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Lent 02: the slowest start to anything, ever.

It’s not too far-fetched an idea to suggest that my Quadregesima is best experienced only if I am unemployed.

But alas, I’m not.

With responsibilities, obligations and duties demanding my time, it becomes increasingly challenging to spend time with God and even more so to think about Christ at all times. Something has to go. Something has to give in. I need discipline.

And as I had expected it, I gave in to something I wanted to give up – entertainment. It sounds trivial but I couldn’t resist reading the Naruto manga today. Ha-HA! The new release was out yesterday and my futile resistance lasted all of 24 hours until Keith Yeo mentioned it over a chat. Okay, I’m a drama king, but hey, at least I’m honest. Well, next week I will pass the test.

Without social media vying for my attention, I find myself with more time at hand to pursue what’s more worthy of my time. However, without coffee, I find myself fighting to stay awake and alert. In times like these, I keep challenging myself to depend on God’s strength to be strong in God, but that’s easier to say than do.

And as I’m keeping off all kinds of sugared drinks (only water and green tea), anything naturally sweet becomes something I look forward to – be it cereal with milk in the morning or a late night honey mango. Now if only I pine for Christ like the way I pine for pleasure in my taste buds…

On a separate note, I cannot imagine mentoring others without the help of the Holy Spirit. May I continue to depend on Him for knowledge and wisdom as I invest into people’s lives – I desire to say the right thing, at the right time, in the right way.

Argh, I’m incredibly restless and impatient. I want to see results now. But I need to be still first. This is an incoherent entry.

In the same breath of the excellent play I watched tonight, called “Tahan” (thanks Stella Cheung, for blessing me), I’ll sign off with…

“Emotional lah.”

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my final birthday as a bachelor.

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! (:

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)

XXXIV. the walk of anticipation.

As we drove past the guardhouse into the premise, I saw the function room teeming with life. Helium balloons, cutout letters, tubs of ice-cream, jars of tidbits and our closest friends most importantly, filled every inch of the 150 square-metre room. I could practically imagine their cheerful chatter and heightened anticipation while they patiently awaited our arrival for the last 45 minutes.

Keith, Melody and Yixian, amongst many others in my cell group, were exceptional helpers. They were my willing hands and feet in the function room and were resourceful enough to make magic out of the limited materials I purchased. I was never good with crafts so I was exceedingly grateful for their innovation and creativity. But above all, through their dedication to help us complete this perfect evening, I felt their genuine love for Huiyi and I.

Well, if there was only one mistake I made the entire day, it would be parking at the ground level instead of in the underground car park. Normally we would park the car in the basement so when she didn’t feel the car move down a slope, she raised an eyebrow.

Strike one. Ah, whatever. I am just 50 metres away from the function room and I had to continue to play it cool.

“Keep your eyes closed!” I reminded her to keep her promise as I exited the driver’s seat to head over to the passenger’s seat to usher her out of the Subaru.

“Careful, your head… Don’t open your eyes… Just follow me…” I repeated the same three magic words from earlier in the evening.

She was probably expecting me to lead her to her birthday present, since she hasn’t received one from me.

We walked along the stony path in the direction of the function room and there was a theatrical silence as we approached it. I didn’t even need to put my finger to my lips because everyone instinctively knew what they had to do.

It would take a complete moron to mess it up at this stage.

Next chapter: the entrance of exuberance.

XX. the one mad week of errands.

Preparing for this elaborate proposal required a number of props, and since it was my proposal, I wanted to accomplish most of it by myself as much as possible. I sought help of course, on matters that I didn’t consider myself familiar with.

I approached Hilary to ask him to recommend a professional printer. I liaised with a printing company and paid for five A2 and three A3 full colour prints on PP sticker with a five millimetre kappaline mounting. And I made my way to the obscure Kallang Bahru on Wednesday to pick up the prints, since delivery wasn’t worth it for such a small quantity. I took leave on Thursday to complete the remaining errands. I had no idea printing these things were so costly…

I started my day at IMM where I spent an unimaginably long time in Daiso and Giant, picking out tiny plastic bags for goodie bags (so that everyone who turned up at the party took home something), a magic chalkboard as a prop for photo-taking, seven glass cookie jars to store sweets, five luminous paint markers, and a whole stack of tidbits.

It was there and then that I discovered that I have decidophobia (no kidding!). I became unexpectedly stressed at having to choose from the huge variety that was available to me. I even made distress calls to Cheryl, Melody, Yixian and Keith because I started to panic so much. Cheryl and Keith were amused by it but realised shortly that I was seriously distressed, so they patiently walked me through every decision that I had to make at those supermarkets. It was the most stressful errand, ever!

Besides helping me to record the song, Johann was also generous enough to restore my guitar to showroom condition, including drying, cleaning and dressing it with a new set of strings. Having my guitar restored was also helpful for my worship set at J333 (the Wednesday prayer meeting) anyway.

But as you would know by now, it seems like I never get to do things the easy way… The E-string snapped during soundcheck and I was frustrated, not because I had to use an inferior guitar, but because I had to buy a new string! So I swung by the Clementi Yamaha and to my horror they ran out of E-strings. But fret not (no pun intended!) for I simply purchased a new set of strings.

After Clementi, I made my way to Holland Village to make orders and pay for eight tubs of ice-cream at The Daily Scoop and arranged with Wei Kurk to help me pick it up on Friday, before the engagement party. I also swung by Party City to order enough helium-filled balloons to fill the function room. It was my first time ordering balloons and I got shocked at how expensive these items were considering they only had an eight-hour lifespan! I paid for it nonetheless and arranged with Xianyi to receive the balloons at the function room on Friday evening.

My last stop was back to the office at Tanglin Road, where I dumped the loot and packed them into plastic bags, with labels on each of them for my crew to pick up; Gideon picked up the guitar, guitar stand, projector and placards, while Keith picked up the logistics needed for the engagement party.

Oh, did I mention that it was pouring this entire time and that I didn’t have an umbrella? Okay, I just did. And I accomplished all these errands without a car. Yes, I had to make do with public transport the entire time, carrying with me big and small, heavy and bulky plastic bags. And I completed all these errands just in time to meet Huiyi at her office to head for her birthday dinner together with her family. Perhaps this justifies why I forgot to buy her birthday cake that day.

Next chapter: the one regrettable conflict.

meeting the folks who made the youths.

(Post-script: I had actually written an entry twice as long as this one but WordPress killed it when I tried to save it. So I shall not attempt to regurgitate the original content, but share what I think is most necessary to be read.)

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60 minutes. 48 slides. 40 parents. 14 Shepherds. 1 heck of a session. (:

About a month ago, I tweeted this:

Just had an amazing lunch session with another youth pastor and I think I may have found the solution to unite the church as a family! Wooh!

Today, I think the youth ministry took one step closer to realising that vision. And it has everything to do with putting young people together with fathers and mothers.

If you were at R-AGE @ GII’s from 5pm-7pm today, you would have seen me beaming to no end. No, I was not delighted because the team or I have done a good job (though I believe we have!); I was not happy because of the turn-out or the parents’ unexpected responses; instead, I rejoiced because of two things:

  1. I remained obedient to the vision that God put in my heart about a year ago to network with the parents of my young people, and successfully brought it to pass in the ministry today.
  2. The session today affirmed my appreciation of the “Family” element in the Grace AG “DNA” and I tapped on it to potentially bring the youth ministry (and maybe the entire church) to the next level.

Not many people know this, but if there was a group of people who I am most reluctant to be with, it would have to be fathers, and to a lesser extent, mothers. Perhaps it is because I do not normally interact with them; or because I did not grow up with a fatherly figure; or because there is a generational gap caused by age; or because I think they secretly scrutinise and criticise the youth ministry; or because I think they have no interest in what I have to say to them; or simply because I do not have much to offer them with my limited life experiences.

However, much to my pleasant surprise, they were not just a receptive group of adults but also an uplifting bunch. I invited them to give us feedback and here are some of their suggestions (and affirmation):

Good session – cleared some doubts. Organise some teens-parents bonding session?

Encourage leaders to communicate with parents if they should notice inconsistent behaviour.

Keep parents posted on the cell material so that the topics could be discussed in the family.

We would avail ourselves as a couple to listen to and help the youths and even their parents.

Host a cell group [at my house] – need not be a cell my child is in.

You guys have done a great job in nurturing the kids in their teenage years especially in their spiritual growth and character building. Keep it up!

And this takes the cake – it made me beam as brightly as a thousand suns:

I am so proud to be a parent of R-AGErs who have grown and matured through this amazing ministry. Keep up the good work! Phil 1:6

Off the top of my head, here are the 10 things I would like to thank God for:

  1. I expected a turn-out of 20 but nearly 40 parents showed up today.
  2. I expected a bored, restless and uninterested group but I saw genuine enthusiasm as they participated in the ice-breaking activity and patiently sat through the hour-long ministry update.
  3. I wished I got a dollar every time I saw a parent nod his or her head with me in agreement.
  4. I took the risk to give Keith and Yixian the opportunity to (re)present the cell and service elements respectively and they have exceeded everyone’s expectations of them – I am so proud of my beloved proteges!
  5. I thought Melody and Bradley did a superb job at organising this event with limited time and resources.
  6. I saw a beautiful scene of “Family” at the ground floor after the session – teenagers, youth leaders and parents freely mingling and chatting with each other over dinner. That’s precisely what a family church is all about!
  7. I was surprised to see how genuinely keen these parents were to be a part of what R-AGE did, does and will do.
  8. I could almost see it in their eyes that this session was like an answered prayer for them.
  9. I expected a tricky Question-and-Answer session but I ended up receiving generous words of encouragement from two fathers. I also received an insight into the real fears, struggles and concerns of parents with teenage children.
  10. It was beyond my wildest imagination to see at least 35 parents responding to my pseudo “altar call” of committing to being a secret prayer warrior for the youth ministry and its young people.

I shall not go into the details of what transpired today because I do not want to let the cat out of the bag… (: But if you are really keen to find out what happened, here’s all you need to know, whether you are a parent or a teenager:

  • We now have one parent committed to interceding for one R-AGE @ GII GGL (who’s not related to them) for six months.
  • We made history today by organising the inaugural Meet-The-Folks session; as far as I can remember in my 14 years in Grace AG, and confirmed by parents who have been in Grace AG for more than two decades, this was definitely the first time something like this has happened. And we were all most grateful for it.
  • We are all looking forward to the next Meet-The-Folks session, perhaps at the end of the year.
  • We have a bunch of parents who sincerely desire to make a greater contribution in their teenagers’ life and ministry.
  • We are on the threshold of a new culture being established in Grace AG – championed by its young people.
Change is coming and I can sense the air of anticipation amongst us… Can you? (:
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