Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Taking Spiritual Retreats

A military retreat is often considered as losing ground as the soldiers are involved in moving back or withdrawal. However, not everyone sees it as that. General Oliver Prince Smith during the Korean War declared, “Retreat, hell! We’re not retreating, we’re just advancing in a different direction”! A spiritual retreat is not losing ground. It is taking a step sideways to reflect upon and to consolidate the advances of our spiritual life.

Our lives are very busy. We are swept away by its non-stop demands. The insistent attention-grabbing noise of the mobile phones, television and social media drowns out the voice of God. Our bodies are stressed resulting in hypertension, heart attacks and strokes. Our souls are fragmented and disjointed. Our lives feel disconnected and surreal. We feel as if we are drowning in a strong flowing river, being swept away with no control over our lives. All we can do is to try to keep our heads above the water. And when we do have a moment to take stock, we wonder where the months and years have gone.

It is essential for those who are serious about their spiritual life to take time out for retreats. As mentioned, retreats are when we intentionally step aside to reflect about our life in Christ and to listen to Him who is speaking into our lives. Retreats are opportunities for us to

• assess the state of our spiritual life
• making important decisions
• pray
• listen to God
• rest
• recharge
• recommit
• renew
• reassess our ministries

Retreats are of many different forms. There are the formal guided retreat (usually under a spiritual director), informal group retreat, and personal retreat. Personal retreat may be conducted by a person on his/her own. Frequency of taking a retreat depends on individuals. The length of a retreat may varies. It may be a 3 days retreat, a one week, one month or three months. In silent retreat, speaking is kept to the minimum. There are no fixed place for a retreat. We may have a retreat at a retreat center (which is ideal because they provide accommodation and food), a hotel/resort, a caravan or a tent. Or even in a home. Example of a personal retreat in 2011 here

The focus of a retreat is not in how it is structured but in spending time with ourselves and with the Lord. The keyword is listen.
• We listen to our bodies. Some of us are not very good custodians of our bodies. Often I find that most people sleep a lot during their retreat. This is because many of us are not aware of how tired we really are.
• We listen to our lived experiences. Many of us need time to process our experiences. There are grief processes that need closure. Issues of deep hurt and wounds need to be identified and undergo the process of healing. There are areas of forgiveness that needs to be worked through.
• We listen to the silence in our lives. These silence which is found between words speaks of our deepest needs, and of our innermost demons. Silence allows us to name and face these needs and demons.
• We listen to the sound of our prayers. Our prayers reflect our inner spiritual life. This is especially true of our prayerlessness. Though we give a lot of lip service to prayer, time for prayer is the first to disappear in a busy life.
• We listen to the word of God by reading the bible. Bible reading is an essential component of a retreat. In a retreat, we have time to read the bible slowly and reflectively. In normal days, many of us read the bible either to prepare a sermon or for cell group bible study.
• We listen to the voice of God. This may be an inner strong impression, a strong conviction or even an audible voice. The whole process of a retreat is to slow us down so that we can heard the small still voice of God. As Elijah cannot hear God during the noise of wind, earthquake and fire, we often cannot hear him in the earth shaking and stormy events of our everyday life.

In a retreat, we step aside to listen to the whisper of a small still voice, to reevaluate our lives, pray and to obey. That is why it is essential for us to make time for retreats. This is especially if our lives are very busy. Allocating time for retreat should be part of our planning and ministry. I recommend that we plan for at least two retreats a year. We must realize that we serve out of our being. There is always the danger that we run on empty. We may get away by serving when we are spiritually empty but it will be a matter of time before we crash and burn. We must realize that when we fall, not only we will be hurt, more importantly many others who depend on us and look up to us will be hurt too. So take time out to step aside in our busy life and listen.


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Thursday, May 21, 2015

Random Glimpses of My Desktop (23) : Batman by Reis

Batman Black and White
DC Collectibles 2015
Designed by Ivan Reis
Sculpted by Mat Brouillard
2225 of 5200

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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Stone tell Stories

The Gallio Inscription in Delphi

One of the most significant archeological artifact I saw in The Delphi Museum in Greece is the Gallio inscription. Gallio was the proconsul of the province of Achaia when the apostle Paul was brought before him as documented by Luke in Acts 12:17.
Acts 18:12–17 (NIV84)
12 While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him into court. 13 “This man,” they charged, “is persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law.”
14 Just as Paul was about to speak, Gallio said to the Jews, “If you Jews were making a complaint about some misdemeanor or serious crime, it would be reasonable for me to listen to you. 15 But since it involves questions about words and names and your own law—settle the matter yourselves. I will not be a judge of such things.” 16 So he had them ejected from the court. 17 Then they all turned on Sosthenes the synagogue ruler and beat him in front of the court. But Gallio showed no concern whatever.

With the Gallio inscription, we are now able to narrow down in time, almost the exact year when the apostle Paul was in Corinth during his 18 months stay. Lucius Junius Annaeus Gallio was the elder brother of the Stoic philosopher Seneca who was the personal tutor of Nero and who later took on a more political role when Nero became emperor after the death of Claudius. Gallio was appointed by Emperor Claudius to be proconsul of Achaia around July 51 A.D. He was proconsul for about only a year. The Gallio Inscription which was found in the Temple of Apollo in Delphi was dated to be written in the spring or summer of 51-52 A.D.

Hence we are able to place the apostle Paul time in Corinth during his second missionary journey at between 51-52 A.D. He was probably brought to face Gallio in spring or summer of 51 A.D.  The incident recorded in Acts 18:12–17 probably occurred at the beginning of Gallio’s term, since the Jews would have hoped to get a ruling against Paul from their new proconsul. Not long after that, Paul left Corinth, probably in the summer or autumn of 52. Elwell and Beitzel adds,

According to Acts 18:11 Paul had spent 18 months in Corinth, which means that he probably arrived in the early months of 50 or the end of 49. That arrival date is confirmed by Acts 18:2, which says that Aquila and Priscilla had only recently been exiled from Rome when Paul came to Corinth. A 5th-century historian, Orosius, dated the edict of Claudius expelling the Jews from Rome in A.D. 49. Therefore Paul and Aquila and Priscilla probably arrived close together late in 49 or early in 50. Early in his 18-month stay Paul wrote his first and second letters to the Thessalonians.

             (Elwell, W.A. & Beitzel, B.J., 1988. Baker encyclopedia of the Bible, pp.446–447.)

Using this as a fixed point, we are now able to pin point the start of Paul’s missionary journeys and even some events in Acts. Working forward, we are able to date Paul’s other activities until he went to Rome around 60 A.D. Two possible chronology are as follows:



31 or 32

Paul’s conversion
(Acts 9:3–19)

32 or 33

33 or 34

First Jerusalem visit
(Acts 9:26–30)

34 or 35

46 or 47

Famine visit (Acts 11:30)

46 or 47


First missionary journey
(Acts 13:4–14:28)



Jerusalem council
(Acts 15:1–29)


late 49
or early

Paul’s arrival in Corinth on
second missionary journey
(Acts 18:1)

late 49
or early

autumn 51

Paul’s departure from Corinth
(Acts 18:18)


This is significant because this was be one of two events which we may accurately date. The other event was the date of the famine visit in Acts 11:30 which is either 46 or 47 A.D.
Acts 11:27–30 (NIV84) provides the context.
27 During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.) 29 The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea. 30 This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.

We can be sure that events recorded by Luke and the other evangelists have a historical basis. This is important because the Bible is a book with historical foundations. The Bible records the incarnation of God in human history.

[1] Elwell, W.A. & Beitzel, B.J., 1988. Baker encyclopedia of the Bible, p.447.

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Sunday, May 17, 2015

Victor's Wreath at Ancient Olympia

I wanted to keep a low profile during the recent STM biblical study tour to Greece. Then the spiritual directors, Rev Dr Lim Kar Yong and Rev Dr Paul Baker decided to have a Bible quiz for all the participants of the two buses. The question was “How many biblical metaphors about athletics preparing for their races can you find in the New Testament?” I opened my mouth. To my dismay, I find myself being crowned with an olive wreath for being winner of the quiz. And on the very stadium of ancient Olymphia where the winners of the Olymphic games were crowned. So much for keeping a low profile. It is on Youtube now.

There are quite a number of metaphors and the seven identified are:
1. Hebrews 12:1 (NIV)

12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,

2. Philippians 2:16 (NIV)

16 as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain.

3. Galatians 2:2 (NIV)

2 I went in response to a revelation and, meeting privately with those esteemed as leaders, I presented to them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. I wanted to be sure I was not running and had not been running my race in vain.

4. Galatians 5:7 (NIV)

7 You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth?

5. 2 Timothy 4:7 (NIV)

7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

6. 1 Corinthians 9:24-26 (NIV)

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.

7. 2 Timothy 2:5 (NIV)

5 Similarly, anyone who competes as an athlete does not receive the victor’s crown except by competing according to the rules.

I am sure there are more similar biblical references. The Greeks and Romans are crazy about sports. Like we moderns with our football, basketball, baseball, boxing and other sporting events, they too have their sporting favorites. The winners, like ours, are celebrities. They were crowned with wreaths and rewarded with fame, riches and statures made in their lifelikeness. Similar to what our sport celebrities received today. The Olympic Games were held in the sanctuary of Zeus in ancient Olympia every four years, commencing around 776 B.C.E. The Games were part of a cycle known as the Panhellenic Games, which included the Pythian Games, the Nemean Games, and the Isthmian Games thus ensuring that there were some events taking part in different part of the country in consecutive years.

The New Testament is full of metaphors about athletics preparing themselves for their races. This is especially relevant to the Hellenistic listeners who are embedded in a culture of athletic endeavors from the four Greek. Recent excavations at Olympia which is the site of ancient Olympics brought to light the temples, training sites and the stadium itself while the annual games are being held. As with all Greek life, there is a strong religious and political connections of the games with the city-states. Whether they were the Greeks, Mycenaeans, Macedonians or later the Romans, what stood up is their shared heritage of Greek culture. Being Greek is not so much as living in a certain area as sharing a common legacy of shared values and beliefs. Ancient Greeks were made up of a number of warring city-states. The Games was an event where all city-states has to lay down their arms and declare a three month truce to take part. Offender will be attacked by the combine might of all the other city-states. Not only this allowed time for farming, it enhanced the Games as the religious and socio-political event in their annual calendar. The Game is associated with peace under the watchful eyes of Zeus.



Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Writing as Spiritual Discipline

I always wonder why I write. Writing is not an easy task. It is not just putting words on to paper or inputting data into a word processor. Writing needs content. These content needs to have meaning. This means that it has to be ordered and structured. All this is hard work. After writing is the part I hate- editing, proofreading and rewriting. Ernest Hemingway, a prolific writer comments, “There is nothing at all to writing. All you do is to sit down at a typewriter and bleed”! So why do I write? Five reasons comes to mind and I am sure I will be able to add a few more when this piece is finished. Writing is a task that is never ‘finished’.
Firstly, I write because it is a way to clarify to myself what I am thinking. Thinking is another hard thing to do. In the process of writing down what I am thinking, I am actualizing my thoughts. I am making my thoughts real as I fashion it into words. I am ordering them. Choosing the right word, the appropriate syntax and the context, I am making my thoughts ‘real’. Without that, I have a lot of free floating thoughts that mostly end up nowhere.
Secondly, writing helps me to focus. There are many distractions in my life and I am very weak in resisting distractions. Writing helps me to anchor my thoughts and feelings onto one area. It helps me to focus, concentrate and think deeper. It opens different possibilities and realities. It helps me to ask the right questions and seek the correct answers. It helps me to examine my life and my motivations. It brings to light what in hidden in my subconscious.
Thirdly, writing helps me to be disciplined. To be able to write means I have to sit somewhere within reach of a keyboard. In assembling the alphabets into words, I am building a discipline of writing. To improve, I have to practice. I have set myself a target of writing 500 words every day. If I write 500 words a day, in one non-leap year I would have written 182,500 words which will turn out nicely to be a book! Hopefully, I will be a better writer because of that.
Fourthly, writing is a form of keeping records. A written piece is a snapshot of my life at a moment in time. It is a sum of my lived experiences and my life of the mind. It is also a record of that moment. That is why in Christian traditions, journaling is regarded as a form of spiritual discipline. Journaling as spiritual discipline focuses on a person’s experiences with God in his daily life. Augustine’s The Confessions may be the earliest autobiographical Christian journal. Notable Puritans such William Law’s A Devout and Holy Lifeand Letters of Samuel Rutherford are other examples of journaling which are edifying to its readers.
Finally, writing is my act of worship if I am able to share my limited experience of him and his revelations of himself through his word and works. Writing allows me to share what he has taught me. It allows me to be transparent and be authentic. Of course, there is the temptation to extol myself and my achievements. That will be the antithesis of my writings. I write to share Christ and to share in the fellowship of the witnesses that surrounds me. My writing is my statement of my witness of him.
Writing is a spiritual discipline if spiritual discipline is a holy habit to draw us closer to God. As Eric Lindell commented on his running as portrayed in the 1981 movie Chariots of Fire said, “I believe God made me for a purpose and he made me fast and as I run I feel his pleasure.” I write to know myself and to experience God. And hopefully, as you read my writings, you will get to know him too.


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Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Seven Principles To Be The World’s Greatest Parents

  1. Don’t be a kiasu person
  2. Speak the languages of love of children
  3. Don’t expect instant results
  4. Be and teach gratefulness
  5. Learn to let go
  6. Walk in the faith
  7. Stay close to the Source


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Saturday, May 09, 2015

Travelling with Books

For the last three weeks I have been travelling around Istanbul in Turkey and key significant archaeological sites in Greece with just one paperback book. No, my reading during travels have not slowed down. I have most of the books I want to read in digital format in my iPhone and iPad. I used to measure the length of my journey by the number of paperbacks I will read.

Destination London one way is a two paperback journey (12 hours) while San Francisco is a three paperback one (18 hours). This means I usually lug around 10-15 kg of books in my luggage during my travels. If I have to choose between books or clothes in my luggage, books usually wins.
Nowadays I travel with only one paperback to read during take off and landing and at other times when digital appliances are forbidden. Otherwise, I read using my iPhone 6 plus (which has a larger screen) or my iPad. And I can carry more books. My devices has about 1,000 books on them. However these ebooks have no weight. My luggage is lighter and when it wears out, I will buy smaller ones.

I am also able to highlight, make notes and comments on my ebooks. This is extremely important for me. Another advantage is that I have Microsoft Word on my iPad which allows me to write while travelling. In the past I have to bring along a laptop computer.

Technology has changed reading and books during travels. At home I still prefer to read hard-copies-books which I can touch, smell and feel. I am still a devout hardcopy bibliophile. However, I cannot deny the advantage of ebooks for portability and convenience.

The paperback I brought along was Valerio Massimo Manfredi’s Odysseus: The Oath. Valerio is an Italian historian and archaeologist. I always liked his books. While travelling in Asia Minor and Greece, I find it refreshing to read this retelling of the Homer’s Iliad main protagonist Odysseus. I have enjoyed reading it. This book ends with the fall of Troy. I look forward to reading it sequel, Odysseus: The Return. Of course, I will read a hard or softcopy book, not an ebook one at home.


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