Monday, June 30, 2008

Illusions

Illusions are fascinating phenomena that lead us to conclusions that are vastly different to reality. One of the most famous illusions that we come across in our daily lives are optical illusions.

Optical illusions are occurrences in while images that are perceived by the eye are interpreted by the brain such that they are different from the objective reality.

Optical illusions can be divided into physiological illusions and cognitive illusions.

Physiological illusions are illusions that are the result of excessive or prolonged stimulation on the eyes and the brain of a specific type, such as brightness, tilt, colour, movement. Such illusions are created by taking advantage of the limitations of the human visual system

Such illusions are due to the limited number of neural pathways (nerve transmission pathways between the eyes and the brain). Repeated stimulation of the limited number of pathways leads to an optical illusion.



If you stare at the image for 1 minute and then look at a white background, you'll see the image being projected onto the background. This effect is called an afterimage.


There are also illusions that are caused by the difference in distributions of rod cells (sensitive to black and white) and cone cells (sensitive to colour) within the retina (the part of the eye that is sensitive to light and generates a nerve signal to the brain). This causes light to fall on different parts of the eye to stimulate different number of light-sensitive cells, causing the perception of different shades or colours. On top of that, prolonged stimulation of the retina may fatigue the retina, resulting in an optical illusion.



The Hermann grid illusion, in which grey dots can be seen appearing on the white circles



The spiral can be seen to be moving (full view) although it is actually static



Although squares A and B are actually the same shade of gray, we perceive square A to be darker compared to B




The circles in the centres of the rectangles are of the same shade of gray

Cognitive illusions are mainly due to the limitations of the human brain in perceiving and interpreting a particular stimulus. Given a particular stimulus, the brain has a tendency to interpret it in a particular way, according to our:

  1. Natural predisposition in judging perspective (height, width, depth, distance). For example, when we view a 10 cm stick that is close to us and a 1 m stick that is further away from us from a certain point. From our point of view, we may perceive both of them to have the same length, but we know that the distant object must be longer since it is further away.
  2. Learned knowledge. For instance, we see a rabbit in a line drawing because our knowledge tells us that it is a rabbit.
Therefore, the brain can be “fooled” to see images somewhat unreal.

Cognitive illusions can be categorised into several types:
  1. Ambiguous illusions in which an image can be perceived in more than one way to yield equally valid results.
  2. Distorting illusions in which a perceived image is distorted in terms of size, length or curvature.
  3. Paradoxical illusions which offers objects that are impossible.
Some examples of optical illusions are listed below.

Ambiguous illusions:



A vase or two faces?



A duck or a rabbit?



A young or old lady?


The Scroeder staircase. Are you viewing it from above or below?



The Necker cube. The front face of the cube changes depending on how you view it.




The tendency to see shapes that aren't there (Kanizsa figures)


Distorting illusions:


The edges of the square are perfectly straight despite looking crooked when superimposed with the surrounding circles.


The centre circle in both diagrams are actually of equal size


Lines AB and BC are equal in length



The two yellow lines have the same length. Our perspective tells us that the one further away from us is longer.



Both horizontal lines are of equal length.


Paradoxical illusions:




How many legs does the elephant have?


The Penrose triangle. The illusion is created by the assumption that adjacent edges must join together.


The devil's tuning fork



Which way is up and which way is down?

--

While optical illusions may be interesting, and perhaps even entertaining to us, there is a different kind of illusion that we are faced with every single day of our lives. We perceive all kinds of inputs from the world around us with our eyes and interpret those inputs with our minds.

We live in a world where all kinds of stimuli of control, common sense, comfort, cravings and convenience vie for our attention. These could well be, say a nice house, a good career, a position of authority, or a gourmet feast. We perceive them with our eyes and interpret it according to our minds, which are shaped by the tendencies of our natural beings and the knowledge that we gain. Most often, we find them desirable. We discover that they are pleasing to us. We allow ourselves to indulge in the satisfaction of these illusions that we miss the reality of things.

At the same time, we dwell in a world where all kinds of structures and man-made powers exist. Structures that are erected to control, powers founded upon man's knowledge of good and evil. The structures and powers gives us some degree of control over our lives and allows us to bring comfort and convenience into our world.

We live our lives happily in our illusionary world, until one day we soon discover that the previously delightful objects of our adoration do not satisfy the inner emptiness that grips us. We come to a point where the once delectable items of our worship no longer gives us the security or the comfort or the peace that it once offered. All the structures that are supposed to give us control are now controlling us instead. All the powers that we build to give us comfort and convenience crumble to the ground.

But why is that so?

The reason for that is because what we see and perceive are merely illusions of the true reality that they are.

The reality of things is this, that the Creator made the earth to be His temple palace and made man to be His image-bearers, ruling over His creation in relationship with Him.

However, the many illusions that are created by man's knowledge of good and evil continue to deceive us and lead us to believe in an illusionary world that is not of the Creator.

Just as physiological illusions arise from the limitations of our eyes, we are fooled by the illusions of this world due to the limitations of our human vision. Our visions are easily overwhelmed by the persistent stimulation and temptations of fleeting pleasures or structural giants. When we see the world around us through our human eyes, we see all kinds of structures and authorities, all sorts of pleasures and gratifications, all forms of successes and power. We are overwhelmed by the ubiquity and universality of these sights that we perceive them to be the reality of things. We fail to realise that the powers and structures that govern us now, are fleeting and ephemeral, that one day they will be destroyed by fire.

We are also limited by our human minds. Just as our minds have problems in discerning cognitive illusions due to our preponderance towards certain perspectives and due to our knowledge and learning, our minds also have difficulty in sifting out and distinguishing between illusion and reality.

Like ambiguous illusions, we live in a postmodern world that is characterised by relativity and the lack of absoluteness. We perceive the world as being filled with ambiguities and uncertainties. We are uncertain of our futures or our destinies. We lack the clarity and oneness of mind to be able to say that we have a purpose here on earth, that we are not merely existing but we are specially made to be a people of the Creator. We use our knowledge of good and evil to condemn, compare and categorise individuals according to what we believe is good or evil. We have the illusion that our judgements are the best.

Like distorting illusions, the structures and man-made powers of the world are like concentric circles around the square. They distort our view of the square by making it look crooked and distract us from seeing the true nature of the squares whose edges are really perfectly straight. The rigid dogma and structures that we continuously hold on to in our religion distort the perfect reality of the Creator's purposes and promises for this earth. Rather than seeing it as a place where life and goodness can flow, we see earth as a trash heap which God will soon destroy. Instead of participating with our Creator in rebuilding and renewing the world which we will inherit, we think of escaping to another world far far away.

Like paradoxical illusions, our disbelief towards the Creator and His purposes, promises and presence drives us to come up with alternate explanations, no matter how absurd or ludicrous they are, to explain our existence. We try Darwinian evolution, the many universe theory, the theory of everything, the steady state theory. But no matter what explanation we try to come up with, it falls short of the glorious creation narrative of the Bible and the wonderful purposes that God has designed us for.

So what hope is there left for us?

The only possible way for us to get around all these illusions is live by the Spirit.

The Spirit gives us new vision that goes beyond our previously limited human vision. Through the Spirit's eyes, we are no longer deceived by the pleasing temptations, or allured by the powers and structures of the world but we see past the deceptions of all the pleasures, control, comfort, convenience, powers and elements of this world.

The Spirit gives us a renewed mind. With our renewed mind, we no longer use our knowledge of good and evil to create an illusionary world according to what we perceive it should be. We no longer use our common sense to give us a false sense of control and security. Rather, we see the purposes of the Creator and the promises that He has for us. And when we see the reality of the Oneness of and holiness by which He has carried out His plans since the beginning of creation, we can't help but stand in awe of the infinite love and wisdom of our God.

The Spirit burns away all the distractions that hinder us from worshiping the One True God, the Holy One of Israel. The Spirit destroys all the ambiguities that have previously turned our attention away from Him. In the Spirit, there is no longer any doubt of the clarity and oneness of the purposes of our God in bringing life and goodness and grace into this earth.

The Spirit strips away all the distracting elements that obscure the perfection of God's promises. The Spirit removes all the circles that were previously around the square, that we can see the square as it is, perfect and unbent. God removes all the distractions of this world, our control, common sense, desire for comfort, cravings and conveniences, that we may see the perfectness of His ways, that we were created to be Sons of God, to rule and reign with Him and not merely surviving under the rule of the authority of man.

Also, the Spirit demolishes the foundations of all the paradoxical illusions that were previously erected, all the idols and images that were worshiped in place of the one true Creator. Through the eyes of the Spirit, we see the absurdity of any other reason for our existence except to bring glory to our Lord, to be raised as kings and priests to rule with Him and serve Him in His temple palace which is the earth.

It is only through the Spirit that we have the clarity and faith to believe that we were made for more than living out each day of our lives in a cycle of monotony and mundaneness. It is only through the eyes of the Spirit that we see the reality of things as they are, that our God reigns as the One True King. It is only through the mind of the Spirit that we perceive the world in the true beauty that it was originally created for. And with the mind of the Spirit, we have the clarity and faith to say that one day, God will definitely make all things new and His plans for this earth will be brought to perfection.

And all the illusions the we once thought we ruled over us suddenly doesn't seem so real anymore...in light of the magnificent reality of God's creation.

--

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Moments of Grace



We rode down the steep narrow road. Faster and faster we went. Blazing past the tall green grass. Zooming past the humble, wooden houses. I was struggling to balance myself, endeavouring to keep myself from tilting to either side of the road. I was focusing on the road ahead, attempting to control the metal contraption which I was riding on. I saw a turning ahead of me.

Bracing myself for the turn, I gripped the handle bars tightly. Preparing to cut the corner, I leaned forward. I hit the brakes. The wheels slowed. I swerved.

She stopped, and cycled back to where I was.

"Are you alright?" she asked, apparently concerned.

"Yea, I am. I'm alright," I replied.

I had turned too quickly. When I began to sense myself tilting to one side of the road, I immediately put a foot down. That prevented an otherwise nasty fall. It was my second day of cycling. I could cycle now but I was still learning, perfecting my skills, developing my control, and practising my technique.

She had talked me into trying my hand in cycling. Previously, I had been reluctant to place myself on the contraption due to my constant failures in maintaining my balance while riding. I finally had my first success in cycling the day before.

--

I had just alighted from the bus. Stepping foot on Ipoh soil, I made my way to the heap of baggages before me. Sifting through each one of them, I picked up those which bore my name. It was not an arduous task as I had previously thought. Within minutes, I had finished collecting all my bags.

After getting my bearings straight, I worked my way through packed bus station, pushing through the crowd. Finally, I landed myself in a less crowded area. Feeling a little relieved after making it through the hassle, I decided to have a seat and put my bags down. I was a tenderfoot to Ipoh. As much as I was excited about visiting this new place, I was also perplexed as to my whereabouts.

After composing myself, I stood up, picked up my phone and dialed a number.

The call connected. I heard a familiar voice greeting me.

"Hey, Grace. I've just arrived at the bus station."

--

I got myself on the bike again, with one foot on the ground.

"Come on, let's move on!" she nudged, looking pretty thrilled.

"Okay. Lead the way," I heeded. I was unsure of where we were headed, so I trailed her as she led me through the housing estate, a familiar sight to her.

She sped off ahead of me.

In a quick sweeping motion, I lifted my foot from the ground and crunched down on the pedal. And I was off on my way. I started slow, but gradually picked up speed. I pushed faster and harder, catching up on her.

We continued down the gravel paths and cement roads, zipping along the roadside greenery, dashing pass little children absorbed in their game of catch, whizzing by grownups immersed in their daily chores.

"Hey, let's go faster!" she said, and raced off down the mild slope before us.

I was a little hesitant at first, but soon accepted her challenge. I stepped and pedaled more forcefully and more rhythmically, determined to push the limits of what I could already do.

Faster and faster we went.

We felt the evening breeze beating against our faces.

"Hey, isn't this great! The wind blowing against your face, it's so cool!" she exclaimed.

I couldn't agree more. The cooling gust totally swept me away, it swept away my tiredness and weariness, it blew away all my fears and trepidations, it drove away all my worries and anxieties. It was an exhilarating feeling.

It was one of those magical moments when you could just let go of everything and just allowing nature to suffuse your entire being, permitting it to permeate your whole self, and you can't help but be touched by the warmth and gentleness of that moment in time. If I might say in retrospect, that was one moment when the grace and tenderness of God really touched me. I was a seeker back then. I had yet to secure intimate knowledge of His character, but I knew that He loved me enough to die for me. He had given me this opportunity to just spend that time with Grace, an opportunity I didn't think I would ever have.

Truly God opened the door to a beautiful friendship when I first met Grace, though I was not a believer at that time...

--

It was March 2006. The night of the awards ceremony for National Top Scorers for SPM, held in Kolej Islam Sultan Alam Shah (KISAS), in Klang. It was 6.00 p.m. I arrived at my designated table. There were 2 other people with, Grace being one of them. In her school uniform, she looked like a little kid. Since it was still early, we decided to have a little chatter while waiting for the ceremony to start.

"So where are you from?"

"Ipoh, Perak."

"I'm from Sandakan, Sabah. What subjects did you take for SPM?"

"Well, I didn't take Biology."

"Huh? No Biology?"

"Yea, I took Engineering Drawings."

"Haha, so you wanna become an engineer huh?"

"Yea."

That was one thing I remembered about her. A girl who opted for Engineering Drawings rather than Biology. Interesting options.

"Are you a PTS student?" I opened my next line of questioning.

"Yea, I am."

"Hey, that's great. Me too!"

Another thing that caught my attention. A PTS student, meaning that she was of the same age as me. Most other people whom I met were a year older. So, great! I've found one who's of my age.

We continued talking a bit longer until more and more friends arrived. When the full number had arrived, we decided introduced ourselves to one another and exchanged contacts.

Soon after that, the ceremony began. All went smoothly that night.

The subsequent day was the day of departure for all recipients of the award. As she was about to leave, I approached Grace.

"Can we have a photo together?" I asked shyly.

"Sure!" came the reply.

Snap! The photo was saved in my camera.

"See you soon then. Keep in touch!"

"Yes, see you soon. Take care."

"You too!"

We said our goodbyes and parted ways. And that was the last I ever saw of her, or so I thought...

--

I didn't think I'd be seeing her again after we separated. After all, what are the odds of a friendship developing from a one-off meeting? Especially when we were so far apart. But I soon learned that distance was no barrier to a friendship.

We applied for the Malaysian Public Services Department Scholarship together, along with everyone else at the table that night. All of us kept close contact with one another, asking one another how our applications were going. When the results were announced, all of us made it through. Grace and I were sent off to different colleges, however, so I thought that was it.

But I was wrong. We kept in touch through emails and MSN Messenger, sometimes through SMSes. Surprisingly, our friendship continued despite the long distance and despite not seeing each other since our first encounter.

We'd have a good chat on MSN every now and then, and talk about a whole range of stuff.

It was during college days that I came to know Christ. As for the reasons that prompted me to take that step of faith, well let's just say I could feel a difference within me after allowing God to work in my life. I also soon discovered that she was one who was passionate for God. So, another thing that we share: faith in the Creator. Though that did not have much bearing on my faith, it did help solidify our friendship.

Throughout our college days, we kept in touch and whenever I contacted her after a long period of silence, she'd reply in her old chirpy manner.

Towards the end of my course, I made plans to organise my own tour around West Malaysia, contacting my friends from other states and making arrangements with them. Then, the thought came to me. Why don't I use this opportunity to pay Grace a little visit? The idea seemed good at that time. Eagerly, I typed in a message on my mobile phone:
"Hey Grace. How r things? Hope they r alrite. When r u going back to ipoh? Can i ask u sth? Would u mind if i stayed at ur place for a couple of days?"
After I had finished typing it, thoughts were coming in to my head. This is a crazy idea, Brian! I was starting to feel uneasy and nervous. I wrestled with the idea, but somehow it won the battle. I closed my eyes and pressed the "Send" button.

I waited...and waited...and waited...

A buzz on my mobile phone alerted me.

"New Message: 1"

From Grace Chan.

I paused before opening it. Just open it Brian! The inside of me yelled out.

Despite the hesitations and the burning objections from within me, I quickly opened the message and read it.

"Hey Brian! So great to hear frm u. I'm fine here. Busy wif exams tho. I'm going bek on d 7 Dec. Sure, u can stay!"

My heart leaped for joy. Hurray! Ipoh, here I come...

--

What was it that held our friendship together?

I pondered as I waited for her arrival.

Was it because she was cute?

Was it because of her age?

I have to admit. I was attracted to partly due to these factors.

But there was something more about her that really blew me away. But what was it?

The first thing I guess was her friendliness. She'd chat with me in her bubbly and cheerful self. It somewhat encouraged me to talk with her more, and each time I had a good talk with her, it was really uplifting.

The next thing was her willingness to listen. She was always willing to listen to me as I poured out all my problems, concerns, fears, insecurities to her. She would listen patiently as I told her about the troubles that I faced, the hurdles that seemed insurmountable to me or the lack of clarity in my life. And even though, she did not offer me any advice or exhortations, her attentiveness to my concerns greatly encouraged me and spurred me on.

But all in all, the most important thing I felt that attracted me to her was her godliness. Though this attribute played a more minor importance at the beginning of our friendship, as I grew closer and closer to God, it was this characteristic that continued to sustain the interest that I had in her. I was really glad to have found someone with whom I could relate my thoughts and perspectives with. In essence, it was a great joy to be able to share my walk of faith with her, to be able to drive each other on and to be able to relate our experiences back to one common source, the Creator.

A taxi pulled up at the bus station. Abruptly, a figure exited the vehicle and walked towards me.

I snapped myself out of my deep reflections. I looked to the figure of a girl standing right in front of me. Realising who it was, I smiled and raised my hand and waved towards her.

"Hey Grace! Long time no see..."

"Hi Brian! Yea, long time no see..."

--

We were about to leave the residential estate to the main road. I was feeling a little nervous, as out there was a sea of vehicles zipping past us, a torrent of cars and trucks and motorcycles sweeping down the road. I had not cycled out of the housing area before, but I decided to give it a shot.

Falling off my bicycle here was certainly not an option I'd like to try. I could scrape myself on the coarse gravel road, or worse I could get knocked by a car and the outcome of that would almost unquestionably be an unpleasant one.

She took off in the lead as she had previously. I had reservations about what I was about to do. The thought of forfeiting my balance and collapsing onto a road with motor vehicles, especially a 2 tonne truck, going at top speed towards me sent shivers down my spine. Nevertheless, I challenged myself, thinking of it as my final test in order for me to graduate from Grace's cycling lessons.

Positioning myself on the bike, I set my focus to the scene ahead of me. With one fleet move, my right foot was on the pedal and I pushed forward as hard as I could.

--

Argh! I'm never getting this right!

I always knew that my experiences on the bicycle were never pleasant ones. I tried to learn how to ride a bike, but failed miserably as had my previous attempts. There was once after a parish meeting at a church member's house in Shah Alam in my college days, I tried my hand at cycling but kept falling off the bike. I became the laughing stock of almost everyone there. That really smothered my interest for cycling.

Back at my hostel, I contended with God yet again.

God. Why can't I cycle like everybody else? Am I just not meant to cycle? Am I just not good enough to master the technique? What is it, Lord?

But it was without an answer, or was it?

I had arrived at Grace's house after a 15 minute ride in the taxi. It was a traditional, village-style house, an abode that a city boy like me was quite unfamiliar with. The familiar scene of concrete walls and tiled floors dissolved from my mind and a novel scene of timber walls and wooden floors was painted before my eyes.

Despite the traditional look, it was really quite a decent and cozy place to live in. The area was peaceful and serene, an excellent place to escape from the hustles and bustles of city life.

After settling down in the room that she had prepared for me, after unloading all the heavy and burdensome luggages I was rolling around, I went out to have some fresh air. It was really soothing to be able to enjoy the fresh, refreshing, clean air, allowing the crispness of the surroundings to bite into my being.

Grace came up to me and asked, "What would you like to do?"

"Err...anything would be fine with me," I responded, not wanting to sound demanding.

"How about we go cycling?"

Her request hit me. I tried to dodge the question, but finally decided against it.

"But...I don't know how to cycle," I replied sheepishly, but honestly.

"Haha, that's great. Now you can learn!" she cried enthusiastically.

I supposed her enthusiasm got to me, sparking a sudden interest in learning to cycle again after the many times I flunked, prompting me to reply eagerly, "SURE!"

It was, however, a discouraging experience when I got on the bicycle. It almost seemed like I was destined to never ride on a bike. My first few attempts were met with defeat and disappointment. Coupled with my past failures, I was devastated.

"I'm never getting this right!" I heaved a heavy sigh.

"You can do it, Brian!" she continued to encourage me.

"But...but..."

Then, Grace's mom came to me and said, "When you're riding a bike, don't look down. Look ahead and push forward."

Determined not to give up, I tried again. I positioned myself on the contraption, gripped the handles with both hands, placing one foot on one pedal, the other on the ground. Concentrating ahead of me, I allowed the "feel" of cycling to just take control of my mind, banishing all the logic and reasoning that tried to work out the mechanisms behind the act. Then, without any more hesitations, I lifted my foot off the ground and left the rest to God.

"You're doing it Brian! You're doing it!"

Hey yea, I am doing it!

--

We arrived at yet another housing estate.

Hey, I did it. I survived the road!

I was amazed at what I did. I never thought I could actually cycle along the main road and make it out in one piece. It would seem that God did answer my calls after all, although I did not see it back then. I was so caught up with my frustrations and disappointments that I failed to see God at work. I thought that the fact that He did not answer my call at that time showed that He did not want me to learn cycling after all. But how wrong I was. God was planning for me to cycle, and He delayed His response until this time, when I was able to spend times alone with Grace.

I was grateful to Him for having heard my calls and answering my cries. It was truly one of the moments in my life where He poured out His grace upon me.

We cycled on to a nearby grotto, located within a Catholic church compound. The gates guarding the church were unlocked, the sole barrier that prevented our entry was removed. We slid open the gates and entered the compound. We had fun cycling around the compound, enjoying the evening breeze and feasting our eyes upon the calm and tranquil surroundings.

As we were having fun, it suddenly began to drizzle. Droplets of water were falling down upon us from the heavens above. Rain poured out from the dark, gloomy clouds hovering above us. The repertoire of falling rain drops gradually built up to a mild downpour.

Deciding to have some fun in the rain, we drenched ourselves in the rainwater, allowing ourselves to get soaked and wet.

Then, I proposed to her, "Hey, let's climb up the grotto!"

"What? Are you sure, Brian?"

"Yea, why not? It'll be fun!" I said keenly.

We ran towards the grotto, but the gates that guarded it were sealed, disallowing entry to the peak.

Feeling a little adventurous, I exclaimed, "Let's climb over the gates!"

"Huh? Really?" she asked, surprised at my gesture.

"Haha, yea. Why not? It's ok to break in once in a while right?"

"Erm...okay..."

With a little rashness and dare, we made our way over the gates onto the stone pathway on the other side. Truly, that was one of the craziest things I have ever done. The great thing about it was that I did it with someone else, dragging her along into doing something crazy with me.

We followed the trail all the way to the top of the grotto. Feeling victorious after the successful break in, we savoured the brief moment in time.

"Crazy huh?"

"Yea, I didn't know you'd do such crazy things, Brian!"

"Haha, now you know. But you did it as well. So you're crazy too."

"Yea, so we're both crazy!" she said risibly.

And we had a good laugh, the rain pouring down upon us.

"Hey, it's getting late. Perhaps we should be getting back home."

"Yea, I agree."

We broke out of the grotto, scaling the gates once again and landing on the church grounds.

We got on our bikes, and cycled off in the rain.

--

"Hey, do you still remember the time when we first met?"

"Haha, of course. You still have that cute baby look on your face."

"Erm...okay..."

"Serious...haha..."

"You too. You look like a kid too."

I asked of our first encounter on the last day of my stay.

My time at Grace's place was up. It was time for me to leave as I was running on a tight schedule in my trip around Malaysia.

It was a sad feeling, having to leave the place that I had grown fond of within my 2 night stay there. But, I guess that's life. We move on.

I knew I would always have fond memories of the place, reminiscences of the times we spent together. I knew that I would always remember the encouragements that she had given me, the chirpy personality that would speak words of grace into my life, the listening ear that would be attentive to the outpouring of my heart.

Even today, the recollections are still fresh in my mind. Whenever I am cycling, my thoughts would take me back to the time of joy when I first cycled successfully. Whenever I am blazing down the gravel pathway, I am reminded of the moments of thrill when I blazed down the pathway with

I know deep down that our friendship would last through time. And I know that all these precious moments that I spent with Grace were made possible through God's grace. The chance that I had to meet her, the friendship that stemmed from the encounter, the opportunity to take flight on the bicycle, the lovely moments that I had with her, I truly thank God for them. The moments of grace that I had with Grace will truly become diaphanous memories imprinted in the very core of my soul. It was undoubtedly a great gift from God to me.

"Will we ever see each other again?" her words echoed in the back of my mind.

After a seemingly long pause, another voice replied.

"I'm sure we will. God willing, we will."

--

Note: I dedicate this post to Grace Chan, who has been a great friend to me and whom I have been privileged to meet by the grace of God.

Picture taken from http://osiris81.deviantart.com/art/Bicycle-58755600

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Master Coffee Maker



It's amazing to think of God as the Creator of the universe, Maker of all that is seen and unseen. When we think of God's creations, the images that are captured by my mind are those of nature, the plants, the beasts and animals of the air, sea and land. My thoughts are filled with imaginations of picturesque landscapes, towering mountains, plummeting ravines, vast expanses of valleys and seas, and all the other wonderful works of nature.

While those are undoubtedly amazing works of God, and I can reflect upon them all day long, spending time with him in a quiet valley, or a silent grassland perhaps, God has taken me instead to a cafe in the city to just sit down with Him and have a cup of coffee. It was a chilly winter's day, so a nice, hot cup of coffee sounded really good to me.

When He asked me what I would like, I pondered for a long time but could not quite make a decision. Then He said to me, "Come on. Make a choice. It's on me."

It's on You, God? You're treating me coffee?

"Yea, you heard me, didn't you? I'll make you the coffee."

God? Making me coffee? Now that's something new.

Though the cafe scene was a bit artificial, still wouldn't it be interesting to think of God as the Lord of Coffee?

One of my cell group friends told us this joke in an OCF meeting when she was trying to promote Coffee Ministry to the OCF members. Though it was a good laugh at the moment, it kinda got stuck to my mind.

God loves coffee. Why?
Because He Brews!

I had a good think about it, and concluded: Why not, if God created the coffee plant, surely He enjoys its harvest.

And if there's anyone who's good at anything, it is the Lord. So it's not impossible to think of God making the best coffee imaginable with the blink of an eye, with a command from His lips, or perhaps even taking the time to just do it manually with His hands. Taking out the seeds (coffee beans) from the fruit of the coffee tree, roasting the beans with fire, grinding the beans and then brewing the coffee.

And there's so many different kinds of coffee that one can make. Here are some examples:

  1. Black coffee, made by soaking the ground coffee beans in boiling water. A strong coffee. Flavour depends on beans used and degree of roasting (light/medium/dark).
  2. Espresso, made by an espresso machine (I'm sure God has His own) where water at high pressure (8 - 9 atm) is passed through the ground coffee beans. The water takes on the flavour, aroma, and contents of the coffee beans. The defining characteristic of an espresso is the reddish froth layer on top of the coffee which is contains aromatic oils in the coffee beans. It is a strong coffee and should be taken while it's still hot to preserve freshness and taste.
  3. Americano, which is espresso mixed with hot water to dilute the strength of the coffee.
  4. Latte (Italian for milk), made by mixing espresso with hot milk and sometimes topped with a bit of frothed milk (milk with the appearance of having small bubbles in it). It typically consists of 1/3 espresso + 2/3 hot milk. It has some variants:
    1. Flat white: 1/3 espresso + 2/3 hot milk
    2. Mocha: 1/3 espresso + 2/3 hot milk + chocolate
  5. Cappucino, made by mixing espresso with hot milk and frothed milk. The difference between cappucino and latte is in the content of milk. Cappuccino has less hot milk but more frothed milk compared to latte. Typically it consists of 1/3 espresso + 1/3 hot milk + 1/3 frothed milk.
  6. Corretto, made by adding a bit of liquor to an espresso.
  7. Macchiato, which comprises of two types:
    1. Cafe macchiato, made by adding a bit of steamed, frothed milk to an espresso
    2. Latte macchiato, made by adding a bit of espresso to a cup of hot milk
  8. Iced coffee, which as its name suggest is coffee with ice. It could be iced coffee (black), iced latte, iced mocha, etc.
The possibilities are limitless. The best thing is that there are so many coffee variants to cater to the different tastes of people. Some like it strong, while others prefer it mild. Some prefer it as pure as possible, while others would rather have it with other additives. Some like it when the milk is smooth and untextured, while others may go instead for the frothed and textured milk.

But God, I'm sure He enjoys all of them. All the different tastes and aromas, the various flavours and mixtures, the plethora of textures and consistencies, the melange of zests and essences. After all, the Lord made everything good and He enjoys His creations.

And just as there are so many different kinds of coffee He can make, God has made various kinds of people in the way that pleases Him.

Just as there are different flavours to a coffee, God makes people with all different kinds of talents. There are those who are intellectual, those who are athletic, those who are artistic, those who musical.

Just as there are various aromas to that nice, hot (again it may not even be hot) drink, God creates people with different kinds of personalities. He makes those who are upbeat and cheerful all the time, those who are a little more quiet, those who prefer more light-hearted talks and chatter, or those who prefer more serious and engaging discussions. He creates people with all sorts of preferences (yea...even for coffee), styles, goals, ambitions and visions.

Just as a barista (coffee maker) makes all kinds of coffee according to his purpose (to fulfill his promises to his customer, i.e. to make the best coffee they've ever tasted), so God makes all kinds of people according to His purpose (to fulfill His promises to creation i.e. to raise up a generation of people who display the fullness of His character and reveal His glory to all creation).

And the best thing of all, just as a coffee maker delights in all of his creations, the Master Coffee Maker enjoys every masterpiece that He makes, not only His beverages but also His people. Just as He enjoys every sip of coffee that He carefully brews, so does He savour every bit of the people that He intricately knits together in their mothers' wombs.

"So what's your choice?"

I was startled by His voice. I realised that I had yet to make my choice.

How about a cappuccino?

"Alright, one cappuccino coming right up."

After about 30 seconds, He whisked a cup of hot, steamy drink topped with a fine, white froth. I slowly lifted the cup by its handle and brought it close to my mouth until its lips touched mine.

I took a sip.

It was the best coffee I've ever tasted. The best thing about it, it was made by the Master Coffee Maker.

--

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The New Passover


I took a stand on the pulpit. I could see that the congregation that day was eager to hear the message I had for them from God.

Good morning, brothers and sisters in Christ. I imagine everyone has had different experiences this week, some good some challenging. I’m sure we can all share them over a cup of coffee after the service.

No matter what experiences we face, we can still give thanks to God, knowing His providence for us and knowing that He is in control of all things.

As I was gleaning through the scriptures in preparation for today’s sermon, or sharing as I’d rather call them, there’s this particular story of a Judean king caught my attention. The story of King Hezekiah is an inspiring story that should, hopefully, motivate us to respond to Christ’s calling to us. More specifically, I am going to talk about Hezekiah’s efforts to re-enact the Passover celebration after the idolatrous ways of his forefathers. In the same way, I hope to draw your attention to the parallels between Hezekiah and Jesus, who calls us to celebrate the New Passover with Him.

I had prepared a Power Point presentation to accompany my sermon for the day. Grasping the remote control in my hands, I pressed a button. The blank screen before the congregation lighted up with streaks of blue and white. The first slide from my presentation was displayed and in it was the words “God’s Passover”.

First of all, let’s recap on the concept of the Passover. During Israel’s captivity in Egypt, God sent Moses to rescue the people of Israel out from Egypt, as recounted by the narration of the book of Exodus. As Moses tried to persuade Pharaoh to release the Israelites, Pharaoh continuously hardened his heart against God. So what does God do? He demonstrates in the presence of Pharaoh ten wondrous signs, the Ten Plagues if you like. When Pharaoh refused to obey God after being shown the first nine, God decided to inflict upon Egypt the greatest plague of all, the death of all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of the Pharaoh to the firstborn of the slave woman, to the firstborn of all the animals.

But, God commanded the Israelites to smear the blood of lambs on the doorframes, such that when He comes to inflict the plague upon Egypt, He will see the blood on the door and not harm any of the firstborn of the families inside the house. In other words, He “passes over” the house of the Israelites.

So, here we have the Israelites owing a debt of the lives of all their firstborn to God. That is why God calls the Israelites to set apart all their firstborn animals and children for Him. Of course, the place of the firstborn sons of the Israelites were substituted for by the Levites, who were set apart by God for service at His tabernacle up to the reign of King David and at His temple later in the days of Solomon.

God also commands the Israelites to celebrate the Passover as one of their major festivals, detailed in Leviticus. Called Pesach in Hebrew, it commemorates the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and their liberation from slavery.

So here we have a picture of the Passover – people gathering together to celebrate their deliverance from slavery, giving thanks to God and remembering Him as their saviour.

When they entered the promise land, the Israelites observed God’s commandments with great reverence. Soon after that, however, when they became comfortable settling down in the land, the Israelites mingled with the neighbouring nations and soon indulged in their idolatrous practices. They did not remember the God who delivered them from Egypt, but chose to forsake His commands and laws.

When David was king, the whole nation of Israel followed God’s commandments closely. Solomon followed his father’s example in the early years of his reign. After Solomon, the nation became divided into two parts, Israel under the reign of Jeroboam, and Judah under the reign of Solomon’s son Rehoboam. From there on, the Israelites followed the ways of their kings. Most of kings indulged in the wicked and ungodly acts of the nations around them. Some Judean kings, however, did follow the commandments of God. One such king was King Hezekiah. Hezekiah purified the temple which had been defiled by the wicked acts of previous kings of Judah and then proceeded to call upon the celebration of the greatest Passover since the time of Solomon.

This, then, leads us to the main topic I will address in today’s sermon. Let’s turn now to today’s scripture readings, taken from 2 Chronicles 30:1 – 9.

First, a bit of context of the passage. At that time, Israel had been taken into captivity to Assyria as a result of their sins but Judah still remained a free nation. As we read the following passages, Hezekiah is calling out to the people of Judah, and the remnant of Israel who had not been taken into captivity.

I began to read out the passage to the congregation.

1 Hezekiah sent word to all Israel and Judah and also wrote letters to Ephraim and Manasseh, inviting them to come to the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem and celebrate the Passover to the Lord, the God of Israel. 2 The king and his officials and the whole assembly in Jerusalem decided to celebrate the Passover in the second month.

So, we have here Hezekiah sending the invitation to the Passover to all Israel and Judah, saying, “Hey, fellows. Come, let’s celebrate the Passover to the Lord!”

3 They had not been able to celebrate it at the regular time because not enough priests had consecrated themselves and the people had not assembled in Jerusalem.

According to the law, the Passover is supposed to be celebrated on the fourteenth day of the first month. But according to the Chronicler’s account, the Israelites had not been able to celebrate it at the appointed time because not enough priests had consecrated themselves. The reason for this is because of the defilement brought about by the idolatrous practices of Hezekiah’s forefathers, and therefore they needed to be cleansed and reconsecrated to the Lord.

4 The plan seemed right both to the king and to the whole assembly. 5 They decided to send a proclamation throughout Israel, from Beersheba to Dan, calling the people to come to Jerusalem and celebrate the Passover to the Lord, the God of Israel. It had not been celebrated in large numbers according to what was written.

Again, these verses depict the proclamation of the king to all who are in Israel and Judah, calling people to celebrate the Passover. From the mental picture painted by the Chronicler, this will turn out to be a really grand celebration, encompassing people from all over Israel, not only covering the single tribe of Judah, but ALL over Israel.

And we can draw parallels from that calling of King Hezekiah and apply it to our context today. Jesus, being the New Hezekiah, calls people from all the nations to celebrate the New Passover with Him. Not just a single nation, but all the nations.

Now, let’s review the purpose of the Passover. As I’ve mentioned earlier, the Passover is to commemorate Israel’s deliverance from slavery. In the same way, Jesus calls us out from slavery to sin into the freedom that has been given to us who are in Christ. We now have a reason to celebrate the New Passover, to celebrate our liberation from the slavery to sin.

Paul, in Romans 6:17 – 18, has this to say: “But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.”

With a mighty hand and an awesome display of power, God parted the Red Sea and set the Israelites free from their Egyptian captivity. Jesus, through His death and His glorious resurrection, parted the sea of death and set us free from the captivity of sin and death. Jesus is the Passover Lamb, who has atoned for our sins. That is to say, the penalty of death that we deserve for our sins, has now been taken up by Christ unto Himself. Therefore, we are now released from sin and death.

And now, sitting on the throne of the New Israel, he calls us, just like Hezekiah did to celebrate with Him and commemorate the New Passover. He is calling us to celebrate the newness of life that we have in God.

But how do we respond to that calling? What do we do?

We read on to the proclamation, which gives us some insights on what Hezekiah called the people of Israel to do, and hence we can draw parallels to what Jesus calls His people to do.

6 At the king's command, couriers went throughout Israel and Judah with letters from the king and from his officials, which read:

“People of Israel, return to the LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, that he may return to you who are left, who have escaped from the hand of the kings of Assyria. 7 Do not be like your fathers and brothers, who were unfaithful to the LORD, the God of their fathers, so that he made them an object of horror, as you see. 8 Do not be stiff-necked, as your fathers were; submit to the LORD. Come to the sanctuary, which he has consecrated forever. Serve the LORD your God, so that his fierce anger will turn away from you. 9 If you return to the LORD, then your brothers and your children will be shown compassion by their captors and will come back to this land, for the LORD your God is gracious and compassionate. He will not turn his face from you if you return to him.”


The first thing Hezekiah calls the people to do is to return to the Lord. This is to say that people now turn their minds and thoughts away from all the wickedness and disobedience of their fathers, but now turn their attention, their focus and their worship back to the Lord. In the same way, Jesus calls us to attention to worship the one true God. He calls us to turn our eyes away from all the distractions, the sinful pleasures and all the fleeting temptations that turn our attention away from worshipping the One True God.

What are all these things that lure us away from the Creator? Paul would call these the things of the flesh.

The things of the flesh can be divided into several aspects to encompass our heart, mind, soul, body and neighbourhood.

When we are in the flesh, our heart wants to be in control. We want our ways to be the way that is followed by everyone. We want to rule over other people’s lives and control their every movement to satisfy our desires and our needs. Our desire for power and our hunger for control consume our hearts.

Our mind conjures up all the thoughts and ideas that we think should be common sense to everybody. We think just because we think something is right, everyone should think the same way. In other words, it should be common sense! So, we want to impose our thoughts and our ideas upon other people and this stems from our inward desire to control people.

Thirdly, is our soul or our sea of emotions. When we are in the flesh, deep within our soul, we desire comfort. We want to be admired by everyone else. We need respect, adoration and adulation of others. When other people praise us, we think “Yea, I feel good now!”

The next thing is the cravings of our bodies. This may include our sexual appetites, our hunger for fine cuisine, material wealth or perhaps the need to look good, or any other physical cravings that we have. After obtaining our cravings, we soon find ourselves desiring more. Soon after, we set out in search of new ways to satisfy our increasing hunger for physical satisfaction.

Finally, all these culminate to the stage of our neighbourhood. When we are controlled by our flesh, we seek only the things that are most convenient to us. Convenience matters more than helping a friend in need. It matters more than lending a hand to the poor. We will soon perceive our community as a way through which we derive pleasures, personal gains and satisfaction at our convenience. This inevitably blinds us to what God wants to do through us in the community.

We have seen the ways of the flesh, giving us fleeting pleasures and momentary satisfactions but ultimately distract us from giving our lives to the things which truly matter. If we continue to live in the flesh, we miss out on all the Creator’s plans for us as mankind. And you know what friends, at the end of the day, nothing matters more than the Creator’s will for us.

So, now Jesus calls us to return to the Lord. He calls us to leave behind all our control, common sense, comfort, cravings and convenience, all the things that bring death to us, and return to worshipping the Creator and the one true God. But how do we do that? How do we set our focus again on worshipping the Lord?

The answer is this – by the leading of the Spirit. We must allow the Spirit to lead us on this journey back to worshipping the One who created us, the One who deserves all the praise and the glory, the One who truly matters. By dwelling in the Spirit, we call upon God’s purposes, promises and presence into our lives and allow them to change us from the inside out.

In 2 Corinthians 5:17, Paul says that anyone who is in Christ is a new creation.

By the renewing power of the Spirit, the desire for control in our hearts turns to purity of heart, where our desire is not to control or manipulate others but to be controlled by God for His glory. The common sense that our minds conjure up to impose upon others becomes clarity of the purposes, promises and the presence of the Creator in the created realm since the beginning of creation. The comfort that we try so hard to find from the praises of others turns to rest in His presence. Our bodies which are weakened by all our cravings become strengthened to carry out the purposes for which He has created us. And all this culminates to favour not only among the people in our neighbourhood, but from God.

By rejecting the ways of the flesh and by allowing ourselves to be transformed by the Spirit, we will discover that the way back to adoration of the Creator, worshipping the King of Kings and Lord of Lords becomes a lot easier. By clearing out all the distractions that dissuade us from stepping forward to the throne, we can return to worshipping our Maker and Liberator.

The second thing Hezekiah calls the people to do is not to continue in their stubbornness and disobedience. He is calling the people not to reject God’s commands and laws, not to reject God’s ways but to obey them with all their hearts.

Similarly, Jesus calls us out of our stubbornness and disbelief in the promise of life that is given to those who belief. He calls us to celebrate and worship the God who has set us free to have life to the fullest. Yet, some of us continue to disbelieve God’s act of liberating us from the bondage of sin. There are many reasons for that:

  1. Our ignorance and forgetfulness of God’s grace in sending His son as a sacrifice to die for our sins to set us free once and for all. Either we lack the knowledge and the clarity of God’s purposes, promises and presence or we continue to hold on to our past doubts and fears but forget about God’s grace and love that empowers us.
  2. The disbelief that we have as a result of the common sense or rational that we hold on to. We think, “What? Set me free from my sins? No way, man. That’s impossible. You don’t understand man. I’ve been through this, this and this. No one can fix it, science says it’s impossible, the judicial law says it’s impossible, my reasoning tells me it’s impossible.”
  3. Intentional rebellion against God. Some of us do not lack knowledge but although we have the knowledge of God’s will for earth, we refuse to submit to Him or to worship Him as Creator. In other words, we’re outwardly rebelling against God.

Let me remind you, brothers and sisters, that ignorance and forgetfulness if not an excuse when you’re standing before God’s judgement throne one day. The proclamation to the entire world to celebrate the New Passover with Him has already been made clear. He has already sent messengers to call people to gather together with Him and feast with Him. The call to worship Him has already resounded throughout all the nations. Therefore, ignorance to this invitation is no excuse. This is similar to a king inviting people to his feast which he has prepared. When he asked a subject, “Why did you not respond to my invitation?” Now if the subject answered, “Well, sire, I did not know about the invitation.” Now how do you think the king would respond? The king would say to the subject, “You did not know? I’ve sent messengers throughout all the lands, inviting people from all the nations, and yet you did not know about it? Very well, you shall have no part in this feast I am preparing!”

Our disbelief as a result of our common sense and rational thinking is also no excuse to be absent from God’s Passover. Paul has made it clear even in the first chapter of Romans that “Since the beginning of creation, all the invisible qualities of God has been seen…so that men are without excuse.” Paul contends that all creation shouts of God’s glory. God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, made every single thing on this earth out of nothingness. Even modern science concedes that there is no way that the universe can come to being without the creative work of an Intelligent Designer. Clearly, all evidence points to the existence of the Creator. Now, if God can create everything that we see around us out of nothingness, how trivial it is for Him to make things new again. If it is possible for Him to bring us into existence out of nothingness, how more it is possible for Him to renew us by His Spirit. We only need to catch a glimpse of all of creation around us to realise the infinite possibilities that God is capable of. Knowing this now, we need to do what Jesus told Thomas, “Stop doubting and believe!”

For those of us on the rebellious side, we should be aware of God’s wrath pouring down upon us. God has every desire to renew mankind by liberating them from sin and death, and he calls them to participate with Him in His purposes. Now what happens if we stand in opposition to what God wants to do on this earth? Evidently, He would have to rid the earth of rebels in order to pave way for it to be inhabited by His sons and daughters. No one wants to keep cancer cells growing in his body. The cells are destroyed so that a healthy body can be formed. Similarly, it we refuse to obey God or submit to His ways, we’ll soon find that God’s judgement will be upon us.

Alright, seeing that we are almost out of time, I shall go through the last two points quickly.

The next thing Hezekiah called the people to do was to come to the sanctuary. Similarly, Jesus calls us to come into the sanctuary, before God’s throne. We are called to step boldly before the throne of God, knowing that our sins have been forgiven and our guilt has been taken away. We are to come with a humble and contrite heart, acknowledging the sacrifice of the Lamb. We are to come in adoration of our Maker and our Liberator. We are to come with a heart of celebration of the Spirit’s purposes, promises and presence. We are called to come to the sanctuary to celebrate the New Passover of God.

And lastly, Hezekiah calls the people to serve God. Jesus calls us into His service. With all the celebrations of living a new life in Him, we are called to live as citizens of heaven or citizens of light. What this means is that we are called to serve our duty as those who will inherit God’s Kingdom. How do we do that? By walking in the ways that demonstrate that we are a new creation. We are called to serve God in extending His Kingdom, bringing His love, grace, faith, hope and love to those around us. We are called to be part of His plans to renew this earth and to reign with Him as kings and priests.

Just as verse 26 says that nothing like the Passover that Hezekiah celebrated has been observed since the days of Solomon, it is also true for the New Passover. Jesus calls us to a New Passover that has never been celebrated before in such a magnificent scale. Nor will there ever be any other Passover celebration that will eclipse it. And the best part of it is that we are called to be part of it. Jesus has sent an invitation to us as the people of the New Israel to come together with Him to celebrate the New Passover to remember our liberation from our slavery to sin and to honour the newness of life to the full that has been granted to us by the grace of God.

With the click of a button, I came to my last slide. On it were the words, “What will your response be?”

Therefore, brothers and sisters, the word has been proclaimed, the invitation has been sent, the calling has been heard. So how would you respond to that invitation? Will you come into the sanctuary of God and say, “Yes! This is what I’ve been waiting for! Come on, Jesus, let’s celebrate it together!” or will you look on indifferently and say, “What’s with all this celebrations? I’ve got my own life to manage. No thanks!”

Jesus is calling you to celebrate your liberation from sin with him. Let the Spirit guide you to the right response to His calling today.

With that, I proceeded to the altar call, stretching out my hands to symbolically invite people to come and celebrate the New Passover.

--

Note: This "sermon" was inspired by Pastor Tim Goh.

Picture taken from http://hbrodsly.deviantart.com/art/Passover-52257456

--

Saturday, June 21, 2008

An Opportunity



God has been really gracious. Truly He has heard my prayers. I had been praying for more involvement in OCF. I had been asking Him to just give me a chance to make a difference, to change things. And tonight (20 June) he had given me just this opportunity.

I was given the opportunity to lead my faculty prayer meeting. Honestly, I was quite worried about how I was going to lead all the people who were more mature in their faith and who have all served for a much longer period than me. I've never led before, so I really didn't know what to do. I was really a neophyte in this sort of thing.

During the worship session, all sorts of thoughts were playing and dancing around in my head.

What if I screwed things up? What if I made a mistake, or said something wrong? What if I freaked out, or froze halfway? Oh dear, that won't be good!

I was rummaging through the cribs of my mind for the right words to say, working out the right posture by which to address the group.

Should I say this? Like, erm...Dear Heavenly Father, may your name be glorified...
Then perhaps, something like...allow the Creator's grace, love and mercy to just fill this earth...

Just then, I was reminded of one crucial thing. It was not about me, it was about God. It was not about me looking good or saying the most eloquent prayers. No, it was about letting God's grace flood through the prayers and the conviction of the Spirit to just fill everyone in the group. It was allowing God to take the lead, while I merely served as an instrument through which His inspirations will be channeled.

Learning to let go of my worries and anxieties were a bit difficult initially, but as the worship session progressed, I found myself focusing and training my thoughts more and more on God's glory and grace rather than the challenge ahead of me. Slowly, my mind began shifting towards reflecting on God. As I did that, I prayed in my mind.

Lord, would you just guide me and speak through me tonight. It's not about me, Lord but it's about you. I just pray that the words that I speak tonight, may it be seasoned with grace and filled with hope. And Lord, would you just help me set my eyes on you now, that I shall not focus on the challenge ahead of me, but on the grace you provide me to overcome it.

Then, the worship team lead the congregation in a song. I couldn't really remember the title, but one of the lines in the song went something like this.

Nothing is impossible for you, God.

I thought, yea, that's right. Nothing is impossible for the Lord. After a while, my heart was calm and my mind was more focused.

When the worship session was over, some announcements were made and then there was a time of offering. After the offering was the end of the general worship session and we broke up into our faculties.

I led my group into our prayer room. Feeling a bit nervous, I began with an introductory session. I did not know what to do next, so I decided to pray the Lord's prayer in the way that Pastor Tim taught me. I was hesitant at first, but decided to just go along with the leading of the Spirit.

Why don't we all just stand to our feet. Let's begin our prayer in the way our Lord Jesus taught us in the Lord's prayer.

Let's lift our hands to heaven.

After a moment of silence, I began.

Our Father in Heaven hallowed be thy name...

And I knew that God was in control that night, and the Spirit was leading me in my prayers.

At the end of the session, I could not say that I was totally please with how I performed, but then again it was not about me, it was about God. Though there surely was room for future improvements, it was undoubtedly one of the most encouraging things that I've ever done. I was thankful that God had given me the chance to lead His people in prayer. It was truly one of the things that I had wanted to do since coming to Melbourne.

But most of all, I truly thanked God for just using me despite my inadequacies, uncertainties and weaknesses to bring glory to His name. For that reason, I lift up my praises and adoration to Him.

--

Note: Picture taken from http://byshepherd.deviantart.com/art/pray-44443679

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Praises to God



Praises be to the Lord God Almighty
The Maker of heaven and earth
I rejoice in Your Presence, God
For you have called me out from the pit of despair

You have hidden me beneath your wings
You have covered me in the palm of your hands

When the winds blew and the seas raged
You were there with me
Holding me tightly in your arms
Never letting me go

Lord I now know
The emptiness that I feel inside me
It's because of the lack of your presence
It's because I've lost the clarity I once had
It's because I've set my eyes away from the vision you once gave me

Right now Lord
I just want to look to you again
I want to set my eyes on you
I want to train my thoughts on the things of the Spirit
I want to dwell in your presence

I will run to you, Lord
I will make you my rock and my hiding place
I will drink from the quiet pools of water and be refreshed
I will lie down on green pastures and allow my soul to be restored
I will follow you down the paths of righteousness

Great is your mercy, Lord
Great is your love for me
I will now rise up in response your calling, Lord
I will allow myself to be changed by you

I know that you can use me
I know that you want to use me

All the reasons for thinking otherwise, Lord
I now bind and cast them out in the name of Jesus
All my common sense and need for control
Burn them all away by the cleansing fire of Your Spirit
All my pride and arrogance
Break them down and crush them to pieces

All the limitations I set in my mind
I allow the flood waters of your promises to wash them away
All the smallness of my thoughts
I allow your Word to blow them wide open

Lord, I believe that you want to heal me
Lord, I believe that you can heal me
So Lord, I open up the flood gates
And allow the rushing waters of your Spirit to fill me
Lord, I open up my heart to you now
And allow the passion for your House to consume me

Lord, here I am
Ready to step out in faith into your promises
Here I am
Ready to respond to the grace you've shown through your Son
Here I am
Ready to pour out my life to the One who gave it all
Here I am
Ready to follow the leading of your Spirit

Lord, lead me to places I've never been to
Open up doorways to opportunities I've never dreamed possible

So let it be, Lord
So let it be...

--

Footprints in the Desert



For the cause of Christ I will stand

For the One who gave it all
For the One who loved me
For the One who bore my infirmities

For the One who gave me comfort
For the One who gave me hope
For the One who gave me reason to live

I can hear God calling me in my loneliness
I can feel Him drawing me close to Himself
I can feel that He wants to lead me somewhere beyond my wildest imaginations

I pray silently in my heart,
Lord, I want to change the world
Lord, I want to change the way things are
Lord, I want to change the hearts of men
Give me the strength, Lord

Lord, I want to be filled with you every single moment of my life
In the lonely moments in my life, You call me
Lord, I want to respond to that calling
I want to be attentive to Your voice
I want to be present to Your Spirit's nudging

I look to the past, and I see lost opportunities
I see opportunities which I could have explored but did not
I see things that I could have done but did not
I see relationships that I could have planted but did not
I see journeys that I could have taken but did not

Yet, I feel God calling me to a new beginning
A beginning of greater things ahead
A journey led by hope for a better tomorrow
A journey taken in faith of the things that I do not see

I do not want to miss out on any more opportunities that lay before me
I do not want to regret not taking my chances

I want to take that step of faith
I want to look forward to the brighter future ahead of me
I want to be present to what the Creator is doing in my life
I want to follow His leading

I want to step forth

Challenge me, God
I want to do things that I have never dreamed of doing
I want to go to places that I have never thought possible
I want to rise up and take my place on this earth

Guide me, Lord

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Note: Picture taken from http://lorddrako.deviantart.com/art/First-Step-22151979

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