Sunday, 23 October 2016

How much should a Christian hate?

I wonder, how much should a Christian hate? I take my cue from the den of robbers where Jesus overturned tables and denounced peddlers and profiteers of religion. There are also other occasions where Jesus reprimanded the Scribes and Pharisees of his day, reserving the worst names for them like vipers, serpents, wolves in sheep clothing and whitewashed tombs.

Paul in Romans 12:9 even exhorted us to hate what is evil and to cling on to what is good for our love has to be genuine. We must not claim that we love and then go around turning a blind eye to injustice, corruption and abuses. Worse still, to project a form of love in public and then exact unmitigated hate in private especially with those closest to us bearing the full brunt of our raging campaign.

So, hate is not something to be avoided. We as Christian are in fact called to stand up for what is right and make a difference by stepping up to the plate. Having moral courage therefore requires us to call a spade a spade and a wrong a wrong. Most times, we have to tell it as it is and to be firm (even tenacious) about it. Such firmness will inevitably come with some force of anger, a touch of hate. If Jesus is a model for us to follow, we can rest assured that hating what is evil or wrong is not just appropriate but necessary even.

But this is the tricky bit. At the risk of stating the obvious, we are not Jesus - not even by a long shot. We are all flawed. We fall as often as we soar. However, I am not advocating that we stop hating evil (or wrong) or suspend all judgments. That would in my view be a dereliction of our obligation as a Christian.

I am on the contrary suggesting that every subject of our ire - be it a wayward preacher, a corrupt politician or a hypocritical believer - be balanced with an equally intensive, if not more exacting, exercise of self-examination. The log in our eye will always be a reminder of how vulnerable we can be. The heart is above all deceitful and we are called to guard it at all times - especially our own.

So, this brings me to the many posts I have written about megachurch pastors, namely Kong Hee and Joseph Prince – to name a few. Needless to say, I have admittedly not written nice things about them - to put it mildly.

I have called Kong Hee a coward for not standing up to what is right, for not being transparent with his members, and for dragging the church through a costly, exhausting and faith-sapping legal saga. And I don't think I need to mention much about his recently ordained wife which obviously smacks of blatant spousal bias and conflict of interests - putting aside china wine of course.

I have also questioned Joseph Prince's interpretation of scriptures. I feel that his radical grace message undermines God's holy Law while it distorts God's freely-given Grace. Burying the former (law) to raise the latter (grace) only offer one side of the Gospel. I also find his doctrine of the one-time-altar-call repentance another distortion, while his emphasis on the self-appropriation of righteousness risks believers taking Grace for granted. History has shown us quite conclusively that we still continue to sin against a loving Savior after the altar call, but it is what comes after that that true transformation begins, that is, repentance. 

Last but not least, I feel that the megachurch preachers like Joel Osteen, Benny Hinn and Kenneth Copeland turn religion into a self-profiting enterprise preying on the innermost desire of believers for the attention and affection of omnipotence.

But in writing about them the way I did, I kept to dealing with the issue as best as I know how, and not the person. As fallible as they are, I am equally fallible too. We are all flawed and I feel deeply that what joins us all together is never how morally superior we are. If anything, moral superiority is divisive, exclusive and self-glorifying. Self-appropriation of righteousness can equally be misappropriated to conveniently cover a multitude of sins.

Our common ground however is how flawed we are, and how much we need a savior - not how much we can live our life without one. And what holds us together is holy grief/sorrow, enduring repentance. Even if the Holy Spirit does not convict us of sins (so say JP as his bottom-line declaration), we could still grieve Him by our conduct, thoughts and speech. And if we respond in remorse and repentance to it by changing our mind and heart accordingly ("metanoia"), that is conviction enough for me (by the Holy Spirit).

So, I do have issues with Kong Hee,  Joseph Prince and the other megachurch preachers, and at times, I make personal judgments about their leadership and teachings.

But when I do so, I am aware that the log in my own eyes constrains me. It keeps me mindful of my own failings as a husband, son, friend and believer. I need to check myself too. I need a savior as much as they need theirs. I am accountable to God as they are accountable to Him.

And as I return to the question I first posed in this post - "how much should a Christian hate?" - I am reminded again of Paul's words, "to hate what is evil and to cling on to what is good."

Now, I prefer to replace the word "evil" here with "wrong", and apply the same to the tumultuous leadership of Kong Hee and some of the controversial teachings of Joseph Prince and the other megachurch prosperity preachers.

This is of course just my view and I am entitled to them just as many who disagree with me are entitled to theirs. Each of us has our own shored-up reasons for our particular stand or position. And the debate is endless on this.

My point here as I end is this, where should we then draw the line when it comes to hating what is wrong? I think the answer is found in the Pauline admonishment. At all times, our hate should not blind us to what is good. And if your read Romans 12:9, it culminates at verse 21 with this, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” If there is any doubt as to where to draw the line, that last verse should clear all doubts. Good always prevail, that is, it prevails over hate (Romans also talks about love, and I will leave that part to the end of this post).

At my brother-in-law's wake recently, I have spoken to members from City Harvest Church and New Creation Church and I realized that what is good about the churches are the members themselves. Most of them at least - the discerning and sincere members.

They know what they are looking for. They know why they come to church. They know how to pursue the Lover of their souls. They do not seek after men. They seek after God. They do not seek the gift, but the Giver. In fact, I have many friends who are equally discerning in these megachurches.

No doubt they are disappointed with some aspects of the leadership, but the source of their personal redemption and faith is not in the controversial programs and the flamboyant leaders, but it is in the life-transforming encounters with their Savior.

After talking to them, I feel that my hate for what is wrong should never blind me to the good that I cling on to. No church is perfect. No leadership flawless. And no programs foolproof. Leaders wear their pants in the same way that lay members wear them - one leg at a time.

By the fruits, you shall know them and mind you, numbers do not justify the leadership. Ten of thousands of people can be wrong (look at the current democracy in America). Just as the cult of personality is inevitable, we can trust that the discernment of mature church members will keep their eyes focused on their Savior.

By saying "by the fruits", I am talking about each individual life, and you can't just conveniently sweep or lump them all into one category and put a label on them under the category of "blind followers", "cliff-diving lemmings" or "mass delusionals". 

You have to talk to them. Listen to their heart's cry. Draw lessons from their struggles. Respect their reasons even if they differ from yours. Love them as Jesus loves them. Allow yourself to be encouraged and ministered to by the good in their faith and belief. And if there is a common thread that runs through our declaration of faith, it has to be the life of Jesus.

Sure, Jesus had overturned tables and stopped the people from turning His house of prayers into a den of thieves, but at the same time, He went all the way to Calvary and died for the same people who once formed the subject of his ire.

He took upon Himself their condemnation and turned evil or wrong into something redeemable, hopeful, empowering and enduringly good.

So, does this mean that I should stop writing about what I think is wrong about the leadership in the megachurches? No, of course not.

But my takeaway from all this is that I should continue to speak my mind as I have always done so in the past. Yet in doing so, I should also be mindful that love always makes the enduring difference.

It was love that compelled Jesus, not hate. It was love that completed the mission at Calvary, not hate. And it was love that Jesus said "forgive them for they know not what they do", not hate.

Love therefore goes the distance, completes the race and shows us the way. Yes, I should hate what is wrong. But such hate should never blind me to what is good, that is, what is redeemable and what is lovely in the eyes of my Savior. My heart should always be broken by the things that break the heart of God.

In the end, I should always strive to see everyone through the eyes of my Savior at an elevated point of Calvary, and not see them through my own eyes at the foot of the Cross where the only preoccupation is to cast lot over Jesus' seamless, blood-drenched robe. Cheerz.  

Their final days...

"Their final days". That's the papers today. People are dying and they want to live on in the hearts and memories of their loved ones.

Stephen Giam, a motivational speaker, passed away three weeks ago from advanced bile duct cancer at 51. He wanted to write a book about his final journey. But he did not have the time and he shared a video he made instead entitled "Stephen Says." The video covered issues like "What's it like to have cancer? How do you make death your "slave"? How do you leave a legacy?"

Another patient Benny had pancreatic cancer. In an interview, he said that "his biggest regret was to divorce his wife and the most important thing he learnt, after knowing that he had little time left, was to treasure his family."

Lesson? Death (or the thought of it) has an amazing way to concentrate or narrow the mind fabulously. Suddenly, everything we strive and crave for in the days of our youth goes strangely dim. And everything we have forgotten or dismissed as distractions takes centrestage.

If death is night and life is day, then the morning comes with a burst of energy. We are born. We grow. We are just discovering. We learn and fall, and learn again all over.

Then comes the afternoon. When the ambition is the hottest. We are geared up for the high noon of achievements. We want to be known. We want to shine. We want to do well and be proud of it. The fire is in the belly and the mind is laser-focused.

When evening comes, we return from whatever we were doing and achieving with a sense of fatigue and disillusionment. Suddenly, it dawns on us that life is much more than that. When sunset comes, the meaning-of-life goalpost, which once shifts constantly, even erratically, comes into sharper focus as our perspective broadens horizontally.

I like to think that in our youth, we use a torch light to concentrate on our path - be it career, marriage and family. We are intense in our focus. We have enough light for the next step. We see nothing else in fact.

We are serious about efficiency of actions and thoughts, serious about getting things done. Everything we do, we either want results, or it's a failure. We see success by a narrow window, just a slit of burning passion. Success (with a torchlight) is usually more of everything - money, status, possessions and recognition. The accumulation is relentless.

Then comes nightfall. This is a time where we are drawing the last reserve of our living breath. We are closer to the grave now. Things are quieter. The noises of ambition no longer keep us restless. The activities around us are still. And the enduring meaning-of-life goalpost stops to shift as it comes into clearer focus.

Now we somehow know where to go, how to kick and where to score. As our horizon widens, we discard the micromanaging torchlight that shines only at the immediacy of the material. And we turn on the floodlights behind us to see better, further and wider. We begin to see beyond the mindless chase, pursuit and race.

More importantly, we see the shadow of eternity lying beyond the horizon. The stars of the night becomes our guide. The white-noises of the day clamoring for our autopilot attention now gives way to the stillness of the night nudging us to give up the things that hold us in captivity, and instead to embrace the things that grant us true, lasting freedom.

In the great distillation of imminent death, we see loved ones. We see family. We see hope not in the things of the world, that is, fame, money and power. Instead, we see hope in relationships - not quotas, charts and profit margins.

We see the eyes of our children and wife, and realize that they have always been looking back at us, waiting for us at home, hoping for a minute of our time, fighting for our attention, living for our affection - all of which were seldom reciprocated as we are drowned in the busyness of our pursuit for the meaning of life as we see it then.

Let me end with what Khahlil Gibran wrote: "You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far."

The question is, "To whom have we been giving our bows (ourselves) to? To the archer who has in his sight the mark of the infinite so that our children's pathway will always be on target to the source of life, meaning and purpose? Or to the one who only sees the mark of the material, and every release of the arrow always misses the true target?"  
Food for thought? Cheerz.

Fatherless children; surrogate dads.

After coming out of a wake, funeral and a cremation ceremony yesterday, I have seen my beloved demise off, but have forgotten about the living. That is, the wife and the two young boys (4 and 8 years old) my brother-in-law had left behind.

What triggered this reminder is an article today by David Brooks entitled "Poverty up close and personal". He introduced an exceptional couple named Ms Kathy Fletcher and Mr David Simpson. They are no politicians running for a hotly watched-after campaign. Neither are they superstars spearheading an organization to eradicate world hunger.

Kathy and David are simple folks who open their house for teenagers to eat with them every Thursday night. That's what they have been doing and the numbers of teenagers coming in are amazing.

In a typical night, they would "have 15 to 20 teenagers crammed around the table, and later, there will be groups of them crashing in the basement or in the few small bedrooms upstairs."

The kids call Kathy and David "Momma" and "Dad" because most of them come from broken homes where their fathers are either serving time or dead, and their mothers are either drug-addicts or had abandoned the family.

David Brooks once brought his daughter there and she noticed that everyone "was unfailingly polite". They "clear the dishes, turn towards one another's love like plant towards the sun and burst with glowing personalities. Birthdays and graduations are celebrated. Songs are performed."

David's daughter concluded: "That's the warmest place I can ever imagine."

"During this election, season of viciousness, vulgarity and depravity, Thursdays at Kathy and David's have been a weekly uplift, and their home a place to be reminded of what is beautiful about our country and what we can do to bring out its loveliness," said David Brooks.

Lesson? Just one.

We as a people, nation and government have been chasing down one rabbit hole after another. We think the big battles are in eliminating terrorism or reducing the debt deficit or protecting national security or maintaining world peace. I feel that these are big sensational agendas with the littlest impact on the lives of our children, our future generation.

David Brooks wrote, "What changes people is relationships. Somebody willing to walk through the shadow of the valley of adolescence with them. Souls are not saved in bundles. Love is the necessary force. The problems facing this country are deeper than the labor participation rate and ISIS. It's a crisis of solidarity, a crisis of segmentation, spiritual degradation and intimacy." Amen.

As my brother-in-law passes on, he has left behind his loved ones - kids without a father. This is the challenge of society. This is where the rubber meets the road.

Let's put aside such grandiose goals like winning an election, competing to be world class and finding a pill for longevity. Gandhi once said that if we each do our part to sweep our corridor, each put in consistent effort to keep our house in order, the world will be cleaned.

At the eulogy yesterday, the other brother-in-law of mine Nat assured my bereaved sister-in-law Cherry that we as a family will be there for her. We will give of our love for her and her two kids, that is, love them in the way kor had loved them, and to the effect be their surrogate fathers. That about sums up what David meant by love being the necessary force. Love never fails.

What we (or children) need most now is not more policies being tabled in conference hall, but more food and family gatherings in the living hall, and not more strategies on how to bridge the gap between nations, but more invitations extended to our neighbors to have a nice warm meal in our homes.

Intimacy makes the enduring difference, not so much international diplomacy. The elegance of simplicity is never in the sensational. It is always in the endearing human touch, personal.

Let me end with this. "Sometimes Kathy and David are asked how they ended up with so many kids flowing through their house. They look at how many kids are out there, and respond: "How is it possible you don't?"

Indeed, how is it possible that we as a family for kor don't? Cheerz.

Sunday, 16 October 2016

My 2nd Eulogy last night: "The journey of unanswered prayers".

I remember that night when I was looking at Joel gasping for his last few breath and I told myself that this will be his final journey on earth. I told myself that I will not cry. I am not going to shed a tear. I want to hold it all in. That’s how I grieve. That’s how I roll. My son and daughter were also in the room and I thought I was keeping it together for them.

But when I saw my father-in-law, who was holding back his tears too, went over and fell head first on Joel and let out a wailing like a baby, I knew the tear ducts would come crashing like a broken dam. And it did. But then, I saw my son crying like a baby before me. I guess I managed to hold it up longer than him at least.

My point?

The order of nature as we all know it in this world has been disturbed, disrupted.


Because sons shouldn’t be going before their fathers. A child shouldn’t be going before his/her parent. That’s the worldly understanding of it. That’s the natural order of things. A son is born to take over his father. A son is needless to say younger than his father. A son carries on as his father’s heir. A son therefore attends his father’s funeral and sends him off. Not the other way round. Never the other way. That’s what I meant by the order of nature.

I am a father myself and no father I know would want to see this day come to pass. It would be a heart breaking day to send your son off like this. And that was why I cried too like a baby. I felt the pain, the brokenness, the sorrow, and the grief of a father’s heart. I felt a fraction of what it was like to turn your face away when you see your son hanging at Calvary and dying all by himself, gasping for his last breath.

But then, I was so wrong. I was so mistaken. I have been thinking the way the world has been thinking. I have forgotten that we are in the world and that’s about all – we are not of the world. God’s kingdom works so differently.  Aren’t God’s ways different from the world? Aren’t God’s thoughts higher than ours?

You see, the order of God is different from the order of man. Jesus said that the first shall be last, and those who exalt himself shall be humbled. The weak shall declare they are strong, the poor rich, and the lost found. To live, you have to die to self. And to be successful, you must first be a servant.

So, yes, Joel has left before his dad. He has left leaving behind his loved ones. But it is not the end. Definitely not. It is only a beginning, a marvelous beginning, an endless celebration in fact. He lives on over there even as he expires over here – physically speaking.

His testimony as a son, a husband, a father himself, a believer shines throughout. These memories are just indestructible. They cannot be taken from all of us here. We stand (or sit) here as evidence of how each of our life has been influenced by his life – in small and big ways.

In fact, these memories, the images of Joel’s life and ministry stand as a city on the hill for all to see, and to be inspired, to be encouraged.

Joel indeed fought the good fight. He took this life God has given him – not too long and not too short – and made the most out of it, the best of it. And now, he lives forever in the arms of his Savior. He’s home where he has always belonged.

Let me end with what faith means to me in this journey. We spent 8 long years since 2008 praying for him. Our collective voices as a family cried out to God. But it appears it went unheeded. Our prayers seemed unreciprocated. Underscore “appears” and “seemed”. So let me share with you my beloved the other side of this desperate supplication to God. Let me offer you another perspective from God’s point of view in our struggles with unanswered prayers. I have written it here and I call it, quite ironically, the journey of unanswered prayers.

“This is the journey of unanswered prayers.

It arises from an earnest heart.

It takes its life from the breath one takes.

Our souls incubate her to flight.

Every whisper adds flesh to her existence.

But the journey she takes is a hard one.

It is long and painful.

At times, the pain can be unbearable.

Hope can appear distant.

Joy can be quashed.

And faith can fall short.

The journey of unanswered prayers takes many blows from all sides.

Circumstances conspire to exhaust her.

Time can mocked at her, torture her.

While nothing is impossible for those who believe, yet believing is not what is impossible for the believers.

It is the false hope that makes the journey intolerable.

The uncertainty cuts deeply into the longing, weary soul.

Positive turns are met with negative U-turns.

Improvements we see in Joel turned out to be deterioration lying in waiting.

And peace of mind are shattered by unbidden anxiety.

This uncharted path also seeks to starve us of hope, faith and joy.

Yet, this journey of unanswered prayers does not remain unanswered for long.

It somehow finds her own answers, in her own ways.

The miracle unfolds in her own time.

God’s plans are indeed different.

With time, the season of pain gives way to a season of deeper understanding.

The season of disappointments turns into reason for hope.

The load becomes lighter.

The joy returns.

As the journey of unanswered prayers come full circle, it is an end of one journey and the glorious start of another.

It is the beginning for Joel in a place he will always be singing and praising with no end in sight (that’s what he loves to do, above all).

And for the living, for us all here, his family, his friends and believers, we look back at the trail of this journey of unanswered prayers, and we see not the pain, the sorrow, and disappointments anymore.

The trail behind us has changed completely when we choose to see it not through our own eyes, but through the eyes of our Savior.

The tears of this journey has turned to rejoicing.

The brokenness is made whole.

The sadness transformed to joy.

Faith is restored,

Peace returns for good,

And love finally conquers all.

The love of a father for his son.

The love of God for us.

Now I know what Isaiah 55:11 means when it says, “So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” 

Tonight, the journey of unanswered prayers find her rest and assurance in this scripture.

For every prayer offered did not return unto God void.

But it accomplished so much for those of us who keep trusting, keep believing.

Joel has finally returned home to much rejoicing.

It is victory forevermore.

It is life eternal.

It is joy unconditional.

Rest in peace Joel.

Love, family.



He fought the good fight - Joel Goh, RIP.

My brother-in-law fought the good fight, stayed the course, and won the crown of glory - all in one relatively brief lifetime of 38 years. He has definitely won my heart as I watch him on that bed heaving his last breath last night.
In fact, I saw how he left this world. It was one of those rare moments where I witnessed a brave fight to the end.
I always wonder what is a good death, and I found the answer in Joel. Since his tumor in 2009, he never let up. He was as faithful and as hopeful as the cancer was as painful and as dreadful.
And last night, he let go and let God. Yet the foreign invasion took nothing of the Joel I knew. My brother-in-law gave nothing good and inspiring of himself away. He kept to the end the best of himself even when life has given the worst of itself to him.
He even dictated the terms of his own demise. In his afflictions, Joel ceded no concession to pain, morbidity and death. He told them off and got them to stay on their side of the line.
He loved ceaselessly. He didn't let pain and hopelessness destroy over him. He still wrote to others to encourage them in his dying days. He sent them songs in the Whatapps to tell them in no uncertain terms that God is still as real to him when he was well as when he was sick.
He passed away living an authentic life as a father, a husband, a friend and a believer.
Death could have changed him. It could have made him bitter, withdrawn, broken, angry, and lost. But it did none of that.
Death's schemes flopped big time. In fact, Joel turned it around last night. He valiantly changed death, he transformed it into life.
Death was supposed to signify the end, but Joel transformed it into the beginning. That is, the beginning of life, eternal life. Death was supposed to take away faith, but Joel added more of it to his fight.
Death was supposed to rob hope, but Joel saw the things of the world growing strangely dim while the things of eternity growing brightly as the morning rise.
And death was supposed to bring pain and sorrow, but Joel stood in the gap with the Lover of his soul and converted all that to deeper love, greater hope and a brighter tomorrow.
Indeed, death is not for the dying. It is for the living to contend with. For Joel, death lost its sting and hold on all that is joyful, faithful and hopeful in him.
Joel conquered it by not letting it take his spirit and soul away. He in fact lived again to tell of his glorious victory. This time in a more firm and permanent place - our hearts.
Last night, I kept my tears to myself until my father-in-law went over to his son, hugged him intimately, and broke down like a baby. It was there, that image, that moment, that I kept my tears no longer.
No amount of pretenses and false bravado could withstand the demonstration of a father's love and devotion for his child. It was a transforming moment and I was reminded of my own love for my son and daughters.
And love had the last word that night. Love told death off. Love lived on because love never give up, let go and fail.
On that deathbed, I did not see a dying man. I did not see a departing brother-in-law. I did not see Joel's final hour with his loved ones.
On that deathbed, I saw family. I saw tears of endearing memories. I saw hearts poured out in love and devotion. I saw even more life than the expiry of it. So, death has indeed been defeated. I have no doubt of that. Death died that night and life lived.
Goodbye Joel. Your words of encouragement will linger strong. Your life testimony will never fade. Your songs of grace and love will resonate in the quiet chambers of our hearts.
We will miss you because we love you. But don't turn back now because there is a greater joy waiting for you. A celebration prepared for you. A gathering of saints rejoicing with you. A love unconditional, surpassing everything on earth, waiting to embrace you.
Run away Joel. Run towards it. The author and finisher of your faith awaits. We are here merely to send you off to a better place. A place you have prepared all your life for.
Take care bro. Have a wonderful trip. Go home in perpetual peace and glory. See you when I see you. Cheerz.