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these are the two compulsory conditions for change.

Watching young people turn over a new leaf never gets old – it’s always a joy to see youths rededicate their lives to Jesus or give their hearts to Jesus for the first time. If we on earth rejoice greatly at a conversion, imagine the ruckus in the heavenlies! Hence I’ve always considered it an immense honour and privilege for me to gain access into a young person’s life, when he or she honestly share his or her problems with me in vulnerability, in hopes that I’d be able to dispense an ounce of godly counsel. It’s actually exciting when I come to think about it, because I know that a transformation is at hand! I could practically hold their faces in my hands, look them in the eye and tell them, from the bottom of my heart, to hang on for they are this close to a breakthrough and a change.

In my observations, I reckon that two conditions must be in place before a person can change (for the better). I speak, of course, in the context of a Christian.

First and foremost, and most crucially, they must have a genuine encounter with the Lord; this is where my life verse, John 15:5, comes alive:

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

Christians must realise that they cannot make it on their own – they must have the grace of God for it empowers us to do what the truth demands. I’ve said this time and again – a lot of Christians try to sort themselves out first, in a bid to clean themselves up, before going to Jesus; don’t put on this unbiblical mindset! On the contrary, we actually need Christ to sort us out first – He is the only one who can make us pure, blameless and presentable before God. The sooner we realise we cannot do it on our own, the sooner we’ll stop depending on ourselves to make it. Therefore, unless a person is rooted and connected in Christ, no inspirational leader or wise mentor would be able to change him for good. This person will at best make temporary changes – out of fear or respect for the person who’s guiding him – but will struggle to keep the change because he’s not fully submitted to the Lordship of Christ. After all, if He’s not Lord of all, He’s not Lord at all.

Secondly, they must be surrounded by a group of people who love and want the best for them. There’s lots of scripture that stress its importance – here are two:

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness… (Galatians 6:1a)

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. (Ephesians 4:25)

Christians must realise that they cannot make it by themselves. These are the people who will not hesitate to tell you the truth that hurts, rather than the lie that kills; these are your Christian brothers and sisters – those who are in your cell group and ministries – who, I hope, will go out of their way to point out your blind spots; these bona-fide friends aren’t afraid to become unpopular with you or afraid they might, out of their own insecurity, lose their friendship with you; these are the friends – the best-in-your-face-til-the-end-friends – whom you must keep, for they are God-sent people.

At the end of the day, you must not, for even one second, think that you can make it on your own or make it by yourself – get the distinction? You need someone far greater (than you are) working inside you to initiate the change, and you need to surround yourself with loving people who are working around you to insist (or maintain) the change. And yes, it works both ways. In this manner, you will realise that when change does takes place, you will receive none of the credit – which then keeps you humble, for you know that it was purely by the grace of God that saw you through. And you know what? God will then get all the glory for He truly deserves it. (And you and I will get none. YEAH!)

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inside outside upside down.

On days that I’m tired and uninspired to write anything noteworthy, I shall succumb to previously-written articles. Somehow I look forward to the break at retreat. For that week away. I’m deciding between live updates or pre-scheduled posts. But for now, in the light of the coming youth camp, here’s an article I wrote after the Inside-Out youth camp in 2004, at Fairfield Methodist Secondary School, where I was camp Dean. I’ll reprise that role in the coming Retreat and I do look forward to it. Enjoy the read.

If a Chinese man decides to become an Indian man one day, speaking in Tamil alone will not change his race; his anatomy and his shade of melanin must be altered to achieve this biological change.

An overweight man cannot look slim just by putting on tight-fitting clothes; a change of clothes will not change his physique, he needs to be altered physically.

A timid teenager lacking in self-esteem cannot find his self-worth and security by hanging out with confident and assured peers; he does not become who he socialises with; his alteration must be mental.

Even a sex change will not make a man feel any more like a woman; unless he is altered psychologically, he will innately know he is still a man.

One cannot modify the external to change the internal. The change must take place from within.

So similarly, a mere believer of Christ cannot become a true disciple of Christ unless he is transformed from the inside out. In Romans 12:2, Paul urges us to not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our minds, so that we may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

Now, that is the theme of the annual R-AGE camp. This camp is aptly named “Inside-Out” and it is a fitting conclusion to a year embarked on discipleship.

In the short duration of four days and three nights, the youths participated in a host of activities that perpetuate the lessons of discipleship. They are put through unforgettable structured experiences; attend knowledge-enriching workshops and life-changing sermons; play large-scale and small-scale games that foster relationship-building; and not to mention living together with everyone else and learning from one another.

Along with the usual works of a youth camp, the committee aspires to impart a lifestyle of discipleship into the campers – the call, the cost and the commitment. Doors will be opened for mentorship to take place.

As the camp dean, my primary job is to look after the well-being of the campers, especially their spiritual condition. I believe it is crucial that the young people are changed from within if they are to live out their fullest potential. There is little significance in attempting to correct the facade if nothing is done to correct their attitudes and their cognition process.

Our church is blessed with intelligent teenagers who are acutely aware of the happenings of the world as they are well-educated and also because most of them come from affluent families. Teenagers are no strangers to the temptations that this world offers and are greatly exposed to the lures of the world.

Their scrutinising nature fuels their continual thirst for knowledge and the truth. And this either leaves them fulfilled by the Word of God or deceived by the lies of the devil.

Therefore, there is a great need to guard their vulnerable minds and correct all the wrong teachings they have received. This is made possible with tender care, proper guidance and assiduous re-education. Hopefully, by the conclusion of Inside-Out, our youths will learn to fix their eyes on Jesus, who is the author and perfecter of their faith; this conviction will empower them to worship God in spirit and in truth, befitting the theme of worship for 2005.

Everything around us is constantly changing – even you and I. But Hebrews 13:8 assures us that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever! Who better then, shall we place our trust in?

top ten Google tricks you probably do not know.

Google has become such an integrated part of our lives that it has replaced Internet Search; you simply Google something instead of Internet searching something. I’m using Mac Safari as my web browser now and only laziness (to transfer bookmarks) is causing me to delay my switch to the better and faster Google Chrome web browser. With Google TV, Docs, Maps, Calendar, Mail, and Groups amongst the other products that I use on a daily basis, I thought it’d be good if I put together the top ten lesser-known tricks in our regular use of the Google search bar, to make virtual activities a little more convenient.

1. Definitions. Key in “Define [insert keyword]” and save some time there instead of checking via an internet dictionary.

2. Blog search. Pretty self-explanatory – search within listed blogs only. (It’s pretty interesting when I see how WordPress reveals how people end up at my blog.)

3. I’m Feeling Lucky. Ever wondered what this button is for?

4. Products. Type in “Better than _[insert keyword]_” and you will get an idea of how good something is. Remember the underscores. If you are someone who’s frugal and wants a good buy, try Froogle. (Clever wordplay!)

5. Translator. This is so good that it translates beyond just phrases, but entire websites and even documents. The amazing thing is that it continuously learns.

6. Conversions. You could just about convert everything. For example, type “123 metres in feet” or “456 SGD in RMB”. Too bad it doesn’t convert pre-believers.

7. Time. If you have a lot of friends overseas and want to know what their local time is, type “What time is it in [insert country]”. Never call at the wrong time ever again.

8. Checking within sites. This lets you zero in on one website. For example, type in “site:joeyasher.com huiyi” to find every post with her being mentioned.

9. Bypass proxy. Not really applicable in Singapore but definitely helpful in Shanghai where just about everything is blocked by thegreatfirewallofchina, including Facebook and WordPress, and for a period of time, Youtube and Wikipedia. Type in “cache:website.com”. Also helpful for annoying company fire walls.

10. Chuck Norris. My favourite, of course, is to type in “Google Chuck Norris” and press the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button. Have a good laugh at the result.

Some additional trivia… During the time that I was in China, Google actually legalised the download of music (simply because they can’t keep up with the country’s normalised piracy). But don’t bother accessing it via a Singapore IP address – you’ll be denied.

The groundbreaking thing about Google is that it is a learning organism. For example, everything that is being searched for, including the actual search results and what appears in the search field (i.e. the autofills) is a result of what people key in, find and eventually click on. Google then intelligently learns these search behaviours; that’s why most of time you actually can find what you are searching for within the first couple of pages – because thousands upon thousands of others have searched what you are currently searching for.

Like many others, I’m inclined to recognise Apple and Google as the leaders of our world today – their influence and impact on our society are staggering; they pave the way for change and have a say in just about how we look at and use things. For e.g. iPhone revolutionised the way we look at mobile phone usage and Google revolutionised the way we use the Internet. This phenomena is mind-blowing (and potentially devastating).

Now if only Christians could exert that kind of influence… Hmm…

how do you stop swearing?

Growing up in a pretty nasty neighbourhood in Jalan Besar, I picked up all kinds of language from gangsters and pseudo-gangsters. In retrospect, it must have been quite a sight to hear a prepubescent boy spewing endless vulgarities in a high-pitched voice, at people who were probably twice his size. I must have been possessed to have such guts.

Being educated in Anglo-Chinese School only made it worse. If I learnt lewd dialect in the rougher neighbourhood environment, then I certainly balanced it off with an equivalent amount of profane English words in a polished and cultured institution. Swearing became a part of my vocabulary and it was a routine for me as a 14-year-old to curse in hellish language on weekdays and to praise the Lord with hallelujah language on weekends.

I was a hypocrite and a terrible testimony in how I used my tongue for good and for evil.

The use of vulgarity could be habitual; it gets dangerous when this bad habit becomes chronic. Regardless of your religious beliefs, there’s nothing worth boasting about if you are expending an arsenal of damning words in your daily usage. You could be 13 years old or 30 years old and still there won’t be a good reason to employ the use of abusive words. I’d like to believe that in a professional (or even in a social) setting, it is a massive turn-off if you carelessly and subconsciously allow vulgarities to roll off your lips. The scary thing about swearing is that there no longer seems to be any societal standard anymore. These negative expressions have been infused into our culture and it has become the neutral norm, unfortunately. No one frowns at a cussing teenager anymore.

Personally, I have enforced a no-swearing rule wherever I went, so long as I was allowed to exercise authority – be it with my tank platoon, colleagues or in TeamR-AGE. And just very recently through REAL2010, I also enforced a complete boycott of all lewd words – including DMN, SHT and WHL. I’m proud of my REAL champs for this achievement of the epilation of vulgarities in their communication. I used to toss these three words frivolously, but now, the mere sound of these words make me cringe and become instantly uncomfortable.

But that’s my conviction and I do not wish to shove it down anyone’s throat; I’d be careful not to get too legalistic. This doesn’t make me a better Christian, of course, but I think it makes me a more effective witness for Jesus. I pay special attention to the words that I use not because I am concerned about my personal reputation or because I’m a youth minister. I scrutinise my language because I am more concerned about the reputation of Jesus, whom I’m an ambassador of.

I fondly remember a particular sermon at my first Grace Retreat in 1997, that turned my life around; DF, the founder of R-AGE, preached about “Bullseye Living” and it was at the altar call that I rededicated my wretched, hypocritical and double-headed life back to Jesus. I consciously and willingly (not emotionally) decided to make Christ my bullseye that afternoon and to start to live like a real Christian. The first thing that the Spirit prompted me to change, was to cease swearing immediately.

Honestly, I don’t know how you behave when you’re out there; I don’t know if you’re the same person at home, in school and in church. A lot of you may struggle to quit this destructive and seemingly incurable habit of swearing. I’d like to offer you some advice – and the method which I practised to great effect to help me kick this awful habit.

I simply prayed and asked the Spirit to help me stop swearing. Then I simply decided not to swear anymore. And that was it – an instantaneous decision that resulted in an instantaneous change – cold turkey, if you know what I mean. I returned to school after that June vacation and left all my baggage and bad habits buried at the foot of the cross.

If I, someone with a comprehensive knowledge of destructive vulgarity in all languages, could overcome swearing overnight, then surely you can do it too. Ask the Spirit to help you and by the grace of God you will eradicate all unwholesome talk and commence to use your tongue for His glory alone. I’m praying for you!

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.

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