Month: June, 2013

Under the Haze

by Peter Eng




You can see his concern turn into fear.  Vinny’s face is scarred and hardened after 25 years of hard military service to the emperor.  Battles bring out rage, excitement, passion, not fear.  But this thick pall exceeds the fires of a thousand battles.  The largess of the new emperor Titus on his retirement allows him this beautiful little house at Salernum, overlooking the clear waters of the gulf.  He  moved in only a month ago; he still tingles from his new house, new girlfriend, and new fishing boat.

But the August sky is not looking good.  He first felt the quake and then saw a huge column of smoke in the north, in the direction of Neapolis. There shouldn’t be any problem.  They had the feast of Vulcanalia yesterday, and the prophets of Vulcan, the god of fire and earthquakes had assured them the tremors they have been feeling were only the delighted tossings of a sleeping Vulcan.  They have nothing to do with Mount Vesuvius.

Sallust, his neighbor looks at the black column, more puzzled than fearful.  Sallust has never served in war, and does not recognize the danger.  Or perhaps, it is because he belongs to this new cult that worships a criminal crucified somewhere in the province of Judea. They tend to take things so easily, but are so deeply entrenched in their faith at the same time.  Strange combination.

They sat there on the slope watching in awed silence punctuated only with “Look at that, the smoke is rising!” “Is it coming our way?” “Do you think Vulcan woke up in a bad mood?” “What do you think we should do?”

“Look!” Sallust said, after about half an hour. “The wind is blowing it our way.” “We better get out of here.”

“Yes,” Vinny agreed.  “But where should we go?”

“The smoke is coming from the northwest, so we should flee to the southeast towards Buxentum,” Sallust suggested.

“By the way, Vinny, you haven’t got any transport yet. Why don’t you escape with my family in our wagon.” Sallust offered.

“I was thinking of taking my small fishing boat and hug the coast,” Vinny replied.

Volcano Eruption“You are a landlubber aren’t you?” Sallust countered. “All of us who live by the sea know the sea is the worst place to be when there is an earthquake or tremor. The sea can really churn. This is why we have the saying, ‘When Vulcan comes out to play, Neptune will not be left out.’ You should just come with us.” He said with finality. Vinny agrees, some of that anxiety ease from his face.

“Do you have space for my girlfriend also?” Vinny asked.

“Of course!” Sallust exclaims as he got to his feet.  “We will make space if there isn’t. But we must hurry. You get Flavia, and I will get my family and prepare the wagon.”

Vinny finds Flavia quite beautiful and quite asleep.  “Wake up!” he  cries.  As she rubs sleep from her eyes, he explains to her what is happening. Vinny gets his bag and put in his silver, food, and a change of clothes for Flavia and himself.

Within 30 minutes they are out of the house as Sallust, Livia,their three children and housemaid are loading up their wagon powered by two horses. Vinny and Flavia quickly introduce themselves to Livia whom they have not met and help the family load the supplies. Sallust takes the reins and Vinny joins him in front.  The three women and three children cram together in the back.

Comfort is not foremost on their mind.  The black cloud is coming closer, and it is drizzling ash and pumice.  They need to get out.

The coastal road to Buxentum is slow with wagons and people fleeing the eruption of Vesuvius. At least they have the assurance that what they are doing is probably right.

At twilight, they are only half way to Buxentum, but it is time to set-up camp. The ash is less and there is no more pumice, but the smoky haze around them feels like they are in a ham smokehouse. There is no room for complacency as news arrives from those who escaped Pompeii that the city is no more.  Buried under ash and pumice.

Vinny and Sallust lay on the ground beside the wagon looking blankly into a soupy night sky.  There are no stars, and the moon is no more than a faint fuzzy glow.

“Looks like we dodged this arrow,” Vinny remarked. “Thanks to you,” he added.

“Yes, indeed, we survived this one,” Sallust concurred. “But, you know, one day we will pass from this life.  Have you made plans for that?”

“What? You mean like when we die?” Vinny clarified.

“Yes,” said Sallust.

“I don’t really know. I pray to my Lares and Penates like everybody else.  I hope they will welcome me to where they are, wherever that is. And if I have a chance, I will ask Vulcan why he has to blow his top just when I moved south.” Vinny chuckled good humoredly.

“One day, I will die like anybody else.  But unlike anybody else, I will rise from the dead,” Sallust said matter of factly. “And I will live forever with Iesous1 my Lord and my God.”

“What you say makes no sense to me!” Vinny said. “How can you rise from the dead, and who knows what will happen to our world?”

“I used to think like that, Vinny.  That is until I found Iesous.  Can I tell you what I found?” Sallust asked.


“The Holy Book of the Jews and the Christians say there will come a time when the earth will be purged with fire, and God will make a new heaven and a new earth. God will judge all of us.  All of us will fail because we don’t deserve such a perfect world which he will create.  But if we belong to his Kingdom, we get to live in his Kingdom in our resurrected body. Do you think you qualify to join God’s holy, sinless Kingdom?”

“You got to be kidding me right?” Vinny remarked.  If I were God, I won’t let me into heaven.  You know I was a soldier. I have killed people in battle, I have raped women, killed children, stolen their valuables, enjoyed the suffering of my enemies on the cross.  How could God ever let me go to heaven?  At best, I join my ancestor Lares.  And I don’t know if I will go to hell or wander this earth as a soul without a body.” Vinny looks resigned.

“You can change your future, you know.  You can stop being on the side of the world and get to God’s side of the story,” Sallust offered.

“What is God like?  What is it to be on his side?” Vinny asked.

“Oh, that one is easy,” Sallust replied. Can you remember the great banquet Emperor Titus hosted to celebrate his coming to power two months ago?”

“Of course!” Vinny exclaimed. “I was there! I had fought under Vespasian, and when my retirement coincided with the emperor coming to power, I got invited to the banquet.  One of these days, I will tell you about this magnificent banquet.”

“For now, can you explain to me why you were invited, and why other people like me were not invited,” Sallust replied.

“As I said, I fought under Vespasian. The house of Flavian has been good to me.  This is why my girlfriend renamed herself Flavia.  I was a soldier under Vespasian.  What would Titus do to honor his father and to reward the soldiers that fought for his father?  He invited us to the banquet of a lifetime!”  Vinny is obviously on a topic he loves.

“Vinny, there is a spiritual war going on since man first walked this earth.  Some call it the battle between good and evil.  But it is not abstract.  Like we can call Rome’s battles ‘struggles between civilization against barbarism.’  The reality is that in every war or struggle there are real persons in the struggle. Civilization and barbarity did not wield swords and spears.  You did.  Your enemies did.  You were fighting for your kingdom and they were fighting for theirs.  You won and they lost.  You were invited to this great banquet in celebration of your victory. Human history will climax when God will defeat the devil in a cosmic battle, after which there will be a great feast.  All who belong to him, his church, will be like a bride to him.  There will be a great celebration and the prophet John said, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb.” (Revelation 19:9, NLT).”

Sallust continues, “When our human history ends, I will find myself on the right side, and the winning side. Just like you found yourself on the winning side when you fought for Vespasian.”

“You see this smoke, this haze, you smell this foul air?  It is different things to different people.  But to me, it is a wonderful reminder that when God purifies the earth with fire and burns up all that is bad, I will be spared.  Iesous, was crucified by Pontius Pilate, our Roman governor.  But he rose again from the dead three days later and tells us that when we belong to him, build his kingdom, fight our spiritual war with him, he will raise us up from the dead.”

“Do you mean, like our soul going to heaven?” Vinny is sort of getting it.

“Yes, but it is much more.  When we die, our soul goes to God. But we are without our body.  Souls cannot do things the body can do.  God made us body and soul.  At death, body and soul are parted. But at the resurrection, God raised our body and gives it back to us — if we belong to him. It will be an incorruptible body, and we reign with him over all the earth in an everlasting kingdom.  It is called the new heaven and the new earth.

“Wow, how come nobody told me this before!”  Vinny is now sitting up.  “I want to be on God’s side, on the winning side. I can imagine it will be so wonderful, much better than the banquet by the emperor Titus. I will dodge many arrows in life, but one day, there will be an arrow with my name on it.  I want to die knowing I will rise up again.  Is this why I hear you guys worship the Iesous guy who was crucified as a criminal?”

“Yes, indeed!” Sallust replied. “All his disciples lost all hope for a Jewish Kingdom that would overthrow our Roman Kingdom when the Roman governor crucified him.  But the best part is this. Their hope was wrong, and they had to have their hopes dashed. Iesous, whom they also call Christos, rose from the dead, not defeating the Roman Kingdom but the Kingdom of Death.  All who belong to him share in this resurrection! All who belong to him belong to his Kingdom.”

“Wow! Wow! This is mind boggling! It is like when Julius Caesar seems to have lost all hope when fighting the Gauls, and then through sheer brilliance that nobody else could see, he wrested victory from certain defeat.” Vinny said, “I understand now. I need to belong to the right Kingdom, fight for the right imperator, and when human history winds up, I will be resurrected to the wedding feast of the Lamb. Is that it?”

“I couldn’t have said it better myself,” Sallust laughed.

That night, Sallust took a flask of water from their provision, had Vinny kneel down, and as he poured water over Vinny’s head, said, “Vinny, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

That night, AD 79, 25th August, under the foul smoke of Vesuvius, came the sweet fragrance of a man forgiven for his past sins, and redeemed for all eternity into the everlasting Kingdom of God.

A Story by Peter Eng
, as he reflects on the haze under which Singapore suffers, and the haze that hangs over the neighborhood of Mt Vesuvius when it erupted on 24th August 79 Anno Domini.

Footnote: 1Iesous is the Greek/Latin name for Jesus.  The initial “I” of a word is pronounced as “Y” but written as “I.” The sound would be “Yesous.” This is the sound from which the Chinese call Jesus, which is much closer than “Jesus” in English.

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Our Hazy Future

I guess I’m wrong.  I tell people in America that Singapore is a boring place.  We never have earthquakes, typhoons, hurricanes, or volcanoes.  We have no snow, ice or hail, and the only bad weather we have to deal with is humidity.  We enjoy good boring weather.

I forget that from time to time, we get overwhelmed by the weather changing activities of our neighboring country. Of course, our complaints are “childish”, all we have to do is to give them the money to fight the fires and all will be well, right? If you believe it, I have a piece of swamp land I like to sell you!

As Singaporeans scramble to get face masks, our national leaders scramble to persuade our neighbors to more neighborly behavior.  Singapore is a small country. We are incapable of strong action.  Let’s be realistic about this.  The pledge of our leaders express their good intention rather than actual ability to effect change in the behavior of our much larger neighbor.

The smoke we face is bad, for sure.  I hate to be a bearer of bad news, but I would like to suggest we put things in perspective and see that there is a greater threat than smoke from forest fires.

I am not an alarmist by nature.  I did not rush out to buy gold for security.  I did not think year 2000 would plunge us into chaos. I did not think the Kohoutek comet or the Hale-Bopp comet would end the world. And more recently, I was totally unconvinced that a sequestration of spending by the American government would be a fiscal cliff, and it was not even a bump. But I am concerned about the effects of global warming.

Projections is that the world will be warmer by 1.5 to 5.3 Celsius (or more).  The sea level is expected to rise from a few centimeters to 25 meters (and of course some predict even higher). From what I read, it appears Singapore is prepared for a rise of up to 59 cm.  If the sea rises 25 meters, we will be in big trouble! It is difficult for any nation to build sea walls or raise it’s land to compensate a rise in sea level by 25 meters.

I wish I were more knowledgeable on what to expect.  Would it be a sea level rise of less than 60 cm or 25 meters? If it will be 25 meters, many countries will disappear.  There will be a global refugee problem.  There will be wars fought over land and freshwater.

Again, I am not an alarmist.  I am just very limited in my knowledge, and I would suggest that experts can also be sensationalistic.  For instance, I will assume the global warming will be at the scale that is predicted, that is, up to about 6 degrees Celsius.  One scenario will be the melting ice at the polar caps, water expanding in volume when heated, etc, and the sea level rise by 25 meters. A different scenario is that the currents carrying warm and cold water will cease, and beyond a certain time, the hot temperature will cause the Atlantic heat conveyor (Thermohaline Circulation) to slow or stop, bring about a new ice age, or extreme cold and heat.

The options we have before us are: (1) a fundamentally similar world that is hotter by up to 6 degrees Celsius with a rise of sea level that is less than 60 cm.  (2) The same temperature rise resulting in a sea level rise of 25 meters. (3) A temperature rise leading to a global cooling that follows. (4) A temperature rise that leads to cooler poles and a hotter equator.

Perhaps the only scenario Singapore is incapable of handling is #2, a dramatic rise of the sea level. According to some even scarier estimates, the whole of Singapore will be under water. Will Singapore be rebuilt to survive below sea level?  Will Singapore relocate (like the people of Kiribati who are in the process of relocating)? Will there be global and local conflict over land and freshwater?

Now think of our haze.  There is no denying the haze is highly disruptive.  But our future is truly hazy.  Our current haze will pass.  Let us pray for wisdom to discern the truth from the false assurances or the alarmist scares about our future as a nation in light of global warming.

One persistent question folks ask is why there is so much suffering in the world, and so much evil.  “Why doesn’t God stop the evil people?” While it is not right to place our incendiary neighbors in the category of people who do great evil, the principle is the same.  One important reason why people suffer is the free choice other people exercise that result in suffering.

Some jihadists decided to kill innocent bystanders because they chose to do so.  Their free choice resulted in the suffering of the innocent.  The Japanese invaded many countries in Asia in WW2 and caused widespread death and destruction with untold suffering.  They were exercising their free choice to do evil. A drunk chose to drink and drive and in the process struck and paralyzed a teenager for life.

Much (not all) of our suffering result from our God-given privilege of free choice. This is a right he has given humankind, and does not retract it when it is abused.  God does not retract the free choice of Indonesians because we don’t like the pollution they cause.

Where we stand as Christians is to recognize that we too have the free choice to address the problem. We can choose to equip ourselves better to handle the haze.  I notice the barely effective masks most Singaporeans wear.  Can we not protect ourselves better? I also notice that our air-conditioning does not handle pollution.  We need to consider air purifiers in our homes.

Peter Eng

Prayer and Anointing

The early church practised the laying on of hands regularly when they pray.  It is not a practice that is limited to big occasions like an ordination. When they prayed for the sick, they did so by anointing the sick with oil.

Such faith symbols have meaning but we have neglected them.  They seem to demand so much of the anointer and the anointed.  But let’s hear the Word of God:

Are any of you suffering hardships?  You should pray.  Are any of you happy?  You should sing praises.  Are any of you sick?  You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord.  Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well.  And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven.  (James 5:13-15  NLT)

Does your Electronic Bible Work?

I’m so deeply committed to “more-is-better” that I hardly notice I am addicted to it.  If this program has 30 Bible versions, it is better than the one that has 5.  If my e-book stores the Bible and 1,000 more titles, it is better than the Bible alone. When I got my smartphone, I enjoyed the freedom it gave me. Now, I don’t have to bring my Bible to church anymore.  I just read off my phone.  But I think last Sunday will be the last time I do it.  My electronic Bible doesn’t work.

It works fine.  It just doesn’t work for me.

Two Sundays ago, I got onto the MRT (Subway) and made my way to church with a Bible in hand.  It had been some time since I did that.  As a pastor, I had my Bible with me in the church office.  When I preach now, I tend to use the slide presentation and read the Bible off the projection. Last Sunday, when I attended church as an ordinary worshipper, something happened.  Suddenly I felt like my teenage years again.  When I held a Bible in my hand, I had to behave as a Christian. It doesn’t mean I don’t behave as one when I don’t hold a Bible.  It is just that my Bible is a public commitment to Christ that allows others to place me.  The thought crossed my mind, “I think life is easier holding a phone.” But if I were to live out my life as a Christian, I need to reach the point when behaving like a Christian is the norm.  I need to get used to the Bible in my hand and the responsibility it places on me.

I feel that the phone has taken over too much of my life.  When I am with someone and a signal comes, it could be an email, a text, or a phone call.  What do I do?  I try not to interrupt my conversation with the person I am with, and just ignore the signal.  But somehow that is hard to do.  It is like I don’t understand why a customer service person may be talking to me, and stops to listen to a phone call.  After all, I took the trouble to come and stand in front of you.  “Why do you put me on hold in favor of the person who phones up? Next time, I will phone and interrupt your conversation with a live person.”

My electronic Bible doesn’t work because it does too many things. I have come to see the tyranny of my phone.  When I have nothing but a physical Bible with me, I can only read the Bible.  I am not interrupted by phone calls, distracted by emails, summoned to action by texts.  Some of you may have the discipline to block everything out and focus on the Bible.  I can do that too.  But for me, that takes too much effort, willpower.  And I would rather reserve my energy, my effort, my willpower to read God’s Word.

I enjoyed driving my kids around.  They could take the school bus (they’re free in America). But I got up early to drive them to school and got to work early.  All that just so I can spend a bit of alone time with them.  Family time is great, but I want alone time with each of my kids.

Then I think of God my heavenly Father.  He wants alone time with me.  He wants to have me to himself, and not shared with another person or interest.  He wants to speak with me, to listen to me.  This is when my phone Bible does not work.  Every now and then, I tell God, “Timeout please, I gotta respond to this email / text / call.” I know God wants a dedicated time from me.  He looks forward to it as I look forward to the time I spend with my kids. But it seems my phone gets in the way.  The phone used to be for phone calls only, but now, it connects me to everybody around the world all the time.  I really shouldn’t put  God on hold.  But that is hard to do when the very phone I use to read his Word is buzzing with other messages.

I think it is inaccurate to call our alone time with God “Quiet Time.”  I need not utter a single word and still be distracted by other things.  That time we spend with God is essentially consecrated time, holy time, set-aside time.

For me in ministry, there is an added distraction when I spend time with God.  It is the challenge of reading the Bible for myself or for other people.  That line is difficult to draw.  The message I have for my flock is often God’s message to me first.  Yet, if I were to read in order to teach, I am not really spending alone time with God.  I would be coming to God with a ministry agenda. I need to come to him just to listen to him, and talk with him about my stuff.  There is certainly a need for me to read the Bible for God’s message in ministry, and there is a need for intercessory prayer for all of you. But that should be separate from my consecrated alone time with God.

Over the past years, I have been reading the computer version of the Bible more and more, and less of the paper copy.  The computer version is so convenient.  I can make notes, I can look up something immediately when I have a question, and even know when someone has just sent me an email — of course, I am never tempted to pause and read your email.

The electronic Bible is still superior when I am doing work.  But it doesn’t work for me when I need to spend time alone with God.  The pew Bible works well because it is there. But it is not my Bible.  It is not enough that I read a Bible. I need to read my own copy.  I need to write in the margins as the Lord speaks to me, I need to underline what the Holy Spirit impresses upon me.  My Bible records God’s conversation with me. The pew Bible doesn’t do that.  The pew Bible is not my consecrated Bible.  It is shared with other people.  I need my own copy to personalize as God speaks to me one-on-one.

The pew Bible doesn’t work for me.  My phone Bible doesn’t work for me.  These little compromises diminish my alone time with God.  The Maker of heaven and earth wants to spend time with me. I think I can find space on my desk for a Bible.  I think I can find the strength to bring one to church.  I think I can tune off the world when God and I are together.

Peter Eng

Forgiving Fathers who Fail

by Peter Eng




This Father’s Day, my family brought me to a new hipster joint called “Fette Sau” (pronounced “Fatty Sow”). We had a great time and there was nothing in our conversation about my failures.  But for entirely unrelated reasons, my thoughts this Father’s Day are about my failure as a father and failures of fathers in general.  Some fathers fail big-time, like abandoning the family.  But most fathers fail in less severe ways.  I kept thinking about the failures that result from the over-enthusiastic father.  Your father’s biased support for you, his protectiveness, his desire for your good, can cause him to behave badly.  His actions may embarrass you.  You may not approve of what he does.  But I like to urge all of us to remember that even when his actions are not right, they are done in your interest.

I noticed during the High School Concerts, overexcited parents launched from their seats to give a standing ovation for their kid.  They meant well, but I know I don’t want to be the kid of those loutish parents who give standing ovations to mediocre performance. I was guilty of such failures when it came to sports.  I was the overexcited dad who yelled instructions from the sideline — and to the credit of my longsuffering son, I was not told to pipe down.  Fathers can over engage, over discipline, over protect, etc.  It is easy for a father to get it wrong.

This is also true in the Christian community.  We have our spiritual fathers (or mothers).  They are the people who care for our spiritual welfare.  They love us, feed us, care for us, cry with us, laugh with us, and protect us.  It is the protection part that goes wrong sometimes.  I know that as a pastor, I am protective over the interests of those God placed in my charge. I treat them as my children according to the pattern found in the NT Church.  Paul treated the Thessalonians as a father treated his sons (1 Thess 2:11). Timothy served Paul as a son to his father (Phil 2:22); Timothy was Paul’s “true son in the faith” (1 Tim 1:2); Paul repeatedly called Timothy his son (1 Tim 1:18; 2 Tim 1:2; 2:1). Paul called Titus “my true son” (Titus 1:4). He called the slave Onesimus his son (Phlm 1:10). The Apostle Peter called John Mark his son ( 1 Pet 5:13). The Apostle John consistently called his flock “my children” (1 John 2:1; 2:12, 13, 18, 28; etc. 3 John 1:4).

fathersdayFrom time to time, our spiritual fathers (and mothers) may do things wrongly when they try to protect our interest.  Like our parents in the flesh, they can go overboard.  I like to ask, “Why?” If a Christian leader does something wrong out of selfish motives, that is not spiritual parenting.  A pastor, or an elder may do things that are intended only to protect his own reputation.  There is no mitigating factor in that.  On the other hand, a Christian leader may get into an altercation with other folks because of competition for resources, and may even go overboard in doing so.  For example, we need to book a bus to bring us to our retreat and the bus company backs out at the last minute.  The elder then twists the arm of the bus company mercilessly to get them to honor their contract, and in the process, offends some church members.  What is happening here?  I believe it is a case of the elder being protective of his flock and going overboard. The wrong he did cannot change.  But the wrong was done because he lost sight of how things should be done in the interest of getting the thing done for the benefit of his children.

This Father’s Day, I am grateful for my children who look beyond my failures to see my motivation. I believe many children can forgive the failures of their father because they understand that even when my actions are wrong, the motivation is right.  I hope this is also the case in the Christian community.  There is a strange phenomenon we observe among Christians in our spiritual and earthly family. There are Christians who will forgive their leaders for any wrong, and there are Christians who will not forgive even the slightest wrong done with good intentions.

We have a perfect heavenly Father who gives us only good gifts (even though we may not feel it is good at that point in time).  But earthly fathers are imperfect. We see our fathers doing things in our interest through actions that are sometimes wrong.  Spiritual fathers also do things wrong–out of interest for their spiritual children.

This Father’s Day, I ask you to consider the gift of forgiveness.  Some wrongs are grave, done with selfish or evil motives. Some wrongs are no more than the excesses of an overprotective father.  Different wrongs require different remedies.  But in most healthy families, we readily forgive the over-zealous, over-protective father.  Will you forgive this Father’s Day?

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Effective for Jesus

What does it mean to be effective for Jesus?

“Meet on Wednesday, not Saturday,” says this loud booming voice from heaven.  So we moved our meeting from Saturday to Wednesday.

Don’t you wish it were that easy?  I do.  Instead, we met on Saturday and learn that it is not a good day to meet. We explored different nights and finally settled on Wednesday night for prayer, dinner and meeting.

One of our core values in to be effective for Jesus. This value is so utilitarian that if you have been fed a diet of spiritually correct speech, it may seem that effectiveness is contrary to dependency on God.  These are not true opposites.

God calls us to use the ability he has given us to reason and plan, and therein become effective for him.

We rejoice in the Lord that with our move to Wednesday, we are now better able to invite loved ones and friends whom we think will benefit from our meeting.

The sooner we recognize that something is not working and prayerfully seek God’s wisdom, the better off we will be. That is what we mean when we say we want to be effective @TheWell.

I wish there was a voice from heaven.  But God choose to make us grow by requiring us to learn.

.True Happiness Among Kingdom People – Part 2/2

Bible References:

  • Acts 4:32-37
  • Acts 11:22-26
  • Acts 15:36-41
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