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God is my space.

What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” Otherwise you will be boasting about your own plans, and all such boasting is evil.

James 4:15-16 (New Living Translation)

If life is uncertain and death is certain then how in the world are we supposed to negotiate our journey in this lifetime? What on earth are we doing for heaven’s sake? James proposed his resolution in verse 15, which calls for us to tweak our alignment.

It’s not about the planning but about the perspective, not the pursuit but the priority. If life is truly punctuated by question-marks and death completed by full-stops, then I’m grateful that God is my space – the punctuation most-often used in every sentence; every word is preceded and followed by a space. I thank God that His grace is laced in space!

James instructed us to renew our mind. We naturally speak with presumptuousness so he wants us to think differently and speak with renewed positioning. He’s blatant enough to say, “What you ought to say is”, which signifies a deliberate change in speech; speaking like that won’t come naturally, that is precisely why we have to intentionally train ourselves.

So how exactly does James want us to change in our speech? First and foremost, we must acknowledge God’s will in our lives. Everything counts for nothing if God is not in it. That explains why he began his sentence with, “If the Lord wills”. Then he says, “We will live”, meaning that we should check if we are even alive, for it is pointless talking about plans if we are not alive to carry it out. Finally, James says this last, “And do this or that”. Once we have committed our plans to God (and asked Him for His purposes in our lives), and ascertained that we are alive to carry it out, we can consider implementing our plans.

Of course, James knows we’re hardly so obedient; he correctly diagnosed the problem by identifying the opposite of seeking God’s will, that is, to boast about our own plans. This evil boasting is rooted in human pride, where we think we are in control. In Greek, “evil” is an active verb, which means that if we boast of our own plans, we are continuously doing evil.

I didn’t plan to return to Singapore last July. I thought I’d be in Shanghai for a few more years. But everything changed within a week. In a nutshell, I was caught in the middle of a senior management dispute and had to make a decision. I sought the Lord and I made the decision to return home. I had His peace reigning in my heart. Everyone around me was shocked – my mother, sister, colleagues, business associates and even Huiyi’s family – because I was doing well in Shanghai. In fact, I left in the same month of a promotion and significant pay increment.

But a still small voice in my heart assured me that it was all right to come home. I knew that the Lord was going to take care of me, so I obeyed. That was simply it. I had no idea that it would lead to what I am doing now with R-AGE; I didn’t expect myself to be a full-time youth minister so quickly but God knows His timing and I trust Him for it – that’s the beauty of life.

When we understand that this life doesn’t belong to us but to God, we will realise that all we need to do is to obey. Obedience is the highest expression of stewardship; the best way to see the mark of obedience to God in your life is to observe how you have stewarded your life according to what God has revealed in your heart. I do not look forward to the day when God puts His arm around my shoulders to commend me on all the good things I have done for Him only to sound a tad bit disappointed because I missed out on the only thing He wanted me to do; it is important for us to be faithful to our calling.

People say that change is the only constant but I beg to differ for God is the only constant. And if God is the only constant, then wouldn’t it be wise for us to bank on Him to see us through this uncertain life leading up to a certain death? We must remember that life does not revolve around what we want but what God wills. Our lives ought to be a declaration of the true sovereignty of God and never about the imagined control of Man.

If I am an investor and someone told me about a stock that would eventually be good for me, I would buy it in a heartbeat. The stock will fluctuate, but because I know that it will eventually be good for me, I will hang on to it no matter what. The Bible tells us in Romans 8:28 that we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them. Our job becomes really simple then; all we need to do is to love God and live out His purposes in our lives.

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comfort for the mourning.

Today, I mourn and grieve with one of my youth leaders, whose mother passed away suddenly due to an unexpected stroke in her neck. People of God, if you don’t know him but are reading this, pray for him and his father. And if you do, walk the extra mile and be available to help at the wake in any way possible if he requires you to. Contact me if you want the details to the wake. Let’s cover him with our love and support through his dark valleys and have faith in God to trust that He is sovereign. It is never easy to deal with departures.

***

comfort for the mourning
by joey asher tan

bleakness stares in your face
lost hopes, shattered dreams
echoing the rain, the pain and a reflectionless mirror
displaying a grief-stricken daze
reflecting also
the agony of tears

where it hurts most
lies the greatest comfort

too young, too soon
too suddenly
pray all’s fine when you wake next morn
but everything’s naught and everything’s torn
this couldn’t, it shouldn’t
i’m shaken with grief

the process is
but part of the plan

disbelief trails your shadow
a black market of unquenchable grief
sickening irony
of unfathomable timing and tragedy
never thought, not ever wished
alas, you’ve already seen her last

this is My plan
now you may not understand

stay strong now
you are in need and needed
by one who is broken to his feet
trickling down your cheeks
tears roll
with misery, forfeit and a tinge of courage

cast your cares to Me
for I am here with you

under attack
by lies you may not comprehend
may angels surround
may God protect
your mind, your emotions
your all as you suffer the wreck

for you I weep
like a soul without sleep

no answers, no replies
facts and figures form your sigh
don’t lose your way
don’t go astray
head for a fresh start
trust in Him and find His direction in your heart

yes, that is true
may it be, for you

a sinner you and I, and I grieve for her soul
you don’t know
but I just realised my deepest of concerns for you
crying out
reaching out
my arms embrace your being, my dearest brother

but I do know that’s when
divine comfort flows

keep the main thing, the main thing.

Today, I commemorate my first year in Singapore since I returned from Shanghai for good. I fondly remember how I made my comeback at the No One Else album launch concert. I will never forget the microphone stand, the spotlight, the explosive Roller Coaster introduction, and those 10 memorable steps (wished it was 100!) I took to superstardom the centre of the stage. It was my moment of conceited indulgence (so bear with me) and it’s not very often I get to feel like a rock star. Yes, it’s a terribly vain thing to say, but I’ve never denied my appetite for the limelight. (Fronting a band gives me a completely different rush from leading worship or preaching and I’ve really missed that! RL, CK, JT… It’s time to revive…)

Anyway, I’m sure it’s not the first time you’ve read the above-mentioned expression. “Keep the main thing, the main thing” is synonymous with “Do not major on the minor” or “Know the difference between urgent and important”. Over the past nine months, something that I’ve honestly struggled with is to discern between my dreams and God’s dreams (for I certainly don’t want to mess this up!), as well as to think about how all these dreams are translated into ministry execution. I honestly find the marriage of the two dreams extremely challenging at times.

When I felt the call to enter full-time ministry, there were only three ministries that God deposited into my heart – Lead, Preach and Mentor – and these governed the way I operated; you could say that these are the three pillars of my personal calling. I’ve tried to center all my decisions around these pillars. Of course, I’ve made a couple of wrong decisions along the way, like getting involved in the Grace 60th Anniversary and being involved with the original YAYP transition team; I try never to live in regret, but to learn from retrospect for it is pointless if to lament about spilled milk.

As my portfolio increases and as my tent enlarges, so will my influence and competencies too. I’ve learnt that I must learn not to get involved with everything even though I want to and may foolishly deem myself suitable for it, and especially when it is logical to do so. (Sigh, logic – Man’s feeble attempt at second-guessing God’s sovereign will…) That’s the reason why I believe that a personal vision statement is important. If you have a motto to preside over the way you function, you more or less know what to say yes to and what to turn down; it helps you to live a principled life. What’s yours? Mine is:

“I am a bible-believing Christian who desires to know God
by working excellently, learning earnestly while having a balanced lifestyle,
for the glory of God.”

At our mid-year appraisal this morning, RY told me that “marrying your dreams into God’s will is a constant struggle”, and I concur. That’s why I think it’s always a step of faith to act on what God has impressed upon my heart. With RY, I always learn something new or am reminded of previously-learnt lesson – that’s why he’s my mentor and that’s why I look up to him so much. And in true hero-fashion, he balanced the above-mentioned statement with this: “But remember, it is God who planted these dreams into you”. That took a huge load off my shoulders; I couldn’t believe that I missed something as obvious as that!

I have been wired to lead with my heart on my sleeves and somehow this quality has become my signature. Perhaps it explains why Passion is one of the three flagships of my personality, besides Authenticity and Believing in Young People. These are the core values I think my life represents most dominantly and consistently. Again I quote my boss, “Passion is like a tap; once you turn it on, water gushes out” – I’d like to believe that my passion for youth ministry doesn’t just trickle out, but that it surges out.

However, I know that one day my passion will run out. RY encouraged me today and told me that I have tenacity; it was the first time this word was used to describe me. He deliberately chose tenacity over perseverance for (I think) the latter represents an indefatigability to endure present situations while the former indicates a determination to push oneself through to overcome challenges. I liked that distinction and I believe that tenacity should rightly be the best friend of passion for they are perfect complements.

So anyway, back to keeping the main thing, the main thing, I think it’s a good opportunity for me to take a step back and reflect, and to ask God to give me grace so that I can differentiate what I want to do from what I need to do, as well as to determine what He wants me to do. (God doesn’t need me to do anything. He doesn’t need anybody to do anything for Him. In fact, according to Psalm 50:12, if He was hungry He wouldn’t even tell you or me.) In our lifetime, we’d go through seasons after seasons and so it remains a wise thing to focus, always on the main thing. If I were to strip everything down to its core, the main tasks in life (in fact, the only two tasks), is to love God more and to love His people more everyday (Mark 12:30-31).

a note to those from single-parent families.

My parents have been divorced since I was 8 years old – that’s 19 years now. Within two decades, I’ve moved from Ghim Moh, to Jalan Besar, back to Ghim Moh, to Bishan Street 13, then to Bishan Street 11 and finally, I’m back at Ghim Moh (same block, same storey, just seven units away). Just as I’ve changed addresses, my mentality towards this increasingly common social phenomenon has also shifted as I matured in age, wisdom and spirituality. Did I ever wish that I came from a “normal” family? Yeah, of course I did – why not? But would I trade my family and upbringing for a “normal” one? Not a chance.

There are many things I’ve learnt in these years and over time I’ll share my insights. But tonight, I felt led to share about an often misunderstood subject – roles – especially the roles of a son and a brother, for that’s what I’m most familiar with. (This post is not a testimony of my journey as a single-parent kid for if I were to document God’s grace and goodness to my family, it could only be contained in a book.)

Two of God’s greatest gifts in my life reside with me – my mother and sister. I’d be the first to admit that we’re a dysfunctional family – try removing a pivotal figure (i.e. a father) from a family cluster, and see if this family can function normally; I am confident that their definition of “normal” would be rewritten many times over, just like mine was. And so I’ve already grown accustomed to how life would be “unfair”. I’ve stopped lamenting a while ago and I’ve gotten over my emo days as a rebellious teenager who got angry at just about anything and everything. Each of you are at a different stage of your journey in a single-parent family and the sooner you realise that life is (or will be) different, and the sooner you come to terms with the “what-did-I-do-to-deserve-this” phase, the lighter your load becomes.

First up, to the sons (or daughters):

Are you playing “husband” to your mother? Do you sometimes catch yourself sitting beside her to listen to her woes like a caring husband would? Do you spend time with her hoping that you’d fill the void that was created by your father? Do you spoil her with gifts in hope that she’d feel pampered like an adored wife? May I humbly request, from experience, that you stop role-playing? Let me explain.

For the longest time, I found myself (subconsciously or consciously) playing the role of a husband to my mother. Sometimes out of responsibility and sometimes out of sympathy. I felt like it was my duty as the son who bears the surname of her husband to fill the void in her life created by my father; I simply wanted to replace a husband’s absence. I won’t share why their marriage didn’t work out, but I have learnt to accept that their failure had nothing to do with me. Similarly, I’d say the same thing to you – you had nothing to do with your parents’ divorce – so stop blaming yourself and stop doing things out of obligation or duty. It’s an unwarranted burden to shoulder and you’d be better off not carrying it. Remember, like it or not, no matter what you do, you will never fill the void in her life that was vacated by her husband. Simply put, you will never become her husband. Case closed. So stop trying.

Next, to the brothers (or sisters), especially those who are firstborns:

Are you trying to “father” your younger sibling? Do you sometimes find yourself scolding and disciplining your sister, like strict and stern father would? Do you dispense advice to her, like a wise father would? Do you get riled up whenever she gets bullied, like a protective father would? Do you shower her with presents, like a doting father would? Do you act fatherly so that she could experience what it feels like to be “Daddy’s girl”? Again, if I may humbly request, for her good and for your own good, please stop role-playing. Let me explain.

I found myself playing the role of a father to my younger sister. I would chide her harshly when she made mistakes and I’d demand respect from her just like my father would. When we were younger, I imposed restrictions on her and curtailed some of her activities because I felt that it was my duty to playing the role of the missing father at home. Before she started earning her own income, I would, from time to time, bring her out on shopping sprees because I didn’t want her to feel like she had no one to dote on or spend lavishly on her. But I realised that no matter what I did, I could never become my sister’s “Papa”. I could never pinch her cheeks or rub her face against my bearded face, like my father could. I could never give her that nod of approval, like my father could. And no matter how many times I told her that I was proud of her, I could never make her feel the pride of a father.

And so, whether I liked it or not, no matter what I did, I could never fill the void in her life that was vacated by my father. Simply put, I could never become her father. Case closed. So I stopped trying. And you should too, if you are still at it. You have limitations – learn to accept them.

Freedom comes when you realise that you need not play more than what your role demands of you to do. Many years ago, I arrived at the tipping point of frustration in my family. It was over a casual lunch at IKEA that the Holy Spirit spoke through CX and that caused a breakthrough in my roles in the family. I remember to this day her golden words. She simply said (with that legendary CX-stare), “Joey, I want you to stop playing the role of a husband and a father.” It was an epiphany of sorts for me. I began to relinquish these roles that I’ve been unnecessarily playing over the past decade. And after a month of letting go, I felt lighter and less frustrated.

So I’d encourage you to relate to your single-parent or your sibling like a son or brother would. Make your mother feel like a 世上只有妈妈好 mother. Make your sister feel like a sister that everyone is proud of. Of course you can love them to the best of your abilities, but I’m telling you to care for your mother as a son would, buy gifts for your sister as a brother would, spend time with and listen to your mother’s complaints as a son would, and dispense advice and counsel to your sister as a brother would – you get the idea.

In fact, I’d go as far as to say that you should tell your mother about your weekly victories and defeats – for that is something a son does. Be a “Mama’s boy”. Tell her about the people who treated you well and badly at work and proudly show off to her your accomplishments in the workplace and ministry. Allow her to share your burdens, even though you may think that she’s already heavy-laden and overloaded. She’s your mother and she will always care for and love you no matter how tough it gets for her, and nothing’s ever going to change her sacrificial behaviour. Your role then, if I could put it this way, is to reinforce her role as a mother and not substitute yourself as her husband. Make her feel like she’s the best mother in the world – make that your priority.

And for your sister, I’d also go as far as to say that you guide and advise her, and give her a platform to share her life with you – for that is something a brother does. Captivate her with your life stories, inspire her with your exemplary behaviour and make her laugh with your silly mistakes. Become the man that she’d benchmark her future boyfriend against. Be the brother that all younger sisters look up to and respect. In fact, you should also annoy and irritate her – for most brothers do that! It’s all part of being a brother! Your role then, if I could phrase it this way, is to reinforce her role as a sister and not substitute yourself as her father. Make her feel like she’s the best sister a brother could ever have or dream of – make that your priority.

In a day and age where marriages are wrecked by infidelity and financial woes, I can’t help but to believe that more and more of my youths will struggle with their parents being separated or divorced. My heart goes out to them, but I will say that it is not the end of the road – it wasn’t for me. Our God is a good God and His sovereign plan is something that we should come to love and trust. Let me set the record straight – a single-parent family is NOT the passport or excuse to a messed-up life; similarly, a normal family is also NOT the passport to a blessed life. My friend, your destiny is in your hands; it’s got nothing to do with your parents’ successes or failures. Now, get that in your head and start living your life for the glory of God – that’s my current and biggest priority.

all of us are gifted.

Recently I had an opportunity to catch up with an old friend and he shared with me how he rejoiced with his wife when his son finally uttered, “Mama”. I rejoiced with him for it was a breakthrough for their family and when he shared it with me, he communicated a gratitude to God that nothing in the world could manufacture.

I juxtaposed it with parents who constantly berate their child for not doing better than their cousins, classmates, neighbours and whoever they could conveniently use to destroy their kid’s self-confidence and beliefs system. I remember telling HY that we’ve gotten it all wrong and have become complacent for the things that we ought to be thankful for. The more I hear it, the more I find “better than” a repulsive phrase.

That one-worded “Mama” was a gift from God to his child; as he shared his delight with me, I couldn’t help but to thank God for giving us speech – and I told HY that all these seemingly basic functions are truly gifts from God. I told her that in the future when we do have children of our own, we should be thankful for everything that the child has – speech, sight, hearing, limb movement, cognition, health and even something as taken-for-granted as daily breath! And not wish that our child is a pianist prodigy, artistic phenom, mathematics maestro or a kid with elephant memory (or not). Unfortunately, we have been conditioned to think that that’s being gifted, but we have forgotten that everyone is gifted – your ability to inhale and exhale is the gift of life from the Giver of life. Let’s not fight the wrong battles.

It wrenches my heart when I find out how my youths struggle with their (“inadequate”) academic achievements, because most times they’ve gotten it all wrong – they seek the result instead of the process; they seek a resume instead of academic returns; they seek worldly covetousness (wanting to be better than someone else) instead of godly contentment (wanting to be the best that God has designed them to be). I believe that our mentality is messed up because of the way we have been brought up (and this is no fault of ours). However, we should be careful not to pay it forward to the next generation.

At the end of the day, these pursuits amount to nothing all that significant. I so wished that I could hold their faces in my hands, look at them in the eye and tell them, “Come on, do you REALLY think that a C grade or a ‘regular’ CV could stop God from fulfilling His purpose in your life?” Oh, we of little faith; we ought to be dismissed for thinking that our destiny is determined by our downfalls. When will we finally learn that the sovereignty of God far exceeds earthly meritocracy?

Let us all take a step back to recalibrate our compasses, unless of course you have already decided to raise your child in the exact same manner that you have been raised. Let us remember that life in itself is the greatest gift and that we ought to be thankful for it. Let us not go overboard in seeking additional gifts instead of the Giver Himself. Don’t get caught in the world’s definition of “gifted”!

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