31 August 2007

Happy Teacher's Day!

"How many will turn up for class today?" I asked myself. I am not too optismistic, maybe 10? Out of a class of 40 that is. My class this morning has no other Core module after mine. Further, they knew that there are no lessons after that as it is Teacher's Day celebration.

I waited till 8.10am and to my surprise more than 10 students turned up. Not 10, not 15, not 20, but eventually 28 of them turned up for class this morning! I was pleasantly surprised at this good turn out (by my instituition's standards).

I was in a cordial mood and spend much time talking about politics, life, emigration, etc, plus the normal Communications Skills. The kids were responsive too. It must be Teacher's Day. They were especially polite today.

I dismissed them 10 minutes earlier and greeted each by name as they walked off. Though they did not give me anything, and I don't expect them to, their presence more than made my day.

We went for the school function later, to be treated to the school teacher day celebrations. Yup, all the typical celebration stuff. This was followed by the highlight - a great lunch, chicken kebab, sushi, cakes.. yum, yum.

Back at the office, a surprise awaits me. I saw a card - a handmade card from one of my class. On it were the words, "Happy Teacher's Day". There were 3 pages in all. A front cover, a 2nd page with my name and their attributes for me. The 3rd page were all their signatures and little notes. I was touched. This was my 1st gift from the class (ok, last year 2 girls gave me what I thought was leftover roses). It made my day!

Teaching is like that. Some days you get all red in the face with anger and frustrations. Other days, the kids will do a little act that blows you over. It may be a simple word. A little thoughtful opening of door. Or a smile from that naughty student.

It is worth it.

On the Monday after Teacher's Day, I was presented with another gift. This time, it was from my 'worst' class! I was shocked as i never would have expected something from them. It turned out to be a simple blue whiteboard marker. But it was a memorable one as it was from this 'worst' class. They actually asked me to pop over to their class when they were celebrating Teacher's day, but i turned them down as I was about to have class in 10 mins time. Well, surprises do happen here!

28 August 2007

Stay Hungry.Stay Foolish.

Recently I played Steve Jobs' Commencement Speech for my class' listening test. While it was a test for them, it turned out to be a fresh reminder for myself on life's important lessons.

Steve, the founder of Apple Computers, did not graduate from University and the speech at the students' Commencement was the closest that he ever got to a graduation ceremony. Yet, this man shook and turned the computer industry upside down with Apple computers and later, with NExt and Pixar companies.

His speech carried 3 important points. Connecting the dots (you can only do it when you look backwards in your life). Love & Loss (he tells of how he was fired from Apple and then subsequently re-hired). Death (his close brush with pancreas cancer).

What struck me most, was his last point on: Stay hungry, stay foolish. For him, and most people, to succeed in life, they need to stay hungry to pursue all their options and to work hard. Satisfied people will settle and cruise in life (and probably won't achieve anything great). Hungry people will not stay still. They will work hard because they need to stay alive.

Stay foolish is a bit more difficult for me to understand. Perhaps it is to mean staying curious and wanting to continue to learn, and not fear appearing foolish.

For me as I reflected on these things, especially in the light of reading the story on the birth of EDB in Singapore, I sensed the importance of being hungry in life. A poor chap from an un-developed country is hungry for any job, while a well-provided for guy from Singapore can be choosy and takes his time to select the cosy job.

After a while in life, I tend to cruise on auto-pilot and lost my hunger to learn, my drive to work harder, and my zeal to excel. Some of it is tampered by disappointments and other crushing emotions. But here I am reminded that success can also hinder us and make us too complacent for our own good.

Stay hungry. Stay foolish. And to that, I add another. Stay humble (to learn).

19 August 2007

Worship & Sermon Reflections

I was blessed by this morning's worship, particularly by the songs, Hosanna, Let the thirsty come, and Majesty. Sometimes it takes a worship leader who walks close to God to bring the people in tune with the grace of God.

This week's sermon comes from Neh.9:22-31. Its key message is about a God who calls His people to possess the Land. We worship a Great God who calls us to a great work, to be entered into with great faith and to be pursued with great faithfulness. The part that strikes me it that while we may enter the land with great faith, we may not pursue His calling for this land with great faithfulness.

I used to endear myself to faithful people and acts of faithfulness. Caleb is my all-time hero and a symbol of what it means to be faithful. Now, in my 'mid-life' time of Christianity, after 34 years in the faith, I find myself struggling to finish well. I am far behind in my Bible reading and Journaling. My PDA(evangelism) is sterile and prayers feeble. Ministry is almost non-existent.

Hence, the message from Nehemiah is important today. It calls me afresh to pursue His calling with faithfulness. I am far from it, but I need to start again and walk with Him.

Our church is having her 29th Anniv cum fund raising dinner. I can start by inviting my old pal to come for it. It is a simple act, but an important step to be faithful again to Him.

18 August 2007

Nature calls, discipline & differences.

Today my dog urinated 7 times in the evening at the balcony. He is not toilet trained, even after 11 months, and we have to cleaned up the mess each time. Today, he has an exceptional full bladder, maybe its because of the rainy day? At the 7th time, at 10:45pm, I was already 'cursing & swearing' at him ;-( and telling myself a 1000 reasons why we shouldn't have a dog. I was trying to be loud for my wife to hear as this was the 7th time that I clean up the mess. Sigh, bad testimony.

My colleagues and friends used to ask me, "Why is he not toilet trained?" My simple answer is that I am not at home to do it, to see through the training which requires correcting and rewarding the dog. If I leave it to my wife, in my mind, it will never be done. There are many times we clashed verbally over such matters, but each time there is no resolution as we differed in personality and in training methods.

Is mine better? Or am I simply stubborn? I do not know. But i know that to have something done, we need to persevere to push through all the way to the end of the matter. We cannot give up half way. Just like in child discipline or in this case, pee training, we need to push through to the end. My dog is turning one next month, and without proper pee training, we have to clean up the mess (at random spots of the balcony) for another 9 - 10 years!

I see it as a matter of discipline on our part. We need to have that self-discipline to finish well. No discipline, or lack of self-discipline, will definitely show up in half finished projects and an ill-disciplined lifestyle.

In living together, we have to bear with one another's ways. She has lived with my idiosyncrasies for all these 12 years as i am far from perfect. I have often over-magnified her weakness and played down mine. It is indeed a challenge to live together. But it is for our good as i believe God is moulding us and blunting our sharp edges through our spouses.

My dog will poo and pee again tomorrow. Will I clear it up willingly? Or will I do it with a grumpy face and loud rants?

Poor doggy, it is not his fault - he has to answer nature's call. I am making it difficult for him, and for all of us at home. It is time to look at it with better perspective.

17 August 2007

Recent Book

Lessons learnt from Rich Dad, Poor Dad - Robert Kiyosaki & Sharon Lechter

Some key lessons:
1. Don't work for money (employed by Employer), make money work for you.
2. Know difference between Assets and Liabilities. Acquire assets, not liabilities.
3. Pay yourself first.
4. Assets: Stocks, bonds, notes, real estate, intellectual property rights, businesses that doesn't require your presence, unit trusts, mutual funds, things that appreciates.
5. Assets - put money into your pocket. Liabilities - takes money out from your pocket.
6. Income column: these represent working for the Employer. Expense column: these rep working for the Goven (taxes). Liabilities column: these rep work for the banks(credit cards). Assets - builds wealth!!
7. The Rich uses corporations/companies to get richer. Companies are taxed after what they earned and spent. People are taxed after what they earned and have little to spend.
8. Great opportunities are not seen with your eyes but with your minds. What you know is your greatest wealth. What you do not know is your greatest risk => manage your risks.
9. Four main skills for Financial Intelligence:
a. Financial Literacy - know the numbers
b. Investment strategies - learn from gurus, Warren Buffet, Peter Lynch
c. Market - know the ss & dd
d. Law - know the laws, work within it.
10. Main Mgmt skills that we need in life - how to manage cashflow; systems; people.
11. Many great people are one skill away from great wealth. They need the marketing skills, they have technical skills.
12. Work for what you'll learn rather than what you'll earn.
13. Have a think time. Don't just work very hard. Ask, "Where is this activities taking me?" Take a longer view of life - see beyond your paycheck.
14. Get some sales trg, learn to overcome fears of rejection and failure.

This is a great beginner book that opens the door to financial growth and debt awareness. It is written to inspire us that it is possible. My only caution is that it works well in a US context, but in Singapore? Nonetheless, I would recommend it as a good awareness read for financial literacy.

Should we read secular and for that matter books on Mammon? I think there is a place for it. But it should not supercede our faith in God, for He is the One that we should ultimately trusts in.

12 August 2007

Sermon Reflections

Today's sermon was entitled: "Faithful Provisions" taken from Neh.9:15-21. 2 key points: God's giving is faithful, and God's giving is purposeful.

What spoke to me was a fresh awareness of who God is. The ancient King/God is usually one who takes from us...taxes, goods, gifts,etc. God of the Bible on the other hand is One who gives to us... our daily provisions, gave His Son for us, gives His Holy Spirit to us. What a great God!

The people in the wilderness were "stubborn" mentioned twice, and yet God did not forsake them but instead provided for them. They were stubborn because they do not know God. They saw His miracles, yet they did not know Him. How much they know of God is often reflected in how much they gave to God. I gave God a miserable portion from what He has given. In that sense, my knowledge of God is pathetic and un-trusting. I have said so many times and asked for change so many times. Yet my actual knowledge of God is shallow.

God's giving to us reflects His faithfulness to us. Our giving to God reflects our faith in Him to provide for us. What kind of faith do I have in Him? A $2 token faith? Or an exact 10% tithing faith?

Pastor's concluding story of Michael the missionary also spoke to me. Michael is a missionary with COOS. He contracted prostrate cancer and was referred to Mt Elizabeth Hospital for treatment. Upon admission, he was asked whether he can afford to pay for the treatment. He said that he do not have the money but his God will provide for him. The doctor, out of compassion, agreed to waive his part of the fees, but he would still need to pay for the hospital part of bills. While waiting for his x-ray results and wondering what to do with the payments, he was suddenly greeted by 2 men, strangers to him, but one of them knew him from a speaking engagement years ago. This stranger said that he was walking when suddenly a hand pressed upon his face and turn it to his side until he saw him. They talked and asked how they can be of help to him. Later when Michael went back to the hospital, he discovered that his hospital bills were paid in full by the 2 men.

It's not just the story that touched me but the theology behind it. Why did God allowed Michael to go through the process, the agony of worrying about the payments, when He could simply heal him straightaway?

The process of learning to trust in God to provide is important. For Michael he learnt afresh that God will provide. For all of us, it became a real-life story of faith and testimony to the faithfulness of God.

What are some processes that I am walking through now? I need to be careful not to short circuit them, but to faithfully and prayerfully walk through it. My full-time journey came to mind, with its frustrations and 'why-like-that-ending'. It has caused a strain on my spiritual life and affected my ministry and walk. But today's sermon has re-ignited the faith-hope that God will make sense of it in His time. Maybe He already has, but I have not listened.

Lord renew my walk afresh this day.

Side note: I saw this lady in front of me taking sermon notes today. She was jotting down the sermon points in a note book. She copied at least 2-3 pages of notes. Impressive. It was what I used to do in my younger days. Have I lost my fire?

10 August 2007

Emotional Dwarfs (2)

Sometimes words of wisdom come from the most "unlikely" person. In my case this morning, it came from the drink counter cashier at West Mall Bukit Batok.

Every Sunday we would frequent the food court here after 8am service. Today we did the same, the only difference being I asked them to go ahead while I check out our financial status at the ATM machine.

At the foodcourt, I walked to my usual Dim Sum store and ordered my favourite Chee Cheong Fun, "2 rolls please". From afar I can see my wife gesticulating to me and pointing to the table where they were seating. When she walked nearer she gave me an angry face that said, "I bought your food already!"

It was my turn to be angry. How am I to know?! What a waste of money! Why did you buy for me out of the blue? We tried to return the food, but in vain. At the table, I slammed down the plate and became even angrier when I see the 2 plates side by side. She continue to justify her actions while I was not listening as I was boiling mad inside. Not a good start after church service.

Shortly after, the drink queue shortened and i went to order our drinks. It came to $3.10. I thought I had the change for ten cents, but it turned out that I did not. "It's okay, small matter, don't worry" she said in Mandarin. If it was another auntie, she would have gave me a black face and some unpleasant words. Given my condition, we would have erupted in verbal abuses, as I did in my younger days.

As I thought about it and my quick change of emotions, I thought those were wise words. Many things in life can be reduced to small matters if we see them as such and don't fret over them. Like in the case of my Chee Cheong Fun, it cost only $2 and yet I became irrationally mad over it and caused an unpleasant scene for my family.

Why did I became angry so quickly? Was it necessary? It boils down to pride, in my self assessment of my actions. It was easy to be angry with my spouse, whom I tend to take for granted. If it was my boss or colleagues, I would have easily waved off the matter.

I need clear eyes to see with perspective and not get unnecessarily angry. I need to exercise more grace and cut more slack for my family members. I am still far from it as this second episode shows. Lord continue to grant me grace to get a hold of my emotions.

And for the record, we finished both plates of the Chee Cheong Fun. Well, almost.

I am with you, heart and soul

Leaders are those that have followers. Hopefully, whole-hearted followers who will fully support them with their heart and soul. We see a lot of leaders nowadays. Some claimed to be leaders. Some are leaders by appointment. While some rare few are leaders by leading and gifting.

I do not see myself as a true blue leader. Possibly, one who when there are no other leaders around, step up and fill in the gap as a temporary leader. I am more of a follower. I think i can work better in support of another leader.

Today's QT passage in 1 Sam.14.7, Jonathan's un-named sword bearer stands out. He is one who will follow his leader through thick and thin, in war and in peace. His timeless words, “Do all that is in your heart. Do as you wish. Behold, I am with you heart and soul.” is encouraging and is something that all leaders wish to hear from their followers.

I am encouraged by this un-named hero's faith in his leader. Not all of us give full support or even token support to our leaders. In my workplace, we don't. Most of us say bad things about our leaders and have little faith in them. The bosses' actions did not help, neither did our words and gossips. Sigh, I need to repent here.

For me, I too want to serve in a worthwhile cause in church, under a capable leader. Since there are no Philistines to kill this day, my heart is searching for a worthwhile ministry to serve in. Recently, an old friend approached me to serve in the Cantonese ministry. But, I do not think this is for me. There is no heart-tugging. No slight desire for it at all.

I have promised to help out in the Befrienders ministry. I went once and did my part though there was no 'business' on that day. I was a bit disappointed as the person in charge was not there to help me settle in and there was no follow through too.

I used to wonder why people do not serve in any ministry in church. Now I have some answers. While we want them to serve, we also need to hold their hand and guide them along. It is not easy for a new person to settle in - there are too many unknowns and temptations to skip service. We need understanding and patient guides to help us.

Life becomes meaningful when we have something to live for and die for. It is sad when we do not have. Many are driven to depression and ultimately suicidal when there is no more meaning in life. What am I living my life for? Which ministry can I say that I am with it (and with the leader) heart and soul?

It is still a question that I have no answers now.

A walk in the woods

I took a long walk today to the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve from my home - a 4 hour walk! My dog loves every minute of it. You can just tell from his waggy tail.

It has been a long while since I went on a hiking trip. The last time was with the Boys' Brigade, maybe 7 or 8 years ago. This time there were no complaints from the sole participant, he did not bark or made a single noise throughout the whole trip.

At lunch point, I saw an interesting sight. This 1st photo above showed 2 "Reduce Speed Now" signs. These were placed by the side of the BKE highway to warn drivers to slow down as they turn into the Housing estate.

I see it as a picture of life. In our own highways of our busy lives, there are some signs for us to slow down. To reduce speed now. These could be the pains that we experienced, the cries of our children, the wear and tear of our homes. If we do not reduce speed, there could be danger to ourselves and those in our "car". Hopefully, in life there will be "Exits" signs for us to turn aside, slow down, and take a breather.

I took a breather today. This term has been super hectic for me. The past Student Seminar cum overseas trip has taken a toll on me. And it ended just on the eve of the start of this new school term. After that came the never ending rehearsals for National day. Sigh, I am so tired and am really glad for this "Exit" sign to rest today. I sure look forward to the next rest stop in September. Did you have an Exit rest today, or this week? Don't just run faster. Have a rest too.

I was walking in the forests next. My dog was a bit frightened today and walked behind me for the most part of the forest walk. It however surprised me when it dashed forward to pounce on the iguana in the undergrowths (he missed of course!). Wow, today I counted 5 iguanas in one afternoon! Never seen so many in my life before.

We walked and walked, soon we reached the Bukit Timah Hill visitor's centre. Here we are told that pets are not allowed. I wonder why? According to the brochure which the ranger gave to me, it was to protect wildlife and also for the good of the dog so that he does not attract mites and worms. We sulkily left.

Outside on the road, we encountered this interesting scene of 5 monkeys on the railings. All of them were seated and looked bored. One of them helped its mate to look for fleas. Hmm, looking out for one another, helping each other in the animal kingdom.

We eventually walked all the way to the Rail Mall before my wife came to pick us home.

Would I do it again? Yes! But probably do a shorter distance. On the way, I met quite a few Caucasian families. What a good way for family bonding I thought. Where were the locals I wonder? Some were riding on mountain bikes. But the rest were not to be found, probably in the shopping malls or by the beach.

I am looking forward to my next walk. My doggie will say a BIG WOOF to that.

A praying mother

In tonight's IDT session in my church, the Pastor shared on his praying mother. She was not very educated but she ran the home well, distributing household chores to the kids and was able to go out and work to feed the 5 children.

What made a lasting mark in my mind was the picture of her getting up each day, before her work, to be at the kitchen, to read the bible (with a torch) and pray for the family.

I do not do that. I hardly wake up early to pray for the family. I sometimes wake up early, in the past, to read the Word. But not to pray. Fervency in prayer is something that I lack. I see no need for it and I hide behind lies that I'm not the 'praying kind'.

I guess it is reflected in the type of life that I lead. It is reflected in the poverty of spiritual life in my home too. It is reflected in the fruit-lessness of my life.

Is it not time to pray for my family? And for those that I know?

2 August 2007

My daughter (2)..

Earlier in June I wrote about my 'lostness' in handling my 2nd daughter, the feisty & more defiant one. This is a continuation. One of the many more continuations to come.

Mummy and older sister went out to buy some things for her camping trip tomorrow. "Mei-mei" (younger sister) and me were left at home, as a punishment for Mei-mei, who gave us all a hard time today.

I was a bit angry at having to be left at home. It is one of those times that you also want to go out and get some fresh air. I told Mei to finish her food in 20 minutes times and we're going out to get ice-cream. Her eyes instantly lighted up and she started to look at the clock and eat faster. Soon she surprised me by finishing all her food before the set time, and even have time to clear up the mess that Mummy asked her to do so. Hmm, she can really move fast with some motivation ;-)

We took a little walk to the hawker centre. Father and daughter together. As usual, she has many things to say, and would comment in a child-like manner of what she like, the windows, the type of houses with gardens and the cars. Then she said that this must be the 2nd or 3rd time that we went out, just the two of us. It was indeed interesting to hear that from her. Obviously, she must have enjoyed our time together and it meant something for her.

We searched for ice-cream, but did not find it. In the end, I bought her a stick ice cream and I ate fruits and teh-tarik. I would have loved to eat an ice cream sundae or ice kachang. But never mind, the simple 'potong' ice cream will do. Again in the food court, she has a lot to say about the people around and she was able to point out to me our neighbour who works there as a table cleaner. Hmm, very observant girl!

I learnt that she likes to be treated kindly and will indeed respond well to positive strokes rather than scoldings. True, who wouldn't prefer positive encouragements? Sometimes its just difficult to say kind things after a long hard day at work. And my poor gals will always get the brunt of my foul moods. So unfair for them.

I must really have more of such times with them - individually.

Missing Person Ad

I saw this "Missing Person" Advert at the local Bus Interchange this morning. Mdm Lie, a 67 year old lady had been missing for quite some time and now her family members are looking for her.

What are the chances of her being spotted and found? Slim, I guess. She could probably have been one of those many old ladies wandering around unnoticed by the many busy people that walked by, busily chasing after their goals.

What struck me about this poster is that people are missing each day. In my school, students are missing from classes. They are missing by choice, either they are busy earning money outside or they are not bothered about the subject.

On the roads, old people who have gone senile, are also missing each day - and go unreported, perhaps even uncared for by the people around. Why bother? Some may ask, they are just another digit that made up our population of 4 million in Singapore. Thankfully, in this case, someone bothered enough to put up this missing notice.

In the world today, there is a 3rd category of missing people. Thousands of souls are missing each day. They are eternally lost without the gospel message of salvation. Who will go out and tell them the good news to bring them in?

When I was younger, I was more enthusiastic about winning souls. We did evangelistic outreaches as a group and as individuals. We even went to Philippines and Kazakhstan to share the Word. Now that I am older, I have slackened a lot in this area. Even with the recent Evangel cube training, I have not been actively sharing my faith. My 'busy' work has been my comfortable excuse.

Have my heart grown cold? Have I become calloused to the lost and dying as they are not my immediate relatives? How can I regain the fire again? No simple answers.

A wounded heart cannot love. Perhaps my first step is to be completely healed first.

National Day Rehersals in school

Each year schools in Singapore celebrate our National Day on 8 of August. We will then have a short break, before we as a nation, celebrate it again on 9th August. By all accounts it is a grand celebration in school. The teachers and the students all work very hard to put up a good show before the parents and government MPs who will be the invited Guest-of-Honour.

Over at my Institution, we are working on overdrive to prepare the students to put up more interesting items (than last year's) to wow the Principal and guests. This year, it will be celebrated at the sports stadium, amphitheatre, auditorium and in the classrooms. As usual, there will be many dance and song items. These kids are normally asleep in the classroom, but when it comes to dancing and singing, suddenly their whole world is awake and alive!Usually we will need to turn away groups as they all want to perform.

Those of us who are involved have to work hard as well as bear with the management inefficiencies of those in charge. Rehearsals are usually called at the last minute. And they are usually over-rehearsed until the students are so worn out that they cannot smile properly. For me, I have to come back during our day-off for more rehearsals. Sigh, how I sometimes secretly wished that my team was not selected. But as I looked at the kids, I knew they badly wanted to perform in front of the audience, and I just have to go on.

Looking at it from another angle, I feel this is a good time for us to renew our patriotic ties with our country. I love Singapore and would gladly stay in Singapore, and fight for Singapore if necessary. After travelling to many other countries, I still think this is the best place on earth. Some of my relatives would have preferred to live in Australia, but not me. Here is my home. And hopefully home for my kids and students too.

Spiritually, is there one day in the year that I renew my gratefulness to God for calling me and giving me so much blessings? As a country, we celebrate our independence, our birth as a Sovereign nation from Malaysia and from the Colonial masters of Britain. As a son of God, do I give thanks that He has called me and given me salvation and more than that, a purpose in life? I don't have. And i think it is not too late to start with today.

Thank you Lord for doing so much for me. There were so many times that I grumbled and were ungrateful. Thank you for bearing with me all these years. Thank you.

Postscript (10 Aug 07):
Thank God! Everything went smoothly. The weather was hot, but better than rainning. The turnout was good too, approximately 2-3000 kids. As usual, all our fears did not materialize and the students performed better than what we expected of them. We knew, yet many times we panicked and do silly unnecessary things. Here it is proven over again, that we typical Singaporeans over-planned things and rested in the comfort of our over-planning than on praying and resting in God. We are simply over "gan-cheong" (excited-worried) for our souls' good.

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