Sunday, June 28, 2009

Greater Things

This year's annual dinner was quite an interesting experience for me because I finally had the opportunity to dance before the Lord. 

I believe this opportunity to be from the Lord and not by random chance. It just so happened that I was sharing with Ivena over dinner one day about my desire to dance for the Lord, especially holding the banners for Him. The Sunday that week, Doreen asked me if I wanted to hold the banners for Annual Dinner. I was rather amazed at this timely "coincidence". It was truly an opportunity that the Lord had opened up for me to serve, according to what I had asked of Him.

Now that I have had a chance to perform on stage, I now know the amount of effort and labour that goes into preparing for the performance. Indeed, many hours of practice and correction goes into preparing for a few minutes worth of stage time. 

The practice sessions have taught me a lot about commitment and what it means to work with other people. There were times when I thought of skipping a session or two, because I was lazy and unmotivated to go for them. Yet, I am reminded that God had opened up the door for me to worship Him with banners, and so there is the expectation that I would actually put into the effort and commitment into it. I would usually start off by asking myself why was I doing it, but as the sessions elapsed, I found myself enjoying and learning much from them.

Those sessions have also taught me what it means to work with other people. During practice, there are inevitably different people with different capacities and talents. There are people who learn more slowly than others, and there are people who are not as good as others in picking up the skills and movements. It is these times then that I am challenged: Do I look at them condescendingly because they are weaker, and I am better than them? Do I smile in satisfaction because I've got it, and they haven't? These are definitely some of the temptations that I face personally. It is definitely a challenge, then, for me to learn what it means to believe in another person who's "not as good" as me and to push and encourage them, to build and move them instead of looking down upon them. 

Sometimes, it is truly a test of faith and patience when you are confronted with mess ups and with people who just cannot seem to get the moves right. But this is where the team spirit is of utmost importance. Every member is important and needs to be encouraged. After all, we are only as fast as our slowest person in our team!

Sometimes you wonder - hey, I already get the moves, so why do I even need to be here? Truth is, we are not individuals doing solo performances, but we are a team, one body coming together to worship the Lord. Therefore, the reason that we need to be there is so that the whole body can mobilise together. There may be some parts of the body that are still not performing their functions at their best, but it takes the whole body together in one piece to coordinate the whole dance movements in synchrony rather than having each part do its own thing.

Another challenge that I faced during practice was setting the right focus for it. A lot of the times, the practice sessions become, for me, rather mechanical and repetitive instead of a meaningful time that is set apart for the worship of the Lord. I guess I still have much to learn in this area - to see purpose and opportunities to bring life into each and every practice session. I find that sometimes these sessions become, for me, merely time to get things done and over with instead of times that I get to spend with people, sharing in the journey and learning from their lives. This is definitely a challenge for me to be more attentive to the people around me during practice.

When all the individual parts started coming together such that I could finally see the whole flow of things, it made me fired up and excited about it. It wasn't until we practised along with the dancers and with the music that I could finally see how things would work out, and how the movements would fit in with one another. Seeing things fit together really makes you excited to see the dance being perfected and you start realising the relevance of all the different parts that you've learned in isolation.

I think the biggest thing for me though when we practised with the music was that I was able to catch the spirit and the meaning behind the song, and to allow the joy and excitement that was brewing inside of me to just be expressed through each movement of the banner. When I was immersed in the depth and richness of the words in the song, there was just suddenly this part inside of me that went alive and just wanted to express itself through the swing of the banner. 

And true enough, the song chosen for this year's annual dinner was truly a powerful and meaningful one - God of this City. To believe that the God that we serve is the God of this city. To believe that the Creator whose purposes are true wants to bring His life and goodness into this land that we have planted our feet on. To believe that there are so many greater things to come, and so many amazing things that the Lord wants to usher into this beautiful city called Melbourne. 

When you raise the banner high proclaiming all these things, there is a sense of honour and privilege to be part of the Lord's army, marching into every corner of the city ushering His edict and will into every sphere of life. There is this sense that you are a rallying point of people from all nations, from all four corners of the earth, calling them to arms, calling them follow the leading of the Ark of the Covenant to take possession of the land.

I do realise that sometimes, you might be self-conscious about your performance so as not to make a mistake and end up embarrassing yourself and disrupting the dynamics of the team. Now I truly understand the tension between performing well and worshipping the Lord. There is this sort of balance between doing it right, yet knowing at the end of the day the first and foremost thing that the Lord desires is our worship and our calling people into the adoration of His purposes and goodness. I shall definitely not take lightly the tensions faced by the worship team ever again!

Yet, at the end of the day, it truly is all about the worship and adoration of the Lord, and calling His purposes onto this earth, this land that we stand on, and to bring people to the place where they can be immersed in the faithfulness and truth of His promises for this city.

I believe that although we as a team made several mistakes tonight during our performance, we have done our best and we have committed it to the Lord. I believe that we have gotten the message across to the people, and that they have been able to catch glimpses of the Lord's purposes for this city. 

All in all, I must say that it has been an amazing experience working with the team. It has truly been amazing standing together as a team for the Lord, to have fought this battle together and to have walked the journey of learning and experiencing with one another. 

I praise God from the bottom of my heart for this amazing opportunity to not only explore dancing, but also for the wonderful lessons that He has taught me along the way. I definitely look forward to more of such opportunities in the future. 

And all for His glory. So let it be.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

To Love Means...

Over the past few weeks, I have had time to reflect upon and to struggle with my feelings for her. It's been a hard wrestle between two states of mind - I WANT her, yet I DON'T KNOW if I am prepared to handle the relationship.

Yet, as I have discovered over the weeks, it is really not about pursuing or getting her, but it is more about walking the journey of faith with her, and to care and love her as a dear sister, as someone that I am learning to trust and as someone that I truly want to see grow and mature into all that she was created to be.

And with each moment that we share, there is something about our conversations that surprise me. Just when I thought that I know all there is to know about her, and that I fully understand and comprehend her life journey, she surprises me yet again with new stories and fresh perspectives. It really challenged me and made me think of how little I actually know about her.

So here I am, barely knowing her, yet trusting her with my secrets and personal stories, and believing for her as though I have known her inside out. Relationships are truly complicated and interesting. There is always an element of it that catches you off guard, one part of it that speaks something new to you each day, a part of it that reminds you of what it means to love and to care for another human being.

I think my friendship and journey with her has indeed taught me much about what it means to love and to care for someone. It has challenged me to rethink the ways I engage in my relationships. It has really challenged me what it means to not just pursue her, but to really believe in her life journey, her hopes, her dreams and her life.

There is definitely still much to learn, but I am truly glad that I could be part of her life. I am truly glad that we have had the chance to cross paths and to allow our journeys to intertwine.

I am truly thankful for the opportunity that I have had to meet her during our tutorials together in Semester 2. I am thankful for the times spent together since then, the words, the meals, the conversations, the outings that have brought our friendship to this point.

We spent the day together yesterday before she went back to her home country for holidays. I thought it was a really amazing day, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I think as much as I enjoyed the time spent together doing things, I really enjoyed the meaningful conversations that we've had over dinner, and over our walk along the Yarra afterwards.

It was always eye-opening and heart-warming to listen to the stories that she has to tell, and to hear the voice of her heart and to catch snippets of the expressions of the spirit that is within her. I treasure her openness in her sharing, I value her honesty in her words, I cherish her freedom in her expressions. To many people, these conversations and life stories might not mean much at all, but to me, they are captured moments, still frames and engravings etched on the face of time and history that have shaped and moulded me, and have taught me what it means to love, to care and to be thankful for the abundance that I have.

And today, I know just how much I truly care for her. It was during dance rehearsal today for my community's upcoming annual dinner. During the rehearsal, some strange feeling of moodiness just settled upon me and I just could not explain it. I guess I am not a very person to joke around with when I am moody. The members were, as usual, always teasing me - not that I have problems with that, I do enjoy a good laughter - but I guess this just annoyed me and I ended up snapping at one of my brothers. I was shocked at my impulsiveness and apologised afterwards, but I guess now that I've thought about it, I realise just how much I truly care about her and just how much I miss her already.

I know it's silly to be sad, because she'll be back again pretty soon. I know that I should release her in faith and in the blessings of the Lord to accomplish all that she set out to do this holidays. Yet, I suppose that sometimes, there is always the emotional attachment involved.

I know that my feelings for her are true, yet I do know at the same time not to rely solely on my feelings because they can be misleading sometimes. 

As per our friendship now, I believe in the love of Christ that we share with one another, I believe in the bond of the Spirit that unites us, I believe in the good purposes that the Creator has for her life, I believe in the faithfulness of our Lord and His grace that is manifested in her life. Although I must admit that I do not fully share her passions and her visions, I am learning each day lift her up in prayer and to speak courage and faith into her life for the dreams that she has.

People might think that: Oh, you might think that now because you are still in your "romance" period. Just wait till the going gets tough. Let's see if you would still have the same convictions for her then.

Well, I do not pretend to be ignorant of this. I am fully aware that I am still in the relatively 'sweet' period of a friendship and there definitely is much uncertainty that awaits me in the future. I am fully aware that circumstances will change and things will not always be as sweet as they are right now. 

There would most likely be conflicts and frustrations, dissatisfaction and anger. I do not pretend to be oblivious or indifferent to them. At times, the thought of these possibilities really do scare me.

Yet, I also know deep down in my spirit that there is a God who is greater than all these things, that there is a God who plans and guides my path, a God who desires the best for me and a God who will make all things beautiful in their time.

I am well aware, then, that there is a possibility that I would have to let her go so that she can be all that she was made to be, that she would achieve the best possible for her life. I am well aware that to love her means that there is chance that I would have to release her to achieve the dreams that God has placed in her heart and to allow her to walk the path that she has meant to tread. But, truly, if that is what is best for her life, then so let it be. If that is what it takes for the dove to fly, then let her be free to soar.

Issues of relationships are never straightforward and there are no one-size-fits-all kind of answers. Yet, I do believe that at the core of it is the love of the Creator that sets us free, the faith of Christ that anchors us, and the hope of the Spirit that moves us.

There are many things that I am uncertain of, and there are countless possibilities of what the future holds. 

Yet, I know this to be true: that I care for this girl and love her deeply - NOT as someone that I can possess as a "girlfriend" (whatever this term means anyway), BUT as a special friend and a sister who I trust and want to share my life journey with.

So in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, I consecrate my friendship with her unto the Lord Almighty. May you, O Lord, lead us together to greater heights, and pour out you grace, love and joy more abundantly into our lives. Teach us what it means to love each other with same kind of love that you have poured out to us. And teach us what it means to care for another as Christ cared for His Church.

So, today I speak these blessings into our lives. May Your grace and your love be present and manifested in our daily lives, in our interactions, in our words, in our thoughts and in our deeds. And, in Your Son's most precious and holy name I pray these things. 


Monday, June 22, 2009

Redefining Relationships

Throughout the past week, I have been wrestling through issues about relationships, consolidating and crystallising my convictions about this complicated issue. The following are my attempts to put into words things that I have yet to fully understand (if I’d ever fully understand them). They represent certainties and convictions that I have reached at this point in time. They are thoughts and ideas that I treasure and discoveries that I would like to share with people who are on the same journey of discovering what it means to be in a life-giving and purposeful relationship.

There are no grand tricks or detailed schemes, and those in search of these things would very well be disappointed. However, to those who seek honest opinions and to those who are open to receive, I pray that these convictions that I have gathered thus far would prove to be of inspiration and encouragement to you.

First of all, I would like to say that being in a relationship is NOT a point where we need to reach, NOR is it a bridge that we need to cross. Rather, it is a continuous journey between two people learning to share their lives with one another, built upon the foundations of trust and respect. Nowadays, we are often fed erroneous ideas that to be in a relationship with someone first requires you to make him/her you boy/girlfriend, as though the person is an item that you can possess and manipulate according to your fancies.

Our relations with people are never meant to be discontinuous states of existence, where at one point in time, they are just “friends” and at the next point in time, they become “boy/girlfriends”. Today, we have a tendency to compartmentalise and to categorise our relationships with the people around us into “acquaintance”, “friend” and “boy/girlfriend”. We especially like to draw a line of distinction between “friend” and “boy/girlfriend”, where the former are the people that we kind of like, and the latter is/are the person (or sometimes people) that we really like. We think that these two categories are so different to one another, and that in order to truly care for someone we like, we need to get us to move from just being friends to being couples. In other words, we get the wrong impression that in order to start “loving” someone, we need to get him/her to be our boy/girlfriend. We think that we can only move to a new level of love, care and trust AFTER we have crossed the line.

Well, truth be told, the more we think about it, the more we know that it is not true. We do not learn to love and care for someone only AFTER he/she becomes our guy/girlfriend. The foundations of love and trust need to be built up even before that, because if we do not learn to love someone, we may feel “in love” with him/her because of certain things that we like about him/her but when the magic and the romance is gone, we discover that it is truly hard to care for that person because the necessary foundations have not been built up.

So far, I think I might have gotten ahead of myself and put forth a number of big ideas that need further explanation.

Let me restate my belief as clearly as I can. A relationship is a CONTINUOUS journey walked with another person, built upon the foundations of LOVE and TRUST, as both parties learn what it means to share life with one another, to believe in the things for each other’s lives and to want the best for one another.

Therefore, it is my belief that there is NO such category called “boy/girlfriend”. There is only the degree of trust and love that you have for another person that moves you to want to share your lives together.

The implication of this is that being “in a relationship” is not making the person “yours”, like taking possession of an object and using him/her for your pleasures. Rather, it is a continuous process of journeying and learning with that person what it means to love him/her for the person that he/she is, to believe in his/her dreams, passions and life, to uphold and desire the best for him/her.

Being in a relationship is NOT liking a girl for certain things, then doing your best to get her to be your girlfriend, and then love her and care for her and live happily ever after.

Being in a relationship IS to learn to love and care for that girl, to learn to trust her to a point where the both of you can start believing for things in each other’s lives and seeking the best for one another, and then potentially, making a promise of marriage to her.

We can view relationships as a sort of a continuous scale rather than two discrete states of being.

So then, now that that is made clear, this then changes the way we build our relationships.

A relationship with the boy/girlfriend mentality tends to be based on the things each party likes about the other party, e.g. the looks, the achievements, the personality. It is usually these things that make us feel a certain way towards the other person, and it is these things that drive us to want to make them "ours". Of course there is nothing wrong with enjoying these things because we are created to enjoy these good things about being with another person.

However, the trouble comes when a relationship is built solely upon the likes because there will be times when either the things that you like about a person gradually fade away, e.g. wealth, physical attraction, etc. or there are times when there are circumstances in life that become more imminent than the fantasy world that both parties have constructed together.

So, if a relationship is a journey of learning to love and trust, then obviously it should be founded upon love and trust!

Now, of course, we would need to clarify the word “love” because it is used in overly liberal ways today.

To love someone truly means to be willing to lay down the things that matter to you to see another person grow and succeed. To love someone is NOT a feeling, but it is a choice that is decisively made to care about another person’s life, and of course this can happen even when you are not “feeling like it”.

A loving and life-giving relationship happens when both parties are learning to walk together each day, being present and aware of each other’s life journeys, dreams and visions, struggles and triumphs, peaks and troughs, in essence each other! A life-giving relationship begins when both parties despite their differences, uncertainties, and frustrations learn to trust not their feelings, but that part of their hearts that know that they truly care about the other person and want to see him/her grow. A relationship is about savouring each moment as it comes and discovering something new about one another each day, discovering with each encounter more and more of another person’s life and hopes and passions.

Also, a loving relationship means wanting the best for each other. And potentially, this might mean that you are not the “best” person for him/her. If we operate with the mindset that a relationship is NOT about possessing the guy/girl, then this would mean that there is the chance that we would need to let the person go and release him/her with blessings so that he/she might achieve the best for his/her life, including the best partner in life. This of course does not sit well with us because we WANT him/her! Yet, if we understand love and trust, then we also need to understand that sometimes, to love someone means to let them go so that they can be all that they can be, that they can reach for the best in life.

So, let us summarise then. A relationship involves trusting and caring for another person’s life journey and love and grace to want to push and propel the person to be all that they can be, so that they can achieve the best in life.

Being in a relationship is NOT about making the person yours, but it is about learning to walk in faith, love and trust for another person and to see him/her grow and blossom to be the fullness of the image of what they were created to be.

It can be a painful pill to swallow, yet if we choose to engage in our relationships in this manner, we will discover, I believe, much joy and fruitfulness and grace in our lives and the life of that one person that we have learned to love and care about.

Of course, I say that there is no boy/girlfriend category because the way a lot of society perceives boy/girlfriend is that they “belong” to one another. To be clear, I am not against people calling themselves boy/girlfriends so long as we are clear that relationships is not about the possession or the endpoint, but it is about the journey.

Obviously, there is much more to be said about relationships. These few paragraphs of thoughts barely scratch the surface of the complexities and beauty of relationships. Yet, I shall save them for another day. I believe this is sufficient for now. 


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

And It Was Seven!

And it was SEVEN!

Seven – the number of perfection. A symbol of completeness and divine union. A mark of totality and entirety.

Today was a good day. A good day indeed. Seven things I praise God for today.


Praise Point #1

I sat for my clinical interview examination. I predicted that the patient case would be related to cough, and it turned out to be true! When I read the patient case and saw that it was a case of cough, I could not help but laugh to myself.

The interview went pretty well. The bell rang to mark the end of the interview as I finished my final question to elicit all the necessary information from the patient.

Everything went well. And it did not end there.


Praise Point #2

During quarantine time after the interview, I had several good conversations. I was truly amazed that the Lord brought me to these few people, as I was pondering the night before about who I was going to talk to during quarantine.

I finally managed to talk to Sam, the girl in medicine who shaved her hair for a charity run for cancer patients. I have always wanted to speak to her to find out more about her motivation for doing what she did.

It turned out that it was something personal to her. She has had people close to her suffering from cancer, especially her mom. Her mom had cancer when Sam was still young, and she was accustomed to the sight her mom without her hair due to the side effects of chemotherapy. Therefore, to her, she was not afraid to go bald for these cancer sufferers.

I am truly amazed at the heart and compassion that she has for these people and I truly admire the courage that she has to step out and to do this give of herself to help these people. I believe that she will continue to stir more and more people into action through her selflessness and passion.


Praise Point #3

I also had the opportunity to catch up with Ope, a Botswanan friend whom I have not talked to for quite some time now. It was great to be able to share from my heart the things I believe about life to her. Just yesterday after my exams, I received an SMS from a friend back in Malaysia telling me that her friend’s dad had died of complication of a heart attack. That message truly reminded me of the beauty and the value of life. Each life has its own beautiful journey and at times it’s really just sad to see that circumstances that snatch away the life that we so dearly hold on to. Life is truly something that we should be thankful for and treasure each day.

Ope also shared with her some the struggles that she had when she was younger to get to the point where she is today. I think that it is true that at many times, in the busyness and hubris of life, we tend to forget that there is so much more to life than just getting a good job, getting good grades, getting the things we like. There are just so, so many people out there who are less fortunate than we are, people who need grace, and love and forgiveness, people whose lives can be radically changed if only they had even a small portion of the blessings that a lot of us privileged enough to be studying in Australia are enjoying today.


Praise Point #4

After the quarantine, a bunch of us Meddies decided to go have dim sum in the city. I was pretty reluctant to go initially because I did not fancy the idea of big groups, but I decided to tag along anyway. I am glad I went. We had much good food and a chance to chat about random things and to laugh about them, especially Seok’s name being pronounced “Sheok”, which is kind of like “Shock” (But it was all Iv’s fault! She influenced my pronunciation!)

Also, I finally got to know more about a Vietnamese girl in Med whom I have seen around often, but haven’t really had much opportunities to talk to. On the way, I was thinking if I would be sitting with her, and surprisingly I did! When I arrived, the seat next to her was empty. My “predictions” were freakishly accurate today, and it was really starting to scare me. Seems like God really does have a way of answering prayers. But still, it was good to be able to get to know her more after seeing her around in the medical building for a year and a half.


Praise Point #5

I went to Uni after lunch, and had a nice cup of hot chocolate with Ivena, and today, it was our seventh for this semester – a perfect number with which to end the wonderful semester.

I always enjoy hot chocos with her. It’s one of those times when I can just sit around her and share time with her. She truly is a good listener and I feel that she can really connect with the small, insecure person that is inside of me and she is able to open the space where I can just share openly with her about things.

We talked about our past childhood experiences. But as we did that, I was suddenly overcome by the feelings of “emo-ness”, nostalgia and poignancy. I do not know why I suddenly had these feelings today, as I have not had them for quite some time now. I guess there are just many things that I regret and wished I could have done. And maybe I have been bottling up my emotions too much and have not fully conquered the ghosts of my past.

But still, I am glad that she was there to just listen and to share in that “emo” moment. It is always a great comfort knowing that she is there to support me.


Praise Point #6

After spending some time at Union House, we walked to this restaurant on Lygon Street called “Taste of Asia” to celebrate Seok Mei’s birthday.

It was a really great night I must say. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. It was great to be able to celebrate birthdays with friends, and to just lay back and relax after a stressful week of exams.

I seriously loved Daniel’s deserts and pastries. My gosh! They were the best pastries I have ever tasted! He beat the girls hands down! He should really consider working at the Brunetti’s shop.

Also, I got to know the person serving us that night, Jack, and his wife, Amethyst. Apparently, the restaurant was his father’s business and he moved to Melbourne from Malaysia three years ago. It was nice to be able to meet him and to share a bit of his life. I might drop by the restaurant again in the future and talk to him again.


Praise Point #7

The night before, I was thinking of visiting one of the beaches in Melbourne.

And today, I asked a friend if she wanted to just hop on a train during the holidays and cruise along to one of the suburbs. And she suggested, “Let’s go to Frankston!”

I said, “OK, but what’s in Frankston?”

“The beach!” came her reply.

I was shocked yet amazed at the same time. That was just where I wanted to go!

Truly, God has been gracious to me today. He has granted me my heart’s desires, and I accept them with humility and thanksgiving. It is truly a blessing and joy walking with the Lord each day. There is just so many things to discover each new day and so many opportunities that He opens up to just enjoy the friendships that He brings into our paths, to listen and learn from other people’s life stories, and to appreciate and treasure the simplicities of even a small cup of hot chocolate…

Thank you so much, Father Lord! You are good all the time, and all the time you are good. Amen.

*Coincidentally, this is the seventh post for this month. Just perfect...

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Cities of Refuge

1 Then the LORD said to Joshua: 2 "Tell the Israelites to designate the cities of refuge, as I instructed you through Moses, 3 so that anyone who kills a person accidentally and unintentionally may flee there and find protection from the avenger of blood.

4 "When he flees to one of these cities, he is to stand in the entrance of the city gate and state his case before the elders of that city. Then they are to admit him into their city and give him a place to live with them. 5 If the avenger of blood pursues him, they must not surrender the one accused, because he killed his neighbor unintentionally and without malice aforethought. 6 He is to stay in that city until he has stood trial before the assembly and until the death of the high priest who is serving at that time. Then he may go back to his own home in the town from which he fled."

7 So they set apart Kedesh in Galilee in the hill country of Naphtali, Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim, and Kiriath Arba (that is, Hebron) in the hill country of Judah. 8 On the east side of the Jordan of Jericho they designated Bezer in the desert on the plateau in the tribe of Reuben, Ramoth in Gilead in the tribe of Gad, and Golan in Bashan in the tribe of Manasseh. 9 Any of the Israelites or any alien living among them who killed someone accidentally could flee to these designated cities and not be killed by the avenger of blood prior to standing trial before the assembly.

(Joshua 20:1 – 9)

For the past two days, I have been meditating on this passage of scripture about the city of refuge. Here is some background about the city of refuge in the Old Testament days. Under the Israelite law, it is right for the next of kin to avenge the death of their family or relative. The Israelite code places the severe penalty of death upon those who commit murder, those who scheme and plot the demise of another, or as the Biblical writers put it, those who “lay in wait” to kill. However, there are times when one accidentally kills another person without malice or ill intention, just by pure accident or dumb luck. To avoid being killed unjustly by the “avenger of blood”, cities of refuge were set up all over Israel to ensure that these people who have accidentally killed someone could seek safe shelter from their hunters until they stand trial before the congregation of Israel.

There are altogether six cities of refuge designated throughout Israel – three to the west of Jordan (in the land of Canaan) and three to the east of the Jordan. Each of them were strategically placed upon prominences or high grounds so that it could be easily seen from afar, and the roads leading to these cities were well-maintained – all to facilitate easy escape of the asylum seekers to these cities (within half a day from anywhere in Israel) so that they would not be overtaken by their assassins, and be killed without guilt.

Upon reaching the city, the refugees would then report to the elders his story, upon which the elders would provide him with an accommodation within the city. Then, he would stand trial before the congregation of Israel. If he was found guilty, he would be handed over to the avenger to be killed. Otherwise, he would be returned to the city of refuge, where he would dwell until the death of the ruling High Priest, upon which he would be free to return to his land of inheritance. Should he venture out of the city before that and if he were suddenly confronted by the avenger and was killed, the blame would be laid upon his own head for stepping out of the walls of protection of the city before his appointed time. An interesting to note is that the cities of refuge are not only for Israelites but also for foreigners or aliens amongst them.

All the cities of refuge, if we read on further to Joshua 21, were given to the Levites, the priestly order and ministers before the Lord, as their settlements.

We live in a world where in every corner lurks an avenger waiting to pounce on an unsuspecting victim. We live in a place where death and desolation are just so imminent all around us, and in any direction we look or face there is bound to be some form or manifestation of them, either through vengeance, unforgiveness, bitterness, anger, sorrow, etc. Dare I say, we live in a world system governed by the law. We live in a world system and mindset that insists in getting what is ‘right’ according to the law to the point where we are adamant and uncompromising in getting things right according to the law, often times pursuing until we satisfy our desires for revenge and chasing until are able to pummel the ‘wrong’ person into submission and smite them with the rod of chastisement. For example, there are so many cases where plaintiffs just will not let go of companies who have scammed them or have caused grievous harm to them and pursue them in court for years, only to have the case ruled in favour of the defendant and them having to bear the cost of legal fees later on.

But do we have a right to be angry when we see such scenarios happening all around us? Do we not desire justice to be served on this earth? Absolutely yes! Indeed, the law is, arguably, one of the fundamental things in today’s society that keeps it running smoothly and orderly.

But how would it be if there was a place of refuge that is a shelter from all of these bloodshed and violence? How would it look like if there was a place of refuge where people who are broken and crushed, smitten and oppressed could come and find safety from all the grief, hurt, sorrows and vengeance inside of them that constantly pursue them day and night?

Are we not supposed to be that place, O Church of the Living God? Are we not supposed to be a place where those who are weak and weary can come and dwell and find grace and forgiveness, and mercy and peace from their relentless tirades of hatred, anger and bitterness? Are we not supposed to be ones where people from all nations can come to find shelter and comfort from the chattering voices in their minds that tell them that they are not good enough, or how they hate their colleague at work, or how things will never change just because they are  ‘so bad’?

And I believe that the cities of refuge were given to the Levites for a reason – they were ministers of the Lord, of the priestly order. In the same way, we too are priests ministering in the cities of refuge. We are to display the grace and the goodness of God to people who come into our midst seeking refuge. We are to minister to people who come into our midst in search of love and forgiveness, and to bring them to discover a God who heals and whose purposes are larger than their small-minded revenge mindsets, or their rigid unforgiveness mentalities.

We are to call people out from living in the law, essentially, where constantly pursuing them are vengeance, bitterness, anger, death and despair to the life of the Spirit where there is freedom, love, mercy and forgiveness. We are to create an environment where even foreigners can find grace and draw strength, a space where they can be safe from being hunted by their pasts, a place where they are free to live in the present to be who they are created to be, and a zone where they have the liberty to push on to a future and a destiny that is far greater than any of their selfish goals or self-centred desires to secure their ‘rights’.

Yet, are we living that out each day? How do we see our Sunday gatherings? Are we too busy doing things here and there that we do not pay attention to a person amongst us who is seeking refuge from their past hurts and worries? Are we just too focused on trying to make church ‘work’ that we have neglected to show grace and compassion for the needy ones among us?

The warning from our Lord is very clear. Salt that has lost its saltiness will be thrown away and be trampled upon. A light is not meant to be hidden under the table, but instead is to be allowed to shine as a beacon for all nations. Christ also warns believers in Revelations that if we do not return to ways of love and truth that he would come and remove their lampstand from its place, meaning to exclude them from the share of inheritance that God had for them.

This most definitely should put grave concern into our hearts. If we fail to serve our role as a city where people from all nations can come and find a peaceful dwelling amongst us, and a place where the reign and goodness of God can flow into their lives, but instead build our own kingdoms of power, pleasure and productivity over the city, then we should not be surprised when God comes, demolishes our cities and sweeps us off our lands, just as He did to the Israelites of generations past. It serves as a solemn warning that those who are part of the community of God, the cities of refuge, are to then minister and display the abundance of the grace and mercy of God to those among us who are seeking for them.

In conclusion, we, as the people of God, are cities of refuge established all over this planet, serving as places where people from all nations can find safety and shelter from their pursuing pasts, hurts, fears, anger, bitterness, vengeance, unforgiveness, and spaces where these people can find grace, forgiveness, love, joy, peace and learn what it means to live in the freedom of the Spirit as sons of God, made in His image, to be all that they can be, ruling over Creation in relationship with Him.


Friday, June 12, 2009

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

The ‘Wonderful Wizard of Oz’ by L. Frank Baum is a simple but amazing tale of the adventures of little Dorothy, whose house was blown (along with her and her little dog Toto) by a great cyclone one fine afternoon from her hometown Kansas to the mysterious Land of Oz. To her great surprise and horror, her house landed on the Wicked Witch of the East and killed her, liberating a group of people called the Munchkins. She came to wear the silver shoes belonging to the Wicked Witch and was bestowed a kiss of protection from the Good Witch of the North.

Her journey in the bizarre land began with her search for a way to return in Kansas to be reunited with her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry. Along the way, she was joined by a scarecrow who desired brains, a tin woodsman who would give anything in the world for a heart, and a cowardly lion who yearned for courage.

Dorothy and her friends trod along the yellow brick road to the Emerald City, where they would consult the great and terrible wizard of Oz and implore him to grant each of them their hearts’ desires. The wizard agreed on one condition – that they would slay the Wicked Witch of the West.

As the band headed west in search of the Wicked Witch, she saw them from afar and intercepted them. With her magical cap, she was able to summon a ferocious troupe of flying monkeys, who easily subdued the scarecrow and the woodsman. The lion was captured and caged. Dorothy and Toto, too, were imprisoned, but inside the castle of the Wicked Witch.

The Wicked Witch saw that Dorothy bore the mark of the Good Witch, so the witch was powerless to harm the little girl. Also, unbeknownst to Dorothy, she wielded tremendous power in the silver shoes she was wearing. The witch, knowing she could not hurt Dorothy, decided to deceive Dorothy into thinking that she was helpless against the witch and forced the little girl to serve her in the castle.

One day, the Wicked Witch managed to trip Dorothy while she was on her way to the bathroom, and stole one of Dorothy’s silver shoes that fell off in the process. Furious, Dorothy splashed a bucket of water on the witch and serendipitously killed her (for water was her weakness). The death of the witch liberated the Winkies under her control. The band regrouped and went on their way back to the Emerald City to claim their reward.

Upon being summoned to the throne room of Oz again, however, they unwittingly discovered a secret hidden from the rest of the denizens of the Land of Oz – the wizard was a fake! Oz was actually a mere man, a ventriloquist from Omaha who drifted in a hot air balloon to the Land of Oz. The people of the land heralded him as a great wizard and made him to rule over the entire land. Through his elaborate contraptions and prohibition of his subjects to see him face to face, he managed to maintain the image of the Great Wizard in the eyes of the people.

The party, however, refused to leave without having their wishes granted, and threatened to expose him to the inhabitants of the land. Fearing for his reputation, he agreed to ‘grant’ them their heart’s desires.

As the scarecrow wanted brains, Oz filled his head with bran and needles – ‘brain’ material!

As the tin woodman wanted a heart, Oz opened up his chest and inserted a silk heart.

As the lion wanted courage, Oz gave him a drink containing ‘courage’.

All of them felt satisfied that their desires had been granted, save for Dorothy, who still could not return to Kansas.

Oz conceived of a brilliant idea – a hot air balloon to take Dorothy back to Kansas and himself back to Omaha. The balloon was successfully constructed. Oz announced to his people that he would be leaving the land, and he would leave the rulership to the hands of the now wise scarecrow. However, as he prepared for launch, Dorothy went to fetch Toto, but ended up missing the launch. So, Oz was gone but poor Dorothy was still stuck in the land.

Yet, all was not lost! There was one last resort – the Good Witch of the South. To show their gratitude to Dorothy for helping them getting what they wanted, the scarecrow, woodman and lion once again accompanied Dorothy on her quest.

On the way, the lion slew a giant spider that had been threatening the animals of the jungle, and was made king of the jungle.

When they finally came to her palace, the Witch agreed to help Dorothy. The Witch explained the power of the silver shoes that Dorothy wore – they had the ability to transport the wearer to anywhere in the world!

After much tearful goodbyes, Dorothy tapped on her shoes, exclaimed her destination, and she was instantly whizzed away back home to Kansas (with Toto, of course), never to return again to the Land of Oz, as she lost the silver shoes in the journey home.

As for the rest the trio, the scarecrow returned to the Emerald City and ruled it in wisdom. The woodman ruled over the land of the West, caring for his subjects with his new kind heart. The lion returned to the jungle to take his rightful place as the king of all the animals of the jungle.

Lessons that can be drawn from this story…

The ways of the Wicked Witch of the West were just so similar to the ways of the Devil. He knows that we as the people of God wield greater power and authority than he does. Yet, he chooses to deceive us into believing that he is much stronger than he actually is, and that we are helpless against him. But truth be told, we have all the power and authority that we need to demolish the works of the devil, to crush him under our feet and to set the people free from his evil tyranny!

Wisdom, love and courage most certainly are not get just by stuffing brains into someone’s head, or transplanting a heart into another’s mediastinum (chest) or glugging it down like a shot of whisky. We do not need people to do things for us to make us wise, loving or more courageous. Truth be told, all of us have each of those attributes within us, albeit to varying degrees and levels. The key to ‘acquiring’ them is really through practice and using those gifts that are very much part of our humanity, choosing to step forth in faith with what little that we have that our capacities for each of them may be stretched and expanded each time we use them. The scarecrow didn’t need a new brain to be smart – he just needed to experience more of life (a baby is not born knowing all things, it come by experience). The woodman didn’t need a heart transplant to be more loving – he just needed to practice to love and kindness that is already inside of him. The lion didn’t need a shot of ‘courage’ to make him brave – he just needed to step out despite being scared (afterall, courage is not being brave when you are unafraid, it is being brave despite knowing that you are afraid).

Last but not least, this is one that spoke most powerfully to me. It is that everything is good for something. I enjoyed reading this part a lot, so I shall include the excerpt of the passage from the story:

“The Silver Shoes will carry you over the desert,” replied Glinda (the witch of the South). “If you had known their power you could have gone back to your Aunt Em the very first day you came to this country.” (Bummer!)

“But then I should not have had my wonderful brain!” cried the Scarecrow. “I might have passed m whole life in the farmer’s cornfield.”

“And I should not have had my lovely heart,” said the Tin Woodman. “I might have stood and rusted in the forest till the end of the world.”

“And I should have lived a coward forever,” declared the Lion, “and no beast in all the forest would have had a good word to say to me.”

So, in all things, no matter how bad it may seem there is always good to be found in it. In each moment you invest into someone’s life, there is always something good to come at the end of it, no matter how painful or how much of a ‘waste of time’ it may seem.

These are my reflections from the story of the Wonderful Wizard of Oz, a tale of wisdom, love and courage that I truly enjoyed reading and one that I most certainly would like to pass on the my children in generations to come.

Monday, June 8, 2009


'Cause you're everywhere to me 

And when I close my eyes it's you I see 

You're everything I know 

that makes me believe 

I'm not alone 

'Cause you're everywhere to me 

And when I catch my breath 

it's you I breathe 

You're everything I know 

that makes me believe 

I'm not alone

This song by Michelle Branch is one of the songs that I really enjoy listening to, especially this part in the chorus. 

I think it's funny how humans enjoy writing songs about love, relationships, romance. Maybe it's just part of our nature to want to love and to want to be loved, to desire relationships, to share life with another being apart from ourselves.

Most people, when allowed to choose what was most dear to them, would almost inevitably choosing a person that they truly care about, another human whom they have journeyed with or crossed paths with.

We know that deep within the core of our beings, within our inmost thoughts and heartfelt desires, we want to love another person and to be loved in return. We place our priorities (hopefully) on relationships, human beings, people (at least that we care about) over our finances, our careers, our successes, etc. When we are placed among people we truly love, we would give up other things to be with them.

And it's funny that no matter how "hopeless" or dreadful things can become, there is always one part of us that wants to believe for something better in the future. There is always one part of our soul that insists that things can't be over, that there must be more to it!

And sometimes, all it takes is just one person to stir up hope and faith and love within us. Sometimes, it just takes one relationship with another human being that we truly care about to bring out the best in us, to push us on to dare to believe, to believe that we are not alone, but there is always someone beside us, cheering us on and walking hand in hand with us to a brighter future that is ahead of us.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

How Would The World Look Like?

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." 

He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Then he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true." (Rev 21:3 - 5)

How would the world look like? One no longer filled with pain and sorrow. One with no more crying and mourning.

How would the world look like? One where only goodness and life flow. One where there is unlimited love and forgiveness. One with an overwhelming abundance of grace and mercy.

How would the world look like? One where there is unrestrained faith to dare to dream larger, to push beyond our wildest imaginations, to have the courage to climb to the greatest heights, or to shoot up to the stellar skies, or plunge to the deepest depths? 

How would the world look like? One where there is so overflowing joy and thanksgiving. One where there is unending thankfulness and celebration of life, of life!

How would the world look like? One where we are free to be human again. One where we are no longer ashamed or afraid. One where we are no longer fearful of creation. One where we can stare at the sun in all its glory. Or one where we can look at the moon in all its mystery. One where we can wonder at the daffodils in all its intricacies. Or one where we can enjoy each relationship in all its simplicities.

How would the world look like? One where justice shall finally reign. One where truth and righteousness is no longer relative, but is engraved in the hearts of each individual.

How would the world look like? One where man will take up rulership over it again, in the firmness and intimacy with the Creator. One where man will do once more what he was meant to do, to bring purpose and meaning into every part of creation.

How would the world look like? One where God's dwelling is with man? One where there is no longer fear or scarcity. One where there is complete worship and adoration of His being, His goodness, His faithfulness, His holiness and His purposes. 

How would the world look like? One where the dreams of our forefathers of old shall come true, the visions of people who have laid down their lives to bring peace and purpose to humanity, the hopes of great men and women who have laid down the foundations for generations to come.

How would the world look like? One where we shall be together with the Lord and with each other for all eternity. One where there shall no longer be funeral processions, or tearful goodbyes.

For the Lord shall wipe away every tear from our eyes. There shall no longer be tears of sorrow or suffering, or the tears of death and despair, but only tears of joy and celebration, tears of happiness and adoration, tears of awe and worship.

And the old order shall pass away. And the Lord shall make all things new again. And He is trustworthy and true.

What would the world look like? One where people dare to believe in this promise. One where people dare to hold hope for a new order, a new kingdom that is right at hand.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Let Her...

She is not mine, but the Lord's alone.

She belongs to no one, but to the Lord alone.

She is beautiful for she is made in the image of God.

She is lovely for the Spirit is within her.

So let her soar like the eagle and let her spirits fly.

Let her dance with all her heart and raise the banner up high.

Let her see visions and dream dreams. 

Let her rise higher and higher, like the bird that is free.

To the skies beyond her wildest imaginations.

Only, let her belong to the Lord and to Him alone.

Let her be beautiful just as she is, in all that she was made to be.

A daughter of the Heavenly Father and princess of the Most High King.

I Like Her...But Do I Love Her?

I like her. I really, really like her. But can I say I love her?

There is this girl in Uni that I like, very much. Ah, darn it. I’ve said it! We first met as tutorial mates. I thought she was annoying at first, talking so much during tutorials, stealing the conversations and I thought, well, there’s a competition for me! I gradually got to know her better and we began spending time during lunches at Uni, and now it has progressed to this stage.

It has been an interesting journey with her so far. And at this point, I feel that my conceptions and ideas of relationships are being stretched and tested.

I don’t know if it’s a common thing among others, but I feel that as you progress in a friendship (or relationship, for that matter) with someone, you gradually “grow fond” of the person and do not respect them as much as you used to when you first started out. That was my case with her. I started out having a certain kind of “fear” and respect for her and what she had to say. But as our friendship progressed, I could really feel that I had begun treating her as someone less and I did not really care as much about what she had to share any more. Gradually, our conversations became centred on what I have discovered, or what I am going through, or what I am thinking about. It is all about me! But, what about her?

Also, in relationships, there is always tendency to get possessive and self-centred, especially among guys (correct me if I am wrong). I discovered that as our friendship progressed, it became more centred on the fun that I can get while being with her, or the way she made me felt when I am around her. During our conversations, I would talk so much about my dreams, my goals, and my ambitions, but do not quite stop to ask her about hers. Also, at times, I could not help but give a glare of envy (though I try really hard to fight it) when she talked to someone else, especially if it was another guy. Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I am saying all this!

Then, the question hit me today: What do I believe for her life?

When it came, I stood still in the bathroom (yes, good insights come in the bathroom!) for a few minutes. I thought to myself: Hmm…good question. What do I believe for her life?  

When the question came, I could not answer it. It was then I realised that I have based my friendship with her thus far upon what I can derive from her (the fun moments, the listening ear, etc.) but I have not taken the time to actually think through what I believe for her life.

And today, I have made it a point to ponder through this question.

Through the previous conversations that I have had with her, I discovered that her life was not an easy one. She has gone through much suffering and hardships, and it is amazing that she is here today, so full of joy and the grace of the Lord.

And her story really encourages me. Now that I think about it, there is just so much beauty in her, so much more than meets the eye. She has such a beautiful heart and spirit, and her joy and worship to the Lord is just amazing.

Honestly, I feel ashamed that I have tried to take this beautiful person and turn her into another “object” that I can possess and that which gives me comfort. I feel ashamed that I have not taken the time to appreciate her as a beautiful person, made in the image of God, carrying His grace and His life onto this earth. I feel ashamed for being so focused on me that I have forgotten about her, the very being and person that she is.

And truly, Lord, I repent of my sins. Forgive me for my shortcomings. Thank you Lord for this beautiful heart and spirit that you have placed in my life. Help me see through the outer layers and superficialities into the person that lies beneath – her heart, her dreams, her visions, her spirit, her life!

As of now, I do not believe that I am ready for a life-giving relationship. I still need to step out of my self-centred mindset to peer into the beauty that lies inside of her and to believe in the things that God has placed in her heart.

Would I come to a point where I can believe enough for her life to take the step of faith forward?

I like her, but would I be able to say that I love her…dearly…for the person that she truly is?