Monthly Archives: November 2011

R-AGE goes cold turkey!

Over the weekend, I preached a sermon titled, “Shut Up and Get Out!”. In it, I challenged R-AGE to embark on a social media cold turkey experiment like I did. The purpose of this was to eliminate audio and visual noise and distractions from their lives, so that they can enjoy the benefits of the discipline of silence and solitude, with the ultimate objective of hearing from God.

I gave instructions on this absolute abstinence from all social media platforms including the obvious Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, WordPress, Blogspot, YouTube, as well as Instagram and FourSquare. They had to disable email notifications from all these platforms too so that they won’t know what’s going on when they’re not logged in.

I told them to tag or text me when they began so that I could cheer them on. The deadline that I gave was to accomplish this before 31 Dec 2011 and to journal their experience, as well as what they heard from God during those 72 hours. I was initially skeptical on the take-up rate, so I was pleased by surprising response.

Immediately after I closed in prayer, I received an SMS from a youth who declared her fast immediately. Later in the evening, I received an SMS from a youth leader who told me that his two younger brothers and himself have commenced too and instead of a 72-hour fast, they will abstain from social media until the end of the year.

On Facebook, an entire youth cell group decided to fast together – I reckon it must have been their leaders’ initiative. I know a couple of other cells have also decided to go cold turkey together. I’ve also received a few other messages from a few more youths who decided to rise up to the challenge… One dialogue that really tickled me (screenshot pictured below) was a conversation between two 14-year-old boys.

Above and beyond this experiment being an exercise of healthy conformism or making a cool statement, it is my sincere prayer that my young people will understand the power of solitude and how silence may help them to listen out for the still, small voice that Elijah heard in 1 Kings 19 amidst the chaos that surrounded him.

May this radical little experiment result in a greater spiritual depth in my youth group! I sincerely hope that in this period of voluntary extended silence, we will learn that:
  • God is always in control of situations where we think we must intervene in;
  • God can manage situations where we thought our input was necessary.
  • God can sharpen our observation and listening skills when we refrain from speaking.
  • God can bring freshness and depth to our words when we finally say something.

Oh, do remember to let me know if you plan to embark on a social media cold turkey experiment yourself after reading this… I’d love to cheer you on! I can almost guarantee success IF you stick to the abstinence absolutely!

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melancholic musings that move me.

I’m always drawn to those who dare to wear their hearts on their sleeves. It shows a certain amount of security and authenticity in a person, and maybe even a fearlessness, knowing that his or her self-worth is fully found in God. I love the way he expresses himself so sincerely in prose and poetry.

However, it takes more than just mental-diarrhoea-rants to actually move and inspire me. And Jaeson Ma has done it. He’s just three years my senior and is an American-born Chinese pastor who also performs as a musician. I heard about his work when I was in Shanghai and decided to check him out when I learnt that he played a part in the salvation story of Vanness Wu (another man I’d love to meet some day).

It’d be great to meet him in person one day – to be able to speak to someone with such a journey as he has must be refreshing. But for now, before I get to rub shoulders with him in a divine appointment, here are some of his blog posts that have struck a chord in my heart:

Jaeson, you inspire me to love and know God more. Thank you.

the social media cold turkey experiment.

Last month, an article I wrote was published on Eagles VantagePoint, a website and magazine which I highly recommend as it provides a fresh perspective on contemporary topics. (The first article I wrote for them was on Marketplace Evangelism.) For my second assignment, the editor of the magazine challenged me to fast from all social media platforms for 72 whole hours and to journal my experience along the way.

Of course, I took up the challenge. Come on, how could JAT pass up on something as fun as that!?

So here’s what I wrote… Click here or here to read the article in its source, or just read on…

***

August 15, 2011

Dear Journal,

Somehow, my exploitation of social media (SM) to maneuver among youths has become known; Sheryl Han, the Senior Executive Editor of Eagles VantagePoint (randomly and suddenly) invited me via email to take part in an experiment for their next publication.

She wanted to find out, through me, if SM has caused us to be, what I call, “altogether separate,” where people get closer yet drift further simultaneously through the rampant and seemingly irrepressible utilization of SM.

I’d be required to go “cold turkey” from all SM platforms. For me, that’d mean no Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, YouTube, Instagram, WordPress, and all online chatting platforms for 72 hours. She even told me that her colleague, Daniel Xu (who obviously stalked me), declared me to be “quite the social media fanatic” and “the perfect person for which to conduct this.”

I feel like a lab rat.

Anyway, I asked her for a week to consider this challenge but secretly, I was always game for something radical.

***

August 22, 2011

Dear Journal,

Sheryl the scientist emailed me again. She took the one week quite literally and even bargained the cold turkey period down to 48 hours to secure me as her lab rat.

Being the kind youth pastor that I am (it’s true), I agreed and asked her for the perimeters of this experiment. I must have made her a happy editor…

And my goodness – she replied immediately. This time, with an intimidating laundry list of experimentation rules and regulations.

Read: lab rat.

***

August 30, 2011

Dear Journal,

My SM fast has begun.

I’ve turned off ALL email and application alerts on my laptop, mobile, and tablet. I’m connected to so many platforms I took 15 minutes just to disable notifications!

Strangely, I anticipate a productive 72 hours. There’s an event to coordinate, a sermon to write, a cell lesson to teach and I’m halfway through my budgeting and ministry action plans for 2012; this is an appropriate time to fast from SM!

Here’s my final 140-character tweet:

“My 3-day cold turkey from ALL Social Media platforms has begun; I’ve turned off ALL notifications and I’ll be back in 72 hrs. Gonna be fun!”

All right, it’s 1:40am, barely twenty minutes into my cold turkey and I already feel the urge to…Sleep. This experiment would delight my fiancée most because she always urges me (out of love) to sleep earlier.

First benefit felt – more rest. Girlfriend and mother are instantly happier people.

***

August 31, 2011 (Day 1)

Dear Journal,

10:00 /// My overnight incoming emails halved! As I commuted to work, I caught up on world, national, and sports news instead of tweets and status updates. The temptation to (conveniently) click on one of my bookmarks or apps is real but bearable.

15:00 /// I find myself wanting to share my candid thoughts (via Twitter and Facebook) and visual observations (via Instagram and Tumblr) but this ban prohibits me. I believe that the need to speak and be heard drives people to be active on SM; to an extent, validation and acknowledgement can be good for the soul and self-esteem.

18:00 /// Several times through the day, I flirted with the idea of using Facebook to contact my youths for work purposes. Perhaps a dearth of SM could prove to be inconvenient if one works with youths? WhatsApp and SMS suddenly become significant again for regular communication.

22:30 /// I desperately want to get onto Facebook now. My fiancée told me that my cousin just posted new pictures of my one day old niece (yes, Jubilee Yim was born yesterday!). I guess SM makes the sharing of the precious moments of life accessible and convenient. This is all Sheryl’s fault!

23:30 /// Contrary to popular belief, the absence of SM didn’t lead me to accomplish exceptionally more work. Yes, I did redeem time by not drifting away in SM, but I didn’t save the world by stopping myself from updating my status, tweeting or posting a photo. So there, nothing mind-blowing, history-making or world-changing happened today.

***

September 1, 2011 (Day 2)

Dear Journal,

09:30 /// SM helps me to stalk my youths; I’m subscribed to nearly 150 blogs via Google Reader and frankly, it’s barely enough because I aim to track down every one of the 300 youths in my ministry. I tell them that I stalk them out of love (strange, but true!) so it’s a good thing that this ban lasts just 72 hours. I miss busybody-ing over their lives! When I view their blogs, I read about what’s happening in their lives (and heads) and this gives me an adequate enough preview of how they’re doing as a whole. Of course, nothing beats meeting up but I can’t meet everyone so I try to read about them instead. Either way, their blog content also provides good conversational currency during meet-ups. Furthermore, (I reckon) most youths think it’s cool that their youth pastor reads their blogs. So yes, SM can be immensely useful as a networking tool among youths.

11:30 /// I believe I’m neither addicted to nor in need of SM. The urge to check Facebook or Twitter wanes as the hours pass. I’m halfway through the cold turkey and (unsurprisingly) I haven’t had any withdrawal symptoms. Life goes on. SM, you are overrated!

15:00 /// Half the day has passed, and I must admit that this ban has helped me to be more effective and efficient at work because I’m more focused. It has also increased my concentration and productivity levels. The cause of distraction isn’t the voluntary checks on Facebook or Twitter but the notifications that come in to take your attention away from the task at hand.

17:00 /// Honestly, I think three days is too short a period to determine the effects of SM in our lives. You won’t be able to accomplish anything out-of-the-norm that’s worth a shout out. So what if I can’t share my life online? I’m not losing anything of worth.

23:45 /// It’s been a long day. My day begins at 7.00 am tomorrow and I still have today’s work to complete. The last thing on my mind now is SM. Tonight, I told my fiancée that I’m actually enjoying this cold turkey and I may continue it in some aspects.

***

September 2, 2011  (Day 3)

Dear Journal,

06:45 /// 48 hours have passed and it’s enough for my postmortem. For me, SM is a social utility, not a social necessity. You use it, not need it, to make life more convenient and work more effective. But SM will continue to alter the way we communicate with real people. Frankly, anyone who deals with youths (whether a pastor, social worker, parent, teacher or youth leader) should employ SM as a key weapon in their arsenal for reaching youths, but not deploy it diagnostically. It provides only a synopsis, at best.

22:45 /// It’s been such a hectic day that I don’t even have the mental capacity to think about SM. Three days is more than enough to wean off SM and I’m living proof of it. The cold turkey ends in a couple of hours but there’s little or no anticipation. It merely marks the end of this experiment. No confetti necessary.

01:30 /// The hour cometh and proves to be an anticlimax as expected. This was how I signaled my return via Twitter:

“I am back. I have not missed you. Life is better without you. You are helpful to me. I shall control you. You shall not consume me. HELLO.”

***

September 3, 2011

Dear Journal,

I’ve counseled youths who are capable of spilling their hearts on their blogs and yet incapable of sharing anything beyond the superficial vis-à-vis; they’d rather tweet than talk to people about it.

Some of us may frown upon this undesirable behavior, but there is almost nothing we can do to stop this mentality from proliferating. So if we can’t halt SM, we must learn to manage it and ride along with those who have already been institutionalized by it.

Like it or loathe it, SM is here to stay and has become (an integral) part of our lives. We should neither shun nor slime it, but subsume it into our daily routine. However, due to its highly addictive nature (that may potentially consume us), we must learn to set perimeters for using it, otherwise it will distract us from and destroy our priorities.

I will be the first to admit that SM is important, not because I need to use it, but because it is important to the people I love and care for; hence, it is of value to me. I will use SM as a tool to reach and communicate with this generation of youths for it is their preferred platform of conversation.

Those who are one with SM will never understand my liberation until they embark on a cold turkey themselves. To celebrate the end of my SM fast, I have decided on two simple applications:

  • I’m not reactivating my email notifications. I know this will change my life.
  • I will only spend the excesses of my time on it, capped at thirty minutes per day.

Final word: You have nothing to lose except your time.

Joey Asher Tan is a 27-year-old stalker in his youth ministry of 300 young people (aka a youth pastor) in Grace Assembly of God Church, Singapore. He attempts to use (and sometimes abuse) social media to remain young. To see what he’s been up to (and how this cold turkey experience has changed him), follow him on Twitter @joeyashertan and check out his blog at joeyasher.com.

***

Now that I’ve led by example, I’m going to challenge my youth ministry to do likewise as I preach it over the pulpit this weekend!

Forgive the resolution - it's snapped on my iPhone 4!

the five most dangerous types of leaders.

I’ll be the first to admit that I am not the most refined of leaders and I still have a long way (read: a lifetime) to go before I can say I’ve truly mastered the art of leadership. While I may not be able to come up with a definitive “Five Key Ingredients of Leadership”, I think I might be able to articulate what I deplore about unacceptable leadership.

These are the five pitfalls, failures and dangerous types of leaders that I’ve encountered (and conjured), off the top of my head.

1. The Indecisive Leader.

There is nothing more frustrating for followers than to subjected to a fickle-minded leader with a soft ear; he who seeks to please people instead of standing firm on decisions is he who eventually loses credibility amongst the same people. Once compromise kicks in, the best decision is usually abandoned and no one will benefit in the long run. Leaders must be courageous in their decision-making ability. It is unbelievably demoralising for followers to do double-work to make up for a leader who didn’t do his work properly.

2. The Insecure Leader.

Leaders who are insecure do not plan for succession and are afraid to give their power away. Eventually, their dynasty dies with their departure, their legacy disintegrates with their downfall and their people disperse with their descent. What’s scarier than an insecure leader? A proud one, for he will end up becoming a control freak. Insecure leaders tend to be myopic and never lead beyond themselves. They exist only to build their own name, which will eventually go down with them anyway.

3. The Inscrutable Leader.

If a leader can’t articulate what’s on his mind, it is his sole responsibility to find someone who can help him express his ideas; if a leader refuses to tell people what’s on his mind, then how can he expect his followers to understand where he is taking them? I’m of the humble opinion that all leaders must learn how to communicate effectively. Contrary to popular belief, communication is a skill that can be learnt, not an innate gift. Also, I believe that there is no leader is beyond investigation and no decision beyond scrutiny.

4. The Incompetent Leader.

For any leader to be effective in his undertakings, he must first exhibit a fundamental level of capital and capability. In short, he must be competent at what he does and it would be a bonus if he inspires the people with his knowledge and skills. If a leader is low on skills, it is his onus to do something about his inadequacy. I’d like to think that the saddest thing that could ever happen to a leader is when he is no longer teachable. And as for the adage, I believe that there is no dog too old to be unable to learn a new trick; keep up with the times!

5. The Inactive Leader.

There is nothing more uninspiring than a lazy leader without drive, passion, intensity, hunger and an insatiable appetite to grow and improve. Leaders must always remember that they are leading people, not machines. Once their love for people diminishes, they will start to look at people like commodities to be traded and tossed about. Remember always, love people and use things, not use people and love things. A leader must always carry with him a discontentment with the status quo and an unstoppable desire to develop.

Now, my question for you – are you a dangerous leader?

May I never become what I have described, so help me God.

the price of grace is the prize of grace.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” — Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV)

My trip to Perth in October was my third visit there. However, it was the first time I was stopped by the customs officer for a bag check. Australian customs are a lot stricter than Singapore’s and there was a platoon of inspection officers even though my flight touched down at midnight. The following is my account of what happened.

According to the customs officer who stopped me and requested to check my luggage for contraband items, a bag check is performed every 30 minutes on a random individual. And since I had nothing to hide, I decided to make conversation with him. I told him that it’s a great thing that the customs procedure was so strict because not every airport is so vigilant.

As I interacted with him, I observed that he’s professional and proficient in what he does; he knew by heart the contents of the declaration card and was familiar with the bags inspection procedures. He asked for my name and went to retrieve my declaration card, then he verified if I had filled up the card and packed the luggage myself.

I offered to help him as he opened my luggage, but he insisted on doing it himself. He was meticulous and checked every single corner of every available space (without messing up my belongings). He conducted the search under my supervision and as he rummaged through my things, he articulated everything that he was doing.

Once again, he asked if I had read the rules and regulations in the declarations before I signed on it. I nodded. Then he brought out the card and pointed to the section where it read that dairy and wood were banned. I nodded. Of course I knew that those were prohibited items.

But what I didn’t realise was that there was milk powder in the 3-in-1 coffee sachets I brought over and there was wood in Liang Zhi’s Gibson Les Paul electric guitar (7.8kg of wood – duh!) that I had helped him lug over.

I was caught off-guard at my negligence; I took these things for granted because they didn’t look dangerous or like a prohibited item. At least, that was what I had assumed.

Thankfully, the customs officer perceived that I had made a genuine mistake and that I didn’t do it on purpose. He asked what I did for a living and I think my occupation did help to prove my credibility and honesty.

Well, I readied myself to pay taxes for the guitar (and perhaps charge it to Liang Zhi later), as well as to have the eight sachets of coffee confiscated and discarded. I even said to him in jest, “Oh well, there goes my morning coffee for the next week…”

He flashed a wry smile, then he described the penalty of my error. The severity of my oversight hit me hard and I gulped at the seriousness of the offence. So I asked him what would happen from here and what would happen to me (and these items).

For some strange reason (read: grace of God), he decided not to pursue the matter.

“I’m going to let you pass this time but this check will be recorded. If you make such a mistake again, I can’t guarantee that you’d be let off the hook”, he asserted.

I was surprised by his demonstration of grace but I sincerely thanked him for dropping the case.

***

As I pushed my trolley out of the airport, I thought about the grace of God in this scenario.

All Bible-reading believers would know that the wages of sin is death – it’s spelt out clearly for everyone in Romans 6:23. And any responsible evangelist would have explained its severity – eternity without God. (I know reading “eternity without God” doesn’t sound as scary, but if you think about it, it’s a rather petrifying thought!)

Yet we take no heed to it, be it through taking God’s grace for granted or being negligent about our salvation. And when we get into trouble, all we can do is to plead innocence. But how innocent are we, really? A good number of us are callous and careless about abusing the grace of God.

Yes, I believe God will be like the customs officer – “This time, I’ll let you off…” But more importantly, what is our response towards His grace? I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve repented repeatedly about abusing the grace of God – I’m guilty as charged.

For me, I will take extra caution to ensure that I do not make the same mistake again when it comes to packing dairy or wood (or any other contraband items) without declaring it. I learnt, from my first-hand experience, that the grace of God shouldn’t cause us to sin some more, but to sin no more. What a timely reminder.

Innocent until proven guilty.

a sick note’s sick note.

I shall attempt to string some thoughts together as I await the cough medication to take effect and knock me out.

1. In the last 24 hours I have sneezed and blown out so much mucus that the skin of my nose is starting to peel off. My work rate has dipped significantly and that’s discouraging. I am officially a serial Kleenex waster. I need a tissue for my issue.

2. The end of the year is drawing close at a scary pace and with it comes the completion of a two-year succession plan. I fear it as much as I anticipate it. But I take comfort that inadequacy is the beginning of reliance. 1:300 is scary whichever way you look at it.

3. Marriage preparations have been on-the-ball so far and we’re making the first couple of major payments. It’s a test of our financial resources and a trust in His divine providence for our needs. Paying for renovations and the banquet will be the ultimate test.

4. Besides what I do for survival, I’m also working on a few side projects – things that challenge me creatively – that makes me thrive. I concur that I’m indeed a fire-starter, not a flame-fanner. May the Lord grant me the resilience to complete these things.

5. Communication is a two-way process. So what if one can articulate his thoughts but fail to allow others to express theirs? On that note, I’m hoping that I will be able to pick up a couple of tips from Huiyi, no less, on how to be an even better listener.

6. There’s a part of me that cannot wait to embark on my theological education next Fall but the thought of studying and working at the same time (for the next half a decade) is frankly, quite demoralising. The workload will be heavy. I need His future grace.

7. Comparison, contention, conceit and competition can be overcome by celebration and contemplation. One of life’s real test is to be genuinely happy for someone; it’s not as easy as it sounds – you’d be surprised at your inner conversations, if you can hear them.

8. Something that I’ve shared with my mentorees recently is something that I’ve picked up from my mentor: if we operate by our capital (knowledge) and capabilities (skills), we can only bring it as far as we can. Let’s learn to operate from capacity (potential), so that by faith and trust, God can bring it further than we can; sounds strange, but I’d be devastated if one day I’d have fulfilled all my potential – that’d mean that I can longer grow anymore. May my insatiable appetite for growth never diminish.

9. There are days where I just want to abscond to another dimension with Huiyi and live like hermits for the rest of our lives – where our world only contained two of us. I wonder what God thinks of this. Maybe He’s grinning at my musing.

10. I return to the pulpit this weekend with the discipline of silence and solitude; this is quite possibly the hardest sermon I’d preach in this series because I’m always restless and packed with back-to-back activities. Maybe being ill will help me to learn this art.

I like to write. And when I make time to, I feel so much more organised, inspired and energised. I hope I will be able to return to the 2010 Q1 and Q2 days where I was writing almost one post everyday. For now, this will suffice. Writing is cathartic, baby.

primitive means to a deeper connection.

My apologies for the lack of updates. Writing four sermons in consecutive weeks meant that I exhausted my bursts of energy for writing on producing the transcripts. It has been a good albeit tiring experience – personally stretching – and I felt like I’ve grown from it. However, I wouldn’t like to repeat this feat again. Note to self: the optimum is three consecutive weeks, at most.

Over the public holiday, my best friend and I took the opportunity to get away from Singapore. This is the third year running that we’ve gone on such primitive vacations. And there were many highlights to take home. I’ll stick to 15.

  1. Building a friendship is an intentional decision which requires time and effort – not by default but by design.
  2. Our friendship has never felt as strong as it does today in the last 14 years. That’s half our lives.
  3. No camping experience is complete without a campfire, cooking over an open flame and catching crabs.
  4. It’s better, cleaner and more pleasant to bathe in the ladies toilet. True story.
  5. Always assume that your buddy forgot to bring toothpaste, soap, shampoo and facial wash.
  6. During overnight slumber in a tent, one must choose between stuffiness or mosquitoes.
  7. A good and deep conversation is a gift from God. We praise God for speaking through us.
  8. A wife who loves her husband to free him up for 12 hours to be with his best friend is a good woman – thanks Jeanie!
  9. A best friend’s company at St John Island is just about the next best thing when your fiancee is in France.
  10. Both of us bleed Grace AG. We are passionate about our church and we’re committed to see it fulfill God’s will!
  11. Since 2009’s trip in Port Dickson, we’ve thought every trip would be our last. It’s wonderful to spend time together like that.
  12. It is wise to prepare a packing list. We missed out so many crucial items – like insect repellant and wet tissue!
  13. Speaking without weighing words and from the heart is such a privilege. I praise God for Lionel’s breakthrough!
  14. My Sanguine connects with Lionel’s Phelgmatic. Can’t wait for our Choleric to work together. We make an awesome team.
  15. We take nothing from granted. It’s God’s blessing for us to enjoy this moment together. What a friendship to commemorate!
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