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please don’t say it if you don’t mean it.

I’ve always opined that one hallmark of a responsible youth speaker (i.e. a person who speaks to young people) is to be authentic. KK, RY and AY are good examples who exhibit this crucial quality. You should never tell a young person something for the mere sake of saying it because it inspires them; I think that motivational speakers should avoid telling their audience something that is beyond their reach or is statistically almost impossible for them to attain. That’s not inspiring – that’s just bluffing.

Recently, I heard a youth speaker’s sharing with a group of young people and the contents of his sharing really caused me to raise both my eyebrows at him. First and foremost, there are only a handful of us who are musically or athletically gifted enough to make a living out of it; and even so, it takes years of dedication and that one good break. I think it’s all well and good if such a person has found success with his skill and talent but honestly and realistically, the odds of that happening are extremely low. While speakers should encourage and inspire, I think they also need to be socially responsible by not raising young people to a pedestal that they’ll struggle to get on. At the day’s end, hopes are unrealistically raised and cruelly dashed, and this results in a disillusioned youth.

After his talk was over, I saw his autograph and note to one of the girls. He wrote something like, “I believe in you – that you will be successful in life – I need you to believe in yourself.” He also openly declared that he loved the young people there but come on! Did he really mean it? I know I’m quick to judge here, but there was nothing that felt right in my spirit that night. I mean, what do all the words really mean to these youths if it comes from a stranger who doesn’t even know them! I was disgusted.

He then proceeded to share his five figure salary with everyone and stopped short of saying that he made it without completing his ‘O’ levels. What a dangerously reckless thing to declare! I believe he had a good intention to inspire them and his lesson also had two words dear to my heart – passion and desire – but pragmatically speaking, one would struggle make a living out with just these two qualities alone. There must be commitment and discipline to complement your passion and desire.

I was scheduled to speak after him and initially I had only wanted to share a short anecdote about the choices I’ve made when I was 13 years old but I felt the Spirit prompting me to balance and mediate what he shared to present a clearer picture. Hence I proceeded to talk about choices, perspective and attitude instead. I don’t deny it – he was a charismatic speaker with excellent oration skills but I wasn’t comfortable at all with the contents and attitude of his lesson; it was good but it was severely inadequate. And I will even go as far to say that it was irresponsible teaching.

Let us never tell someone that we believe in them if we do not know who they are, where they’ve come from and what they can do. Let us never tell someone that we love them if we’re unable to follow it up with action, for love is a verb; I think that it was impetuous for him to come into a session, where he’d probably meet the group for the first and last time, and to tell them that he loves and believes in them. This doesn’t sit well with me. We are all different – everyone had a different past, have a different present and will have a different future. The question then, is, are you happy? My answer – I’ve probably said it a million times – I could always be happier but I am situationally contented.

The reason why I dare to say I believe in young people isn’t that I think they have the ability to fulfil their potential but that I believe in what God can and will do through them. Before I say those potentially empowering or devastating words, I would deliberate for a long time and ask God to first give me a heart for them.

“Oh Lord, give me the contentment to accept what I have and the peace to accept what I do not have. I pray that the Lord will do damage control in the hearts of these young people whose ears these words fell on. Their future is in Your hands alone so may I learn to trust in You alone – the beginning and the end. Deal with me. I love You, Lord.”

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a personal appeal to adults on behalf of young people.

Previously, I wrote an article on the dangers of meritocracy – especially in the Singaporean upbringing and way of life. While we are all aware that we live in a society where our best is unfairly and unnecessarily juxtaposed against someone else’s good, we need to realise that there will come a point where we’ll just have to say “No” to the sickening and extremely poisonous repercussions of comparisons. I mean, seriously, if a young person is already giving his or her best, what else do you expect? One day, you will either drive him up the wall or out of the house. Is that it?

To combat low self-esteem and the unhealthy habits of pegging ourselves against others, I’d recommend that we employ the power of encouragement in our daily ins and outs. Indeed, a pat on the back pushes out the chest! I’ve said it time and again, that encouragement is to put in courage, where there is none. Never underestimate and neglect the necessity of encouragement – you can really empower someone with simple words of affirmation – eloquence is not required.

I believe that young people, when they come to a certain age, are actually smart and self-aware enough to make their own decisions and be responsible for it. Like it or not, one day we will have to stop treating them like they are still children. This is for their own good as well as for ours. The least (and most) that we ought to do as adults is to give them the benefit of doubt because I believe that youths do know their personal limits and they are doing. Yes, as mature adults, we probably would have experienced more than they have; and so our job is to warn them of the consequences of their decisions and to encourage them to be responsible for it. Look, we must know that we cannot protect them for life and shield them away from making big decisions. This is harsh, but we’ll be crippling them, really. Nothing is more powerful than telling a young person that you believe in him or her and actually following up your words with actions.

(On a side note, it is unfortunate that Singaporean guys pick up negative habits like acting ignorant, avoiding responsibilities and not taking ownership of themselves during their national service days. If a guy decides to adopt that attitude while in uniform, he wouldn’t just throw away two years but may actually cause more damage to himself as he unlearns the good habits honed during his teenage years prior enlistment. No wonder the girls are so outstanding nowadays. I genuinely hope that our boys would stand up and be counted like real men. But I digress…)

We should give our youths the opportunity to learn from their own decisions – both good and bad ones; when they knock into walls, they will be convinced of their folly and will make their own comebacks. Trust me on this – they will regret their decisions more than we ever think they will. I remember saying this before, that while we cannot stop someone from falling, we certainly can stop them from crashing.

I’m unapologetic for my repetition, but all we really should do as older individuals, is to believe in and encourage the younger ones. Already our society is telling them what they cannot do instead of what they can do – what an oppressing environment to dwell and develop in! Don’t add on to their existing pressure! Don’t do to them what everyone else is doing to them. If we love them, then we ought to tell them that they can and will make it, not how they cannot and would never get there – what good do these damaging words do, really? We need to learn to trust that they can make decisions and take ownership of their choices; there is greater value there than curtailing their liberty.

I’m not being a renegade or encouraging any young person to rebel – I’m merely sharing my honest opinion of why I think that our young people are more stifled these days than they ever are. We ought to help them to become complete and mature individuals, not hack them into pieces with our destructive words. Don’t be surprised at how outstanding our young people can become. I think they only need two ingredients – 1) time, and 2) someone to believe in them. Would we dispense these freely?

So from the bottom of my heart – hear me, please – let our young people live their lives, not relive yours. Let them chart their paths, not walk yours. Let’s guide them, not dictate them. The best form of encouragement is when it’s loud and repeated. May your face appear in their heads whenever they think about someone who believes in them and may your voice resonate in their hearts as the one who says, “I believe in you”. That, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is the greatest gift you’d ever give to them.

are we there yet? when will we get there? where is there?

The Secrets to Successful Writing seminar with PY this morning was held at my alma mater, Anglo-Chinese School (Junior) at Winstedt Road. It was my first time back since I last collected my PSLE results in 1995, when it was still Anglo-Chinese Junior School at Peck Hay Road. To my surprise, NS is still there; pity I had to leave immediately after the seminar, otherwise I would have popped by the staff office to say hello to a beloved Primary 6 form teacher who played a part in my journey to know Christ.

Advances in mobile technology has allowed me to check for bus arrival timings via the iris NextBus online service on the SBS transit website. (Trivia: it stands for Intelligent Route Information System.) It will always be helpful to know approximately when the next bus would arrive. Now, why would I want this information? After all, it changes neither the duration of my journey nor my designated route. Heck, it doesn’t even predict traffic conditions or tell me what time I’ll arrive at my destination. So, what good does it do for me to know how long it’ll take before I board the next bus?

I believe that prior knowledge of waiting time reduces anxiety and frustration, and for some, it even helps to manage stress levels; commuting during peak hours is already an exasperating experience and I think a predictive information system serves an effective countermeasure to improve travelling woes as I’ll know how long I’ll be on the road, or track – and if the waiting time is too long, I’ll probably make alternative plans (whether to continue waiting, change the mode of transport or take another route) since I can already predict the eventual outcome. The same concept extends to the SMRT and to a lesser extent, roller coaster queues in amusement parks.

However, in the event that you don’t board your bus or train at the estimated time, you’d feel doubly frustrated and disappointed because your expectations have increased; this is inevitable when you try to control your anticipation (and excitement) of what’s to come. And when you change your plans, you deviate from what you are normally familiar with and have grown to trust and rely on. Hence, I’d like to think that regardless of prior knowledge, there will always be a set of challenges for any journey taken.

I couldn’t help but think that my experience with the iris NextBus today was a reflection of my daily struggle to trust God in either the big and small, or long and short term plans. I’d be the first to raise my hands to admit my reliance on my own Intelligent Route Information System to navigate through life’s crossroads and toughest decisions. When you do that, it takes away your trust and belief in God’s original plan as you apply your knowledge of the future, understanding of the present and experience of the past. Don’t get me wrong – that’s wisdom – and it’s not a bad thing. But a careless flirtation and an over-reliance on human wisdom can often cause you to become distracted and disillusioned with your intended journey. My advice? Tread carefully (pun unintended).

I’m sure you can identify with a wrong decision that sometimes ends up in a much longer journey, an encounter with an unexpected traffic jam or even alighting at the wrong stop; it’s only natural to expect that because you have ventured into an unknown and, if I were to epiphanise it, a valley of darkness that you completely did not prepare for or expect. And most times, it’s always a result and consequence of your decisions. This applies to almost every decision – be it relationship, finance or family-related, etc. When this happens, you will need to be responsible for your choices and account for yourself.

At the end of the day, I believe that if God gives you a vision, then the challenge and step of faith for you is to trust Him to deliver you to the eventual destination safely and surely. Thankfully, our God is an efficacious God and nothing in the journey goes to waste – regardless of longer routes, indecision, detours or even unforeseen accidents.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and He will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

These famous verses are plastered on most of the walls of any ACS auditorium, including the one I sat in today, and it serves as a sobering reminder to let God take control of the steering wheel of our lives. May you remember to relinquish control of your life the next time you check for the next bus or train arrival times.

top ten reasons to watch naruto.

To those who do not follow Naruto, they might just write off this post; some may not even read it; and for those who do read it, they may probably just glance through it. I have a tendency to dramatise my expressions, but to a certain extent, Naruto has made a positive impact on my life. I’ve always been able to identify with Naruto’s personality – I know this is crazy coming from a 27-year-old, but reading his character profile is like reading mine. So here goes the top ten reasons why, if you are not watching/reading Naruto, it’s time you got started!

1. Naruto educates you about mentoring – There are so many examples! Positive ones include Iruka/Naruto, Jiraiya/Naruto, Tsunade/Sakura, Asuma/Shikamaru and Gai/Rock. It also paints realistic pictures of mentoring, that sometimes investing yourself in someone may not always result in a golden ending. Heartbreaking ones include Kakashi/Sasuke, Jiraiya/Nagato and Sarutobi/Orochimaru.

2. Naruto enlightens you on friendships – one of the most touching scenes was when Choji gave up his life to save Shikamaru and Ino. Massively tear-jerking! Another classic moment is a scene from Kakashi’s past, “Those who break the rules of the ninja world are called scum… That’s true… But those who abandon their friend are worse than scum”. Let’s not forget the value of loyalty in friendships.

3. Naruto teaches you about believing in young people – This is a topic really close to my heart; I believe in young people very much and I believe that the role of the present generation is to help the future generation surpass two things in life – the present generation’s legacies and abilities, as well as the future generation’s own potential. The saddest thing to hear at your funeral is, “He was a great potential”.

4. Naruto advocates that young people can change the world – I loved it when Shikamaru told Naruto that it was time for them to inherit the will of fire and to stop behaving like kids; I’m a sucker for hero-themes and enjoyed it very much when Naruto was revealed as the child of prophecy, “The gutsy ninja”, and how he singlehandedly overcame Pain. Do not underestimate the power of one and what God can do through you.

5. Naruto has a tailed-beast within him, like how everyone has an inner beast – The part of us that’s innately evil and sinful. We try ways and means to subdue it, be it by placing the right people in our lives or by doing the right things. But I believe that this inner beast in everyone is spiritual and it cannot be overcome by a physical method. We need something/someone greater than us to overcome the darkest parts of us.

6. Naruto talks about social issues – Anything from acceptance, to power struggles, to standing up for what you believe is right, to doing things that make you look cool, to succumbing to bad influences. I believe that Naruto is able to reach such a wide audience is that it covers a huge spectrum of subjects that everyone can relate to, regardless of age. Naruto’s outspoken character encourages you to never waver in your beliefs.

7. Naruto makes you laugh really hard – The episode that cracked me up the most was when Team 7 tried to unmask Kakashi. I was ROTFLMAO when they were speculating what Kakashi really looked like. And the one where Kakashi debuted the “Thousand Years of Pain” jutsu. Sasuke: “What… That’s not a Ninjutsu… That was just a super powerful ass poke.” Absolute comic genius! Everyone needs a good laugh from time to time!

8. Naruto gives you the platform to dream and reflect – That’s what anime does, after all. Each time I watch Sasuke, CC comes to my mind; Shikamaru reminds me of LK; When I watch Naruto reminisce about Jiraiya, I thank God for RY’s role in my life; Iruka evokes how JH invested in me when I was younger. There’s a moment in each episode that temporarily removes me from reality into utopia, and I think that’s not a bad thing.

9. Naruto inspires you to ponder over what you stand for in life – This is shown in every ninja having their “way of the ninja”, which empowers them to accomplish their goal in life. Naruto’s extremely simple way of the ninja is to “Never go back on [his] word” and to “Never give up”. My way of the ninja is found here. That’s the reason why I strongly believe in writing personal vision statements. What’s yours?

10. Naruto enables you to have conversational currency with young people – I’ve always found it quite amazing when youths suddenly express interest to chat with me when they realise I’m a Naruto fan; it’s like how men bond with army talk, except kids bond when they discuss Naruto. Somehow, I think kids think you are cool when you start using Kage Bunshi no Jutsu in your vocabulary.

I think I may have proven that I’m a big fan by now. My Shanghai cell leader insisted that I was crazy to spend sleepless nights trying to catch up to the latest episode. When I discovered that my youth pastor watches Naruto with his wife and two girls, it gave me the guts to tell my cell leader that Naruto is a family-bonding and youth pastor-endorsed activity. He was speechless. HAHA! Believe it or not, I’ve even written a song called “Watching You”, inspired by Hinata’s battle with Neji with Naruto cheering her on, and how she was fighting to be recognised by Naruto. The entire scene had traces of the I’m-watching-you-watch-over-me feeling; I thought that was a rather poetic moment.

Anyway, I’ve come to the end of my fourth installment of Top Ten Tuesdays, and I’ll probably write on something more serious next week. The ones who would enjoy this post the most are the ones who have been enjoying Naruto religiously. For the rest of you – seriously, you have no idea what you’re missing.

a courage under fire becomes a courage that inspires.

I can’t help but be inspired by the life of Stephen, or the one who is often referred to as the first martyr in of the Christian faith. Stephen’s life spanned across three mere chapters in Acts but the legacy that he left behind for all believers – especially for me – is cemented in history. I imagined the scene unfolding in my mind’s eye as I read the Word of God; at its climax, as my heart pounded at the unveiling of scenes, I somehow felt Stephen’s passion and unwavering belief in the Lord even unto his own innocent death – now that took my breath away! I can’t wait to share my findings with my beloved youths over the weekend. See you at the youth services for the third installment of our Facebook with the Newbies sermon series. Oh Lord, Stephen’s example was riveting, so please help me preach lessons from his life in a manner that’s just as riveting!

The Jewish leaders were infuriated by Stephen’s accusation, and they shook their fists in rage. But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily upward into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand. And he told them, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!”

Then they put their hands over their ears, and drowning out his voice with their shouts, they rushed at him. They dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. The official witnesses took off their coats and laid them at the feet of a young man named Saul.

And as they stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” And he fell to his knees, shouting, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” And with that, he died.

(Acts 7:54-60, New Living Translation)

if you’re good enough, you’re old enough.

In football (or any sport), there is would be nothing more humbling and sobering than to have a 18-year-old take the place of a 28-year-old in the first 11. And it is because of this youth threat that teams like Manchester United, Barcelona and Arsenal would always be ahead of the pack in the longer run. Both teams do it differently – United and Barcelona are not afraid to blood their own youngsters by replacing senior players in the big games while Arsenal is simply a youth team with a couple of senior players.

That has to be the greatest vote of confidence that Sir Alex Ferguson, Josep Guardiola or Arsene Wenger could give to the younger ones. This “I believe in you” that the vastly experienced managers tell the vastly inexperienced kids give them the drive to succeed and the belief that they are actually good enough. This realisation probably sounds like this, “Wow, this world-class manager actually believes that I can go on and help team win. I cannot disappoint him!” And the introduction of youth forces the senior and more established players to sit up, roll up their socks, get their act together and start to pull their weight and measure their contribution to the team like multimillion-dollar paid players.

The introduction of youth brings a certain amount of vigour and reinvigoration to a team. I’m sure the older and slightly more jaded players get refreshed by the sheer enthusiasm and energy that these youths have for football. That is the reason why we enjoy watching the three teams that I’ve mentioned and we tend to switch off when we watch a team like Chelsea, which Sir Alex has famously said before, “A team over 30 doesn’t improve a lot”. AC Milan is the odd exception though, being a retiree’s home; while the departure of Kaka has made them a less attractive football spectacle, they still play some decent football; putting Ronaldinho, Beckham, Pato and Pirlo together still produces a fair amount of flair and good football.

When I examine Chelsea – a team with everyone on the wrong side of 30, I see a 32-year-old Frank Lampard backed up by a 34-year-old Michael Ballack and a 28-year-old Petr Cech backed up by a 35-year-old Henrique Hilario. They do not produce their own youngsters (buying doesn’t count!) and they currently do not have any outstanding youngsters that look like they could successfully replace someone in the first team. In short, I think that there is no future in the team. They are all hanging on to current and former glories and can only hope to sustain its success by preserving its existing team. If you want to determine the long term regenerative success of a club, you simply need to scrutinise the set-up of its youth academy. Just look at teams like Olympique Lyon and Ajax Amsterdam as good examples.

It’s commonly said that “Form is temporary and class is permanent”. May I add on my five cents worth and say that while that is true, it is the average age of the team that determines its long-term reality; if you have no youth, you have no future. Many times we hear the statement, “The youths are the leaders of tomorrow”. I think that that is euphemised rubbish from cowardly leaders who do not put their money where their mouth is – it’s like saying, “Yes, yes, you do have potential, but you don’t have ability yet, so I can’t give you the platform to perform. I, on the other hand, believe that the youths are the leaders of today. It applies to football and it applies to any organisation. In the words of the legendary Sir Matt Busby, If they are good enough, they are old enough”. I rest my case. May the youths of today pave the way for the youths of tomorrow.

But I digress. Now back to football, it’s three youthful and resounding cheers to the United, Barcelona and Arsenal philosophy of playing their football. Keep watching, keep believing in youths.

a decade of lessons learnt.

A few weeks ago, MF approached me to send her some lessons learnt while I was growing up. It wasn’t difficult coming up with content and I could write a lot more but here are 10 lessons that rolled off the top of my head. Seven of them were published in the R-AGE bulletin, so I’ll add three more here.

  1. You will make mistakes. Just don’t make the same ones.
  2. You will only get busier and busier, so start the habit of serving God as early as possible.
  3. School friends are friends for a season. Church friends are friends for life.
  4. Accountability doesn’t imprison you but sets you free.
  5. Having someone believe in you is the greatest gift you’ll ever receive.
  6. Never underestimate the power of encouraging someone else.
  7. No amount of ministry can compensate for failure in the familly.
  8. The quantity of close friends decreases as you age, but the quality of friendship increases. Invest more time in less people.
  9. You cannot please everyone, so stop trying. There is nothing more assuring than God’s approval.
  10. The higher you rise in leadership, the more you need to be comfortable with being alone.

I guess I could go on and on with a plethora of thoughts, really. That’s precisely why I have decided to resume blogging – to capture one thought a day, everyday, from an otherwise overwhelming influx of ideas. It’d be an achievement if I could capture and expand on 365 thoughts annually. Let’s see how far this blog would take me on my cognitive journey.

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