Category Archives: Spontaneous Conversations

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

a September stock-take and an October onslaught.

It’s always therapeutic to do a stock-take after an eventful week, which would have been impossible to pull off and not fall exhausted on my face, if not for the grace of God that saw me though. Warning: long post.

Monday: attended QC (Questions and Contributions) time and a monthly mentoring session with Ps Edmund Chan; ’til this day, I still thank God for the divine appointment in which He has connected me to Ps Ed; what a privilege and honour.

Tuesday AM: led worship at the Tuesday staff devotion with Ps Meng Cham; that’s how I will do it from now on – being accompanied by a seasoned musician makes it so much more enjoyable (because I won’t need to practice with my guitar!)

Tuesday PM: prepared for and sat through a staff meeting, which was a heart-wrenching experience and threw me off my momentum; I’m thankful for Ps Ronald who patiently listened to me rant and vent my frustrations. This forced me to come before the Lord that evening to seek His face. And I’m glad I did. The Lord spoke to me through Genesis 13 and Hebrews 6.

Wednesday AM: Caleb crashed at my place the night before and we watched Man Utd surrender a 2-0 lead to Basel and equalised in typical United fashion at the dying minutes. I struggled through the second half, to be honest. I’m really getting old…

Wednesday PM: led worship at the weekly Wednesday church prayer meeting (J333) with Rafael.; exposing youth musicians through my J333 duties gives me renewed purpose when I find my name on the worship leading roster. My next session is on 30 November and I’ll go over-the-top because I’ll be teaming up with Ps Ronald and the church will be praying for R-AGE.

Thursday: presented the 2012 R-AGE budget in front of the Head of Administration, accountant and finance manager of Grace AG on Thursday (my first time presenting with Excel spreadsheets); administration is really not my strength. Thank God for Ps Ronald who rescued me by answering on my behalf on a few occasions.

Friday AM: had a delectable dim-sum lunch at Royal China @ Raffles Hotel with Sheryl from Eagles, together with Daniel and Xavier too, and joined the Vantage Point magazine editorial team. (I just received my first email from them!)

Friday PM: sat through another staff meeting, and wondered what it would be like next year when I’m chairing it.

Friday EVE: spent time with some of my favouritest people on the planet at the GII Shepherds cell, and facilitated our Harmony of the Gospels lesson; Yixian said if we continued at this pace (in-depth but extremely slow), we’d take two years to finish the book.

Saturday AM: led the R-AGE 2012 manpower deployment discussion with Caleb, Keith, Kenneth and Rachael; yes, R-AGE leaders, we were deliberating over your fate next year! HAHAHA. I can’t wait to see youths lead youths!

Saturday PM: preached an apologetics cum evangelistic sermon (my first attempt) for the Same Same But Different evangelistic service at R-AGE@GII. I actually enjoyed my preparation more than my execution. It was intellectually stimulating to read in greater detail how atheism, pantheism and polytheism (among many other -isms) stood against theism.

Saturday EVE: chaired the Bare Bones 2012 coordination meeting with Nicole, Keith, David and Grace – who have proposed some spectacular ideas for the year-end conference. It’s gonna blow Grace AG away; everything is going to be significantly leveled-up! I’m delighted to be working with such exceptional youth leaders. Watching Man Utd defeat Norwich 2-0 capped my day.

Sunday: preached the same sermon at R-AGE@GI. I took the opportunity to clear up some personal administrative work while waiting to have lunch with Huiyi and Yixian. After a short nap to recharge my batteries, I resumed studying for my 60% News Studies paper (the next day), which I have burned midnight oil for in the past seven days. Little by little, I’ve conquered the paper.

Monday (today): praise God for a relatively easy exam paper! It’s different when you understand what you are reading and memorising instead of mugging just for the sake of. I managed to finished the paper with an hour to spare, so I brought forward my appointment with my hairstylist. It’s 4pm now (at the point of writing) and my head literally and metaphorically feels lighter.

I’m going to complete this blog post before I go ahead to prepare the slides for the R-AGE 2012 Ministry Action Plans (which I’m presenting to all pastoral staff tomorrow!) Then I’m going to head out to China Square to treat my family to a nice dinner of Crab Bee Hoon @ Don’s Pie Club. We’re celebrating my sister’s belated birthday (1 October), as well as my 8th 21st birthday in advance.

This week, I also managed to meet Caleb and Lucas for lunch and mentoring on Wednesday and Thursday respectively. I thoroughly enjoy investing time into young men who possess a desire to grow. Lucas’ huge appetite for growth reminds me of me, especially in the way that I pursue my mentors. I told him to never lose his hunger (okay, boy?).

After our  mentoring session over coffee in Starbucks@Tanglin Mall, he asked, “How do you do it, Bro Joey?” It being managing the many things on my plate. I couldn’t find an adequate way to answer him except to say, with all sincerity, that this capacity is a God-given gift; how could I take credit for the grace of God? I told him to ask God for it as well, because I think God will give it. (I didn’t tell him about the price of increased capacity though, but I’m sure he’ll figure that out himself.)

September has been an exceptional month in ministry. Besides starting R-AGE on the Spiritual Disciplines: Training in Holiness sermon series, I’ve also been planning for R-AGE in 2012 and meeting up with lots of youth leaders who might be serving alongside me next year. I am convinced that it’s my time with the Lord everyday that’s keeping me afloat.

I’ve also been reading non-stop throughout the week (and at an aggressive pace too). Besides the Bible during my daily devotions, sermon preparation materials and academic texts, I’ve also been feasting into Edmund Chan’s Cultivating Your Inner Life, Philippe Auclair’s Cantona: The Rebel Who Would Be King and Larry Crabb’s 66 Love Letters. I think I’m concurrently reading eight books – and I love the variety! This is effective for someone like me who gets bored easily.

On a more personal note, I’ve also been spending lots of time with Huiyi with our wedding preparation; we’ve reserved Sunday afternoons to visit bridal studios and photographers, as well as to plan for our big day. The highlight of these trips is to catch a sneak preview of my wife-to-be when she emerges from the changing room in glorious, gorgeous white; she’s gonna be the most stunning bride in all of Singapore next August – you have no idea how much we are looking forward to be married to each other!

I’d probably be packing my luggage midway when this post is published; Jetstar is going to take me to Perth at 5:45pm (Tuesday). I look forward to hanging out with Chin Seng, Ervina and Liang Zhi, but the highlight of my trip is to spend time with Ps Edmund and Ps Ann. I’ve been looking forward to this trip ever since I purchased the air tickets (super cheap!) a few months ago.

When I began my mentoring journey with Ps Edmund around this time last year, he emailed me his traveling itinerary and invited me to follow him on one of his countless trips; so here I am, excited and still starstruck, counting down the hours before I get to spend quality, uninterrupted and extended time with a God-given mentor, whom I’m sure will sharpen, challenge and inspire me!

October, I am ready for your onslaught!

Quenching my spiritual thirst with living water! (@ The Pinnacles, Perth, Australia)

your greatest trump card is not ability, but availability.

Now, let’s return to real life for just one more entry.

I’d like to capture how I’ve been blessed over the past two days at the Eagles Leadership Conference 2011 (ELC), which took place at the Suntec City Convention Hall. It was my first ELC. It started when I brought Peter Chao out for his (very) belated birthday meal last month. I asked him if he needed help at ELC and he hooked me up to the various departments. I was ready for most assignments, so long as I could handle it.

I just wanted to be available to serve Eagles, for they have been exceptional with me. I guess it’s my way of returning their kindness and generosity with me. (And it turns out that my intention to bless them brought about a blessing too – I attended the conference free-of-charge as a volunteer.)

At first, they asked if I could serve as a videographer – I was frank with them and admitted my machinery incompetencies. I think I am more effective as an emcee, usher or with front desk duties. In the end, they assigned me to be a session coordinator (for Workshop 8)… And a narrator (i.e. voice-over) for the ELC 2013 promotion video. Or at least, that was what I thought I was going to do.

But when I came down to meet the producer on Wednesday, I found out that I wasn’t just the narrator… I got more than what I bargained for… I discovered that I would be filmed. Yes, f-i-l-m-i-n-g. Not voice-recording. It was a tremendous privilege, but I was a little stunned at their faith in me. So, I took up the challenge, returned home to memorise the script, rehearsed in front of a mirror, and recorded myself with my iPad 2.

The actual filming took place on Friday at the Grand Ballroom during lunch hour. It went more smoothly than I had anticipated and I only had a couple of bad takes. The producer was pleased with what he saw at playback and we called it a day.

At 9:20am, I received an SMS from Peter Chao. He asked if I was interested to join him at the Fuller Seminary alumni meeting at 10am. Of course I turned up… It was refreshing to meet a couple of the current students, as well as a few prospective students. Let’s just say… I can’t wait to graduate from RMIT. And what happens after that, I’ll let the Lord lead me… (:

Anyway, before the filming, I met Ps Edmund Chan outside the ballroom and told him that I would attend his afternoon workshop, which was titled, “Mentoring the Whole Person”. I told him that I was afraid I couldn’t get seats. To this he said, “Just tell the organisers that you have my personal invitation.”

I smiled at the generous favour I received from him.

Coincidentally, I was filming in the ballroom that he was going to be speaking at. So at the end of the filming, I saw him stroll in to prepare himself for the session. I asked him if I could serve him in any way possible. He said he was fine and proceeded with his own setup. It was already 1:40pm and I haven’t had lunch so I packed my belongings and got ready to leave the hall for a quick meal.

Just before I left, he stopped me.

“Joey, would you still like to help me?”

I was ready to skip lunch to perhaps help him with his slides, run an errand for him or just be his PowerPoint clicker.

“Later, I would like you to spend about five minutes to talk about how we met, and share a couple of your perspectives on mentoring. Edward is here too so I thought it would be a nice polarity to have my oldest and youngest mentoree share something with everyone.”

My jaw dropped as I stared at Ps Edmund.

I was in the company of giants. Ps Edmund is the Reverend Edmund Chan. And Edward is the Datuk Edward Ong (do yourself a favour and google him). Joey Asher Tan is the smallest guy on the totem pole.

“You want me to what?” I tried to communicate that to him with my eyes. He smiled at me.

I had the most stressful lunch, ever, in my entire life. I had absolutely no idea what I was going to say later.

Thank God I blogged about our divine appointment – so that really helped to jog my memory. And by God’s grace, within that 15 minutes, I somehow came up with 4 R’s of mentoring (which I chose not to share in the end because I felt it wasn’t necessary).

As Datuk Edward was bringing his sharing to an end, my heart was beating faster and faster to no end! I had never been so nervous before! Ps Edmund introduced me (!) and my hands began to tremble uncontrollably after I took the microphone. I uncharacteristically stammered and stuttered at some parts, and none of the eloquence in my arsenal showed itself. It was a humbling, humbling, humbling experience, but I was happy, happy, happy.

What an honour. What a privilege. What a moment!

It’s never about ability, isn’t it? It’s always about availability. All I wanted to do, was to be available to serve Eagles. And God took care of the rest.

You want me to what?

“I want you to be available.” — God

one day in the 40 days of community.

Post-script: My apologies to Ps Kieran Chew for publishing this entry only now… It was in my drafts since 3rd June, but the madness of June overwhelmed me, and this article got forgotten… Well, Ps Kieran, you’re right, “It’s no longer news”, but hey, it’s still newsworthy, at least on my blog it is. HAHA! Hope this works for you! (:

Credits to Matthew Tan for his good work in putting this video together.

About a two month[s] ago, the full-time staff at Grace AG embarked on its Home Improvement Project (HIP) as part of its internal 40 Days of Community (40DOC). This campaign is an initiative launched by (the Deputy Senior Pastor) Ps Calvin Lee, and is set to be launched church-wide in July-August in a strategic effort to bring the church together. It is adapted from Rick Warren’s programme (of the same title) that has been tried and tested with positive results, first in Saddleback Church, then in many other churches worldwide.

I’m not sure if I was alone in feeling this way, but honestly, I had to rummage my heart for enthusiasm for this project because it certainly didn’t come naturally from the onset. It was an acquired taste of sorts – the more you did it, the more you enjoyed it. I enjoyed Ps Cuixian’s leadership of my group as well as getting to know some of my colleagues (like Andrew Tai and Edmund Quek, who were great fun to be with) a little better.

My 40DOC began with the devotional series in the accompanying book, “Better Together”, which I hope most of you will purchase. If something could fire me up, it would definitely be the Word and its practicable outcomes. Coming together weekly to watch Rick Warren (who incidentally looks like a cross between a tour guide and a taxi driver – no offence – he has such a down-to-earth look about him!) on DVD was also refreshing – he has an uncanny ability to simplify biblical themes into instantly applicable aphorisms. Speakers (like Edmund Chan, Peter Chao and Benny Ho) with that ability always get my attention.

HIP was definitely the highlight of 40DOC. It required us to literally move out of our comfort zones, put our money where our mouths are and to get down and dirty with our hands and feet. (Clichés, I know, but definitely used in the right context.) I shall offer some honest observations of my day spent with over 10 other full-time staff; I don’t enjoy giving Sunday School answers anyway. Allow me to share these thoughts through 5 C’s.

Complaints

No matter how old you are, what species of gender you belong to, and regardless of whether you’re a church staff (even if you are a pastor), you will still have a tendency to complain. It’s a sickening and disgusting part of our wretched human nature and I caught myself at it. Of course, I tried to mask it under the cloak of humour but I could never hide it from my inner man if I was frank with myself. I was rather put off by some the apparently “harmless” and “honest” negative remarks that floated around the room. Sometimes, it is good not to say anything if you indeed have nothing good to say.

This alone I think, humbles the greatest of saints – even if they were ordained by a board of holy people! Our fallen state truly requires the infallible grace of God. Help us shine for You, Lord, simply by not complaining!

Contribution

From the way I see it, there are three ways a person could contribute in HIP – either by offering your time, energy or resources. I took a backseat (as there were enough leaders) for this project and I knew I had to leave a couple of hours earlier than the rest, so I wanted to make up for it by chipping in with a little more money. I gave an amount as the Lord put upon my heart to – this was my act of obedience. However, to my surprise, I received (almost) the entire sum back as we did not need to spend as much as we had budgeted for the house. So I decided to channel that sum into the weekend’s offering bags.

The bottom-line of what I want to say is that, due the complexity of planning and the complicated layers of coordination, this HIP might just be the first and last one for you and I; and if that’s the case, what’s there to lose by going all out?

Conditioning

If anyone told you that painting a house was easy – tell him to go paint another one. I regretted not taking before-and-after photographs of the house we helped to transform. Before we could give it a face-lift, we had to give it a face-off. Peeling and scraping the ancient paint off both the walls and the ceiling were a mammoth task in itself. Try arching your neck upwards for an entire morning in an unventilated and weird-smelling room and having every fifth of ten scrapes feel like a fork scratching a blackboard… Can you feel and imagine the icky sensation in your mind’s eye? And speaking of eye, you also had to battle with fragments of dried paint and cement flakes with each blink.

I felt like I burnt more calories than a regular workout and received a good toning on especially my arms, but it was the conditioning of my heart and mind that I truly appreciated from this experience.

Currency

If ever there was a cry that screams from within my heart as a shepherd of people (i.e. a pastor), it would be how I want to aggressively avoid being irrelevant to society. (No disrespect to anyone here, but) I felt sad to have heard some conversations that transpired in the one-room flat, between some of my colleagues and the home-owner we were helping. It was dismal to see how they were unable to converse on the same frequency because one has obviously lost touch with the harsher dimensions of society. Forgive me, for I know this is a quick, harsh and judgmental assessment (and I apologise for it if it stumbles you) but a part of me fiercely rejects an innate incapability to relate with the felt needs of the man-on-the-street. It would almost be ironic for a pastor to arrive at that state.

In the same breath, I will say that this applies to anyone who calls himself a Christian. How relevant are you to society? Are you so far-removed that you can no longer relate to those less-fortunate? HIP is a good way to get reconnected.

Collaboration

The saying goes, “Tough times make tough men” and as a staff team, we have not and do not go through anything tough as a collective; this HIP was enforced (as a professional obligation) and emblematic at best (we had to lead by example before we could encourage our sheep to do it), hence it already prepared and toughened us up psychologically before execution. Nonetheless, the beautiful thing about going through something uncomfortable, unconventional and uncommon like that was that it forced us to forge teamwork. And I reckon this category of teamwork (honed through hardship) is a little more cohesive than organising a church event or attending a staff retreat together.

I am confident that embarking on HIP together, be it as a cell group or a real family unit, will only serve to strengthen the existing bonds that are holding the body of believers together. This may just take your cell and your family to the next level.

***

It is quite unlike me to blog about something that I do not believe in, or write something here out of professional obligations. And so, I shall not. But hey, I have already written nearly 1,500 words on this upcoming 40DOC – perhaps this is a telling indication of my optimism towards this campaign.

I believe in it not because of its proven track record, programme or content – that’s just hype. No, I believe in it because I serve a big God who desires to unite His church. Like I mentioned it over the pulpit two weeks ago, I firmly believe that 40DOC isn’t just going to be another campaign, but THE defining campaign for Grace AG.

I bought home three things from HIP – a photo frame, a certificate and a recap sheet – but I took home so much more, if you know what I mean. I urge you to allow 40DOC to become a part of you. After all, what do you have to lose?

a change of plan or a plan of change?

I led my wonderful team of dedicated Shepherds to Batam’s iHotel over the weekend; this was our first independent ministry-planning trip and I must say I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. I trust that my Shepherds had also enjoyed this time of reflection and evaluation that I had carefully designed for them to embark on. I’ve journeyed with them for 18 months now and while it’s been a wonderful ride, I desire for them to grow deeper in their individual walks with God.

Keith and I arrived slightly later than the rest of them as we had to oversee the collaboration with the Grace Kids at GII Sunday services; it was also the first time I had the opportunity to be the emcee in the adult services. (I improvised from what I thought was a messy first service and I am grateful that the second service turned out much better…) I am confident that the adults now know that R-AGE @ GII exists and that it’s the best place to be at on a Saturday afternoon.

It was great to have caught up with Keith on our journey to Batam. I’ve always identified him as one of my successors and I’m confident that he will be able to lead R-AGE @ GII to greater heights where I could not. Keith, you will surpass me and I will help you to do that because I believe so much in what God will do through you. (: I am blessed to be able to mentor an exceptional young man like him.

I bunked with Bradley for this trip and I thoroughly enjoyed bonding with him and knowing him more intimately. We had a good time catching up in the room and in the pool. I celebrate his appetite to get out of his comfort zone – that’s the mark of a G0d-fearing and Christ-loving disciple. And I look forward to hearing his reflections on a passage of Scripture I asked him to meditate upon.

We decided to have seafood dinner at a roadside coffeeshop – yes, those typically dirty and warm ones (with pesky buskers) and the overpowering aroma of belachan chilli that clogs up your respiratory system. I must say I was impressed with the team’s courage to eat everything that came their way (although some felt queasy after dinner). The best thing about the feast was its price – we ate a mountain of food for a mere 10 SGD per pax.

***

The first activity we embarked on after dinner was “Dials on a Dashboard” – a little exercise I’ve adapted from Wayne Cordeiro’s excellent book, “Leading on Empty”; I got my Shepherds to systematically recognise, rate and recalibrate the various dials on their dashboard. It was a brutally honest activity and it set the tone for the contemplation they would embark on.

For the purpose of my own journaling, the 15 dials I’ve identified in my life are:

  1. Faith life
  2. Family life
  3. Relationship life
  4. Mentoring life
  5. Leadership life
  6. Intercession life
  7. Online life
  8. Author’s life
  9. Speaker’s life
  10. Competency life
  11. Contemplative life
  12. Financial life
  13. Leisure/Fun life
  14. Social/Fellowship life
  15. Health life

It is my earnest prayer that everyone in the team would UP(a)GRADE in their own faith pilgrimage. I am eager to grow, as I always have been, and I have already put into action some things as soon as I arrived home. May the Lord continue to give me grace as I seek to please Him in all that I do.

I encouraged the team to wake up early the next morning to do their devotions on a passage of Scripture (Hebrews 12) that the Holy Spirit revealed to Yixian during the Dashboard activity; I thoroughly enjoyed receiving insights and understanding from the Lord as I meditated on and memorised His Word. It was an empowering experience! MAN, I LOVE THE WORD!

***

After breakfast, we returned to the room and I asked the team two key questions:

  • “What have you done?” (I got them to list all their achievements in ministry – to itemise what’s been happening)
  • “How have you done it?” (I got them to investigate their attitudes behind these ministry achievements – to inspect the condition of their hearts)

It turned out to be a powerful exercise as this soul-searching activity became a heart-wrenching experience for a few of them. One Shepherd (whose identity I shall protect) even broke down during this activity. We ministered to her on the spot and tears flowed freely – not just on her cheeks but on those who were standing in the gap for her as they laid their hands to pray for her. It was a moving scene indeed… This is unity… This is the body of Christ… This is biblical fellowship.

I was led to get everyone to worship God together before every session (with David’s iPod and two speakers no less!) because I believe that it’s important to engage the Lord in any crucial decision; I felt that it was imperative to make decisions in the presence of God for it’s always in the presence of our living and loving God that our lives are changed to be more like Him. And so it was – God is faithful – this was ministry at its finest hour. And it wouldn’t have been possible without the Spirit’s conviction.

***

As part of my bid to sort out my health, I had already completed 10km on the treadmill within 24 hours of arrival and was about to go for my first swim in eons; it must have been more than six months since I last put on my goggles. On a lighter note, I discovered the power of my physical presence – some of the girls who were in the pool disappeared (more like ran away) within seconds of me entering it to swim my laps; it’s like they saw a ghost or something. HAHA!

We consumed lunch at a local restaurant and after that, half the team went to do water sports while the other half remained behind to enjoy some free time. Huiyi and I would have loved to join those out at sea but her sudden bout of illness prevented us from doing so. We ended up enjoying a nice two-hour Thai/Balinese combination massage for a grand total of 14 SGD per pax (cheaper than Shanghai!). More importantly, as always, I enjoyed my afternoon with my wife-to-be. (:

We waved Esther, Natalina and Huiyi goodbye as they left a day earlier due to prior commitments. The rest of us went to the nearby Nagoya Hill (for the umpteenth time!) for dinner at another local establishment. The most hilarious scene must have been when Bradley and I literally carried the table top without its legs. You must see it to believe how ridiculous it looked!

***

We returned to our Shepherds Headquarters (a.k.a. Yixian’s and Jeraldine’s room) where we embarked on ministry evaluation. It was a proper meeting with minutes recorded and we listed down all the various programmes that we had already embarked on for 2011. And I helped the Shepherds to see how important being intentional is in planning for our programmes. We made quick-fire assessments to every programme, from cells, to services, to regional gatherings, to trainings and to special events:

  1. Should we keep it or trash it?
  2. If we plan to keep it, how can we improve it?

All of us unanimously felt the need to be even more evangelistic in the way that we operated. When we plan “Win” events, we will naturally need to have “Equip” activities and eventually it will result in it being a “Build” event. I saw in the Shepherds’ eyes a conviction to be intentional, intensive and inclusive in all that we would plan next year. I was glad to be able to transfer what I had learnt from a conference to my team of leaders.

(I was tickled to see the contrast between my M&M’s (Melody & Melissa) – one was bustling with energy and the other completely zapped!) We spent the next few hours affirming one another with objective, subjective, introspective, retrospective and most importantly, heartfelt words of encouragement. I am confident that this is the first time the Shepherds were encouraged on such a scale – I pray that it had lifted their inner man/woman. (: Well for me, I went to bed feeling great and grateful about what the Lord is doing in this season of my life.

***

Our final activity was inspired by 2 Corinthians 5 where I reminded the Shepherds of our duty and need for the ministry of reconciliation. I shared with them openly and honestly on my own attempts to reconcile with a couple of people in my life (and I am proud to say that I’ve already taken reconciling action tonight, as soon as I got home).

I believe that as we grow as a ministry both in quantity and quality, through processes and programmes, cracks of misunderstanding will appear in our relationships; these are inevitable for when iron sharpens iron, there is heat and friction. And when cracks appear, the devil will too, with his lies and deception. We must not fall for it – hence the great need to reconcile each other to Christ (and to each other) and to clear up any potential or active misunderstanding before it erodes into bitterness.

By the end of this retreat, we had evaluated the three main components of ministry: people, programmes and processes. We had also recorded feedback for the various programmes that the ministry had executed on the service, cell and events level. I am hopeful that this Retreat had been in line with the coming 40DOC campaign, and sets the tone for personal renewal and corporate alignment.

Praise the Lord for all that He’s done through me at this Shepherds Retreat – A change of plan of a plan of change?

***

I shall leave you with two paradigm shifts that the Holy Spirit inspired me to share with the Shepherds:

  • I challenged them (and now you reading this, and eventually R-AGE) to remove “Arrowed” or “Bombed” from their dictionary for that’s a secular and selfish way of thinking. Instead, let’s train ourselves to say, “What an opportunity indeed!” whenever we are given the privilege to do something for the Lord and His people.
  • But if you are simply unable to lend a hand due to your existing commitments: “Don’t be a dead-end, but be a Y-junction instead.” So that when you really can’t help when people approach you, you can still help by pointing them to other people who may be able to help them. This results in their burden being lightened regardless.

We are a team and this is a team effort; let’s behave like an Ephesians 4 team!

***

Of late, I’ve had an overwhelming desire to have a deep life and to dig deeper, thanks to the influence that Ps Edmund Chan has in my life. And I believe that this is evident in my conversations and in the way that I operate. He put it succinctly, “The depth of your life determines the breadth of your ministry.”

I have never desired depth in my life and ministry as much as I have right now. Oh Lord, please give me Your grace and enable to grow myself and R-AGE in a deep and riveting manner. Hear my cry, Lord – I do not want to raise a shallow generation of believers!

an insight into why youths in Singapore should live overseas for an extended period.

By July 2003, the longest duration I’ve spent out of Singapore was 20 days on a post-graduation/pre-enlistment back-packing trip in Australia together with Daniel Heng; it remains one of my fondest holiday to date – not just because of the company but because of the new experiences, like how I saw and felt snow for the first time at Mount Hotham.

By July 2009, I had just returned from a 19-month work stint in Shanghai. It was by far the longest time I had ever been away from home. And as some might know, the first couple of months were miserable, but the rest of it was nothing short of momentous. It completely changed my perspective towards living overseas for an extended period.

A couple of days ago, I read an account of Victor Yen’s conversation with Shawn Lee and asked for his permission to share it wholesale on my blog (though I added some paragraphing for easier reading). It encapsulates my wholehearted endorsement to any young person who might ask me if it’s a good idea to have an overseas adventure, but on the conditions that they:

  • have saved up for it and/or their family can afford it
  • have a wise and mature head on their shoulders
  • are at peace with God on their decision
  • have responsibly taken care of their commitments
  • remember to return home

The bottom-line for my recommendation – open your eyes, get out of this bubble and discover what you’re missing. Either way, I hope you enjoy the following as much as I have… And if you do get the chance to go for an overseas exchange, employment or extended holiday, GO! (:

On “Swiss Standard of Living”
by Victor Yen

Had a fantastic night – dinner and chitchat – with my “youth” Shawn. I still think of him as my “youth”, having mentored him in a Christian cell setting when he was 15. He’s now 21 and just finished 2.5 months of backpacking Europe after National Service, couch-surfing his way throughout. The amazing thing? He claimed he did not spend a single cent on accommodation. Awesome stuff.

Among a whole lot of countries he visited, he just gave me a glowing account of Switzerland and her famous Swiss Standard of Living. I have never been to Switzerland and asked him many questions. And this is coming from a guy who did not do the tour-package thing. He lived with people, ate what they ate, castrated their pigs (yes, he helped out in farms) and got himself immersed in their lives.

This is what he shared:

Work / Life Balance

  1. They work 42 hours/week or 8 hours a day. This is a matter of law. If extra time is clocked, they are entitled to overtime pay or off-in-lieu. Lunch takes at least 2 hours.
  2. The minimum guaranteed leave they have is 3 weeks per year. But most companies give 4 weeks.
  3. Most people there have hobbies. I mean, real hobbies. They are passionate and spend time on them. For starters, according to Shawn, he hasn’t met anyone who has never skied. They are into archery and stuff. In Singapore, I dare say that if you grab a man on the street and ask him what his hobby is, you get a stammering answer at best on probably these 3 possibilities: “shopping” or “eating” or “sleeping”.

Education

  1. There are 2 tracks after elementary and high school education: academic or vocational. If academic, you go on to university. If vocational, you go straight to work. It’s called apprenticeship. 4 days/week you are at a car mechanic workshop / kitchen etc, in the thick of real action, with real paying customers. The remaining 1 day, you go for your theory lessons. The entire post-secondary education takes typically 3 years. What happens to these chaps upon graduation? Your guess is as good as mine. They become highly-skilled specialists.
  2. Shawn was staying with a family who has a 6 or 7-year-old boy. Wednesdays are rest days from school. What does the family do on Wednesdays? They bake a cake together.

Community

  1. Everyone is greeting everyone on their way to work, school or to the supermarket. He has not heard a single car horn in the month he was there. Pedestrians cross roads as they please, and cars will stop for them. Everyone waves and smiles at each other.
  2. According to Shawn, Switzerland is crazy safe. When he asked a local if there was any recent crime, the reply he got was, “I think we have a stabbing 2 years ago…”

Standard of Living

  1. An average clerk makes a respectable $5-6K francs a month. This pay may square off as average/middle-income in their countries but when they travel, the world is their playground. Oh, by the way, if you flip burgers full-time, your pay check’s probably $3-4K francs.
  2. If you don’t have a job, you can stand in a queue and get a cheque to feed your children. You don’t have to contemplate suicide during job transitions.
  3. He couch-surfed in a farm, where the owner got, wait-for-it, 34 hectares of land for $600K francs. On the land, there is a house and a barn. The rest of it? Forest. Man runs a b&b and guests get to take a walk in his private forest. Shawn said, “It’s pretty epic. I walked with him and he said, ‘This is my forest.'”
  4. Haagen Daz ice-cream costs $3.50 francs a tub. Enough said.

Hold on a second. This cannot be true, right?

  1. The thing is, the Swiss are not paying an incredible amount of tax. About 17%.
  2. The Swiss are not lazy people. They are incredibly productive and I think I’ve read that somewhere. I believe it boils down to passion and skill. They are very interested in what they do and they are very good at what they do.
  3. Ok, dining in a restaurant will cost you, so most people end up cooking their own meals. A Macdonald’s meal costs $19 but hey, it’s junk anyway. The beautiful thing is: necessities are cheap. A litre of milk is 60 cents. 500 grams of pasta is 35 cents. You can eat well even if you are on welfare.
  4. One interesting observation is people are independent. They jack up their cars to rotate tyres and change engine oil. This guy he stayed with is a one-man renovation team. He learns everything from DIY books, then heads to a giant DIY store and gets all the supplies. Before you know it, man’s drilling, cementing and sawing stuff.

Quick-a-side: This jolted my memory when I was backpacking US a few years back. This guy, who’s an estates’ maintenance man hired by an outdoors camp, saw a puddle of water on the ground. He told me, “Well, that puddle hasn’t subsided after 2 weeks.” The next thing I know, he’s on a John Deere tractor digging up the ground. Lo and behold, there’s a burst water pipe underneath all that dirt. He got into the ditch and fixed it, saving a chunk of the utilities’ bill.

This is the same guy who built an entire flying-fox structure. The camp director told him to explore building “a fun thing “over the water. The man read up and started ordering timber. Amazing. How many Singaporeans truly know how to do things? Most of us can’t even cook to feed ourselves.

There is also a huge gulf between a blue-collared worker here and a white-collared one. I can imagine that they would have problems communicating with each other. One is lowly paid, drinks beer in hawker centres and speaks Hokkein mostly. The other earns more, drinks beer at One-Fullerton and speaks fake American English.

The truth is blue-collared workers in Europe/US are able to communicate and work with anyone comfortably. They are on the internet and read books on landscaping. Can our blue-collared workers do that? Is there anything wrong with our education system?

The evening ended with Shawn sharing one last point:

When he asked the Swiss “How’s life?”, he got mostly a matter-of-fact “Yes, I think we have a good life.” How many Singaporeans are saying that?

*An Erdinger is 85 cents by the way…*

baring my soul after baring my sole.

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For our integrated marketing communications assignment, my schoolmates and I examined how TOMS Shoes employed cause marketing as their main vehicle of publicity, and how this eventually led to sales.

There was no better way than to actually practise what the company preaches as one of their key annual activities – to go one day without shoes. At least, that’s what it challenges all its existing and potential consumers. TOMS’ business strategy is simple – you buy a pair of shoes from them and they will give another away to an underprivileged child in a third-world country. A remarkable and novel idea, really.

In our detailed analysis of this tactic, we’ve discovered that there are brilliant brains behind TOMS, from its founder Blake Mycoskie, to its sales staff, and to its interns (better known as Agents of Change – ostentatious but unique no doubt). And we’ve observed that they’ve left no stone unturned – everything that can be used has been used and their marketing strategy is one of the best we’ve seen of any footwear company, by far. It’s almost fool-proof and fail-proof; it’s so comprehensive that we’ve struggled to make recommendations to improve it. We take our hats off to TOMS Shoes.

That was until two of us (Melodie Lee and I) actually decided to go barefoot in Singapore for a day. And so it was, our very own one day without shoes. It was then we discovered the few weaknesses of such a tactic. I will share bits of it as I record my thoughts of this radical experience.

Attempting an against-the-norm feat is always easier when you do it with someone else. Melodie and I felt somewhat comforted and empowered by each other’s participation; knowing that we weren’t going to do this alone provided an impetus for the actual deed. I left home excitedly and I was curious to see the different reactions I’d receive from strangers and bystanders alike.

Coincidentally, I left home with my sister and met my mother en-route to the bus terminal; both thought that I was crazy and had my safety at the forefront of their minds. And as expected, my sister wasn’t too keen on walking beside me simply because it was weird. “So paiseh”, she stated. Funnily enough, that actually affirmed my decision more than deterred it.

I tried to behave as normally as I could. Of course I would avoid tough, dirty or wet terrain but I did not walk awkwardly or in embarrassment. I like doing radical things once in a while anyway, as my youths and peers would know, so standing out from the crowd wasn’t something that was all together foreign to me.

I arrived at our meeting point in Forum, drank a small serving of Caramel Latte from Coffeebean and discussed how we were going to capture people’s responses on film. And on my own, I intentionally recorded as many of these steps as I could through Twitter. After all, it was through social media that this campaign spread like a virus. As expected, I received a flurry of responses almost immediately on both Facebook and Twitter, from both friends and acquaintances. And just as I had expected, the attention waned as dramatically as it had built up as the day progressed, despite my regular pictorial updates.

Hence it leaves me to conclude that a wholesale dependence on social media has its own limitations. Perhaps it’s because I’m not a celebrity with an enormous reputation, but isn’t viral marketing all about the word-of-mouth from the man on the ground? It’s short-lived at best; my network’s interest in my adventure sustained for a couple of hours and my own interest was roused for a day at most. My mini-campaign was as current and newsworthy as the next 160-character tweet by a teenager about where he was or what she was doing. How effective could this method be for the long-run then?

I hereby propose that social media is only good for initial awareness but not prolonged interest.

One talking point in my day without shoes was when I nearly lost my right big toe. I am so used to everyday-walking that it slipped my mind the importance of literally watching my next step. It was a near-death experience (haha pardon the drama-mama) and my odynophobia caused me to visualise a severed foot. I still cringe at the thought of that near-mishap and I understood why Crocs encountered a safety issue with their footwear – people are negligent because they take things for granted and when they think they can depend on what they are used to (can’t help but to think of Psalm 119:105).

There are only two retailers in Singapore that sell TOMS Shoes and we had to visit one of course. It was a disappointing experience to say the least. We all thought that this could be one of the greatest flaw in this otherwise great company. A retail shop is quite possibly the most appropriate touch point for a fashion product (to see and touch the actual shoe and try it for sizing) and interacting with the sales staff left a horrible taste in our mouths; they were apathetic, ignorant, uninvolved, not helpful and unnecessarily rude.

While this reflects more badly on the reputation of the shop, it indirectly impacts a consumer’s attitude towards TOMS; you cannot help but think that TOMS did not conduct a meticulous screening of their franchisees or provide them with sufficient product training. Their unacceptable service became a fundamental failure in representing the goodwill that TOMS have existed to create all this while. After all, we’ve observed that intimate interaction with consumers is one of the keys to their outstanding business model.

We started our barefoot adventure at 3pm but by 6pm the novelty of this activity had already worn thin on us. We were no longer amused by people’s stares or consciously thought about what we were doing. I asked Melodie, “Are you even thinking about the children in Africa without shoes to wear?” Our answers to that question was synonymously negative. Perhaps we were inadequately prepared for this activity, throwing ourselves in without much fanfare (like posters or tee shirts) or perhaps we didn’t do it with an entourage. But honestly, the thought of doing this for the less-fortunate and under-privileged probably crossed our minds only once, and for a fleeting moment.

While those kids suffered from inevitable abrasions, we sampled invited attention; while those kids struggled to go to school, we savoured what it felt like to do something cool; while those kids survived on a single pair of shoes for years, we stepped into shops that sold enough shoes to last a village for years. How effective then, is this campaign to actually help those kids?

I began to question the integrity of this apparently fantastic movement and I couldn’t help but to conclude that cause marketing should only be employed for the short-term and not to be exploited for the long-term.

I’ve written these thoughts on my way to school and during lecture itself. Honestly, while going without shoes was fun while it lasted, I cannot be bothered anymore about how this makes me feel or what message it sends out because the only entity that benefits from this seemingly out-of-this-world initiative is the company itself. Based on my experience today, I scribbled down five recommendations that may make TOMS Shoes a tad bit more successful and perhaps, less suspect. We will propose them at our presentation next week.

As with many things in life that the world offers us as a tradeoff for satisfaction, it can feel good at the start but it is still hugely inadequate and empty eventually. “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity”, as King Solomon famously philosophised. The words of the Psalmist Asaph resonates in my head: “You’re all I want in heaven! You’re all I want on earth!” (Psalm 73:25, The Message Bible.)

Oh, the temporal happiness of earthly pursuits and the heavenly void that we all need God to help us fill!

I love my church… part 1.

Probably our favourite photograph together, taken at the inaugural Rhema in 2006.

I have arrived at the 18th month of my journey with Grace AG and it has been an eye-opening experience. A perfect church doesn’t exist and Grace AG is no different; there are cracks and weaknesses in my church, just like there are in yours. (I’m throwing the “This-is-not-your-church-this-is-His-church” cliche out of the window – I’m not here to quibble over semantics.) But not everyone, be it a salaried minister or a serving member, will dare to make this statement:

“I love my church.”

And I’ve been privileged enough to meet men and women whom I’m confident will dare to make that statement – Lionel, Joel and Suhui, just to name a few. As for my colleagues, I only have superficial knowledge of the majority of them but I do have intimate knowledge of one man – Ps Ronald. And I know he loves his church. His passion for Grace AG has rubbed off not just on me, but on many others who have crossed his path.

One reason why I look toward Ps Ronald as a role model is that he is a home-grown pastor. (Sidetrack, but I humbly think that we need more home-grown ministers!) This man was once a rebellious teenager; he once served as a Sunday School superintendent; and I believe that in his 12 years serving full-time in Grace AG as a youth pastor, he has stepped on many toes in the name of advancing the church. I believe that all good leaders have an insatiable appetite to improve their organisation with whatever influence they have. Their attitude is always exemplary and inspirational. After all, attitude reflect leadership (Julius Campbell).

I am a passionate person and I am not ashamed of the way I communicate. A couple of days ago, I enjoyed a heated phone conversation with Ps Ronald; it was almost cathartic to have these occasional dialogues. No, we didn’t quarrel. I doubt we’ve ever quarreled outrightly. I love and respect him too much to fight against him. He has over the years led me by example and proven that he is fighting alongside me. You must have heard me say this time and again – everyone has a hero of faith and Ps Ronald is in my hall of fame.

I brought to him a couple of issues that were tussling in my head in an open and honest manner. And I didn’t mince my words. There aren’t many people who can convincingly tell me, “I know where you are coming from”, and have me believe them. And there aren’t many people who can make me feel like they’ve really heard what I had to say and understood every word of it. Ps Ronald is one of the few who can cut it with me.

I put down the phone and sent him a follow-up text:

Bro, sorry if I sounded rude or disrespectful. I do get carried away and am passionate in my arguments. Trust you know it’s nothing personal. I’m challenging the policy, not the person.

His candid response made me beam with pride – for who doesn’t want to be a reflection of their role model? This was what he replied verbatim:

Yes, miniature Ronald. Hahahaha. You brought up a good point…

And the rest I shall omit… Well, you may not make heads or tails of what Ps Ronald and I exchanged but that was a significant moment for me, even though he has affirmed me time and again that I remind him of himself when he first started out in ministry. I believe that there are many others on the staff team who are like Ps Ronald and I – people who love the church and want to see it grow and change for the better.

Are you an old-timer harping on the church’s distinguished history?
Let the young ones show you how much they will love the church!

Are you a young person discouraged by the church’s dismal destiny?
Let the older folks show you how much they still love the church!

My rhetoric to you tonight is – “Do you love your church?”
God knows the answer in your heart and Man will know the answer by your fruit.

No, Grace AG isn’t just my place of employment.
It is home – my home – and I will fiercely protect it.

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