Tag Archives: desmond soon

7 May, Monday – Collateral Damage

7 May

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Acts 16:11-15

Sailing from Troas we made a straight run for Samothrace; the next day for Neapolis, and from there for Philippi, a Roman colony and the principal city of that particular district of Macedonia. After a few days in this city we went along the river outside the gates as it was the sabbath and this was a customary place for prayer. We sat down and preached to the women who had come to the meeting. One of these women was called Lydia, a devout woman from the town of Thyatira who was in the purple-dye trade. She listened to us, and the Lord opened her heart to accept what Paul was saying. After she and her household had been baptised she sent us an invitation: ‘If you really think me a true believer in the Lord,’ she said ‘come and stay with us’; and she would take no refusal.

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John 15:26-16:4

Jesus said to his disciples:
‘When the Advocate comes,
whom I shall send to you from the Father,
the Spirit of truth who issues from the Father,
he will be my witness.
And you too will be witnesses,
because you have been with me from the outset.
‘I have told you all this that your faith may not be shaken.
They will expel you from the synagogues,
and indeed the hour is coming
when anyone who kills you
will think he is doing a holy duty for God.
They will do these things
because they have never known
either the Father or myself.
But I have told you all this,
so that when the time for it comes
you may remember that I told you.’

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Your faith may not be shaken

As a university, we continue to grow and evolve. And after more than 9 years, I have seen many good people come and go. I have often wondered why seemingly good people decide to leave their job just as all eyes are on us and we begin to establish ourselves as a distinctive brand in Singapore.

A few years back, we attended a culture building workshop facilitated by a young husband and wife team. One exercise involved a handful of colleagues going out of the room while the rest of us were given ‘briefs’ about the kind of people we were and how each team was supposed to build the tallest tower possible out of a variety of material (paper cups, balloons, straws, crepe paper, markers and the like). Then halfway through the process, the handful of colleagues who had been asked to step out of the room were re-introduced into each group. But they had obviously been given a different ‘brief’ to us in terms of their culture. They all behaved pretty oddly and as they tried to assimilate into our groups, there was some obvious discomfort and even tension.

At the end of the session, we all shared that as an organisation that was so focussed on getting things done, we sometimes portrayed ourselves as cold, distant and unwelcoming. To outsiders and new employees, this could take some getting used to. While reflecting on this, I drew a parallel with my ongoing spiritual recovery journey and the other 6 brothers who are journeying together with me. As their leader, I have had to keep the relatively ‘new’ group united, especially with the challenges we are facing as a ministry. Unfortunately, the reality is that we are not as tight a group as I would prefer. I found myself questioning my own leadership and whether I have been open, caring, or even available to my other brothers who may be struggling with various issues at work or at home.

Unlike our Lord who cares for each and every one of His sheep, I feared that I may have been too cold or unapproachable as a leader. But at a recent inner healing retreat where I was serving, He kept reassuring me that all I needed to do was to look to Him in my hour of need.

Brothers and sisters, the Lord is always there waiting to catch us, no matter how wretched we feel about ourselves. He is a loving God full of compassion and mercy, ever willing to enfold us in His arms so that as His true sons and daughters, we will never fall by the wayside. I know I have to trust in Him completely to keep my group together, united in the bonds of His undying love for each and every one of us.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Lord, help us to see your face in every situation that we face. Help us to remain focussed and committed to you as we journey on this earth.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for always watching out for us and being there to catch us when we falter.

 

17 March, Saturday – Getting Over Betrayal

17 Mar – Memorial for St. Patrick, bishop

St. Patrick (387-390 – 461-464) was kidnapped from the British mainland when he was about 16, and shipped to Ireland as a slave. He was sent to the mountains as a shepherd, and spent his time in prayer. After six years of this life, he had a dream in which he was commanded to return to Britain. Seeing it as a sign, he escaped.

He studied in several monasteries in Europe. He was a priest, then a bishop. He was sent by Pope St. Celestine to evangelize England, then Ireland, during which his chariot driver was St. Odran, and St. Jarlath was one of his spiritual students.

In 33 years, he effectively converted Ireland. In the Middle Ages, Ireland become known as the ‘Land of Saints’, and during the Dark Ages, its monasteries were the great repositories of learning in Europe, all a consequence of Patrick’s ministry.

Christ shield me this day:
Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every person who thinks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me

– Saint Patrick, from his breastplate

  • Patron Saint Index

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Jeremiah 11:18-20

The Lord revealed it to me; I was warned.

O Lord, that was when you opened my eyes to their scheming. I for my part was like a trustful lamb being led to the slaughter-house, not knowing the schemes they were plotting against me, ‘Let us destroy the tree in its strength, let us cut him off from the land of the living, so that his name may be quickly forgotten!’

But you, the Lord of Hosts, who pronounce a just sentence,
who probe the loins and heart,
let me see the vengeance you will take on them,
for I have committed my cause to you.

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John 7:40-52

Several people who had been listening to Jesus said, ‘Surely he must be the prophet’, and some said, ‘He is the Christ’, but others said, ‘Would the Christ be from Galilee? Does not scripture say that the Christ must be descended from David and come from the town of Bethlehem?’ So the people could not agree about him. Some would have liked to arrest him, but no one actually laid hands on him.

The police went back to the chief priests and Pharisees who said to them, ‘Why haven’t you brought him?’ The police replied, ‘There has never been anybody who has spoken like him.’ ‘So’ the Pharisees answered ‘you have been led astray as well? Have any of the authorities believed in him? Any of the Pharisees? This rabble knows nothing about the Law – they are damned.’ One of them, Nicodemus – the same man who had come to Jesus earlier – said to them, ‘But surely the Law does not allow us to pass judgement on a man without giving him a hearing and discovering what he is about?’ To this they answered, ‘Are you a Galilean too? Go into the matter, and see for yourself: prophets do not come out of Galilee.’

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…not knowing the schemes they were plotting against me…

As the ‘official’ spokesperson of our university, I sometimes find myself caught in situations where I have to manage two differing opinions or points of view in order to present a more balanced view or position to the media or the public. Thankfully, most times, the solution(s) end up being acceptable to all parties involved and we move on. However, I recently found myself in a situation which made me start to question my own abilities as a leader. Effectively, I was ‘betrayed’ by someone who I had thought I was helping over the past year.

In trying to help an underperforming senior staff understand his errors and coach him out of his rather ‘warped’ way of approaching work and leadership, I cited a lot of my own personal experiences and inevitably exposed myself a bit too much, especially when I got a bit passionate about his weaknesses and lack of certain qualities which I expected from a supposedly seasoned professional. To cut a long story short, HR is now involved as there has now been feedback about me to my boss.

I truly never expected such a slap in the face from someone I thought I was helping. How could I have been so naïve?! Especially having come across such situations when I was living in Dubai a decade ago. But lo and behold, it is when people are desperate and grasping at straws that they forget all about professional courtesy and decency. Whether they have been ill-advised or are acting out of sheer desperation, it brought to my mind some appreciation of how Jesus must have felt being betrayed by Judas and all of those who had a hand in his crucifixion. The best part is that Jesus knew exactly what He was getting himself into whereas we never do.

Brothers and sisters, we must never let such setbacks deter us from opening our hearts to others. Painful as it may be, the sting of betrayal can never be soothed by revenge. Instead, we must don the breastplate of faith and accept that as we journey with our wounded brothers and sisters, we must be prepared to face arrows, daggers, even bullets shot at us by those who may not be as ‘mature’ as we think.

Because if Jesus could forgive every one of us, who are we to condemn others who we deem ‘unworthy’? Can we, in good conscience, condemn those who hurt us? Or should we instead continue praying for them so that they may be redeemed?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Father, give us a heart that is filled with love, mercy and compassion for our brothers and sisters who are themselves wounded by pride and envy.

Thanksgiving: Thank you, Jesus, for always showing us the depths of your love.

16 March, Friday – Passing Judgment

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

We give thanks to God for your steadfast following of Oxygen.

As we enter into the Paschal Mystery of the Church, we invite our readers who want to help contribute a reflection to come forward.

The following readings are available for reflection:

Holy Saturday

Epistle + Responsorial Psalm

Gospel

This is a good time for you to share with our readers the joys you have had in reading Oxygen. Do drop an email to descksoon@yahoo.com who will be in touch with you on how to proceed.

God bless

Oxygen Core Team

16 March

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Wisdom 2:1,12-22

The godless say to themselves, with their misguided reasoning:

‘Our life is short and dreary,
nor is there any relief when man’s end comes,
nor is anyone known who can give release from Hades.
Let us lie in wait for the virtuous man, since he annoys us
and opposes our way of life,
reproaches us for our breaches of the law
and accuses us of playing false to our upbringing.
He claims to have knowledge of God,
and calls himself a son of the Lord.
Before us he stands, a reproof to our way of thinking,
the very sight of him weighs our spirits down;
his way of life is not like other men’s,
the paths he treads are unfamiliar.
In his opinion we are counterfeit;
he holds aloof from our doings as though from filth;
he proclaims the final end of the virtuous as happy
and boasts of having God for his father.
Let us see if what he says is true,
let us observe what kind of end he himself will have.
If the virtuous man is God’s son, God will take his part
and rescue him from the clutches of his enemies.
Let us test him with cruelty and with torture,
and thus explore this gentleness of his
and put his endurance to the proof.
Let us condemn him to a shameful death
since he will be looked after – we have his word for it.’

This is the way they reason, but they are misled,
their malice makes them blind.
They do not know the hidden things of God,
they have no hope that holiness will be rewarded,
they can see no reward for blameless souls.

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John 7:1-2,10,25-30

Jesus stayed in Galilee; he could not stay in Judaea, because the Jews were out to kill him.

As the Jewish feast of Tabernacles drew near, after his brothers had left for the festival, he went up as well, but quite privately, without drawing attention to himself. Meanwhile some of the people of Jerusalem were saying, ‘Isn’t this the man they want to kill? And here he is, speaking freely, and they have nothing to say to him! Can it be true the authorities have made up their minds that he is the Christ? Yet we all know where he comes from, but when the Christ appears no one will know where he comes from.’

Then, as Jesus taught in the Temple, he cried out:

‘Yes, you know me
and you know where I came from.
Yet I have not come of myself:
no, there is one who sent me
and I really come from him,
and you do not know him,
but I know him because I have come from him
and it was he who sent me.’

They would have arrested him then, but because his time had not yet come no one laid a hand on him.

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…with their misguided reasoning

Most of us like to pigeonhole people and categorise them as being of a certain ‘kind’ or ‘type of character’. Then, when we encounter someone who doesn’t ‘fit the bill’ or conform to a stereotype in our minds, we either dismiss their views and/or keep them out of our circle of friends or maintain our distance.

Today’s readings smack of mistrust and judgment, values that I find prevalent in many organisations and even in church ministry (sad, but true). What I find unacceptable is how a group of ‘leaders’ (supposedly), can pass judgement and spread gossip about younger, newer members to the fold without even getting to know them or giving them a fair shake. It certainly reminds me of the Israelites who were so sceptical about Jesus that they even wished him dead.

Just this past weekend, I met up with a brother in Christ who spent considerable time with me and shared about his life experiences since we last met. The encounter was profound and certainly opened my mind up to the many possibilities that life has to offer. I had been going through a trying time at work and wanted to hear his perspective. He too lamented on how companies/organisations perpetuate unhealthy values and how that affects staff morale and contributes to stress at the workplace.

He spoke about how the word ‘company’ originated from the Latin ‘companio’ – meaning ‘one who breaks bread with you’. If you think about it, who do we share meals with? Those who we deem ‘worthy’ of our companionship and time, those who mean something to us. So how is it that companies eschew politics and backbiting? How can ministry members not encourage and support but, instead, tear others down with malicious gossip and innuendo?

Brothers and sisters, as we approach our Jerusalem, let us be more aware of our words and actions towards others. Let us appreciate how a simple word can destroy, rather than affirm. And how it is never up to us to pass judgment on another fellow human being. For who are we to condemn when we ourselves are not ‘perfect’ nor devoid of sin?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we pray that you give us the wisdom to appreciate the weaknesses of those around us and fill us with a heart that is open to guiding and lifting up those who need affirmation.

Thanksgiving: We thank you, O Holy Spirit, for your gift of counsel.

15 March, Thursday – Building On A Legacy

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

We give thanks to God for your steadfast following of Oxygen.

As we enter into the Paschal Mystery of the Church, we invite our readers who want to help contribute a reflection to come forward.

The following readings are available for reflection:

Holy Saturday

Epistle + Responsorial Psalm

Gospel

This is a good time for you to share with our readers the joys you have had in reading Oxygen. Do drop an email to descksoon@yahoo.com who will be in touch with you on how to proceed.

God bless

Oxygen Core Team

15 March 2017

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Exodus 32:7-14

The Lord spoke to Moses, ‘Go down now, because your people whom you brought out of Egypt have apostatised. They have been quick to leave the way I marked out for them; they have made themselves a calf of molten metal and have worshipped it and offered it sacrifice. “Here is your God, Israel,” they have cried “who brought you up from the land of Egypt!”’ the Lord said to Moses, ‘I can see how headstrong these people are! Leave me, now, my wrath shall blaze out against them and devour them; of you, however, I will make a great nation.’

But Moses pleaded with the Lord his God. ‘Lord,’ he said ‘why should your wrath blaze out against this people of yours whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with arm outstretched and mighty hand? Why let the Egyptians say, “Ah, it was in treachery that he brought them out, to do them to death in the mountains and wipe them off the face of the earth”? Leave your burning wrath; relent and do not bring this disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, your servants to whom by your own self you swore and made this promise: I will make your offspring as many as the stars of heaven, and all this land which I promised I will give to your descendants, and it shall be their heritage for ever.’

So the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.

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John 5:31-47

Jesus said to the Jews:

‘Were I to testify on my own behalf,
my testimony would not be valid;
but there is another witness who can speak on my behalf,
and I know that his testimony is valid.
You sent messengers to John,
and he gave his testimony to the truth:
not that I depend on human testimony;
no, it is for your salvation that I speak of this.
John was a lamp alight and shining
and for a time you were content to enjoy the light that he gave.
But my testimony is greater than John’s:
the works my Father has given me to carry out,
these same works of mine testify
that the Father has sent me.
Besides, the Father who sent me
bears witness to me himself.
You have never heard his voice,
you have never seen his shape,
and his word finds no home in you
because you do not believe in the one he has sent.

‘You study the scriptures,
believing that in them you have eternal life;
now these same scriptures testify to me,
and yet you refuse to come to me for life!
As for human approval, this means nothing to me.
Besides, I know you too well: you have no love of God in you.
I have come in the name of my Father
and you refuse to accept me;
if someone else comes in his own name
you will accept him.
How can you believe,
since you look to one another for approval
and are not concerned
with the approval that comes from the one God?
Do not imagine that I am going to accuse you before the Father:
you place your hopes on Moses,
and Moses will be your accuser.
If you really believed him
you would believe me too,
since it was I that he was writing about;
but if you refuse to believe what he wrote,
how can you believe what I say?’

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…of you, however, I will make a great nation.

Having recently stepped up to take on a leadership role in my ministry, I have found that the approach to the kind of ‘work’ we, as leaders, are supposed to do is a bit different from the corporate world. The legacies of immediate past leaders cannot be so easily dismissed and to do so would be extremely foolish, especially if they have contributed significantly for more than a decade (or even two).

Today, at a capability development workshop, one of the members of my senior management gave an interesting answer when asked about what sort of legacy he wanted to leave behind when he retired. He said, “When I step down, I would like to continue providing advice to whoever succeeds me but only if he wants me to be around. I certainly am not going to hang around and be some sort of emeritus professor because I hope that whoever succeeds me will be even better than me.”

In terms of ministry renewal however, I have begun to appreciate that we cannot simply sweep aside the previous leadership nor let them ‘fade into the sunset’. Despite our best efforts at succession planning, these ‘elders’ have amassed so much wisdom over the years that to not tap into it would be foolhardy. Yet, how are the new leaders supposed to function and lead in the shadows (some can be very long) of those who have paved the way?

Brothers and sisters, God did not create us to merely be followers. Each and every one of us has a ‘leader’ inside of us that makes all kinds of choices on a daily basis. And God, in His desire for us to rise up, has promised that He would make a great nation of us. I take great comfort in this verse as I navigate much more choppy waters of late; both at work, and in ministry. In both cases, there has been some collateral damage and while it has caused me some distress, I have not let it weigh me down too much.

Why? Simply because I believe that He has called upon me to be a conduit of change – to help turn a stagnant, desolate situation into something more vibrant, alive and filled with hope. For that is what the Lord called Moses to be as he led the Israelites out of Egypt. Today, let us look at those around us who are weakened and in need of help. Can each of us be that ‘change agent’ and turn someone’s desolation into consolation?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, you created us for a purpose. Show us the way and be our strength and guide as we navigate our way through life here on earth.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Father, for calling each of us to lead by example.

14 March, Wednesday – All Work And No Play

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

We give thanks to God for your steadfast following of Oxygen.

As we enter into the Paschal Mystery of the Church, we invite our readers who want to help contribute a reflection to come forward.

The following readings are available for reflection:

Holy Saturday

7th Reading + Responsorial Psalm

Epistle + Responsorial Psalm

Gospel

This is a good time for you to share with our readers the joys you have had in reading Oxygen. Do drop an email to descksoon@yahoo.com who will be in touch with you on how to proceed.

God bless

Oxygen Core Team

14 March

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Isaiah 49:8-15

Thus says the Lord:

At the favourable time I will answer you,
on the day of salvation I will help you.
(I have formed you and have appointed you
as covenant of the people.)
I will restore the land
and assign you the estates that lie waste.
I will say to the prisoners, ‘Come out’,
to those who are in darkness, ‘Show yourselves.’

On every roadway they will graze,
and each bare height shall be their pasture.
They will never hunger or thirst,
scorching wind and sun shall never plague them;
for he who pities them will lead them
and guide them to springs of water.
I will make a highway of all the mountains,
and the high roads shall be banked up.

Some are on their way from afar,
others from the north and the west,
others from the land of Sinim.
Shout for joy, you heavens; exult, you earth!
You mountains, break into happy cries!
For the Lord consoles his people
and takes pity on those who are afflicted.

For Zion was saying, ‘The Lord has abandoned me,
the Lord has forgotten me.’
Does a woman forget her baby at the breast,
or fail to cherish the son of her womb?
Yet even if these forget,
I will never forget you.

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John 5:17-30

Jesus said to the Jews, ‘My Father goes on working, and so do I.’ But that only made them even more intent on killing him, because, not content with breaking the sabbath, he spoke of God as his own Father, and so made himself God’s equal.
To this accusation Jesus replied:

‘I tell you most solemnly,
the Son can do nothing by himself;
he can do only what he sees the Father doing:
and whatever the Father does the Son does too.
For the Father loves the Son
and shows him everything he does himself,
and he will show him even greater things than these,
works that will astonish you.
Thus, as the Father raises the dead and gives them life,
so the Son gives life to anyone he chooses;
for the Father judges no one;
he has entrusted all judgement to the Son,
so that all may honour the Son
as they honour the Father.
Whoever refuses honour to the Son
refuses honour to the Father who sent him.
I tell you most solemnly,
whoever listens to my words,
and believes in the one who sent me,
has eternal life;
without being brought to judgement
he has passed from death to life.
I tell you most solemnly,
the hour will come – in fact it is here already –
when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God,
and all who hear it will live.
For the Father, who is the source of life,
has made the Son the source of life;
and, because he is the Son of Man,
has appointed him supreme judge.
Do not be surprised at this,
for the hour is coming when the dead will leave their graves
at the sound of his voice:
those who did good will rise again to life;
and those who did evil, to condemnation.
I can do nothing by myself;
I can only judge as I am told to judge,
and my judging is just,
because my aim is to do not my own will,
but the will of him who sent me.’

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My Father goes on working, and so do I.

We have had a ‘tumultuous’ few weeks in our ministry, culminating in a change (and expansion) in the leadership. Inevitably, many of us have been called to step up and to assume leadership roles, some even ‘double hatting’ in two sections. The past few meetings have been rather intense and we are close to executing the plans/strategies for the year, trusting that our hard work will lead the ministry onwards and forward.

This period has also coincided in a ‘dark’ time at work, with one or two tough decisions having to be made about underperforming staff. The morale of the team at work has taken a hit and I have been trying to encourage those around me to look ahead and see the light at the end of the tunnel. Then, as I started to reflect on today’s verses, I received the news that an offer of employment had been accepted by a desired candidate. Hallelujah!

I am sure that many of us in ministry have fallen into the trap of ‘doing’ that we lose sight of the initial joy of serving. We get so caught up in performing our tasks or ensuring a project comes together that we forget to let God take over and guide us. Over the years, I have learnt that at some point, we have to be mindful of the little successes and blessings that come our way; and to simply rejoice. Because even play takes a bit of work in the context of our hustle and bustle lives (yes, even in ministry).

Brothers and sisters, even in our darkest hours, even when we are desolate or in a state that weighs heavy in our hearts, we must always look to the Lord to provide the glimmer of hope. For the Lord always works to bring joy into our lives, no matter how wretched we are feeling. It may not be that one million dollars falling into your lap, nor that promotion you have been craving. It may just be a simple dinner shared with a spouse, or a hug from one of your children. Never discount that warmth you feel rising in your heart or that lump in your throat when a stranger offers a helping hand. We must all learn to be mindful of how God works to assure us that no matter the circumstances around us, He will never fail us. He will lead us through our desolation and bring us to the promised land. Each and every day we live and breathe on this earth.

And so I offer the flip side. What are WE doing as Christians to bring God into the lives of those around us? How are we working just as Jesus did to bring joy, love and peace into the lives of those we care about. And those who we interact with regularly? Are we truly working hard at being true living examples of Jesus Christ?

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Father, teach us to appreciate your hand in our lives so that we in turn may then reach out to those in need of your loving touch.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Father, for all those who have helped us on our faith journeys, and for giving us a heart that beats for you.

19 February, Monday – Separating Sheep From Goats

19 February 

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Leviticus 19:1-2,11-18

The Lord spoke to Moses. He said: ‘Speak to the whole community of the sons of Israel and say to them:

‘“Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy.

‘“You must not steal nor deal deceitfully or fraudulently with your neighbour. You must not swear falsely by my name, profaning the name of your God. I am the Lord. You must not exploit or rob your neighbour. You must not keep back the labourer’s wage until next morning. You must not curse the dumb, nor put an obstacle in the blind man’s way, but you must fear your God. I am the Lord.

‘“You must not be guilty of unjust verdicts. You must neither be partial to the little man nor overawed by the great; you must pass judgement on your neighbour according to justice. You must not slander your own people, and you must not jeopardise your neighbour’s life. I am the Lord. You must not bear hatred for your brother in your heart. You must openly tell him, your neighbour, of his offence; this way you will not take a sin upon yourself. You must not exact vengeance, nor must you bear a grudge against the children of your people. You must love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord.”’

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Matthew 25:31-46

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, escorted by all the angels, then he will take his seat on his throne of glory. All the nations will be assembled before him and he will separate men one from another as the shepherd separates sheep from goats. He will place the sheep on his right hand and the goats on his left.

‘Then the King will say to those on his right hand, “Come, you whom my Father has blessed, take for your heritage the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you made me welcome; naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me.” Then the virtuous will say to him in reply, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you; or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and make you welcome; naked and clothe you; sick or in prison and go to see you?” And the King will answer, “I tell you solemnly, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.”

‘Next he will say to those on his left hand, “Go away from me, with your curse upon you, to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you never gave me food; I was thirsty and you never gave me anything to drink; I was a stranger and you never made me welcome, naked and you never clothed me, sick and in prison and you never visited me.” Then it will be their turn to ask, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty, a stranger or naked, sick or in prison, and did not come to your help?” Then he will answer, “I tell you solemnly, in so far as you neglected to do this to one of the least of these, you neglected to do it to me.”

‘And they will go away to eternal punishment, and the virtuous to eternal life.’

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“I am the Lord”

Today’s scripture readings indicate to us how God will judge us on the final day. In the gospel, we are told that He will place the virtuous on His right and the others on his left. There is no one in the middle, no room for negotiation. Because ultimately, where we end up will be a reflection of how we have lived our life on earth and whether we have indeed heeded His commandments and acknowledged Him as Lord.

When God speaks to Moses, He gives a list of ‘things not to do’ before ending with the one thing that means everything, “You must love your neighbour as yourself.” This edict is further expounded in Matthew’s gospel, where the Lord welcomes those who have provided for him when he was in need. Yesterday, I encouraged each of us to look deep within our hearts and discern what we want to offer up this Lenten season. Today, let us offer to God our pride.

Brothers and sisters, wherever we are in our lives, there are others who are much more in need than ourselves. And sometimes, those people are closer to us than we think – a cousin, an in-law, the colleague in the next cubicle, and yes, perhaps even our own parents or siblings. For many of us, it is not in our nature to reach out or offer help because ‘they don’t need my help’, or we are afraid of being rejected. Perhaps these people are simply waiting for us to make the first move, to offer a helping hand or a kind word.

When God made his covenant with man, He was taking a huge risk because He knew full well what we would put Him through. And yet, because He loved us so much, He offered Jesus to us – no less than His only son.

This Lenten season, let us learn to be like sheep and give up our pride so that we can truly obey His call for each and every one of us. Let us all learn to appreciate what it truly means to be a son or daughter of the living God, a God who loves us unconditionally, is ever-merciful and never quick to judge. A God who walks with us and grieves with us, who celebrates our achievements and lifts us up when we open up our hearts to him. A God who is waiting patiently for us to run to Him and to acknowledge him as Lord, Father and Saviour.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Lord, you have given us so much in order to show how much you love us. Give us the humility and courage to give of ourselves to those around us so that we can manifest your love through our actions.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for all that you’ve done for us.

18 February, Sunday – Agreements

18 February
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Genesis 9:8-15

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. When I gather the clouds over the earth and the bow appears in the clouds, I will recall the Covenant between myself and you and every living creature of every kind. And so the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all things of flesh.’

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1 Peter 3:18-22

Christ himself, innocent though he was, had died once for sins, died for the guilty, to lead us to God. In the body he was put to death, in the spirit he was raised to life, and, in the spirit, he went to preach to the spirits in prison. Now it was long ago, when Noah was still building that ark which saved only a small group of eight people ‘by water’, and when God was still waiting patiently, that these spirits refused to believe. That water is a type of the baptism which saves you now, and which is not the washing off of physical dirt but a pledge made to God from a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has entered heaven and is at God’s right hand, now that he has made the angels and Dominations and Powers his subjects.

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Mark 1:12-15

The Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness and he remained there for forty days, and was tempted by Satan. He was with the wild beasts, and the angels looked after him.

After John had been arrested, Jesus went into Galilee. There he proclaimed the Good News from God. ‘The time has come’ he said ‘and the kingdom of God is close at hand. Repent, and believe the Good News.’

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I establish my Covenant with you

Any agreement or memorandum of understanding would typically have a ‘termination clause’ – a clause that would allow either party to terminate the agreement, should there be a breach of contract, within a certain number of days.

When God establishes his Covenant with Noah and his sons, there is no termination clause. Simply because His agreement with us is forever, in spite of our failings and the countless number of times we are in breach of the contact. Such a situation would never be possible in business because all parties to an agreement need to protect themselves.

However, knowing full well how we will betray Him, sin against Him, and even put His only Son to death, our Father does not think twice. That is how much He loves us – unconditionally. Leading up to this season of Lent, I myself have been asked to ‘love’, yet have been chastised and taken for granted; to the point where I have decided to ‘terminate’ the services of someone.

It was a difficult decision for me to make but throughout the process, I kept telling myself that I had to do it for the good of my team. And when the day came, I felt that I had been justified and had done all I could to help the other party understand the situation. Thankfully, he expressed his gratitude for all that I had been trying to do over the past 6 months or so and we have come to an amicable solution.

Brothers and sisters, it is never easy opening our hearts to others as we risk being hurt or taken for granted. Our God did it right from the beginning and continues to accept all our faults, failings and sinful ways. We, on the other hand, set conditions on others in order to protect ourselves because at some point, we need to ‘be cruel in order to be kind’. I still struggle with this idea and wonder at what point does ‘looking after myself’ take precedence over ‘love your neighbour’; because I certainly do not have the heart of Jesus.

This Lenten season, as we discern what we are going to give up, let us really look deep within ourselves and see where we have truly fallen, where we continue to hurt God. And make a new covenant with Him to give up our sinful ways.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Abba Father, give us the conviction and desire to give up our sinful ways in order to truly live out the Covenant you have made with us.

Thanksgiving: We thank you Father, for the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Help us to reconcile with you and with our loved ones.

27 January, Saturday – Where Is It?

27 Jan – Memorial for St. Angela Merici, virgin

St. Angela Merici (1474-1540) became a Franciscan tertiary at the age of 15. She received a vision telling her that she would inspire devout women in their vocation.

In Crete, during a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, she was struck blind. Her friends wanted to return home, but she insisted on going on, visiting the shrines with as much devotion and enthusiasm as if she had her sight. On the way home, while praying before a crucifix, her sight was restored at the same place where it had been lost.

In 1535, she gathered a group of girl students and began what would become the ‘Institute of St. Ursula’ (the Ursuline Sisters), founded to teach children, beginning with religion and later expanding into secular topics; her first schools were in Desenazno and Brescia.

  • Patron Saint Index

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2 Samuel 12:1-7,10-17

The Lord sent Nathan the prophet to David. He came to him and said:

‘In the same town were two men, one rich, the other poor. The rich man had flocks and herds in great abundance; the poor man had nothing but a ewe lamb, one only, a small one he had bought. This he fed, and it grew up with him and his children, eating his bread, drinking from his cup, sleeping on his breast; it was like a daughter to him. When there came a traveller to stay, the rich man refused to take one of his own flock or herd to provide for the wayfarer who had come to him. Instead he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it for his guest.’

David’s anger flared up against the man. ‘As the Lord lives,’ he said to Nathan ‘the man who did this deserves to die! He must make fourfold restitution for the lamb, for doing such a thing and showing no compassion.’

Then Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man. So now the sword will never be far from your House, since you have shown contempt for me and taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.”

‘Thus the Lord speaks, “I will stir up evil for you out of your own House. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to your neighbour, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. You worked in secret, I will work this in the face of all Israel and in the face of the sun.”’

David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’ Then Nathan said to David, ‘The Lord, for his part, forgives your sin; you are not to die. Yet because you have outraged the Lord by doing this, the child that is born to you is to die.’ Then Nathan went home.

The Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife had borne to David and it fell gravely ill. David pleaded with the Lord for the child; he kept a strict fast and went home and spent the night on the bare ground, covered with sacking. The officials of his household came and stood round him to get him to rise from the ground, but he refused, nor would he take food with them.

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Mark 4:35-41

With the coming of evening, Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Let us cross over to the other side.’ And leaving the crowd behind they took him, just as he was, in the boat; and there were other boats with him. Then it began to blow a gale and the waves were breaking into the boat so that it was almost swamped. But he was in the stern, his head on the cushion, asleep. They woke him and said to him, ‘Master, do you not care? We are going down!’ And he woke up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Quiet now! Be calm!’ And the wind dropped, and all was calm again. Then he said to them, ‘Why are you so frightened? How is it that you have no faith?’ They were filled with awe and said to one another, ‘Who can this be? Even the wind and the sea obey him.’

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How is it that you have no faith?

A man was searching his garden high and low for something. After a while, his neighbour, who had been watching him from over the fence, asked out loud, “What are you looking for?” The man replied, “My house keys.” The neighbour came over to help but after another fruitless half hour, he asked the man, “Are you sure you lost it out here?” The man replied, “No. I lost them in the house.” Puzzled, the neighbour asked, “Why are you searching out here then?” To which the man replied, “Because it is nice and bright out here.”

Many times, we choose to not see what is right in front of us. Or we choose to look for something where there is not even the remoteness chance of finding it. For a very long time, I believe that I lost my faith in God; not because it wasn’t there, but more because I had allowed the world around me to cloud my perspective on life. The clouds have since lifted and I have finally begun to discern how ‘little’ my faith is. However, that has not stopped me from putting my entire faith in God now and trusting that He will lead me out of the abyss I sometimes find myself in. Whether it is a physical one (my weight and ‘shape’), an emotional one (mainly brought about by frustrations at work) or a spiritual one (my constant struggle against sin), I believe that once you have found even an iota of faith, all that is needed is totally surrendering it to God. No questions asked.

Many of us struggle with our faith. We question, we challenge, we doubt. I think a person can surround himself with the best theologians, doctors, lawyers or professors and fire countless questions to satisfy our own curiosity. But there is no way one can explain fully this ‘faith’ that God has given to us. Like it or not, at some point, we just have to lift our doubts and fears up to Him, fully trusting that He will take it and multiply it a hundredfold. So how do we know when we have finally ‘connected’? There is no flash of lightning nor a loud thunderclap. For me, it was a gentle whisper in my ear and a ‘prompting’ within my heart. That ‘itchy itchy’ feeling one gets when you know that something big is going to happen.

That, brothers and sisters, is why Jesus asks us the question each day. Because every day is a test of faith for many of us. For some of us, just getting through a day unscathed is a testimony of our faith in Him. For others, we seem to breeze through the day with nary a worry. Wherever you are on your faith journey, especially where you are doubtful, ask yourself if you are searching in the right places.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: We pray for the gift of faith. That You will give us the desire to surrender fully to you and lift up our entire life to you.

Thanksgiving: Thank you Lord, for your everlasting faith in us.

26 January, Friday – Gifts

26 Jan – Memorial for Sts. Timothy and Titus, bishops

Timothy (d. 97) was the son of a Greek gentile, his mother Eunice was Jewish. He was converted to Christianity by St. Paul around the year 47. He was a partner, assistant and close friend of Paul. He was a missionary as well, and became head of the Church in Ephesus. He was the recipient of two canonical letters from St. Paul, and was stoned to death for opposing the worship of Dionysius.

Titus (d. 96) was also a disciple of St. Paul and was the recipient of a canonical letter from him. He was the first bishop of the Church in Crete.

  • Patron Saint Index

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2 Timothy 1:1-8

From Paul, appointed by God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus in his design to promise life in Christ Jesus; to Timothy, dear child of mine, wishing you grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and from Christ Jesus our Lord.

Night and day I thank God, keeping my conscience clear and remembering my duty to him as my ancestors did, and always I remember you in my prayers; I remember your tears and long to see you again to complete my happiness. Then I am reminded of the sincere faith which you have; it came first to live in your grandmother Lois, and your mother Eunice, and I have no doubt that it is the same faith in you as well.

That is why I am reminding you now to fan into a flame the gift that God gave you when I laid my hands on you. God’s gift was not a spirit of timidity, but the Spirit of power, and love, and self-control. So you are never to be ashamed of witnessing to the Lord, or ashamed of me for being his prisoner; but with me, bear the hardships for the sake of the Good News, relying on the power of God who has saved us and called us to be holy.

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Mark 4:26-34

Jesus said to the crowds, ‘This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man throws seed on the land. Night and day, while he sleeps, when he is awake, the seed is sprouting and growing; how, he does not know. Of its own accord the land produces first the shoot, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. And when the crop is ready, he loses no time: he starts to reap because the harvest has come.’

He also said, ‘What can we say the kingdom of God is like? What parable can we find for it? It is like a mustard seed which at the time of its sowing in the soil is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet once it is sown it grows into the biggest shrub of them all and puts out big branches so that the birds of the air can shelter in its shade.’

Using many parables like these, he spoke the word to them, so far as they were capable of understanding it. He would not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything to his disciples when they were alone.

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…fan into a flame the gift that God gave you…

It has been a long and tiring month (so what’s new?) and it wasn’t helped by the fact that I had the resignation of a valued staff to deal with. For me, he had been more than pulling his weight, especially when he shared that he had been covering for his direct report. I had suspected it all along but am dealing with the ‘consequences’ now – spending hours each week coaching, cajoling and mentoring a flawed senior staff in the hope of helping him realise that he has been living with a flawed concept of what ‘work’ and ‘success’ is.

I have never had things easy in my career and believe that aside from my gift of writing, God has moulded me into a leader who has a heart for the downtrodden and helpless. Yet, through my past experiences, I am also able to detach myself from the emotions that arise at work (apart from anger that wells when I see people trying to cut corners or justify inachievement with weak excuses). Some call me a taskmaster but I have come to realise that I have been called to this role in a somewhat circuitous manner.

And of late, a similar path is being carved out for me in ministry. I have answered the call bravely, but with some trepidation. Yet I know that just as He has sustained me throughout my career, He will sustain me on this new journey that I am undertaking. I will soon begin lessons to train myself to be a truly qualified leader and the decision was made after a discussion with a mentor who I value greatly. The way she communicated to me about exercising the gifts He has given to her over the years convinced me that I had nothing to fear. All I needed was a heart of love, one that burns brightly for our heavenly Father.

Looking back, I even surprised myself with the conviction in making the quick decision overnight. And while I look forward to how He is going to lead me along this new journey, I know that it is only by His grace that my talents will fully come to fruition.

Brothers and sisters, we are all called to be here on this earth for a reason. Unfortunately, many will never discern what the purpose of their human existence will be. Slowly but surely, I am beginning to discern and fathom a call that is extremely hard to ignore. I am not sure where it is going to lead me, but I know for certain that I will emerge from the experience with my heart still burning for Him and for those I care about.

(Today’s OXYGEN by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Father, help us to fully appreciate your gifts by teaching us how to discern your calling for us and filling us with the courage to say ‘Yes’.

Thanksgiving: Father, thank you for the gifts you have bestowed us with here on earth.

26 December, Tuesday – Fortitude

Dec 26 – Feast of St. Stephen, protomartyr

St. Stephen was the first Christian martyr. A deacon and a preacher, all we know of him is related in the Acts of the Apostles. While preaching the gospel in the streets, angry Jews who believed his message to be blasphemy dragged him outside the city, and stoned him to death. In the crowd, on the side of the mob, was a man who would later be known as St. Paul.

– Patron Saint Index

Stephen is the first martyr. He was one of the deacons appointed by the Apostles to organize the distribution of food to the poor. He performed many miracles and confounded the Jews in disputation. They fabricated false charges against him. At his trial he preached the risen Christ to them, so they stoned him to death. He prayed for his persecutors as he was dying. One of them, Saul of Tarsus, who was looking after the cloaks of the stone-throwers, was later converted and became the great missionary St Paul.

– Universalis

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Acts 6:8-10,7:54-59

Stephen was filled with grace and power and began to work miracles and great signs among the people. But then certain people came forward to debate with Stephen, some from Cyrene and Alexandria who were members of the synagogue called the Synagogue of Freedmen, and others from Cilicia and Asia. They found they could not get the better of him because of his wisdom, and because it was the Spirit that prompted what he said. They were infuriated when they heard this, and ground their teeth at him.

But Stephen, filled with the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at God’s right hand. ‘I can see heaven thrown open’ he said ‘and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.’ At this all the members of the council shouted out and stopped their ears with their hands; then they all rushed at him, sent him out of the city and stoned him. The witnesses put down their clothes at the feet of a young man called Saul. As they were stoning him, Stephen said in invocation, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’

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Matthew 10:17-22

Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Beware of men: they will hand you over to sanhedrins and scourge you in their synagogues. You will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the pagans. But when they hand you over, do not worry about how to speak or what to say; what you are to say will be given to you when the time comes; because it is not you who will be speaking; the Spirit of your Father will be speaking in you.

‘Brother will betray brother to death, and the father his child; children will rise against their parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by all men on account of my name; but the man who stands firm to the end will be saved.’

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“but the man who stands firm to the end will be saved.”

In the face of all that is going on in the world today, is it any wonder that people continue to question the existence of God? Death, murder, unspeakable sins being committed against women and children, the innocent slaughter of refugees…and so much more. Perhaps St Stephen, being firm in faith and with the Spirit in him, was doing precisely that – speaking out against the injustices of the day.

How many of us can say in this day and age that we are really ready to stand up against the tide and to speak up, without fear of shame, ridicule or even death? With same sex marriage being legalised in more countries and abortion (a form of murder) being condoned in even more, how are we ever going to bring up the next generation of Catholics to be truly firm and rooted in faith? What is it going to take for this generation to understand that the time to make a stand is now, before we all get swept away by the trappings of the material world?

I recently spent time with a few friends who were open enough to share their past (and current) struggles. It made me realise how fortitude is always absent as we are facing challenges head-on; but, in hindsight, it is precisely that which enables us to endure what life throws at us. Our God is truly an awesome God He will never let us down…as long as we choose the right path and do not grumble about our daily struggles.

Brothers and sisters, at the end of the day, what we crave most is time to ourselves. To just ‘chill out’ and alow God to heal or nourish us. But to arrive at that juncture in life, He asks that we have the fortitude to go through whatever we are going through now and to realise that, on our own strength, we are powerless.

So by knowing this, how are we, as children of God, going to realise that at many times in our life, He has been there – gently placing the crosses on our shoulders so that we learn about fortitude.

(Today’s Oxygen by Desmond Soon)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we ask you to always bless us with patience, understanding and wisdom so that we can live our lives according to your call.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for the gifts which He so generously bestows upon us.