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Reflections on being courageous for the Gospel.

I guess it’s about time I breathed life into my blog, again.

Over the last weekend, I preached the final installment of “The Call of Duty: R-AGE digs deeper into Ephesians”. It was based on Ephesians 6:10-24 and the armour of God. I titled the sermon, “Is there courage in R-AGE?”. I had the luxury of having three weeks to prepare for this sermon (due to the combined adults and 180° Easter outreach services) and extra time meant that this sermon could pack more punch.

Most times at the end of a service, I always feel I’ve preached the worst sermon of my life, but surprisingly, I enjoyed preaching this one. Not because I tickled minds with interesting nuggets of information, but because I felt that I had executed the prophetic burden God laid on my heart for the youths. It’s similar to Apostle Paul’s cry for the believers in Ephesus – to boldly proclaim the Gospel. I challenged two groups of young people at the altar; those who used to preach the Gospel boldly and those who have never preached the Gospel boldly before – that the Holy Spirit would strengthen them to do so.

While I was thankful for those who responded, there were more who didn’t and I wondered why – was it due to my inadequate delivery of the message, their apathetic spiritual condition or simply because God didn’t plan it that way? Or was it something else beyond my comprehension? I couldn’t put a finger to it but it drives me to intercede more intensely for my beloved youths.

David Lee was the emcee for R-AGE @ GI and at the closing of the service, he echoed what I had actually said at R-AGE @ GII – that the responsibility of evangelism doesn’t fall on the shoulders of the leaders, pastors and those who are more fervent in their faith, but on everyone who calls himself a disciple of Jesus. How could we remain unmoved if the love of Christ has already moved us? It is my earnest prayer that R-AGE would experience the Father’s love first-hand!

“Stop evangelising. Instead, start loving people in the name of Jesus”, I first heard Ps Edmund Chan say that when I traveled with him to Perth last October. He repeated that statement at the recently concluded Grace Leaders’ Retreat and it was a sobering reminder for me. I had a short SMS exchange with Gabrielle Ong this morning and I encouraged her not to give up on proclaiming the Gospel to her pre-believing friends. I told her that one of the most effective ways of demonstrating the Gospel is to find opportunities to pray for people – you “speak life” into them and they get a chance to see your faith in action. It works!

Back to the sermon… Well, I’m not sure about other preachers, but the thing I enjoy most about preparing a sermon is how much I learn and am challenged through what I read and write. I already know what God would want me to do in response to my sermon and I look forward to walking in obedience this week. It is my prayer that R-AGE would take ownership of the souls within their communities who haven’t met Jesus.

Even as I type this, my heart is moved by the compassion Jesus has for the ones who are suffering and the ones who do not yet know Him. I am thankful for the Spirit’s reminder in my life – that my occupation isn’t one of a part-time youth pastor but a full-time Gospel preacher! I must never lose sight of reconciling others to God through the Gospel!

It’s going to be an awesome week, my dear friends. Let’s raise the shield of faith on each other’s behalf, gird up our loins with the written truth, wield the power of the spoken truth and advance the Gospel for the King! What a privilege to shepherd R-AGE – I am thankful for this season of my life. God is good.

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originality through imitation (part one) – the quest for originality.

Over the next few days I will post a series of my reflections (and study notes) from one of my morning devotions last week. I shared it with the GII Shepherds on Tuesday night and I was encouraged to hear their “check-out” (it’s something I get them to do at the end of my teaching sessions). In my preparation, I expanded my half-page handwritten reflections into a four-page lesson; hence I’ll take HY’s advice and separate this sharing into a four-part series instead of dumping the entire lesson into one entry, for better consumption and digestion.

On a side note, I remember telling HY and EL that I’m starting to think and write as if everything that I communicate or compose is a sermon. Is this an occupational hazard of a(n aspiring) preacher? I mean, it’s so weaved into my cognition process that I do that even in my devotional and prayer journaling! And the crazy thing is that I actually enjoy thinking, writing and speaking like that because this discipline forces me to streamline my thoughts and increase the efficiency in my choice of words. You may realise this if you’ve been reading my blog for a while.

But I digress. Here’s the first of four parts, which will bring us through to Sunday.

***

Originality Through Imitation
Quiet Time Reflections on Genesis 1-2
By Joey Asher Tan

Introduction – The Quest for Originality

This is my umpteenth attempt at re-reading the Bible from the beginning. However, unlike the earlier efforts, I have a new zeal for the Word of God and I’ve determined within myself to find a revelation of Jesus Christ in every sitting.

So, in an all-too-familiar restart, I read the first two chapters of Genesis a little differently; I read Genesis 1 telescopically and Genesis 2 microscopically and I urge you to do likewise. You will then realise that Genesis 2 is actually an in-depth look at the sixth day of God’s cosmic creation.

By God’s impeccable design, Man was created by God to bear His image and to be the master of all life on earth. The making of Man concluded God’s creation process and with that He declared everything to be excellent in every way; Man was the icing on His cake and the cherry on His pie!

It was truly a privilege for Man to be come alive by the breath of God (nothing else in creation has that invocation!) and to be given the free will to make his own decisions. That to me, along with Man’s purpose to be God’s image-bearer, was the grace of God.

Creation then reveals the centrality of Christ in this manner – Jesus came to redeem and restore us (more on redemption and restoration later) to the original requirements of intimate fellowship with God. At this point in time, I asked God two questions: “What has creation got to do with Me? How is creation even relevant to my daily living?”

There is only one point which I will attempt to prove through this sharing.

I humbly opine that the best creation is the original creation. And that is in the image of God. I think this is why we are constantly called to imitate Christ, for Christlikeness is the expressed image of God (or the closest you could get!). We must realise that when we are Christlike, we are actually being original in its truest form. That in effect is saying, the more we are like Jesus, the more original we are! No wonder Paul said, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).

In a day and age where the clichés of being true to yourself and being original has become an over-emphasised and highly overrated aspiration, the Word of God interrupts us with a counter-culture challenge. Think about it – what’s so good about wanting to be who you’ve always wanted to be? According to what I have read, I see zero benefits; at this point of my life, I’d rather be more like Jesus than to be more like Joey. The older I get, the more I know my(wretched)self the more I conclude that there’s no glory in wanting to be myself.

So we arrive at a point of application. Throughout our lives, there’s always someone we look up to and desire to model after; he or she could be a parent, pastor, peer or even an onscreen personality. Everyone has heroes in their lives. I was instantly challenged to cultivate a solitary desire to mimic Jesus above and beyond any of my mentors. I’m not called to be Jesus, but to be like Jesus. And I think this universal truth applies to all serious believers who desire to showcase God’s glory through their lives.

Do me a favour, will you? Read Genesis 1-2 again and rediscover that, in light of our fallen nature, the best creation is truly the original creation.

***

Next post: The Grandeur of the Creation of Man

yet another centenary to celebrate.

Last week, this blog crossed its 20,000th readership mark – an achievement I am honestly thankful for because it gives me acknowledgement and affirmation as a aspiring author-to-be.

It’s been a wonderful journey for me as a writer. Amongst the many benefits I’ve experienced, I am thankful for how I’ve gained access into people’s lives and how God has used me to minister to strangers and acquaintances alike. But above all, I’ve enjoyed writing in and of itself (just as I trust that you have enjoyed reading what I have written); to be able to put into words the things in my head and heart – I see that as God’s free gift to me (1 Corinthians 4:7), and even the enjoyment of this gift is a gift in itself (1 Peter 4:11)! Writing truly disciplines my mind and forces it to frame thoughts into understandable words in a systematic and concise manner that all can relate to and with.

The last few entries have been heavy stuff – both in length and content. So for this 201st entry, I shall attempt to keep it light.

One of the many things I find useful about WordPress is its “Blog Stats”; It gives me a quick and (if I want a) detailed overview of how people navigate into, within and out of my blog. I thought it’d be interesting to share that piece of trivia, now that I’ve generated a considerable amount of original content on what started out to just be an open journal where I store my thoughts and share my testimony; I praise God for this for He has certainly multiplied my three loaves and one fish beyond my imagination.

Hence, 2,400 tags later, kindly allow me to present the all-time top five in four different categories:

Referrers | Views – This is how the traffic rolls in.

  1. facebook.com | 418
  2. sweetestgoodbyeee.wordpress.com | 118
  3. thefuneralmasqueradeforlove.blogspot.com | 113
  4. theupperroomdiaries.wordpress.com | 105
  5. morethanwordscansay.wordpress.com | 84

Search Terms | Views – This is what people google to get here.

  1. joey asher tan | 138
  2. joey asher | 55
  3. signs of insecurity | 40
  4. is it possible to dream within a dream | 35
  5. misunderstoodsunshinekid | 25

Clicks | Views – This is what people click on when they’re here.

  1. krystalite.wordpress.com | 758
  2. fortunecookieman.blogspot.com | 359
  3. theupperroomdiaries.wordpress.com | 354
  4. onthemark2046.blogspot.com | 347
  5. rachaeljewel.wordpress.com | 334

Top Posts | Views – These are the entries with the most views.

  1. is heavy metal music really satanic? | 223
  2. understanding your personality temperament. | 201
  3. a dream within a dream – is that possible? | 192
  4. announcement! change of address in 2016! | 184
  5. full-time calling. | 171

It is my desire that my humble little space on the world wide web fulfills what Paul attempted to accomplish in 1 Corinthians 10:33; I want to play my role in the theatre of redemption so may the next 100 entries and beyond be written with the intention and hope that one day it will benefit many more so that they may see Jesus and be saved!

“… just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.”

inside outside upside down.

On days that I’m tired and uninspired to write anything noteworthy, I shall succumb to previously-written articles. Somehow I look forward to the break at retreat. For that week away. I’m deciding between live updates or pre-scheduled posts. But for now, in the light of the coming youth camp, here’s an article I wrote after the Inside-Out youth camp in 2004, at Fairfield Methodist Secondary School, where I was camp Dean. I’ll reprise that role in the coming Retreat and I do look forward to it. Enjoy the read.

If a Chinese man decides to become an Indian man one day, speaking in Tamil alone will not change his race; his anatomy and his shade of melanin must be altered to achieve this biological change.

An overweight man cannot look slim just by putting on tight-fitting clothes; a change of clothes will not change his physique, he needs to be altered physically.

A timid teenager lacking in self-esteem cannot find his self-worth and security by hanging out with confident and assured peers; he does not become who he socialises with; his alteration must be mental.

Even a sex change will not make a man feel any more like a woman; unless he is altered psychologically, he will innately know he is still a man.

One cannot modify the external to change the internal. The change must take place from within.

So similarly, a mere believer of Christ cannot become a true disciple of Christ unless he is transformed from the inside out. In Romans 12:2, Paul urges us to not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our minds, so that we may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

Now, that is the theme of the annual R-AGE camp. This camp is aptly named “Inside-Out” and it is a fitting conclusion to a year embarked on discipleship.

In the short duration of four days and three nights, the youths participated in a host of activities that perpetuate the lessons of discipleship. They are put through unforgettable structured experiences; attend knowledge-enriching workshops and life-changing sermons; play large-scale and small-scale games that foster relationship-building; and not to mention living together with everyone else and learning from one another.

Along with the usual works of a youth camp, the committee aspires to impart a lifestyle of discipleship into the campers – the call, the cost and the commitment. Doors will be opened for mentorship to take place.

As the camp dean, my primary job is to look after the well-being of the campers, especially their spiritual condition. I believe it is crucial that the young people are changed from within if they are to live out their fullest potential. There is little significance in attempting to correct the facade if nothing is done to correct their attitudes and their cognition process.

Our church is blessed with intelligent teenagers who are acutely aware of the happenings of the world as they are well-educated and also because most of them come from affluent families. Teenagers are no strangers to the temptations that this world offers and are greatly exposed to the lures of the world.

Their scrutinising nature fuels their continual thirst for knowledge and the truth. And this either leaves them fulfilled by the Word of God or deceived by the lies of the devil.

Therefore, there is a great need to guard their vulnerable minds and correct all the wrong teachings they have received. This is made possible with tender care, proper guidance and assiduous re-education. Hopefully, by the conclusion of Inside-Out, our youths will learn to fix their eyes on Jesus, who is the author and perfecter of their faith; this conviction will empower them to worship God in spirit and in truth, befitting the theme of worship for 2005.

Everything around us is constantly changing – even you and I. But Hebrews 13:8 assures us that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever! Who better then, shall we place our trust in?

why should I pray?

Two days ago, I embarked on a five-parter with my GII shepherds on the topic of prayer, (loosely) based on JP’s chapter on Prayer in Desiring God. I’ll expand his excellent teaching in order to ensure that the lesson remains relevant and applicable to our context. This was a natural follow-up from my previous lesson on Philippians 4:4-7. Each time we meet for cell, I make us memorise scripture. Although these verses are familiar, I’m fairly confident they have taken a paradigm shift as they store these powerful, dynamic verses in their hearts.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6-7 (English Standard Version)

Anxiety does nothing for you. On top of adding zero benefits to your situation, it also distracts your concentration and injures your soul. Paul dispenses such practical advice – anxiety is so useless and negative that it doesn’t even change or improve your situation. No wonder he warns you against it.

The remedy to being anxious about nothing is to be prayerful about everything. When we pray, we acknowledge a few things: (1) We openly admit that without Christ, we cannot accomplish anything; (2) We deliberately turn away from ourselves because we have the confidence that God will provide the help that we need – I call this, “Anti-self-sufficiency”; (3) We actively humble ourselves as needy and exalt God as wealthy. No wonder Paul instructed us to turn to prayer!

Allow me to rephrase “prayer and supplication”. Basically, it is to present the request for the first time and continue to present the request earnestly (until something happens, or until the Spirit changes the way you pray). And you do this in an attitude of “thanksgiving” because you recall the many times that God has answered your prayers in the past. This should give you the confidence to ask boldly – for God is a faithful God who would answer prayers (according to His will)!  Remember also, that you are actually making known your requests and not telling God about it like He doesn’t know; this gives you the confidence that God already knows what’s in your heart; So your role then, is to verbalise your request(s), and to do it ardently, both audibly or inaudibly.

An easier way to understand “guard” is to imagine our hearts (or affections, passions and emotions) safely protected in a castle that has bricks made of God’s peace. The peace of God supersedes all human understanding, garrisons our hearts and protects it in Christ Jesus – what a powerful imagery! It’s not any other peace that will be in our hearts but that which is subjected to the rule and reign of Jesus. This peace is a result of the Holy Spirt that is at work within us.

We pray because we need God’s direction and support in our often misguided and heavy-laden lives. And the result is God’s peace – which is all that we really need. No wonder Paul exhorts us to rejoice in (verse 4)! Finally, the question then, in light of this knowledge, isn’t “Why should we pray?” but “Why shouldn’t we pray?”

sermon recall: barnabas the epic encourager.

It was a whirlwind weekend for me – preparing the Barnabas sermon was more challenging than the Mary Magdalene one. Nonetheless, it’s over and I thank God for all of it. Honestly, I thought my delivery at the G2 youth service was not up to scratch.. Sometimes I don’t know what disappoints me more – a lack of congregational response or failing to meet my high personal standards. But God is good; while I felt that the preaching at G2 was one of my poorest to date, I was surprised by the response at the altar call and received rather positive feedback in both quantity and quality from people I didn’t expect. For that, I’m encouraged and thankful, for God worked through my weaknesses (2 Cor 12:9) and still brought Himself glory despite my shortcomings. Form may be temporary and class may be permanent, but the Holy Spirit is forever – I’ll choose the Spirit’s help over form or class, anytime.

After a post-sermon debrief with RY, some melancholy moments and an evening of personal reflection and self-critique, I refreshed the sermon contents and preached a significantly different sermon at G1 – new illustrations, analogies, activities, focus points as well as more internalising and tightening up of contents. (I’m actually slightly saddened by this phenomenon because G1 would almost always receive the more polished sermon while G2 would receive the raw one; my optimism, however, rephrases raw as original. Oh, euphemisms…) And this was the first instance I’ve reviewed my contents so many times; so I reviewed it again this afternoon and here are the key points in my sermon as well as my own lessons learnt, in no particular order of importance:

  • Let us become the “Encouragement Safety Net” and the “Pedestal Platform” for each other.
  • What does it take to be a “good man, full of the Spirit and of faith”? Answer: Encouragement! (It works both ways, get it?)
  • If we want to be like the Spirit, then we must do what the Spirit does – to encourage!
  • Barnabas was called the “Son of Encouragement”; if your friends were to rename you today, what would your new name be? What would you be a son or a daughter of?
  • What the Holy Spirit does for us on the inside, we should do for others on the outside.
  • The key to creating a culture of encouragement is hoping and praying to be encouraged by others (passive), while making every effort to encourage others (active).
  • Encouragement is beneficial for both the encourager and the encouraged.
  • Not everyone can be a Paul but everyone can be a Barnabas; not everyone can be a leader but everyone can be a supporter.
  • Encouraging others is not about you or how well or badly you do it, but about what the Spirit can do through you.
  • Our common ground is how broken and wretched we are – hence we certainly can emphathise with everyone regardless of age or life experiences.
  • Everyone needs a person to believe in him, a “no-matter-what” person – through valleys, mountains, victories and defeats.
  • The ministry of encouragement has a long-term effect in the lives of young people; so we should be patient with one another as God is patient with us, for if we wait long enough, they might surprise us with something good one day.
  • Encouragement influences us in whether we finish pathetically or emphatically – it is the extra strength that we can give to and find from other people.
  • You can encourage people you don’t know by affirming them on what they did and not who they are.
  • You cannot stop someone from falling – that is inevitable – but you can stop them from crashing.

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I look ahead and anticipate the preparation of the next New Testament character. Watch this space!

nice is never good enough.

Here’s what the Spirit inspired me to share with RL during our lunch today in the context of a boy-girl relationship (or I’d go as far as to say that this is applicable to any relationship):

“A selfish boyfriend cares for his own needs before his girlfriend’s. A good boyfriend puts the needs of his girlfriend before his own. A godly boyfriend desires God’s best for his girlfriend.”

I’ve advocated umpteen times to some of my close girl friends that “nice” is never good enough. *pssst* Girls, don’t soften your heart to a guy pursuing you with honeyed words, fanciful gifts or sweet acts of kindness because that’s exactly what he had planned to do to win your heart, isn’t it? Instead, test his christian character, question his spiritual maturity, examine his moral values and enquire about his journey with the Lord; these are more essential qualities that would set apart a godly man from a good worldly man.

In Ephesians 5, we read that wives are to “submit to [their] husbands… …in everything”. A few verses later, we read that husbands are to “love [their] wives… …to make [them] holy”. I’d like to think that wives are to submit to their husbands on the condition that husbands love their wives (although I do know admirable wives who submit to unloving husbands). While we are to aspire to demonstrate unconditional agape love, we should remember that there’s only One who is capable of showing such divine love. Nonetheless, the standard of a husband’s love towards his wife is set extremely high – as Christ loves the Church. Now Christ loved the Church to the extent of redeeming her with His own blood – that has to be the extent of love that husbands ought to demonstrate towards their wives, no?

While I may not yet be married, I think I might just be able to understand this concept. You see, I’ve had my fair share of (bad) relationship history and conduct which I am never proud of. However, with HY, I find myself drawing strength to love her not by my own efforts but by God’s grace. In fact, the only thing I tell myself is to love God more than yesterday – this is the source of my love for HY. It is due to this love that I have for God that causes me to embrace her flaws and forgive her mistakes as well as to change myself for the better and humble myself to serve her. I do not believe that I will be able to continue to accomplish this on my own merits. And because HY knows that I love her deeply, she trusts me; from this trust births the foundation of her natural submission towards me (or alternatively phrased, towards my love for her). There’s no rocket science in this Biblical model; hence I say I can comprehend what the Apostle Paul was talking about.

So in a nutshell, if I may audaciously conclude, girls should be on the lookout for boys who love God. And boys (as leaders of relationships) should just focus on loving God more everyday. I always believe that instead of searching for the right person, you ought to be the right person (and the right people will start to search for you).

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