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enjoying a checkpoint before ending up at a checkmate.

By the time this post is published, I would have preached a total of 10 sermons since “Always And Forever” at Revival Service. I had the privilege to speak at two youth camps this month and I am penning this entry before my final session tonight. Frankly speaking, I am exhausted – physically and mentally especially – but I am reinvigorated spiritually, because of the amount that I had learnt through my preparation for these messages.

The weekend before Grace Retreat, I accomplished mission (almost) impossible and preached four freshly written sermons over three days. And in the past 30 hours, I delivered three messages. It was a grueling process (mainly due to the lack of rest and the constant demand to develop my content) and it forced me to change the way I normally delivered my content – by preaching without a full manuscript – and I must admit that I thoroughly enjoyed the change.

My dependence on the Holy Spirit to guide and keep me on track had never been higher and the sense of satisfaction had never been deeper. I felt a lot more natural when I’m not bounded by a manuscript; it gave me freedom, spontaneity of speech and truly allowed the Spirit to determine the words I uttered. This was a new milestone in my journey as a preacher and I thank the Lord for giving me the grace to grow into it. (There’s still a long way to go though…)

I preached “Leadership = Lead Your Sheep”, “Will I Catch A Grenade For Ya?” and “My Neighbour Is A Spy!” (twice) that weekend and I’d like to think I have made progress as a preacher. Shireen Lai once told me (perhaps prophetically), “Get used to this – it’s the life of an itinerant speaker”. I was a little embarrassed by that statement because I (still) feel severely inadequate as a preacher – I know I am a decent communicator, but I still lack (and long for) the connection of Ps Ronald, the relevance of Ps Benny and the profoundness of Ps Edmund; I strive (and sometimes struggle) towards these things as I attempt to grow into this role without any theological education (yet). The most common advice I’m given however, is to find my own style of preaching – something I’m still trying to figure out. It’s a steep learning curve so I thank God for His generous grace.

On a side note, what I also enjoyed about speaking at other youth groups, besides expanding my communication repertoire and gaining exposure and experience, is connecting with youths outside R-AGE. I try to add these new friends on FaceBook as soon as I can so that I am able to remember their names and my brief interaction with them. And at the end of each session, I will share the same sentiments as my Shepherds (who accompanied me to minister at these youth camps) – we are grateful to be a part of R-AGE that is now a part of us.

I also sense my heart for the Church (the body of Christ) being enlarged as I get a feel of the needs in other youth ministries – that is something that is definitely caught, not taught. However, I am just at the beginning of what (I hope) is a long and rewarding pilgrimage of preaching the Word… There’s so much more that I have and need to learn before I can call myself a proper preacher of God’s Word; this realisation keeps me humble in light of the applause that I receive from people; I must always remember to bring both criticism and compliments before the Lord, and to ask Him to help me make sense of it.

Well, it’s a relief for me to know that the next time I preach (in R-AGE, besides a session at another youth group in early July) is at the end of August so I’m going to make full use of this preaching hiatus to sink my roots even deeper into the Word of God. It’s also going to be a time for me to catch up on the Leading and Mentoring pillars of my daily ministry. And up(a)grading my Interceding life is part of what I hope to achieve in the coming months.

In the meantime, I’d like to direct your attention to Huiyi’s insights from “Will I Catch A Grenade For Ya?” Oh, and if I haven’t made it clear enough… I absolutely love preaching the Word of God – what an immense privilege to share His Word with young people! (: For now, I shall take Peter Chao’s advice to “Focus on the preacher [I] will become and not on the preaching [I] will deliver”. What a timely reminder for me to keep growing and developing!

And as always, I covet your prayers. (:

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top ten prayer needs – would you intercede?

On Tuesday, I led prayer time in the office and so I’d like to share the prayer pointers here. If you feel led to pray with me or are looking for items to pray for, I invite you to pray along with us.

  • the church-changing campaign: the 40 days of community campaign that might possibly define Grace AG.
  • the elders and deacons: board members with important roles and lay leaders with influence would serve with authority and anointing.
  • the general elections: voters to decide based on cognition and not emotion; campaigners not to make empty promises; Christian leaders to get voted in; wisdom, righteousness and integrity to be hallmarks of the next Parliament.
  • the internal revival: our repentance, God’s revelation, our reliance on God and for us to move into radical action.
  • the fathers of Grace AG: a spiritual awakening that would cause fathers to rise up in their roles and start connecting with their children, court their wives, concentrate on what truly matters, correct prioritising in their careers and consistent Christ-like conduct in all their arenas.
  • the Grace AG evolution: restoration and reconciliation of relationships; revival, revitalisation and renewal; redevelopment, rebuilding and re-appeal of the building programme; regeneration of leaders.
  • the Grace Retreat: in line with the theme, the Church must remember that church may be some members’ only opportunity of experiencing family; that we would bond-build-battle, in that order.
  • the next generation: that is not defined by age, for every generation has a generation after them; help the future generation to surpass the present generation; help the next generation reaching their potential as the current generation impart lives to them.
  • the state of the world: be it Bin Laden, earthquakes, persecution of churches or tensions between countries, the world is in a bad shape and we must intercede for it.
  • the weekend encounters: to approach weekend services with a sense of expectation and unexpectedness; preachers and worship leaders to have a word in season from the Lord to the congregation.

A few of us are truly sensing that something good is going to happen. Will you be a part of us or apart from us?

this one’s for you, ‘O’ level students.

Please forgive me for not being able to write as regularly as before; juggling a full-time job and a part-time education has been challenging. I’ve spent the best parts of the last few nights working on my assignment. I felt a sense of pride when I submitted it just now; not because I think it’s good, but because I think I have worked hard for it. I haven’t felt so driven about academia since I prepared for my ‘O’ levels.

I told myself that for every assignment or project that I embark on, I’ll try to make it relevant to my job. It helps me to stay motivated as I know it will give me a greater insight into my work. I’m thankful that I was able to do that for this assignment; the task was to come up with a business plan for a communications company. And I found myself investing so much time and energy into it because I truly believe that it is a business plan that might actually materialise in days to come! I’m excited to receive my lecturer’s comments because I know the business plan will be further sharpened.

Anyway, I am writing tonight not just to silence the days of silence, but to also share something I wrote when I was 18 years old. It was an article for Grace Pointer and I’d like to feature it tonight because I know the ‘O’ Levels are about to begin in a week! Nonetheless, you should read this if you’re sitting for your exams soon.

Memoirs of my secondary school days

Cherish your secondary school days while you still can. In retrospect, my days in the navy-blue and white of the ACS uniform will be penned down in my memory banks forever; that is because primary and tertiary education may never be as enjoyable as the secondary school days.

Needless to say, your secondary school education plays a pivotal role in your immediate future – your ‘O’ level results point the way to your academic future.

Back in Secondary 1 and 2, I was someone one would label “hate to love and love to hate”. I was a nightmare to my teachers, schoolmates and family members (they can bear witness to my horrendous testimony). On hindsight, my two years in shorts leave me in revulsion of myself. I would not be surprised if I had schoolmates and teachers waiting to stone me after school. Strangely, I was appointed class monitor, and it did not take too long for my classmates to boycott me, and that ultimately lead to me getting the boot.

Ironically, I was appointed as prefect in Secondary 2. Unfortunately, the prefect master had to remove me from the prefectorial board due to my ailing grades.

However, I scored exceptionally well in secondary 1 – I even qualified for an academic award. Alas, this diligent attitude did not follow through to secondary 2 and I managed to get 1st position in class, from the back! My grades progressively got from bad to worse in secondary 3 and I was close to getting retained!

My walk with God was perpetually in fluctuation. I received Christ just ahead of my entry into secondary school and I backslid throughout secondary 1. In the earlier part of secondary 2, I was what one would term a “Sunday Christian”. I vividly reminisce being an angel on Sundays and hurling abysmal obscenities the day after. I rededicated my life during the 1997 Grace retreat and I embarked on a slow, excruciating climb back to where God has called me to be.

Weeks prior to my ‘O’ level examinations, I was way behind my classmates. One of my regrets would unquestionably be the manner that I loafed in secondary school. That resulted in the doubling of my studying pains – I had to put in twice the effort to get identical results. My standards were so miserable I scored an atrocious 39 points for my preliminary examinations! But somehow, God had planned ahead for me – He assigned my uncle to Mission: Nearly Impossible.

Prior and during the ‘O’ level examinations period, my uncle (AH) spent every other Sunday taking me out to lunch. On top of the free lunch, the advice he dispensed was invaluable; it proved to catalyse my rude awakening. “Joey, study as hard as you can, I don’t want you to look back and regret your efforts”, he urged. Those simple words got stuck in and never left my mind.

Thereafter, I furiously pursued my books. I studied, day and night, night and day. Feel free to ask my mum or my sister how vigorously I studied. 15 minutes was all I took for meals, and then it was immediately back to my books. I had to master everything I failed to learn in 2 years, all in the short duration of 3 weeks! My room was literally sprawled with notes, worksheets and all varieties of paper. I’ve never used my brain this much in those four years.

It was an anxious moment on the day when the results were released. To be honest, there really was not much meditation left to do because the papers were already marked. One’s prayers should be done before and during the examinations. Nevertheless, I uttered a final prayer, “God, please give me 12 points!” (That was the safe aggregate for qualification into the mass communication studies course) And God did! God’s grace allowed me to enter the course of my aspirations. I knew I deserved all of 12 points because I seriously studied hard. However, I am certain I will still come to terms with a score exceeding 12 points because I have already strived for my best. God desires for you to try your best. And I mean your BEST. In fact, that is the ONLY thing God asks from you in every aspect of your life – to do your very best.

Young people, my advice to you is: STUDY LIKE MAD! Romance your books like never before! It would be tragic to receive your ‘O’ level results next year and then wail like a baby, wishing you had studied harder. It may seem hard to motivate yourself to study hard now, but I promise you it would be even harder to motivate yourself if you repeat. I almost did in secondary 3; but by God’s grace, I was spared from the anguish.

To folks in the normal stream: you have to work just as hard, if not harder! Since when MOE said normal stream students were permitted to slack? Do not be disheartened by the extra year, turn the tables around and capitalise on the extra 365 days to score even better than the rest! There is simply no excuse to be sluggish and slothful.

You must realise that if you do not study hard, it is YOU who will bear the consequences, not your parents, teachers, or your friends. Get my drift? Hence, study REALLY hard. Embrace your education; it makes the arduous process easier. There will always be light at the end of the tunnel; ensure your light shines for all to see (Matthew 5:16). Run towards your books; do not let them run after you.

top ten reasons to rejoice for our Dawson flat.

As HY and I experience the Dawson saga, it doesn’t just give us the assurance that God has good plans for us, but also that He has the perfect timing. Hence, the best thing we should do, always, is to trust in His gifts and believe in His timing. I will be detailed in this thanksgiving because I want to give God the full glory. This will be a long entry.

The Dawson BTO (Built-To-Order) project was designed by award-winning architects and centrally located in the Queenstown district. As a result, around 10,000 people applied for it, making it over-subscribed by a few times. We applied for a four-room flat because we know that by 2016, we probably would have just started our own family.

There were 1,102 four-room flats available and our queue number was 1,302, meaning we needed 200 applicants to drop out before we were eligible. However, we actually needed more than 200 applicants to drop out because these 1102 units were divided to meet the ethnicity quota. This basically means that we needed Chinese Singaporeans to drop out if we wanted to smell a chance! Nonetheless, we made it by God’s grace and here are ten reasons why we are still rejoicing and praising God for His providence.

I. Balloting Success. By God’s grace we were successful on our first attempt – quite a miracle considering that there people who have repeatedly applied without success. I remember telling HY that the more we had to depend on “luck”, the more confident I was for God is in control and that we need not depend on our achievements.

II. Right Phase of Relationship. Timing was key in our application. We had arrived at a point in our relationship where we were ready to move on to the next phase of our courtship. We felt that we were ready to progress in our relationship.

III. Additional Housing Grant. Couples with a combined income of less than $5,000 would receive additional housing grant (AHG) of up to $40,000 from HDB. Basically, the lower the combined income, the higher the AHG awarded. This worked out perfect for us because by God’s divine timing, we applied for this when HY was a student without income and when I drew the modest salary of my working life. Any earlier and I’d be on a better income, any later, and we’d have been on a higher combined income. Applications for Dawson opened in that perfect window. HDB actually requested for HY’s CPF statements only up to June 2010 – she began work on 1 July and would therefore have CPF contributions from July onwards! Get it?

IV. Staggered Downpayment. HDB created this payment method to encourage couples to settle down at a younger age. Those below 30 years old have the option to pay their deposit (10% of cost of flat) at two intervals – once at flat selection (now) and the other at keys collection (six years later). And as this is completely paid through CPF, it means that our cash-commitment amounts to zero (not because we have a lot in our CPF, but because of the AHG).

V. Queenstown District. One of the factors that helped us to increase our balloting chances was to be situated near one of our parents. To qualify for this, you’d need to stay within a 2km radius of your parents. Ghim Moh is over 4km from Dawson but because both estates belong to the Queenstown town council, we still qualify.

VI. Breakthrough with HY’s Parents. There was no easy way to ask HY’s parents for their approval and support for this application. We were so scared about this that we actually methodically prepared a detailed six-page FAQ as we tried to speculate the questions they might ask, and we even rehearsed the Q&A! This chat also took place at a time when there was slight tension in the family. It really took courage and a step of faith to present this to them. And their response took us by complete surprise, “Actually you don’t need to ask us because it’s your combined decision… But if you ask us, there’s no issue – this is a good deal – go ahead!” W-O-W!

VII. Centrality. In light of the current skyrocket prices of flats, our Dawson flat actually seems affordable (and almost a steal). It’s a great investment no matter how you look at it. One reason why we were attracted to the place was for its location – a 10-minute commute to almost anywhere (Ghim Moh, Holland Village, the Singapore CBD, Orchard Road, Harbourfront, Chinatown and City Hall), leopard-crawling distance to Grace Assembly of God and walking distance to Queenstown MRT.

VIII. Growth Spurt in Faith. We selected the flat on the fourth day of Grace Retreat. We spent most of the two weeks before our selection appointment refreshing the HDB website, checking how fast our quota was depleting. Our appointment was the second-last of the day and at the time of our selection, we were amongst the final 10 Chinese (i.e 10 more remaining units for the Chinese ethnicity). When we left HDB, there were only five units left. By 10am the next day, the Chinese ethnicity quota had completely depleted. Imagine the mental roller-coaster! Despite all that, we managed to select a high floor – 11th – and while it feels like a relatively low floor in a 47-level block, it was much higher than we had expected!

IX. Payment Commences in 2016. Yes, it will take half a decade for the flat to be ready but we see it as a good thing because it means that we’ll have more than enough time for our CPF to swell with nearly six years of monthly contributions. By then, we won’t even need to worry about additional cash injections because we could easily sustain the monthly repayments. This is significant; if we had purchased a resale flat, we’d require around $80,000 liquid cash (how!?) – half for Cash-Over-Valuation (COV) and half for renovations. Thank God we need not worry about that! In fact, we can take our time over to slowly and steadily save for renovations.

X. Housing Loan Eligibility. As this is a BTO, it means that our housing loan eligibility (HLE) would be reassessed when we collect the keys in 2016. This means that our HDB loan would be derived based on our combined income in 2016, instead of now, where it’d be based on only a single income. This is easily a difference of over $200,000 in loans! Can you imagine if we had to borrow that additional amount from a bank to finance a resale flat, or buy a $200,000 flat?

There’s so much more to thank God! For one, we are officially home-owners now and it’s a huge load off our chest. After all, purchasing a house is one of life’s milestones, and for us to nail it at 27 and 23 years old respectively, was beyond our expectations. To know that we’ve overcome this hurdle allows us to focus on building our relationship and making us even stronger than before. God is faithful indeed. All glory to Him alone!

but what if I cannot connect with youths anymore?

Even though I’ve only been with R-AGE as a full-time staff for nine months, it feels as if I’ve been doing it for nine years. I started serving as a youth leader when I was 17 years old and I “rose” through the “ranks” and have experienced almost every single ministry role before. Before I left for Shanghai, I must have been one of the youth leaders with the highest public profiles – surely everyone knew Joey Asher Tan.

Unfortunately (or fortunately), all these amounted to nothing.

I was severely humbled when I returned for my first Grace Retreat (the one with Life Game) and to my shock and horror (and massive disappointment), there were people who did not know who I was and those who knew me pretended like I didn’t exist – I don’t blame them – being physically away does result in relational drifting, and that is manifested in friendships that are eventually downgraded to acquaintance-ship. I have since learnt that youth ministry is transient and that no leader, however big his or her profile, is indispensable. The reality is, one day youths may forget who RY is or what CX has done for the ministry. I always think that if it could happen to JH, SH, DL or JT (leaders of yesteryear) it could definitely happen to me.

And you know what? I’m actually thankful for that.

It challenges me to think beyond myself and to build for the next generation of leaders and youths, for the future R-AGE and Grace Assembly of God, and ultimately, the next Joey Asher (i.e. the next youth minister who’s going to take over me). And yes, I’ve already identified my potential successor(s). I’m so thankful that this ministry is never going to be about me. And the best thing about it is that it’s not even down to my own choices or “something that I’ve set out to do” but by the innate and proven ephemeral nature of youth ministry. It forces all of us to think beyond today. I absolutely embrace that because I’m in the business of guiding and helping the generations after me to surpass everything I have achieved and will ever establish.

By the way, I’m quite astonished with the way the Spirit leads my pen.

Actually this wasn’t what I had intended to write about today; what I had wanted to share was the advice I gave to AS this afternoon. She asked, “But what if I cannot connect with the youths anymore?” I struggled with exactly that when I first re-joined and attempted to re-connected with R-AGE and I could really identify with her. So I gave her three pointers which I applied to help me overcome this real challenge.

  1. Ask God to give you a heart to love the youths and hands to serve them.
  2. Be consistent and always be around for them – to listen to and guide them – they’ll open up to you sure enough.
  3. Be patient with yourself and give yourself a trial period of at least three months before you evaluate your progress.

I met LW for an early dinner and I was so encouraged by his appetite to learn and grow. This boy’s got immense potential in the ministry and I can’t wait to see him grow into a man of God; it heartens me greatly to know that the ministry is filled with young men who are as hungry as he is; the future of R-AGE looks bright indeed. Praise the Lord!

the seven common struggles of leadership – part two.

Two days ago, I wrote on the first three struggles of leadership – leadership without relationship, leadership without encouragement and leadership without vision. I shall complete the article as I said I would.

Fourthly, there are some who lead with laziness – rephrased in layman language, these are leaders who simply cannot be bothered. It becomes dangerous when a leader loses his momentum, hence it is imperative that he prevents this by making a conscious decision not to slack. Complacency often takes place during times of success.

Fifthly, there will always be a group of leaders who lead in disarray – they are misplaced in their position, though for some this is no fault of their own. A leader who doesn’t utilise his strengths will obviously struggle in his weaknesses. So if you are a leader who has the necessary influence and authority, be sure to put the right people in the right places; you tend to do the wrong things if you’re placed in the wrong place.

Sixthly, there are those who lead without details. I’m glad that I found good opinions on the importance on micro-management here and here. Get this clear – you don’t expect what you don’t inspect. I’m of the firm belief that knowledge is king and the more you know about your objectives, challenges and people, the higher your chances of success as a leader. That’s when excellence comes into the picture.

Last but not least, I think the seventh common struggle of leadership is to lead without belief. You need to believe in whom you have empowered and in your vision and objectives. To believe in people is to trust them to deliver what you’ve delegated them to do. But this goes beyond mere words; a good leader follows up his words with action – the call of leadership is to journey with people; this is most effort-intensive but if you hang around long enough, you’ll see the fruits of your labour.

That concludes my short reflection on leadership struggles based on my own experiences. I’m off to Grace Retreat from 7th June til 11th June and if you can, do pray that I will be able to get a fresh touch from God and to receive a new vision from Him for my life and for my ministry. I desire to be a life-impacting and life-changing youth minister.

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?

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