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! (:
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.
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.
(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.)
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:
- 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.
- 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:
- I expected a turn-out of 20 but nearly 40 parents showed up today.
- 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.
- I wished I got a dollar every time I saw a parent nod his or her head with me in agreement.
- 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!
- I thought Melody and Bradley did a superb job at organising this event with limited time and resources.
- 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!
- I was surprised to see how genuinely keen these parents were to be a part of what R-AGE did, does and will do.
- I could almost see it in their eyes that this session was like an answered prayer for them.
- 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.
- 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.
I led my wonderful team of dedicated Shepherds to Batam’s iHotel over the weekend; this was our first independent ministry-planning trip and I must say I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. I trust that my Shepherds had also enjoyed this time of reflection and evaluation that I had carefully designed for them to embark on. I’ve journeyed with them for 18 months now and while it’s been a wonderful ride, I desire for them to grow deeper in their individual walks with God.
Keith and I arrived slightly later than the rest of them as we had to oversee the collaboration with the Grace Kids at GII Sunday services; it was also the first time I had the opportunity to be the emcee in the adult services. (I improvised from what I thought was a messy first service and I am grateful that the second service turned out much better…) I am confident that the adults now know that R-AGE @ GII exists and that it’s the best place to be at on a Saturday afternoon.
It was great to have caught up with Keith on our journey to Batam. I’ve always identified him as one of my successors and I’m confident that he will be able to lead R-AGE @ GII to greater heights where I could not. Keith, you will surpass me and I will help you to do that because I believe so much in what God will do through you. (: I am blessed to be able to mentor an exceptional young man like him.
I bunked with Bradley for this trip and I thoroughly enjoyed bonding with him and knowing him more intimately. We had a good time catching up in the room and in the pool. I celebrate his appetite to get out of his comfort zone – that’s the mark of a G0d-fearing and Christ-loving disciple. And I look forward to hearing his reflections on a passage of Scripture I asked him to meditate upon.
We decided to have seafood dinner at a roadside coffeeshop – yes, those typically dirty and warm ones (with pesky buskers) and the overpowering aroma of belachan chilli that clogs up your respiratory system. I must say I was impressed with the team’s courage to eat everything that came their way (although some felt queasy after dinner). The best thing about the feast was its price – we ate a mountain of food for a mere 10 SGD per pax.
The first activity we embarked on after dinner was “Dials on a Dashboard” – a little exercise I’ve adapted from Wayne Cordeiro’s excellent book, “Leading on Empty”; I got my Shepherds to systematically recognise, rate and recalibrate the various dials on their dashboard. It was a brutally honest activity and it set the tone for the contemplation they would embark on.
For the purpose of my own journaling, the 15 dials I’ve identified in my life are:
- Faith life
- Family life
- Relationship life
- Mentoring life
- Leadership life
- Intercession life
- Online life
- Author’s life
- Speaker’s life
- Competency life
- Contemplative life
- Financial life
- Leisure/Fun life
- Social/Fellowship life
- Health life
It is my earnest prayer that everyone in the team would UP(a)GRADE in their own faith pilgrimage. I am eager to grow, as I always have been, and I have already put into action some things as soon as I arrived home. May the Lord continue to give me grace as I seek to please Him in all that I do.
I encouraged the team to wake up early the next morning to do their devotions on a passage of Scripture (Hebrews 12) that the Holy Spirit revealed to Yixian during the Dashboard activity; I thoroughly enjoyed receiving insights and understanding from the Lord as I meditated on and memorised His Word. It was an empowering experience! MAN, I LOVE THE WORD!
After breakfast, we returned to the room and I asked the team two key questions:
- “What have you done?” (I got them to list all their achievements in ministry – to itemise what’s been happening)
- “How have you done it?” (I got them to investigate their attitudes behind these ministry achievements – to inspect the condition of their hearts)
It turned out to be a powerful exercise as this soul-searching activity became a heart-wrenching experience for a few of them. One Shepherd (whose identity I shall protect) even broke down during this activity. We ministered to her on the spot and tears flowed freely – not just on her cheeks but on those who were standing in the gap for her as they laid their hands to pray for her. It was a moving scene indeed… This is unity… This is the body of Christ… This is biblical fellowship.
I was led to get everyone to worship God together before every session (with David’s iPod and two speakers no less!) because I believe that it’s important to engage the Lord in any crucial decision; I felt that it was imperative to make decisions in the presence of God for it’s always in the presence of our living and loving God that our lives are changed to be more like Him. And so it was – God is faithful – this was ministry at its finest hour. And it wouldn’t have been possible without the Spirit’s conviction.
As part of my bid to sort out my health, I had already completed 10km on the treadmill within 24 hours of arrival and was about to go for my first swim in eons; it must have been more than six months since I last put on my goggles. On a lighter note, I discovered the power of my physical presence – some of the girls who were in the pool disappeared (more like ran away) within seconds of me entering it to swim my laps; it’s like they saw a ghost or something. HAHA!
We consumed lunch at a local restaurant and after that, half the team went to do water sports while the other half remained behind to enjoy some free time. Huiyi and I would have loved to join those out at sea but her sudden bout of illness prevented us from doing so. We ended up enjoying a nice two-hour Thai/Balinese combination massage for a grand total of 14 SGD per pax (cheaper than Shanghai!). More importantly, as always, I enjoyed my afternoon with my wife-to-be. (:
We waved Esther, Natalina and Huiyi goodbye as they left a day earlier due to prior commitments. The rest of us went to the nearby Nagoya Hill (for the umpteenth time!) for dinner at another local establishment. The most hilarious scene must have been when Bradley and I literally carried the table top without its legs. You must see it to believe how ridiculous it looked!
We returned to our Shepherds Headquarters (a.k.a. Yixian’s and Jeraldine’s room) where we embarked on ministry evaluation. It was a proper meeting with minutes recorded and we listed down all the various programmes that we had already embarked on for 2011. And I helped the Shepherds to see how important being intentional is in planning for our programmes. We made quick-fire assessments to every programme, from cells, to services, to regional gatherings, to trainings and to special events:
- Should we keep it or trash it?
- If we plan to keep it, how can we improve it?
All of us unanimously felt the need to be even more evangelistic in the way that we operated. When we plan “Win” events, we will naturally need to have “Equip” activities and eventually it will result in it being a “Build” event. I saw in the Shepherds’ eyes a conviction to be intentional, intensive and inclusive in all that we would plan next year. I was glad to be able to transfer what I had learnt from a conference to my team of leaders.
(I was tickled to see the contrast between my M&M’s (Melody & Melissa) – one was bustling with energy and the other completely zapped!) We spent the next few hours affirming one another with objective, subjective, introspective, retrospective and most importantly, heartfelt words of encouragement. I am confident that this is the first time the Shepherds were encouraged on such a scale – I pray that it had lifted their inner man/woman. (: Well for me, I went to bed feeling great and grateful about what the Lord is doing in this season of my life.
Our final activity was inspired by 2 Corinthians 5 where I reminded the Shepherds of our duty and need for the ministry of reconciliation. I shared with them openly and honestly on my own attempts to reconcile with a couple of people in my life (and I am proud to say that I’ve already taken reconciling action tonight, as soon as I got home).
I believe that as we grow as a ministry both in quantity and quality, through processes and programmes, cracks of misunderstanding will appear in our relationships; these are inevitable for when iron sharpens iron, there is heat and friction. And when cracks appear, the devil will too, with his lies and deception. We must not fall for it – hence the great need to reconcile each other to Christ (and to each other) and to clear up any potential or active misunderstanding before it erodes into bitterness.
By the end of this retreat, we had evaluated the three main components of ministry: people, programmes and processes. We had also recorded feedback for the various programmes that the ministry had executed on the service, cell and events level. I am hopeful that this Retreat had been in line with the coming 40DOC campaign, and sets the tone for personal renewal and corporate alignment.
Praise the Lord for all that He’s done through me at this Shepherds Retreat – A change of plan of a plan of change?
I shall leave you with two paradigm shifts that the Holy Spirit inspired me to share with the Shepherds:
- I challenged them (and now you reading this, and eventually R-AGE) to remove “Arrowed” or “Bombed” from their dictionary for that’s a secular and selfish way of thinking. Instead, let’s train ourselves to say, “What an opportunity indeed!” whenever we are given the privilege to do something for the Lord and His people.
- But if you are simply unable to lend a hand due to your existing commitments: “Don’t be a dead-end, but be a Y-junction instead.” So that when you really can’t help when people approach you, you can still help by pointing them to other people who may be able to help them. This results in their burden being lightened regardless.
We are a team and this is a team effort; let’s behave like an Ephesians 4 team!
Of late, I’ve had an overwhelming desire to have a deep life and to dig deeper, thanks to the influence that Ps Edmund Chan has in my life. And I believe that this is evident in my conversations and in the way that I operate. He put it succinctly, “The depth of your life determines the breadth of your ministry.”
I have never desired depth in my life and ministry as much as I have right now. Oh Lord, please give me Your grace and enable to grow myself and R-AGE in a deep and riveting manner. Hear my cry, Lord – I do not want to raise a shallow generation of believers!
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.