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humble pie is the steady diet of champions.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” — Matthew 5:3

I have mixed feelings about tonight’s prayer meeting.

Please do not misunderstand me; I sincerely believe that every prayer offered in those 60 minutes was uttered with the right intentions – to honour God, to spur each other on in the faith and to intercede for Grace AG.

But honestly, amidst the spiritual euphoria that was brewing in the room, typical of any church activity after a spirit-rousing church camp, I believe with all my heart that the way to sustain your post-retreat afterglow is tell yourself that you CANNOT do it on your own. That was what the Lord impressed upon my heart halfway through J333.

So young people (and adults alike), before you go around thinking you can spread the fire to those who didn’t go for the retreat, consider this instead: the way to prevent spiritual arrogance and complacency, and to promote spiritual growth and maturity, is to advance with humility on bended knees.

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” — Psalm 51:17

The truth is, we can’t do it on our own. At least, that’s what I’ve learnt after 15 years of attending Grace Retreats. And quite frankly, I’m predicting the same eventual deflated outcome for you if you are intending to depend on your own efforts.

Therefore, I submit to you my honest thoughts. Serve other people and consider their needs before yours, ask the Holy Spirit to empower you, and be humble and the Lord will lift you up.

“Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” — James 4:7-10

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the remnants of my surprise Shanghai visit two years ago.

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

This is my walk down memory lane…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

primitive means to a deeper connection.

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

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

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

grow the ministers, not the ministry.

By the time I return from Perth, I’d have arrived at my two-year mark in full-time ministry. Time has passed remarkably fast but it feels like I’ve been doing this my whole life. There’s so much to thank God for in my short pilgrimage as a youth pastor.

At the turn of 2009, Ps Ronald gave me the awesome privilege of leading R-AGE@GII. When I took over the reins, the ministry was hovering around the 70 pax mark on average. Today, by the grace of God, He has grown the quality and the quantity of R-AGE@GII to around 120+ pax every week. Praise God for His faithfulness!

Many pastors, parents and peers have been kind towards me; they are generous with their encouragement and commend me often enough on the work that they see happening among the youths in Grace II. Time and again, I will accept their compliments and thank them for it but deep down in my heart I know I must bring it before the Lord.

In my time with God, I ask Him not to let me believe my own hype and I make it a point to be the first to discredit myself. The Lord showed me two things which I believe will govern the way I approach accolades.

Firstly, it is the Lord who blesses (as well as takes away). Every victory and defeat in ministry comes as a result of His will and not because we have worked hard. God alone decides for Himself when the ministry will grow, stagnate or decline. His timing is always perfect and His ways are always higher. As we continue to serve Him, let us remember that it is God who makes all things possible, not for our glory but for His alone!

Secondly, the Lord reminds me that He doesn’t just use one passionate pastor, but a team of dedicated leaders. Yes, I’ve matured through how He’s been developing my talents and gifts, but the growth of the ministry cannot be supported by just the point man’s growth. The Lord reminds me that the ministry has the platform to grow because its leaders are growing.

At full strength: my beloved R-AGE@GII Shepherds at our planning retreat on National Day. (Photo credits: CK)

As I type this entry at the airport lounge, I can’t help but to imagine in my mind’s eye the nervous faces and timid countenances of some of my leaders when they started with me; these fresh-faced shepherds looked afraid, unsure and blur – they had no idea what was coming their way! But take a look at them now… Confident, assured and more ready than ever to take on any challenge that I would throw at them.

Their attitudes have been sharpened, their faith increased, their competences leveled up, their heart for the youths have grown, their leadership confidence has soared… And I could go on and on. I am immensely proud of them… Indeed the Lord is good to those who serve, love and fear Him.

As a result of their individual growth, the ministry has naturally grown as well. So today, regardless of which level of leadership you’re at, just remember three things:

  • First, (if I may borrow Ps Edmund Chan’s words,) take care of the depth of your life! A growing minister is always better than a stagnating one!
  • Next, give your priority to investing time, energy and resource to growing the next generation of leaders. If they grow individually, your ministry naturally grows collectively.
  • Finally, always remember that it is the Lord who enables and holds all things together by His grace and power, for His glory and honour alone.

You can’t do it on your own, no matter how exceptionally talented you may be!

(Now, I have a better understanding of why Ps Edmund says that he prizes his mentoring ministry above his preaching ministry… Who wouldn’t?)

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)

interrupting heaven, everyday!

Enjoy this sermon preached by my favourite preacher in Grace AG – Ps Ronald Yow. This is part IV of the sermon series that R-AGE is embarking on until the end of the year: Spiritual Disciplines – Training In Holiness. You can download the audio recording here.

Remember, there is no short-cut to holiness, godliness doesn’t take place overnight and Christlikeness is a daily process; there is no substitute for QT if you desire intimacy with God. So have you spent time with God today? Begin with a simple five-minute prayer!

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if the new Grace AG was a superhero…

Last month, I attended the Grace AG combined pastoral staff retreat. During this day-retreat, the Grace AG senior leadership team briefed the pastorate on what the New Grace would entail. Personally, I look forward to heralding the New Grace because it represents a new era (so exciting!). And the pioneering spirit in me always gets fired up when history is about to be made.

I was tasked to lead an ice-breaker that took place after lunch, to nullify the graveyard shift. Of course, I never enjoyed conducting anything boring or normal, so I led a 15-minute structured experience with my colleagues; they had to SMS me their answers and play a game of charades using their answers, to achieve my two activity objectives.

Well, I always believe that ministry must be fun and enjoyable; so this is what you get when you ask pastors (some of whom are more than twice my age!) to use a cartoon character or a superhero to describe the New Grace, and explain why.

Imagine the bewildered look on my face when I received their messages (and when I watched them attempt to act it out)! It was hilarious! My personal favourites were Ps Joyce’s and Ps Kieran’s. Champion answers. Haha! (:

  • Alvin: The New Grace will be like Wonder Woman because the New Grace will be filled with wonder.
  • Andrew: The New Grace will be like The Incredible Hulk because the New Grace will be green and strong.
  • Bee Ngor: The New Grace will be like dynamite because the New Grace will be a powerhouse.
  • Benjamin: The New Grace will be like Green Lantern because the New Grace will create new things out of imagination.
  • Ps Calvin: The New Grace will be like The Lion of Judah because the New Grace will charge forward.
  • Cuixian: The New Grace will be like The Care Bears because the New Grace will care even more.
  • Ps David: The New Grace will be like Mighty Mouse because the New Grace will be humble, gentle, friendly and brave.
  • Emily: The New Grace will be like James Bond because the New Grace will experience great breakthroughs.
  • Henry: The New Grace will be like Wonder Woman because the New Grace will fly in a transparent plane.
  • Jadene: The New Grace will be like Megatron because the New Grace will be transformed from inside out to love God and people.
  • Jasvin: The New Grace will be like Iron Man because the New Grace will have a new heart.
  • Joey (Asher): The New Grace will be like Uzumaki Naruto because the New Grace will surpass the Old Grace.
  • Joey (Tan): The New Grace will be like Mr Bean because the New Grace will be more entertaining than before.
  • Joyce: The New Grace will be like Chan Loong because the New Grace will fight like ever before. —> ???
  • Judy: The New Grace will be like Doraemon because the New Grace will be supernatural.
  • Kenny: The New Grace will be like Thor because the New Grace will be mightier than before.
  • Kieran: The New Grace will be like Homer Simpson because the New Grace will all be crazy and yellow. —> !!!
  • Laura: The New Grace will be like Transformers because the New Grace will transform with time.
  • Leon: The New Grace will be like Barney because the New Grace will love each other as one big happy family.
  • Matthew (Tan): The New Grace will be like The Incredible Hulk because the New Grace will explode like never before.
  • Matthew (Wai): The New Grace will be like X-Men because the New Grace will be empowered with supernatural ability.
  • May: The New Grace will be like Kung Fu Panda because the New Grace will help more people.
  • Mei Lian: The New Grace will be like Wong Fei Hung because the New Grace will fight very powerfully.
  • Mei Mei: The New Grace will be like The King of kings because the New Grace will have victory after victory.
  • Meng Cham: The New Grace will be like Mr Fantastic because the New Grace will be stretched beyond what is humanly possible.
  • Patrick: The New Grace will be like Spiderman because the New Grace will spread its web wider than before.
  • Peck Yin: The New Grace will be like Big Bird because the New Grace will have more children coming to Him.
  • Poh Suan: The New Grace will be like Mickey Mouse because the New Grace will be refreshing, revolutionary and have transformational change.
  • Regina: The New Grace will be like Doraemon because the New Grace will see new things coming up often.
  • Ronald: The New Grace will be like Transformers because the New Grace will transform the world.
  • Scott: The New Grace will be like Captain America because the New Grace will be able to transform to a strong church that is able to battle the enemy.
  • Serene: The New Grace will be like Captain Planet because the New Grace will be used by God to save the Earth.
  • Suhui: The New Grace will be like Transformers because the New Grace will transform to meet the needs of the new generation.
  • Wai Ching: The New Grace will be like Charlie’s Angels because the New Grace will think better.
  • Walter: The New Grace will be like Batman because the New Grace will fight for the weak.
  • Woh Kit: The New Grace will be like 耶稣 because the New Grace will 将有更多爱和神迹.
How would YOU describe the New Grace (using this format)? Share it with me!
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