Monthly Archives: March 2010

is heavy metal music really satanic?

I fondly remember sitting through one of the most interesting and informative Sunday School lessons when I was still in Secondary Three. It was called, “Hell’s Bells: The Dangers of Rock ‘N’ Roll” and according to Wikipedia, “is a Christian documentary film released in 1989… …[that] examines the relationship of rock music to sex, violence, suicide, drug use, rebellion, the occult, and other activities considered immoral by Biblical Theology.”

JN and ET stopped me at G2 this evening and asked, “Is heavy metal music satanic?” I ceased my Hebrews 4:12 lesson preparation (which I am also very excited to write about!) and gave them an answer I learnt from a video 12 years ago.

Firstly, very simply put, music is a mere combination of notes and arrangements. String a few do-re-mi’s together and add in a groove, voila, you’ll produce a melody with rhythm. Is there anything “satanic” about that? No. It’s just music.

Next, if you add certain instruments, vocal arrangements, rhythmic variations and effects, you’ll get your musical genre. Insert piano, vocal harmonies from four boys and a basic 4/4 beat, you’ll arrive at pop music. Strum it a little more aggressive, add that dash of distortion effects and a nice little guitar solo, you’ll come to rock. Load in some double-kick speed-demon drumming, go wild on that extra distortion and start hollering like a man with very bad sore throat, and perhaps you’ll end up with heavy metal music. Is there anything “satanic” about that? No. It’s just music.

When Beethoven started composing all his masterpieces, the people weren’t used to it and called it, “The Devil’s Music”. Same thing happened for The Beatles, Elvis Presley, then disco in the 80’s, rock in the 90’s and now they’re calling R&B “The Devil’s Music” and Beethoven, “soothing neutral music”. This reflects the inconsistent and fickle cultural adaptation and acceptance; once something goes against the norm, it becomes “The Devil’s Music”. Now, may I propose that we STOP giving so much credit to the devil? Music is just a combination of notes, arrangements and effects, for crying out loud.

Hell’s Bells, however, did teach me a qualitative and quantifiable method of assessing music. Do remember that I learnt this when I was 15 years old, so forgive me if I have unwittingly modified the original lessons. (I think what I do know are practical handles anyway.) So look out for these three factors when you determine whether the music that you’re listening to is beneficial for you or not:

  1. Image they portray – consider their onstage portrayal and how they represent themselves in photographs, posters, CD covers, on the internet, etc. Example of a negative image – Marilyn Manson. See pictures of him here.
  2. Lifestyle they lead – consider their offstage way of life and the moral values that they subscribe to when they are not performing or in the limelight. Example of a negative lifestyle – Jimi Hendrix. (For your info, for the classical music maestro that he was, “Tchaikovsky was never emotionally secure, and his life was punctuated by personal crises and periods of depression. Contributory factors were his suppressed homosexuality and fear of exposure, his disastrous marriage, and the sudden collapse of the one enduring [13-year] relationship of his adult life.” Source: Wikipedia)
  3. Lyrics they produce – consider the message and philosophies that they subscribe to in the songs that they sing and present, whether live or in the studio. Example of negative lyrics – Shaggy’s “It Wasn’t Me”. See song lyrics here.

I hope these simple guidelines would help you to determine the type of artistes or songs you put into your iPod.

P/S: As it stands, my WordPress statistics reveal that 16 people have clicked on the personality temperament test link but only three have shared their results here! Come on, share your discovery with me! (:

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top ten ingredients of a worship leader.

I have decided to embark on a periodical series of “Top Ten” lists. To kickstart the series, I’ll share my initial insights of being a worship leader for the last 12 years. I received my calling to lead worship when I was 14 years old at a NA’s Bondage Breaker Conference (I know the topics are unrelated but I don’t decide when I’m called!). The first time I led worship was when I was 15 years old, at a Methodist Schools’ Combined Christian Fellowship Camp. I joined CAMY (before it was called CAMY) when R-AGE services first began as a 14-year-old backup vocalist (way back in 1997) and I began leading worship in R-AGE and in the adult services when I was 17 and 21 years old respectively.

Throughout the 12 years, God has always been faithful to me in assuring me of my calling – He consistently sends (at least) one person to encourage and affirm me of my worship leading anointing, for every single worship session that I’ve led, be it in school, small groups or services. I praise and thank God for His grace and faithfulness. While I sense that my calling has shifted to preaching, leading and mentoring for this season of my life (that’s one reason why I didn’t join the worship ministry in my church in Shanghai), I’m still blessed to have lots of experiences to share with current, new and aspiring worship leaders and hence the birth of this simple bite-sized list.

I’ve divided the list into two categories; the five ingredients in the “Worship” category deals with inward and internal character traits which I feel all worship leaders should possess; the remaining ingredients in the “Leader” category deals with outward and external personality attributes which I think all worship leaders should exhibit. This list is by no means exhaustive and I could probably list another 10, but these are the ingredients that come to my mind first. So here goes the alpha of many “Top Ten” lists to come:

“WORSHIP”

1. Personal worship – The songs you choose should minister to you first and your worship expression on stage should be as consistent as your expression at home, during your devotional time spent with God.

2. Private prayer – Anointing and spiritual authority flows into your life by one way only – an intimate relationship with God; you must develop a habit of regularly praying for yourself, your team and the congregation that you are leading.

3. Reliability and Reliance – Besides being a dependable and available worship leader (for your team), you must learn to be reliant on the Holy Spirit to lead you when you lead worship; failure to do so results in leading by charisma and not by anointing.

4. Humility – Realise that the definition of a biblical leader (modeled after Jesus) is first to serve before you lead, hence your team members are people you serve and not people who serve you; learn to meet their needs and always be concerned for their spiritual growth and character development.

5. Accountability – Being a worship leader means your life is now amplified for all to witness; it is absolutely imperative that a (more) mature and experienced (worship) leader watches over your spiritual well-being for there are many potential hazards as a high-profile personality.

“LEADER”

6. Excellence – Solid preparation is key to leading effectively and so you must memorise your music and your lyrics, as well as to be absolutely familiar with the arrangements, before you can even expect your team to do likewise. I also challenge all worship leaders to expose themselves to more musical genres, know basic music theory and learn at least one instrument.

7. Responsibility – Realise that you are now a public figure and hence your onstage leadership must be a reflection of your offstage lifestyle; you must be responsible for your speech and conduct for they carry a lot more weight now.

8. Initiative – As the shepherd of a flock, you should organise cohesion sessions (such as meals and meet-ups) to bond your team together as well as to give you a platform to get to know them better; take ownership of your team’s overall growth – first as believers, then as musicians.

9. Enthusiasm – If you are half-baked about the things that you do, you will end up producing half-past-six members and your worship session will also be a reflection of your personality. Hence, you must believe and be excited about what you are doing if you want others to catch your “fire”.

10. Connection – I’ve saved the most personal ingredient for the last; one reason why I am convinced of my effectiveness as a youth worship leader, is because I make deliberate efforts to get to know the congregation that I am leading (through intentional fellowship). Hence when I lead my congregation into worship, when I articulate lyrics, when I look into their eyes, (I think) I get an idea of what they are experiencing in their lives and I am to able lead and minister to them because I understand their struggles. You must feel for your congregation.

In closing, a popular perception of a worship leader is that he only needs to concern himself with the 30-minutes on stage. I vehemently beg to differ this dangerous rockstar attitude. You are the worship leader who leads others to worship God, not yourself. The glittering “glamour” of leading worship comes with the great task of leading your team during the time that you are not on the platform (which is the bulk!). Remember, a worship leader is not a superstar.

Suddenly I have a lot more to share, so perhaps I’ll write another “Top Ten” in the coming days. I sincerely hope that was helpful for you and can serve to be a simple yardstick for all worship leaders.

understanding your personality temperament.

Whenever I meet other Christian leaders for the first time, I always like to ask if they know their character temperaments because it gives me a opportunity to instantly square them up. While it’s not always good to do this, it does give me a certain head start in knowing how to engage them. I believe that a leader should be versatile and conversational skills are always a helpful for a leader.

There are four personality temperaments – Sanguine (I), Choleric (D), Melancholic (C), Phlegmatic (S). Some may be more familiar with D-I-S-C. I’ll describe each personality very briefly, according to my understanding:

Sanguine – Extroverted and people-oriented, this ball of energy is popular with people and is often inspiring and persuasive. However, he is usually an insecure person, struggles with being alone and is a scatterbrain.

Choleric – This task-oriented, natural-born leader operates with authority and is a high-achiever who is often outspoken and domineering. However, he also bossy, insensitive to other people’s feelings and struggles with submission.

Melancholic – A perfectionist to a T, this idealistic artist passionately pursues details and is often a peace-maker and a people-pleaser. However, his fragility is exhibited in being overly emotional, indecisive and hard to please.

Phlegmatic – No one brings stability, consistency and loyalty to the table as he easily as he does, as his steadfastness breeds people’s trust. However, his inability to overcome inertia often births laziness and results in him watching life sail him by.

I first took the personality test when I was 16 and I discovered that I was a Choleric-Sanguine (my score was something like S8 C14 M3 P0). Three years later I took the test again and discovered that I was Sanguine-Choleric (score of S16 C8 M6 P-3). Today, seven years later, I think I’m still predominantly a Sanguine. I guess my secondary trait would always be a Choleric but as I often mention, I think I’m a secret Melancholic, especially when I work and plan. I’ve intentionally efforted (what an irony!) to pick up Phlegmatic traits, but it still remains an elusive element. I’m thankful though, that 27 years later, with the Spirit’s help, I’ve learnt to be a lot more Spirit-controlled than uncontrollably Sanguine.

While understanding your personality temperaments allows you to perhaps relate a little better with others as well as to gain a better mastery of yourself, I’ve learnt to aspire to be like Jesus, who incidentally is the most balanced individual, I think. He wasn’t 25% SCMP, no, that would make Him inept and limited. I’d like to think that Jesus was 100% SCMP, making Him 400%. We see in His Sanguine in how He loved and fed people, as well as to heal and talk to them; His Choleric was demonstrated in how He was focussed on His mission and that caused Him to move from place to place to do ministry; Jesus demonstrated His Melancholic through His detailed and organised preaching of the comprehensive Sermon on the Mount; and His Phlegmatic was experienced in how meek and gentle He was with people, to offer peace to them.

I’ve read and repeated this cute analogy many times, and its self-mockery never fails to make people laugh:

Whenever there’s a problem;
The Choleric tries to solve the problem;
The Melancholic dwells in the problem;
The Phlegmatic doesn’t realise there’s a problem;
And the Sanguine IS the problem!

Our approach to life is always going to be different and with it comes a kaleidoscope of obstacles and challenges. Regardless of our personality temperaments, we’ll have our own sets of strengths and weaknesses to bear. I believe that confidence is an acute awareness of one’s strengths and weaknesses. And while we could do well to work on our weaknesses and operate in our strengths, I think that problems are one of the sure things in life, but – and here’s what the Holy Spirit just inspired me to pen down – “Whenever there’s a problem, Jesus is the ONLY solution!” Remember that!

And if you are keen to discover where you are Sanguine, Choleric, Melancholic or Phlegmatic, you can click here to take the personality temperament test. Be sure to leave a comment to let me know what temperament you are!

ever-ready, everybody; anytime, anywhere.

After youth service today, I found myself presented with the opportunity to share the Gospel with two pre-believers, in the presence of two other R-AGE youths who are believers. It wasn’t these guests’ first time in our service, so I was a little surprised that no one has taken the effort to formally share the Gospel with them. I enjoyed the 45-minute conversation with these youths because it has been a while since I presented the Gospel in such an informal manner; it was refreshing to remind myself of my own salvation.

As I shared, the Spirit started to bring back to memory on exactly how to do it in a systematic manner. The sequence, scriptures, truths and probing questions all arrived at the right time. I was a little rusty but I thought I managed to deliver the message clearly while interweaving my own testimony into it as well as involving the two christian youths to share as well as inviting the pre-believers to ask questions. Interestingly enough, on my way home after sending HY back, JP’s sermon on Romans 1:16 was the first track on my shuffled playlist.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

In the very short message, JP compared the shame of the 60’s against the shame of the 90’s. In the 60’s, a believer would be ridiculed for believing the Gospel to be the truth. In the 90’s, a believer would be ridiculed for believing that there’s even a truth. Isn’t that postmodernism in a nutshell? I realised that youths today are a lot less receptive to the truth (regardless of whether it’s biblical truth or moral truth), and would much prefer to define it for themselves, according to their terms and what works best for them. No wonder we have more and more free-thinkers and pseudo-intellectuals thinking that they know everything. (I don’t even dare to say I know anything, hence my personal pursuit of knowledge and prayer for wisdom.)

I’d like to think that believers these days, as many are second-generation Christians, are becoming slack in their knowledge of the Word, hence they are unable to put up a defense for their own faith. I’m not talking about big-time apologetics; I’m talking about the simple justification of why they are even a Christian to begin with. Faith is never a hand-me-down commodity. It has been well-documented and preached by many pastors that “God has no grandchildren”. I firmly opine that one must own and be responsible for their own faith!

Faith is becoming a poisonous element to skeptics. It is precisely due to the subject of faith, their lack of and non-subscription to it which prompted their skepticism. No wonder the Word declared it clearly in Hebrews 11:6, as if it preempted postmodernism, that, “Without faith it is impossible to please [God], for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.” I’d like to think that one reward of having faith in God is that we have the peace of God that reigns in our hearts forever, in the face of skepticism and postmodernism, rendering our faith to be unshakeable (by God’s grace).

In future posts perhaps, I’ll share my other thoughts on my faith issues. But for now, I’d like to exhort all serious Christians (who naturally should be compelled to be passionate about evangelism) to be prepared to present the Gospel and their testimonies at any given time, for any given occasion, simply by ensuring that they have:

  • Memorised the necessary scriptures for sharing (John 3:16, Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23, Romans 5:8, Romans 10:9 etc.)
  • Practised the chronological sequence of themes (Creation, Judgment, Sin, Redemption etc.)
  • Written and rehearsed their own testimonies of how they came to know the Lord or how the Lord has been real to them
  • Familiarised themselves with frequency asked questions about the Christian faith

May I also encourage you to engage the Holy Spirit and rely on Him to direct the session and to do the convicting; this is crucial because we must remember that our duty is evanglism, not salvation – we leave that to Jesus. In closing, note that these above four factors are in past tense. I firmly believe that we must be in state of readiness, not preparation. Perhaps it’s time to have remedial sessions for Gospel-sharing.

reflecting the future.

I’ll say this very loosely and irresponsibly; I am convinced that our behaviour today should give us an indication of our behaviour in the future. Of course, we all desire and hope that we will mature and grow beyond our weaknesses, and perhaps with wisdom and more experience we’ll see improvements.

My mentor PL once told me, after witnessing for himself my poor reaction to a family situation around five years ago:

“Joey, remember that whatever you are capable of doing to your family now, you will likely do it to your family in the future.”

That completely snapped me into place. And I’ve held those golden words dear to my heart ever since.

I’ve always seen myself as a family person; as my colleague and buddy in Shanghai SS would put it, “Joey is 26 (then) going 40”. He found it astonishing that a bachelor in the prime of his career in the wine industry, would have little or no affinity for partying, drinking, gambling, smoking or womanising (the vices, basically). Instead, he was (pleasantly) surprised (I hope!) that I found enjoyment in chilling out over coffee or hanging out at a friend’s place, engaging in a meaningful conversation and a hearty laugh. There’s a part of me that simply can’t wait to hang out with my own family nucleus in the future – playing with my kids, dancing with my wife and loitering in my house.

When RY came over to my place today, he said the same thing, “Joey, I notice you seem to… How do I put it… Have a thing about building a family, wherever you’re at”. I thought about it for a split minute and realised that his observation hit the nail on its head. I enjoyed building a family unit when I was with the Archer Company Tank Platoon, Wine Mall Marketing Team, Precious Thirds, TeamR-AGE and now, a work-in-progress, DoYouLoveMe. I’d like to think that this is a positive quality and it has to be God who ingrained it in me because I do not have an example in my own single-parent family unit to model after.

I know I have digressed, so here’s what I really wanted to say:

  • If you currently demonstrate a hot streak of temper at home and are constantly fuming and throwing your tantrum whenever you get mildly pissed off, then it is likely you’d do it to your own wife and children in the future.
  • If you currently enter a recluse whenever there’s a conflict between your loved ones and stubbornly refuse to communicate with anyone by shutting yourself off, then it is likely that you’d do that with your spouse in the future.
  • If you currently like to run away when things don’t go your way and escape from confrontations and avoid dealing with pressing moral, ethical, values or principles-related issues, then it is likely you’d abscond too from your family in the future.
  • If you currently show an irate face whenever you’ve had a bad day and behave in an antisocial manner that prevents people from approaching you, then it is likely you will exhibit this behaviour to your kids in the future.

The analogies given above are just a tip of the ice-berg. I am sure you are smart enough to know what I am talking about. This applies to any relationship, even outside of the family unit. So consider it carefully whenever you are about to do or say something that may jeopardise the harmony amongst your family (and friends). Remember that whatever that you do in the present has a chance of relapse in the future. Hence, build good and positive habits today if you want to establish a good and positive culture for tomorrow.

the Spirit pulls strings.

The older I get, the more reliant I am on the Holy Spirit. I see it at work when It inspires me with wisdom when I speak to a young person; the Spirit gives me ideas and creativity at lightning speed and it becomes effortless for me to pen plans down when I know that something that brilliant couldn’t have come from me; It reminds me of things that I need to do; It empowers me with courage and bravery to do things I don’t normally attempt; It turns me away from things I ought not to do; It teaches me what to pray; It reveals the truth that is already in my heart. I basically couldn’t do a minute without the Spirit. So I can vaguely imagine how desperate King David must have felt when he cried out in Psalm 51:11, “Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.”

It was an encouraging reminder today at the Foundations of the Christian Life seminar, that the Holy Spirit is a giver of power. I like BH’s description of the Holy Spirit as “the executive member of the Godhead”, meaning the one who accomplishes what God commands. In the Hebrew language, “Ruach” is used to describe the Holy Spirit as the “breath” of God. It’s like hearing a thundering voice, and feeling the air that comes with the booming sound. (Imagine putting your palm in front of a sub-woofer.) BH quite rightly says it, that “the desires of God in heaven is executed by the Spirit of God on earth”.

And so, today’s lessons are in line with last Tuesday’s Jesus Mentor Me session; everything that we learn comes via facts, instructions, advice, news etc. but from all the plethora of data that your mind processes, the Spirit illuminates the truth (that we need to know) from the flurry of information that we receive. This realisation of truth specifically speaks to our hearts and convicts us of what’s wrong and reminds us of what’s right. From this, our minds are continuously transformed and that subsequently causes a change in our speech and conduct. But everything begins from this illumination of truth that the Spirit does. However, if I may reiterate, the Spirit can only illuminate when there’s something already present to illuminate on.

I’ve always seen this analogy of the Holy Spirit at work within us: The Spirit is always beside us, and is connected to us via a string. Whenever we need help and counsel, the Spirit pulls the string and we’ll feel Its’ tug. But each time we turn the Spirit away, more string is released. Remember that the distance between the Spirit and us doesn’t change – the only variable is the length of string that is collected between us. When the string is no longer taut, we no longer feel its tension. However, the more we respond to the tug, the shorter the string becomes and the tighter the tension would be. In this respect, I’d like to think that the grace of God operates in a way that while we’re the culprits releasing string to slack the tension, the one drawing the string back, is the Holy Spirit.

Oh how true it is – “Take not your Holy Spirit from me”!

God’s cultural sense of humour.

I took this picture on the 1,865-metre ascend up to the top of Huangshan in Anhui Province, China.

As HY, CH, KP and I climb every step, we marveled at its ever changing landscape and just how amazing the whole sight was. We unanimously agreed that that was only one word to describe the scene – majestic. Wikipedia quite rightly described it to be an “area is well known for its scenery, sunsets, peculiarly-shaped granite peaks, Huangshan Pine trees, and views of the clouds from above. Mount Huang is a frequent subject of traditional Chinese paintings and literature, as well as modern photography. Today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of China’s major tourist destinations.”

The interesting thing is, as we observe the yellow rocks (hence the namesake), you will, in your mind’s eye, conclude that these rocks just had to be from China; I guess this could be because hand-painted portraits we are see from time to time physically depict Chinese mountains in this particular physical appearance and hence we naturally match such landscapes to oh-this-has-got-to-be-from-China.

I wonder if this particular rock formation was there from the start (not likely), eroded into this state (more likely), or man-made (unlikely – you’d have to be REALLY bored to accomplish this). Either way, I reckon that God doesn’t just have a sense of humour, but a sense of cultural humour; it’s like He knew what would have tickled the Chinese bones. Well, it could have been a Westerner in a tuxedo, an African in a loincloth or a Japanese in a kimono… But no, this rock formation just had to be a Chinese farmer wearing a straw carrying a straw basket with a wooden stick picking herbs!

It doesn’t get any more humourous than that. I’m inclined to believe that God really understand us. And the Chinese would simply say, “哈哈哈”.

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