Tag Archives: annette soo

3 September, Tuesday – Hope in the Light

Sep 3 – Memorial for St. Gregory the Great, Pope and Doctor

St. Gregory (540-590) collected the melodies and plain chant so associated with him that they are now known as Gregorian Chants. He was elected by unanimous acclamation for pope. Incidentally, he was also the first monk to be pope. Before his papacy, he turned his home into a Benedictine monastery, and used his money to build six monasteries in Sicily and one in Rome. He became a missionary to England upon seeing English children being sold in the Roman Forum.

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1 Thessalonians 5:1-6, 9-11

You will not be expecting us to write anything to you, brothers, about ‘times and seasons’, since you know very well that the Day of the Lord is going to come like a thief in the night. It is when people are saying, ‘How quiet and peaceful it is’ that the worst suddenly happens, as suddenly as labour pains come on a pregnant woman; and there will be no way for anybody to evade it.

But it is not as if you live in the dark, my brothers, for that Day to overtake you like a thief. No, you are all sons of light and sons of the day: we do not belong to the night or to darkness, so we should not go on sleeping, as everyone else does, but stay wide awake and sober. God never meant us to experience the Retribution, but to win salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that, alive or dead, we should still live united to him. So give encouragement to each other, and keep strengthening one another, as you do already.

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Luke 4:31-37

Jesus went down to Capernaum, a town in Galilee, and taught them on the sabbath. And his teaching made a deep impression on them because he spoke with authority.

In the synagogue there was a man who was possessed by the spirit of an unclean devil, and it shouted at the top of its voice, ‘Ha! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are: the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus said sharply, ‘Be quiet! Come out of him!’ And the devil, throwing the man down in front of everyone, went out of him without hurting him at all. Astonishment seized them and they were all saying to one another, ‘What teaching! He gives orders to unclean spirits with authority and power and they come out.’ And reports of him went all through the surrounding countryside.

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But you, brothers, are not in darkness, for that day to overtake you like a thief

When I was pregnant with my son and close to my due date, I wasn’t expecting him for a while more and was still slumming it from the holiday period. Of course, he had other plans — he came a week and a half earlier than expected. I had barely packed my overnight bag. And despite having done the birthing classes and read the books, if I am being real honest, it felt like going for a practical exam where you wonder if you had read everything that you were meant to, and wondering if you could do what you studied if this or that question came out in the exam. When you’re not quite mentally ready, and the labour pains start, well… there’s no turning back. It’s onwards from here, panicky or not.

Unless you are having a Caesarean section, you won’t really know when exactly the baby will arrive. However, you can prepare to the best of your ability so that you won’t be in a state of anxiety when it happens.  In today’s reading, St Paul reminds us that the Day of the Lord will be like that — sudden and unexpected. We know that it will happen, but we won’t know when, and when it does happen, he reminds us that we need to be ready for it for none of us will escape it when it comes. However, he also has a message of hope — for those who believe in Christ Jesus, we should already be ready to receive Him. As children of God, we should be living a life according to God’s Word. We should already have the values and teachings ingrained in us. We should already be familiar with the Word of God and know what to expect and what to do when the time comes. Having professed our faith then, the Word of God is in us, and we live the Word of God. If we continue to do so, then we have nothing to fear for we should be ready to meet our bridegroom.

Remember the parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), where five of them went to wait for the bridegroom with additional oil, while the other five were foolish not to bring more oil with them? When the bridegroom finally arrived, it was midnight, in the thick of night, and the five wise virgins were able to refill their lamps and join the bridegroom while the foolish ones were left behind and prevented from joining the bridegroom.

Yes, we should be ready especially being “children of the light, children of the day”. Perhaps we are anxious about how ready we are and whether we have done enough to meet the day. Anxiety, though, is a thief of faith. If we are anxious, we cannot be the best that God has equipped us to be; instead of looking forward to the life He has prepared for us, we will always be looking back over our shoulder. No, we should move forward to do the work that God has called us to do, be the person He wants us to be, so that neither fear nor anxiety has a place in our hearts. The reading today closes with encouragement from St Paul — since we are already children of the light, we won’t go down the path like the others will. Instead, let us meet it with faith and hope. Let us encourage each other in life and eradicate the fear that we will be left behind when our Bridegroom comes.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, I don’t know if I will ever be prepared enough to meet the day when You come again. I don’t know when it will happen, and I can’t vouch for my feelings. But I lift that anxiety up to You and ask for the peace of Christ Jesus to fill my heart instead and help me prepare myself in faith and in hope, for the day when we are reconciled with You.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Jesus, for the promise of salvation, the value of which knows no bounds.

2 September, Monday – Grace In All Guises

2 September 2019

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1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

We want you to be quite certain, brothers, about those who have died, to make sure that you do not grieve about them, like the other people who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and that it will be the same for those who have died in Jesus: God will bring them with him. We can tell you this from the Lord’s own teaching, that any of us who are left alive until the Lord’s coming will not have any advantage over those who have died. At the trumpet of God, the voice of the archangel will call out the command and the Lord himself will come down from heaven; those who have died in Christ will be the first to rise, and then those of us who are still alive will be taken up in the clouds, together with them; to meet the Lord in the air. So we shall stay with the Lord for ever. With such thoughts as these you should comfort one another.

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Luke 4:16-30

Jesus came to Nazara, where he had been brought up, and went into the synagogue on the sabbath day as he usually did. He stood up to read and they handed him the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll he found the place where it is written:

The spirit of the Lord has been given to me, for he has anointed me.

He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives and to the blind new sight, to set the downtrodden free, to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour.

He then rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the assistant and sat down. And all eyes in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to speak to them, ‘This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen.’ And he won the approval of all, and they were astonished by the gracious words that came from his lips They said, ‘This is Joseph’s son, surely?’

But he replied, ‘No doubt you will quote me the saying, “Physician, heal yourself” and tell me, “We have heard all that happened in Capernaum, do the same here in your own countryside.”’ And he went on, ‘I tell you solemnly, no prophet is ever accepted in his own country.

‘There were many widows in Israel, I can assure you, in Elijah’s day, when heaven remained shut for three years and six months and a great famine raged throughout the land, but Elijah was not sent to any one of these: he was sent to a widow at Zarephath, a Sidonian town. And in the prophet Elisha’s time there were many lepers in Israel, but none of these was cured, except the Syrian, Naaman.’

When they heard this everyone in the synagogue was enraged. They sprang to their feet and hustled him out of the town; and they took him up to the brow of the hill their town was built on, intending to throw him down the cliff, but he slipped through the crowd and walked away.

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It was to none of these that Elijah was sent, but only to a widow in Zarephath in the land of Sidon

It saddens me each time to read about incidences of bullying, especially those that lead to suicide. This is bullying in all forms, either in politics or at the playground. Are we really such inhumane, uncompassionate creatures, the very opposite of what God made us to be? If we are made in His likeness, I’m sure it is meant to be in all aspects. Yet, we still choose the fruit of knowledge of evil to see how far we can go, how much we can get away with. And these perpetrators go about their lives thereafter as though nothing happened. Is there anything to be gained in making someone else miserable? Is there any pleasure at the thought of ridiculing and ending another’s existence? And then go about life like normal as though it was an entitlement to you? A moment of ‘fun’ for the perpetrator is a lifetime of scarring for the oppressed.

If you have ever felt oppressed, rejected, or like an outsider, the stress must be only too great and I do not say this lightly at all. If you find yourself in such a situation, reach out to someone you can trust — a parent, teacher, pastor, or helpline. Seek help — help is at hand, help will come. Remember that Jesus was rejected by his own people in his hometown, remember that they wanted to throw him off a cliff. Remember that they did eventually kill him on the cross, but not before humiliating and hurting him. Remember that he was abandoned, betrayed and denied by those who followed him, some who were closest to him. Yet, at the end, God delivered him from the clutches of death by raising him on the third day. The naysayers were silenced. Tears were turned to rejoicing, disbelief turned to belief.

Remember that you are worthy, we are all worthy in God’s eyes. Jesus reminds us today that God performed miracles in the unlikeliest of places — the widow from Zarephath in Sidon, an area considered to be an outsider, and Naaman from Syria, a foe of Israel. Miracles could have well been performed in Israel, but God wanted to prove a point – that His love knows no bounds. The downtrodden, the oppressed, the unloved – if the world has rejected you, know that God has not. God doesn’t only reserve His mercies and graces to people who are born Christians or high-ranking leaders or active people in ministry. His grace is open to all. His grace is overflowing, even to outsiders (see Eph 2:11-13). His love is for you and me; it is in rejecting His love, where we will lose it and He will move on to others who need Him, until the day we return to Him.

Remember as well the Gospel reading from yesterday (Luke 14:7-14), where Jesus told his host to invite to his banquet “the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind”. God sees these people worthy to be at His banquet, more so than people who have been invited but rejected the invitation (Luke 14:24). Do not think that God has forsaken you. Those that have oppressed you may enjoy their lives now but there will come a time when they will need help, only to find that help will be denied them.

I don’t think I will understand why people have to be so unkind. There is nothing to be gained from being unkind, only for it to come back and bite us some day. Our lives are given to us by the mercy and grace of God; if we abuse it or reject it, some day it will be taken away from us and given to another.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, we pray for the oppressed, the rejected, the unloved. We pray that You will deliver them from their pain and persecution, and give to them the grace and mercy that You have promised for all of us.

Thanksgiving: Lord we give You thanks for deeming us worthy, regardless of our standing in life, or the value that others may place on us. We give You thanks for Your unending and unconditional love.

1 September, Sunday – Humility

1 Sep 2019

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Ecclesiasticus 3:19-21,30-31

My son, be gentle in carrying out your business,
  and you will be better loved than a lavish giver.
The greater you are, the more you should behave humbly,
  and then you will find favour with the Lord;
for great though the power of the Lord is,
  he accepts the homage of the humble.
There is no cure for the proud man’s malady,
  since an evil growth has taken root in him.
The heart of a sensible man will reflect on parables,
  an attentive ear is the sage’s dream.

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Hebrews 12:18-19,22-24

What you have come to is nothing known to the senses: not a blazing fire, or a gloom turning to total darkness, or a storm; or trumpeting thunder or the great voice speaking which made everyone that heard it beg that no more should be said to them. But what you have come to is Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem where the millions of angels have gathered for the festival, with the whole Church in which everyone is a ‘first-born son’ and a citizen of heaven. You have come to God himself, the supreme Judge, and been placed with spirits of the saints who have been made perfect; and to Jesus, the mediator who brings a new covenant and a blood for purification which pleads more insistently than Abel’s.

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Luke 14:1,7-14

On a sabbath day Jesus had gone for a meal to the house of one of the leading Pharisees; and they watched him closely. He then told the guests a parable, because he had noticed how they picked the places of honour. He said this, ‘When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take your seat in the place of honour. A more distinguished person than you may have been invited, and the person who invited you both may come and say, “Give up your place to this man.” And then, to your embarrassment, you would have to go and take the lowest place. No; when you are a guest, make your way to the lowest place and sit there, so that, when your host comes, he may say, “My friend, move up higher.” In that way, everyone with you at the table will see you honoured. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and the man who humbles himself will be exalted.’

Then he said to his host, ‘When you give a lunch or a dinner, do not ask your friends, brothers, relations or rich neighbours, for fear they repay your courtesy by inviting you in return. No; when you have a party, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; that they cannot pay you back means that you are fortunate, because repayment will be made to you when the virtuous rise again.’

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Humble yourself more, the greater you are, and you will find favour with God

I thought a lot about whether to share this story today, and perhaps it might turn out to be something that may resonate with someone out there. This is a true story of a person I know who rose up the career ladder at a meteoric pace. I will give him the credit of his hard work and perseverance that got him there. As such, his efforts were recognized and he was duly given positions of importance and seniority. Through the years, his success doubled but sadly, I felt that his character changed. The thought that he could do anything seemed to get to his head. He was less patient, less courteous. I don’t know why, but I tried to reason with myself that perhaps people with important decisions to make don’t have time to be as patient as we would like them to be. Why I tried to justify his behavior is beyond me. The day I realized his position went over his head was when he told me that I tried to “leverage on his power”. I was utterly gobsmacked. I remember replying that I was in no way the kind of person to do so, and I reiterated my position during our conversation. We parted ways eventually – amicably enough – though for my part I felt that I had been truly wronged. I could have stewed about it for days if I had chosen to, but with sheer force and lots of prayer, I redirected my energy to move forward instead. I took it as a sign from God that it was time to move on, and I lifted my woes to Him instead and decided to leave it to God to defend me against the injustice that was meted out against me.

Recently, I learnt that this person had lost his position of power and had since been relegated to a lesser position. Wow…I was gobsmacked again. I couldn’t believe it. Was it karma? Was it a case of him having to eat his words? I still hadn’t forgotten what he had said and done to me and wondered if God had a hand in this. I didn’t realise it then, but when his name came up in conversation, my words were still laced with bitterness even though I thought I had been mature enough to put it behind me. I stopped short of rejoicing in his downfall, although I think I was still too stunned at what happened to contemplate it. But I was still hurting and dare I say, bitter.

So what does this have to do with today’s reading? I suppose the most apparent answer is that it resonates with Sirach 3:18: “Humble yourself more, the greater you are”, in that being in a position of power exposes you to the risk of being drunk on power. Perhaps it really was God’s doing. But no, the point that I would like to make is the one of myself — God had vindicated me, yet I was still bitter. It took a friend of mine to remind me that as long as I still criticized him, I would only be hurting myself. I would never be free from the chains of resentment. I would not be doing God any justice by giving in to the power of resentment when He had so graciously given me the strength and perseverance to move forward. If He would say something to my oft-deaf ear, it would probably be “Why are you holding yourself back? Are you waiting for these people to fall? Don’t you trust that everything is as it should be?” My friend also reminded me that negative energy begets negative energy. The resentment I have will just undo all the good work that I have done. And it made me realise that the message of humility is not for this person – that is his own personal business with God. The humility lesson is for me: to be humble in the presence of all that God has done for me. To be humble enough to give thanks to God for deliverance, yet be compassionate enough to pray for the people who have wronged me. To realise that the bigger the grace that God has given me, the more humble I must be. Humility in my prayers, humility in my thanksgiving. And I had been lacking that. Yes, I had put my faith in God and trusted Him to lead me on the right path, but I know now that that is not enough. I had to pray for this person, for those who had done me wrong, because they are hurting now.

There is no happiness in this kind of hurt, no ‘winners’ in this kind of war. But even we can turn this around and be humble in the face of vindication. When Jesus rose from the dead on the third day, the celebration by his followers and disciples was not a case of shoving it and showing it to those who had wronged him, rather it was a celebration of Jesus who lives. Let our humility be a sign to others that Jesus is truly alive in us.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, we pray for all those who have wronged us, those who have oppressed us and lied against us. We pray for those who did not stand up for us but put us down instead. We pray for forgiveness for them, and forgiveness for our bitterness. We pray that they may turn around and find their way back to You.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Jesus, for the strength and perseverance that you have given me to move forward instead of allowing myself to be swallowed up in despair. Thank you for the grace You have given me, even though I realise I am not worthy of it. Thank you for counting me worthy to be saved.

 

11 May, Saturday – Pre-Packaged Promises

11 May 2019

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Acts 9:31-42

The churches throughout Judaea, Galilee and Samaria were now left in peace, building themselves up, living in the fear of the Lord, and filled with the consolation of the Holy Spirit.

Peter visited one place after another and eventually came to the saints living down in Lydda. There he found a man called Aeneas, a paralytic who had been bedridden for eight years. Peter said to him, ‘Aeneas, Jesus Christ cures you: get up and fold up your sleeping mat.’ Aeneas got up immediately; everybody who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they were all converted to the Lord.

At Jaffa there was a woman disciple called Tabitha, or Dorcas in Greek, who never tired of doing good or giving in charity. But the time came when she got ill and died, and they washed her and laid her out in a room upstairs. Lydda is not far from Jaffa, so when the disciples heard that Peter was there, they sent two men with an urgent message for him, ‘Come and visit us as soon as possible.’

Peter went back with them straightaway, and on his arrival they took him to the upstairs room, where all the widows stood round him in tears, showing him tunics and other clothes Dorcas had made when she was with them. Peter sent them all out of the room and knelt down and prayed. Then he turned to the dead woman and said, ‘Tabitha, stand up.’ She opened her eyes, looked at Peter and sat up. Peter helped her to her feet, then he called in the saints and widows and showed them she was alive. The whole of Jaffa heard about it and many believed in the Lord.

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John 6:60-69

After hearing his doctrine many of the followers of Jesus said, ‘This is intolerable language. How could anyone accept it?’ Jesus was aware that his followers were complaining about it and said, ‘Does this upset you? What if you should see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before?

‘It is the spirit that gives life,
the flesh has nothing to offer.
The words I have spoken to you are spirit
and they are life.

‘But there are some of you who do not believe.’ For Jesus knew from the outset those who did not believe, and who it was that would betray him. He went on, ‘This is why I told you that no one could come to me unless the Father allows him.’ After this, many of his disciples left him and stopped going with him.

Then Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘What about you, do you want to go away too?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘Lord, who shall we go to? You have the message of eternal life, and we believe; we know that you are the Holy One of God.’

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“Do you also want to leave?”

Do you remember watching the film Jerry Maguire back in the 90s? A heart-warming story of sports agent Jerry Maguire (played by Tom Cruise) who gets dismissed because he wrote a mission statement about his views on the sports management business which he felt was dishonest, and his aspiration to change that. Remember the part where he leaves, and no one initially follows him? Jerry feels terribly embarrassed and gutted at being abandoned, even by his personal assistant whom he assumed would leave with him. In the end, Renée Zellweger, who plays Dorothy ends up being the only person (besides the fish) who goes with him.

In today’s reading, Jesus was trying to explain to his disciples about the Bread of Life, that he is that Bread of Life given by God, sent from heaven. He tried to explain that if they partook in his body and blood, they would be saved and have eternal life. Some of his disciples couldn’t understand it, perplexed at how an ‘ordinary’ carpenter’s son could be sent from heaven. Earlier in the reading from John 6, they had asked Jesus to perform a sign so that they could believe in him (John 6:30). They were hoping for something along the lines that their ancestors had seen, i.e. manna falling from heaven, but little did they realise that the miracle, the manna they were looking for, was actually sitting in front of them. Because they couldn’t accept what Jesus was trying to explain to them, only wanting a sign in the form that they had in their minds, they decided to abandon Jesus, and went back to their old ways. At this point Jesus asks the Twelve Apostles, “Do you also want to leave?”

Contrast this with the first reading from the Acts, where Peter travels to Lydda and Sharon and Joppa, where he cures Aeneas who was paralysed, and brings Tabitha back from the dead. On both occasions, it is said that the inhabitants of the said towns heard about the miracles he performed and turned to the Lord.

In my humble opinion, the question that arises for me in today’s reading is this: are we sometimes fixated by a certain idea of how our prayers to God should be manifested if and when answered, that we become blind to the true promise that Jesus gives us, which could be in another form that is least expected? And if that petition of ours does not come to pass, do we feel disappointed that it didn’t happen how we wanted it to happen and therefore think that God isn’t fair? Do we then abandon God altogether, or do we try to understand why and what else might God be trying to tell us? Are we, like the disciples, looking for a sign or miracle before we dig in our heels of faith, or are we like Peter who says, “To whom shall we go?” because there is no one else besides Jesus who is the truth? If not the truth, then where else?

Jesus tried to explain that he is the Bread of Life, and the disciples couldn’t understand it, so they left him. Instead of abandoning him, perhaps it would have helped to ask for wisdom to understand rather than a sign. Just because we don’t ‘get it’ the first time, doesn’t mean that it is silly or doesn’t make sense, and then abandon it altogether. Like doing a math problem or reading a text, if we give up so easily because we didn’t understand it the first time, then we are at risk of missing out the worlds that could be open to us if we had stuck to it, or the sense of fulfillment that comes with sticking with it and understanding it at the end.

If our lives currently feel like riddles, perhaps we should ask God for wisdom to unravel the message that lies within. The solution is not abandonment. The solution is to ask.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, we pray for wisdom to understand what you have in store for us, even if it doesn’t turn out how we might have expected it. At the end of the day, your will be done.

Thanksgiving: Lord, thank you for not leaving us, even though sometimes we might have left you. Thank you for believing in us and supporting us in your gentle way. 

10 May, Friday – Chosen by God

10 May 2019

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Acts 9:1-20

Saul was still breathing threats to slaughter the Lord’s disciples. He had gone to the high priest and asked for letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, that would authorise him to arrest and take to Jerusalem any followers of the Way, men or women, that he could find.

Suddenly, while he was travelling to Damascus and just before he reached the city, there came a light from heaven all round him. He fell to the ground, and then he heard a voice saying, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ ‘Who are you, Lord?’ he asked, and the voice answered, ‘I am Jesus, and you are persecuting me. Get up now and go into the city, and you will be told what you have to do.’ The men travelling with Saul stood there speechless, for though they heard the voice they could see no one. Saul got up from the ground, but even with his eyes wide open he could see nothing at all, and they had to lead him into Damascus by the hand. For three days he was without his sight, and took neither food nor drink.

A disciple called Ananias who lived in Damascus had a vision in which he heard the Lord say to him, ‘Ananias!’ When he replied, ‘Here I am, Lord’, the Lord said, ‘You must go to Straight Street and ask the house of Judas for someone called Saul, who comes from Tarsus. At this moment he is praying, having had a vision of a man called Ananias coming in and laying hands on him to give him back his sight.’

When he heard that, Ananias said, ‘Lord, several people have told me about this man and all the harm he has been doing to your saints in Jerusalem. He has only come here because he holds a warrant from the chief priests to arrest everybody who invokes your name.’ The Lord replied, ‘You must go all the same, because this man is my chosen instrument to bring my name before pagans and pagan kings and before the people of Israel; I myself will show him how much he himself must suffer for my name.’ Then Ananias went. He entered the house, and at once laid his hands on Saul and said, ‘Brother Saul, I have been sent by the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on your way here so that you may recover your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ Immediately it was as though scales fell away from Saul’s eyes and he could see again. So he was baptised there and then, and after taking some food he regained his strength.

He began preaching in the synagogues, ‘Jesus is the Son of God.’

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John 6:52-59

The Jews started arguing with one another: ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ they said. Jesus replied:

‘I tell you most solemnly,
if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,
you will not have life in you.
Anyone who does eat my flesh and drink my blood
has eternal life,
and I shall raise him up on the last day.
For my flesh is real food
and my blood is real drink.
He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood
lives in me
and I live in him.
As I, who am sent by the living Father,
myself draw life from the Father,
so whoever eats me will draw life from me.
This is the bread come down from heaven;
not like the bread our ancestors ate:
they are dead,
but anyone who eats this bread will live for ever.’

He taught this doctrine at Capernaum, in the synagogue.

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“this man is a chosen instrument of mine…”

If my father were alive today, he would be celebrating his 76th birthday in 5 days’ time. Sadly he passed away three years ago after battling a long illness. In his memory, I would like to share how our gracious Lord Jesus came into his life and gave him the peace that escaped him for so long.

My dad was not born a Christian. In fact, he shunned Christianity for the most part of his life. I liken his conversion to Saul’s conversion, every time I think about it. Growing up with him was not easy – he was distant and had a temper. We were all scared of him. If we wanted something, we would rather not ask and keep quiet than risk incurring his wrath and snorts of disapproval. We had an aunt and uncle who were, and still are, very faithful Christians. When they came from abroad to visit, they would make it a point to visit and the visit would ultimately end up with my uncle telling my dad about Jesus and Christianity. It was sometimes embarrassingly painful to watch as my dad would immediately lose interest and his gaze would dart elsewhere. Had smartphones been invented at the time, he would most definitely have diverted his attention there. He would sometimes ridicule and criticize some of our relations’ Christian faith, dismissing their attempts to preach to him as being overzealous. At a wedding once, the entire party stood up before the dinner to say grace, but my dad sat stoically in his chair, looking around with a smug smile on his face while the rest of us stood up out of respect. It was an uncomfortable scene to behold.

But then my dad fell sick. He had been ill before, and had a bypass when he was in his forties, but this was more serious. He had cancer. For weeks following his diagnosis and multiple hospital stays, he could not rest. He complained he felt uneasy inside, not at peace, even when he slept. By this time, my sister and I had both converted to follow Christ, and we, along with my brother, had all grown up and flown the nest. One day, I received a call from my mother: in a ‘desperate’ attempt to find peace, my father had wandered into my room and had picked up a spare Bible that I had left there and had started reading it. From thereon, his conversion was swift. My uncle and aunt visited again shortly after and were one of the first who witnessed this conversion. His demeanor changed and he sat patiently listening and asking questions. He started going to church. After my mum and him both got baptized, they become really active at church joining various ministries. Even his personality changed – he became happier and was always smiling and laughing, more approachable and loving. He wasn’t 100% cured of his old habits, but he became a much warmer person. He prayed every day, twice a day, sometimes more especially towards the end of his life. He meditated on God’s Word regularly, and where he would have crumbled before, his faith kept him going all the way to the end.

As in the case of Saul, God chose my dad as an instrument to show that He is Almighty and only He is capable of thawing a hardened heart. God saw my dad as worthy to be saved, and that he would be a testament of God’s love, even if my dad had shunned it for so many years. Every Easter, we are reminded that we have all been chosen and called by God, to be saved and loved by Him, to be a living testament of His love and abundant promises. It is up to us to live that faith and make the calling worth the while. If God can choose and convert my dad, what more are the promises that lie in store for us who have already been called and chosen by God?

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Father Almighty, I pray for my father, that he may enjoy eternal rest with You. We pray for all those who have yet to come to know You, that they may have their hearts thawed and experience the glory of God as Saul did.

Thanksgiving: Lord, thank you for giving my dad to us when he was alive. He may not have been perfect, but he was as good a dad as he could have ever been. Thank you for the memories.

09 May, Thursday – A Journey of Opportunities

9 May 2019

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Acts 8:26-40

The angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, ‘Be ready to set out at noon along the road that goes from Jerusalem down to Gaza, the desert road.’ So he set off on his journey. Now it happened that an Ethiopian had been on pilgrimage to Jerusalem; he was a eunuch and an officer at the court of the kandake, or queen, of Ethiopia, and was in fact her chief treasurer. He was now on his way home; and as he sat in his chariot he was reading the prophet Isaiah. The Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go up and meet that chariot.’ When Philip ran up, he heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ ‘How can I’ he replied ‘unless I have someone to guide me?’ So he invited Philip to get in and sit by his side. Now the passage of scripture he was reading was this:

Like a sheep that is led to the slaughter-house,
like a lamb that is dumb in front of its shearers,
like these he never opens his mouth.
He has been humiliated and has no one to defend him.
Who will ever talk about his descendants,
since his life on earth has been cut short!

The eunuch turned to Philip and said, ‘Tell me, is the prophet referring to himself or someone else?’ Starting, therefore, with this text of scripture Philip proceeded to explain the Good News of Jesus to him.
Further along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, ‘Look, there is some water here; is there anything to stop me being baptised?’ He ordered the chariot to stop, then Philip and the eunuch both went down into the water and Philip baptised him. But after they had come up out of the water again Philip was taken away by the Spirit of the Lord, and the eunuch never saw him again but went on his way rejoicing. Philip found that he had reached Azotus and continued his journey proclaiming the Good News in every town as far as Caesarea.

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John 6:44-51

Jesus said to the crowd:

‘No one can come to me
unless he is drawn by the Father who sent me,
and I will raise him up at the last day.
It is written in the prophets:
They will all be taught by God,
and to hear the teaching of the Father,
and learn from it,
is to come to me.
Not that anybody has seen the Father,
except the one who comes from God:
he has seen the Father.
I tell you most solemnly,
everybody who believes has eternal life.

‘I am the bread of life.
Your fathers ate the manna in the desert
and they are dead;
but this is the bread that comes down from heaven,
so that a man may eat it and not die.
I am the living bread which has come down from heaven.
Anyone who eats this bread will live for ever;
and the bread that I shall give is my flesh,
for the life of the world.’

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“Get up and head south on the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza, the desert route”

Heeding the call of Christ can be a lonely thing, a test of one’s faith. It’s not like planning a trip where you know the start and end of your journey, where you’d be staying, and what you’d be doing. When God sends us on a journey, He doesn’t tell you how the big picture is going to look like. It is only revealed to us one step at a time, and for the rest of the trip we are to put our whole trust in Him. If you are on a mission for God, or heeding His call to do something, be not afraid – you are in good company.

In today’s reading, we see that Philip was commanded by the angel of the Lord to “get up and head south”. There was no explanation as to what exactly he was to do there, where he was going to stay, even the end destination seemed a little vague: Philip was only asked to head down on the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza, but not necessarily that Gaza was his stop (we learn that he later ended up in Azotus, about 50km from Gaza). To compound the difficulty, he was commanded to take the desert route, a lonely, dusty, and hot route. Chances of meeting anyone else – zero. But God had other plans.

Along the way, Philip had an encounter with an Ethiopian. Not just any Ethiopian, but a court official, a eunuch in charge of the queen’s treasury. From the description, he appeared to be a learned and spiritual man, with people under his command. And the Holy Spirit said to Philip, “Go and join up with that chariot”. What are the odds of such a chance encounter on a lonely desert road? Not only did Philip manage to catch up, but he was subsequently invited to sit with the Ethiopian to explain the meaning of the Scripture he was reading. As we learn, Philip ends up baptizing the Ethiopian, and the Ethiopian, filled with the glory of God’s love, continues on his way home, rejoicing and no doubt proclaiming the wonders of God Almighty.

To me, this tells us a few things: 1) when we are called to do something for God, it will more likely than not end up being a solitary task, or one that most people won’t understand; 2) when we follow the path God has laid out for us, we travel not with a map, but with faith, for half the time we won’t know what our journey will look like and what kind of obstacles we will meet; 3) it is not the destination, but the journey, the process, that counts. As an extension, we don’t have to wait till our final stop to do something wonderful for God, we can do it along the way; 4) God will place people along our path who will either help us or be in need of our help, and sometimes in the most unlikely of situations; 5) we may start our journey as we are, but our journey will inevitably change us, our experiences will enlighten us, as it did with the Ethiopian. So as before, it is the process of who we become that matters in the end; and 6) it doesn’t matter about race or religion, rich or poor, powerful or lowly, scholarly or not – there is no distinction in God’s eyes when it comes to God’s salvation through Christ Jesus. And God’s grace went with the Ethiopian who was eventually baptized.

We are all on this journey called life. Even if you have not found a specific calling, life itself is the journey. It may be a lonely one, or an unknown one, but today’s reading tells us that on this journey, God will present us with the opportunity to do something worthwhile, something that will make a positive difference to others, no matter how small. The question is, will we go and join up to meet with it as Philip did?

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Father Almighty, we pray for the wisdom and enlightenment to recognize the opportunities in life that You have given us where we can make a positive difference. Help us to open up our minds and not doubt it, but in wholehearted faith, embrace it knowing that You will have a plan for it.

Thanksgiving: Father Almighty, we give You thanks for this journey called life. It can be a bumpy ride, but we thank you for the ups and downs and for the perseverance to carry on, one step at a time.

23 March, Saturday – Not Forgotten

23 Mar – Memorial for St. Turibius de Mogrovejo, bishop

St. Turibius (1538-1606) was born a noble and became a lawyer, and then a professor of law at Salamanca. He was ordained in 1578, and was a judge of the Court of the Inquisition at Granada. He was later appointed Archbishop of Lima, Peru on May 15, 1579. He founded the first seminary in the Western hemisphere, and fought for the rights of the natives against the Spanish masters. He also organized councils and synods in the New World.

Prayer to St. Turibius

Lord, through the apostolic work of St. Turibius and his unwavering love of truth, you helped your Church to grow. May your chosen people continue to grow in faith and holiness. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

  • Patron Saint Index

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Micah 7:14-15,18-20

With shepherd’s crook, O Lord, lead your people to pasture,
the flock that is your heritage,
living confined in a forest
with meadow land all around.
Let them pasture in Bashan and Gilead
as in the days of old.
As in the days when you came out of Egypt

grant us to see wonders.

What god can compare with you: taking fault away,
pardoning crime,
not cherishing anger for ever
but delighting in showing mercy?
Once more have pity on us,
tread down our faults,
to the bottom of the sea
throw all our sins.
Grant Jacob your faithfulness,
and Abraham your mercy,
as you swore to our fathers
from the days of long ago.

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Luke 15:1-3,11-32

The tax collectors and the sinners were all seeking the company of Jesus to hear what he had to say, and the Pharisees and the scribes complained. ‘This man’ they said ‘welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ So he spoke this parable to them:

 ‘A man had two sons. The younger said to his father, “Father, let me have the share of the estate that would come to me.” So the father divided the property between them. A few days later, the younger son got together everything he had and left for a distant country where he squandered his money on a life of debauchery.

‘When he had spent it all, that country experienced a severe famine, and now he began to feel the pinch, so he hired himself out to one of the local inhabitants who put him on his farm to feed the pigs. And he would willingly have filled his belly with the husks the pigs were eating but no one offered him anything. Then he came to his senses and said, “How many of my father’s paid servants have more food than they want, and here am I dying of hunger! I will leave this place and go to my father and say: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you; I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as one of your paid servants.” So he left the place and went back to his father.

‘While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with pity. He ran to the boy, clasped him in his arms and kissed him tenderly. Then his son said, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son.” But the father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring out the best robe and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the calf we have been fattening, and kill it; we are going to have a feast, a celebration, because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life; he was lost and is found.” And they began to celebrate.

‘Now the elder son was out in the fields, and on his way back, as he drew near the house, he could hear music and dancing. Calling one of the servants he asked what it was all about. “Your brother has come” replied the servant “and your father has killed the calf we had fattened because he has got him back safe and sound.” He was angry then and refused to go in, and his father came out to plead with him; but he answered his father, “Look, all these years I have slaved for you and never once disobeyed your orders, yet you never offered me so much as a kid for me to celebrate with my friends. But, for this son of yours, when he comes back after swallowing up your property – he and his women – you kill the calf we had been fattening.”

‘The father said, “My son, you are with me always and all I have is yours. But it was only right we should celebrate and rejoice, because your brother here was dead and has come to life; he was lost and is found.”’

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My son, you are here with me always. Everything I have is yours

I remember my baptism, and the preparation leading up to it. I had been on the RCIA program and I remember thinking at the time if I would be able to get through the year-long program. But the year sped by quite quickly and before you knew it, we were at Lent, getting ready for our baptism at the Easter vigil. It was almost like getting ready for a wedding: a lot of preparation beforehand, our placements, the rituals, the vows, the clothes that we would wear. And on the day of baptism, there we were, the ‘co-stars’ of the night, standing in front of the whole congregation in our new white garments, beaming proudly. Then shortly after the period of Mystagogy, it was back to life as usual.

It has been many years since my baptism, and probably for most of us too, as you read this. As we watch the next batch of Elect go through their sacraments of initiation, we watch their smiles, and we reflect on our own big day years ago. Maybe we wish that we could feel the overflowing of the Holy Spirit in their hearts, as we once did. Maybe we long for that closeness or assuredness in our relationship with God, as the Elect now have. Maybe many things have transpired since our baptism, that have dried up our spiritual well, and called us to question God’s presence in our lives. Perhaps we stopped seeking, perhaps life got in the way, we got distracted. Yes, life does go on but so does God; God continues to be present in our lives, even when we have stopped being the star of the day. When all the lights have faded and the sparkle wanes, God still remains.

Before we were each called by God, we were all lost in our own ways. When we opened our hearts to Him, we were like the prodigal son returned to the Father: “I once was lost, but now am found.” And when we accepted God into our hearts, He promised us salvation, a new and everlasting life in Christ Jesus, cleansed of our sins. He promised to be with us always: “I will never leave you, nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). He promised us security (Isaiah 43:2), strength (Isaiah 41:10), wisdom (James 1:5), unfailing love (Isaiah 54:10), forgiveness (1 John 1:9). He gave us all He had, His only Son Christ Jesus, so that we may live (John 3:16).

Our lives might be ‘as usual’, but remember David, the shepherd boy, overlooked by his brothers, but anointed as king. It would be many more years after his anointing before David finally assumed his place as king, and in the meantime, he went back to ‘life as usual’ – as a shepherd boy. But he had to, in order to learn about life to be a better king, to be in a better position to serve God and his people when the time came. Maybe if we take a different viewpoint, we may find that perhaps the preparation doesn’t end at baptism. After baptism, the real preparation begins: preparation to hear and heed God’s calling, to do His will and to be guided by Him. Our baptism may be over, but God does not forget us. He has plans for us, and if we allow it, He will reveal those plans to us. In the meantime, let us be comforted in the knowledge that whatever our life situation is, whether we are content or troubled, we are in the season of preparation for bigger things that God has in store for us.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, in this season of Lent, help us to bring more consciousness in our preparation for Easter. We also pray for our Elect, as they prepare for their baptism on Easter.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for calling us to you when you did, for taking us in even when we were sinners, for finding us when we were lost. Even now, you are still with us, your gentle encouragement comforting us, guiding us through our daily lives.

22 March, Friday – Rejection and Revival

22 March 2019

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Genesis 37:3-4,12-13,17-28

Israel loved Joseph more than all his other sons, for he was the son of his old age, and he had a coat with long sleeves made for him. But his brothers, seeing how his father loved him more than all his other sons, came to hate him so much that they could not say a civil word to him.

His brothers went to pasture their father’s flock at Shechem. Then Israel said to Joseph, ‘Are not your brothers with the flock at Shechem? Come, I am going to send you to them.’ So Joseph went after his brothers and found them at Dothan.

They saw him in the distance, and before he reached them they made a plot among themselves to put him to death. ‘Here comes the man of dreams’ they said to one another. ‘Come on, let us kill him and throw him into some well; we can say that a wild beast devoured him. Then we shall see what becomes of his dreams.’

But Reuben heard, and he saved him from their violence. ‘We must not take his life’ he said. ‘Shed no blood,’ said Reuben to them ‘throw him into this well in the wilderness, but do not lay violent hands on him’ – intending to save him from them and to restore him to his father. So, when Joseph reached his brothers, they pulled off his coat, the coat with long sleeves that he was wearing, and catching hold of him they threw him into the well, an empty well with no water in it. They then sat down to eat.

Looking up they saw a group of Ishmaelites who were coming from Gilead, their camels laden with gum, tragacanth, balsam and resin, which they were taking down into Egypt. Then Judah said to his brothers, ‘What do we gain by killing our brother and covering up his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, but let us not do any harm to him. After all, he is our brother, and our own flesh.’ His brothers agreed.

Now some Midianite merchants were passing, and they drew Joseph up out of the well. They sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty silver pieces, and these men took Joseph to Egypt.

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Matthew 21:33-43,45-46

Jesus said to the chief priests and the elders of the people, ‘Listen to another parable. There was a man, a landowner, who planted a vineyard; he fenced it round, dug a winepress in it and built a tower; then he leased it to tenants and went abroad. When vintage time drew near he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his servants, thrashed one, killed another and stoned a third. Next he sent some more servants, this time a larger number, and they dealt with them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them. “They will respect my son” he said. But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, “This is the heir. Come on, let us kill him and take over his inheritance.” So they seized him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’ They answered, ‘He will bring those wretches to a wretched end and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will deliver the produce to him when the season arrives.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the scriptures:

It was the stone rejected by the builders
that became the keystone.
This was the Lord’s doing
and it is wonderful to see?

‘I tell you, then, that the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.’

When they heard his parables, the chief priests and the scribes realised he was speaking about them, but though they would have liked to arrest him they were afraid of the crowds, who looked on him as a prophet.

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The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; by the Lord has this been done, and it is wonderful in our eyes

Today’s first reading about Joseph being sold as a slave by his own brothers is a particularly hard one to swallow. To be rejected and ill-treated is already soul-crushing in itself, but rejection to the point of being cut-off by your kin, killed or obliviated from the face of this earth… There are no words for that. We have all faced rejection in varying degrees at some point in our lives and we well know the pain and heartache. To wake up each morning and feel as though the pain is suffocating you, that each heavy step forward is like lead on our feet, and in our suffering and despair to be unable to fathom that there is even a light at the end of it – how indeed will it ever get better?

If you think that God does not hear or understand, think again. God so loved us that He gave us His only Son that we may not die, but have everlasting life. Jesus was rejected by his own people, spat at, scourged, and crucified on the cross. He bled for us, wept for us, and suffered for us, even though we turned our backs on him. Jesus was rejected, so that we may be accepted. God turned that rejection into something marvelous, something life-saving, even though it took a while to manifest, and even when it escaped all our understanding as to how such a tragedy could be turned into something miraculous. Our current suffering may seem terribly bleak at the moment that it is hard to comprehend what kind of miracle can be wrought from it, but do remember… that a diamond only looks like a rock until it undergoes years of pressure, hewn from the rock face and polished to its brilliance.

I can understand why some people are driven to suicide, and we, as a people, must not judge them. We need to ask if we have done enough to help them. Rejection is a lonely, desolate place, and in the midst of the barrenness, one cannot ask for help, for one cannot see where the help is. We, from the outside looking in, have to extend that help. But taking your life is not the answer, even though at the time there seems no other way. Our lives do not belong to us, our lives are a gift from God, and bought for us at a heavy, heavy price, by someone who understands the meaning of sacrifice, the meaning of rejection and despair. Salvation followed the crucifixion. Life comes after loss. Hope comes after despair.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, we pray for those who are troubled in their hearts, whose burdens are heavy and whose roads seem blocked. Help them see that there IS light. There IS love. There IS hope. And may we, as a people, be there to help them, and not turn our countenance away from those who need help the most.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks to the Lord for the price that was paid for us, for our lives, so that we may live and be accepted. We give thanks for the sacrifice that was made out of the greatest love of all.

21 March, Thursday – Self-examination

21 March 2019

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Jeremiah 17:5-10

The Lord says this:
‘A curse on the man who puts his trust in man,
who relies on things of flesh,
whose heart turns from the Lord.
He is like dry scrub in the wastelands:
if good comes, he has no eyes for it,
he settles in the parched places of the wilderness,
a salt land, uninhabited.
‘A blessing on the man who puts his trust in the Lord,
with the Lord for his hope.
He is like a tree by the waterside
that thrusts its roots to the stream:
when the heat comes it feels no alarm,
its foliage stays green;
it has no worries in a year of drought,
and never ceases to bear fruit.
‘The heart is more devious than any other thing,
perverse too: who can pierce its secrets?
I, the Lord, search to the heart,
I probe the loins,
to give each man what his conduct
and his actions deserve.’

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Luke 11:29-32

The crowds got even bigger, and Jesus addressed them:

‘This is a wicked generation; it is asking for a sign. The only sign it will be given is the sign of Jonah. For just as Jonah became a sign to the Ninevites, so will the Son of Man be to this generation. On Judgement day the Queen of the South will rise up with the men of this generation and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and there is something greater than Solomon here. On Judgement day the men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation and condemn it, because when Jonah preached they repented; and there is something greater than Jonah here.’

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I, the Lord, alone probe the mind and test the heart

Medical examinations are quite helpful in determining the state of health that you are in. With such advancements in medical science, technology and research, understanding your own body and fixing it has never been easier or more accessible to the masses. I find though that the older we get, the more we tend to shy away from getting a health examination. We fear what the results might uncover, so we would rather not know. And what if we do know? Then the cost of fixing the problem could be a great inconvenience. Therefore, ignorance is bliss!

But while there is a ‘black & white’ process for physical examinations, what about the examination of our own hearts? Not the physical well-being of it, but the emotional and spiritual well-being. The Lenten period is a good time for self-examination of our emotional and spiritual state, and of our relationship with God. True, there is no straightforward answer of how we are doing (unlike a medical examination), and we mostly lie in a sort of gray area where we’re not quite sure where we stand. How do we justify our actions, and should we? If we lay bare our hearts before God, what would our results show? Perhaps we would rather not know and remain in a state of denial – all is good with us, all is good with God.

But God has given each of us a conscience, and that serves as our heart health barometer, our moral compass. The closer we are to God, the stronger the conscience, and even if you didn’t feel that you had that strong bond with God, we nevertheless know if we have done something right or wrong. Does it nag at you, do you lie awake at night mulling over what you did or didn’t do? Do you regret saying things that you did or didn’t? Could you have done something better that you would be proud of? Did you show congruence between what you say you are and what you do? If these are questions that keep you up, perhaps that is God’s way of probing our minds and hearts. He has given us free will, and with that comes accountability for our actions. Because we have free will, we will undoubtedly encounter many occasions where our hearts will indeed be tested, to determine what route we will take. Sometimes doing the right thing is the hardest thing that we can ever do.

Lent isn’t just about abstinence from pleasurable activities. Lent is also about self-examination. Lent is about what we are going to do, once we uncover something from that examination. Lent is about preparing ourselves, fixing ourselves and facing the truth that maybe something within us could be better. Lent is about having a purpose in our fasting and abstinence, not so much to meet a 40-day goal, but that in that 40 days, we change what our conscience tells us needs changing, and in doing so, we come just that little closer to God. Lent isn’t just about God coming to us, but that we – as sinners – are going back to God.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer: Lord, harden not our hearts that we remain in a state of denial, but awaken in each of us sinners, a renewed sense of longing to change for the better, to change for You.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks to the Lord for the strength during this Lenten period, and for courage to face our demons, be they bad habits that we need to banish or negative thoughts that we need to lay to rest. May they never return to haunt us.

21 February, Thursday – Promise to God

21 February 2019

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Genesis 9:1-13

God blessed Noah and his sons, saying to them, ‘Be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth. Be the terror and the dread of all the wild beasts and all the birds of heaven, of everything that crawls on the ground and all the fish of the sea; they are handed over to you. Every living and crawling thing shall provide food for you, no less than the foliage of plants. I give you everything, with this exception: you must not eat flesh with life, that is to say blood, in it. I will demand an account of your life-blood. I will demand an account from every beast and from man. I will demand an account of every man’s life from his fellow men.

‘He who sheds man’s blood
shall have his blood shed by man,
for in the image of God
man was made.
‘As for you, be fruitful, multiply, teem over the earth and be lord of it.’

God spoke to Noah and his sons, ‘See, I establish my Covenant with you, and with your descendants after you; also with every living creature to be found with you, birds, cattle and every wild beast with you: everything that came out of the ark, everything that lives on the earth. I establish my Covenant with you: no thing of flesh shall be swept away again by the waters of the flood. There shall be no flood to destroy the earth again.’

God said, ‘Here is the sign of the Covenant I make between myself and you and every living creature with you for all generations: I set my bow in the clouds and it shall be a sign of the Covenant between me and the earth.’

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Mark 8:27-33

Jesus and his disciples left for the villages round Caesarea Philippi. On the way he put this question to his disciples, ‘Who do people say I am?’ And they told him. ‘John the Baptist,’ they said ‘others Elijah; others again, one of the prophets.’ ‘But you,’ he asked ‘who do you say I am?’ Peter spoke up and said to him, ‘You are the Christ.’ And he gave them strict orders not to tell anyone about him.

And he began to teach them that the Son of Man was destined to suffer grievously, to be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and to be put to death, and after three days to rise again; and he said all this quite openly. Then, taking him aside, Peter started to remonstrate with him. But, turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said to him, ‘Get behind me, Satan! Because the way you think is not God’s way but man’s.’

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I will establish my covenant with you

When I was in my early teens, I made a promise to God. I was down with a high fever which refused to break, and while she never told me so, I could see the worry etched on my mother’s face. I remember feeling really feverish, standing in the middle of the bathroom with cool, damp towels swathed around me, trying to get the temperature down. I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t afraid.

But it was in this feverish state that I first spoke to God. I remember saying to God, “God if You are really there, please help reduce this fever, and I will believe in You and convert” (I was non-Christian at the time). God did actually hear me. After that encounter, I lay down to sleep and my fever broke in the middle of the night.

It took me several years though before I fulfilled my promise to God. I remembered it always though, but I was afraid and maybe I was making excuses to delay fulfilling it.

Imagine if God was human like us, in terms of keeping promises. But He isn’t. He is God Almighty, and He is true to His word. In today’s first reading, God reminds us that He takes the arrangement seriously — reference to the covenant between God and man is repeated at least four times in the reading between verses 8-15, and if you read on, it appears another two more times in verses 16-17. It is as though God is saying, you’re not entering into an agreement with any old Joe, this is me, your God and Father! God is not saying this to remind Himself. He is saying this to ingrain into us that He has made a covenant with us, and it is to last a lifetime. When we get married, for example, we are only required to repeat our vows once during the ceremony, and not six times. After a few years of marriage, we probably would have forgotten what those vows might be, even though they are meant to last us till the day we die. But our Father reminds us of the contents of His promise to us, and in case we, in our human ways, were to forget this promise, He even sends us a beautiful reminder in the form of a rainbow.

Yes, of course, we can argue in scientific terms about the formation of a rainbow, but science cannot extinguish the essence behind the rainbow, or the spiritual message that it contains. Our hearts light up a little each time we behold a rainbow; perhaps we can light up a little more as well knowing that God is also saying “I remember My word with you”.

(Today’s Oxygen by Annette Soo)

Prayer – Lord, help us to take our vows and promises seriously, especially those that we make with You. It is only in keeping our word that we will build our integrity. 

Thanksgiving – Thank you Father, for the blessing of the rainbow as a sign of Your everlasting covenant with us.