Monday, January 26, 2015

Singing Movies

Alright, I have to confess that I spent the weekend watching TV. Not a single book was touched.

All is not lost though when I happened on this endearing movie, Song for Marion.

Song for Marion (2012)
It is about an elderly couple where the wife who is terminally ill spends a lot of her remaining time and energy in a choir. The husband grudgingly abides with his wife's wishes and when she passes on, he tries to find it in him to move on and found some hope in the same choir his wife joined. It was a touching movie. I simply have a penchant for movies with choir competitions. I love watching them practice and then go into the competition as the obvious under-dogs. And these elderly folks, they can definitely sing.

I then realised that there are several music movies or more in particular singing movies that I really love. I have watched these five movies many times over, every single one of them.

Sister Act (1992)
It all began with Sister Act, the quintessential choir movie. It was entertaining and amusing to watch nuns bringing life to church hymns and who can forget the almost deaf pianist.

Music and Lyrics (2007)
There are no choirs in this movie but I like it because it's about a fledging writer on how she came out as a lyricist and a has-been 80s singer on how he came back to the lime light. My favorite scene was his solo piece where he sang to her to "Don't Write Me Off Just Yet."

Burlesque (2010)
Like I said, I love movies about under-dogs and this movie is exactly just that, on how a nobody became the lead in a Burlesque production.

Pitch Perfect (2012)
This movie is a Sister Act remake, without the nuns. I could watch this over and over again and enjoy the musical scenes as they prep for competitions after competitions. What's interesting about this movie is how they mash songs together, which is just brilliant.

Sound of Music (1965)
Ah, how could anyone not include this in the list. I practically grew up with it. I know every song by hard, except The Lonely Goatherd, which I could never remember the words to. I don't understand why.

I look forward to more such movies. Pitch Perfect 2 is coming soon and I hope it will be just as good if not better.


Sunday, January 25, 2015

Jesus walks on water

The sermon this morning was preached based on the popular passage of Jesus walking on water - Matthew 14:22-33.

As pastor preached, I soon had three questions:
1. Why did Jesus walk on water? Why didn't he just wait for the disciples to come back?
2. Why did Peter walk on water? There seem to be no purpose for him to do so.
3. Before he came walking on water, Jesus went up alone to the mountain to pray. I ask a most fundamental question, why did Jesus pray?

Why did Jesus walk on water?
The disciples were caught in a storm. Interestingly, Jesus had insisted that they get into the boat knowing that there will be a storm. He may have done it to teach them faith. Jesus then came walking on water in the midst of the storm - he was in the storm, in full control of it. The lesson is this - in our lives as Christians, we will find ourselves in life-storms, big and small. Be rest assured that Jesus is in them, and he is in control. Trust in him. You may not see him in the tumultuous times of your life, (the disciples thought they say a ghost!) but he is there.

Why did Peter walk on water?
Really, why? There is no reason to. I checked the commentary I have and the author said, "If we take the narrative as historical, it is difficult to know what lay behind Peter’s request. It may be that Peter wanted to participate with Jesus in this miracle as he had in the preceding one [feeding of the five thousand]. Perhaps it was no more than impulsiveness or the desire to do something excitingly dangerous—to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience—which appealed to him. The impossible would be possible through the power of Jesus. Thus Peter’s request is based upon faith in Jesus and not upon an uncertainty about whether the apparition really was Jesus (this reality is assumed in the protasis of the condition)."1 In application, I see that we should actually walk the storms of life in faith with Jesus because he is right there with us!

Why did Jesus pray?
This is a very fundamental question but it came to me and I decided to put aside my pat answers and really think about why Jesus made it a point to pray. He is fully God himself and he knows what will happen. That leaves us with only one reason why he prayed - his communion with the Father. The Father, the Son and the Spirit are so close in the Trinitarian relationship that when Jesus became human and was apart, he often recluse himself to spend time in the relationship. And this is exactly what we his children are called to do - to abide in Jesus and to remain in him. This is why we pray, not for the asking, but the communion with God.

1 Donald A. Hagner, Matthew, Word Biblical Commentary

Saturday, January 24, 2015

My dream house

I desire to spend the weekend in quiet rest and what better to do than either a book or a movie. And where better than to do it in the comfort of home.

This however, is how my dream house would look like with a double storey library. I wish...

And now that I'm growing into a fledging movie buff, I'm wishing for a wall-size screen.

Well, these are dreams to remain as dreams. I'm contented and thankful with what I have.

I like to dream though.


Friday, January 23, 2015

My day in connectedness

I had wanted to blog about my #1 Gallup theme Connectedness but I couldn't quite put it in place until now.

People with the Connectedness theme do not really take coincidences as given. We can almost believe that coincidences does not exist. Everything happens for a reason and almost everything and everyone is connected in one way or another.

Something quite significant happened with my #1 and #2 themes today - Connectedness and Intellection.

I was blogging yesterday about my exceptionally busy start to the new year at work and these two words came to mind as I wrote. I do experience cases where words I seldom or may have never used just come and I would wonder where it came from.

Two simple words - let up - not used so frequently to me and when it came to me yesterday, I did check the dictionary to ensure I was using it accurately. I was. I had described the fact that my busy days would not let up and with that, I'm almost drowning.

That was yesterday.

This morning, as I was doing my devotion, the same two words was used in the materials I was reading.

I was reading on Isaiah 33 where the prophet was lamenting on the stubbornness of the Israelites who would not obey or trust in God.

The Assyrians were coming against them but they disobeyed God and looked to the Egyptians to save them. It was like going back to their slave masters for freedom. What irony.

When the Egyptians were of no help, they thought the could buy the Assyrians off. They withdrew money from the treasury, stripped bare the temple doors of gold to be given to the Assyrians to leave them alone. The author rightly stated that it was humiliating to Judah and doubly dishonoring to God. The people treated God as their worthless ally and then make God pay for their disloyalty!

Then the author said, "But they don’t see it that way. Not yet. What they see is hope: “Finally those Assyrians will let up on us! This will all be over soon.” So there goes God’s money, God’s honor, and their integrity in the form of payment to the Assyrian mafia." (emphasis mine)

When I read that sentence, it stopped me short. I felt that this was no simple coincidence, there must be something to it and I immediately asked the Lord what the lesson here for me would be.

It was a simple connection.

My busy days were not letting up. The Assyrians were not letting up. The Israelites had not trusted God. Have I trusted God? I was complaining. I was frustrated.

I reassessed my situation and realised that my busyness may never let up, however much I complain. What I need to do instead is to trust in God. That it is not by might, nor by power but by His Spirit.

As a result, when I committed it all to Him, I had more fun at work today in spite of my busyness. So much so that I was contented to stay back late into the evening in order to clear my inbox before I call it a day, before I call it a week.

I thank God for his promptings. I thank God for his everlasting Word that will never fail us.

He is faithful and good.

Source: 'Isaiah: God Saves Sinners' by Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr., R.Kent Hughes, General Editor

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Lost to my heart and mind

I checked out the Mandarin word for busy, mang, and I thought it was so interesting.

I have been extremely busy since I started work this year and it hasn't let up. I have had back to back meetings almost everyday for the past three weeks. I was in meetings today from 9:30am to 7:00pm, right through lunch. I don't like it that I haven't had time at all to think or mull, hence no time to practice my Intellection (#2 in my Gallup strength sequence).

When I checked the word mang, I found out that the word is made up of two parts, "heart" and "lost". As much as "lost" is only phonetic, and I most probably am wrong in this, it seems that being busy is being lost in heart and mind. I am so busy that I don't have the time for my heart and my mind. I am lost to it.

Ah, no wonder I don't like it.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Penpals then and penpals now

What's the difference between penpals then and penpals now?

It used to take weeks or even months to get a letter from them that friendships can last a long time, if not a lifetime, whereas it only takes minutes now, at most a day that you'd run out of things to write in about a week.


Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Providence of God

I am reading another book on prayer where I am trying out what the author calls a prayer-launcher, i.e. a way to launch us into frequent praying. (I will do a book review when I finish the book, it is good.)

One of the prayer-launcher suggested was to praise God on his attributes. He suggested we pray on three attributes a day, but for a start, I thought I'll try praying an attribute a week. Praying, meditating and praising God for who he is.

One attribute that stood out for me is the providence of God. I'm ever thankful to him who has provided for me in my times of need and times of good. He is faithful and loving, knowing exactly what I need and how much of what I need is good for me. He holds the whole world in his hands, he has everything in his hands.

However, what's interesting was that I've inadvertently stumbled into another much debated topic of theology. I didn't realise that the Providence of God is usually discussed with the Sovereignty of God, and as one is tied to another, it stumbled along to another theological topic: Molinism. I thought I've had enough of theology with the Calvinism-Arminianism debate and now there another one.

I shan't delve much into it but to meditate in the providence of God. I found a link to this very useful journal article (warning: it's a long article, I've not finished reading it yet) in the Society of Evangelical Arminians site:

Robert E. Picirilli, “Toward a Non-Deterministic Theology of Divine Providence,” Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry (Spring 2014) Volume 11.1, 38-61.


Sunday, January 18, 2015

Deep and comforting Psalms

Today's sermon was based on Psalm 42, one of my favourites, with a most beloved refrain:
Why are you cast down,
O my soul,
and why are you
in turmoil within me?
Hope in God;
for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.
The main sermon points were two: (1) like the Psalmist, be honest in our emotions with God in our worship and prayer, and (2) in our deepest hole of depression, there is hope in God.

I checked my Logos library and found this book I didn't realise I bought. It will be a good read. Walter Brueggemann is an excellent scholar and writer.

Spirituality of the Psalms
by Walter Brueggemann

I love his introduction of the Psalms:
The Psalms are a strange literature to study. They appear to be straightforward and obvious. They are not obscure, technical, or complicated. Yet, when one leaves off study of them, one is aware that the unresolved fascination endures. Any comment upon them is inevitably partial and provisional. That is certainly true of such a limited manuscript as this. The reason for the partial, provisional character of this study is not simply because of such limitations, but because of the nature of the material. There is simply more than can be touched and handled. So one finishes with a sense of inadequacy, of not probing enough. That, of course, is why the Psalms continue to nourish and nurture long after our interpretation has run its course. We are aware that the claims of the literature have not been exhausted.
Ah, I am accumulating more and more books to read and I shall not start too many at one go. I already have three books I am currently reading now. I had better finish reading at least one of them before I start on this. But I certainly look forward to it.

I read somewhere or was told that the Psalms are usually appreciated by the more matured. It is when we have encountered much in life, these words of the Psalmist speak to the very depth of our hearts, lamenting to God, seeking his presence, trusting his counsel and praising his faithfulness and sovereignty.

Let all who has breath praise the Lord.


Friday, January 16, 2015

Tough Week

It was a tough week, emotional and difficult. I am not free to say much here. There wasn't a death or a discovery of a terminal illness, but to a certain extent it is quite close to such, in an emotional and spiritual sense. I tried to blog about other things but this really filled up my week, and I can't dismiss it. Therefore, to keep to my blogging purposes to have a public journal of my days, this has to be mentioned, but with no details. Just my thoughts and emotions.

I have experienced the Kubler-Ross Grief Model in just a span of five days--denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, which I would re-word as disbelief, anger, weighing options, and sadness with feeling of resignation.

Yes, that would surmise what I went through in the past few days. What a way to start the new year, but there it is. I pray for God's mercy and grace for all of us. I am thankful and grateful that God is sovereign, faithful, loving and just. In spite of the monstrosity of humanity, He is good.


Thursday, January 15, 2015

Book Review: Devotional Warm-ups for the Church Choir

Grace Notes began our weekly practice this year last week on 7th January and it was decided that I take up all the devotional slots this round. We usually start with a short devotion to keep ourselves, the group and our ministry secured in the Word of God.

So far we have used materials ranging from Oswald Chambers' My Utmost for His Highest to sharing from any passage of choice from Scripture to sharing on any songs the group has done over the years and what it meant to us.

I was a bit lost as to what else to use when I found this book:

Devotional Warm-ups for the Church Choir: Preparing to Lead Others in Worship
by Kenneth W. Osbeck

It was an excellent find. The book starts with a section on "The Marvel of the Human Voice". Every chapter comes complete with a Scripture passage/verse, devotional reading, group discussion questions and concluding thought.

I especially like the group discussion questions. They are quite deep and they make us think. In the past two readings, there were at least a two-minute silence both times after I read out the questions. I let the pregnant silence be as the group think and mull over them. After some thoughts, we did have good discussions and the choir director will close with her thoughts before we move on to vocalisation and singing.

I certainly look forward to it now and learn from Scripture and each other on our ministry as a Christian choral group.


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

We are not residents but pilgrims

Ortlund completes the third section on "The Supremacy of God Over the Nations" on Isaiah 24:1-27:13, where he pointed out that "Isaiah is concluding another major section in his book. Chapters 1-12 reveal God’s saving purpose for Judah and Israel. Chapters 13-27 reveal his saving purpose for the whole world."

City of God
by Saint Augustine

And here is where he referred to Augustine's work on the City of God, where there are two groups of people, or two cities. One is the city of man, a city against God and the second is the city of God. The former will fall, without a doubt, the latter will last forever.

Augustine said, "Two cities have been formed by two loves: the earthly by the love of self, even to the contempt of God; the heavenly by the love of God, even to the contempt of self. The former, in a word, glories in itself, the latter in the Lord. For the one seeks glory from men; but the greater glory of the other is God, the witness of conscience. The one lifts up its head in its own glory; the other says to its God, “You are my glory, and the lifter up of my head.”"

Aa such, Ortlund concluded in this chapter to "stop living like a resident, and learn what it means to live like a pilgrim."

I have purchased Augustine's City of God a long time ago but have not found the time to read it. It's time I did, though it will be a big challenge--the book is a huge tome and it will take me a long, long time to finish it but I think it will be worth an attempt.


Source: Isaiah: God Saves Sinners, Preaching the Word, by Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr., R.Kent Hughes, General Editor

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

He is the Redeemer and we the redeemed

As I continued reading the next chapter on "The Supremacy of God Over the Nations II" based on Isaiah 21:1-23:18, Ortlund referred to the classic fiction written in 1850 by Nathaniel Hawthorne entitled The Scarlet Letter.

I haven't read this book before but what Ortlund said made me think.
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne is a story of the controlling power of shame.

In Puritan Boston the minister, Mr. Dimmesdale, commits adultery with Hester Prynne. She bears a child, and the community ostracizes her by sentencing her to wear a scarlet A, for “Adulteress,” the rest of her life. Her sin is made obvious to all. But Mr. Dimmesdale conceals his sin. He keeps up an appearance of rectitude, but within he is tortured with guilt. After seven years he finally makes a dramatic public confession, tearing open his shirt to reveal his own scarlet A etched into his very flesh, infinitely more painful than Hester’s embroidered accusation.

What saddens me when I read The Scarlet Letter is that no one in this story understands redemption. No one understands that public disgrace has no benefit and that private hypocrisy only binds us to our sins. No one in this story has hope, because no one sees how God is able to create beauty out of the wreckage we create. The place where sin enters in is where God himself enters in with redeeming grace. When I read this book I wish I could step inside it and say to Mr. Dimmesdale and Hester and everyone there, “It doesn’t have to be like this.” But I can say to you, “It doesn’t have to be like this. You don’t have to be controlled by shame and hypocrisy. Your past is unchangeable in fact but beautiful in potential, because there is a Redeemer.”

Isaiah is teaching us to see with prophetic eyes. He wants to give us a sense of God as we live in this world...He sees a redeeming God at work in a deeply troubled world.
Ortlund gave an exposition of the passages on Babylon, Edom and Tyre. Babylon was a "desert off the sea", a play of words on utter wilderness. Edom was silent with not a single word of hope and Tyre was seductive, a prostitute out hustling the nations. Judgement will be upon these nations.

Ortlund then says:
Everyone has something to be ashamed of. But God is a Redeemer. He wants us to become his pure bride in the New Jerusalem. The only thing is, we cannot retain our shame and hypocrisy. No unclean thing enters there. The shame that has defined us must be redeemed. And our stories of despair can be lifted into his story of redemption. Every last petty souvenir of Tyre can be redeemed into something beautiful for God.
It is definitely easier said than done. If I use the same example Ortlund used, adultery, it is amongst the most hurtful and shameful sin which causes broken lives and broken relationships. Don't think that you are above it, that you are strong enough to avert adultery, that it will never happen to you. We are weak, and only in God can we be strong.

But even in the ugliness of sin, there is hope in our God who redeems.

We will still face our past and its consequences but our God is the Redeemer and we the redeemed. "Every last petty souvenir of Tyre can be redeemed into something beautiful for God."


Source: Isaiah: God Saves Sinners, Preaching the Word by Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr., R.Kent Hughes, General Editor

Monday, January 12, 2015

Jesus is worth everything

I read this in my morning devotion today, and it spoke to me. I hope that it does you.

God is calling us to look away from the little world we have made to the One who made us. God is calling us to stop putting our hope in what we can do and start putting our hope in the divine Doer. Regard him with desire and glad expectation, and you will discover that he is enough. Reject everything incompatible with him — the idolatrous altars of your heart. If you will suffer the loss of all things to gain Christ, he will make you too happy to care. That is faith, and God is calling you to live by that faith. Stop trusting in your own altars of incense. Let Christ alone be your sweet incense before a holy God. Reject yourself. Embrace Christ as your offering acceptable to God, and he will accept you without your own works-righteousness. No matter what you lose in order to gain Christ, don’t worry about it. He’s worth everything.
~ "The Supremacy of God Over the Nations I, Isaiah 13:1-20:6", Isaiah: God Saves Sinners, Preaching the Word by Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr., R.Kent Hughes, General Editor


Sunday, January 11, 2015

A Knack for Losing Things

by Paul Dickey
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
—Elizabeth Bishop, “One Art”

What has been lost along my careless way
will not come back to me another day,
and let’s be frank, it often will not do
to keep a useful thing its use past due.

Whether a love, or say, a fountain pen,
some things I have today, I won’t again.
Please, if I lose a button, don’t advise
because if I were then to realize,

I’d stop and stay behind too long to look
for what I should not find. The time it took
I could have used to buy a newer shirt,
not stoop to pick up what is claimed by dirt.

Every day a few things loved are lost.
To get them back comes at a greater cost.

–from Rattle #32, Winter 2009
Tribute to the Sonnet


Saturday, January 10, 2015

A Crazy Week Indeed

I had an unbelievable week with non-stop meetings and appointments and deadlines and I am still feeling it though it's now the weekend.

It's one of those times when I dread the weekend because the week is just around the corner.

This reminds me so much of the Qoheleth's complaint:

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher,
vanity of vanities! All is vanity.

What does man gain by all the toil
at which he toils under the sun?
A generation goes,
and a generation comes,
but the earth remains forever.

The sun rises, and the sun goes down,
and hastens to the place where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
and goes around to the north;
around and around goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns.
All streams run to the sea,
but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow,
there they flow again.

All things are full of weariness;
a man cannot utter it;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
nor the ear filled with hearing.
What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there a thing of which it is said,
"See, this is new"?
It has been already in the ages before us.
There is no remembrance of former things,
nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after.
~ Ecclesiastes 1:2-11


Friday, January 09, 2015

Psalty's Not By Might

When I was driving to work today, this song came to mind. Have you experienced that songs you learnt when you were young comes back to you very easily? I found myself singing the chorus and verse one of the song without any effort. I remembered every single word.

And it was a very apt song for me today, as I do need to remind myself that it is really not by might nor by power, but by his Spirit.


Thursday, January 08, 2015

Big Frog Jumping on the Road

I was invited to a free 2-day conference that apparently cost more than RM2,000 of which I have agreed to attend, until I gave it more thought this morning.

A Cantonese proverb came to mind: gam dai go gap la choei gai tiu, literally translated to--is there ever a big frog jumping about on the road. It simply means--there is no free lunch.

With that, I sent an email to cancel.

I then came across this very interesting art piece created by a 阿塗(Ah To), who is a graphic designer and part-time cartoonist concerned about the survival of Cantonese in Canton and Hong Kong. He published a painting called "The Great Canton and Hong Kong Proverbs” in Hong Kong independent media “Passion Times“. The painting contains illustrations of 81 Cantonese proverbs. Apparently, he imitated a Dutch artist Pieter Bruegel, who in 1599 created the oil painting “Netherlandish Proverbs” that illustrated Dutch proverbs to propagate Dutch culture.

(Click to enlarge)

I have found several interesting proverbs that I know in the painting, and will be learning many more. Refer here if you would like to check them out.

Do you see the big frog?


Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Appam with sweet milk

I haven't had appam with a bowl of sweetened milk for a long, long time and it was nice to have it again.

My kind of comfort food.

Photo source: here