Building with the Japanese

This morning’s prayer walk took me round the Singapore cricket ground (British Empire Export Exhibit 1) and to the monument in the picture. The four-pillared structure is a memorial to all civilians who died or disappeared during the Japanese occupation of Singapore in the Second World War.
It is right to remember the victims of this and all conflicts. But can we live in hope for true human unity? I think so. The reason? It has to do with the tower to the right of the pillar. That structure is the hotel in which I and many representatives of our churches from around the world are staying. 
Some of them are from Japan. I had a beer with one such Japanese Christian this evening – my good friend Takeshi.  We became friends in Bali three years ago, deepened our friendship on my visit to Tokyo last year, and took things a degree deeper this evening as we talked heart to heart here in Singapore.
It occurs to me that a shameful past (and is there any country on earth that has nothing to be ashamed of in its history) does not prevent a positive future – if there is true reconciliation. I cannot speak for the nations of Japan and Singapore, but I do know that in Christ any people or peoples can be reconciled. Why? Because of this truth, 2Cor. 5:19 “that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.”
All the world, meaning all peoples in the world, can be one with God because of Jesus, therefore all peoples can be one with each other. Our part is to trust that God’s future is better than man’s past. And to reveal this to the world by living a life of reconciliation.  A heart filled with God’s grace will make this a reality for all who will claim it.  I wonder if beer helps too? I must experiment some more tomorrow night.
Have a wonderful day, and God bless.

Malcolm’s Monday Meditation: “Building in Singapore.”

 This week’s Monday Meditation will be stretched over the rest of the week. I’m in Singapore for the International Leadership Conference (ILC). The title: “build!”. The church here are hosting people from all over the world, and I’m looking forward to catching up with old friends from far-flung places. I’m also significantly jet-lagged, and I therefore plead for grace if what follows lacks its usual clarity!
The theme is interesting. Singapore itself has seen an extraordinary explosion of construction since its independance in 1965. And it still goes on today – as evidenced by a photo from my hotel window. 
The Bible sees a lot of building going on. First came the Ark – Gen. 6:15 “This is how you are to build it: The ark is to be three hundred cubits long, fifty cubits wide and thirty cubits high.” Then it was the Tower of Babel – Gen. 11:4 “Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” 
Gradually, God built a nation from Abram. Solomon built a Temple, and many people built altars to false gods. 
Finally, along came Jesus. He wanted to build something. But not with physical stones, Eph. 2:22 “And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” A spiritual family that would share the likeness of God’s Son, transformed by the Spirit of Christ. That’s why we’re all here. To learn from God’s Word and the lessons He has taught us how to build something to the glory of God. Pray we hear the Spirit’s voice, and learn to build better and better.
More updates will follow.  Have a wonderful day. God bless,

Malcolm’s Monday Meditation: “Lessons from a Faithful Friend”

I’ve been putting it off, but it’s time to write my most difficult article so far.  Our faithful friend died last week. Jack the dog now lies buried in the garden. Most of our friends know, but I apologise if this comes as a shock to you – and especially your children who loved him so much.

Dog-lovers will connect with our grief. Perhaps others will not. All I can say is that this is probably the most painful event our family has suffered in 13 years. I’m not going to go into the events of last week (my heart is very heavy as I write this), but instead I’d like to focus on three lessons Jack taught us.

  1. Unconditional Love. Jack’s affection for us was the same day after day. Nothing changed in his attitude from puppyhood to the end of his life. Grumpy-Malcolm got a lick, as did happy-Malcolm. Jack’s dash to the door to greet me, tail wagging, was a daily reminder of the unconditional love of God. His feelings for me never change: “neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39 NIV11). What do you do to remind yourself daily that God loves you?
  2. Edifying Companionship. Dogs need walking, and Jack was no exception. Penny & I shared the duties. Some days I didn’t want to walk him. I was tired, the weather was bad, football was on the television. But the pleading eyes, whining and fear of ‘accidents’ in the house drove me out to the woods for a walk. Once there, what happened? I found myself praying. I do not exaggerate when I say that Jack has had a more profound practical impact on my prayer-life than any other single factor these last 13 years. His companionship called me closer to God. We need friends like that, don’t we? “And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God.” (1 Samuel 23:16 NIV11) Who do you have in your life that draws you to the Divine?
  3. Inspiring Loyalty. In some ways we did very little for this dog. He got walked, fed and played with. Hardly a long list. Yet he rewarded us with tremendous loyalty. He forgave us when we forgot to feed him. He sat patiently in the car as we drove long distances to visit relatives. He kept us company when we were sad, ill or angry. No wonder we felt loyal to him. In the latter part of his life he walked slowly, became incontinent in the house and barked at imaginary intruders. We forgave him, we were patient with him and we kept him company in his difficult times. Quid pro quo. God’s desire is for all of us to have friendships like that. The church can be a loyalty network. All we need to do is respond with gratitude to the love shown us. And even if you’ve not noticed much love recently, at least reflect on God’s love for you, “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1–2 NIV11)
The decision to bury Jack in the garden was our son’s. He dug a deep hole in hard ground. It took hours and much sweat. I’ve never seen him work with such focus and effort.  The dog preferred to sleep in our son’s room and, even though he shuffled around, scratched the carpet, snored and broke wind regularly, our son felt a deep loyalty to Jack. We all have our faults and limitations, but what the dog taught us was that, if you give your heart – expressed in unconditional love, edifying companionship and inspiring loyalty – you will never be forgotten. You will always be loved. 
Our great God is the one who deserves our ultimate loyalty, for He excels in these qualities. I’m just grateful God gave us Jack for a few years to remind us. I don’t know if there’ll be dogs in heaven, but somehow I suspect there will be. RIP, Jack.
I hope you have a wonderful week. God bless,

Malcolm’s Monday Meditation: “Shhhh! Don’t wake God up.”

I saw this picture on a church door last week. What’s the message?

  • “Don’t talk in church?”
  • “Shut up and listen to God?”
  • “Act like a footballer who’s just scored a goal?”

What came to my mind was the story of a child talking in church. An adult told him to be quiet. The child asked, “Why? Will I wake God up?”

Sometimes, when we’re going through a rough time it feels as if God is asleep, “Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever.” (Psalms 44:23 NIV11)

But God does not snooze on the job, “He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber;” (Psalms 121:3 NIV11)

Now, does this reassure you? Or frighten you?  If the idea that God is always vigilant disturbs you, might it be because you see this as the equivalent of celestial CCTV?  “CCCTV”.  Perhaps you’ve seen the T-shirt slogan: “Jesus is coming back. Look busy.” There is an idea abroad that God is keeping an eye on us and we’d better shape up.

What’s wrong with this thought? What’s wrong is that none of us shape up. Ever. Does that bother God? Not one bit. Why? Because there is no glory to God in Christians who “shape up”. As Paul said,

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9 NIV11)

When we are weak we are strong – and God gets the glory. What does this mean, and how does this work?  I suggest three steps:

  1. Discover your weakness: ask friends, ask the Holy Spirit. It will become clear.
  2. Embrace your weakness: thank God for it. “for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses,”
  3. Boast your weakness: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses,” 
We don’t know what Paul’s weakness was. Amongst the many suggestions are: struggles with sin; an eye problem; Judaisers chasing him and ruining his work. Whatever it was, his friends knew what it was (or else there would have been no point him bringing it up in this letter to Corinth). And the point for us is that God’s grace was enough for God, so it was enough for Paul.
God is watching – but not to catch us out. He’s watching because he delights to see the the effects of His grace on us and the joy it brings us. That joy is ours because, as Paul said, “Christ’s power may rest on me.” Experiencing his power is only possible if we discover, embrace and boast our weaknesses. This might be uncomfortable, but it is exciting!
God does not need waking up, and He does not need us to hide our weaknesses. His grace is sufficient. What does this mean to you? Leave a comment on this blog to encourage others. I’d be very interested in your thoughts.
I hope you have a wonderful week.
God bless,