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The day I lost my thumb.

Last weekend, in my excitement to leave the house for a Christmas party, I clumsily knocked over the bottle of wine I was going to bring out. Well, my living room ended up looking like a homicide scene.

Thankfully, Eden was on her high chair and Huiyi was in the kitchen when the bottle shattered. I, on the other hand (HA), was left to pick up the pieces (HAHA) of my broken heart Montes Merlot 2010.

As I closed the lid of the rubbish chute, I carelessly sliced my thumb against a glass shard that protruded from the plastic bag. It literally became a bloody mess, and my sink ended up resembling an amateur suicide scene.

Yes, my well-documented fears — odynophobia (pain) and haemophobia (blood) — went into overdrive; Sheryl Crow said the first cut is the deepest and baby I know she’s right about that. It was painful and I bled a lot, but I wasn’t sure if my lips turned pale from the loss of blood or the amalgamation of phobias.

I was grateful for my cool-as-a-cucumber wife who took command of the situation; she cleaned up my mess (as always), attended to me with the issue of blood (phrase credits: DL) and even fed our bemused baby while we waited for my blood to clot and composure to return.

It’s been more than 24 hours since I’ve been deprived of my right thumb (now bandaged) and I’ve learnt how essential this small part of my body is, not just in function, but also in presence.

Functionally speaking, losing (the use of) my thumb was obviously and extremely inconvenient. I’ve come to realise how I probably need my thumb for just about everything I do: using the toilet, taking a shower, driving the car, eating my meals, carrying my baby, feeding her porridge, peeling her blueberries, washing the dishes, using my iPhone, locking my door, shaking someone’s hand, typing this post, patting Eden to sleep and even sleeping itself (fearing I might squash and injure it further)!

Percentage-wise, a thumb is a fraction of my body weight but its significance is unquestionable.

But what was more interesting for me was how I perceived the presence of my thumb, or better phrased, the impact of its absence; it was, after all, impossible for others to miss my bandaged thumb.

The owner of the convenience store I visited today didn’t, and made small talk with me about my injury; my friends at the party, with every handshake, asked me what happened; even my baby girl couldn’t stop touching my bandaged thumb — she’s either wondering how daddy hurt himself or thinking if that white thing is edible.

It got me thinking about the body of Christ (the Church), or applicable in this instance, any group of friends. Often, we instinctively miss people because of what they could do and have done for us (function), but there are times we will also miss people simply because of who they are innately and who they are to us (presence).

Perhaps as we approach Christmas, it makes for a good opportunity to remember the ones who have gone missing in our lives. Go ahead — give her a call and tell her how much you miss her, or text him and let him how much you miss having him around.

You have nothing to lose, except the friend you already lost.

In the meantime, I shall read 1 Corinthians 12:12-27 and enjoy sticking out like a sore thumb for the next few days.

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a change of plan or a plan of change?

I led my wonderful team of dedicated Shepherds to Batam’s iHotel over the weekend; this was our first independent ministry-planning trip and I must say I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. I trust that my Shepherds had also enjoyed this time of reflection and evaluation that I had carefully designed for them to embark on. I’ve journeyed with them for 18 months now and while it’s been a wonderful ride, I desire for them to grow deeper in their individual walks with God.

Keith and I arrived slightly later than the rest of them as we had to oversee the collaboration with the Grace Kids at GII Sunday services; it was also the first time I had the opportunity to be the emcee in the adult services. (I improvised from what I thought was a messy first service and I am grateful that the second service turned out much better…) I am confident that the adults now know that R-AGE @ GII exists and that it’s the best place to be at on a Saturday afternoon.

It was great to have caught up with Keith on our journey to Batam. I’ve always identified him as one of my successors and I’m confident that he will be able to lead R-AGE @ GII to greater heights where I could not. Keith, you will surpass me and I will help you to do that because I believe so much in what God will do through you. (: I am blessed to be able to mentor an exceptional young man like him.

I bunked with Bradley for this trip and I thoroughly enjoyed bonding with him and knowing him more intimately. We had a good time catching up in the room and in the pool. I celebrate his appetite to get out of his comfort zone – that’s the mark of a G0d-fearing and Christ-loving disciple. And I look forward to hearing his reflections on a passage of Scripture I asked him to meditate upon.

We decided to have seafood dinner at a roadside coffeeshop – yes, those typically dirty and warm ones (with pesky buskers) and the overpowering aroma of belachan chilli that clogs up your respiratory system. I must say I was impressed with the team’s courage to eat everything that came their way (although some felt queasy after dinner). The best thing about the feast was its price – we ate a mountain of food for a mere 10 SGD per pax.

***

The first activity we embarked on after dinner was “Dials on a Dashboard” – a little exercise I’ve adapted from Wayne Cordeiro’s excellent book, “Leading on Empty”; I got my Shepherds to systematically recognise, rate and recalibrate the various dials on their dashboard. It was a brutally honest activity and it set the tone for the contemplation they would embark on.

For the purpose of my own journaling, the 15 dials I’ve identified in my life are:

  1. Faith life
  2. Family life
  3. Relationship life
  4. Mentoring life
  5. Leadership life
  6. Intercession life
  7. Online life
  8. Author’s life
  9. Speaker’s life
  10. Competency life
  11. Contemplative life
  12. Financial life
  13. Leisure/Fun life
  14. Social/Fellowship life
  15. Health life

It is my earnest prayer that everyone in the team would UP(a)GRADE in their own faith pilgrimage. I am eager to grow, as I always have been, and I have already put into action some things as soon as I arrived home. May the Lord continue to give me grace as I seek to please Him in all that I do.

I encouraged the team to wake up early the next morning to do their devotions on a passage of Scripture (Hebrews 12) that the Holy Spirit revealed to Yixian during the Dashboard activity; I thoroughly enjoyed receiving insights and understanding from the Lord as I meditated on and memorised His Word. It was an empowering experience! MAN, I LOVE THE WORD!

***

After breakfast, we returned to the room and I asked the team two key questions:

  • “What have you done?” (I got them to list all their achievements in ministry – to itemise what’s been happening)
  • “How have you done it?” (I got them to investigate their attitudes behind these ministry achievements – to inspect the condition of their hearts)

It turned out to be a powerful exercise as this soul-searching activity became a heart-wrenching experience for a few of them. One Shepherd (whose identity I shall protect) even broke down during this activity. We ministered to her on the spot and tears flowed freely – not just on her cheeks but on those who were standing in the gap for her as they laid their hands to pray for her. It was a moving scene indeed… This is unity… This is the body of Christ… This is biblical fellowship.

I was led to get everyone to worship God together before every session (with David’s iPod and two speakers no less!) because I believe that it’s important to engage the Lord in any crucial decision; I felt that it was imperative to make decisions in the presence of God for it’s always in the presence of our living and loving God that our lives are changed to be more like Him. And so it was – God is faithful – this was ministry at its finest hour. And it wouldn’t have been possible without the Spirit’s conviction.

***

As part of my bid to sort out my health, I had already completed 10km on the treadmill within 24 hours of arrival and was about to go for my first swim in eons; it must have been more than six months since I last put on my goggles. On a lighter note, I discovered the power of my physical presence – some of the girls who were in the pool disappeared (more like ran away) within seconds of me entering it to swim my laps; it’s like they saw a ghost or something. HAHA!

We consumed lunch at a local restaurant and after that, half the team went to do water sports while the other half remained behind to enjoy some free time. Huiyi and I would have loved to join those out at sea but her sudden bout of illness prevented us from doing so. We ended up enjoying a nice two-hour Thai/Balinese combination massage for a grand total of 14 SGD per pax (cheaper than Shanghai!). More importantly, as always, I enjoyed my afternoon with my wife-to-be. (:

We waved Esther, Natalina and Huiyi goodbye as they left a day earlier due to prior commitments. The rest of us went to the nearby Nagoya Hill (for the umpteenth time!) for dinner at another local establishment. The most hilarious scene must have been when Bradley and I literally carried the table top without its legs. You must see it to believe how ridiculous it looked!

***

We returned to our Shepherds Headquarters (a.k.a. Yixian’s and Jeraldine’s room) where we embarked on ministry evaluation. It was a proper meeting with minutes recorded and we listed down all the various programmes that we had already embarked on for 2011. And I helped the Shepherds to see how important being intentional is in planning for our programmes. We made quick-fire assessments to every programme, from cells, to services, to regional gatherings, to trainings and to special events:

  1. Should we keep it or trash it?
  2. If we plan to keep it, how can we improve it?

All of us unanimously felt the need to be even more evangelistic in the way that we operated. When we plan “Win” events, we will naturally need to have “Equip” activities and eventually it will result in it being a “Build” event. I saw in the Shepherds’ eyes a conviction to be intentional, intensive and inclusive in all that we would plan next year. I was glad to be able to transfer what I had learnt from a conference to my team of leaders.

(I was tickled to see the contrast between my M&M’s (Melody & Melissa) – one was bustling with energy and the other completely zapped!) We spent the next few hours affirming one another with objective, subjective, introspective, retrospective and most importantly, heartfelt words of encouragement. I am confident that this is the first time the Shepherds were encouraged on such a scale – I pray that it had lifted their inner man/woman. (: Well for me, I went to bed feeling great and grateful about what the Lord is doing in this season of my life.

***

Our final activity was inspired by 2 Corinthians 5 where I reminded the Shepherds of our duty and need for the ministry of reconciliation. I shared with them openly and honestly on my own attempts to reconcile with a couple of people in my life (and I am proud to say that I’ve already taken reconciling action tonight, as soon as I got home).

I believe that as we grow as a ministry both in quantity and quality, through processes and programmes, cracks of misunderstanding will appear in our relationships; these are inevitable for when iron sharpens iron, there is heat and friction. And when cracks appear, the devil will too, with his lies and deception. We must not fall for it – hence the great need to reconcile each other to Christ (and to each other) and to clear up any potential or active misunderstanding before it erodes into bitterness.

By the end of this retreat, we had evaluated the three main components of ministry: people, programmes and processes. We had also recorded feedback for the various programmes that the ministry had executed on the service, cell and events level. I am hopeful that this Retreat had been in line with the coming 40DOC campaign, and sets the tone for personal renewal and corporate alignment.

Praise the Lord for all that He’s done through me at this Shepherds Retreat – A change of plan of a plan of change?

***

I shall leave you with two paradigm shifts that the Holy Spirit inspired me to share with the Shepherds:

  • I challenged them (and now you reading this, and eventually R-AGE) to remove “Arrowed” or “Bombed” from their dictionary for that’s a secular and selfish way of thinking. Instead, let’s train ourselves to say, “What an opportunity indeed!” whenever we are given the privilege to do something for the Lord and His people.
  • But if you are simply unable to lend a hand due to your existing commitments: “Don’t be a dead-end, but be a Y-junction instead.” So that when you really can’t help when people approach you, you can still help by pointing them to other people who may be able to help them. This results in their burden being lightened regardless.

We are a team and this is a team effort; let’s behave like an Ephesians 4 team!

***

Of late, I’ve had an overwhelming desire to have a deep life and to dig deeper, thanks to the influence that Ps Edmund Chan has in my life. And I believe that this is evident in my conversations and in the way that I operate. He put it succinctly, “The depth of your life determines the breadth of your ministry.”

I have never desired depth in my life and ministry as much as I have right now. Oh Lord, please give me Your grace and enable to grow myself and R-AGE in a deep and riveting manner. Hear my cry, Lord – I do not want to raise a shallow generation of believers!

for the sake of my young people, and my own children.

I’ve served the Lord in church since I was 14 years old. From being a young backup vocalist, I was privileged enough to serve in leadership capacities as I got older, be it leading worship, a cell group, events or a sports team. I praise God that I’ve grown in my capabilities, capacities, competencies, and matured in my character. But most importantly, I’m grateful for my journey towards Christlikeness. Not that I’m already there or even close to – but who is, in this lifelong journey?

I will border on being judgmental in this post but I hope you will see my heart in this. Not to judge but to warn; not to condemn but to remind. So I have decided to come out to say it anyway… After all, I’ve always been outspoken such matters.

One of the things that irk me most about ministry are leaders who serve for the wrong reasons. I think that leadership, especially higher-profile roles like cell or worship leaders, have become incredibly glamourised by the deceptive standards of this world. It’s as if our expectations of leadership in church have secularised; you’ve “arrived” if you hold a particular leadership position.

That’s absolute nonsense.

Everyone plays a different role in the body of Christ. There’s a higher and lower profile of course, but there isn’t a greater or lesser significance. Many times, I’ve shaken my head in disappointment (and disgust!) at leaders who desire leadership for the sake of glamour and popularity that leadership positions inevitably brings. Honestly, these leaders are short-changing themselves. But more dangerously, they are short-changing the ones who follow them.

Leadership is not a place you’ve arrived at. Instead, it is a time you will be activated in. Leadership is not a destination but a decision. Here’s a stern warning to all leaders and leaders-to-be, especially those whom I have the privilege of leading in R-AGE @ GII – don’t you ever lead because of how it would make you feel; I would make it my personal crusade to clamp down on this undesirable and unbiblical behaviour. Instead, you lead because you want to serve and love people. I will fiercely guard against this destructive attitude.

An immediate question that I think you will ask is – “How then would I know if I am leading with the right motives?”

So I shall attempt to give a yardstick based on my leadership journey.

A couple of days ago, I posted this on Facebook – “If you wish to lead them, feed them or serve them… You must first KNOW them. Otherwise, what’s the point?” I shall base my argument on this simple barometer – how well do you know the ones whom you are serving and leading? No, I’m not talking about knowing their favourite colour, food, hang-out or TV programme… I’m referring to how well you know and understand their spiritual condition. Amongst many other prying questions, you should ask yourself just these 10:

  1. Do you know their strengths and weaknesses?
  2. Do you know their greatest cause of sin?
  3. Do you know their immediate prayer requests?
  4. Do you know their felt needs and meet it?
  5. Do you know their last spiritual breakthrough?
  6. Do you know their family background and upbringing?
  7. Do you know their greatest fears and insecurities?
  8. Do you know how they came to know Christ?
  9. Do you know if they are responding to the Word?
  10. Do you know if they even trust you enough to share openly with you?

These are point-blank yes-or-no questions. If you can’t even attain a passing score, then may I lovingly beseech you to reevaluate your role as their leader and your involvement in their lives? This is especially important especially if you’re looking after a group of people – like a worship team, a cell group, or even a group of leaders. And since I am a youth minister, I am making impassioned plea to leaders who look after young people. Take care of these precious ones! Don’t ever, EVER, forget that you will shape their beliefs system!

Honestly, I don’t care which ministry you serve in, which church you attend, how old you are or how long you’ve served as a leader. As long if you’re serving in a ministry, then you are, by default, in the business of people. If you don’t know your people well, how will you deal with them? If you don’t put in effort to get involved in their lives, how will you ever become effective and influential among them?

If I may be frank, above and beyond human competencies and God’s anointing, I’ve always believed that I was a tad bit more effective in all my leadership roles not because of talent, experience or charisma, but simply because I knew my sheep. It was always an intentional effort to get to know them.

When I led worship, I looked into the eyes of my young people and it was as if I knew what their struggles were.

When I preached the Word, I knew exactly who or which type of people I wrote a particular point for, and always attempted to speak into their hearts.

When I taught in cell groups or workshops, I prayerfully prepared my content based on the needs I’ve observed in people.

And when I casted a vision for the ministry, I planned based on the different needs I have come to know through intentional interaction with them.

My friend, all this takes time and effort! It won’t and it can’t happen overnight. You can be a charismatic leader but if you have no care for your sheep, your effectiveness will plateau after a while. You can be cognitively competent, but if you don’t intercede for your sheep, you will merely engage their mind (and heart at best!) but you will never be able to affect their will and spirit. It is time we scrutinised our investments in our people!

People of God – yes, you leaders! – don’t be contented with scratching surfaces. Don’t cheat yourself. And don’t cheat your sheep. Don’t be satisfied with mere involvement. Move into commitment! Invest your time and energy in the people whom God has given to you to shepherd. Don’t patronise your sheep – you will end up raising a superficial generation of believers who will surpass your level of superficiality and become even more superficial than you ever will be. What a hazardous inheritance to pass on!

Is that the church you want your children to grow up in? If it isn’t, then you should do something about it. I know I definitely do not want my kids to roam around in a church like that and so I am doing something about it. What about you? This isn’t just my church, you know? It’s YOUR church, but it’s not for you, if you know what I mean. Get to know your sheep.

If you don’t know who you are leading, may I urge you then – no, may I beg you instead – to make intentional efforts to step out of your comfort zone to get to know your people. Otherwise, there is little point in you leading them. Don’t boss them around. Don’t delegate your role as a minister. There are some things that cannot be compromised or substituted. For the sake of my young people, and my own children in time to come, please do not consider leadership if you are not interested in building and investing into people.

This is my heart’s cry for you. Don’t become a leader by default but by decision. And don’t become a leader of position but a leader of people.

teamwork is everything – would you rather go fast or go far?

So, what exactly is teamwork? Obviously, this buzzword describes work performed by a team; here are the other definitions that I’ve found on online dictionaries which will form the perimeters of my thoughts today:

  • the combined action of a group of people, esp. when effective and efficient.
  • cooperative or coordinated effort on the part of a group of persons acting together as a team or in the interests of a common cause; work done with a team.
  • the cooperative work done by a team; the ability to work efficiently as a team.
  • work done by several associates with each doing a part but all subordinating personal prominence to the efficiency of the whole.
  • a joint action by a group of people, in which each person subordinates his or her individual interests and opinions to the unity and efficiency of the group.
  • when a group of people work well together.
  • the capability to comprehend and recognize the diverse strengths and abilities in a group setting and then applying them to one final solution.
  • when people work collaboratively towards a common goal as distinct from other ways that individuals can work within a group.
  • cooperative effort by the members of a group or team to achieve a common goal.

I don’t know what you have observed from the above definitions. For me, two words stick out – “people” (team) and “work” (work). I’m inclined to believe that the end result of teamwork (i.e. to achieve the objective) is actually secondary. I opine that teamwork is rooted in people involved in work, or if I may put it this way, teamwork is basically about being (people) and doing (work).

Teamwork gives the unique platform for both the task-oriented and people-oriented individuals to come together to achieve a common goal. Sometimes I wonder what carries greater significance – to achieve that goal or to come together. If a group of people accomplish something and yet kill one another in the process, then it defeats the purpose of working together. Similarly, unless it’s a machine or a computer accomplishing a task, it’s virtually impossible to get work done without involving people.

I led worship three times at the recently concluded retreat and while I celebrated at my accomplishment of playing the guitar for 90 minutes straight on the first night when I co-led it with JQ (and I’ve never played the guitar for such a long stretch of time), it was the second morning’s session which I will remember for a long time to come. I had already prepared a set of songs – complete with pre-retreat printed chords sheets for myself and lyrics sheets for everyone else. However, on that morning, just 15 minutes before the worship set, I randomly played “O Praise Him” (by David Crowder Band) and KY, who sat beside me, quickly caught the song and started to sing along with me.

SOAR247 (my youth group in Shanghai) instantly came to my mind at that point in time and with it came the triad of songs that the youth worship leaders there always led – “O Praise Him”, “Marvellous Light” (introduced at Rhema 2009) and “Prince of Peace” (an all-time favourite with the RLs). All three songs were in the key of G and I naturally medleyed from song to song. In an inspired moment (these moments do encapsulate the randomness and suddenness of youth ministry), I decided to lead these three songs for the morning session instead. Everyone around me immediately captured the idea; it was like they also wanted to be led into worship by these songs too.

It was then I saw the most spontaneous display of teamwork. HY, KY and MS took out their phones to google for lyrics; and in an instant, MW, YX and AT took out the flip charts and started writing lyrics on them. I can’t remember who else got involved but it felt like everyone chipped in without hesitation. I was moving from chart to chart, scribbling down the chords. It almost felt like a rehearsed routine except that it was second-nature for the leaders to get cracking – to make this worship session a reality. 10 minutes later, we were up and running and ready to go. I took a snapshot of that moment of togetherness in my mind’s eye and I thanked the Lord for giving us this wonderful thing called teamwork. Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed that worship session because WE led US into worship.

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. (1 Corinthians 1:10)

As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. (1 Corinthians 10:20-27)

“Family” is one of the three DNAs of Grace Assembly of God Church (and R-AGE). I’d go one step further to say that a family isn’t effective and efficient unless they learn to work together and love one another. Teamwork is absolutely essential to the core value of a family church, and in a larger context, the body of Christ. May we always remember to be excel in both our being and our doing – and there’s no better way to achieve this than through teamwork.

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” (Warren Buffet)

ministry is about meeting felt needs.

During one of the PIERCE mealtimes, I had the privilege of speaking with IP; we caught up on many things – from how I first met him when I was working in 1VOX to how I am now working in church, and how he moved from a pastoral staff in a church to a counselling staff in a school. To be frank, I really enjoyed our little dialogue because of how encouraging he was; I was so ministered by IP’s genuineness and sincere desire to communicate heart to heart, and my spirit was really lifted by that small exchange of words.

Of the many things I caught from his spirit over lunch, this would be my greatest takeaway – he challenged me to “meet felt needs”; he went as far to say that meeting needs is just about the best thing a church could do as a church. I thought about it for a while and I realised that in my ministry, I’ve subconsciously been applying it and I really thank God for that; I saw the needs of my Shepherds and so I set up the DYLM leadership cell group; my RLs saw the needs of their CMs and so they set up the CM cell group; and the CMs are actually investing their time and energy into their cell group to meet the needs of their own cell kids. It would be challenging for each tier of leadership to meet the cascading level of needs if their own needs weren’t met.

Everyone has a variety of needs. Adolescent youths would have needs for identity and belonging; upper-secondary students would have needs for security and recognition; leaders in tertiary education would have achievement and esteem needs; those from a single-parent family like I do would have needs for acceptance and safety; those from financially-troubled households would have physiological needs for food and shelter; and of course, those healing from failed boy-girl relationships would have needs for trust and courage. Bottom line is, there are needs to be met!

Now let me go offtrack for a little while. Of course when I think about needs, Maslow’s much-studied hierarchy of needs spring to mind. While it is a trusted model for sociological and academical application, I find that model inadequate simply because it addresses needs from a secular standpoint. Conversely speaking, I believe that one’s greatest need is to fill the God-shaped hole. And if I may borrow song lyrics from Plumb’s ‘God-shaped Hole’ – “that’s a void only He can fill” . I firmly believe that while meeting real needs are important (after all, Jesus did meet physical needs in John 5), the most important need to meet is the need for God – if that need is not met, nothing really makes much sense. Still, therein lies a great need to meet real needs. RP sums up my sentiments:

Jesus had an extraordinary ability to see beneath the myriad of layers of people and know what they longed for, or really believed, but were afraid of revealing. That is why His answers so frequently did not correspond to the questions He was asked. He sensed their unspoken need or question and responded to that instead. Jesus could have healed lepers in countless ways. To the leper in Mark 1:40-45, He could have shouted, “Be healed … but don’t get too close. I just hate the sight of lepers.” He didn’t. Jesus reached over and touched him. Jesus’ touch was not necessary for his physical healing. It was critical for his emotional healing.

Can you imagine what it meant to that man to be touched? A leper was an outcast, quite accustomed to walking down a street and seeing people scatter, shrieking at him, “Unclean – unclean!” Jesus knew that this man not only had a diseased body but an equally diseased self-concept. He needed to be touched to be fully cured. And so Jesus responded as He always did, with total healing for the whole person.

I had a good chat with JK over lunch today and he shared some of his immediate needs with me. I told him that I was more interested in meeting his needs than having him meet ministry needs. “What you do in ministry is secondary; I’m more concerned about your primary needs”, I said. I encouraged him to get active with the CM cell, and to give his peers an opportunity to reach out to him, as well as for him to mutually minister to his peers. No man is an island and the sooner we realise that the sooner the body of Christ can be in action; we need one another to build one another – no one can do it alone.

Hence, it is my prayer that as you read my thoughts today, you’ll be reminded to either remain connected to your cell group and church, or that it’s time for you to start get acquainted with godly Christian fellowship. A few days ago, I asked IP over a text message if he had any prayer requests. His reply resounded so strongly with my heart’s cry for ministry and how I’m praying that R-AGE would truly become an Acts 2 youth group:

“My prayer needs? To see (R-AGE @) GII grow into the fellowship like in Acts, digging into the Word, meeting together weekly breaking bread and soaking in His presence.”

IP, I will remember what God taught you (and what you taught me) – and I will always have “meeting felt needs” at the top of my ministry priorities. Thank you for such a powerful and profound message – it was something that really pierced my heart during the camp and now, after it. We are in the ministry of meeting needs; if we fail to do that, then we have missed the whole point of church.

are you competitive or comparitive?

Singapore has world-class education system – that I do not deny. My scholastic abilities have been tuned by my learning environment (observe the careful choice of words) and I’d like to think a big part of my confidence and street-smartness (or some would say arrogance) comes from a decade spent in ACS. However, if I had a choice, I’d rather not raise my children in a local school and if I had the resources, I’d rather home-school my kids; I do not want to subject them to the unnecessary and poisonous culture of the education system here – where students somehow feel that they are never quite good enough.

Our academia has changed considerably – some would consider it progress, some see it as regress and for a few others, digress; I belong to the third group. I think that we’re missing the point of education, really. We should teach people how to think not what to think. Today’s students are subjected to a lot more pressure and stress – that doesn’t come from themselves but primarily from their parents and secondarily from their peers. The desire to improve themselves is shrouded by external motivations instead being influenced by internal drives.

I’ve always opined that pride is not about wanting to be the best – there’s nothing wrong with that – but pride is about wanting to be better than someone else. There’s an element of covetousness in pride, where the desire to better oneself sprouts from the obsession to outdo others. We’ve heard it time and again – a student could far outperform himself and score a 60% in a test (and achieve his all-time highest score) but this joy is somewhat short-lived; his initial delight soon plummets into despair when he begins to compare his results with a classmate that scored 70%. The process is transferred to the next dimension and (if you pardon the direct translation of the old Chinese adage) there always seems to be a higher mountain that is insurmountable. Where does it stop? Before you know it, these students return home to mourn about their oh-so-terrible score when they should instead rejoice over their progress made. There’s no end to this vicious cycle of self and societal inflicted torment. No wonder suicide cases related to academic pressures have risen sharply over the years.

Achievements and successes are all relative – hence it is imperative that we manage our expectations and chart our progress on a realistic rate. Today, you should ask yourself if you are competitive or comparitive. There’s nothing wrong with benchmarking yourself against the best to gauge and improve your own abilities and thresholds. But once you begin to compare and slide into the venomous glance-over-your-shoulder behaviour, you inevitably welcome self-destruction and a never-ending pursuit of nothingness. We are all different – get used to the idea. To those who have more, more is expected of them. Learn to be comfortable with yourself and realise that if you want to be someone else, who’s going to be you?

When I stroll down memory lane, I don’t seem to ever recall a time that I wanted to be better than someone else because I realised that I’m constantly waging war with my own insanely high standards (again, this is a relative statement). To an extent, I seem to allow no one to determine how good or how bad I can and will be. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m an ambitious person and I effort to bring out the best of my gifts and talents by being excellent in all that I undertake, but in the event that my desired outcomes do not materialise, I have learnt to trust God for the lessons learnt in temporal failure and postponed success. I realised that I’ve always secretly (but confidently) trusted God for the results, for God was the origin of my desires and ambitions. Either way it turns out, I already know that God, being efficacious, has a lesson in store for me to learn; I believe that He has pre-prepared different packages of lessons for every single different outcome.

I urge you to be wary of the poisonous standards of this world, where it tells you that being contented with your lot is apparently mediocrity. A subscription to these worldly values often results in worldly remorse and regret – that’s not biblical or victorious living at all! Know that with Jesus, we fight from victory and not for victory. Be comfortable with who God has created you to be for your strengths complements someone else’s weaknesses and vice-versa – that’s how the body of Christ works. Everyone plays a different role and is a different jigsaw in the puzzle of life – never let this world determine how you should live and what should make you happy. May your spirit be acutely tuned to the dangers that inescapable and obligatory academic excellence brings.

So what if you finally become the best and better than everyone else? What’s next? At the end of the day, it’s all meaningless. It doesn’t make you better than anyone else, really. The antidote then, to competition and comparison, is contentment.

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