Friday, 23 August 2019

Find strength in the Lord for the victory is near!

I tried out the Bibliolog interactive Bible study method (which we learnt from Birte Papenhausen recently) during a parents’ prayer meeting today, with the passage taken from 1 Sam 30:1-19. You can read my prepared script here. The parents found it very refreshing as the method helped us to immerse ourselves in the story and experience it first-hand as though we were one (or a few) of the characters. It also opened our hearts to allow the Holy Spirit to speak into our own lives and situations. After the session, many of the parents were asking how they could also use the Bibliolog method in their Sunday school classes, small groups and family devotions!

Even while I was preparing the script, I had received great encouragement from the example of David. He sought the Lord in a time of great distress and found strength in the Lord (v.6). Not only that, when he enquired of the Lord, he was told that he would succeed in rescuing their wives and children who had been taken captive (v.7-8). From these verses, I was reminded to look to God no matter how bad things may be and to trust that in Him, we will have victory over all obstacles and circumstances. This is especially relevant for parents who, like David, may feel that they have lost their children to various bondages like addictions, sexual sin, depression or loss of faith. Regardless of how far away they may seem, we can be assured that God is watching over them, He is in control and He will bring them home one day!

During the Bible study this morning, from the responses the parents gave as well as my own thoughts as we went along, I also realised that sometimes we are like the captive wives and children. We may have yielded to sin and find ourselves separated from our family, church and God. But God will not let us go and He continues to pursue us with His love, just as David and his men did not give up the rescue mission even when some among them were too exhausted to go on (v.10).

At times, we may be like those '200 men' who had to stay back. We may feel helpless and unable to do anything to help our children when they are in trouble or even suffering. Instead, we have to rely on others to reach out to our children to lead them out of pain or darkness. For instance, children who shut us out and refuse to talk or listen may need counsellors or youth group leaders to speak with them, or children who are seriously ill would need doctors to heal them. In such cases, all we can do is wait and pray – not only for the results but also for those ‘400 men’ who are battling to save our children.

Finally, while putting ourselves in the shoes of one of the men who had gone out with David and returned victorious, I saw that there are occasions when we may misunderstand the intentions of others. Imagine if the men thought that David was wasting their time or had given up on the rescue mission when he went away to pray, and they had gone off on their own without him or even stoned him to death! Either way, I doubt they would have been successful in retrieving their wives, children and all the plunder. We also need to be patient and give others the benefit of the doubt rather than jump to conclusions and worse still, act or speak rashly against them. In fact, we should stay humble and be willing to learn from others, especially from men and women of faith how to relate with and trust in God.

Thursday, 4 April 2019

You Say Who I Am and "Wreck-it Ralph 2" [Spoiler Alert!!!]

The other day, Aimee gleefully showed me what she had done with this old pencil sharpener of hers. It used to feature a Disney princess (can't remember which) but she had covered it up with this self-illustrated phrase, "You say who I am." I think this probably came about from a chat I had had with her last week. She was rather down because she couldn't cope with homework and all, on top of the heartache she was already suffering from as she had been told she mustn't dance for a month due to a leg injury. She absolutely loves to dance and in fact, dancing is therapeutic for her! So basically, she was feeling pretty helpless and worthless.

I prayed with her and said that God has made her with greater potential than she realises. So she needs to ask Him to reveal to her who He has made her to be, and what other God-given talents and abilities she has yet to discover. Then she must believe what God says, instead of the lies from the devil telling her she's not good enough, and live out the truth that God shows her about herself.

It's rather apt then that it was a Disney princess that got covered over on this sharpener, for most little girls define themselves according to the qualities of these fairy tale princesses. As they get older, of course they start to base their identity on what's prevalent in society, popular culture and media. The 'You' who tells them who they are is what they see on social media, and in movies and videos. As a result, many of them end up with low self-esteem and even become depressed or suicidal when they find that they can't measure up to these standards.

There's a scene in Wreck-it Ralph 2, where Vanellope crashes into the Disney princesses' changing room, and she goes through just such a struggle with her identity. The princesses are trying to figure out what kind of a princess she is and start to list all the qualities she should have. She fails all of them except for the final one - everyone assumes all your problems are solved when a big strong guy comes along. Of course, the princesses are thinking of their Prince Charmings but we all know Vanellope's knight in shining armour is none other than her bestie Ralph, who is anything but charming!

Anyway, reassured that she is a princess after all, the princesses start giving her advice on how the music and singing should come naturally when she realises what it is that she really wants. But she has trouble convincing them and herself that what she wants is a steering wheel (the very thing that made her and Ralph break into the Internet). In fact, after this encounter, she becomes gradually more and more unsure of whether the steering wheel is really what she needs. It is only when she takes the only piece of good advice from the princesses, that is to spend time reflecting, that she finally realises her innermost desire is to be part of the Slaughter Race game.

That's when she goes into a snazzy song a la Disney princess style, albeit accompanied by macabre scenes of car crashes, explosions and straggly dogs popping out of a shark's mouth. Even though the visuals are as far away from the usual Disney princess' backdrops as possible, there is no doubt that this is what Vanellope was made for. However, she is worried about what Ralph would think as his hopes are for her to go back to her old game Sugar Rush. Eventually, Ralph also understands that Vanellope needs to pursue her own dream and lets her go with his blessings.

Even though the Disney princesses initially attempt to stereotype Vanellope, we can also learn from their advice to her. We need to take time to seek God and reflect on who He has made us to be. If we judge ourselves by other people's standards or try to meet other's expectations of us, even if they're from our closest family and friends no matter how well-intentioned, it will only lead to confusion, frustration or depression. Our identity must be founded on the unique blueprint that God our Maker has designed us with. And only when we start to live it out will we find true purpose and fulfilment.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. - Psalm 139:14a

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

Love in the Moonlight (or Moonlight Drawn by Clouds) [Spoiler Alert!!!] - part 2

In my previous post on this series, I focused mostly on the relationship between Crown Prince Lee Yeong and his love interest Hong Sam Nom/Hong Ra On. In this post, we will look at two other key characters and a few overarching themes.
Kim Byung Yeon (Kwak Dong Yeon) and Kim Yoon Sung (Jinyoung)

All the servants in the palace leave their families to serve the royal family. From the very first day, they are told that their aim is to protect the royal family with their own lives. In return, all their needs are provided for - food, clothes, housing, training etc. In the same way, we are called to lay down our fleshly desires and even our lives to serve our King. When we do, He will provide for all our needs as well as take care of our families.

"Truly I tell you, no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields - along with persecutions - and in the age to come eternal life." Mark 10:29-30

To the death
The Crown Prince's bodyguard Kim Byung Yeon is also his best friend. Although he is secretly conspiring with the rebels, he's actually motivated by the Crown Prince's ideal of a world where everyone would be seen as equal regardless of class and rank. Ultimately when it comes to a point where he has to choose between the rebel movement and the Crown Prince, he proves his loyalty to the Prince by being willing to die in his place. Because of his sacrifice, the Crown Prince and the rebels are reconciled and they work together to build an ideal kingdom after his acsension to the throne. Byung Yeon is also saved from the brink of death by the Prince and lives on to witness the genesis of the new world.

We as soldiers in the army of God should similarly not be put off by suffering and even death as we fight to build His kingdom on earth. No matter how much pain we may have to bear or that we may have to die for the gospel, He will raise us up to live with Him in the new heaven and new earth one day (Revelation 21). I am reminded too of how the blood of martyrs have watered the ground and readied it for the gospel seed to grow and bear fruit, bringing reconciliation between man and God.

"For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it." Matthew 16:25 

The other Kim
Contrastingly, Kim Yoon Sung, the Crown Prince's childhood friend had broken off their friendship and lost his way due to the power-grabbing schemes of his grandfather, Prime Minister Kim. In addition, he and the Crown Prince also become rivals in love. As a result, he keeps wavering in his loyalties, and sadly he doesn't live to see the coronation of the new king.

God has given us this grace period to make up our minds as to whether to receive His gift of salvation and to live our lives for Him. However, it would be too late when the time is up - either when we die or when He returns. So let's not waver nor be double-minded like Yoon Sung. Make the decision today to commit ourselves to Him!

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. Titus 2:11

Already but not yet
In order to lighten his sickly father's burden, the Crown Prince agrees to act as Prince Regent and be given full power and control. Unfortunately, many power-hungry ministers are not happy and try to dethrone him. They resort to poisoning him and think he's a goner for sure, but he is actually hiding his recovery from everyone. When he rises again from his bed, he does not take down all the corrupt ministers at once. Instead, he prepares for his eventual victory over them quietly by gathering evidence against them. Then in the midst of their gloating, they are vanquished one after another.

Just as how the Prince Regent is given complete power, Jesus was born the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He is sovereign over all. Yet sin and evil are still operating in the world, just like those greedy ministers plotting against the Prince Regent. Then when Jesus died on the cross and was buried, those who persecuted Him thought they were rid of Him once and for all. Little did they know that on the third day, He would rise again! And even though right now it appears as though sin and evil are running rampant, He is still at work and one day He will return to eradicate them entirely from the world.

At that time the Lord will punish the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens above. He will also punish the kings on the earth below. The Lord who rules over all will rule on Mount Zion in Jerusalem. The elders of the city will be there. They will see His great glory. His rule will be so glorious that the sun and moon will be too ashamed to shine. Isaiah 24:21, 23 (NIRV)

Truth shall prevail
The detractors led by Prime Minister Kim use all kinds of tricks and deception to frame and harm the Crown Prince and his followers. But rather than follow suit, Lee uses the truth to expose them and their lies, and to set Hong Ra On free from the false accusations they had piled up against her.

Jesus also knew about the plot against Him, and He hinted during the Last Supper with His disciples that one of them would betray Him. In fact, He knows everything that we have ever said and done, even our every thought! On the Day of Judgment, we will have to face the charges for every sinful word, act and thought. Yet, He offers the Way out for us and reveals Himself as the Truth that gives us Life. So all we need is to accept His Truth and we shall be set free from all our wrongdoings!

"There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known." Luke 12:2
"I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." John 14:6
"Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." John 8:32

Kisaengs and gamblers
Lee Yeong's late mother had taught him not to be too high up that he can't hear the people. So he makes it a point to get close to the commoners by roaming around town incognito. He even hangs out with kisaengs and gamblers, who were the lowest of the low, the outcasts of society. Although the ministers criticise his behaviour in court, he explains that it is only by doing so that he can hear the truth about all that's happening in his kingdom.

Similarly, Jesus hung out with prostitutes and tax-collectors - those despised by society. He valued each person and saw their need for salvation regardless of their background. It is comforting to know that He will not despise us despite our family background, upbringing, educational level, status, and any other trappings of society. It also means that we have to value others as He values us, and not hesitate to share His love with them regardless of where they are and where they have been.

While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew's house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with Him and His disciples. Matthew 9:10

Wheat and chaff
When Lee takes the throne, he gets rid of all those who were against him and promotes those who stayed faithful to him throughout all the tough times to rule with him. When Jesus returns to take His place as Ruler of the world, He will also remove those who deny Him and raise up those who remain faithful till the end to rule with Him.

"Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn." Matthew 13:30
"He who overcomes, and he who keeps my deeds until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations." Revelation 2:26 (NASB)

The New World 
After his coronation, Lee sets out to establish a new world where all men are equal. He had been taught by his late mother who was inspired by Catholic teachings, to treat every person as equally worthy of attention.
The new king mingling incongnito with his subjects (left), with the former rebels looking on (right).

In God's kingdom, there is also no distinction and every individual is precious and loved by God. Therefore, we need to build His kingdom through acts of justice - reaching out to the poor, the needy and the oppressed, offering opportunities to the marginalised, and giving a voice to the voiceless.

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28
"The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free." Luke 4:18

Friday, 4 January 2019

Review: The Teenage Guide to Life Online by Nicola Morgan (Walker Books, 2018)

What follows is a book review by my son, Jakin:
This book is directed at youth (hence the title) and does a good job at persuading the reader that smartphones can be both beneficial and detrimental, and also providing practical steps to take to prevent and manage addictions to the internet. Overall, this book is well-organised and the author makes all points very clear to readers.
The author uses a lot of statistics and research results in the process of showing the positive and negative effects of the internet. To begin with, the author introduces the extent at which the internet has developed, as well as the pervasiveness of smartphones. “According to the website Statista, in 2014 there were 1.57 billion smartphone users around the world. This is predicted to rise to 2.87 billion by 2020.” (pg. 17). The author uses statistics like these to help readers realise that technology might be a problem. The author even compiles pages of resources and links to websites for the reader to check out at the end of every chapter. These are what the claims the author makes are based on.
The author splits the book into many sections of using the internet, and in each category she states both positives and negatives, then concludes. These help readers to identify where they have their own struggles and where they are strong at using technology well. If they require help, the author provides tips after each negative point. For example, in the category “Reading on Screens”, the author makes a point that we may be losing the ability to read deeply or slowly. After explaining how screens may cause us to do so, the author, under the heading “How to avoid this negative:”, provides advice, such as ‘2. When you are reading something important, tell yourself: “I’ll read this slowly and concentrate.”’.

This book comes out as one that clearly makes its case on technology, providing a balanced argument on the benefits and drawbacks of the internet, and yet is also practical for those seeking help. This book would be best read while in a discussion between parent and child, such that parents can guide their children in taking action if necessary while they read the book together. Of course, parents could also unexpectedly learn something from the book when discussing with their children, so everyone benefits.

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Saimdang, Educational Reforms and the Class Divide

I know I promised there would be a second part to Love in the Moonlight in my previous post, but I just had to interrupt the series with another saeguk (period drama). That’s because soon after I had finished watching Saimdang: Memoir of Colours just last week, an online storm broke out over two issues which I realised were addressed in Saimdang. [Before I forget, you can watch the series legally (ha!) on Netflix.]

Although the series hadn't done so well in terms of its domestic ratings, I personally loved it for the breathtaking beauty portrayed through the magnificent scenery, the exquisite paintings, and even the painters' creative process. I also liked that there were strong female characters - Saimdang herself (Lee Young Ae, from the well-loved Dae Jang Geum aka Jewel in the Palace), and her childhood-friend-turned-nemesis Hwieumdang (Oh Yoon Ah) - and the redemptive element in their relationship. Towards the end, Hwieumdang repented of her scheming ways and saved Saimdang from her villainous husband's plot to kill Saimdang, Saimdang not only forgave her but healing and restoration came when Saimdang cared for Hwieumdang's children when she was in exile.

In fact, the entire series is an extended lobby for gender equality, with both Saimdang and her daughter Mae-chang fighting for recognition of their artistic talents in the royal court. With a bit of research, I found that the historical figure Sin Saimdang, on whom the drama is loosely based, was a bit of a non-conformist herself. She pursued her artistic and literary passions even though it was practically prohibited of women born in nobility. Not only is she one of the very few female painters recorded in Korean history, she is also revered as a model for all mothers. Both she and one of her sons, Confucian scholar Yi I, are commemorated on the 50,000 and 5,000 notes respectively.

Now, let’s talk about one of the recent uproars on local media. The Ministry of Education is revamping the examination structure in schools by reducing the number of exams students will take in their school career so they can be encouraged to develop a love for learning. There has been applause as well as opposition to the move. No matter what top-down changes are made, ultimately it’s the attitude on the ground, of parents and even students themselves, that must shift before real change can occur.

In the drama, Saimdang withdrew her son Hyeon-ryong (based on the real life Yi I) from the most prestigious school in the city even though he had passed a very difficult admission test. She had discovered that the parents and the students were fixated on results and student ranking, so much so that Hyeon-ryong was beaten up by Hwieumdang and her son after Hyeon-ryong ousted the boy from first place. The headmaster had tried to introduce creative teaching strategies to get the students to develop a sense of curiosity and learn through self-discovery. However, the parents went up in arms and demanded that he revert to the traditional rote learning methods. Furthermore, Saimdang overheard Hyeon-ryong cornering the teacher in class with his trick questions. Once they got home, she reprimanded him for showing off his intelligence by trying to outsmart the teacher. She emphasised the need for good character above talent and intelligence, and concluded that she would teach him herself at home.
Meanwhile, Saimdang’s eldest son Seon confided hesitantly in her that he would like to become a blacksmith instead of continuing with his studies, but was worried that she would feel ashamed of him. To his surprise, Saimdang encouraged him to find his own path and not feel burdened to follow what society expected of him. She elaborated on how the many different occupations are equally important and all help to contribute to the community in their own ways. Subsequently, Saimdang set up a school in their village which welcomed children of all social classes and abilities and every child was encouraged to develop their unique talents. The children had so much fun learning and exploring together that some of the students from the top school even ‘dropped out’ with their parents’ blessings so as to join her school.
The other contentious topic has been about the class divide in Singapore. Accusations are rife online of how there is a lack of social mixing in the community while elitism is being promoted in schools, and the welfare of the lower classes are being ignored by the government. Again, regardless of whatever policies and welfare programmes there may or may not be, we need to have people who will be counter-culture and make attempts to cross the divide and blur the lines separating the different classes for social stratification to be torn down.

Whereas the servants in other households were treated as nameless and faceless almost sub-human creatures, Saimdang regarded her servant girl Hyang-i as one of her own children. Hyang-i would be included in family discussions with her opinions taken into consideration, she sat together with the family during meals, and everyone chipped in with the housework rather than order her around for every little task. (Hyang-i is at the far left and far right of the pictures below.)
After a boy tried to rob Saimdang, she followed him home as he said he needed money to buy medicine for a sickly grandfather. This led to her discovery of a group of starving gypsies living in caves near her paper mill. She immediately cooked some food and fed them, then invited them to work in her mill with the promise that she would split the earnings equally with them. Despite her noble background, she lived and worked among them, and was the first to start every morning and last to pack up at night. She was always polite and respectful, even though the gypsy boy had tried to rob her and some of the other gypsies had initially been suspicious of her and spoken rudely to her.
Saimdang also influenced others to look beyond class distinctions. For instance, she involved her children in the work at the paper mill and in the process, they learnt not to judge anyone based on their class or background. Another noblewoman joined her at the mill to cook and serve food to the workers. The policy at the mill was that whoever had done some work would be given free meals. When the crown prince visited the mill incognito together with another nobleman, they even offered to wash the dishes in order to be able to eat with the workers!

So let’s take a leaf from Saimdang’s book. Rather than point fingers at the government or at society about the ills of the education system or the widening class divide, remember that change really starts with individuals - you and me - who dare to live and act according to our beliefs, whether it’s to focus on character-building, promote a love for learning or bridge the social gap. And sooner or later, there will be a ripple effect as more and more people are affected, and that’s when culture shifts.


Monday, 13 August 2018

Love in the Moonlight (or Moonlight Drawn by Clouds) [Spoiler Alert!!!] - part 1

I had written earlier about a Korean drama series, W, which is about a webtoon character come to life. Well, this time round, I'm writing about another K drama that is based on a web novel brought to life by one of my favourite actors Park Bo Gum! You can watch the series here or read the episode synopses here (along with some interesting comments).

The Lion and the Lamb
What I love about Park Bo Gum's acting is that he is so versatile and convincing. One moment, he is the majestic Crown Prince Lee Yeong, standing before the court officials with his commanding stature, wielding power over the life and death of his subjects.
Crown Prince Lee Yeong threatening to execute Prime Minister Kim on the spot after Kim killed someone Lee was in the midst of interrogating (Kim wanted to stop the man from revealing that he had been hired by Kim's followers to assassinate Lee)

And the next moment, he's the gentle and patient half-brother of the little mute princess, teaching her to read and write, or the loving caregiver of the sickly consort who had looked after him following his mother's death.
The kind and friendly Lee getting to know a little girl he meets in the marketplace

This aspect of the character Lee Yeong reminded me so much of our own Prince of Peace who is both the powerful and fearsome Lion of Judah, as well as the meek and gentle Lamb on the throne.

Lee Yeong gets to know Hong Sam Nom while out and about town incognito. Hong ends up being sold off to the palace as a eunuch to repay his debts. Lee tells his only friend and bodyguard, Kim Byung Yeon that he prefers not to reveal his true identity as Crown Prince to Hong as he wants to keep Hong as his friend. He eventually has to tell Hong but instructs Hong - who is shivering in fear as he thinks he deserves death for having been rude to the Crown Prince all this time - to speak with him informally whenever they are alone.

Just like Abraham was called God's friend (James 2:23), we have the confidence to approach Him freely because of the blood of Christ (Hebrews 10:19). I also think of Esther when she approached the king unsummoned, thinking that she might very well be put to death. Instead, the king shows her favour and extends his sceptre towards her (Esther 5:1-3). In the same way, God has shown us grace and mercy, and extended His cross-shaped sceptre towards us.

True worth
Anyway, it turns out that Hong is actually a girl (Hong Ra On) masquerading as a boy (Hong Sam Nom). She has no idea why, but her mother told her when she was eight that she has to remain a boy till it is safe again. Unfortunately, she is separated from her mother and since she is clueless about when it would be safe again, she has to keep pretending to be a boy. However, Lee soon sees through her disguise and at about the same time has also fallen in love with her. Even though to everyone else she is just a simple and lowly eunuch, Lee confesses that she is the 'most precious lady in the world' to him. She has a hard time believing him as she is suffering from extremely low self-esteem due to the identity confusion she has had to live with for the past 10 years. In fact, she keeps blaming herself for everything that goes wrong even when it has nothing to do with her! Only much later when she has come to terms with her true identity is she able to accept Lee's love and affirmation (as well as stop the self-blame).

In the same way, regardless of how the world sees us, what people say about us or how circumstances may try to determine our identities, it is only when we agree with God on who we are - His sons and daughters, hence princes and princesses - and what we are worth - His treasured possession - that we will end our struggles with self-doubt and self-deprecation.

'You are mine'
A hugely popular catchphrase that audiences have picked up from the drama was how Lee refers to Hong as 'he is my person' or 'you are my person'. Lee keeps saying that to her and to others to reinforce his determination to keep her by his side. There's even a song in the official soundtrack entitled My Person, a haunting chart-topper sung by none other than Park Bo Gum. The song title is also translated as 'my dear' or 'my love' (by different Youtube users who have uploaded the song).

It reminds me of another beautiful song found in the Bible with the words: "My beloved is mine and I am His" (Song of Songs 2:16). Just like the assurance Hong has that she belongs to and is under the protection of the Crown Prince, we can also rest secure in the knowledge that we belong to the King of Kings and nothing can separate us from His everlasting love (Romans 8:31-39, Jeremiah 31:3).

However, there are times when Hong does struggle and tries to fend for herself. In one of these instances, she ends up being taken into captivity by the Qing envoy before she finally realises she needs Lee's help and should have trusted in him all along. Sometimes, our faith also falters and we run around trying to solve our own problems when all we need to do is turn to Him to find the answers.
Riding off into the sunset together after Lee rescues Hong from the Qing envoy 

Earlier on in the plot, when Lee first confesses that he knows she is a woman and that he is in love with her, Hong tries to avoid him. She is confused and needs time to sort out her own feelings. Lee understands and gives her time and space to do so in spite of how much he yearns for her. Another song from the OST, Because I Miss You, expresses his sentiments beautifully. Finally, she is moved by his gesture of love when he learns the sign language that she has taught the mute princess and uses it to express his love for her. He also asks her not to leave him and finishes off with hands clasped and eyes closed as though in prayer, the sign for 'please'.

This scene looks just like the father who longed and prayed for the return of his prodigal son in the parable Jesus told (Luke 15:11-32). Just as the father who willingly gave the inheritance to his son and let him leave, God sometimes allows us to stray away from Him in order to figure things out on our own. But when we finally return to Him, our convictions will be even stronger than before. In the meantime, He waits and yearns for us like the father waited for his son, and Lee longs for Hong.

Lee and Hong are separated again much later in the series when she has to escape and go into hiding after it is discovered that her father was the rebel. This period of separation is much longer than the first, and while Lee pines for her just like before, he doesn't try to meet her. Instead, he asks Byung Yeon to assure her that he is working things out. He manages to clear her name so she can return to him without anymore fear.

There are times in our lives when we feel that God is far away and doesn't seem to care about what we are going through, but He has not left us and will never forsake us. Even when we don't understand why certain things happen the way they do, we just have to trust that He will work all things out for our good (Romans 8:28) in His good and perfect time!

Not only does Lee see Hong as precious and his beloved, he also continues to believe in her despite the accusation that she had helped the assassins who stormed his chambers one night. While the officials are hunting her down for being the rebel's daughter, Lee never doubts her sincerity. That gives Hong the courage to not give up and eventually return to the palace in disguise so as to nurse him back to health after he had been poisoned.

We often face criticism and accusations too, especially as Christ's followers. The world hates us because it hated Him first, but we have been called and chosen by Him (John 15:18-19). Our Lord not only knows us by name even before we were born (Jeremiah 1:5), He also knows our every pain (Psalm 34:18). Therefore, we do not despair but continue to persevere and run this race for Him in the face of persecution and suffering, while looking forward to day when we will return to Him and experience joy forevermore (John 16:22).

There is no doubt that Park Bo Gum is one of the most handsome Korean actors around. And the director banks in on this by focusing the camera and zooming in on his face from different angles, and even on his hands and fingers. Perhaps they are trying to make up for the lack of a pretty and dolled up female lead (after all, she's dressed as a man for most part of the series) by featuring a beautiful male lead instead.

A Park Bo Gum feast for the eyes!

Yet no matter how good-looking PBG is, it still pales in comparison to the beauty of our King! That is why the psalmist desires to dwell in the temple all the days of his life in order to behold the beauty of the Lord (Psalm 27:4). Just like how Hong sits and gazes longingly at Lee while he's studying or sleeping, one day we will get to gaze forever at His most beautiful face.

'How can it be'
Not only is the Crown Prince shown as being beautiful, he is also portrayed as being heroic and self-sacrificial. Lee saves Hong again and again - from drowning, from the Qing envoy, and from the assassins where he gets stabbed instead. Each time, Hong, along with all the other eunuchs and officials, is incredulous for she can't understand how he could be willing to do all that for such a lowly subject.

Our God and King has in fact died and sacrificed Himself on the cross for us, even though we don't deserve such attention. That's why we sing in a very popular worship song: "Amazing love, how can it be, that You my King would die for me?"

To be continued
As you can probably guess by now, I love this drama a lot and have lots to say about it. That's why there will be a second part coming... soon, I hope! ;)

Friday, 10 August 2018

NDP 2018 - the next generation, hope for the future

This was my favourite scene from the National Day Parade last night (celebrating the 53rd year of Singapore). My next favourite part would be the parallels drawn between those who literally built our nation in the past (Samsui women) and those who continue building in the present (foreign construction workers). Anyway, back to this photo! It shows the student uniformed groups marching up the spectator stands, waving at and high-fiving members of the audience. The commentary went something like this, "There's the symbolism of having these students embody the commitment, energy and dynamism of young Singaporeans as they chart a path to a greater future for Singapore."

Looking at these fresh, happy faces, I certainly felt the joy and hope for a bright future for them as individuals and for us all as a nation. However, I was moved not only by this. I had mixed feelings due to having heard about four young people aged between 18 and 21 who had taken their own lives, all within the past three weeks. These four were just like the young people featured at the parade, yet their course through life had ended abruptly. I had been grieving the loss of these young lives and the promise that each of them had held. So when I saw this portion of the NDP, the sense of hope for the next generation was once again revived in me!

It begs the question though, of what we must do to help and support these young people in order for them to achieve that bright future. Youth nowadays face much more pressures and stress than we did. Instead of the two exams a year I used to have, many of them now have to take weekly tests too. And while we who were in the performing arts groups had a year's break between each SYF competition, they are now made to enter various regional/international competitions during that in-between year.

Some may say we just need a structural change, a revamp of the education system for instance. Yet, I think that it requires everyone of us to have an attitude change. At the societal level, there is a cause-and-effect mentality where we expect certain results (output) after all the resources that have been invested (input) in our young. But we mustn't forget that these are individuals with unique interests, talents, challenges and struggles.

So regardless of whether you have a young person under your direct care or not, the next time you meet one, don't just ask them about their exams or results. Be genuinely interested in what they are passionate about, and show real concern for the burdens that they carry. We may not be able to change the system on our own, but by sharing our ears, hearts and love with them, we will make all the difference in their lives.