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 is 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! ;)

P.S. as promised, here's part 2!

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.

Saturday 14 July 2018

"It's Okay Because I Am A Mom" - some thoughts

I just finished watching this 2-episode Korean drama about a mom in her 40s who suffers from early onset of Alzheimer's, It's Okay Because I Am A Mom.

I was reminded of the fund-raising concert Symponia that Jakin had helped to organise last year in school, in aid of the Alzheimer's Disease Association. His team had invited a caregiver to share her story and many in the audience were greatly moved. Similarly, I was in tears while watching the struggles faced by the protagonist and her family members in the k drama. Unfortunately, such stories are becoming more common in our aging population. In fact, today I also happened to chance upon a short film about the Confessions of a local caregiver.

Anyway, I like the way the k drama storyline focuses on the cracks in the family which widened at the discovery of her illness. In the end, the love and sacrifices she had made for her family in the past brings redemption and restoration. The key is that the plot doesn't just gloss over the problems. The beauty is in showing how love can bring the family together in the face of setbacks and challenges and give them the strength to keep going in spite of...

That, I find, shows up the elephant in the room which many Christians refuse to acknowledge. The majority of church-goers have this false belief that they can only show the good things in their lives in order to be an effective witness for God. [The prevalence of social media where only the best side is put on display worsens it, I think.] And along with that, they also propagate the myth that all your problems will be taken away once you receive Christ, plus the much more destructive idea that if something is still wrong, then it must be due to your lack of faith.

As a result, within the church community, many are still living behind masks rather than being authentic with one another, which leads to a lack of understanding, acceptance and ultimately a failure to truly love one another. And it also means that the church is incapacitated in reaching out to the wider community because we are unable to be the incarnate Body of Christ that lives among and feels along with the people.

However, the mood is gradually changing and there is hope for the church yet. More and more believers are starting to realise that we need to be real before both God and man, and that we have to provide a safe and loving community within the church for those who are struggling, whether it is with family issues, addictions or other problems. For instance, honest conversations like Is It Safe? (about same-sex attraction) and Tidings of comfort and joy can't take the pain out of life (about death) must take place. Only then can we point people to Christ and help each other to find true peace in the midst of the storm.

Tuesday 3 July 2018

The Gate Called Beautiful

Aimee submitted this piece of calligraphy to the Colours of the Bible 2018 art competition. Please vote for her piece by liking this post (click here!)

It's interesting that she chose to illustrate the word 'beautiful', which was the name of the gate where the lame man sat every day. Here's what she said about it:

The picture shows an open gate. When Peter healed the lame beggar in the name of Jesus, the beggar could then walk, and the gate called Beautiful was opened to him. 

I like the way she described how the gate was opened to him after he was healed. He not only could get up and walk, but more importantly, dignity was restored to him as he now could go through the gate and enter the temple to worship God with everyone else whereas he had not been allowed entry before due to his disability!

Perhaps the reason why the gate was called 'Beautiful' (Acts 3:2) was because one could enter in to "gaze on the beauty of the Lord and seek Him in His temple" (Psalm 27:4b).

It also reminded me of another gate - Jesus Himself! He said that He is the gate for the sheep (John 10:7). Shepherds would lie down, across the opening (ie the gate) of the sheep pen so their bodies become the barrier against thieves and predators that may try to steal the sheep at night. In the same way, Jesus watches over us and protects us, His sheep.

In addition, the sheep pass through the gate to feed on green pastures and drink from quiet waters (Psalm 23:2), which is why Jesus said that He has come so we may have life to the full (John 10:10b).

He not only provides for our every need in this life, but He also opened the way to God for us through His sacrifice on the Cross, for the only way to the Father is through Him (John 14:6b). Plus He has opened to us the gate to heaven and a life spent with Him for eternity.

Oh, how Beautiful indeed is Jesus, our Healer, Protector, Provider, and gate to life now and forevermore!

Finally, don't forget to click here and vote for Aimee's piece by 20 Jul 2018. Thank you! :)

Tuesday 26 June 2018

To live is Christ

Reflections (and prayers) while listening to Sidewalk Prophet's To Live is Christ:

If I rise, let me rise on you
Not on all of my successes, my esteem or my pursuits
If I lose, let me lose my life
Cause if I belong to Jesus, the flesh is crucified

Our identity and self-esteem should not be built on our achievements and successes, hence we do not pursue these for their own sakes. But whatever He allows us to achieve (or even lose) is for His glory and His purposes. May we be motivated by God and be willing to give up worldly pursuits (titles, awards, possessions, even relationships) that are not from Him.

For me to live is Christ
For me to live is Christ
For me to live is Christ, to die is gain

“I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.” Jeremiah 17:10
God is searching for hearts that are willing to die for Him, to die to self and worldly things. He looks beyond appearances (attending church & prayer meetings, or serving) to see our true motivations. May we do everything to glorify Him and Him alone!

If I grow, let me grow in You
Wilt the seeds of wanting more
Rippin' pride out by the roots
And if I'm still, let me hear You speak
Not the tone of my transgressions,
But the song of the Redeemed

We are all good in something. Do we pride themselves and boast in our achievements or are we humbled by the grace of God working in our lives? For He gifts each one with talents that we don't deserve in order to reveal Him to the world.

My great desire is to be with You
But this is the place you chose for me
This is the place you chose for me
To lift my cross and give everything
This is the time you gave to me

God has placed each of us in our school or workplace or neighbourhood at this time for a reason, not by chance but to fulfil His purposes for our lives. May we discover God's specific destiny for us and be intentional in growing in love and knowledge of Him as well as be trained and equipped for His work.

So the upshot of Paul’s life is that other people are making much of Jesus by being joyful in Jesus and boasting in Jesus. This is what it means for Paul to say “to live is Christ.” To live is Christ means to live, to be the means, of other people making Christ look magnificent by finding Christ to be their supreme treasure and their greatest satisfaction. That’s what glorying in Christ and being happy in Christ means. So that’s the first answer...

Now back in chapter 1 (of Philippians), to die was to be with Christ; therefore, dying was gain. That means his dying magnified Christ because it showed that Christ was more valuable than everything he had lost in death.

Now here in chapter 3, he’s unpacking “to live is Christ” in the same way with the same argument. Only instead of losing everything by dying, he says, “I’m counting everything as loss even while I live” to show that the value of Christ is better than the things I have in life even while I am alive. So again, “to live is Christ” means to live in such a way as to make Christ look magnificent as your supreme treasure...

In both cases, the goal of Paul’s life is attained when Christ is magnified in his body, whether by life or by death. The key to magnifying Christ in life and in death is to find him more precious, more valuable, more satisfying, more joyful, more boast worthy than everything we lose in death — “to die is gain” — and everything we have in life — “to live is Christ.”

Monday 4 June 2018


This is part 3 out of 3 in a devotional series based on the book of Nehemiah, written for New Horizon Church Camp 2018.

Now on the twenty-fourth day of this month the people of Israel were assembled with fasting and in sackcloth, and with earth on their heads. And the Israelites separated themselves from all foreigners and stood and confessed their sins and the iniquities of their fathers. (Nehemiah 9:1-2)

Confession - When the Israelites found out how far they had departed from God’s standards, a spirit of repentance fell upon them and they confessed their sins before God. Our own renewal can only come about when we confess and repent of our sins. Only then can Christ’s blood cleanse us (1 John 1:7) and make us new (2 Corinthians 5:17).

“Because of all this we make a firm covenant in writing; on the sealed document are the names of our princes, our Levites, and our priests.” (Nehemiah 9:38)

Commitment - After that, the Israelites renewed their commitment to follow God and His ways through a written covenant. As for us, the new covenant - that we are redeemed disciples of Christ - is written in our hearts and our minds (Hebrews 10:16) so we must ensure that we not only carry it with us but also display it for all to see through our words and actions.

On that day men were appointed over the storerooms... And they performed the service of their God and the service of purification, as did the singers and the gatekeepers, according to the command of David and his son Solomon. (Nehemiah 12:44a, 45)

Calling - Everyone in Jerusalem had a specific role. From storekeeper to gatekeeper, all of them knew that what they were doing was sacred and in service of God. Together with the priests and musicians, they were also sanctified for their jobs. We all have a calling from God too, regardless of whether we are serving in full-time ministry or not. Therefore, we must set ourselves apart in order to fulfil our individual calling wherever He has placed us.

Questions for reflection / discussion:
  1. God’s Spirit works hand in hand with His Word to convict us of our sin and the need for forgiveness. Are there any areas of unconfessed sin in you that needs to be exposed to His light? Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal them to you and know that God is ever-ready to forgive once we repent.
  2. True repentance should bring about a u-turn such that we forsake sin and take on God’s holiness instead. As you commit to keep to God’s standards, is there someone whom you could be accountable to, someone who not only keeps you in check but also encourages and spurs you on in your faith?
  3. Do you know what God’s calling is for you - in your home, in church, and at your workplace? How will you respond to this call?


This is part 2 out of 3 in a devotional series based on the book of Nehemiah, written for New Horizon Church Camp 2018.

Remember for my good, O my God, all that I have done for this people. (Nehemiah 5:19)

Works - When Nehemiah discovered that the governors had been taxing the people unjustly, he immediately put things right and restored justice. In addition, he served food to over a hundred people each day at his own expense. Similarly, God desires us to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with Him (Micah 6:8). There are many injustices in the world today and we have a mission to restore justice in the places that He sends us to.

Now when the wall had been built and I had set up the doors, and the gatekeepers, the singers, and the Levites had been appointed, I gave my brother Hanani and Hananiah the governor of the castle charge over Jerusalem, for he was a more faithful and God-fearing man than many. (Nehemiah 7:1-2)

Worship - The first thing Nehemiah did once the wall had been completed was to install the priests and musicians in order to restore the worship of God. We were created to worship and serve the Lord with our whole lives, hence we need to restore a heart of worship expressed through everything we say and do.

So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law. (Nehemiah 8:2-3)

Word - The next major step taken was to restore the reading of the scriptures before all the people. The people started crying (Nehemiah 8:9) when they realised how they had neglected God’s Word. It is not enough just to hear about God from others, we have to read and study God’s Word diligently in order to know and experience Him ourselves.

Questions for reflection / discussion:
  1. What are some of the injustices that you see around you? What could you do to make things right and restore justice?
  2. Apart from singing songs of worship, how else could you worship God in your daily life?
  3. Do you have a regular Bible reading plan? If not, how could you make the reading and study of the Bible a staple of your routine?


This is part 1 out of 3 in a devotional series based on the book of Nehemiah, written for New Horizon Church Camp 2018.

And they said, “Let us rise up and build.” So they strengthened their hands for the good work. (Nehemiah 2:18b)

Ready - When Nehemiah shared his burden for the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem with those around him, they responded readily and made the necessary preparations to start doing the work ahead of them. Similarly, when God convicts us of the need to rebuild - it could be our relationship with God, our marriage, family or the church - we need to be prompt to obey, and we should also get ourselves adequately trained and equipped.

Then Eliashib the high priest rose up with his brothers the priests, and they built the Sheep Gate... And next to him the men of Jericho built. And next to them Zaccur the son of Imri built. (Nehemiah 3:1a, 2)

Rally - Not only were the people willing and equipped, they also worked together - brothers alongside each other, fathers with their sons. The entire community got into the action and supported one another. In the same way, we also need to gather support for whatever rebuilding that we undertake in our lives, family or church. It could be intercessors who pray along with us, or co-workers who could provide help or advice and even take over whenever we are tired and need to rest.

From that day on, half of my servants worked on construction, and half held the spears, shields, bows, and coats of mail... And I said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, “The work is great and widely spread, and we are separated on the wall, far from one another. In the place where you hear the sound of the trumpet, rally to us there. Our God will fight for us.” (Nehemiah 4:16a, 19-20)

Reinforce - Finally, there is bound to be opposition to any work that is done according to God’s purposes. We need to constantly keep alert through prayer and arm ourselves with the Word of God, just like the Israelite builders took precautions so they would be able to defend themselves in case of an attack from their enemies.

Questions for reflection / discussion:
  1. Ask God to show you the areas of your life that need to be rebuilt and note them down. Are you ready to say ‘yes’ to Him? If not, what are the things that hinder you? Commit these to God and trust Him to remove them one by one.
  2. What training or equipping will you need for the areas of rebuilding that He has revealed to you? Who are the people whom you can ask to support you in prayer or as partners in the work of rebuilding?
  3. What are the ‘enemies’ that may try to distract you or deter you from the work of rebuilding? How can you resist these ‘enemies’?

Friday 11 May 2018

Some thoughts on #hobbylobbychallenge

I’ve been quite tickled by the creativity of many of the Hobby Lobby challengers, especially those who also post photos of what they really look like behind-the-scenes. The transformation from their real-life settings to the magazine-cover-worthresults can be pretty amazing! If you haven't seen any of them yet, just search #hobbylobbychallenge and have a look for yourself. 

You will see that while the final shot gives the impression that they are in the middle of a flower garden or something, in actual fact, they are in the middle of a shop aisle surrounded by a plethora of artificial decor plantsshelves, plant pots and other accessories, and signs and labels indicating prices and special dealsVery often, they would also have taken some of the stalks of flowers or leaves on sale and rearranged them, and ended up with bits and bobs strewn across the floor. So the whole scene is of a real big mess! However, these Hobby Lobby challengers start off with a vision of the final shot they want to achieve and keep their focus only on that, so they are not bothered by the mess around them 

Where there is no vision, the people perish. Proverbs 29:18a 

In our own lives, for most things that we embark on, we also need to start off with a vision, preferably a God-given one. For students, it might be an ambition of what they would become at the end of their studies. For parents, it could be a picture of how their family would be a blessing to those around. And in the workplace, it might be a vision of how a project would help to improve people’s lives. When we are guided by a clear vision, it not only directs the steps we should take to reach it, it also helps us to keep going even when things seem to go awry and circumstances look a bit messy. 

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 

Not only are the Hobby Lobby challengers situated in the midst of a mess, they also have to get into some very awkward and uncomfortable positions, frequently in extremely cramped spaces, in order to get just the right frame, angle and lighting for their shots. They even have to stay in those poses for a long time while their photographer friend attempts multiple shots at a gazillion different angles. I imagine most of them also had to get up really early or stay up late in order to get to the Hobby Lobby stores when there are hardly any shoppers around. Yet they are willing to endure all kinds of hardship for the sake of realising their vision of that perfect shot. In the same way, we should keep our eyes fixed on our Godly vision in whatever we are striving for, then no amount of trials and suffering would deter us from reaching for it.  

And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1b-2 

Some of these Hobby Lobby Challengers also describe in their Instagram and Facebook posts how they were told off, threatened and even driven out of the stores by the store managers. Nevertheless, they don't give up and keep up their attempts in different branches and at different timings of the day, all for the sake of getting THE shot! In our quest to fulfill our vision, we may also face opposition, rejection and humiliation. Again, let's not allow detractors to derail us from our course. 

Everyone will hate you because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. Mark 13:13 

Finally, if you haven't noticed by now, every Hobby Lobby Challenger needs to have at least one friend to help take the photographs. Some of them even have additional companions who help to conceptualise and arrange the flora for the shots. So before we start on our journey towards our envisioned goal, get someone else on board so we can encourage and spur each other on along the way.  

Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. Ecclesiastes 4:12 

In summary, have a vision, ignore the mess, endure hardship, ditch the naysayers and grab a friend. That is the recipe not just for a successful Hobby Lobby challenge but for almost anything we do in life too! 

Now, how about Singapore-style #hobbylobbychallenge right outside one of our friendly neighbourhood supermarkets? 😉