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the fire on the altar kept burning.

Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Command Aaron and his sons, saying, ‘This is the law for the burnt offering: the burnt offering itself shall remain on the hearth on the altar all night until the morning, and the fire on the altar is to be kept burning on it. The priest is to put on his linen robe, and he shall put on undergarments next to his flesh; and he shall take up the ashes to which the fire reduces the burnt offering on the altar and place them beside the altar. Then he shall take off his garments and put on other garments, and carry the ashes outside the camp to a clean place. The fire on the altar shall be kept burning on it. It shall not go out, but the priest shall burn wood on it every morning; and he shall lay out the burnt offering on it, and offer up in smoke the fat portions of the peace offerings on it. Fire shall be kept burning continually on the altar; it is not to go out.

– Leviticus 6:8-13 (NASB, emphasis mine)

It doesn’t take a genius to realise the key message that Moses communicated to the Levites; this was a part of their daily duties – to keep the fire on the altar burning through the day and night. It sounds simple but I reckon that it actually takes a great amount of diligence to execute this task. Think about it as you re-read it; they had to don different sets of attire for burning the offering and clearing the ash. It was probably cumbersome to follow through the detailed instructions.

The fire.

Firstly, it’s important to note that this fire first fell from heaven (Leviticus 9:24); God put the fire there Himself. This I think, represents a fire of devotion, a symbol of uninterrupted worship and an undying presence of Christ in our lives. Hence, it has to burn with heavenly fire (since it was of a heavenly source). Let’s recognise that this fire cannot be fueled by earthly means – the only way to God is through Jesus Christ. For the fire to keep burning, the priests had to keep refueling it. Again, this was a cumbersome task and I think it represents our constant need for atonement; as believers, we have to fervently persevere in offering ourselves to God as this is a perpetual fire, not a temporal one. This fire must keep going until we meet Christ.

As with any fire, I think that the priests faced three main dangers in their mission to keep the fire burning on the altar:

  1. Ashes – that’s why they had to keep clearing it… We have to keep clearing the junk out of our lives!
  2. Negligence – when they fail or forget to fuel the fire… We have to be alert when we pursue God!
  3. Apathy – when they can’t even be bothered anymore… We have to be aware of the dangers of luke-warmth!

Are you able to identify with any of the above-mentioned as you fan your own flame? For the priests, the presence of these elements would inevitably dim the fire and cause an immediate reduction of the fire’s supposed influence, intensity and interest (or relevance). Let’s avoid these pitfalls.

On the altar.

If there was a holy of holies in our physical bodies, I reckon it to be our hearts. God looks at our hearts indeed and we must remember that it burns only by God’s grace and supplication, which we should ask boldly for so that God will get all the glory. I think our hearts should be fueled by two things – scripture and time with God. I propose three necessary elements for our altar of private prayer:

  1. Regular – set it at the same time so you develop a habit of prayer.
  2. Frequent – seriously, how effective can praying annually or quarterly be?
  3. Undisturbed – get away from all distractions that compete for your attention.

We must remember that all fires are borrowed from the fire of private prayer. Again, I’ll say it – the revival of a ministry comes by the prayer of its people and not by the pursuit of its programme(s).

Kept burning.

It must have been a “holy barbecue” for the priests on duty. I can imagine them, at the commencement of their duties, being given the offering (lamb, fats, meat etc.) to be burnt.  For sure they couldn’t burn it all at one go as if they were at a Korean grill! I’m certain they had to burn it like they were preparing Chinese double-boiled soup. They had to measure the quantity of the portions, observe how it burnt and calculate the burning time; they took turns to be on “guard duty” to tend to the fire, to ensure that it kept burning the entire night and that the offering set apart for that night would last until the morning. Don’t you think that it’s actually similar to guard duty in the army? There’s no need to do guard duty in the daytime because everyone’s at work and on guard; it’s always at night that we let our guards down. Likewise, it’s easier to keep the fire going in the daytime when everyone can see, but it’s indefinitely harder to keep the flame from being extinguished at night as we’re on our own.

I find this analogy especially relevant to ministry leaders. Question is, what exactly are we burning? I think that there are three things which we normally burn:

  1. People – without people, ministry won’t exist or make sense.
  2. Ideas – without ideas, people’s effort would be wasted and misdirected.
  3. Events – without events, there’ll be no platform to execute ideas.

We must realise that we cannot burn everything at once otherwise we’d suffer a quick burn-out! The solution here is to offer a continuous offering with a spread-out intensity instead of an initial offering that overwhelms everyone – that’s our responsibility as leaders in the ministry. To be consecrated, we must establish a “slow burn” that takes place over a long time that has to be attended by leaders and pastors (priests). It’s crucial then, that ministers of Christ have the fire of their zeal constantly burning. We must remember that giving ourselves completely to God is not a “quick work” but a “slow burn”. But be careful, for sometimes we’re on the fire for too long we don’t realise we’re actually the ones burning!

It is with this passage of scripture that I felt led to start a couple of prayer initiatives because we’re simply not praying enough. Did you really think that 30 minutes of PUSH, five minutes of pre-service prayer and two hours of P&P would do the trick of ushering in revival? Far from it! From now until the end of 2011, with the right resources and people in place, I’d like to prayerfully initiate at least a quarterly 12-hour overnight prayer session, add in an annual 24-hour “Pray like Mad” prayer concert (inspired by an event of the same namesake I attended a decade ago) and invite parents to pray with youths.

Leaders – feel my heartbeat. I want to encourage you to mimic the priests. If you observe the way they lead their people spiritually, you’ll realise that there was really nothing beneath them to do; that’s right, they served their sheep with a no-matter-what and a whatever-it-takes attitude! That was their house-keeping responsibility – to ensure that their fire (and their sheep’s fire!) never burns out, but is kept burning continuously! Leaders, that is your mandate – to keep the fire of your youths continuously burning for God. Ask God to show you how!

You know, I’ve only had “Buddha Jumps Over The Wall” once in my lifetime and when I tasted it, I could almost taste the 48 hours of preparation, the expertly cut delicacies, and the freshest and most premium ingredients. It was one of my most memorable culinary experiences and I think that our prayer lives can be as gratifying and as tasty as that! Just remember to keep the fire on a “slow burn”!

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the difference between a job and a career.

I spent some time deliberating this over the past couple of days. I found some interesting attempts at defining and differentiating the two. These definitions are amongst the first few to appear when I googled the above question:

“Your job is what you are doing today. Your career is what you’ve done over the past years and what you plan to do in the future… Your job feeds you and your family today. Your career will feed you and your family tomorrow and beyond.”

“The job pays your bills, and a career is a path you’ve taken (hopefully because you enjoy it) to attain or keep the ideal job for you.”

“A career is something that you build during your lifetime. Jobs are often times task-oriented positions to help meet the goals of an organisation or business. Jobs are often a means to an end… Sometimes jobs lead to careers.”

“A job is something you do simply to earn money; a career is a series of connected employment opportunities. A job has minimal impact on your future work life, while a career provides experience and learning to fuel your future. A job offers few networking opportunities, but a career is loaded with them. When you work at a job, you should do the minimum without annoying the boss. When you’re in a career, you should go the extra mile, doing tasks beyond your minimum job description.”

There’s an endless list of dichotomous definitions but they are largely synonymous.

I remember learning this from somewhere – maybe in one of KK’s workshop (?) – that in a career, people usually stay for a long time and “climb” up the organisational ladder; the good ones care about the welfare and well-being of the company and its employees. To a certain extent, they live for others. Whereas a job is just something people do from 9am to 5pm and remain indifferent to just about everything except for the accuracy and arrival of their paycheck. To another extent, they live for themselves.

Now, this gets me thinking about my own predicament – is it a job or a career? I know for sure that during my army days, it was a job – I did what I was expected to do; on good days, I go the extra mile and on bad days, I do the bare minimum. When I was in Shanghai, it felt a little different because I treated it like my own company. There wasn’t such a thing called “Official Working Hours” simply because at the management level, you work as hard and as long as you’re required to; my boss did not believe in overtime pay for the managers because it was expected of us to get the job done and the project(s) completed. AT’s an excellent boss, and although sometimes he’s quite a slave-driver, he has successfully imbued in us managers the all-important ownership of the company.

So this brings me back to me today as a youth minister with Grace Assembly of God. Is this my job? Not really, because I’d have been imparting my life into young people anyway even if I was an army officer or a marketing manager – I’m just doing it full-time on a more intensive level. Is this my career then? Not really too, because I do not even know if I will be doing this for the long run. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m committed to what I have signed on to do, but I’m keener to listen to God’s prompting. The last thing I want is to overstay – I think that would be absolutely meaningless. But if God tells me to go, I’d be gone in an instant – I’m not worried about transitions and to start out all over again in any industry because I have confidence in my ability to excel wherever I go.

Hence, my answer to the question above – the difference between a job and a career is to know your calling in life and to pursue that calling wholeheartedly in any given time or space instead of being in an occupation for a season of life. I’ve said this to quite a number of people – in my current “job”, while it’s slightly easier than the previous ones because my gifting and skills-set are tailor-made for it, I’ve also poured in double the work hours and emotional involvement. Yet I feel that since I’ve joined Grace in October 2009, I’ve not worked a single day at all simply because I am pursuing what I believe God has intended for me to pursue for this season of my life.

Have you found your calling? Are you stuck with a job? Or are you caught in a career?

best-in-your-face-’til-the-end-friends.

How many of your primary school friends do you still keep in touch with? And how about those from your secondary school, polytechnic, junior colleague, university, army or from your previous work place? I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a single digit number. And like it or not, that number will slowly but very surely decrease as you age. As I turn 21 for the seventh time this year, I think I’ve learnt a fair bit about friendships – and how most of it takes places in phases.

All right, let’s get technical; when I talk about keeping in touch, I define it simply by the frequency of meeting up. Let’s just put a yardstick of at least once per quarter – that’s four times annually. (I actually believe that if friends can do it twice a year, it’s already an accomplishment. The younger readers of this blog may struggle to understand this, but mark my words on this. When you get to my age, remember you first heard it from me.)

By that definition, with the exception of those who are attending the same church as I am, I keep in touch with a grand total of zero from primary school, one from secondary school (who happens to be my best friend), none from polytechnic, army or from my Shanghai stint. Be it DL from ACJS, CC from ACS(B), JC from NP, ML from BMT, JG from SOA, JH and JQ from 40SAR, LT from OCS, or KS and TS from Shanghai; mind you, when I was in whichever phase, these buddies and I went through some significant moments of life together. We were convinced that we’d be more than just good friends for that period of time.

So I’ve learnt this – enjoy the friendships forged wherever you are at. Milk and remember it for all it’s worth. And know that these friendships are strong and that these friends are important, but at the end of that phase, remember that they are all but permanent friendships, albeit at that point closer than your closest church friends. This is a cynical and very un-sanguine, un-Joey, pessimistic way of looking at things, and I know may protest against this statement, but you heard it from me first – these friendships will not last.

The ones that will last, whether you like it or not, whether you stick around long enough or not, are the ones whom you see in church every weekend. At least that applies to me. These aren’t your seasonal friends – these are your friends for a lifetime. I remember mentioning this at the R-AGE DNA sermon I preached at the beginning of this year – that church friends, fortunately or unfortunately, unlike your friends from outside, are here to stay. You can always change a clique and hang out with a different bunch of school or work friends when you get sick of the current ones. But face it – you can’t get rid of your church friends and they’ve got to face it too – they can’t get rid of you. It’s just like how we cannot change our family members; we’ve simply got to stick to them and find a way to make it work.

And when I look back at the brothers and sisters that God has put in my life in this church, I’m filled with a deep sense of gratitude, because I know that I’m going to be growing old with them and my kids are going to marry their kids (whether they like it or not). The question that I leave with you is – look around you, look at your friends and look deep into their eyes, and look into your heart… How many true friends do you have? How many friends are you true to? After all, true friends attract true friends.

considering (private) university education?

This is an expanded version of what I sent ZY via SMS a couple of weeks ago. She found it helpful so I thought it may also be helpful for those of you who are considering private university education in Singapore. This is based on how I have decided to choose the part-time Bachelor of Communications course awarded by RMIT via SIM. Who knows, we might be classmates come September.

  1. Cost: You must know how much you can afford. The last thing you want is to end up with a mountain of bank debt before you even get your first paycheck. I have budgeted $15,000 for my university education.
  2. Duration: One of my considerations was to get the Bachelor’s as fast as I could (so that I can begin my Master of Theology) and since I head straight into the final year of the course (after exemptions), I will complete my studies within 18 months from commencement.
  3. Tuition: I knew that I could not study independently hence following a structured syllabus via lectures and tutorials does provide the academic support that I need. If you are confident of going solo, you will save a lot of money on tuition fees but I tried that once and realised I could not cope.
  4. Learning Curve: Before RMIT, I actually enrolled with UOL (Bachelor of Business). I neither enjoyed Accounts nor looked forward to Statistics and Economics. With a Bachelor of Communications, I would be taking on familiar modules that I would probably enjoy more.
  5. Usefulness: I deliberately took Accounts and Business Management whilst in Shanghai these modules benefitted my work immediately; it’s important and certainly more rewarding when what you study value-adds your work, especially if you are in a related industry.
  6. Interest: This is the most subjective criterion. Unless you’re a highly self-motivated individual, it’d be really tough to sustain interest in a subject that you have little interest in at the beginning. You may not need to love your course, but you must like it at least!
  7. Convenience: Convenience is a great factor in the commute between office, school and home. An additional 30mins of travel due to far distances could end up tiring you out more than you imagine it, especially during work or academic peak periods.
  8. Recognition: Be more selective if you plan to work in the civil service or with MNCs. Check with the organisation(s) that you plan to work for to ensure the recognition of your degree. Don’t spend a fortune in time, energy and resources to pursue a degree only to be paid like a diploma holder.
  9. Recommendation: Ask friends who have completed the course or visit online forums to get a general public perception of this degree. My ex-classmates gave it a thumbs up as this degree boosted their career prospects and added value to their scope of work.
  10. Assessment Method: I never enjoyed mugging (i.e. memory work) and I know that I score better through coursework (i.e. projects/assignments). UOL awards one year’s work on a single exam paper while RMIT spreads the academic intensity. Understand your strengths and weaknesses.
  11. Student Body: The quality of your course mates-to-be is just as important. If the majority are not serious about their education, your course work will suffer and the type of interaction and network you inherit may not benefit your academic or career development in the longer run.
  12. Post-graduate Options: Unless you decide that this is your final foray into academia, do consider your university education as part of the bigger picture of the education that you wish to pursue in years to come. Scrutinise also the awarding university’s own post-graduate paths.

One of the regrets that I have is that I didn’t pursue my university education during my Army days; I’d have ORD and graduated at the same time. But there’s no point looking backwards since I can’t change my past but my future. We all know that education is an investment of time, energy and money. I do look forward to starting school. It’s been a decade since I first attended classes in a tertiary institution. The adjustments would be a challenge itself. Juggling it with a full-time job would be another daunting challenge. But at the end of the day, after all the struggling and tough times, the one who benefits most, is me.

I sincerely hope that the above personal guide would be able to help you in your decision-making.

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