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originality through imitation (part one) – the quest for originality.

Over the next few days I will post a series of my reflections (and study notes) from one of my morning devotions last week. I shared it with the GII Shepherds on Tuesday night and I was encouraged to hear their “check-out” (it’s something I get them to do at the end of my teaching sessions). In my preparation, I expanded my half-page handwritten reflections into a four-page lesson; hence I’ll take HY’s advice and separate this sharing into a four-part series instead of dumping the entire lesson into one entry, for better consumption and digestion.

On a side note, I remember telling HY and EL that I’m starting to think and write as if everything that I communicate or compose is a sermon. Is this an occupational hazard of a(n aspiring) preacher? I mean, it’s so weaved into my cognition process that I do that even in my devotional and prayer journaling! And the crazy thing is that I actually enjoy thinking, writing and speaking like that because this discipline forces me to streamline my thoughts and increase the efficiency in my choice of words. You may realise this if you’ve been reading my blog for a while.

But I digress. Here’s the first of four parts, which will bring us through to Sunday.

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Originality Through Imitation
Quiet Time Reflections on Genesis 1-2
By Joey Asher Tan

Introduction – The Quest for Originality

This is my umpteenth attempt at re-reading the Bible from the beginning. However, unlike the earlier efforts, I have a new zeal for the Word of God and I’ve determined within myself to find a revelation of Jesus Christ in every sitting.

So, in an all-too-familiar restart, I read the first two chapters of Genesis a little differently; I read Genesis 1 telescopically and Genesis 2 microscopically and I urge you to do likewise. You will then realise that Genesis 2 is actually an in-depth look at the sixth day of God’s cosmic creation.

By God’s impeccable design, Man was created by God to bear His image and to be the master of all life on earth. The making of Man concluded God’s creation process and with that He declared everything to be excellent in every way; Man was the icing on His cake and the cherry on His pie!

It was truly a privilege for Man to be come alive by the breath of God (nothing else in creation has that invocation!) and to be given the free will to make his own decisions. That to me, along with Man’s purpose to be God’s image-bearer, was the grace of God.

Creation then reveals the centrality of Christ in this manner – Jesus came to redeem and restore us (more on redemption and restoration later) to the original requirements of intimate fellowship with God. At this point in time, I asked God two questions: “What has creation got to do with Me? How is creation even relevant to my daily living?”

There is only one point which I will attempt to prove through this sharing.

I humbly opine that the best creation is the original creation. And that is in the image of God. I think this is why we are constantly called to imitate Christ, for Christlikeness is the expressed image of God (or the closest you could get!). We must realise that when we are Christlike, we are actually being original in its truest form. That in effect is saying, the more we are like Jesus, the more original we are! No wonder Paul said, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).

In a day and age where the clichés of being true to yourself and being original has become an over-emphasised and highly overrated aspiration, the Word of God interrupts us with a counter-culture challenge. Think about it – what’s so good about wanting to be who you’ve always wanted to be? According to what I have read, I see zero benefits; at this point of my life, I’d rather be more like Jesus than to be more like Joey. The older I get, the more I know my(wretched)self the more I conclude that there’s no glory in wanting to be myself.

So we arrive at a point of application. Throughout our lives, there’s always someone we look up to and desire to model after; he or she could be a parent, pastor, peer or even an onscreen personality. Everyone has heroes in their lives. I was instantly challenged to cultivate a solitary desire to mimic Jesus above and beyond any of my mentors. I’m not called to be Jesus, but to be like Jesus. And I think this universal truth applies to all serious believers who desire to showcase God’s glory through their lives.

Do me a favour, will you? Read Genesis 1-2 again and rediscover that, in light of our fallen nature, the best creation is truly the original creation.

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Next post: The Grandeur of the Creation of Man

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IDMC 2010: an intermission.

Probably the most annoying GIF in the world. (Source: Very Demotivational)

I’m halfway through my second IDMC and I’ve learned many new lessons as well as have been reminded of some old lessons. IDMC will always be a special conference for me because it was on the second night (that’s tonight!) that I made my decision to step into full-time ministry. What’s inspired me most so far though, isn’t what EC has been teaching but what he’s been living. Through EC’s example, I’m convinced that one of the top priorities of a preacher is to spend an abundance of time dwelling and delighting in the Word of God. I echo his sentiments in my heart for I think that’ll be one of the best things a pastor could do for his congregation. It’s time for me to dig even deeper into the Holy Bible!

Once my thoughts are organised in the right places, I’d be better placed to write something worth reading. For now, I’m excited that a good number of youth leaders in Grace AG has signed up for IDMC 2011 – the numbers stand at 19 at last count but I’m expecting the final number to swell to 25 when I register everyone tomorrow morning. On a side note, I’ve been impressed by the Covenanters’ commitment to their own conference – it’s obvious that they own it and are tremendously proud of IDMC; you could see this pride hung on the faces of all the volunteers – well, if I was one of them, I’d be proud too. It’s been a thoroughly pleasing experience for me as a delegate to be treated to their genuine hospitality. Needless to say, this is something that I’d want R-AGE youths to pick up – be it during Rhema Conferences, events, services or cells. Covenanters make me want to return to their church because of how welcoming they are – can our guests say the same thing about us? I have confidence that we will attain an excellent standard of hosting with the right training.

In the meantime, I hope you haven’t spent too much time looking at this GIF. It’s been rolling ever since I started composing this post and it still hasn’t ended. Epic GIF, no less. I couldn’t help but to post it. For now, I look forward to the third installment of IDMC 2010.

financial advice: how to invest your money.

I’m three months shy of turning 21 years old for the seventh time and I’d like to think that I’ve had a blessed life. Of course, I could always be happier but I’ve arrived at a stage of my life where I’ve never been so contented with my current material well-being.

I have a healthy variety of shirts, pants and shoes to choose from, a good collection of watches, a decent guitar, camera and laptop, a branded wallet and a smartphone. Two years ago, I remember counting my collection of 20+ Threadless t-shirts and 10+ Crumpler products. My room is hooked up with a 27″ LCD TV and a 5.1 surround-sound system. Bottom line is, there’s nothing I need, really, and I’m thankful to have (almost) everything that I’ve always wanted to purchase. I’ve done my fair share of possessions-accumulation during my days of earning a higher income.

But, so what? All these thing amounts to nothing at the end of the day for I will take none of these with me when I exit this earth; they will be useless and worthless eventually.

Of course I still have material desires – I’ve been eyeing this and this for some time now and each time I walk past an optical shop, I’d always check if that pair of sunnies is in stock and if there’s a promotion, and without fail, I’d politely say to the disappointed sales representative, “Okay thanks, maybe I’ll get it next time”, and walk away. Would I ever buy it? I think the question I ask myself these days is, “Is that good stewardship of money?” I’d be honest to admit that I’m still tempted by some items but I also deliberately desensitise myself from accumulating things.

I like what RS, the founder of this website, stated about conscious spending, for there’s truth and logic in his philosophy, even if it’s of a secular mentality:

“Spend extravagantly on what you love and cut costs mercilessly on what you don’t.”

Having a reduced income over the last nine months have certainly helped me to be more decisive and cruel in differentiating my needs and wants. At the same time, it has also helped to shape my “investment portfolio”. While I’m a prudent spender and a happy saver, I don’t think I’m qualified to give real financial advice – I mean, did you really think I was going to teach you how to invest your money on my blog? Come on! (:

But I’d like to share with you how I have been investing my money and why I’ve chosen to do it this way. Perhaps this could encourage or challenge you to revisit your spending habits and investment inclinations. I’m not sure if these items have eternal worth, but I’m confident that they have a life-long value. So, please allow me to share the three things I delightfully invest money in:

  1. People. I used to be stingy in treating people to meals. But over the years, I’ve learnt to be progressively generous, simply because people have been exceedingly generous with me. Nowadays, I’m always quite happy to foot the bill, especially if I am fellowshipping with a young person who has lesser resources. When people buy me meals, they indirectly tell me that I’m worth their time and money. And so, I pay (pun!) it forward – I hope my young people will feel the same way too – that they are worth my time and money. (Pun!) I’m putting my money where my mouth is. (I can also instantly detect those who are out to exploit this…)
  2. Knowledge. The older I get, the more I spend on books, seminars, conferences and audio CDs and DVDs. In fact, I just took advantage of the Desiring God July DVD sale and invested good money in some DVDs which I will be sharing with my cell. As for gifts, I also find myself buying books because I think that there’s nothing better than to give my friends the gift of knowledge. Besides, this is one investment that can be passed around, shared and revisited.
  3. Perspective. Lastly, I always enjoy expanding my horizon of perspectives and there’s no better way to do that than to visit new places and to do new things. I try to go on a couple of vacations every year and I always try to visit new destinations. I enjoy investing into my worldview (and sabbath too!). I get a kick from meeting new people, learning new languages, visiting new places, immersing in new cultures, tasting new cuisines and enjoying new experiences. And as a budding preacher, I believe that all these new perspectives will empower and enhance my ambitions to be a more dynamic and balanced communicator.

People, knowledge and perspectives are indefinitely more valuable than material possessions and I’d gladly invest extravagantly on them. Apart from these three items (at this point in my life), the rest of my money is really spent for function’s sake, like functional eating and functional travelling. My question then, to you, is:

What do you invest your money in?

we should always keep it fresh.

Tonight I watched the Mayday DNA concert at the National Stadium; this was my fifth time watching them, but the first time that the tickets were free, thanks to TT’s involvement with Youth Olympic Games. The last time I saw them was last Spring in Shanghai, about a year ago, and I paid S$150 for a seat 30 rows from the stage. This might just be the final time I’ll watch them… Unless I receive complimentary tickets again.

I declare this to be the final time because I know just about every single showmanship trick, stage line and musical arrangement that they have up their sleeves. I wasn’t impressed anymore – I didn’t clap or wave my hands or dance and I didn’t get high anymore. I was entertained, but that was it. Yeah, there were new elements – a huge robot, a children’s choir, an impressive mini orchestra as well as a new song. But I told HY that I wouldn’t have gone tonight if it wasn’t because a free show. She concurred.

Don’t get me wrong, it was a excellent concert; anyone attending it for the first time would have left the stadium impressed (although for the ideal experience, you’d have to sit at the more expensive seats directly in front of the stage). Mayday still remains one of my all-time favourite bands and I will continue to hum their music and be inspired by Ashin’s song-writing prowess, but there’s nothing new about them under the sun anymore. It was a great concert yet I was bored.

On my way back after sending TT, NY and HY home, I thought about what I was going to write about today and I was reminded of Mark 6:4 (NLT).

Then Jesus told them, “A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his relatives and his own family.”

I haven’t done my homework on this verse yet but I offer my quick thoughts anyway. I’m no longer impressed with Mayday because I could predict my concert experience. This got me thinking about why people decide to leave church or change services for somewhere or someone better, not because the new place or preacher is actually good (or better), but because they probably could predict all the antics of their regular service and sermon. Whenever Grace Retreat approaches, there’s an air of anticipation for the fresh word in season that the speaker would bring; I don’t deny that anticipation, but I think that our regular preachers are just as solid – the only difference is that we are familiar with them, too familiar sometimes.

I remember telling myself to attempt to treat every service like it’s the first time I’m attending it, or as if it’s a special retreat or conference service, or as if it’s the first time I’m hearing the preacher – all this to keep the experience fresh and to keep it new. I get a better understanding of why Jesus said the above-mentioned after tonight’s concert. The Mayday concert was spectacular, no doubt, but it was also boring because I was already used to it. The miracles Jesus performed were still miracles (there’s nothing unspectacular about healing illnesses!), but He wasn’t as effective in His hometown because I’m guessing the locals already knew what was coming up next in the list of Jesus’ to-do’s.

Tonight, as I remind myself to keep my own service experience fresh, I remind you to do likewise. You’ll be surprised at how much more receptive and expectant you might just be at your next service.

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