Death, by Reverend Deyja, Humnos XIII

--

A time for tears possibly, a time for cries for mom and dad who are no longer there. A glimpse into those blank gazes and frank faces, and one is nothing but certain that they are gone. To a better place perhaps, to the home called heaven, the home that they used to tell me so much about during bedtime stories. But now they are not here anymore to tuck me in at night, to tell me stories before bed, to give me those warm hugs and kisses. Perhaps I will see them someday, I know I have to. But what if I don’t? I’d miss them so dearly. Is this just another dream? Will I ever wake up again?

But wherever shall I go now, I am merely a child. The streets are so gloomy and the people are so cold. Perhaps I shall wander through the dark alleyways. There is always food in the trashcans. There is always shelter underneath the boxes and the rooftops. It may not be as good as mom’s cooking, or as warm as my old comfy bed, but it will still do.

It is raining now tonight. Perhaps God is crying for mom and dad too. It’s so nice to sit here in the rain, allowing the tears of heaven to wash away my own. Why am I still crying? Is it too much to want the pain to stop? In this silent alleyway, I’m here by myself. But I know I’m not alone. I’m so cold and hungry, but it’s alright. I know I’ll make it through. God will always provide for me. But it still hurts so bad inside. Is it because I’m too weak? Is it because I’m just a child?

Is this the pain of loss or the pain of disappointment? Does it hurt because they’re gone, or because God wasn’t there for them? Oh, I wish I knew, but maybe I shall find it out another day.

--

It’s a new day of bright and shine. Yet cheer and life are far from my heart.

A half-eaten sandwich and a near-empty can of coke. A good find, I should say, amongst the heap of well-mingled trash. I devoured them with speed and voracity, lest the pigeons should get their share of the crop. A stride out into the wide open streets reveals more to me than a night’s cold retreat, on that small passageway beneath the moonlight feet.

People dashing across the pale, concrete path, muttering and sighing, grumbling and heaving. Tall guys in suits, and school girls in uniforms. Late for appointments, busy with assignments, having no time for little old me. Perhaps it might very well be so. After all, work for money, and money for bread, isn’t that how the cycle of life goes?

If mom and dad were here all would be clear. If only they were here I would not fear. But I know it well they would never come, I’m nothing but lost in this big, gloomy slum.

People all around in dazzling array, painted coats and fashion clothes. But all in real it’s just dismay, tainted gloats and ashen woes. But maybe a small request a child can make, a tiny favour they’d surely not refuse. A few pennies, a little coins for a loaf of bread for a day or two. A humble plea, a fumbled petition, from a tiny being in that giant cycle of life.

--

There’s always hope in suffering, but those who have never learned suffering will never know what it means to hope.

As long as a person lives, there is always hope lurking around the corner. There is constantly that feeling that deep down inside, that things will be better, that if he dares to believe, there is a brighter future that awaits him.

But why does the human heart constantly hope? Why does it course so deeply in our veins that we are so willing to fight for it to the end?

Perhaps it’s something given by God. Perhaps it’s a reminder that even in this cruel world, there is someone out there who cares, someone who has not abandoned us, someone still watching and guiding us…

…or perhaps guiding others to us…to a new future that is ahead of us.

--

A couple stopped and bent down to face me. Turning my head down to gaze at the ashen gray pavement, I tried to hide my tear soaked, grief tainted countenance. A few awkward moments elapsed before I finally mustered enough courage to look up to them. I tried to speak but found myself choking on my words, letting out some garbled phrases and incoherent syllables.

Unable to say anymore, I merely stretched out my hands towards them, gesturing for a kind offering of a penny or two. Oddly, a kind of sadness and compassion was etched upon their faces. For that brief moment in time, as my eyes met theirs, I could feel something different in those gazes that told me that they weren’t the usual people I’d find plying the streets.

“Are you alright, little boy?” the man asked me gently.

“M…m…maybe…”

“Where are mom and dad?”

“T…t…they’re g…g…gon–“

At this I broke down to tears. Burying my face into my lap, I wept alone silently while the couple looked on. They must think I’m stupid. But…I just can’t help it. Ah, forgive me for being so weak.

A pair of hands lifted my face and pressed it against a chest. A pair of arms wrapped around my shoulders and a neck pressed against my forehead. I was caught off guard by the lady’s reaction, but welcomed it freely as I continued to sulk and whimper in her warm embrace. She reminded so much of mom, her gentle cuddles and her comforting hugs. When the thought of losing her stung me again, I broke down into louder sobs.

“It’s okay. You’re safe now. I’m here. I’m here.”

The most reassuring words that I’ve ever heard coming from someone I barely even knew. Was she playing a bluff, or was she for real? Deep down, I knew it couldn’t have been an act. But did it really matter? At that moment, it just felt so good to be in her arms.

Are they your angels, God? Will you take them away too? Please don’t. If there’s anything I’d ask for now, God, please don’t take them away

--

Uncle Lufu and Auntie Feid are really sweet people. I am truly grateful for them. The choice on their behalf to adopt this miserable, troublesome, ordinary and unsuccessful child has really been a large step of faith on their behalf. I deeply wonder about the reason that gives them the courage to embrace me and invite me into their household. There is just so much love in them. I really pray hard that I do not disappoint them.

The feeling of being in this household is like being at home again with mom and dad. There’s so much joy and openness in the atmosphere, as uncle and auntie would often care for me as they would their own son.

Not being able to contain my curiosity any longer, I asked them honestly, “Uncle Lufu and Auntie Feid, why are you caring about me so much? You barely even know me.”

“Well, there was once a man called Jesus who walked this earth, teaching mankind how to live each day with grace and love. And He said, ‘Let the little ones come to me, because the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these’.”

“You, dear child, are part of these little ones who will belong to God’s Kingdom. You’ll see one day, of the wonderful things that God will do through you.”

I questioned further with even greater inquisitiveness, “But isn’t God’s Kingdom up there in heaven?”

“No, dear child, it has always been right here, on this earth.”

“B…but isn’t God’s Kingdom supposed to be good? Why is there so much evil and bad things going on around then? Surely this can’t be God’s Kingdom”

“Well, you know what, dear child. God is in the process of making all things new again. Right now, we see all these things happening because God has not yet finished His building plan.

But one day, we will see His goodness and mercy cover the entire earth. And you know what the beautiful thing about it is? We will be back to enjoy it! But until then, dear child, we hold on to this hope. And with this hope, we can have the certainty of our paths and begin to show love to the people around us.”

“Wow, that’s so amazing. B…but will I ever see mom and dad again?”

“I’m sure you will, dear child. I’m sure you will.”

--

At night, Auntie Feid tucked me in to bed, just like mom would always do. After a series of hugs and kisses, she turned out the lights, and quietly left the room. I saw the old, wooden door of the tiny, yet homely bedroom slowly close, gradually shutting out any traces of light from the outside from penetrating into the room.

I lay still in bed that night, the back of my head resting upon that snug, fluffy pillow as my eyes gazed out beyond the window to the immense, starry expanse. I caught sight of a shooting star, blazing through the skies and piercing through the clouds, steadily falling closer towards the earth until it vanished into the horizon.

Numerous thoughts flickered on and off as I stared into each starry host.

Hope…the thing that keeps us going…

Hope…for the things that have yet to come…

Someday…I will do great things…

Someday…God will make all things new again…

Someday…I’ll see mom and dad again…

I turned my head until my eyes caught hold of the ceiling. The layers were peeling off and multiple scratch marks were etched upon its surface, perhaps reflecting the age and use of this building.

As I close my two small eyes, I could wet, hot streaks streaming down my temples, and cool droplets pooling in my ears. Truly God, you are so good. In you God, I place all my hopes and dreams.

A few silent moments slipped away, and I fell into a deep, peaceful sleep.

--

They say that only time (and God) can heal the deepest sorrows. It’s now three years since I’ve lived with Uncle Lufu and Auntie Feid. So many things have happened.

I got into my first year of high school. It was a pretty tough year, adapting to the new environment, social pressures and heavy workloads, but I’ve learned to enjoy it. I didn’t seem to have many problems with studies and fitting into the social circle, though when pressed regarding my family background, I tended to be a little stuck at times and resorted to change the topic of discussion. Of course that didn’t sit quite comfortably with some of my schoolmates, but I got around it somehow.

But I felt really nervous that day as it was Parent-Teacher Day. I thought I did reasonably good in my assessments and had been behaving fairly well in class throughout the year. But still, you never know what the teachers might think of you. Uncle Lufu, Auntie Feid and I were in the waiting room outside, waiting to see my teachers, along with several other parents. The wait seemed like ages, as I surveyed the room indifferently as my ‘parents’ engaged with the other parents in an apparently humorous conversation, with bursts of laughter every now and then.

I heaved a long sigh as I looked at my watch, tapping my feet impatiently on the ground as I muttered and moaned softly to myself. When is this all going to be over? I don’t like this uneasy feeling. And I’m hungry too. When can I eat?

All forms of laughter were cut off by sudden shrieks of terror echoing through the school corridors. The sounds of thundering footsteps were accompanied by a few loud bangs. We all ran out to see what the commotion was all about. To our shock and horror, two of the school kids were on a killing spree, randomly targeting and shooting anyone that crossed their paths. The rest of the children were running for their lives, with the two gunners trailing closely behind them. The concrete pathways were stained by a trail of crimson, the once pristine ground stamped with bloodstained shoeprints.

As we continued to gaze in fear and terror, one of the schoolkids took note of us and turned back towards us, aiming the muzzle of his deadly weapon at our bewildered bunch. He pulled the trigger and let loose a deafening roar. Uncle Lufu crumpled to the ground, his chest pierced by the fast, lethal round. Auntie Feid screamed in disbelief and bent down to help Uncle B, but he immediately brushed off her help, calling for us to make a run for it.

Realising the danger of the situation we were in, I grabbed Auntie Feid’s hands and made a run for it, with the rest of the parents and kids alongside us. The hunter continued the chase, letting off a few more shots towards us. I narrowly evaded death as a bullet zoomed past my shoulders, burying itself deep into the hard, concrete wall.

As we ran, the loud blares of police sirens broke through the chaos of the moment. Thank goodness, help had arrived!

Finally, the exit was in sight. We ran out the doors into the wide open fields, relieved to have escaped from the slaughterhouse. The gunner had stopped chasing us, possibly frightened by the presence of the law enforcement officers.

When all the children, parents and teachers had safely evacuated the school building, the police moved in to subdue the perpetrators. Several more gunshots were fired and then deafening silence lingered in the air.

I turned to Auntie Feid and heaved a sigh of relief. “We made it, auntie, we made it!”

Yet, I sensed that something was not right. She looked at me and only managed to give me a weak smile before collapsing to the ground. I stood and watched in horror at the events unfolding before me, before reaching down to help Auntie Feid. I slid my hands behind her shoulders and saw a fresh, crimson colour staining my hands.

I cried out for help. The nearby paramedics, conscious of the present crisis, rushed over to her side with their emergency kit. They rolled her over to her side and began applying pressure to attempt to stem the bleeding. But she had already lost copious amounts of blood and was beginning to pass out.

I gripped her hand cold, clammy hand tightly, urging her not to let go. Her face grew pale, as her breathing became increasingly heavier.

She began whispering barely audible tones as she slipped deeper into unconsciousness. I drew closer to listen to her muffled speech.

“B…be strong, dear child. Don’t despair at my passing. There’s always hope in the midst of the suffering. There’s always hope in God.”

Tears began streaming down my face. I faced a similar scene three years ago when I gripped my mom’s hands as she died. I was reliving the nightmare once again.

“N…no…” I protested, “You can’t go.”

“Shhh…hush, dear child. It’s okay. We will see each other again someday. As long as hope is alive, we will…”

Her words trailed off. Her grip loosened. Her breathing stopped. She was gone.

I sat there, confronted yet again by the same blank eyes and lifeless visage that shook me over three years ago, one that I still shuddered when I thought about it again. Yet, there I was reliving every gruesome moment that traumatised and tormented me more than anything else.

In the midst of my grief and uncertainty, the police approached me. They broke the bad news regarding Uncle Lufu. He, too, had succumbed to his gunshot wounds and died before the medical team could get to him.

Oh, it was all too much for me to bear. Why…why did all of this have to happen? Why, God…why…

An intense pain gripped me and all of a sudden, everything became a blur as the world around me faded away into darkness.

--

In the same alleyway again, I sit alone, under the moonlit skies, scorned and derided. My heart is numb and my mind is frozen, betrayed upfront by so-called hope. A rainless night, a tearless plight. The heavens have shut their gates, as my wellspring of life has dried up.

Hope is nil in this wretched world.
All but a dreadful lie and a wishful blight.
A cute ideal in a neat little box.
Proving in the end to be empty and bare.

A smashed glass bottle I hold in my hand. The sharp, pointed edge I hold to my wrists. With one quick stroke, the glass slices through flesh, a sheer relief to feel again. Blood oozes out the gaping wound, streaming down the thin, slender arm, trickling to the ground in small, little rounds.

The bottle next I hold to my neck. One quick swoop shall make it complete. A miserable life shall come to an end.

“Stop!” I hear one crying to me. I look up and see a frightened girl my age. A strange, pleading look was carved on her face. I can only wonder what she wants with me.

“Leave me alone, in this filth-ridden slum. And let me finish what ought have been done. And bring a close to this unhappy existence.”

“No, I won’t, I won’t ever leave. Please don’t hurt yourself, what joy is in that? A life ahead you have yet to live, to find your dream and fulfil your destinies.”

“I’ve already walked this solemn path. Nothing but despair it has brought me to bear. So leave me dear girl, to my impending demise, so at least I can have pleasure, in life’s touching end.”

“There’s still hope I tell you, of life that’s to come. Have you forgotten the promise that God gave to us? That there will be life once again, though there is death. So why grieve as one without hope, and why relent as one without promise?”

“Hope is but for fools, dear girl, and promise is but for the simple-minded. What hope is there in this great loss I have? What hope is there in a world that is nothing but despair?”

“Hope is all that I have, I’ll have you know. For I, too, have fallen into death’s snare. I, too, know your loss and understand your pain. Hope is what keeps us going despite all odds. Hope is what keeps us together despite all troubles.

Please don’t give your life so freely to death, who welcomes it ever with wide open hands. For I believe, we have become united as this by present sufferings. And would you hope with me, then, for a better future that is ahead? Would you hope with me for a light that is to come?”

A moment’s awe, an instant’s wonder. I ponder it through, and consider it true.

The bloodstained glass I drop to the ground, and began to weep for my foolish pride. A pair of arms around me, and a neck to my forehead, reminiscence perhaps to true, faithful grace.

--

As the saying goes, there is always hope in the midst of suffering.

It’s a mysterious feeling indeed, this feeling called hope. It insists that despite all evidence to the contrary, there is something better that awaits us if we dare to embrace it, to fight for it and to stand up for it.

Perhaps it also reminds us that there is always a God who is watching over us, a God who not only guides us but guides people to us.

I guess hope is what makes humans…human.

We sat there under the vast open expanse of God’s firmament, two souls learning to journey together to discover hope, a hope that will one day come to bear.

There were tears from the skies again that night, drenching us in sweet heaven’s dew.

And we gazed upon a shooting star, piercing through the clouds and dashing across the night skies, disappearing at last into the distant horizon.

--

Monday, October 20, 2008

Gather to Scatter



Almost all of us enjoy the idea of gathering together as a community to celebrate God’s presence amongst us, and to celebrate the Kingdom that He has inaugurated and that is being advanced on this earth. We enjoy the fellowship and the relationships, the conversations and the actions, the joys and the tears, the opportunities to bless and be blessed. Truly, gathering together in a community gives us a sense of security, belonging and identity.

But how comfortable then are we with the idea of scattering?

As much as God wants us to gather together to worship and to fellowship, God desires just as much for His children to scatter and go out into the world to carry His edict and to proclaim His rulership to all four corners of the earth.

The 8th chapter of the book of Acts presents an account by the Greek physician, Luke, of the scattering of followers of the Lord following severe persecution by the Jewish leaders. At the beginning of the chapter, we are told that the church in Jerusalem was severely persecuted on the day of the Stephen’s death, following his rebuke of the religious leaders of their stubbornness and wickedness. The believers were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Saul, one of the major supporters of the genocide, went along his merry ways destroying the church that God was establishing and dragging every believer he encountered into prison.

It would seem that darkness was snuffing out the beacon of light that was planted in Jerusalem and in the arm wrestle between religiosity and the truth of God that the strong arm of religion was pinning down the hand of God.

Yet, we read later on in verse 4 that the opposite was happening. Instead of dying out like sparks removed from a bonfire, the believers ignited into new pyres wherever they went and became beacons of light to the people living in darkness. They proclaimed the gospel of the Kingdom and ministered in the power of the Holy Spirit. They cast out demons and healed the paralysed. They brought hope and salvation to the people who were living out meaningless existences. In other words, they were re-presenting Christ in their new environments, which certainly was no small feat.

When we scatter into our respective work or social environments, how actively are we re-presenting Christ? How actively are we proclaiming the ways of Jesus to the people around us, and living out the truths that we hold onto in the midst of communities who have different ideals and belief systems? That is a challenge indeed for us all, who have grown quite accustomed to dualising our work and our church worlds, setting up dividing lines between the two homogenous entities. We like being in the community and interacting in church, but we dread going out into our workplace and communicating with the people there.

This brings us to the snippet of the story in Acts. When the apostles in Jerusalem heard about these new colonies of the Kingdom that have been established, they sent Peter and John to minister to the believers in Samaria. The interesting thing to note is that the believers in their new environments still maintained close relationships with the community back home in Jerusalem, enabling the sharing of the new revelations, blessings and the harvest that God had given them. They were united by the same conviction – that Christ is the son of God and those who are in Him are new creations, living new lives that are led by the Spirit – and from that, a common mission – to proclaim the new way that Christ had demonstrated to humanity and to call people out from the old ways of sin and death into new and living ways of life. This would certainly have empowered believers back in Jerusalem that their faith was not in vain and that the attempts of the religious powers around them to crush and smother it would not triumph.

This brings us to the next challenge. When we gather together, what kind of relationships are we building so that when we scatter, our relationships with one another are secure and unshaken? Do we want to build purely social relationships, connected primarily by entertaining events, humorous conversations and social obligations? Or, perhaps pseudo-communities, where we are careful to say the right things while masquerading behind our holy facades? Or, do we want to build living communities united by a common conviction and a common mission – to re-present the faith, hope and love of Christ in every part of our lives? The relationships that we form within the community are vital indeed to ensure that when we scatter, we retain our purpose, identity and belonging as brothers and sisters together on a journey to be conformed to the full stature of the image of Christ and to preach the good news wherever we go. When we scatter, we go out to the fields where the harvest is ripe and when we gather, we share the fruits that we have gathered to nourish and strengthen one another.

Another challenge this brings to us is when we gather, how effectively are we building up ourselves and our brothers and sisters such that when we go out into the fields, we will be ready to receive the harvest that God gives to us? We need to be equipped to stand as a new people, in the promises that God has for humanity and the power of the Spirit that raised Christ from the dead.

In the next snippet, we encounter a sorcerer named Simon who was became a follower of Jesus and was baptised along with many other people in the city of Samaria. It soon became clear, however, that the motivations for his conversion were primarily for the acquisition of more power for himself, probably so that he can somehow astonish even more people with his magical talents. He was so desperate for it that he even attempted to buy the power of the Holy Spirit with his money.

This poses the next challenge for us as a community when we gather. Many times, we find that we rely on our own strength and resources. We are more inclined to devoting time to walking in our own strengths than being dependent on God, not only in our spiritual growth but also in our ministry and proclamation. At other times, the busyness of the moment clogs up our ears and blurs our eyes to the whisper and direction of the Spirit. As such, we become so focused on the task that we lose sight of the grace and providence of God.

This calls us to examine our motivations and our hearts. What is the source from which we draw strength and resources to press on? Just as Peter said to Simon: “May your money perish with you” (vs 19), are we ready to say to the flesh: “May the strength that you thought you could amass perish with you!” If we stubbornly refuse to change our ways and repent, we should not be surprised when God says to us: “You have no part or share in this ministry because your heart is not right before me.” (vs 20) The question, then, is “How are we disciplining ourselves such that our hearts are attuned to God’s?” This, arguably, is where fasting comes into play. It calls us to discipline our heart, mind, body and soul such that they are not driven by the flesh. Fasting provides the opportunity for us to break the power of the flesh and be dependent on the grace and the providence of God through His Spirit in us. It is when we can come to a place of brokenness and dependence on God that we are able to then be shaped and moulded into vessels that can contain the fullness of His purposes and promises for this earth.

So far, we have the scene of the community of believers in Samaria growing and receiving the blessing and the baptism of the Holy Spirit. It would seem like an evangelistic success to Philip, who had chucked in quite a great deal of effort preaching and ministering to the people in the city. However, before he got to settle down comfortably in his new community, enjoying the harvest that he had laboured for, God once again called him to another place.

There, he met an Ethiopian eunuch, who was a passage in the Book of Isaiah. He initiated a conversation with the man, a conversation that I personally find very moving and inspiring.

Many of us might be asking – why scatter? When we can grow together and begin to embody the image of Christ within the community, why do we need to break up and go out into the world? I believe that the transpiring conversation provides insight to why this is so vital.

Philip asks the man, “Do you understand what you are reading?”

He answers, “How can I, unless someone explains it to me?”

After reading the passage from Isaiah regarding the suffering servant, he begs Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else? Who is this mysterious figure who so willing laid down his life for mankind?”

Similarly, there are so many people out there who are asking the questions:

“Is there any other way out of this mess that we’ve made?”
“Is there no greater purpose for which we as humanity stand for aside from all the meaningless games that we’re playing with one another?”
“Is there truly a God who cares for this planet and for us as mankind?”

We might happen to ask them, “Do you know about the gospel of a new Kingdom that is breaking free?”

Their response might be: “How would I, unless someone explains it to me?”

Although they probably would not explicitly say it, but it does not mean that they are not seeking. Indeed, there are so many people out there who are questioning the ways of the systems of the world, who are dissatisfied with the purposeless existence that mankind has fallen into, who are yearning for new way that brings life and fruitfulness to this earth and humanity. How can we idly stay comfortably in our own circles when there are so many lost ones out there who are longing to discover the love, grace and mercy of the Creator, and His glorious purposes for His sons? Are we actively stepping out in faith, responding to the Spirit as He leads us to these lost souls? We are called to step out in the power of the resurrection, bringing light, wholeness and holiness to the darkest corners of the earth. We are called to bring the hope that we have in our Creator to the nations that desperately need the revelation of a loving and sovereign God who has a vision that is far above the agendas of the beastly empires that are overrunning the planet, a God who will one day decimate all the powers that oppress and enact His uncontested rule here on this earth.

Again we have Philip, successfully preaching the gospel to yet another faithful believer. Before he gets to delight in his success, God moves him again! In the blink of an eye, he was led away by the Spirit to yet another place. Talk about God’s movement!

Perhaps we can indeed draw a powerful lesson from this. Often times, God calls us and leads us from one place to another, again and again. Just when we feel comfortable settling down in a particular job, he shakes us around and calls us to leave. Just when we are beginning to enjoy the comforts of serving in a particular ministry, He tells us to pack our bags and leave. It should concern us that God’s word can come unpredictably sometimes. However, when we are secure in the hope that we profess and the Source of that hope, we can respond readily in faith to His calling. The security that we have in what we know casts out the fear of what we do not know.

Although the eunuch encountered Philip only once in his lifetime, the moment made such an impact on his life that it changed his life forever.

Despite probably meeting most people only once in our lifetimes, what are we building or investing into that will make an impact on the community around us? It should challenge us to consider whether the things that we are putting our lives into will prepare the foundations for the next generation to build upon, or whether it will have any bearings on the people around us even if it means we will be led somewhere else before we get to enjoy the benefits of it. Also, it should challenge us to live lives that are radically different that one encounter would be enough for others to notice something different in the way we interact and engage with the world around us.

To sum it all up, we gather together to build our spiritual muscles, sharpen our convictions, polish our faith and revitalise our hope. We gather so that we can be train together to be people who can embody the faith, hope and love of Christ as a community of people knitted together by a common conviction and purpose. We gather together so that authentic relationships can form amongst us so that we can carry with us the sense of identity, purpose and belonging as part of the body of Christ that is advancing to cover all parts of the earth.

All this prepares us so that we can scatter to the ends of the earth to proclaim the Good News of the power and the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the Kingdom that He has begun amongst us and is now filling the earth. All this prepares us to be witnesses of His Word and to live out the truths of the Biblical story and the ways of Jesus in such a way that it makes such an impact to the people around us. All this prepares us to traverse new frontiers, opening up spaces and erecting beacons of light and hope where the grace, love and joy of the Creator can be found even in the darkest and most sinister place on the earth.

Ultimately, we gather to scatter!

--

Notes:

Picture taken from http://smokedval.deviantart.com/art/dandelion-63577197

--

Friday, October 3, 2008

Two Sides of a Coin



VISIONS


Visions surfacing within my mind,

Instilling a new sense of hope and discovery,

Suffusing my being with wondrous delight,

In bringing purpose, and faith, and joyous belonging,

One glimpse of the Kingdom Christ came to bring,

Nullifies all fears, and hesitations and trivialities,

So let it be then, the vision that I bear.

--

AGENDAS

A list of agendas runs through my mind,

Goals to be met, grace to be kept,

Ever pursuing this perpetual spiral,

Never stopping for small little tears,

Deaf to the sounds of joy and laughter,

Amidst the seas of high towering ambitions.

So untrustworthy have I become.

--

Two sides of a coin. It’s scary to think how closely they are related to one another. A head and a tail. Two opposing dimensions separated only by the viewing angle.

One flip of the coin. How easily things can change. What seemed like a winning coin toss might turn out to be just another losing bet.

Common visions and personal agendas. How alike they really are. Two opposing dimensions differentiated only by the eye of the beholder.

One flip of the coin. How easily things can change. What seemed a beautiful vision might turn out to be just another personal agenda.

--

Heads – The Vision

Do you believe in something greater for OCF?

Yes, I do.

What do you believe in?

That there will be a new generation that rises up to take their places on this earth to walk with faith, hope and love.

I want to really see a generation of believers who can rise up together to bring the goodness and grace, love and mercy of God onto this earth. Moreover, I want to see a generation rise up to stand in the purposes and promises that God has both for their lives.

I want to see a whole new generation of people who can share their life journeys with one another, empowering each other with their life stories and building each other up with their convictions and beliefs.

It dawned upon me after more than 2 weeks of wrestling with OCF. I had been rethinking my purpose of going to OCF. Spiritual growth wise, I am not really growing at all. Fellowship wise, I don’t think I am really connecting with the people there. The superficialities and trivialities of the relationships there sickened me. Many people talk about the OCF family, but I just don’t feel kinship ties being established there.

Beneath all the smiles and the laughter, is there really anything deeper that binds us together? Aside from doing things together, is there any common conviction that we hold on to?

Then I had this thought that perhaps the purpose of me being there was to bring newness to OCF, to bring about a change from within, to challenge the perspectives of my fellow brothers and sisters and to open up spaces for new convictions and beliefs to grow and flourish.

I do believe that each individual has their own dreams and visions that they want to pursue. I truly want to support them in their pursuit. I truly want to play a bigger role in other people’s lives.

But all I see is superficiality and triviality. It would seem that people are keen on talking about the latest movies than about their more recent visions that God has given them. It appears that people enjoy so much of the trivial conversations and empty chatter than sharing their faiths and their spiritual journeys.

Do you have the faith to pursue this vision?

I do not know. Only time will tell.

What drives you to continue to carry this vision?

I guess the hopes that God will do something to intervene in the situation.

--

Tails – The Agenda

I have come to realise that my relationships have been ridden with agendas. It just dawned upon me that the things that I do, the things that I say are all coated with a layer of goals.

Now I’m beginning to question that. Is it because I truly want to see my fellow OCFers grow and mature to become true Christ followers? Or is it because I want to impose my beliefs upon them so that I can have OCF run the way I think it is supposed to be run?

I really do not trust myself anymore. I no longer know what I am thinking, or what my real motives for going to OCF are. Only God knows.

What do you hope to see in the relationship?

To be accepted for who I really am.

What do you hope that other people will do for you?

That they will strike conversations with me and not wait for me to go up to them and have conversations with them.

How has that been for you so far?

Not very good. I still find it difficult to strike conversations with people or to share in the things that they enjoy.

Yet, I detect some sense of control within you. Are you sure that your motivations are purely for the growth and good of OCF?

To be honest, I am not that sure anymore.

Don’t you think that the fact that you are not mixing well may be because you’re not actually making the effort?

Well, I suppose so.

Or perhaps you already have expectations of others within a relationship?

Maybe that as well.

Is your vision, then, something with which to mask your personal agenda?

Perhaps that may well be.

I am starting to realise that some of my relationships with others have been riffled with goals and expectations. Perhaps one of my major flaws is that I am unable to adapt to the conversations that are going on in large groups. Perhaps one of the factors that I find it so difficult is that I lack knowledge of the most current hypes or entertainments. In fact, I don’t think that I have much interesting experiences in my life to share with others.

I think that the only way that I can really contribute to OCF is probably by teaching them or sharing what little knowledge that I have (if it is of any worth at all). Again, perhaps relationships aren’t meant to be built upon achieving goals or meeting needs. Ties are meant to be formed by the quality of time spent together and the sense of belonging to the people with whom we interact.

In that case, then perhaps I am in deep trouble. I find it hard to interact and mingle around in large groups, often times because I am reticent to share my thoughts in the midst of the conversations going on around me. I’ve discovered through the ages that I find it so difficult to blend in with their conversations, especially if it’s about the latest movies, or songs, or perhaps some funny experiences. It’s because I don’t really have any preferences or experiences in such things.

Or perhaps it could also be due to my expectations of others. In my mind, I already have ideas of where I would like the conversation to head towards. If it doesn’t turn out the way I imagine it would be, I draw back and the relationship would be scarred.

--

It’s shocking really how quickly a tower of security that I had built for myself could come crumbling down so quickly.

Do I dare to dream again? Do I dare to hold my hopes out high?

Do I dare to have new aspirations for OCF?

Which side of the coin am I on?

Am I leaning towards a vision for OCF? Or am I, in reality, lying flat on the face of my own personal agendas of finding comfort in the midst of my own insecurities?

--

I arose from my sea of chaotic, incoherent thoughts.

It was not easy immersing myself in the madness, but it had to be done. I had to let out all the bottled up frustrations and resentment that had built up within me. The immensity of the stream of consciousness threatened to rip apart my sanity and my emotional stability. An emotional and spiritual battle was actively fought in soul.

Suddenly there was calm. It dawned upon me the peace of mind to sift through the thoughts and ideas running amok in my head.

I do believe that the dilemma that I am facing now is partly due to the difficulties in changing the mindsets already engrained deeply within each person’s hearts. And I believe that applies to me as well. I had been reluctant to adapt to the circumstances in which I had been placed and I do believe that it is time to change it.

Another thought that came to mind was that of comparisons. I had been so busy comparing myself to others that I did not have the time to listen to the Spirit’s promptings and sense what God is trying to do in the lives of the people around me. I had been too busy trying to match up people’s expectations and trying to figure out what people like or dislike that there was no room for life and spontaneity to flow out from me.

I believe that it is time to make a change.

I may not be as much of a joker as some of them, or have as much interesting experiences in life as they do, but that certainly does not mean that I am any lesser than they are.

I am reminded once again by my PBL tutorials. The changes that came upon me really amazed me. Initially I was reticent and was unwilling to participate, but once I chose to step out in faith and join in the gang, it was smoother sailing for me. I believe that it would be no different in this case as well. If I choose to step out in faith, opportunities would definitely open up for me in my interactions with others.

I might not have the solutions to my current predicament, but I do believe that God will open up doors for me to step out and respond to His leading.

--

Ultimately, though, I need to ask myself.

Am I still flipping the coin? Or am I fixing my eyes off the coin to a higher power?

Am I still playing with personal agendas? Or am I pursuing a vision that is worthy of my calling?

And I believe that those are questions that all of us face – questions that demand a response.

--

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Life and Times of Amelia Chee



Investing for the Future

Introduction


11 June 2028


Gosh! It’s so exciting to be starting off a new diary. I’ve always wanted to do this, but found myself just too lazy to start. But, I’m finally doing it. I think this will be the start of a new and interesting journey.

It’s not easy having a doctor pastor as a father. There’re so many expectations being thrown at you. But ultimately, I believe that God does have a greater purpose for me and I want to celebrate that. So I commit this journal now to record each day of my life, how it has been and the things that God has done for me.

God, I’m really eager to see where you take me.

Lead me on, God!

12 September 2028

Dear diary,

I am truly wondering if I have made the right choice in coming to university to do Medicine. It’s really killing me. All these weekly tutorials and lectures are really starting to wear me down. I am so far behind in my studies and revisions. I truly need to catch up.

But right now, I think there is a far greater thing that is bogging me down and that is the apathy of the people around me towards the world. I do believe that God has such a far greater purpose for this world, but so many people just take things for granted. I really feel so lonely on this journey here in Uni.

God, if you are hearing this, would you grant me someone to walk with? I really do not want to walk this journey alone. I do not want to be the only one standing for You and your creation here in Uni. I have no problem expressing your faith, hope and love in church, but over here, things are just so different. I truly feel so alone.

14 September 2028

Dear diary,

I am feeling down in the dumps again today. I feel so drained today after having a conversation with this guy who is doing medicine as well. His name was Damian, I think. What he said really distressed me and made me feel really uncomfortable.

Our conversation began with the usual introduction and smiles. Then we kinda went on to talk about the assignment essay. He wrote on the topic of obesity, and I was curious to hear his take on things. In the conversation, he made a remark that obese people should just be allowed to die from coronary heart diseases as they brought on the problem themselves. I asked him about the roles of genetics but he brushed that aside and insisted that their attitudes were the prime cause of their problems and that they should suffer for it.

He also did not seem to be concerned at all about how this city would turn out in the future and pointed out how selfishly people were living out their lives, going about in their lives running their own businesses and piling up wealth for themselves and then binging themselves to death. He said that there was no point in helping people who would not help themselves and there was no brighter future ahead for this city. It also appeared that he would like to leave Melbourne once he graduated.

How can he say such things? It’s just awful, really, especially for one who aspires to become a doctor. I really think that it isn’t their fault that they become obese. Well, perhaps some do overeat and underexercise, but still I don’t think that we should just “let them die of heart disease”. And just because they enjoy food too much doesn’t mean that they don’t suffer enough for it, with all the social stigmas and negative stereotyping being hurled against them. I really want to help these people, bringing God’s grace into their lives and leading them to live a more wholesome life than pursuing their own pleasures. They really deserve a second chance.

Ah! What a terrible person he is! I really hope I don’t talk to him ever again. It’s so depressing.

But then, God, you know what, the thing that stung me most was the fact that there is truth in what he said. Really God, many obese people do bring their problems upon themselves. So, why bother to help people who won’t help themselves? Why am I obligated to do such things? Is it really worth my time and effort? I am just so confused now. God, I really wish you would give me someone that can affirm me on my journey in bringing life to the people around me. Grant me guidance, Lord, I pray.

16 September 2028

Dear diary,

It would appear that today would be a mundane and uneventful day had it not been for this one crazy thing that I think the Spirit prompted me to do.

I met up with Damian again during practical session today. Not wanting the conversation to go down the depressing pathway that I had experienced earlier, I tried to keep the conversation at the level of daily life stuff and work around university. Yes, it was better to keep the conversation going that way. It was less awkward that way.

However, halfway through, the thought about the dialogue that we had the other day kept tugging at me. I felt the desire to prod deeper into the issue to discover why he was so passionate about the obesity issue. I was quite sure that I was in for it, that I would probably get frustrated again at the end of the conversation. Nevertheless, it was still worth a shot.

So I asked him why was he so passionate about the obesity issue. He replied that it was because he felt so annoyed at how people in first world countries were enjoying themselves and stuffing themselves to death while so many other people around the world were suffering and dying from lack of food. His reply took me aback. I did not expect that to come from him, someone whom I presumed to be cynical and uncaring.

I felt an urge to dig deeper into his life, so I asked him more about his passion. I was in for a real treat. He started off by telling me how back home in Taiwan one night, he watched the news on television about people who died in a tsunami. And he contrasted that with the fact that he was lying there comfortably in bed watching television. The thought struck him that he really should live his life for something worthwhile rather than dwelling in a meaningless existence.

He is also dissatisfied with the Western capitalist system, how people were amassing wealth for themselves and competing for power and prestige. Therefore, he really feels that people in first world countries are living too comfortable lives and thus he wants to work with people who are unable to fend for themselves in the poorer nations. He wants to become a doctor so that he can treat and care for people in those countries.

I am so amazed at his response. I’ve yet to meet anyone in university who is so passionate about helping people in the poorer countries of the world. Many other course mates I’ve talked to want to become a doctor for the few “classical” reasons, i.e. to earn money or gain greater prestige. He truly is someone different.

As the conversation progressed, I had this thought of suddenly speaking something strange into his life. I could sense a nudge that prompted me to say a particular thing that I wasn’t so comfortable saying. I pondered about it, and tried to suppress it but it just kept coming back. Finally, I relented and decided to give it a go and let the Spirit to lead me.

“Hey, I think you’d do well with Jesus,” I told him. Oh no, there goes the conversation and the possible friendship! He’ll think I’m some kind of freak.

I waited for the “inevitable” rejection and contempt. Again, I was wrong.

“Well, I don’t know about that. But I do know that we should all love the God’s creations.”

“Then have you ever thought about going to church then?”

“Well, I have been to quite a number of different churches, but I stopped going. It’s just that people in church are so hypocritical. And so many people in church are so concerned about themselves that they don’t really show love for other people around them.”

Yes, that is so true. There are so many people in “church” that are concerned only about themselves and their own lives that they have no space for others, including myself sometimes. Although we are called to show grace to people, we get caught up with our own desires and ambitions. I can really relate to what he feels about the church.

I think that today, God has really shown me how wrong it is to judge someone by their outward appearance. Behind the outward cynicism or apathy that people display, there is inevitably a deeper story behind the way they act or behave. I am not sure if it was really the Spirit that led me to say the things that I did to him, but I’m really glad that I did. It opened up the opportunity to share in the richness and beauty of Damian’s life journey.

Thank you so much for that, Lord.

21 September 2028

Dear diary,

Today I decided to invite Damian to Life* Expedition. I really want him to discover more of the richness of God’s promises for his life and to be grounded in the faith of Christ so that he will have the foundations to push through to pursuing his vision for his life and not getting ground up by the systems of the world, and to have the leadership of the Spirit in his life. I can see so much potential in him and I really want to see him develop and grow into a powerful man of God. Admittedly, I am quite frustrated with the traditional way church is “run” because it has really killed his interest in Christianity. I really think that it will be a hard battle to re-establish his trust towards the ways of Jesus and the leadership of the Spirit, but then again nothing is impossible for God. I believe that God wants to do something amazing in his life.

The opportunity came when I met up with him just before the lecture was about to begin. I sat beside him in the lecture theatre. I was kind of nervous about asking him to church, as he might turn down my request in light of his apparent cynicism towards it. Yet, in light of what I have already discovered last week, I think I should just do it and leave the rest to God. Oh dear, I make it sound as though God’s job is to clean up my mess. But, I’m sure He would be happy to do so.

“Hey, Damian. Erm…I was just thinking. Would you like to try something exciting?”

“Something exciting? What’s that?”

“Would you like to go on an exciting journey in life?”

“And what journey would that be?”

“Erm…a journey to discover the life of Christ, a whole new way of living that is above the current systems that we have.”

“Oh really? Does that mean you want to invite me to church?”

Oh dear, how do I proceed now?

“Erm…yes. I would like to invite you to church. Look, I know that we have not got everything together yet, but I do believe that we are all on this journey together and we are all learning to live out the ways of Christ. So, I really apologise for the ways that the churches that you’ve visited in the past have shaped your perspectives of Christianity, but true Christianity is really not the way you think it is. And I really want to invite you to discover for yourself the ways that Christ has taught us to live.”

“Hmm…well. Why not? I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt to check it out.”

Phew…okay. That wasn’t too tough. Praise God for that. I am really excited for him, to see where God would lead him in this journey of discovering Him.

Lord, I really pray that you will open his heart to receive your Words and your Spirit. I can sense that there is potential in him, that you can use him mightily for your glory. Would you teach him your ways that he might be grounded firm in you and bring life to those people in third world countries.

In Jesus name. Amen.

27 September 2028

Dear diary,

Strangely, today I feel that God is nudging me to invest into Damian’s life. After visiting our community, he still has suspicions about the people at Life* Expedition and he still isn’t too sure about following Christ just yet. But I think with time, God can make the seeds that has been planted in him grow.

I think that God is calling me to disciple Damian and to lead him spiritually. It would be a great task for me and it would undoubtedly consume a lot of my time and effort but if Damian grows up to be a strong man of God and becomes a blessing to others, then I would willingly lay down my life for that cause.

But still, I am not really sure. I don’t know if I would be able to handle the responsibilities that it entails. What if I misrepresent Christ in some way that reflects poorly on God, causing Damian to stray from His ways? Oh no, I wouldn’t want that to happen. I really don’t want God’s name to be tarnished. I want to bring glory to Him.

I think I need more time to think this through. Maybe it’s just a crazy idea. Yes, I need more clarity on this issue. I’ve never really discipled anyone before. I don’t think I’m ready for it.

Ah! It’s just so difficult. Lord, would you give me clarity and assurance that I can undertake this task.

30 September 2028

Dear diary,

I’ve talked to my dad about the thing that God has put in my heart. Since he’s the pastor of Life* Expedition, I reckoned that he’d know what to do. He encouraged me to take the challenge on and to pursue the vision that God has given me. Speaking from experience, he said that when I dare to take the step of faith to pursue it, God will open up whole new opportunities and new discoveries for me and that it would enrich my faith in Him. He also added that God wouldn’t give me something that He doesn’t think that I can handle. I still had reservations about it and all kinds of negative thoughts were flying through my mind. But after praying with him, I had the peace to think things through.

And you know what, diary, I think that my dad’s right. I think I should pursue the vision that God has given me. I really do see God’s promises for Damian’s life and I really do believe that God wants to do something in him. And it’s true that God won’t give me more than I can chew, so He must think that I’m able to handle this (with His strength and wisdom of course).

Yes, I really want to go on an exciting journey myself. I really want to see where God leads me in this. Alright God, from today onwards I shall guide Damian on his journey to discovering You. Perhaps tomorrow, I shall start by inviting him to join my house church. And perhaps even Life* 101. I’m sure my dad would be delighted to have him around.

Oh, this is so exciting. I really want to see where God takes me.

15 January 2029

Dear diary,

I really don’t know if I’m making any progress at all with Damian. It’s been nearly 4 months now and it still doesn’t appear to me that he has had any significant changes in his walk with God. I’ve brought him for house church and Life* 101, but it seems that he still feels self-sufficient and says that he doesn’t need to follow God’s ways in his life in order to pursue his vision of healing the sick in Africa.

Really, God, am I investing in the right thing? I am not quite sure whether I am able to have the same faith that I once had when I started to invest in his life. Somehow I just feel that I’ve gone down the wrong path. I’ve tried talking to him, doing Bible studies with him, sharing my personal convictions with him and even referred him to certain people in the community whom I think share his passion. But I just feel that I’m getting nowhere. If God does want me to tread down this path, then why is He taking so long to respond and bring results?

I think I’m on the verge of giving up. I really don’t think I can take this anymore. God, forgive me for thinking like this, but it’s just so hard to go on. I’m really sorry, God. I’m really sorry.

18 January 2029

Dear diary,

I’ve shared my burden with dad again today. I told him everything that has been troubling me and how I am on the verge of giving up. He told me this story about a friend who related to him how she once did not believe in the power and ways of Christ although she went to church. Her shepherd kept pursuing her despite her stubbornness, and hard-heartedness until one day, she had a powerful encounter with God that changed her life forever. She really thanked her shepherd for having faith in her and trusting her enough to invest his life into hers. Without that, she would never have discovered the beauty and the richness of following Christ.

The story really touched me and I broke into tears. In a sense, it was refreshing to let my pent-up emotions all out. After praying with dad for half an hour, I felt really uplifted.

Yes, I want to pursue Damian just as how the good shepherd pursued the girl in dad’s story. I want to pursue Damian as how the Good Shepherd pursues His lost sheep. Things will turn out well in the end. They will. God will use everything that I have put into Damian’s life for His glory. He will see something different in God’s ways and he will want to follow Him.

I have the faith to push on again towards the vision that God has for me for Damian’s life. I will press on, and I will overcome. Thanks so much, dad. Thanks so much, Dad!

15 April 2029

Dear diary,

It’s the mid-semester break. Damian has returned to his home in Taiwan. I’m sure he must feel relieved that he no longer has to hear my pestering voice calling him up to see how he’s doing and inviting him over for church activities, at least until the holidays are over in two weeks time.

Just before he left, I reminded him seek out a church community back home or even a cell group, to which he gave me lukewarm responses.

Oh dear, I do hope he’s alright after the two weeks are over. I do hope that he doesn’t lose whatever God has revealed to him here in Melbourne (if any at all). I do hope that his parents not kill me for doing this. Also, I do hope that he doesn’t shun or avoid me when he returns here, especially after talking things through with his parents and his friends back home.

Ah! There’re just so many things to think about. But there’s no point worrying right, Amelia, so why don’t you just let things go and enjoy the holidays. Yes, yes, that’s right. Calm down, Amelia! You can do this. I shouldn’t worry too much. I shall leave everything to God’s hands and pray hard that things will be alright after the holidays.

Lord, I do pray that things WILL be alright.

9 May 2029

Oh dear, oh dear diary!

I wonder if things are alright with Damian. He has missed lectures for a week now. I’ve tried contacting him, but to no avail. I’ve sent 10 emails to him since the start of the holidays asking him if he’s alright, but he didn’t reply a single one of them. I do pray that nothing bad has happened to him. I hope that I didn’t do anything to offend him. I hope that he didn’t get kidnapped, or worse got involved in a car accident or, or maybe…a plane crash! NO!

Ah! God! What happened to him?

Lord, please, keep him safe wherever he is and whatever situation he may be facing.

15 May 2029

Dear diary,

I don’t know how to put to words the anguish and sadness that I am feeling now. I just learned today that Damian dropped off from medicine over the holidays.

I feel sad that our parting was so abrupt and that within two weeks, things have changed so much. More than that, I can’t help but feel that I have failed to bring a greater purpose and conviction into his life. All my time and effort that I have invested into his life are simply wasted. I feel so much like a failure.

Perhaps if I’ve tried harder things would be different. Perhaps if I had pursued him more aggressively I could have provoked a greater change within him.

I really don’t know what else to say.

I’m really sorry, Lord. I’ve failed you. Forgive me, Lord.

18 May 2029

Dear diary,

I suppose it’s time to move on. I’ve been grieving long enough for the loss of a friend. But I think that God has more things in store for me. Perhaps I should have expected such things to happen when I started out to pursue this vision.

I spent an hour today crying and pouring my heart out to God. At the end of it, He once again gave me the peace of mind and rest for my weary soul. I think I can learn something from this that things don’t always turn out the way I expect them to be.

Lord, I thank you for this experience, painful though it may be, that you have taught me to trust in You. I really don’t know many things, but Lord I do know that You are in control of all things and I want to commit all myself into Your hands. I want to trust in You with all my heart and all my soul. Lord, would you renew my strength today and grant me new vision and direction for my life.

I pray these things in Your Son’s most precious name, Lord. Amen.

14 April 2031

Dear diary,

This new role as OCF president is not easy at all. There’re just so many responsibilities to handle. On top of that, I have my studies to think about. I really need to learn to manage my priorities better.

The committee asked me to speak at the coming OCF gathering later on this week. I really don’t know what to talk about. Oh dear, I feel so unprepared for this. Perhaps I should ask dad about this. I’m sure he would have some idea of what I should be “preaching” on.

Lord, would you reveal to me Your heart. And would You think thoughts to me that I might deliver Your words of conviction to Your people.

17 April 2031

Dear diary,

I can’t believe what happened today! I received a letter from Africa. And guess who was the sender – it was none other than Damian himself!

I shall attach this letter here that you might have a read of it.

--

Dearest Amelia,

It’s me, Damian. Do you still remember me? Just in case you’ve forgotten, I’m the one whom you have been discipling two years ago.


How are you doing over there in Melbourne? I do hope that you are not overwhelmed by studies and your commitments to church.


First of all, you have my deepest apologies for not contacting you for so long. You might be wondering about the reason that I left medicine in Melbourne. When I went back to Taiwan that time, I had a good reflection about the things that I have learned in Melbourne. As I was praying and reflecting one night, God spoke to me and touched me deeply. I thought about how insecure my life was, how it was filled with bitterness and unforgiveness towards others. I thought about the many times that I’ve failed miserably in my life and the countless hours I’ve spent wasting my life away in meaningless activities to drown my fears and anxieties. The thought of God being able to give me a new purpose and a new vision for my life and to take away my fears and insecurities in life simply overwhelmed me. The beauty of the ways of Christ of laying down my life for other people helped me see a life that is lived to the fullest. That night, I made the choice to embrace God’s love and promises to me and made a pledge to follow Christ.


That same night, God called me to follow Him to Africa to pursue the vision that I’ve always dreamed about. Initially I was not very sure about it, but the more I thought about it, the more I felt that this was my chance. I packed my bags and left that night to a local mission organisation that I came to know through a friend the night before. And sure enough, they told me that they had one place open and welcomed me on board. I’m enjoying my time here in Africa, providing relief and aid for families and more importantly, educating them and teaching them the gospel of the Kingdom. I’ve learned a lot here in Africa, and I’d love to share my experiences with you when I visit Melbourne next year. But one thing’s for sure, it’s truly liberating to be living in the purposes and promises of God for this earth and for mankind.


I truly thank you for not giving up on me, Amelia. I know that I have been hard-hearted and obstinate. I’m truly sorry for that. Truly I cannot thank you enough for the much sweat, tears and prayers that you’ve poured into my life. It has truly made all the difference in my entire life.


I really miss you, Amelia and I do hope to see you again soon. I really hope to hear of the things that God has done in your life as well. But until then, may God continue to grant you more and more peace, love and joy always.


Love,


Damian


--

After all this while, God has been working in Damian’s life, calling him to a new way of living. It seems that the seeds that I have planted finally bore fruit after all.

I’m really happy for him, that he has found an enriching life in Africa. I truly thank you Lord for giving me the strength to press on and not give up on him. I can now see that when I step out in faith, God will work wonders and take me to places that I’ve never been before, just as dad had told me. It was truly a worthwhile investment for my life and I truly praise God for the opportunity to invest and lay down my life for Damian.

Thank you so much, Lord. I pray that you will continue to lead Damian as he grows in Your strength and wisdom and may You continue to give Him the heart and passion for the things of Your Kingdom. And may Your Kingdom continue to be advanced in Africa through Your servant, Damian.

19 April 2031

Dear diary,

In a few hours time I shall be speaking at OCF. I believe that I have a sense of what God wants to say to my fellow OCFers tonight. I believe that God wants to challenge them to dare to lay down their lives and invest into something that is worthwhile.

And I can now speak with conviction because of the things that I have been through.

Truly, I shall tell my friends about the amazing things that God has done in one individual that I know because of I have dared to step out in faith to invest into his life.

And let it be so.

--

Notes:

Picture taken from http://sing2mebeauty.deviantart.com/art/the-diary-32640012

--

Monday, September 1, 2008

A New Season



A new season has dawned. The time of winter has passed and the season of spring has arrived. The coldness and barrenness of winter has departed and the warmth and freshness of spring is now ushered in.

With the dawning of a new season in Melbourne, I also see the beginning of a new season in my life and in my spiritual journey. I have been going through my own period of spiritual winter. For the past few weeks, I have been wrestling with pain, sorrow, hurts, loneliness and despair. I have had a chance to experience God's heart for this world, how He grieves when humanity fails to accomplish what it was originally created for, how painful it is for Him to see mankind bickering and brawling over trivial things in life, how deeply hurting it is for Him to witness purposeful beings being grounded to purposeless machines, image bearers refusing to display His character but choosing instead to follow their own selfish desires ridden with knowledge of good and evil.

I have had a chance to experience that. There was a particular dream that I had that touched me so deeply and truly gave me a glimpse of God's heart for humanity. I wandered across a barren and desolate plain and came across a little girl sitting there, all alone, with sadness, loneliness and despair clearly etched all over her face. Her eyes stared blankly at the large expanse of arid wasteland and evidently she was inattentive to my presence. As I approached her, I realised that she was humming a sad, melancholic, almost inaudible tune; a solemn hymn that cuts to the soul. In her right hand was a piece of worn-out paper, her fingers loosely gripping the old, crumpled sheet. Feeling a sense of strange attraction building up within me, I approached her and sat beside her. Showing sympathy, I asked her what was wrong with her and why she was so lonely and desolate. But she remained silent and without a word. The awfully sad look was still engraved on her visage and the grave, gloomy melody continued to resonate through her lips. She then nudged me to read what was in the piece of paper in her hands, signalling for me to discover the looming mystery that was held by the creased, craggy page. Slowly, I stretched out my hands to receive what was in her small, delicate hands and grasped the sheet that would possibly reveal the secrets of all her pain and suffering. I turned the paper over to the other side and saw clearly what was written on it. Three were scribed with black ink – Faith, Hope, Love. A surge of compassion overwhelmed me. For that split moment in time, my thoughts froze but my heart melted. Without a second thought, I lunged forward and threw my arms around her, wanting to comfort her and perhaps share her cup of grief and pain. Tears streaked down her face as I tried to find words to say. i could not do more, except to remain with her in that desolate and empty place.

When I awoke from my rest, the vividness and intensity of the dream still burned and resonated in my mind. A stream of random, incoherent thoughts surged through my brain, overwhelming all other rational or ordinary thoughts. For me, the girl represented humanity, and the sadness she faced the same kind of despair experienced by all mankind. Behind all the smiley faces, the fake courteousies, the phoney cheers, are so many unresolved hurts and grief, so much well-hidden pain and sorrow, and so much sorrow and despair. The immensity of it was just so overwhelming for me. I could understand now why the Spirit groans and grieves for us. It would be too much for any man to bear alone. Yet, the three words inscribed on the paper – Faith, Hope, Love – reminded me yet of another thing. Mankind did not just need solutions to their problems, or miracle cures for their ailments. No, what man need was a new way of living, filled with faith, hope and love. What I needed to give to others was faith, hope and love. What would ultimately change mankind was faith, hope and love. What would ultimately and decisively break the bondage to the way of life that brings so much death into the world were faith, hope and love. Everything was just so overwhelming. I could not help but weep for this world and for mankind.

For the next few days, I wandered through the desert and battled the harsh winter. I felt so drained and depressed that I could not seem to focus on social interactions. I was disillusioned by the cheery facades that I had to put up in front of people, and sick of the pseudo-appearances that I had to display in my interactions with others. It was just so hard for me to open up to the people around me. And so I bore the pain and the loneliness for several days. Yet, I continued to hold on to the hope that God would turn it into something good. I kept on believing that the situation was not permanent and despite the lack of breakthrough in my spiritual walk with God, that He would somehow see me out of this winter.

It was then that God gave me the opportunity to take the step of faith, to cross the River Jordan from the desert into the Promised Land. A dear friend of mine invited me over to Hope Church to witness God's healing among His people. An evangelist was there for the week praying for the healing of the sick. I hesitated at first because I was sceptical about such public displays of miracles and because I wanted to remain in the comforts of the familiar faces of people at Life* Expedition. Somehow, I came to a point where I was determined not to go to Hope Church due to my perceived discomfort of mingling with people in a different community. As I was prepared to text my friend to tell him that I was not going, a sudden thought came to my mind, prompting me to go to Hope Church. There ignited within me a fresh desire to see what God was doing in other communities, to discover other people's life stories and to share all these stories with my community back at Life* Expedition. Continuing with my internal struggle and battle between two sides, I finally decided to take the step of faith to visit the community at South Kensington, to make the choice to cross the River Jordan.

I was simply amazed at what I saw and experienced at Hope Church. I witnessed healings of those with back pains, blurred visions, hearing problems and semi-paralysis. A lady suffering from severe back pain was cured. Another who had blurred vision had it restored. A boy who suffered from hearing problems received hearing again. God's power and presence was truly among His people. I had the opportunity to exercise my faith as I joined in prayers for God's healing among His people. I dared to believe again in God's healing power and His love for us as humanity. After experiencing death, darkness and depression, there was suddenly a new burst of life from among the ashes, a new infusion of energy and vibrance. There was again, a renewed sense of hope that God is continuing His work among His people and that death and disease would not have the final say in things. God is again ushering new waves of healing for the broken-hearted, restoration for the sick and liberation for the captives. We were not meant to be captives to sin and trepidation, but we were all called to break the bondage of fear and stand in the authority of Christ to bring wholeness and healing into this land. Surely, God is doing that through us!

Aside from the healing miracles, I set out to do what had prompted me to attend the service, to prod into the life stories of the people in the community. I had the opportunity to engage three people in conversations, asking them about their life stories and their steps of faith that they had taken in following Jesus. One story particularly piqued my attention. A sister started off from a Buddhist background back home in Malaysia. When she came to Melbourne, a friend led her to the community. She told me that when she first began to settle down in the community, she was not so keen on knowing about the things of God and was not that interested in Christianity at all. However, her shepherd kept pursuing her, encouraging her to take the Word of God seriously and challenging her to take the step of faith in living out the ways of Christ. He did not give up on her and had the faith to believe that one day she will be used mightily by God. Though her shepherd had returned to Thailand, his patience and persistence have evidently paid off; his toil and labour have born fruit. She is now on fire for God and so passionate about following Jesus that no one would believe that she hailed from a Buddhist background. Indeed, God is doing incredible things not only in her but also among the community of believers, calling them to a new way of living of faith, hope and love. It was one thing to study the theories and learn the ideals, but it was truly a whole different experience to actually witness the movement of God's Spirit in the created order with my own eyes.

Overall, I could see that God is ushering a new season in my life, one that is impregnated with life and saturated with goodness, mercy and love. I have crossed over from my previous spiritual desert into a whole new land that is teemed with promises and brimming with so many exciting things to explore. My eyes have seen the great works of the Almighty and I stand now to bear testimony to His goodness and His love for all of humanity. I now stand as a witness to all His wonderful purposes and promises that He has for mankind and for this earth. And I stand in the love of the Everlasting Father, in the faith of the Mighty Saviour, and the hope of the Wonderful Spirit. And I speak these things to give encouragement to all my brothers and sisters, that they too will have the faith and strength to stand in the land as His representatives as He ushers in a new season of restoration and revival.

So let it be.

--

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Baptism



I stood at the edge of the cliff towering over the great blue sea below. I panted for breath as I gazed bewildered at the sight before me. The sea was heaving and chaotic. Its waters were raging, currents were surging and the tide was rising. Storm clouds billowed over me, darkness was unfolding in the skies above, stretching out to fill the vast expanse above me.

From where I stood I could hear the thundering sounds of hooves charging towards me from afar. I could hear the clattering of metal wheels as they crunched the sand dunes, rolling across the desert with thuds of force and fury. I could see trails of dust being traced in a distance, the paths converging to my position. I knew what was coming my way – the army had caught up with me.

A mental image came to me, and it was not a particularly pleasant one. The scene that was painted in my mind was that of horses hurtling in full force, riders with brandished weapons in their hands. They swung the swords wildly in an intimidating, rhythmical manner, the metal blades slashing through the hot, dry air. Behind the riders on the horses were the charioteers, wheeling in with sheer speed and ferocity. The brushing of metal wheels against the sandy ground left visible marks upon the earth. The carriages bounced several times off the ground upon hitting some small rocks. In some of the charioteers’ hands were long spears made from bronze. The charioteers thrusted their poles through the air in rapid successions as they made beastly noises, sounding somewhat like a menacing grizzly bear. Others were carrying whips made of braids of leather. The violent flailing was accompanied by loud swishes and deafening crackles.

I began to doubt the promises that I had received forty days ago that prompted me to leave the city of Pseudos. The voice was so clear to me.

“Come out from the city, for I have new purposes and promises for you. Do not remain in the city, for there you will find only death. Come out of the city, and I shall give you life to the fullest.”

--

I turned the key to my apartment door and the lock was undone. After putting the key back in my wallet, my right hand reached for the door handle. Grasping it, turning it clockwise, I gave the door a little push and it was opened. I stepped into my apartment room. It was quiet and calm.

I had just returned from yet another tiring day at university. Studying medicine was not nearly as easy as I had anticipated. While there were days which I felt really inspired to learn, there were also days where learning became almost like a chore or routine and the day happened to be one of those days. I removed my sling bag that was dangling off my back and tossed it onto the floor. I turned on my laptop. The screen lit up and the processor came to life. As I stared blankly at the loading screen, my mind wandered off, trying to gather my thoughts for the day.

My mind wanted to take me on a journey back in time to my earlier school days. I hesitated initially to recapitulate those bitter memories but thinking that perhaps it would make a good testimony for the coming Sunday service, I decided to replay those recorded moments in time again.

--

I entered school desiring recognition and respect, wanting the praises and applause from not only my peers, but everyone around the school. Thus, I worked hard to try to craft an image for myself, to fashion a model of success that would make me so famous and influential around the school. Within the first year of my studies, I ascended to the top of the ladder of scorers and immediately became well known among everyone in the school. During the prize-giving ceremony, I was so proud when my name was announced. As I strutted up the stairs onto the stage, I could hear praises and cheers from the audience. It was truly a victorious moment for me and I savoured it with much delight. “I could get used to this,” I thought to myself, a broad smile etched on my face.

As the years progressed, I worked even harder to secure the position that I had obtained, fending off those who competed with me for the gold. I became more and more influential among the teachers and school staff, basking in the limelight of my continued triumphs. Besides the staff, I also gained respect from my peers, something that I equated to friendship. When several of my peers rose up to challenge me in my studies, however, I immediately used my knowledge of good and evil which I had built up to label them as threats and enemies. Throughout my school years, I found myself constantly comparing my results with theirs. There were particularly stressful times when I did not do as well as them, but ultimately I was pleased with myself that I succeeded in maintaining my reputation of being the top scorer around.

Come graduation, however, the tables were turned against me. All the recognition and respect that I so desired were all gone, in the blink of an eye. All the achievements and success that I tried so hard to amass were suddenly reduced to vague memories and reminiscences. All the fame and influence that I once enjoyed were quickly forgotten. More importantly, I suddenly found myself with no close company of friends. I became so obsessed in making enemies of everyone that I did not find time and space to actually engage and form lasting relationships with them. Thus, I was suddenly stripped naked, exposed for my weakness in communicating with people and my status as “a lone ranger”. Within months, I was constantly drowning in regret and self-pity, living in guilt and shame.

--

I was born into the city of Pseudos nineteen years ago as one who was in bondage to the emperor Hamartia. Since young, I was taught in the ways of the empire, forced to learn all the customs and practices of the world and made to submit to the principalities and powers of man. I developed the practice of using my knowledge of good and evil upon others and my “art” of comparisons and categorisations.

I was forced to labour for the empire each day, toiling in the building sites erecting huge towers in honour of the emperor. In the city, I could see countless images and idols of the emperor standing at every street corner. Each day my fellow workers and I were made to bow down to the lifeless statues and worship them as though they were the emperor himself. The slave-drivers were hard on us, rewarding us with our meagre daily supplies only if we met a certain level of performance in our work. We were constantly hungry but did not dare to complain for fear of being punished for speaking out. Some of us were badly bruised and beaten, while some who were taken away to punishment never returned. Personally, I did not know what happened to them, but I could care less, for I had to fend for myself. After all, it was every man for himself.

One day, I decided to rise up the social strata. I wanted a better position in the empire. I wanted to elevate my status from that of a lowly servant to a high ranking official. Hence, I worked hard each day, trying to outdo my peers and selfishly hoarding opportunities for myself. I even resorted to lying to my friends, sometimes diverting their attention away from their work so that I can seize the opportunities that were left wide open which, at times, caused them to be punished for their “incompetence”. Soon, I received praises from the slave-drivers and was told that I had prospect of being promoted if I kept up my “good efforts”. Immediately, my ego swelled and my determination to rise to the top was further ignited.

After much effort and a few clever manipulations, there came the day I had been waiting for. The chief officer in charge of the labour called for an assembly of all the slaves. Every eye was on him as he stepped forward to address the rabble, eagerly anticipating some good news. He started off with some technical details and then hammered in new directives from the emperor. He then stopped and turned towards me, a smile on his face. My eyes met with his, and somehow I felt a sense of acceptance and approval. He then raised his voice once again.

Today I have a special announcement to make. I am promoting one among you to be an official of the empire.

Suddenly, the expressions on the faces of the slaves changed from those of apathy and indifference to those of surprise and astonishment. Everyone turned to one another in amazement, wondering who was the cream of the crop, pondering who it was that secured that favour of the officer. In the back of my mind, however, I already knew the answer. It had to be me. I could not help but smile.

--

College days were not easy for me as I went through periods of loneliness and near depression. I comprehended the mistakes that I made in school, so I made a new resolution to change the way I act and relate to others. I would no longer see them as competition or enemies, but rather I would try my very best to forge relationships and seal friendships.

I was off to a good start, opening up myself to people, relating to them in friendly ways and addressing them in non-threatening mannerisms. For the first few weeks, I was happy that I was getting along well with the people around me, and I was making more friends with my peers. I thought I had it all under control.

However, my smooth sailing was shattered by the stormy winds of fear and doubt. Despite being able to be friendly with the people around me, I discovered that the conversations that I had did not make me feel comfortable at all. The topics of discussion that I had with my new buddies were not really things that I had interest in or enjoyed talking about. Fear of not being able to blend in with the crowd and not being able to please them or to meet the needs of the gang soon took over. Doubts about my identity, my relationships and my decisions soon crept in and gripped my entire being.

I’ll never be good enough in socialising with others. I can’t speak as fluently. I can’t initiate conversations. I can’t contribute in discussions. I can’t get over my introversion and quietness. I’ll never fit in.

In time, however, a different set of events in which I delighted in ran began to run concurrently with my despair, guilt and shame. It was something that I had tried hard to let go and avoid, yet somehow it had caught up with me in my moment of weakness. The identity of success that I had tried so hard to discard, the image of the top scorer and the high achiever began to manifest once again in my life. Once again, I could finally have some form of control over my social life that was spiralling out of control. As I assumed the figure of success that founded the basis of my identity during my school days, I fell back once again to the path of control, comparisons and categorisations that I had tried to walk away from.

Soon, I was known around college, both among the lecturers and my peers. And I tried so hard to hold on to the position. And I succeeded.

--

Power was sweet. Once you had a taste of it, it was so hard to let go. I found myself enjoying the newfound authority of a slavedriver. I had been elevated from a common, worthless slave to a place of honour and influence. I had been bestowed the ability to rule over men, the right to tell them what to do, and the mandate to exploit them according to my wishes. In a word, it was all so delightful.

I basked in the adulation and praises that were heaped upon me by the officials, who remarked about how hardworking I was, how I was able to intelligently come up with solutions to problems in the construction projects, and how I stood out among all my fellow peers. With the standing that I had now, came the privileges of fine dining, personal attendants, beautiful clothing, and palatial residence. I no longer had to eat grubby food, wear tattered garments or burn myself out in the sun every day but I could enjoy all the comforts of the palace with minimal amount of work. It was bliss.

I could point a finger at a slave, utter a command and he would fearfully carry out his given task without a word. After all, he would be making a grave mistake to offend me. When I said, “Come!”, he would come. When I commanded, “Go!”, he would go at once without delay. Or, I could rebuke another with a word, and he would fall on his knees and beg for forgiveness. Outwardly, I portrayed myself as a cool and calm figure with occasional bursts of anger and temper tantrums. In my heart, I could not help but laugh at the pathetic condition of my once friends and delight in the pleasures that I had secured as one in the higher levels of the food chain.

On one particular day, I walked down the streets of the city, admiring the amazing architecture, the finely carved wood and the well-engraved stone pillars and marble walls. I paraded down the pathway in my long, flowing robe, my bodyguards by my side. As I passed by, everyone bowed their heads in respect and acknowledgement, until I came to a particular slave who refused to bow before me. Curious, I stopped, looked him straight in the eye and raised my voice, demanding him to explain his ignorance.

Hey, why don’t you bow before me? Don’t you know who I am?

He looked at me with an unfazed and undaunted look, and coolly replied.

Well, yes. I know who you are – the traitor from amongst us who trampled upon everybody else so that he could get to the top. You may well have your fine robes and your fancy parade and talk with weight and authority. But deep down, you are truly just an insecure, fearful person who lives on people’s praises and adoration. Without those, you’re nothing!

I could sense the tension of the moment. Anger, bitterness and resentment were building up deep within me. His words carried with them an edge that pierced through my physical coverings and exposed what was hidden deep within me. I lashed out at him in my fury.

You take those words back, you scum! Don’t you know what could happen to you if I chose to punish you? You might not live to see the next day!

My threats proved to be futile. He remained in his composed manner and delivered another painful blow to my reputation.

Well, make my day then! If you wish to lock me up, then go ahead. But you know what, all this shows is how cowardly you truly are, hiding behind your so-called achievements and power. The truth is, you have achieved nothing and you really have nothing more than the dream world that you are living in. There will come a day when you will be discarded like garbage and then you will realise the extent of your emptiness.

I could feel a surge of emotions through my veins, a mix of anger and shame welled within me. All the other slaves were surprised by this turn of events, and began whispering to one another. I had had enough. The commotion had severely tarnished my image as a man of standing. Something had to be done.

Very well then. So be it. Your blood is on your own head! Guards, seize him!

My two bodyguards advanced towards the trouble-maker and took hold of him. He was evidently struggling. I jeered at him.

Hah! Not so tough now, huh?


Raising my clenched fist, I let it swing in full force towards the guy’s cheeks. It hit him hard and he reeled in agony. Dissatisfied, I delivered a few more violent blows that rendered him half-conscious. Feeling the gratification of exacting vengeance, I ordered the guards to then take him to the holding cell, where, in my opinion, he would be held for the rest of his life, never to see sunlight ever again.

As the menace was led away, I turned to the other slaves and gave a strict order.

Let this be a lesson to all who cross me. Now, go back to work!

They scampered off in fear and resumed their tasks.

--

I winced in terror as I beheld the sight before me. It was the most gruesome display that I had ever witnessed in my entire life. I felt like screaming. My soul wanted to cry out in despair. Yet, I held back and refrained from doing so in the midst of all the other officials and slavedrivers.

The whip slashed through the air, striking the exposed back of the captive. As bits of metal met with flesh, his skin tore apart and his muscles split open. He howled in agony as he cringed at the excruciating punishment inflicted upon him. Bits of skin and flesh were dangling from his posterior, underlying bones were clearly noticeable, and blood was dripping down his spine. He gasped for breath, apparently traumatised and anguished. He pleaded for mercy before his captors, begging them to just kill him, to put his life to an end, to snuff out the flame that flickered within him.

But his pleas fell on deaf ears. Everyone else was enjoying the spectacle. With each shriek of torment came bursts of laughter and amusement. As I stood there bewildered, my heart squealing with shock and terror each time the whip was swung, my “friends” jumped around in pleasure, yelling out mockeries at the top of their voices.

I finally knew what happened to the slaves who did not return to work in the construction grounds. At last, I discovered the appalling fate of those who were brought into the ‘holding cells’, which were really torture chambers. Everyday, about six people would be taken into these rooms. They would be brutalised, beaten so badly to the point of total exhaustion, tortured so severely to the point where their wills for life were simply shattered – all this for the sake of the pleasure and entertainment of all the officials.

I felt nauseated by the inhumane acts perpetrated by my peers, yet I did not dare to go against the status quo, for fear that my loyalties would be put into question and I might even end up in the same fate as those unfortunate victims.

I felt so lonely at that moment in time. I craved the position of honour so that I could enjoy the perks and benefits of the easy life, so that I could escape the life of shame and strife as a slave, not to be part of this beastly ritual of devouring others for the sake of fun and entertainment. I wanted to escape, to run away from all the evil that I had seen, to depart from the meaningless acts of aggression and brutality that left deep impressions within my soul. But I knew that it was too late. I had gone too far to turn back. I thought I had attained freedom, but what I had achieved was truly just another form of slavery. I would have to bear all the dreadful thoughts and hideous mental images, and most importantly feelings of resentment, and guilt for the rest of my life. There was no turning back.

I wished someone would deliver me from the torment of my soul. I yearned for a saviour who could rescue me from this meaningless inhumanity. I was desperate for a redeemer who soul save me from all the evil that I had plunged myself into.

I was so alone…

Hey Brian! Come here!

I was startled by the abrupt call by one of the slavedrivers.

Oh no! Could he have noticed my reservations about their actions? Could he have seen through my approving outlook to gaze upon my disgusted and repulsed inner self? Was he about to inflict the same punishment upon me?

Y…Y…Yes?

I replied hesitantly, cautiously advancing towards him.

The guy patted me on the back and handed me the whip. He whispered to me, “Go for it.”

My mind went numb, my heart raced and my hands grew cold. My whole body was stiff. I had been given the power to inflict pain, to break another’s body and to smash his will to life. Handed to me was the instrument of death and torment.

Could I swallow the thought of having to break another person’s skin just so that I could save my own? Could I live with the reality that I had caused unbearable grief and sorrow to another person? Do I really want to please my peers that much, after I have seen the evil that they are capable of? Do I continue to give in to their demands?

I had to. I just knew I had to.

Forgive me, O God…

I raised the cord in my hand, preparing to strike the agonising blow.

--

I was getting nowhere in my relationships with people. I was going around in circles, trying to please people and help them as best as I could. I assisted them in their studies, ran errands for them, entertained them every now and then, but really, I did not secure strong friendships or built firm relationships. All I had done was merely give them reasons to come to me for help.

There were times when I just felt so lonely and depressed. All my intelligence, all my talents and gifting were really useless when it came to building friendships. If I could, I would exchange some of those talents for greater social and communication skills. Then, I thought, I could interact with people better. Then, I could build better relationships with them, and therein forge stronger friendships with my peers.

But they were just dreams that could not be materialised.

--

Hold me in your arms, never let me go

I wanna spend eternity with you…

The praise and worship session kicked off that night. That was one event that I enjoyed going to – the Thursday night Christian youth fellowship group called Campus Alive. I really enjoyed myself on those nights – friendly people, great music, absolute fun. And who knows, I might even get show everyone my achievements and perhaps get some respect and influence from them.

I started relationships with people with a certain list of criteria in my mind – get people to respect me, get them to ask me out, and get them to acknowledge my presence. Yes, that would definitely be a great way to expand my social circle. Praise the Lord!

However, I soon discovered that the relationships that I tried to build fell far short of my expectations. People did not admire me for my intellect or achievements as much as I thought they would. People did not come to me to seek my opinion or help because I was the smarter one. Soon after, my glamorous vision dissolved in a puff of smoke.

It was then that I realised a different kind of relationships that were built within the community of Christians. It was then that I observed that people were not judging one another based on what they could do, what they said or even what their personalities were. Somehow, they saw past outward appearances to gaze upon the inner person in each individual. My mind could not fully grasp the depth, meaning and reality of those relationships. Surely there must be something that I could do to earn those relationships!

Try as I might, I failed miserably in my attempts to work my way into friendships. No matter how much I tried to do, I still could not discover deep intimacy that I so desired. I was left broken, exhausted and defeated.

In the midst of the stormy seas and gloomy skies one day, a Being called to me.

Brian, get up and follow me. I have purposes and promises for your life that is far greater than all this nonsense that you have been caught up in.

Leave your bags of fear, guilt and shame behind and follow me!

For that moment in time, I had the peace that I had never experienced before, and the sense of being loved so deeply that I could not help but break down into tears. Who is this calling out to me? Who is this that so loved me that He sees past my inadequacies and my weaknesses, and wants to give me a new life?

It soon became clear to me that the One who was calling me out from the wilderness of my life was the Lord Jesus, the One whom I had been “worshipping” in my youth fellowship group. It became clear to me that life was not meant to be lived trying to achieve more for myself, rather it was meant to be lived for His purposes, promises and glory. It was such a liberating experience.

Did I dare to take the step of faith forward to experience this new life that He had promised? Did I have the courage to believe in what I did not see? Did I have the readiness to surrender all that I had unto Him?

More importantly, was following this new life worth all my efforts and my time? Was it worth investing all my heart and resources into? Would it make any difference in my life?

The only way to find out, of course, was to experience it for myself, to immerse myself in the life that He had called me to live, to share in His vision and purposes for the world.

With the step of faith, I stepped out of the darkness and into the light, out from the old world into a whole new exciting world.

--

I languished in prison as I awaited my inevitable execution.

I could not bear the thought of having to strike down a man and having my hands stained with innocent blood. In a brief moment of clarity, I found the courage to reject what was utterly despicable. Deep down, I already knew that I did not want to become a murderer. I did not want to bring death into another person’s life. I did not want to submit to the beastly actions of my peers or give in to their wicked ways. I could not.

There was a side of me that saw the person behind the bruised and bloodied body in front of me. There was something more to him than mere flesh and bones, a piece of dirt meant to be kicked around and played with. No, he had purposes and destiny in his life, as a living human being. I could feel my arrogance and my pride dissolve, and warmth and compassion was permeating my whole being. I knew that was awaiting me, yet I have made my choice. I would not lay hands on my fellow brother.

In a sudden burst of emotion, I threw the whip aside and turned around to face the crowd of stunned onlookers. Barely able to contain myself, I let my feelings run free.

I can’t do this! This is just so wrong! How can you do this to another human being?

A deafening silence hung in the air. There was no more cheering, no more shouting, no more applauds. Everyone was plainly taken aback by my sudden shift in composure. I could not tell what was going on in their minds. Perhaps they acknowledged what I had said, or more likely they were scheming against me.

Then one of the slavetraders stepped up and challenged me.

What human being? He’s just an animal! We are the ones who are the real men. They are worthless. Why do you even care so much about them?

Shut up, you brute! You are the ones who are the beasts and the animals. This man here has a future and a destiny ahead of him. And you are reducing all of that to a mere existence for your fun and pleasures! Shame on you, you animals!

My words sparked uproar in the room. The officials started screaming at me, hurling accusations and threats against me.

You better take back your words, or we will make sure you suffer!

Yes, who are you to call us animals! Did you forget who gave you this position in the first place? Or did you forget that you were once scum like that animal over there? What an ungrateful piece of…!

Initially I felt intimidated by the sudden retaliation against me but soon it became clear to me that this was what I truly wanted – to be free from all this life of meaninglessness and evil. I was adamant to take my stand.

No! I will never take my words back! Do whatever you please with me, but I will not back down from this. Do whatever you please! This only reveals how beastly and animal-like you truly are.

Suddenly, I felt a blow to the back of my head. My body felt weak. I lost my balance and crumpled to the ground. My vision blurred and I faded into unconsciousness.

I awoke in the prison cell that was meant to hold prisoners in solitary confinement. The room was nearly pitch black and was eerily silent. I heaved a long sigh as I contemplated my fate.

Would I fade away in this prison cell for the rest of my life? Would I suffer the same fate as the prisoner I had seen earlier on? Or would I be shown mercy and given a quick and painless death?

Feelings of regret started to envelop me. Had I made the right choice in doing what I did? Would it make any difference at all?

I was truly in doubt. I was so lost. I was so alone. There was nothing more I could do.

I was prepared to give up when in a spark of divine intervention, light filled the room. I could see a figure of a man that was shining like the sun. When I saw Him, I was so overwhelmed by His presence that I fell down prostrate before Him.

He touched me and spoke to me, “Get up. Be strengthened!”

Instantly, my strength was restored and I stood on my feet. In His presence, I felt the sense of great peace and joy that surpassed all understanding. I could sense the aura of hope that emanated from His being. It’s as if His entire self was so saturated with love, grace and mercy that no words can fully describe the experience of standing in front of Him. I raised my voice and asked Him, “Lord, why have you come to me?”

Then He said to me:

Come out of the city, my child, for I bring a hope and a future for your life. Follow me, and I shall give you life to the fullest. Follow me and I will fill your life with my purposes and promises. Follow me and you will never be put to shame ever again. Never again will you dwell in meaninglessness and death, but you will receive new life in the Spirit and you will be part of the Holy City that I am building.

I asked Him again, “O Lord, wherever shall I go?”

He replied:

For now, go out into the desert of Peirasmos. Do not worry about where you will go, what you will eat, or what you will wear for it shall be given unto you. Stand firm in your faith in me and all these shall be added unto you. Go now, for the door has been opened for you.

There was blinding flash of light, which gradually receded. The radiant figure whom I saw had left me but there before me was a wide opening in the prison wall. Sensing the freedom that I had longed for, I quickly squeezed through the opening and escaped into the city area.

I noticed a trail of fine blue thread laid out in front of me. Instinctively, I followed the trail as far as it led me and came to an breach in the city walls. Staring ahead beyond the city walls, all I saw was the barren desert. The thought of leaving the comforts of the city to venture into an unknown realm raised uncertainties within me. Part of me wanted to remain in the city where I had a sense of security and certainty while the other part of me prompted me to press ahead to my new future that lay before me.

But my inner self had already made the choice. I wanted to run the race and to endure it to the finish. With that, I wedged through the opening into a whole new world. I ran as swiftly as I could into the wilderness beyond.

--

My first few weeks in Melbourne were riddled with burden and sadness. It was tough settling down in a complete new territory, mixing with people of a totally different culture. I never had to do shopping or cooking back home, but here, I had to know these things in order to survive. More importantly, I felt that God had made a mistake in sending me to Melbourne, to this unfamiliar place. I was really troubled at heart. I could not feel the joy and the peace of God within me. I was lost.

I came to Melbourne with high expectations that God had planned great things ahead. I came with the sense that I would be able to make a change and make a difference in the lives of the people around me. I came with the hope that I would be able to grow strong in my walk with Him and to be formed more and more into His character.

I went around the city in search of a community to belong to. I endeavoured not to make the same mistake that I had made back in Malaysia, determined not to let all my competitions and shame-blame games get the best of me again. I eventually settled down in Life* Expedition after weeks of arduous searching, sifting and deciding. I settled down at OCF as well, after hearing about it from my pastor back in Malaysia. I was all around the place trying to find groups to belong to and trying to fit into the community.

The two months had been the toughest period of time for me. Aside from the relatively trivial consternations of learning to cook, clean and look after myself, I found it particularly difficult to make friends and form relationships with others. I wanted to participate more in the church activities. I wanted so badly to serve and to minister to others. I felt so alone in my spiritual journey. I prayed hard, crying out to God to open up opportunities for me.

It was on a seemingly normal Sunday morning, after church service on that day, that I discovered that my life was about to change. I hung around after the service trying to mingle around with people, and finding opportunities to make friends and interact with one another. It was then Pastor Tim approached me. We made arrangements to a chat over coffee at Crema. In the conversation, Tim told me about this particular course called Life* 101 that he was running and invited me to be part of it. That opened up a whole doorway of opportunities for me to be part of the community.

I went through a period of testing and refining, discovering new truths about God and integrating them with my daily life. I rediscovered the goodness of God, His purposes and promises for this earth, and His plans for me. It completely revolutionised my way of thinking about this world as well as my faith. I found a new spark of fire in my spirit.

Months after my medical course commenced, I have grown much in my knowledge and understanding of God. I came to realise how cruel society can truly be. I was also pained by the ways of living that so many people in society had adopted for their lives. Most were either wasting away on hospital beds, or too busy comparing and competing with one another in their corporate games, or simply throwing away their lives living in idleness, in meaningless existence. Through medical school, I learned more about social stigma, how people were segregated in society just because of certain disabilities, and society’s indifference towards the plights of these ostracised groups.

It also ignited within me a vision for a community of people to rise up from the ashes of the smouldering ruins of all the evil in the world, a group of people who are led not by their fleshly desires, but by the Spirit of God, a new generation of mankind who can readily lay down their lives for one another, a new society of human beings who invest in each other’s lives to see one another grow strong in their faiths.

With that also came the realisation that in order for me to pursue that vision, I first had to die to myself and learn to lay down my life for other people. I knew I could not do it with my own human effort, but also knew that there is a God who dwelling in me who can strengthen me and lead me in this journey.

Hence, I desired to seal my confession of faith in Him through my baptism. I wanted to proclaim to the world that I have been crucified with Christ and it was no longer I who lived, but Christ who lived in me. I wanted to be reminded that I no longer had the obligations to give in to the desires of my flesh, but had every reason to believe that I could overcome by His Spirit. I wanted to join with Christ in His death and with His rise again as a new creation to a new way of living where I could readily lay down my life for others.

Do I have the faith to believe in it? I believe I do.

--

God had sustained me in the desert for forty days. The emperor, when he realised that I had escaped sent his army in pursuit of me. But through the grace of God, I managed to evade the armies of the emperor.

After much wandering in the wilderness, God finally led me to a cliff that overlooked the sea of Thanatos. The king’s men had also caught up with me and were charging towards my position.

I gazed upon the raging, chaotic sea. It would have been a magnificent sight, had it not been for the fact that it was very well the only other way out for me. Right now, it was terrifying.

I stood at the edge of the cliff with two options – surrender peacefully to the emperor and go back to my old way of living, or take the plunge into the heart of the raging sea. Did I dare to believe that if I was buried beneath the waters, God would raise me up again to a new life? I did.

The army was about 200 metres away from me now and coming at me at full speed. Surprisingly, my heart was still and I was no longer afraid. Catching a final glimpse of the great, blue sea, I closed my eyes, and leaned forward. I fell off from the cliff and plunged straight into the heart of chaos.

--

I rose from the water at the applauses of the congregation. It was done. I had immersed myself in the death of Christ, and had risen again to join Him in the celebration of new life.

There was a sense of liberation within me, a feeling of triumph and victory over sin and death, free now to live in the fullness of life for which I was created.

--

I stood at the Queensbury Street tram stop that cold, winter night. I reflected on what it meant for me now that I had been baptised. The chilly wind was beating against my face, yet I ignored the numbness that I felt as I was deep in my thoughts.

I am a new creation.

The phrased replayed again and again in the back of my mind. I knew what it meant for me. I was free from guilt and condemnation. I was free from comparisons and categorisations. I had the freedom to live out my life that brings out the glory and the character of Christ in all that I do. And I could now learn to lay down my life to invest in a thriving and living community of God’s people. I would not have it any other way.

The tram arrived as my train of thoughts trailed off. I boarded the tram back home to enjoy a well-deserved rest. Tomorrow would be a new day in the rest of my life.

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