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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! (:

multiple reasons why I will not run another marathon.

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There aren’t many places where I can think aloud and hence I shall use this platform to extract the many thoughts in my head after “A race like no other”. I don’t normally lament on my blog so this will be an honest evaluation of myself for myself. Do bear with it; I’ve learnt so much from this race.

***

The good.

This was officially my worst run ever – in every sense of the word – be it the poor timing or post-run physical condition. I’m immobilised (oh, have mercy on my left knee!) as I write this entry and I’m experiencing a facial breakout as expected. Nonetheless, I thank God that I do not have a fever like I did in 2006.

Unlike 2006, where I was extremely determined to finish it, I had nearly wanted to throw in the towel this year. At 9:30am, I thought to myself – how in the world was I going to crawl at this deathly pace for another 4 hours? 2010 was undoubtedly a lot more mental than 2006; finishing it was my only objective.

Strangely enough, even though 2006 was a greater performance, I felt that 2010’s run was by far a greater accomplishment. My finishing time had worsened by nearly two hours – TWO HOURS(!) – that’s a massive deterioration! Yet the sense of satisfaction doubled. However, I don’t plan to accomplish it again.

Frankly, I tried a lot harder this year than in 2006. Each attempt to restart running ended up in failure within 100m. Relentless cramps, low energy resources and an absence of Tiger Balm remedies resulted in over 10 failed restarts; each successive resumption made the subsequent one even more demoralising.

Running with someone with a similar fitness level makes a big difference. In 2006, Adrian and I endured and encouraged each other until the end. This year, I told Kun Jie and Bradley to proceed without me since they could go much faster. I was on my own from the 15th km and that was disheartening.

I’ve never felt so horrible walking; if there was only one wish I could make, it’d simply be to be able to run. I’d rather 长痛不如短痛 anytime. This served as a reminder that I must carry on moving even when I stumble or even when my walk becomes a crawl; a small step forward is still one step forward.

The bad.

I could always have trained a little more but no amount of training would prepare you to deal with cramps. I ran at a steady pace up to the 18th km (and I didn’t stop at all). But when multiple leg cramps hit my body – the excruciating painful kind of cramps – I knew my race was over.

In 2006, there were ample stations distributing energy fluids and muscle rub. The absence of it this year caught me by surprise. I was desperately in search of deep-heat cream to relieve my cramp, which got so throbbing at one point I had to stop. And even at that, I struggled to stretch for the pain left me frozen.

Juxtaposing 2010 and 2006, there was a significant drop of runners carrying a Christian message at the back of their singlet; it was something I had looked forward to – making conversation with people. Either these runners were way ahead of me, or that no one put Scripture on their back.

Age is a significant factor – especially in recovery phase. While it may only be four years apart, I felt four times worse this year than in 2006. I remember telling Huiyi how disappointed I felt after this run; by athletic or achievable measurement, I was left chagrined by my performance, or the lack of.

The 14km at East Coast Park was and always will be the most mentally torturous leg of the race. At the 14th/28th km Fort Road entrance/exit, you will runners entering and leaving the park. I think this was the most challenging phase because it felt like I was returning to square-one without progress.

Two things kept plaguing my mind. I pinned a yellow number tag (for runners aimed to run below 6 hours; a natural decision since I clocked 5.5hours in 2006) in front and an encouragement note behind. This backfired for my optimism on both front and back labels became my vehicle for self-consciousness.

The ugly.

My poor timing resulted in many things after the run. Firstly, I am thoroughly sunburnt. In 2006, I finished at around 11am but this year, I had to endure the midday scorching sun and now the mirror reveals the sunglass and singlet tan lines. I am truly and literally Joey Asher TAN.

I felt that the route-planning for 2010 was a disappointing anti-climax too, with considerable media spotlight; the uphill climb (on the Benjamin Sheares Bridge) at the end of the race decimated many runners; squeezing us dry on the home-run wasn’t uplifting and it just didn’t make sense to me.

There’s a limit to pep-talks from uncles. “Young man, you can give some more”, was what he cried each time he ran past me. At first, it fired me up and I found that extra energy to pick up my pace. But at the third time, with multiple cramps to deal with, all I wanted to do was to ask him to shut up.

Secondly, though there were thousands who completed after me, the thousands who completed before me meant that there were no more M-sized finisher T-shirts. I returned home with an XL pajamas which I obviously will not wear. What an apt (and ironic) conclusion to a sadly forgettable race.

Lastly, I’m convinced that marathons are organised for those complete within 6 hours. At the 38th km, water points had disappeared, medical teams were packing up and volunteers were either having lunch or dozing off – not a motivating sight at all, but they are not to blame. I can only examine myself.

***

I remember telling Bradley at the start of the run, that if I were to run another marathon, it’d be either as a mascot or with my kids. I have done it for them for I want to collect stories to inspire my children; I’ve twice-accomplished one of life’s to-do’s and I shall have the wisdom to declare that that’s enough. I’ve proven my physical and mental mettle and I will always be able to brag about these two achievements to my grandchildren. Pain is temporary but pride is forever. “Ya, you look at Gong-Gong’s belly and may not believe it, but Gong-Gong has run two marathons before.” No one can take that away from me.

I honestly doubt that I would be able to find motivation to train for such a distance again. In fact, when Huiyi picked me up from Raffles City (thank you, dear), I told her I would not run beyond 10km ever again because it doesn’t justify the physical aftermath. This novelty has now been attained and is officially over. I shall move on now in life and look for other challenges to accomplish. I’ve learnt so much about myself and about the journey of life in running these two marathons and these experiences will forever remain embedded in my mind. For all it’s worth, I shall close the chapter on running extreme distances.

Two is better than one.

Edit at 23:59! Next year, I might just join the Ekiden race instead! Perfect substitute for the 42km. Six is better than one. HAHA! (:

and the winner of the NKJV Bible is…

First and foremost, thank you for all your submissions! I didn’t receive as many as I had hoped for, but it was certainly more than I had expected! I’m happy either way. Of course, I lay the blame of the not-so-hot response on the laid-back Asian mentality and the aiya-don’t-want-lah-so-paiseh attitude. It’s never my own undoing, right? :P

Anyway, I have looked through and enjoyed reading all the submissions! I have already selected the winner and will announce the result in the coming days, together with the winning entry! Keep your eyes peeled on this blog because for the first time in my blogging history (do allow me to self-hype), I will publish someone else’s writing in its entirety! Nonetheless, since it’s my competition, I will bend my rules and declare that I still accept entries until 20th May, but the bar has been raised and any subsequent entries would have to better the existing ones by a mile!

On a more serious note, I humbly request that you keep a few of us in prayer, as the Spirit leads you, over the next few days. ET, SW, TT, NL, LS and KJ, together with KK and I, will be at a camp called iJourney, from Monday to Wednesday. This annual programme is conducted for the Secondary 1 Normal Technical students and selected Secondary 3 student leaders from Dunearn Secondary School. It’s a great opportunity for us to plant seeds in these young lives, as well as to be demonstrate Christ-like testimonies for them.

I have already written in advance and have scheduled daily posts to (still) be published at the stroke of every midnight. So if you keep reading and commenting, I will surely keep writing. I told LK that writing daily has become such a habit that this catharsis is turning into an obsession. And I think it’s a good one.

For now, I think it’s time to kill the monotony of words and to colour the blog. I took this picture of the magnificent birds’ eye view of the Seogwipo World Cup Stadium in Jeju, South Korea, when I was atop the hot-air balloon. I remember telling myself that this would be the closest that I’d ever get to any World Cup. This is the breathtaking scenery 150-metres above ground! Enjoy!

dynamic, incisive and discerning.

It is with gratitude to God that I am able to declare that my G2 Shepherds cell group is growing in quantity, quality and cohesiveness. I am thankful for the new additions (KJ and BL), the ones who joined us halfway (KY and YX) and the ones who have stuck with me from the beginning (HY, JC, MF, MW, EL). Tonight we’ve completed our two-part inductive bible study on Hebrews 4:12 (theme verse for “Pierce”); it was essential that all of in the organising committee understand this powerful verse at the back of our hand, so that our basis for planning is one and the same.

I enjoyed teaching them as much as they enjoyed receiving from the Word – I’m reveling in developing my gifts of writing, teaching and preaching. Bottom line is, I enjoy communication and it’s a boon that the medium which I’m promulgating is God’s word. We’ve gone into a fair bit of details through our study and one may need to be in the cell to fully understand the following summary. Nonetheless, here are the seven truths (in context of the Word of God) that I’ve left with them in my conclusion of this short, one-verse series:

  • Our lives are changed when the Holy Spirit uses the scripture (which we first must have hidden in our hearts) to reveal specific truths to us.
  • One biblical truth is infinitely better than countless worldly wisdom: revolution trumps inspiration and permanent trumps temporary.
  • In spiritual warfare, Satan’s weapons do not stand a chance against the only offensive piece in God’s armour, which is the sword of the Spirit.
  • God is the master markman and expert archer who never misses the target with His arrows of truth: for every occasion, everyone, and always relevant.
  • If our life was an assessment book, then the Bible is the answer sheet hidden in the back pages: turn to it periodically for personal evaluation.
  • The Word of God doesn’t just last forever; it never fades in brilliance too: think stars, matchsticks and torchlights that diminish with time.
  • You criticise the Word because the Word criticises you: do not shun correction for judgment is a neutral word that merely determines outcome.

the heart of gratitude.

A couple of weeks ago, I was dealing with disappointment. In my  journeying with and surrender to God, I’ve learnt that to deal with disappointment, I need to approach it with an attitude of thanksgiving and a realignment of purpose. I’m a highly committed individual synonymous with being passionate; hence I often get disappointed when people do not meet my expectations because I always wear my heart on my sleeve. When I was younger, I used to create a commotion each time this happens. As I mellow with age, I’ve learnt to be wiser in handling disappointment – sharing with the right people and only after settling my emotions with the Lord. PC once shared with me that it’s always easier to see God’s faithfulness at the end of a season; so I’ve learnt to be patient and to trust God for His timing and method.

20th March 2010 marks a significant day for the shepherds in my immediate ministry:

  1. KY commissioned as a 2LT,
  2. MF & MW had a positive cohesion with their CMs,
  3. KJ & BL joined my team of shepherds,
  4. EL & YX recovered from their cough,
  5. CN & JC returned safely from Australia and China respectively and
  6. HY completed her FYP
  7. I’ve removed all 25 dressings

This time, there’s something slightly different about feeling their joy and celebrating their victories with them. I can’t quite put a finger to it, but I’d like to think that it’s because I’ve been praying for them; there’s a sense of satisfaction knowing that maybe I’ve played a minute part in the spiritual shift of things. It’s like what RB shares in Nooma 018 “Open” – tapping into the creative power of God.

20th March 2010 is also a momentous day for my Church – we voted in favour for the redevelopment of G1 (on the condition that the 1.4 plot ratio is approved) and if necessary, would take bank loans to finance this project. I’m confident that the Board and the leadership of the church understands that while it is the hardware that’s being rebuilt, significant time, energy and (financial) resources must be invested into its software. Failure to do so would result in an ultimate inability and incapacity to realise the vision. The last thing we want is to have a spectacular building without the right people trained and enabled to fill the spaces which we have catered expansion for.

I am learning to trust God more and more for His providence and I believe that, in the words of BH, “When there is total submission, there is total protection“. On one hand, I’m delighted that we can finally advance as a Church, on the other hand, I pray that we will understand the sobering responsibilities that now line our way. I believe that if we, as a Church, have missed this point of investing in our people, then there really is no point in physical redevelopment. The leadership must be committed to see through this vision.

Let our hope be in You, Lord, and may You show us Your way – I desire nothing more and nothing less.

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