By His grace alone

By His grace alone

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4 October 2016

By His grace alone

The only constant in life, apart from God, is change. He reminds us of our status as strangers and exiles (Heb 11:13) headed for the everlasting (abiding) city (Heb 11:10, 16; 13:14) which God by His grace is preparing us for. 

Mission in Christ by His Grace

In spite of being raised in St. Andrew’s Cathedral (Sunday School, youth Bible Class, Confirmation course during Secondary 1 and 2 and Youth Fellowship, even accompanying Dean E. O. Shields to Diocesan Youth Camp in Malacca in 1964), it was only in Inter-school Christian Fellowship (ISCF) in my Pre-University (conclusion of twelve years in mission school) that I came to a personal awareness of sin, and, my need for Jesus as Saviour, Master, Standard and Christ.

This inter-denominational setting for growth as a Christian disciple continued as I proceeded to the University of Singapore in 1968 to study Dentistry. Just before matriculation, I attended the Varsity Christian Fellowship (VCF) Camp where Dick Dowsett expounded 1 Peter.

During my first year as an undergraduate, I assisted Canon James Wong, then Precentor of St Andrew’s Cathedral, to run the Anglican Youth Fellowship (AYF) Camp at the Dean’s House at Cavenagh Road. There Dr. G. D. James (Executive Director of Asia Evangelistic Fellowship [AEF]) preached on the early church depicted in Acts as a Growing, Groaning, Giving, Glowing, and Going Church. His challenge to us campers to individually bear these five traits evoked a strong response from the majority of campers and was my call to the set apart professional Christian ministry.

Next Call

At the end of the first academic year (1969), I joined two second-year medical undergraduates on a four-week mission trip by rail (two weeks in Saiburi Christian Hospital in southern Thailand, one week in Bangkok and Manorom, Central Thailand, and one week in Chiangmai) to be exposed to the medical, student and tribal mission work of the Overseas Missionary Fellowship (OMF). It was then that I first sensed God’s leading towards overseas missionary service. 

During my dental housemanship in 1972, I was among the earliest intake to be enlisted into full-time National Service. As a dental surgeon, my national obligation was backdated to include the obligatory housemanship year. Thus I fulfilled my National Service obligation by serving as a dental officer in the army for a further one-and-a-half years.

Together with 30 other medical doctors and nurses, we underwent a six-week Combat Medical and Medical Ancilliary Officers’ Course at SAFTI (Singapore Armed Forces Training Institute) School of Military Medicine. I viewed National Service as an example of, “No choice is God’s choice” (Is 30:21, “Your ears will hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it”), making the most of the situation to learn and serve.

After being commissioned, I became a Dental Officer in SAFTI and helped in the Military Christian Fellowship in the army camp. From my experience of trying to juggle this dual role, it became clear I could not be a dental missionary as it would be frustrating for me to be unable to fulfil both my dental duties and the Christian mission work to my ‘complete’ satisfaction. It was obvious I should choose one or the other. It appeared then as has been confirmed with time that pastoral ministry rather than dental work enabled me to be more effective in touching lives to count for eternity!

Theological Preparation

I had been pursuing part-time biblical and theological training with various seminaries – Laymen’s Institute of Theology (Anglican Church), Melbourne College of Divinity, Australian College of Theology, and Singapore Bible College. I could persist along that path or I could study theology overseas on a full-time basis.

Through counsel from Canon James Wong and Reverend Howard Peskett, I applied for training at the Discipleship Training Centre (DTC) in Singapore and was accepted. The request for disruption from National Service to commence my two-year Diploma in Theology studies through normal MINDEF channels was turned down.

I appealed through my Director of SAFTI, but was posted meanwhile to Tengah Air Base before being re-assigned subsequently to the Dental Clinic at Singapore General Hospital. It was there that, a letter from MINDEF arrived to announce that I was to be released six weeks before the completion of National Service, thus allowing me to commence DTC term on time (in September 1974). Truly “God will make a way where there seems to be no way” (in the words of Don Moen’s song based on Is 43:19 and 1 Cor 10:13). 

Life Partnership

A year later, my wife Priscilla (Pelaez), who came from the Philippines, joined DTC. I have always been taught that, next in importance to receiving Christ as personal Saviour, is the choice (or more precisely, God’s choice) of one’s life partner (Prov 5:18; 12:4; 18:22; 19:14; 31:10, 30). In 1976, after completing the course at DTC in May, I served out my remaining six weeks of Dental NSF at Beach Road Camp and finally discharged my National Service fulltime duties.

I was made an Anglican deacon by Bishop Joshua Chiu Ban It on October 4, 1976, together with Soon Soo Kee and Ronald Hu. Priscilla and I married in July 1977 after she completed her two-year Diploma in Theology course. I commenced DipTh studies by external examinations with the University of London whilst in DTC and subsequently the Bachelor of Divinity (University of London) by external exams during our 18 months in England (1980/81).

In the 40 years as an ordained minister, we have served in nine parishes (Church of the Good Shepherd (English) Oct 76 to Dec 79; St. Stephen’s Church, Norbury and Thornton Heath in the Diocese of Croydon Jan 80 to Jun 81; St Hilda’s Church Jul 81 to Apr 86; St. John the Evangelist Church, Albany in the Diocese of Bunbury (Australia) May to Jul 86; St Andrew’s Cathedral Aug 86 to Dec 91; St. Peter’s Church Jan 92 to Mar 95; St Paul’s Church Apr 95 to Mar 2004; St. Hilda’s Church Apr 04 to Feb 07; and finally St Andrew’s Cathedral Mar 07 till I officially retired from employment in the Diocese of Singapore on September 7, 2016, our ninth posting.

I have been privileged to serve on the Board of St. Andrew’s Mission Hospital Board since 1990, four years as the Brigade Chaplain of the Boys’ Brigade, Singapore, many years as Board Member of the Singapore Leprosy Mission, Ltd, Exco Member of the Bible Society of Singapore, Exco, and subsequently Board Member of Celebrate Christmas in Singapore.

We have two sons, Luke and Matthew (both now serving their National Service Reservist). Through the years, God has provided amply for them. As we managed our household (1 Tim 3:4, 12), we are mindful that our family life is incomplete without family prayer time. Thus as role models, we can with Paul, exhort, “Be imitators of me as I am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1; 1 Thess 1:6-7).

Contentment in Loving God

He constantly reminds us, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” (Mk 8:36). Contentment is to be found in fearing and loving God (1 Pet 2:17) whose words always prove true. “Give and it will be given to you” (Luke 6:38) and “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” (Acts 20:35) were divine promises which we claimed and practised in our lives.

God calls us to be materially content and spiritually discontent. In pastoral ministry, God stretched us (Phil 4:13) as we served in teamwork (Eph 4:11-13) - in COMPLETING and PERFECTING the Church, which is the Bride of Christ (Mt 24:14; Col 1:28).

One key lesson in life is whether by His grace, we are like overflowing rivers of living water (Jn 7:38) or in our flesh, running on empty (Jer 14:3).

Ex 16:21 recorded this account of the Israelites in their wanderings, “Morning by morning they gathered it, each as much as he could eat.” We all need fresh manna each day since it is only as we behold the glory of the Lord (through his MEANS OF GRACE – word, prayer, fellowship, sacraments and witness) that we can be transformed into His image, from a lesser to a greater degree of glory (2 Cor 3:18). 

This disciplined yet delightful feeding on His Word in order to obey Him, through the Holy Spirit’s strengthening, has anchored my 40 years of ordained ministry. This spiritual feeding (2 Tim 2:15) is done through daily hearing, reading (reading through the Bible every year), meditating on, memorising and studying (the Daily Bread and Encounter with God Notes of the Scripture Union enables me to study through the Bible once every four to five years) the scripture in order to obey/apply and preach in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Whatever our abilities, experiences or track records, we need to be reminded that “apart from me you can do nothing”, as Jesus said (Jn 15:5; Ps 119:11, 94:12). We are all leaky vessels who need to keep on being filled/intoxicated with the Spirit and the Word (Eph 5:18; Song 5:1b; Acts 13:52; Lk 11:13) and keep on walking and bearing fruit in the Spirit (Gal 5:16, 18, 22, 25; Eph 5:26).

Eugene Peterson, author of the Message, sees the Bible as “God’s voice, speaking to us, inviting, promising, blessing, confronting, commanding, healing – protecting, correcting, directing.” God’s Word remains “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16) and, through His Word in us “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (Jn 4:14).

Wisdom in Our Witness |  22 Nov
Ds Grace Tan shares at the Sunday Service