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Lent 08: there’s no substitute for relationships.

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.

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the importance of spiritual peers.

The older you get, the more you don’t take things for granted.

Tonight’s no-frills dinner was an example of that. This meeting was Lionel’s initiative and had to be planned a month in advance. Lionel bought dinner up to his place and I enjoyed a time of catching up with him and his wife, Jeanie. Ministry is so intricately woven in our tapestry of life that it was an inevitable conversation topic among us.

When Johann arrived 30 minutes later, we got down to why we gathered tonight. It was refreshing to share about what the Lord was doing in each of our lives, as well as how we could keep each other in prayer in such an unpretentious manner. I enjoyed how we ended the night lifting each other up in prayer.

I don’t know about other (youth) pastors, but I find that as I age and as I “climb” the leadership rungs, there are lesser and lesser spiritual friends. That is why I appreciate what we shared tonight – three men whose histories intersect, who are in different seasons of life, who like and love each other, coming together to share honestly with each other.

It was nice to find a platform to share about ministry aspirations and frustrations, marriage and wedding preparations, parenthood and career, among other things, and know that you won’t be judged or frowned at for what you say. We had nothing to lose, nothing to prove and nothing to hide. And that was a breath of fresh air.

Spiritual peers are a blessing to any man.

primitive means to a deeper connection.

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

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

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

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! (:

XIV. the other ideas that were rejected.

My first knee-jerk reaction was to return to the Southern-most Point of Sentosa. It was a significant location for Huiyi and I as we shared some wonderful memories there during the time that I courted her (before she agreed to be my girlfriend). I also considered returning to MBC or to the nearby Labrador Park…

She wasn't my girlfriend then... Silly her. :P

But it was already Monday evening when I canned the USS idea and I only had one Tuesday evening left (before cell group at 8:30pm) to recce one last location. Wednesday and Thursday evenings were no-go and Friday was it! I pressed the panic button a million times but honestly, I really thrived on the adrenaline. I am certain I perform better under stress.

And since I was no longer going to propose in USS, I had to find a way to sell the two tickets I bought for Gideon and Caleb to recoup losses. I texted a number of my friends to ask if they were interested but it was too last-minute for anyone to make it. Thank God Lionel came to the rescue and kindly agreed to sacrifice his Friday lunch break to head into USS to help tout my pair of tickets away with minimal loss. He didn’t disappoint and even made a small profit because he managed to sell it at a higher price to tourists who couldn’t enjoy the DBS discount. And to top it off, he even drove to Peony Jade on Thursday evening to collect the tickets from me. I just had to ensure that we did not see him when we were there.

There were other literally sky-high ideas I had considered – to propose on top of Marina Bay Sands (MBS) or The Pinnacles @ Duxton. It was way too costly to do it at the Sky Park of MBS and to request for logistical permission and access would be a nightmare so I took that idea out. When Huiyi and I were at The Pinnacles earlier this year, I also assessed the place and deemed it unsuitable for my proposal because I couldn’t find a single power point in the entire Sky Garden on the 50th floor.

Next chapter: the final excursion that decided my destiny.

IV. the ultimate engagement ring.

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.

I love my church… part 1.

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.

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