Category Archives: Spontaneous Conversations

A conversation with people and a dialogue with God always energises my Sanguine and keeps me functional.

glory > burden > fear.

Ps Julie Khoo gave an altar call last night and I responded to it – my first time at the altar since AIYS 2012 started. I asked God to confirm the things He had been putting in my heart because the weight was too heavy to bear by myself. I shared this burden with Brian, Jamie and a couple of others whom I shared meals with. I needed the Lord to give me strength, courage and wisdom.

In that 15 minutes kneeling down, two people came to pray for me; I recognised Ps Julie’s voice and I caught sight of a pair of red sneakers and realised it belonged to her assistant, Ps Danny Tan. Both of them had only arrived the day before and had no idea what God was doing and stirring in my heart the past week.

As I stepped forward, I wasn’t emotional at all, as expected – that’s just how I am. But I had faith; I knew God would speak to me. So I asked the Lord to help me remember this altar call experience.

Ps Julie and Ps Danny won’t know this until I tell them – both of them prayed identical things over me. And along with what the Lord had already revealed in my heart, I saw a complete picture of what’s next for me and what’s stopping me from getting there. Ps Julie prophesied over me almost immediately and described the vision she saw. When she laid her hands on me moments later, I broke down; I will never forget how the Lord broke my heart for R-AGE, its leaders and the campuses in Singapore. I had faith that God would speak, but I didn’t expect myself to weep this way.

With a new found confidence, I returned to my seat to record what I had received from the Lord. Amidst the seven things God revealed through Ps Julie and Ps Danny, I remember receiving this personal revelation as I walked back to my row:

“My burden is greater than my fear.
Your glory is greater than my burden.”

I skipped the after-service fellowship and retreated to my room. And as I wanted to remember that God gave this to me when I was in the Philippines, I opened up Google to translate that line into Tagalog, and posted it as my Facebook status:

“Aking pasanin ay mas malaki kaysa sa aking takot.
Ang iyong kaluwalhatian aymas malaki kaysa sa aking pasanin.”

The next morning, just before the second session began, I read aloud the Tagalog translation to my Filipino friend, Ps Welfert, just to share with him what God had done with me last night.

With tears welling up in his eyes, he told me that what I’ve read to him were actually lyrics from a Filipino worship song called, “Salamat Panginoon”! The essence of the song is about how God’s presence is bigger than my struggles, pains and worries, and how great favour will come with the Lord because He is control of what’s going on.

I WAS BLOWN AWAY.

It was a powerful moment for the both of us. Welfert got emotional as he shared the meaning of the song with me. God ministered to the two of us there and then – what a divine revelation and confirmation!

God is good, so good. And He is faithful – I know He will go before me. My confidence in the Lord for the task ahead is rising! Praise the Lord for the spiritual monument that He’s building in my life through AIYS 2012.

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exactly how much should a leader give?

I attended the first session of the Fatherheart conference last Friday and while I appreciated what James Jordon shared, it was the ride back home with Garry and Peiying that I enjoyed more.

The two of them kindly offered to give me a lift home. I took my seat at the back and we caught up with what God was doing in our lives. The last time I had a chat with Garry was at the 40DOC thanksgiving service. And during that conversation, he shared about how he was contemplating whether to carry on leading the cell that he had been facilitating during the period of 40DOC. I was so encouraged to hear that he decided to obey God to serve as a cell leader despite his verbalised inadequacies.

Halfway through our conversation, Garry asked me a genuine question which I thought was a question most Singaporean Christian leaders might ask:

“How much should I offer to God as a leader? Exactly how much is enough?”

Garry’s a straight-talking guy – the man on the street – who wears his heart on his sleeve. He told me that he felt like he wasn’t doing enough as a cell leader. Like any responsible leader would, Garry wanted to do more. But he wasn’t sure where he should take the benchmark from.

I had all of five seconds to think about how I should respond to his sincere and honest question. I didn’t want to give him a Sunday-school answer or something that wouldn’t be of any help. He wanted to ask for my opinion because he felt that since I was leading R-AGE, I would be able to identify with his question.

I told him that to answer that question, we would first have to take a step back from it.

If we were to measure our performance as a leader based on what we did, then it would never be enough. A good (cell) leader could always give everyone a lift home after cell ended, or bless his members financially, or make hospital visits, or offer prayer and counsel whenever necessary, or lead multiple cell groups, or write cell curriculum, or host dinners for newcomers, or mentor the next cell leader, or lead mission trips, or call his members everyday, or organise fellowship activities, or conduct street evangelism, or…

It will never be enough; of course a leader could do something more, but there’s no end to it.

In my reflection, I think that the greatest decision that a leader could make is to obey what God is prompting him in his heart to do. It could be any of the above, or it could be simply to wait and not take any action. “Obedience is the highest expression of stewardship” – words of my mentor, Ps Edmund Chan, that I have already engraved onto my heart. It’s not about how much you do, but more of why and what you do, and who you do it for – God or Man? The right deed at the right time for the right person is as good as a divine appointment; the best thing a leader can do is to do what the Holy Spirit impresses upon him to do – it will always be perfect.

I also believe that the greatest gift a leader can give away is to give his people Jesus. Jesus (the Gospel) is undoubtedly the best gift for any believer (or non-believer). In my years of mentoring, I always tell myself that my main priority as someone’s mentor is to connect him back to the Vine (John 15:5). I am not Jesus – I cannot be there for him 24/7 – but Jesus can. If a person is properly connected to Jesus, he will eventually yield himself to the Lordship of Christ and make Jesus the Master of his heart and life.

One of the emblems of my life is that “Apart from Jesus, I can do nothing; I am absolutely nothing without Christ”. I believe that if one is not connected to the right Vine, the fruit that he bears isn’t the right fruit. Hence, I’m inclined to believe that the most important thing a leader could do is to give his members Jesus because Jesus is all they need (not you, fortunately or unfortunately). And if Jesus is everything, then Jesus is enough.

I am reminded of Jesus’ edict for Peter (and all of us) in John 21:15-17. (This is the same passage that I laid the foundation of R-AGE @ GII upon.) Jesus’ response to Peter’s triple declaration of love for Him was to “Feed [His] lambs”, “Tend [His] sheep” and “Feed [His] sheep”. I’ll elaborate on this with another post some other time (as well as how I passionately believe that pastors should just pastor) but for now, the question that I have for every Christian shepherd is, “What are you feeding your flock?” and “How are you tending your sheep?” If a leader can answer that with his conscience clear before God, I’d run over to pat him on the back on a job well done.

So exactly how much should a leader give? Not much – just Jesus – because if Jesus is everything, then Jesus is enough. Be a good shepherd – it’s a privileged position to serve God in.

when FhLY meets Metallica.

I’ve been a consistent recipient of strange dreams. And last night, I had one of the most bizarre dreams ever; it happened with such lifelike detail that I better write about it before I forget!

Now, the dream took place at Tom Lee Music (a music megastore in Hong Kong). I can’t remember who I was with but I know I was with a band buddy – I’m guessing he was either Ricky, Jeremy, Jenn Hui, Liang Zhi or Daniel. And the two of us were browsing the store, looking for the latest music records and a new guitar (don’t ask why).

Halfway through our shopping trip, we learnt that there was a special store feature for that day – Metallica was in town and its founding members Lars Ulrich and James Hetfield were going to perform an acoustic set in 10 minutes! (Now get this – I’ve NEVER heard a single Metallica song in my life and I don’t even fancy heavy metal and death metal music so I have no idea how they even got into my dreams!)

So together with the larger-than-life crowd, we were standing in the atrium on the ground floor of the store. After a little fanfare led by the emcee, Metallica made their entrance from the stage up a flight of stairs that came down from the second floor. (THE MEMORY IS STILL VIVID!) They opened the set with their most famous number, and although I can remember how it sounds like, I obviously have no clue what the song was called… They ended that song to rapturous applause from the leather-glad and heavily-bearded crowd.

Then they played their second song…

And it sounded so much like the introduction of Roller Coaster, except it’s done acoustically with an injection of heavy metal. My curiosity was instantly piqued – that definitely got my attention! They did several bars of the introduction (like any hardcore metal band would) and then the scarily-tattooed James started to sing, with gusto and aplomb…

“I SOAR UP… AND SLIDE BACK DOWN…”

!!!

Imagine my stunned face!

“I FEEL GREAT! NOTHING CAN STAND IN MY WAY…”

I was truly in shock!

And when they finished the second chorus, the both of them put their backs against each other and played Ricky’s guitar solo NOTE-FOR-NOTE. (This obviously, is the glaring discrepancy in my dream; only rock bands, not heavy metal bands, do this back-to-back action.) World-renowned musicians singing and playing Ricky’s and my song – COME ON, HOW COOL IS THAT!?

The next thing I know, I found myself at the counter – requesting an audience with their manager and agent, who unfortunately wasn’t around. So instead to speaking to him, I was referred to three Chinese old ladies (!), none of whom spoke a word of English but only Mandarin, Cantonese and Hokkien. I practically died there trying to communicate “Roller Coaster”, “Heavy Metal” and “Rock Music” with those old dames, whose faces I can still remember – wavy hair, wrinkled skin, chained glasses, gold bangles and jade rings no less to complete the look!

It was impossible to discuss royalties, fees and copyright issues with them – no chance at all.

By this time, Metallica finished playing Roller Coaster and moved on to their final song of the set. In yet another bizarre twist of events, Metallica shared their testimony of how they came to know the Lord (!!) and started to play “Leaving Ninety-Nine” by Audio Adrenaline – they were right about ready to evangelise (!!!) to the Harley-Davidson-esqe entourage! Impossibly unimaginable!

“I’d leave ninety-nine, leave them all behind, to find you…”

That, incidentally, is my iPhone’s ringtone… So you know what happened next…

BUT WHAT A BIZARRELY COOL DREAM!

I shall conclude in the words of the song made famous by Aerosmith… “Dream on, dream on, dream on, dream until your dream comes true…” This dream quite possibly fused together parts of my personality and aspirations! It’s amazing how creative we can get when we are dreaming. I love dreaming (and making my dreams come true)!

FhLY's first public performance @ Orchard Cineleisure in 2002. For now, my gigging days are behind me, but man, were those good days or what! Photo by Liang Zhi. From left to right: Douglas, Ricky, Jeremy and Joey.

the remnants of my surprise Shanghai visit two years ago.

The last time I returned to Shanghai was almost two years ago, for a quick 3-day 2-night getaway. This was about a month after I started working in Grace AG. It was a last-minute arrangement as my former boss needed an urgent favour. He paid for my air tickets and I thought it was a great opportunity to spring a couple of surprises on some friends as well as to bring home the extra luggage that I couldn’t carry with me the last time.

This is my walk down memory lane…

The first surprise I pulled off was on Kay and the second surprise that I pulled off was on the youth group that I had served with. I remember my heart beating rapidly as I drove to the home church where youth service was held. I had planned to attend youth service as a regular attendee – I didn’t tell anyone and arrived without much fanfare.

It was great to see so many familiar faces as I climbed the flight of steps to the fifth floor. And it was priceless to see the shocked faces when they said hi to me. The youths greeted me like they would anyone. But it was the second wait-a-minute-that-can’t-be-Joey look that I will remember for the rest of my life. I remember Janelle poking me to check if I was real. It was wonderful to be greeted by so many hugs, smiles and conversations, as well as to share a meal with Bryan.

The third surprise I pulled off was on my cell group – the wonderful group of people who took care of me when I was there. I arrived early and remained in my car while I waited for them to arrive. I remember stalking from my car when they strolled into the premise after dinner. My heart was in my mouth when I exited the car to sneak up behind them. I walked towards them covering my face with my laptop and Kay brought me into the lift lobby.

I was the last to enter the elevator. Cindy Hong exclaimed. Christine was stunned. Teresa was speechless. They asked in unison, “Are you real?” It was still too surreal for them even when we arrived at the 28th floor; they still couldn’t believe it even after I entered the apartment. Teresa immediately called Cindy Lee (who was sick) and Yee Kean (who had a lot of work to do) to make their way to cell now.

Cindy Lee was the first of the two to arrive. I opened the door. She screamed. In my face. And I think I saw tears moments later. Yee Kean arrived shortly after. This time, Teresa opened the door while I remained on the couch. Kay pushed my head down and covered me with her jacket. Yee Kean entered the apartment and sounded really grumpy as she removed her shoes. “I don’t want to play board games. I am tired. And I want to go home”, she sulked.

Then she took her seat beside me, still unaware that it was me. “I am also tired and I want to go home too”, I parroted her. She was stunned momentarily. Then she screamed (I think). After everyone recovered from the shock of watching each other get shocked, I shared my testimony of my journey into full-time ministry since I left Shanghai in August, as well as what’s in store for me in Grace AG. I am thankful that my decision to trust and obey inspired them to do likewise.

To my surprise this time, that cell session evolved into a prayer meeting. I received so many prayers and much encouragement and affirmation from the body of Christ. I also had the privilege to pray a prayer of blessing over everyone present. On a personal note, it felt really good to be feel so loved and wanted. I am thankful for all the da-jies God brought into my life in my short stay in Shanghai.

The other incident that I remember clearly from those 72 hours there was meeting up with Kim Soon, Kay, Kurk, as well as Cindy and Christine for lunch at Vargas. I nearly lost Kim Soon as a friend because he reacted badly to my teasing (of how Liverpool lost a game the night before). I had no ill intentions of course, but I should have seen the warning signs. I won’t give details of what was exchanged because I respect him and don’t want to paint a wrong picture of him but I learnt two things over that meal:

  1. It’s not worth risking friendship over football rivalry
  2. Not everyone shares the same harmless ribbing relationship that Xianyi and Daniel Heng and I share so don’t ever assume familiarity.
  3. When you are sorry, just say and be sorry. There’s no need to cover up or make excuses. Sincerity is the greatest apology.

But all ended well eventually so I was thankful for a restored relationship. That incident really caught me off guard.

On a happier note, my cell mates had a meal together the week before I arrived and Christine randomly remarked that she would “love to have brunch with Joey again”. And as we shared a meal on that table, she said, her “dream came true”. Sweet things like these, a sentimental guy like me will cherish for a long time.

My final lasting impression of those three days in Shanghai was heading to Loushanguan Lu to buy a bag for Huiyi from a local store that carried Korea-looking items. As I drove out of the car park, a drunkard suddenly appeared in front of me – so I had to jam brake the vehicle. Thank God I didn’t hit him. But he remained standing in front of me and kept egging me to hit him. Honestly, I wasn’t really annoyed because I just wanted to leave the car park, but on hindsight it was an extremely daring deed committed. It was the first time I encountered something bizarre like that in my two years in Shanghai.

But the craziest thing wasn’t him acting crazy but the parking warden and the security guard who did absolutely nothing about it. “Bear with him – he’s drunk”, said the former, matter-of-fact. “Call the police – we’ll be your witnesses”, said the latter, nonchalantly. No wonder I wasn’t all that surprised by the recent videos that came out of China – the inhumane running over of the little girl, and the intoxicated lady who got molested in broad daylight – to seemingly oblivious bystanders.

On my flight home, I remember looking forward to returning home quite badly and realised that Huiyi and I would really struggle to survive another long-distance relationship. It’s a miracle in itself how we managed to pull through 15 months of that!

I know this post is random and appeared from out of nowhere but it feels good to finally transfer these memories out of my system. I really miss Shanghai. Hope I get a chance to return someday.

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 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.

Protected: here’s to all the years we’ve shared together.

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