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the price of grace is the prize of grace.

“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.

Innocent until proven guilty.

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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! (:

the final 24 hours in Perth.

I have arrived at my last 24 hours in Perth and without a doubt this has been my best vacation ever – and ironically, the one I’ve done the least shopping, sightseeing and spending in.

My final day begins with having breakfast with Ervina and Chin Seng, followed by lunch with Ps Edmund, a visit to Koorong together (where I may purchase some – Huiyi, look away now! – books), grocery shopping for the evening BBQ at home, and head off to the airport to board the red-eye flight at midnight. My ulcers are killing me so I can imagine what it’d be like without a good night’s rest tomorrow night.

I’ll touch down at around 6am, try to figure my way back home by public transport, rest the morning away, and prepare for an afternoon meeting in the office, before I complete my sermon – yes, I’m preaching this weekend, on the discipline of serving. Can’t wait to do that!

I managed to get some reading done during this trip but the bulk of my time was spent chatting with and meeting new friends. It’s the first time I’ve experienced Perth this way and I wouldn’t want it any other way. I’m starting to feel at home here.

Already, I’m looking forward to my next trip to Perth.

the people of Perth.

In any holiday, it’s always about the people that determines how meaningful and memorable the trip is. It has been a momentous week in every sense of the word – the huge amount that I have gleaned from the master mentors simply by observing their examples, to the kind of favours I have experienced.

I’ve really witnessed God’s faithfulness in my life and I’m inclined to think that it is through people that God uses most to bless others. I know the following paragraphs won’t mean anything to many readers but I want to record it down anyway because it means a lot to me.

First and foremost, I am grateful for Chin Seng and Ervina – for their love and affection… They are amazing friends whom I am immensely thankful for. Liang Zhi has been a great aide too in helping me with errands, though I wished we had more personal time together.

It was wonderful to have a couple of hours in Ps Benny’s hectic schedule, as well as to meet all the wonderful people in his church – from Ps Cheng Lai and Sis Ellen, Uncle Steven and Aunty Julia, Ps Daryl and Eunice. There’s something unique about Faith Community Church – may God continue to grow FCC exponentially!

Then to have met Ps Basil and Sis Yvonne of Eagles City Mission (this church visit is worth a separate blog post in itself!) as well as their wonderful group of young adults. These nice blokes took me out for dinner and drinks – Justin, Hannah, Shane, Cher, Etele, Andrew, Lena and Sebastian – lovely people. (And yes, Ps Edmund got me on stage again…)

But the greatest shout-out goes to Ps Philip and Aunty Christina, whose house I’m staying in. They’re such a cute couple – and their home is filled with laughter, friends and love, just as it is inscribed on a wood ornament hung on their living room wall. They’ve extended their warmth to me so generously… Aunty Christina calls me the “Young Baby Pastor”; she’s got such an endearing personality.

While this is my third time to Perth, it is without doubt the most memorable one. And I haven’t even mentioned about my experiences with Ps Edmund and Ps Ann! I could write three posts dedicated to these two highly-esteemed individuals, not just in my life, but in the scores of lives I’ve met on this trip… I’m a privileged man, really, to be on a mentoring journey with him…

My single biggest regret so far? I’m experiencing all these alone; every single minute, I badly wished my wife-to-be was with me… I miss Huiyi very much, more than she thinks I do…

half-time: photographic recap.

The lovely Chin Seng and Ervina whisked me away to The Left Bank after the conference ended for an advanced birthday treat! I’m blogging this from their place before returning to Jandakot tonight, where I’m staying with Ps Edmund and Ps Ann. It has been an amazing experience so far, staying under the same roof as two people I esteem so highly. I’ll write more when I have time.

For now, I’d like to remember how tremendously blessed and privileged I am to share the same stage as Ps Edmund, Ps Ann and Ps Benny even for just five minutes during the fourth session at the IDMC Perth Conference. Yes, Ps Edmund threw me a surprise again as he did previously at Eagles Conference.

I was little more prepared this time, but unlike the last time where I had 30 minutes to prepare, this time, I had a grand total of five seconds to respond; yes, he summoned me to the stage, on the spot. Never in my life would I imagine this favour and opportunity happening to me. Ever. God is amazing. All praise to Him alone.

have we forgotten how to wait?

We spend our entire lives waiting; waiting to grow up, waiting to finish school, waiting for our first paycheck, waiting to marry our soul mate, waiting for our next vacation, waiting for traffic lights to turn green, waiting for the summer blockbuster, waiting nine months for our baby to arrive, waiting for our kids to grow up, waiting to grow old, and ultimately, waiting to die.

And something we do everyday is to wait for public buses to arrive. In Singapore, IRIS (timing prediction technology) informs us of the time we would have to wait before the next bus arrives. If I could take you back to just a little over a decade ago, where none of these prediction technologies existed, you would have to wait patiently for your bus to arrive.

Naturally, we would have no idea if that wait would be three or 30 minutes long. In my childhood days, there weren’t as many bus shelters; I remember standing in the sun, squinting my eyes to look into the horizon, waiting patiently for my bus to arrive. It was uncomfortable to either read a book standing up because there were no seats in the bus shelter, or the sun would be blazing directly above you. Either way, you wouldn’t want to miss your bus because you weren’t paying attention.

In those days, only the more popular routes had double-decker air-conditioned buses (known then as a “Super Bus”) plying it. The service I took frequently was a Super Bus and it was easy to recognise one from a distance away. I’d spend the entire waiting duration anticipating a glimpse of a Super Bus. It would fill me with glee if that Super Bus was my Super Bus.

And despite the unpredictability and uncertainty of the bus arrivals, I’d still wait because the bus had ALWAYS shown up; I know it was not going to play me out suddenly or randomly. Even if the waiting time was longer than usual, I’d still wait because I know it will show up, just like it has the many previous times. And when the bus eventually shows up, it’ll make the wait worth the wait.

Today, fortunately (or unfortunately), we know exactly when our buses would arrive. Some apps can even trace the location of the oncoming bus! So we’d pop out our smartphones, books and magazines to kill the waiting time by reading an article, surfing the net or playing a game. In this age of multi-tasking, nobody likes to stand around, do nothing and just wait.

With all these seemingly helpful distractions around to occupy our time, it’s no wonder we have forgotten how to wait! Maybe that’s why we cannot relate to what Isaiah said:

But they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. — Isaiah 40:31

It was a question I asked God to answer when I first stumbled upon this verse… And here’s the paradign shift – waiting for the Lord renews our strength because the Lord WILL show up. We wait for the Lord because He is certainly consistent and consistently certain. For when we are waiting, we are reminded of the Lord’s faithfulness in our lives as well as in His Word.

This is the reason why we must not give up waiting – it takes our eyes off ourselves and fixes our eyes on God; we are freed from our anxieties when we focus our attention on Him. When we wait, we ought to recall the many times that the Lord has delivered in our lives.

So the next time you need to wait for a bus to arrive, an event to pass, a promise to be fulfilled, or for the Lord to show up, know that the wait in itself is part of the process; waiting isn’t just passivity but an intentional and purposeful decision. And the Lord WILL show up in your life. No wonder our strength would be renewed, we’d mount up with wings like eagles, run and not be weary, and walk and not be faint!

Wait for it with conviction… Wait for it with confidence!

picture perfect Perth promotes pauses.

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

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