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a song in season, every season.

theboatsbehindthestraw

As a youth pastor, I’m all for contemporary worship music from western countries. But every once in a while, you chance upon a powerful song written from the sincere depths of one’s heart; and when you unearth a local gem like this, you know it’ll be a timeless song that you and I will sing for generations to come.

My exhortation to all worship leaders – keep close to God and write songs of breakthrough for your generation.

Make A Certain Breakthrough
By Ps Ann Chan & Ruth Ling

In my life of searching
For the plain and simple way
Many paths were so winding
The roads were never straight
Then the Spirit of God broke through
And healed my broken wings
And showed me the way into His heart

And I know that God is leading
In a clear and certain way
My one life for your purpose, Jesus
I offer up this day
To follow you completely
To do all that you say
Cleanse my life, fill me up
And use me this day
Make a certain breakthrough
Make it today

 In these days of danger
Lord, we rest upon Your grace
With Your tender and skillful hands
You shape this stubborn clay
Yes, You calm my inmost being
Giving courage to hope again
And to build this one life
In power and faith

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the people of Perth.

In any holiday, it’s always about the people that determines how meaningful and memorable the trip is. It has been a momentous week in every sense of the word – the huge amount that I have gleaned from the master mentors simply by observing their examples, to the kind of favours I have experienced.

I’ve really witnessed God’s faithfulness in my life and I’m inclined to think that it is through people that God uses most to bless others. I know the following paragraphs won’t mean anything to many readers but I want to record it down anyway because it means a lot to me.

First and foremost, I am grateful for Chin Seng and Ervina – for their love and affection… They are amazing friends whom I am immensely thankful for. Liang Zhi has been a great aide too in helping me with errands, though I wished we had more personal time together.

It was wonderful to have a couple of hours in Ps Benny’s hectic schedule, as well as to meet all the wonderful people in his church – from Ps Cheng Lai and Sis Ellen, Uncle Steven and Aunty Julia, Ps Daryl and Eunice. There’s something unique about Faith Community Church – may God continue to grow FCC exponentially!

Then to have met Ps Basil and Sis Yvonne of Eagles City Mission (this church visit is worth a separate blog post in itself!) as well as their wonderful group of young adults. These nice blokes took me out for dinner and drinks – Justin, Hannah, Shane, Cher, Etele, Andrew, Lena and Sebastian – lovely people. (And yes, Ps Edmund got me on stage again…)

But the greatest shout-out goes to Ps Philip and Aunty Christina, whose house I’m staying in. They’re such a cute couple – and their home is filled with laughter, friends and love, just as it is inscribed on a wood ornament hung on their living room wall. They’ve extended their warmth to me so generously… Aunty Christina calls me the “Young Baby Pastor”; she’s got such an endearing personality.

While this is my third time to Perth, it is without doubt the most memorable one. And I haven’t even mentioned about my experiences with Ps Edmund and Ps Ann! I could write three posts dedicated to these two highly-esteemed individuals, not just in my life, but in the scores of lives I’ve met on this trip… I’m a privileged man, really, to be on a mentoring journey with him…

My single biggest regret so far? I’m experiencing all these alone; every single minute, I badly wished my wife-to-be was with me… I miss Huiyi very much, more than she thinks I do…

half-time: photographic recap.

The lovely Chin Seng and Ervina whisked me away to The Left Bank after the conference ended for an advanced birthday treat! I’m blogging this from their place before returning to Jandakot tonight, where I’m staying with Ps Edmund and Ps Ann. It has been an amazing experience so far, staying under the same roof as two people I esteem so highly. I’ll write more when I have time.

For now, I’d like to remember how tremendously blessed and privileged I am to share the same stage as Ps Edmund, Ps Ann and Ps Benny even for just five minutes during the fourth session at the IDMC Perth Conference. Yes, Ps Edmund threw me a surprise again as he did previously at Eagles Conference.

I was little more prepared this time, but unlike the last time where I had 30 minutes to prepare, this time, I had a grand total of five seconds to respond; yes, he summoned me to the stage, on the spot. Never in my life would I imagine this favour and opportunity happening to me. Ever. God is amazing. All praise to Him alone.

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)

would You find me faithful?

I thank the Lord for the kind and generous compliments I have received since I performed “Find Us Faithful” at Watchnight Service 2010. It’s quite a pleasant experience having church members randomly approach you to say, “You were the one who sang at Watchnight right? Great job!” All this encouragement means a lot to me because it’s communicated in my primary love language.

Isn’t it wonderful that a song written in 1988 still has relevance and impact two decades later? That’s the hallmark of a hall of fame song. I praise the Lord for those who have told me how the song has encouraged them in their pilgrimage of faith but I think no one has heard how this timeless Steve Green song has become an integral part of my own faith journey.

This is a post I have wanted to write for the last year and so I shall publish it tonight.

While I’ve heard and sung it during my ACS days, it was at IDMC 2009 that this song reprised in my life. It was by God’s grace and people’s generosity that I even got the chance to attend this annual sold-out conference. It was my first IDMC and also the first time I sat into Ps Edmund Chan’s sermons. It goes without saying that he instantly became one of my favourite speakers.

It was at the final plenary session that God spoke into my heart and assured me that He’d take care of me. You see, throughout the conference, I was struggling with one decision – whether I should take up Ps Ronald’s offer to step into full-time ministry with R-AGE. This was potentially the biggest decision of my life thus far. I remember the clincher from Ps Edmund that God used to convict my heart and convince my head.

“Obedience is the highest expression of stewardship.”

At that moment, I remember Ps Edmund instructing the worship leader to lead the congregation to sing this song as a prayer of dedication. There was no emotionalism, no hype, no spiritually charged atmosphere and no preacher offering an invite to approach the altar. I sang the song to God from the bottom of my heart. I was certain tears rolled down my cheeks…

And I found myself in a soliloquy with God. Hands clasped, head bowed and eyes tightly shut, I uttered a simple prayer to God – “Okay Lord, I will”.

“Find Us Faithful” became the official soundtrack of my decision to enter full-time ministry.

Fast-forward to the start of 2010. I had tasked my first batch of REAL (2010) candidates to craft the REAL creed and compose the REAL song. After a week of compositions and revisions, their collective effort resulted in the completion of the official REAL creed. I was so proud of them when they recited it in front of R-AGE. However, they didn’t have the technical or inspirational competence to compose the song. So I let it rest.

However, in one inspired moment on a weekday morning, the Spirit reminded me of “Find Us Faithful” and impressed upon my heart to use that song to lead REAL 2010 into a time or worship. So I did that. And as I sang it to them for the first time, I found myself in tears again. This time, it wasn’t about me, but about them, for they represented the generation of young people that I would have the privilege to pastor.

The song became my earnest prayer of dedication for these 16 precious youths – that they would leave a lasting legacy for the REAL batches who would join after them and the batches who have gone before them. I opened my tear-filled eyes and saw a number of them in tears too; one was even on her knees. I knew the Spirit was moving powerfully in and speaking clearly to these kids. It was an anointed moment indeed.

I vaguely remember telling these things: “The Lord wants to engrave this moment onto your heart… You are standing on holy ground… The Lord is here in our midst…” I knew instantly that this was going to be the theme song for REAL (at least until an even more appropriate song is written).

A few months down the road, I led this song at the weekly Tuesday staff devotion. Again, I received the similar responses from my colleagues. There were no tears from me this time but I was sure this song registered something in their hearts. I know this because a few of them came to share with and affirm me.

Come 2010 Q4, Ps Kenny approached me from out of the blue and asked if I was keen to sing “the song that I led during staff devotion some months ago” at the Watchnight Service 2010, just before Ps David delivered his challenge. I was pleasantly surprised by the opportunity that was presented before me but I took a week to consider it before I eventually took up the offer; I wasn’t sure if I could manage rehearsals and REAL camp concurrently.

I had to activate Joel Tay to accompany me in this song because the minus-one track had not arrived from the States. He was kind enough to take on the challenge despite just a couple of days’ notice and we had, at best, two rehearsals – one at his house and the other at the GII Sanctuary a few hours before Watchnight.

Throughout rehearsals, I was constantly reminded of how the song presentation must challenge the church to leave behind an example of faith for the generations that would come after them. I asked God to help take the attention off me and shift it onto the message in the song – minimum showmanship, maximum diversion. And I trust that He has.

Last Thursday, I had the privilege of having dinner with Ps Edmund and his wife Ps Ann, together with Dr Bill Lawrence and his wife Lynna. Whenever I meet new people, I would naturally share about my journey to Jesus and my full-time calling. There and then, at Coleman’s Cafe in Excelsior Hotel, the official soundtrack played in my head.

It kept playing throughout the evening, until I went to bed; and I think the song will keep playing in my head, to serve as a personal reminder for me, for the rest of my life, until I see my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ face-to-face. No prizes for guessing the first question I would ask Jesus when I meet Him.

I couldn’t help but feel that it was a full circle indeed – to share this story (again) in the company of my mentor, who (by divine appointment) is the same pastor who facilitated my decision-making process into full-time ministry in September 2009. Indeed, “God is good, in control and will bring His will to pass”.

Oh Lord, may the footprints that I leave lead young people to believe in You and life I live inspire them to obey You. Please find me faithful at the end of my pilgrimage, Lord. I love You…

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