I met up with two of my closest friends today – Lionel Koh over lunch and Joel Tay over a late night chat.
There was no need for airs or icebreakers. We just dived straight into a heart-to-heart talk, being as honest and straightforward as we knew how to, without the fear of being judged. I am thankful that God has blessed me with buddies whom I can be truly be myself with.
It’s tiring (sometimes, honestly speaking) when you relate to people as a leader or pastor or mentor. It’s refreshing to just be Joey for a change, to be among people who grew up and will grow old with me. The older you get, the fewer they get.
A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. — Proverbs 17:17
Pray for me, for I’m losing sight of the goals of my Lent. I must persevere… I must stay focused. I want to experience that breakthrough.
Over the next 24 hours, I will celebrate my 8th 21st birthday, by having lunch with none other than my best friend, Lionel, and dinner with my fiancée, Huiyi. I’m just two years from turning three decades old – that’s more than twice the age of the new youths initiated into youth ministry. I feel older but more alive than ever!
- By December, my salutation would have changed.
- By January, my ministry responsibilities would have increased.
- By February, I would have completed my undergraduate programme.
- By March, I would have accomplished another of my childhood dreams.
- By April, we would have completed the pre-wedding photo-shoot.
- By August, Huiyi and I would have changed our marital status.
- By September, I would have embarked on my postgraduate programme.
- By this time next year, I should be in New Zealand with my wife, enjoying my honeymoon.
That’s a lot of things to look forward to in the next 365 days. But before I arrive at next October, There are 28 reasons to be thankful, most of which are for people who close to my heart. I believe that people define lives, not possessions or pursuits.
1. Huiyi: My fiancée has become such a big part of my life, ministry, personality and growth. There’s no one who knows and understands me better than she does. She is the strength behind my passion and the stability within my authenticity; her grace towards me and her forgiveness of my tainted past gives me more reasons to believe in young people. Without a doubt, she is the most important person in my life.
2. Home: My family has made my house feel like home. My room is the best place to be at night. I will miss it once renovations begin to transform it from an overgrown teenager’s to a newlyweds’ room.
3. Maisie: I’ve enjoyed a relationship resurgence with my beloved younger sister, and watching her flourish in her career and achieving her dreams makes me beam with pride. I love her with all my heart.
4. Mummy: Honestly, watching my mother slow down is something I am learning to cope with. Her years of sacrifice is now taking its toll on her. It is my prayer that as my mother ages, my sister and I will adapt to her changes. Home, Maisie, Mummy – the next three thanksgivings.
5-8. Family-to-be: In the last year, my knowledge of Bryan, Uncle Kheng Leong, Aunty Rosalind and Xianyi has grown. Our conversations have moved beyond the superficial and I am thankful because I am never one who likes to scratch surfaces. I look forward to getting to understand them a little more intimately in the next year. I believe by faith that my entire family will coming to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
9-10. Shepherds: My family outside of my family is one whom I’ve the privilege of shepherding. Recently on youthministry.com, it sent out an article on “Sharing Your Life With Your Team” and I see it as God’s way of affirming how I’m doing ministry with them. Huiyi and I always remind each other that it is our absolute delight, honour and privilege to have them play the role of groomsmen and bridesmaid at our wedding. But beyond that, I look forward to doing life with two groups of them; the boys – Keith, Bradley, Kun Jie, Caleb, David, Shavinn; and the girls – Melody, Natalina, Yixian, Melissa, Andrea and Sheena.
11. Grace AG: Six days ago on 15 October, I arrived at my 2nd full year in full-time ministry with Grace AG. I still feel like it’s a dream job because I don’t feel like I’ve worked a single day in the last 730 days. I wake up everyday feeling unbelievably thankful for all the way my church believes in me. And it has been fantastic working with friends – Ps Cuixian, Ps Jadene and Suhui.
12. Ps Ronald Yow: The one most responsible for my career joy is none other than my irreplaceable boss, mentor and role model. He has been unbelievable in guiding me as a youth minister and profiling me as the youth pastor. Thank you…
13. R-AGE: My my, look at how the youth group has grown! It has been a joy pastoring the flock at Bukit Batok and I look forward to journeying with those at Tanglin Road in the coming days.
14-20. Buddies: It’s never good to walk alone. I am delighted to call Lionel, Kurk, Gideon, Johann, Kenneth, Joel and Cheryl my contemporaries whom I check on, and who keep me in check.
20. RMIT: I never expected myself to perform so well in school. It is indeed by the grace of God because I know that I’m not a brainiac. I have also enjoyed learning alongside responsible classmates, and from the occasional good lecturer.
21. Ps Edmund Chan: In the last 13 years, there has only been one man has spoken so deeply into my life into such a deep-seated issue that no one has ever ventured into… Being with him in Perth was already a treat, but the moment that I will never erase from my mind is the lunch we had together on the last day. I couldn’t stop my tears from running down my face.
22-23. Mentors: I have the privilege of being mentored by greatly esteemed and highly respected men of God. And there are three I’d like to thank God for. Peter Chao and Ps Benny Ho who has looked out for me, given me their time and attention, dispensed invaluable advice, pointed me in the right direction, and most importantly, believed in me. I cheekily (but audaciously) asked the Lord for mentors to guide me in leadership, preaching and growing deep, and He sent me the best in the business…
24. Mentorees: I am a product of mentoring and it has been instinctive for me to mentor others. Over the year, I’ve had the wonderful privilege and opportunity to journey with young people bursting with capacity and capabilities. I still believe that the greatest gift you could ever give to a young person, is to believe in him. It’s been an absolute joy!
25. Friends overseas: This year, I’ve spent Autumn and Spring with Chin Seng and Ervina in Perth and had the privilege of being Daniel Heng’s best man, who flew back from New Zealand to hold his wedding. (I would have loved to catch up with Liang Zhi in my last trip…)
26. Going overseas: It’s amazing how the Lord rewards my desire to travel with the most number of trips I’ve ever gone on in my life in one calendar year. I am always thankful to get out of Singapore – be it for mission trips, vacations or even just a short trip up North across the Causeway for a weekend getaway! May the frequency increase with age!
27. A deeper hunger: I find myself desiring God with increasing intensity… More than just the things of God (books, sermons, conferences, ministry) but God Himself. For He alone satisfies. If Jesus is all, then Jesus is enough.
28. A consistent devotion: Of course I’ve missed some days and in some periods, even a couple of weeks. (Even pastors struggle!) But if I were to put my finger on why my hunger for and knowledge of God has increased, it is simply down to spending time with Him regularly… And just enjoying His presence… And allowing His living Word to breathe life into me.
I’ve probably missed out a couple of items or people but well, these are the first 28 thoughts that come to my mind… So here goes, happy birthday to me! I pray that I’ll easily have 29 items to thank God for 365 days later! (:
The song that defined our relationship thus far (and our would-be proposal) was 让我照顾你 by 五月天. I rewrote the verses to contextualise it into our relationship and spent an evening recording it at Johann’s place. I spent a week rehearsing the song on my guitar, after I spent an evening learning how to play it on the guitar from Joel. I don’t play the guitar regularly so my tender finger tips were on the verge of splitting due to a week of unfamiliar overuse.
I am an ambitious sanguine and the original idea was to get Joel to teach me how to play the song on the piano. The plan was to perform the song on the piano and sing it live to her. It was a double-challenge with a difficulty that was magnified four times over.
Firstly, I can barely bang chords on the piano. Secondly, I’m a typical ACS boy and typical ACS boys do not sing Chinese songs. Thirdly, I had to do play the piano and sing the chinese song simultaneously while composing myself in public. Fourthly, I gave myself only a week to master this. And finally, unlike an acoustic guitar that uses battery power, a portable keyboard required a power outlet for it to produce sound.
Basically, it only seemed like a sound decision (no pun intended) to do something a lot more achievable – play the guitar and sing. It was actually Joel’s wisdom that helped me make this decision. He lovingly cautioned, “Joe, if you really want to play the piano and sing this song to her, I will do everything I can to help you succeed. But don’t you want to be able to look her in the eye and sing those lyrics to her instead of focussing on the next piano keys to play?”
So I heeded his advice and reverted to my tried and tested Cort.
Next chapter: the most romantic amateur Chinese song.
Looking back to before the recce trip, I remember asking Cheryl about her recent experience at USS. She was the one who told me about the Pavilion and how the sun set beautifully over there. That actually prompted the site visit. She even sent me some of the photos she took at the Pavilion when she was there. It was important that I saw it for myself.
I also consulted Joel, who visited USS with Cheryl (and two others). Both of them gave me insights into what I would expect at USS as a visitor. Rudith however, could provide real advice on what I could or couldn’t do in USS, since she worked there. So I took the liberty to randomly and suddenly message her via FaceBook.
And within an hour, I received her reply via WhatsApp! I explained to her why I could not add her as a friend on FaceBook and that our communication would have to be discreet.
Normally, Huiyi has full access to everything in my iPhone (since I have nothing to hide) but in those crucial weeks, I was cautious whenever I texted or received a message from someone. I couldn’t afford to give it away due to a careless mistake of concealment.
Anyway, Rudith goes on to play an important role in my proposal. And considering that I was a complete stranger to her, what she did for me spoke volumes about the generosity of her character. You’ll discover soon why I’ve said that…
Next chapter: the red tape that I couldn’t clear.
I started reading up on diamonds and began consulting married men like Victor and Joel on prices and procedures. Eventually, I went with Lionel’s jeweler instead. And like a best friend would, he accompanied me for the first time to where he got his engagement ring and wedding bands done, and informed me of how much I should roughly be coughing out for my ring.
I spent a good number of nights asking Mr Google for unique designs. And I also shamelessly brought Huiyi into the Lee Hwa’s and Love & Co’s not just to get her finger size but also to get a glimpse of the kind of design she fancied. I was convinced that she was neither pining for a big rock nor a hefty price tag, but a design that would be unique and evergreen. I eventually picked a diamond that wasn’t so big until it looked vulgar or too small until it looked cheapskate. To me, it was the perfect rock on the perfect setting that resulted in a perfect ring.
My research was complete. I knew my budget; I adapted concepts I got off the Internet and designed my engagement ring; I chose my rock and type of gold. And this ring-making process began way back in October. I made a several trips to the jeweler to ensure that the ring turned out the way I had envisioned it to be. By January, on my fourth trip there, I paid for and collected what would be the most beautiful engagement ring I have ever seen – so lovely I wore it a few times on my finger to imagine how it would look on her finger! I remember rehearsing that “Will You Marry Me?” scene with myself – using my right hand to put the ring on my left hand. I couldn’t wait to do it for real!
And at the back of the ring, I decided to engrave “Phil 2:1-11 ILYTTE”. It’s the passage of scripture that we’d like our wedding exhorter to preach from. We are inspired by God’s Word – how the Apostle Paul used the supremacy of Christ as an example for us to serve each other and consider each other better than ourselves. He instructed us not to think less of ourselves but to think of ourselves less.
In summary, these are the few things I’ve learnt about making the ultimate engagement ring, which I’d like to share with you:
- Steer clear of the mainstream brands and save yourself some money.
- Ensure that you have a buffer of around $100 along with your budget.
- Stick to your budget and do not be embarrassed by what you can afford.
- The ring is not about you. It’s about her; what’s pretty to you might be plain to her.
- Consult your peers, do your research well and do not be afraid to ask questions.
- You must know what you value more in a diamond – cut, clarity, carat or colour?
- Choose your setting well – the right design and type of gold accentuates the diamond.
- A lasting design trumps a contemporary one; do you want to get sick of looking at it?
- Don’t be ashamed to bargain with the jeweler; you don’t get to do it very often.
- Make your engagement ring way in advance – you never know when you need it!
The adage goes, “The most dangerous place is the safest place”. So I kept the engagement ring in an old cookie glass jar just below my television console. Every other week, I’d take it out to admire that wonderful work of art. I was extremely pleased with it and I badly wanted to share this excitement with my family. But I resisted the temptation of showing it to my sister and mother because I wanted Huiyi to be the first person (other than the jeweler and I) to see it .
The ring rested quietly in the cookie jar for four long months. And each time I neared it, I felt my heart palpitating.
Next chapter: the fire idea – Perth.
Probably our favourite photograph together, taken at the inaugural Rhema in 2006.
I have arrived at the 18th month of my journey with Grace AG and it has been an eye-opening experience. A perfect church doesn’t exist and Grace AG is no different; there are cracks and weaknesses in my church, just like there are in yours. (I’m throwing the “This-is-not-your-church-this-is-His-church” cliche out of the window – I’m not here to quibble over semantics.) But not everyone, be it a salaried minister or a serving member, will dare to make this statement:
“I love my church.”
And I’ve been privileged enough to meet men and women whom I’m confident will dare to make that statement – Lionel, Joel and Suhui, just to name a few. As for my colleagues, I only have superficial knowledge of the majority of them but I do have intimate knowledge of one man – Ps Ronald. And I know he loves his church. His passion for Grace AG has rubbed off not just on me, but on many others who have crossed his path.
One reason why I look toward Ps Ronald as a role model is that he is a home-grown pastor. (Sidetrack, but I humbly think that we need more home-grown ministers!) This man was once a rebellious teenager; he once served as a Sunday School superintendent; and I believe that in his 12 years serving full-time in Grace AG as a youth pastor, he has stepped on many toes in the name of advancing the church. I believe that all good leaders have an insatiable appetite to improve their organisation with whatever influence they have. Their attitude is always exemplary and inspirational. After all, attitude reflect leadership (Julius Campbell).
I am a passionate person and I am not ashamed of the way I communicate. A couple of days ago, I enjoyed a heated phone conversation with Ps Ronald; it was almost cathartic to have these occasional dialogues. No, we didn’t quarrel. I doubt we’ve ever quarreled outrightly. I love and respect him too much to fight against him. He has over the years led me by example and proven that he is fighting alongside me. You must have heard me say this time and again – everyone has a hero of faith and Ps Ronald is in my hall of fame.
I brought to him a couple of issues that were tussling in my head in an open and honest manner. And I didn’t mince my words. There aren’t many people who can convincingly tell me, “I know where you are coming from”, and have me believe them. And there aren’t many people who can make me feel like they’ve really heard what I had to say and understood every word of it. Ps Ronald is one of the few who can cut it with me.
I put down the phone and sent him a follow-up text:
Bro, sorry if I sounded rude or disrespectful. I do get carried away and am passionate in my arguments. Trust you know it’s nothing personal. I’m challenging the policy, not the person.
His candid response made me beam with pride – for who doesn’t want to be a reflection of their role model? This was what he replied verbatim:
Yes, miniature Ronald. Hahahaha. You brought up a good point…
And the rest I shall omit… Well, you may not make heads or tails of what Ps Ronald and I exchanged but that was a significant moment for me, even though he has affirmed me time and again that I remind him of himself when he first started out in ministry. I believe that there are many others on the staff team who are like Ps Ronald and I – people who love the church and want to see it grow and change for the better.
Are you an old-timer harping on the church’s distinguished history?
Let the young ones show you how much they will love the church!
Are you a young person discouraged by the church’s dismal destiny?
Let the older folks show you how much they still love the church!
My rhetoric to you tonight is – “Do you love your church?”
God knows the answer in your heart and Man will know the answer by your fruit.
No, Grace AG isn’t just my place of employment.
It is home – my home – and I will fiercely protect it.
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…