“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” — Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV)
My trip to Perth in October was my third visit there. However, it was the first time I was stopped by the customs officer for a bag check. Australian customs are a lot stricter than Singapore’s and there was a platoon of inspection officers even though my flight touched down at midnight. The following is my account of what happened.
According to the customs officer who stopped me and requested to check my luggage for contraband items, a bag check is performed every 30 minutes on a random individual. And since I had nothing to hide, I decided to make conversation with him. I told him that it’s a great thing that the customs procedure was so strict because not every airport is so vigilant.
As I interacted with him, I observed that he’s professional and proficient in what he does; he knew by heart the contents of the declaration card and was familiar with the bags inspection procedures. He asked for my name and went to retrieve my declaration card, then he verified if I had filled up the card and packed the luggage myself.
I offered to help him as he opened my luggage, but he insisted on doing it himself. He was meticulous and checked every single corner of every available space (without messing up my belongings). He conducted the search under my supervision and as he rummaged through my things, he articulated everything that he was doing.
Once again, he asked if I had read the rules and regulations in the declarations before I signed on it. I nodded. Then he brought out the card and pointed to the section where it read that dairy and wood were banned. I nodded. Of course I knew that those were prohibited items.
But what I didn’t realise was that there was milk powder in the 3-in-1 coffee sachets I brought over and there was wood in Liang Zhi’s Gibson Les Paul electric guitar (7.8kg of wood – duh!) that I had helped him lug over.
I was caught off-guard at my negligence; I took these things for granted because they didn’t look dangerous or like a prohibited item. At least, that was what I had assumed.
Thankfully, the customs officer perceived that I had made a genuine mistake and that I didn’t do it on purpose. He asked what I did for a living and I think my occupation did help to prove my credibility and honesty.
Well, I readied myself to pay taxes for the guitar (and perhaps charge it to Liang Zhi later), as well as to have the eight sachets of coffee confiscated and discarded. I even said to him in jest, “Oh well, there goes my morning coffee for the next week…”
He flashed a wry smile, then he described the penalty of my error. The severity of my oversight hit me hard and I gulped at the seriousness of the offence. So I asked him what would happen from here and what would happen to me (and these items).
For some strange reason (read: grace of God), he decided not to pursue the matter.
“I’m going to let you pass this time but this check will be recorded. If you make such a mistake again, I can’t guarantee that you’d be let off the hook”, he asserted.
I was surprised by his demonstration of grace but I sincerely thanked him for dropping the case.
As I pushed my trolley out of the airport, I thought about the grace of God in this scenario.
All Bible-reading believers would know that the wages of sin is death – it’s spelt out clearly for everyone in Romans 6:23. And any responsible evangelist would have explained its severity – eternity without God. (I know reading “eternity without God” doesn’t sound as scary, but if you think about it, it’s a rather petrifying thought!)
Yet we take no heed to it, be it through taking God’s grace for granted or being negligent about our salvation. And when we get into trouble, all we can do is to plead innocence. But how innocent are we, really? A good number of us are callous and careless about abusing the grace of God.
Yes, I believe God will be like the customs officer – “This time, I’ll let you off…” But more importantly, what is our response towards His grace? I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve repented repeatedly about abusing the grace of God – I’m guilty as charged.
For me, I will take extra caution to ensure that I do not make the same mistake again when it comes to packing dairy or wood (or any other contraband items) without declaring it. I learnt, from my first-hand experience, that the grace of God shouldn’t cause us to sin some more, but to sin no more. What a timely reminder.
Quote of the day:
“Plan like Jesus is never coming back, but live like He’s returning tomorrow” — Aw Chin Seng
Question of the day:
“What do I have if I don’t have You, Jesus?” — Starfield
My rhetoric response:
What else do I need if I have You, Jesus?
I brought an old notebook along and I found these lyrics I penned in 2004. It’s a song called, Home.
I won’t be staying here for long
Just here for but a moment more
I’m just passing through this transient place
Until I reach my final destination
I don’t live for the here and now
Don’t have to really have it all
What’s here today is gone tomorrow
What’s not forever is forever useless
I belong to above, to evermore
This world is not my home
At the end of it all
There is another beginning
And when my Maker calls
I know that my show is concluding
Don’t get too comfortable
Because I’m simply not home yet
When I die, yeah, when I say goodbye
I’m not leaving home… I’m going home
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!
I proposed to Huiyi on her 24th birthday (15 April 2011), but in the last quarter of 2010, after I confirmed with Chin Seng and Ervina (our mentors who migrated to Australia) that Huiyi and I would take a holiday in Perth in April 2011, I also informed Chin Seng that I might propose in Perth. He gave me his fullest support and graciously opened up his home to house us during our short stay there.
One of my closest friends, Liang Zhi, also resides in Perth and he was the one who got me started on photography. So I knew I could count on my three favourite Singaporeans in Perth to play the role of paparazzi for my engagement. I was seriously considering proposing in Perth and had sussed out possible proposal locations as well as Perth’s sunset and sunrise timings.
But I decided against it because there were just too many factors out of my control. Sure, an overseas proposal was special and romantic, but it was surely unrealistic too. Our hectic schedules didn’t allow us to plan our Perth itinerary in advance and not knowing where we were going to be on which day or what we were doing was risky. A lack of knowledge of the traffic conditions, a shortage of proper recording equipment and just a general scarcity of resources counted against me. And not being familiar with the proposal venue especially, proved to be my deciding deterrent.
Therefore, I canned the idea of proposing in Perth despite its allure but I used this vacation as a decoy to devastating effect.
In our conversations about Perth, I stealthily revealed how Liang Zhi was an accomplished photographer and how Chin Seng and Ervina owned a DSLR. As we scoured Lonely Planet for places to visit in Perth, I playfully but shrewdly hinted to her those places with great views of the sunset and sunrise. I was sure she got the hint. I reminded her to pack that denim blouse from Zara that I bought for her last year and assured her that the photographs would look amazing with that light blue fabric draped over her.
Well, let’s just say the proposal could have taken place in any of the following locations:
The clincher was this, “After we’re back from Perth, the first thing we should do is to start a joint bank account, okay?”
She nodded with excited anticipation. I smiled at her with a I-know-you’ll-love-the-proposal-I’m-gonna-blow-you-away-with-in-Perth look in my eyes. In my head, I knew I had fully convinced her of my grand proposal that was never going to take place in Perth.
And I did this a few times – never intentionally, always incidentally. But I was intentionally incidental, if you know what I mean.
Now, I can finally concentrate on planning the REAL proposal…
Next chapter: the second idea – Mapletree Business City.
We have arrived at the end of our mini-sabbath… And it has been a good one that I am thankful for. Today’s programme was even more relaxing than yesterday’s. I slept in ’til the late morning while Huiyi and Ervina had D&M at a coffee joint in Fremantle. After that, we went to North Bridge Road (coincidentally also Perth’s Chinatown) to have lunch at the Vietnamese restaurant Tra Vinh. Then we headed to Coogee Beach to enjoy a beautiful sunset before returning home to enjoy home-cooked chicken and pork ribs curry prepared by Granny Aw. She treats me like her grandson. (:
So, I’ve decided to write something alternative on the eve of my departure from Down Under. Sounds untypically cryptic for me to write in a pessimistic manner, but here goes – my eight regrets on this trip (so far):
1. Oversleeping and missing the annual Anzac Dawn Parade today; not that I planned to go for it anyway…
2. Not reading any of the books I brought along; instead I bought three more at CS+E’s church.
3. Not dining at the famed Ciao Italia because it’s closed until 29th April; I need the tiramisu… NOW!
4. This is the biggest bummer of ’em all – not hanging out with Liang Zhi; I haven’t had quality time with him in years!
5. Not meeting up with Ps Benny as our schedules didn’t coincide; I was on a road trip on his free days.
6. Not asking Granny Aw to pray my recovery from Dercum’s Disease; I’m going to strike this out tomorrow though.
7. Earning a surface scratch on Liang’s car with a dustbin that I couldn’t see with either mirror; I’m flabbergasted.
8. Not applying medication to my huge ulcer below the tongue sooner; ulcers have a way of tainting any experience.
Less than 24 hours before Huiyi and I return to Singapore… I’m looking forward but I’m also feeling bittersweet. Won’t we all after a good break? (:
Rocking it out at Coogee Beach with air instruments…
The first time I visited Australia in 2003, I went skiing at Mount Hotham with Daniel Heng and went to the Blue Mountains with Daniel, Ps Cuixian and Manrong. The second time I visited in 2007, I drove on the Great Ocean Road and saw the 12 Apostles. This time, I went to see the vastness of The Pinnacles and even went sand-boarding! I know this is over-mentioned but how can one not marvel at the awesomeness of our Creator when he or she has witnessed such marvelous natural wonders?
However, we nearly did not make it on this tour that we signed up for yesterday.
As usual, due to me waking up (slightly) late(r), we had to sprint from Coolbellup to Perth City and did not factor in peak hour traffic and navigation unfamiliarity in our planning. (Okay, actually Huiyi did, but I did not, but since we are engaged I used the collective – we – Haha!) So as we frustrated each other in the car, negotiated with an uncooperative Google Maps and took a wrong turn, we still managed to make it to the pick-up point just one minute late. The result of that however, is to pay for a day’s worth of parking (!) instead of the original plan to park at Liang’s apartment then walk to the pick-up location at Pier Street.
We have both learnt that when we quarrel, it’s like the rhino charging at a hedgehog – and both get hurt. So we naturally gave each other some time-out as we recovered from the adrenaline of chasing a departing coach. Things resumed normalcy once we woke up from a short nap in the bus.
Our first stop was at the Caversham Wildlife Park, where we saw, touched and interacted with three marsupials – the koala, wombat and my all-time favourite (for obvious reasons) kangaroo. At this point, I want to correct a common misconception. A joey isn’t just the young of a kangaroo, but of all marsupials; as long as the creature resides in a pouch after birth, it is referred to as a joey. I learnt that from National Geographic and the park guide confirmed it. I was tempted to introduce myself as Joey, but decided against it as it would be too cute and attention-seeking for a 28-year-old man. Haha! Man, I’ve really aged.
We arrived at the Cervantes Lobster Shack after another hour’s drive. I learnt some new things about the lobster industry. For example, conservation rules disapproves of catching lobsters that are either pregnant females, too young or males reaching fertility; lobsters caught with three or more missing legs are not included into its main sales but into miscellaneous categories like sashimi; the difference between lobsters sorted into Category A and G are 300 grams and a whopping 2 kilograms respectively and each category has its own market.
The older I get, the more curious I become; I could never imagine myself remembering or even being mildly interested in such trivial information when I was younger. Age seems to imbue a hunger for knowledge. Is it like that for you?
Finally, we arrived at The Pinnacles. We were accompanied by an army of flies as we walked into the centre of the attraction. Once we were about 1 km in, its vastness simply engulfed you. There were unique rock formations in every direction you looked. And I also witnessed the perversion of Man at work. While there was a rock formation that eroded into the shape of an erect penis, I also saw two smaller rocks at the base of that rock – obviously the work of mischievous visitors.
Next up – sand-boarding at Lancelin! Man, I have never seen so much sand in my entire life! The way the wind caressed the sand mounts was poetry in motion; the unseen wind was made visible with the presence of the fine white sand and that resulted in beautiful yet delicate sand formations. I could never imagine myself at the top of a sand dune but there I was, negotiating with the blistering wind as it violently stroked my exposed body parts. I froze a few times midway through my ascent as the sand got into my eyes (though I thought I had it protected by my Oakley’s)!
I felt as if the Spirit impressed upon my heart a few lessons about life from that novel experience of sliding down a 30 metre sand mount:
- 逆风的方向更适合飞翔. I can appreciate those 五月天 lyrics from another perspective. As the wind blew (the sand) toward you, you’d naturally want to turn the other direction, not knowing that doing that could actually get more sand in your eyes (as some would escape, run along the side of your face and get into your eyes). Instead, and this I learnt I when I scaled the sand dune the fifth time, face the wind head on and let the eyewear do what you paid it to do – protect your eyes from the forward onslaught. As we face seemingly insurmountable challenges in our lives, let’s not turn our backs towards these obstacles but tackle it from the front!
- When experiencing a mini-victory, don’t be too quick to celebrate. I think I’m a fast learner and besides, sand-boarding isn’t the hardest thing to do, so I thought I handled it pretty well on my first attempt and even slid quite fast. I also knew that Huiyi was taking pictures of me so as I approached the end of the slope, I raised my arms and let out a victorious “Woooh!”, loud and proud. And I ate sand almost immediately and toppled to my side. Haha! As I spit the fine fragments out of my mouth, I told myself to shut up the next time I slid down. Pride goes before a fall indeed.
- Learn to enjoy the uphill climb as much as you enjoy the downhill slide. My fitness isn’t bad but the 50-step ascent was literally more breathtaking than it looked. The first time I went up, I was so excited about sliding down that I forgot to check out the panoramic view from on top of the sand dune. I told myself to do that in subsequent climbs and so I paused for ten seconds longer (to catch my breath and) to take in the amazing visual spectacle before I took the plunge. Let’s learn to enjoy both the tests and trophies for each has its own set of memorable experiences and character-shaping qualities.
So there you go, my reflections on day 3, churned out on the return journey back to the city.
We are going to pack some chili mussels from Concas and purchase some soft drinks before we return to Leontes Way to prepare dinner and rest even earlier tonight. Can’t wait for the road trip!