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three choices within our control.

Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it.

James 4:17 (New Living Translation)

James concludes this chapter by issuing us with a stern warning. He doesn’t get any more explicit than this – he reminds us that it is a sin to know the good that we ought to do and yet not do it. This to me is a near-impossible standard to uphold. God gives us the Ten Commandments in the Old Testament, which tells us the things we mustn’t do – kill, covet, steal, lie, etc; whereas Jesus tells us what we must do in the New Testament – to love God and our neighbour. A violation of either renders us sinful; it’s virtually impossible to acquit yourself of blame when the stakes are so high.

I propose that there are three things we can do with the life that God has given to us to steward. The good news is, these choices are ours to make. We can either spend it, keep it or invest it.

  • Hedonistic – You can choose to spend it on your pleasures and make your life all about pursuing your goals and dreams. In other words, this life is all about you. I think we are most susceptible to this way of life.
  • Egotistic – Or, you can keep it for yourself and be selfish, self-centred, and live like a hermit, as if no one owes you anything and you owe nothing to anyone. You inevitably become greedy, mercenary and inconsiderate. I think we unknowingly choose this way of life.
  • Altruistic – Or (and I pray this you’d choose this!), you can invest it in the things of God and in His people, knowing that one day, God Himself will give you great returns – some of it on earth and most of it in heaven. Life is fast and it will soon past; only what is done for Christ will last.

Think about it for a little while – if everyone in this youth group invested their lives in the good that they ought to do, imagine what we would be capable of accomplishing for God! If the local church comes together, unified in one vision to bear fruit, I truly believe that we will be world-changers, history-makers and life-shapers! There’s so much power in the potential of us doing good unto all men.

So my question then to all of us is – What exactly is the good that we ought to do?

When Jesus ascended to Heaven, He gave us the Holy Spirit and left us with the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. These aren’t great suggestions but great instructions for all of us to carry out. The former tells us to love God and His people. The latter tells us to go out and touch and impact lives for Jesus. I don’t know about you, but if you call yourself a Christian, then these two great instructions must sound good to you; these are what we must invest our lives in if life is uncertain and death is certain. And to help us along, we can depend on the Holy Spirit; we are not alone at all in doing good for the glory of God. May we learn to involve God in all that we do in this short life for His glory alone!

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and here’s the full BBC transcript.

A couple of hours before I turned 21 for the seventh time, I received a Facebook message from a correspondent in BBC. She googled Wayne Rooney related news and chanced upon my blog. And she asked if I was keen to be on the “World, Have Your Say” radio talk show. I didn’t ask for this and I thought it was a pretty cool birthday present from the Lord, so I agreed without blinking. And it wasn’t before long that I was on the line with the talk show host, awaiting my turn to speak.

As a student, I was trained to talk on the radio, but nothing quite prepares you for your maiden experience, no less than on an international platform like BBC. Many things rushed through my head in the build-up to the programme and I was getting ready to regurgitate at least five minutes of continuous talking. As it turned out, based on the question that I was asked, I only managed to air about a tenth of what I had intended to share.

At the end of my very short interview, I hung up with a sigh of disappointment.

No, it wasn’t because I didn’t get enough time. And no, it wasn’t because I spoke poorly. It was simply because I didn’t get a chance to talk about Jesus Christ and about young people. I was disappointed with myself for that. I felt I had let the Lord down, and let my profession down.

So in order for me to go to bed with a peaceful heart, here’s the full part of what I had intended to say just now. Of course I would never dream of saying this entire chunk, but well, this is my blog and so I shall freely air my opinions here without any time or space limits. This is in context of the recent headlines of Wayne Rooney deciding to leave Manchester United and to answer the question: “Is money your priority at work?”

Hi Ros, thank you for having me on the show. Now, there aren’t many things that Wayne Rooney and I have in common except for the fact that we both belong to Gen-Y.

Before we talk about his supposed motivations of money, which we speculate, let’s take a step back to examine the generation that he belongs to. Unlike Gen-X, or the baby-boomers, who pride themselves in staying loyal to an organisation and finds it an achievement if they can call themselves a one-company man, Gen-Y, or the Millennials, is a group of people born from 1982-1995 and are motivated by their own personal ambitions. It has become a common practice for people of this age group to change jobs frequently, not because they are fickle, but because they are ambitious and adventurous; they are achievement oriented and want to attain as many career landmarks in their lives. We must not forget that Wayne Rooney is just 24 years old – he’s about as old as my extremely capable younger sister!

I think I can scarcely identify with Rooney because I am a Gen-Y in contact with Gen-Y everyday. I’m a youth minister with a Christian church in Singapore and for me to even be doing what I’m doing is proof of the characteristic Gen-Y attribute – to pursue your dreams; I’ve always had childhood dreams of being a youth pastor simply because of the way that I was brought up and the people who came into my life to invest in me. To be in the pastorate is something I’ve always wanted to do.

Before I worked in church, I worked in the marketplace as a marketing manager with an imported wine company. To a lot of my peers, especially the older (Gen-X) ones, what I have done is career suicide, simply because I have swapped a relatively high-paying salary to take on this job and earn an amount that half of what I used to take home. There are initial struggles with the financial adjustments of course, but I’d gladly do it all over again, anytime, any day. Simply because I’ve always dreamed of being a youth pastor.

That is why I think it wouldn’t be too far-fetched an idea to say that it’s for monetary factors that Rooney has decided to leave United. Even in his latest statements, we can pick up traces of ambition and pseudo-guaranteed success (or at least the platform to achieve it). On one hand, I won’t be surprised if Rooney cloaked his decision to leave United due to the recent controversies surround his private life – and I think if family is his priority, then good on him to move abroad to escape the vicious press in the UK – but on the other hand, I think it’s really because he’s an ambitious person.

Maybe he’s doing a Ronaldo, where he’s won everything he could win in England and wants to move to greener pastures. Or maybe he simply wants a change of environment after being at United since he was a teenager. A lot of people will tell him many different things – some advice are born from personal financial gain (his agent, perhaps) and some would simply be for the sake of his family (Coleen, perhaps). I wouldn’t be surprised if Rooney’s father was against his decision to leave United because of the loyalty-stained blood he has as an older gentlemen.

What I would tell Rooney, if I ever had the opportunity, is to listen to what his heart is telling him to do. I would love to say that he should listen to the voice of God, for that speaks louder and clearer than any other voice this world is offering – the only catch is that you have to first hear it! Unlike Rooney, who I assume isn’t a believer, I had an inner peace and an inner motivated that I’d like to believe is placed there by a divine being. With a supernatural backing, it was easy to go against the natural. I banked on God’s prompting in my heart and I made a decision based on a simple virtue that is uncommon in this world – obedience.

I’m not sure what you would think about it – but honestly, it doesn’t matter – because we could go on and on about opinions; they will continue to differ and digress. Everyone has childhood dreams. For Mr Rooney, he wants to be constantly on a platform that would enable him continuous success; I don’t think it’s really about money and I wouldn’t be surprised if he ended up with a club that gave him a similar salary as what United offered. For you, Ros, maybe you’re already halfway through your childhood dream of being able to speak to a worldwide audience.

For me, I am certain that what I am doing – and man! I absolutely love what I am doing! – and at this point of my life, I wouldn’t trade it for anything else. I consider it an immense privilege to be able to play a small part in influencing, inspiring, intervening and interceding for a generation. For I know that whatever that I am doing with them today will impact them in their tomorrows. It gives me great satisfaction that I’m investing my life in theirs, and to tell them how much God loves them, has a great plan for them, and then to play my part in believing in what God can do through them – wow, what an honour! It really gives a reward that the world could not offer.

Thank you for having me on the show. I know that I’d never get to say all these things on air, but I thank you for giving me an opportunity to spill my heart in this setting, on my blog, as I always do. It is my prayer that this blog gives God full glory, for I am merely putting into words what He has put into my head. What a way to kick off my seventh 21st birthday. Be blessed, and be awesome. Cheers!

I know I am supposed to sleep, but I just remembered that United is playing Bursaspor now! Of course I will give in to this temptation to watch a Rooney-less United in action! With or without Rooney, Ronaldo, Beckham, Cantona or the plethora of talents that have gone before them, United will continue to advance. If they have survived Busby, Best, Charlton and Law, they can survive anything! United we stand, divided we still stand and remain United! GGMU!

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.

sermon recap: must master my mouth man!

Please keep me in prayer as October will be a gruelling month. Above and beyond the commitments of a full-time job, I have a 30% assignment to submit on the 7th, a 30% written test to prepare for on the 19th, and a 40% group presentation to work towards on the 29th. (Yes, I can forget about having a decent birthday celebration this year.) Regardless, I desire to be excellent in all I do, nothing less, for the glory of God.

Oh Lord, I need Your grace more than ever. I need to put first things first. What matters most should never be at the mercy of what matters least; give me Your strength to sustain my walk with You and may I never fall into a performance trap! Help me to never compromise my time with You!

***

I’d like to post a recap of what I’ve shared over the pulpit last weekend. The most challenging (and exciting) part about preaching is to find the message in a passage. And this prophetic burden is best laid upon one’s heart through intercession. Yes, may the Lord reign, always, in all my sermons.

I titled my sermon “Must Master My Mouth Man!” and preached from James 3:1-12. I won’t be able to show my slides this time because I used Prezi; I’m thankful I tried something new because it halved my slides preparation time! I believe I will continue using Prezi.

It’s impossible to be perfect in speech

  • Every once in a while we will say the wrong things, say things wrongly, and also say unnecessary things.
  • A number of us would have hurt and been hurt by words; we tend to sin with our tongues so easily because we’re innately sinful.
  • James doesn’t provide a solution since it’s impossible to be perfect; instead, he gives three pictorial analogies to help us understand the power of our tongues.

Power to DIRECT – picture of a bit and rudder

  • Just as these relatively tiny objects actually determine the destinies of what they control, our speech has great influence over our lives.
  • A 500kg-heavy, 170cm-tall horse is directed by a 12cm by 8cm bit; a 330m-long, 18,000sqm-big aircraft carrier is directed by a 6.7m by 8.8m rudder.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of a bit, a rudder, or your tongue.
  • Illustration: scolding people in Huangshan. Lesson learnt: words are indeed infinitely influential.
  • Have you been a good testimony online or have you been careless with what you write on Facebook, Twitter or on your blogs?
  • Whether you choose to speak life or talk nonsense, your words have the power to influence the way other people look at Jesus Christ.
  • As long as it’s published for all to see, it’s no longer about you but about Him.

Power to DESTROY – picture of a forest fire and untamed animals

  • If you leave your tongue on its own, it has the natural ability to destroy and injure people.
  • Left on its own, a forest fire will destroy everything in its path; similarly, an untamed animal left on its own will attack anything in its path.
  • Our words have the potential for construction or destruction; our speech can single-handedly destroy us and other people.
  • Illustration: angry boy who hammered nails into the fence. Lesson learnt: let’s not leave scars and holes in people’s lives with the words that we use.
  • Damaging words rob people of their potential and destroys their self-esteem. See Proverbs 11:9 and Proverbs 12:18.
  • Do we pierce people with our word or with the Word of God?
  • Destructive rumours are detrimental to the church; gossip is the number one killer of the church and Christians have a tendency to talk too much.
  • When we participate in gossip, we become Satan’s instrument to destroy another person. Gossip kills but prayer heals. Let’s prevent Satan from getting access to our church.
  • See Proverbs 26:20. If you are not happy with someone, resolve it with him face to face. When you agree to gossip, you add wood to the fire. Small things become big and big things become fatal.
  • If all of us are sinners saved by grace then what gives us the right to speak ill of one another?
  • It takes a good character not to gossip but it takes a great character not to listen to gossip.
  • When gossipers have no audience, they will stop. Let’s make R-AGE a safe place where gossip or gossipers are not allowed to surface.
  • Discontinue gossip. Choose to be a peacemaker instead and offer to help resolve the conflict between the parties involved.
  • If you know someone who gossips all the time, avoid him, for you become who you hang out with. See Proverbs 20:19.
  • Similarly, if you hang out with people who have control over their tongues, you will also be like them; choose your friends carefully.
  • Learn to hold your tongue. See Proverbs 10:19. If what you say doesn’t build up someone, then learn not to say it; let’s be careful of passing unnecessary remarks on matters that do not concern us.
  • If someone tells you to stop gossiping, don’t judge him; at the same time, don’t be afraid of being judged for doing what is right. No one can fault you if you keep doing what’s right.

Power to DISCOVER – picture of water and fruit

  • The tongue has an uncovering quality; it investigates your character and inspects who you really are inside.
  • Don’t expect seawater to be fresh and don’t expect freshwater to be salty; and if you plant an apple tree, don’t expect durians, and vice-versa.
  • It just doesn’t make sense – it is ridiculous that we use our tongues for such different purposes – to praise God and curse men.
  • The problem doesn’t lie with the control of the tongue but with the condition of the heart. See Matthew 12:34.
  • Illustration: “I love sex!” declaration in an all boys’ school. Lesson learnt: let’s get real with each other – what you say is who you are.
  • Your speech exposes who you are on the inside. Don’t bluff yourself. You are what you say. You can’t hide it.
  • Your speech shows us what is brewing within you; the words you use, the jokes you laugh at, and the things you talk about reveal what’s in your heart.
  • Whatever spills out of your heart comes out from your mouth.

Heart surgery and hurt surrender

  • The Word of God is a mirror and judges the thoughts and intentions of our hearts; judgment is a good thing, for it brings us back to God.
  • But do not despair, God doesn’t leave us in our wretchedness. See Ezekiel 36:26 – “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”
  • If your speech reveals that you need a heart change on top of a change of heart, know that Lord has already done that through your salvation.
  • God’s grace is bigger than the condition of our hearts.
  • The challenge isn’t just to choose our words carefully but to change our hearts completely.
  • There’s no shame in wanting a heart that’s changed and renewed, and there’s no shame in surrendering your hurts to God and trusting Him to heal you completely.

top ten ways to lead when you don’t feel like leading.

I apologise for the blogging irregularity. These days, I’ve written many drafts but struggled to finish them. August looks demanding – I preach three out of four weeks and facilitate two iJourney sessions. My DYLM cell also coincides with my preaching weekends which leads to a double preparation of teaching materials. It’s also the vision-casting, planning and budgeting month. R-AGE @ GII is also growing with some steady momentum… Basically, everything is coming together all at once – I had better spend more time seeking God.

I do delight in developing my gifts though. I’m keeping my fingers crossed (and my hands clasped in prayer) on a potential ministry opportunity; if that takes off, 2011 looks set to be the most defining year of my (ministry) life thus far. I await with bated breath. Oh God, baptise me in wisdom!

You know, it’s easy to lead when everything’s smooth-sailing. I remember being inspired by DZ’s testimony when I (visited Sydney for the first time and) attended Hillsong Conference 2007. She shared about how she continued leading worship despite her miscarriage; it must have been a tough time for her and the church to experience the loss of a life – that’s transparent leadership for you.

Needless to say, I believe that all regular leaders and mentors (around me) had to lead through tough times too. I often wondered how much inspiration and perspiration they needed to draw from and produce respectively to pull through a rough patch. Here are the ten things I’d recommend for a leader to do when he doesn’t feel like leading, or adequate enough to be a leader, or simply when the chips are down.

1. Share only what’s necessary. You don’t need to give the details of your drought(s) and disaster(s) if you don’t have to. Employ discernment and choose with care whom you share life with. My recommendation – your family, partner, leaders/mentors, cell group, closest friends.

2. Remember that troubles are tempory. Bad times will pass – they usually do not last forever. Often, you end up doubling the pain because you choose to inflict blame on yourself for things beyond your control. Remember, God uses trials and tests to bring out the best in you.

3. Re-create your self-confidence. This is personal because I thrive on confidence. Surround yourself not just with people who love you but also those who desire God’s best for you – they usually have the right words. Let them put the pat on your back that pushes out your chest.

4. Do not dramatise. When you go through a terrible season, you don’t need to convince yourself that it’s worse than what it already is. Healthy pessimism can be helpful, but an overdose could leave you in the trail of destruction. When you are, learn to leave the bad news in the middle.

5. Avoid all loose talk. The last thing you want is to get embroiled in someone else’s misfortunes or to gloat about others to make yourself feel good. Don’t justify your situation and don’t discuss it. Cut off all gossip and secret conversations for they won’t improve your situation anyway.

6. Always remain loyal. As a leader, the biggest mistake you can make is to sell out your team of subordinates, peers and superiors. Teams are accepting of a leader who acknowledges his faults and makes a genuine attempt to atone himself. In your failures, they are still your team.

7. Continue to teach high standards. When the going gets tough, don’t compromise all that you’ve held on to and advocated. Conversely speaking, you should persist and insist high moral standards for those around you. Know that they are observing for your integrity in action.

8. Expect people’s manipulation. Look, it’s a dog-eat-dog world and there will be people who will want to capitalise on your weaknesses to gain an unfair advantage for themselves. Be innocent as doves and shrewd as serpents; don’t allow others to use you like a tool.

9. Be mindful of your speech. Know that everything you say can be quoted; the higher your public profile, the more you will be quoted. In times like these you must exercise restraint. Most leaders have an opinion about everything but it doesn’t mean they need to share every thought.

10. Raise your own bar. In this recovery period, as you consolidate, ask yourself this question – “Would you be fulfilled if you were to keep following someone like you?” Don’t ever shortchange yourself. Your appetite to improve skills and develop character should remain insatiable.

Hope that was helpful for you. For me, I’ll try to pick up my blogging momentum.

my journey to Jesus Christ – a personal testimony.

I’ve always been grateful to God for His grace that has seen me through my growing-up years. For me to be serving Him full-time as a youth minister is a long shot from what was actually intended for me by default of my family’s heritage. Many of you would have heard this before so please bear with me as I share my conversion story again. After all, telling of God’s redemptive plan never gets old.

Caution: this is a long read – prepare the tidbits. (P/S: I’ve already kept it brief!)

I am the firstborn of my generation in a traditional Taoist family. When my parents divorced in 1991, I stayed with my grandmother and my father (for he had the legals rights to my custody). Our flat was a make-shift temple (but some of the devotees probably saw a temple in a make-shift flat, if you know what I mean). I vividly remember the day I counted with my index finger, statue by statue, the number of idols we worshipped – over 130. Yes, it’s a staggeringly scary number. Every August, my family would organise a festival to the celebrate the birthday of the main deity of our temple. Throngs of people would be in attendance and I was always actively involved. There were more people who came to my house to offer incense, ask for protection, consult mediums (yes, possessions took place at my home regularly) than to visit my grandmother, who is the custodian of the temple. Being the eldest grandchild, I was supposed to take over the temple from my uncle, who played the role of a general manager, of sorts. I was exposed to a lot of the operations; I knew and could recognise all the deities by their dialect salutations, chanted during rituals, played the “worship” music (of drums and cymbals) and of course, mixed with tattoo-clad gangster three times my age. They said I had so much “spiritual potential” that I was made the godson of two prominent deities and I was the youngest “layman” to be involved in all the activities. I certainly enjoyed the attention and favour everyone bestowed to me and I reveled in it.

Despite being in a missionary institution (Anglo-Chinese School), I only heard about Jesus Christ when I was in Primary Four, at an external Scripture Union Primary Age camp that my science teacher invited me to go along with her. It was then that my discovery of Christianity begun. I remember talking to my grandmother about the camp and how I may want to follow this “Jesus”. Needless to say, I received a huge dressing-down. A year later, after a school excursion to Haw Par Villa, where we took a boat into the “18 Levels of Hell”, I became tremendously afraid of dying – more specially of ending up in hell. I remember the night that I couldn’t sleep because I was mentally disturbed by all the different punishments I saw in “Hell”; liars had their tongues cut off, murderers were cruelly decapitated and thieves were violently amputated – I was guilty of all these sins and I didn’t want to end up as a mere lump of flesh forever. In tears, I walked out to the living room and had a Papa-I-don’t-want-to-die-and-go-to-hell conversation with my father. Two years later, after the Primary Six Leaving Examination (PSLE), I attended a Christian Fellowship camp organised by my school. I have no recollection how I even signed up for it. Nonetheless, it was at that camp that I gave my life to Jesus. My motivation was simple – I didn’t want to go to hell and John 3:16 was the deciding factor for my conversion. I’m being honest here; I didn’t really embrace the idea of suffering something worse than death itself for all of eternity. The person who led me in the sinner’s prayer was Brother Alan Lim. Here’s the excerpt of what I remember about my conversion conversation:

Alan Lim“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Me: You mean, I just need to believe?

AL: Yes, it’s as simple as that.

Me: You mean, I won’t go to hell and be tortured after I die?

AL: You will have eternal life with Jesus.

Me: You mean, it’s free?

AL: Yes, it is free.

Me: Okay then, I want to be a Christian.

AL: All right, I will lead you in a “sinner’s prayer” but do you know that once you say this, there’s no turning back?

Me: Yes, I know.

AL: Good, let’s pray then. Repeat after me, “Dear Jesus…”

That was it – I didn’t want to go to hell and this “Jesus” person offered me a way out of it. It was free and I didn’t need to do anything except to confess with my mouth and believe in my heart. I mean, it’s a no-brainer deal! Who wouldn’t accept this offer? I certainly wanted this “eternal life” and as a simple-minded Primary Six boy, I was completely sold by this salvation idea. I had to keep this conversion a secret for a good four years before I finally decided to declare it to my grandmother. It was a Sunday and I remember telling it to her while we were together in a taxi (and I still remember that conversation taking place when the cab was travelling along Lower Delta Road, turning left into the slip road that connected to Tiong Bahru Road, towards Redhill MRT station). Strangely enough, I can’t remember how I started the conversation. But she was aware that I have missed the August festival for four years running now.

Me: Ah Ma,你知道我现在是信耶稣了,每个星期天都会去教堂的。(Grandma, do you know that I believe in Jesus now and attend church every Sunday?)

Grandma: 我当然知道啦,我不管你要信什么,你变乖就好。(Of course I know. But I don’t care what you believe in, so long as you become obedient.)

You see, when I stayed with Ah Ma for those four years in that four-room Jalan Besar flat, I was a terrible and horrible kid to look after. I have stolen from my own grandmother, the neighbourhood convenience store and even the departmental store in a shopping centre. Everyday, I hung out with hooligans until midnight, gambled, accompanied them to extort money, threatened people and participated in activities that terrorised the neighbourhood; many times my grandmother had to personally search for me at 11pm. I spewed vulgarities (in dialect) like it was second-nature to me. I’ve changed tutors 11 times in three years and I constantly escaped from tuition and even made a couple of (lady) tutors cry. I basically had no regard for authority. Mind you, I had “achieved” all these as a primary school kid; that’s right – I was on my way to becoming “yellow chinese trash”, as I would affectionately call myself. I had “boys’ home”, “juvenile delinquent” and “no future” written on my forehead. I wasn’t an unintelligent boy, but my ill-discipline nearly caused me to be thrown to EM3 (the weakest academic band) during the Primary Four Streaming Examinations.

My close shave with EM3 was the last straw for my mother. She acted quickly, just like how she “saved” my sister from this destructive environment a couple of years ago. She took this opportunity to gain complete custody of me, and my sister and I were reunited after being separated from one another for a few years. I moved to peaceful Ghim Moh from turbulent Jalan Besar; it has been the three of us ever since 1995. By God’s grace(!), I made it through the PSLE with 4 A’s and I remember doing it without any additional tuition (as my mother could not afford it). It was a miracle now that I think about it, no matter how I look at it. I am certain that God was massively involved in redeeming me and I am certain that there must have been people who were interceding for me. I was the first amongst my immediate family to be saved, then my sister (although she attended church before me), then my mother. Again, by God’s grace, the five eldest grandchildren of my paternal family are all Christians now and they serve God actively in their respective churches. I was no longer that repulsive primary school boy that my grandmother used to look after and my significant turnaround was certainly obvious to her. No wonder she said it doesn’t matter what or who I believed in, so long as I became obedient.

(Okay, that sharing was a little longer than I had imagined… And I’ve really enjoyed writing all that… But) I shall come to my main point now.

A lot of people have told me, “Wow, Joey, you have such a good testimony! My testimony is so boring…”

But I beg to differ, for I merely have a dramatic testimony.

To me, a good testimony is this:

“I am obedient to my parents; I study hard in school; I attend church with my family every Sunday; I go for cell group every week; I am well-behaved and even-tempered; I read the Bible and memorise the Word of God; I spend time with God daily; I treat everyone with respect; I love my brothers and sisters-in-Christ; I pray for my friends and constantly encourage them; I serve God actively in church; I take care of those who are in need; I heed the advice of my pastors, mentors and leaders; I am faithful, available and teachable; I love God, love His Word and His people.”

I don’t know about you, but I think that a person who has that kind of story to tell is a remarkable individual for that life demonstrates years of obedience and courage to be different from everyone else; I opine that you don’t need to fall away from grace to experience God’s grace. Everyone has a story to tell and it is the element of a changed life by a great God that makes the testimony powerful and effective.

I may have a captivating story to tell of God’s grace, redemption and goodness in my life, and God has certainly used it to glorify Himself in the last 15 years. But that’s just me! For every one drug addict or ex-convict who turns his life to Jesus, there will be nine others who fall to the wayside. In Revelation 12:11, we know that we will overcome the evil one by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony; the Word of God doesn’t indicate that this testimony needs to be dramatic or good – but that we simply do our part to testify, which means that we ought to tell others about what God has done in our lives. Never, ever, underestimate your testimony simply because it’s a simple one.

The key here isn’t to compare your story with mine but to tell you my story, and for you to tell me yours, so that at the end of the day, God gets all the glory. May I urge you to always testify no matter where you are, who you’re with, or what you do, for you never know how God will use your testimony to display His awesome glory and amazing redemption. Let’s save some, by all means possible!

top ten (re)discoveries of being in youth work.

I spent the last two days on course at SSTI (Social Service Training Institute), the training arm of NCSS (National Council of Social Service). There were many factors that contributed to my thorough enjoyment. It was conducted at their main office at Ulu Pandan Community Club – yes, a three-minute stroll over 200 metres – even nearer than walking to the bus terminal. It was great to network with people in this line of work; I was glad to meet three full-time staff from NCC and I think we connected well. The trainer was a former senior pastor of a local church and he received his postgraduate education from (my dream institution) Fuller Seminary. It was great to meet people from different demographics with a similar heartbeat for youths.

At the risk of sounding cocky (forgive me), I didn’t really learn anything new for there is nothing new under the sun. Most of the findings could be researched online and most of the principles could be self-deducted with common sense. Unfortunately, (the participants and) I do not have the luxury of time to do either, so I was glad that this course helped to piece together the thoughts that were already in my head; I declare it so arrogantly (forgive me again) because a lot of what was taught can actually be found in the 70+ drafts that I’ve written so far, just phrased slightly differently. The presentation may vary, but the train of thought and cognitive motivations are one and the same.

However, this (“Engaging Youths Through Their Culture”) course did affirm my calling, as well as my decision to enter full-time ministry to work with young people at this point of my life. I think it will benefit anyone who has “work with young people” in their job description. Here are the ten things I’ve (re)discovered about myself at the end of the course:

1. I truly am wired for youth ministry. Again, another immodest statement (forgive me, I’m on a roll!) but it is what I honestly believe; I am acutely aware of my strengths and weaknesses. This course has reinforced the preexisting thoughts and mentalities in my head which I have independently developed over the years. There’s no work I’d rather be doing than this.

2. I truly have the DNA of an evangelist. Within hours, I found myself sharing God’s goodness in my life and my journey to full-time ministry to Christians and non-Christians alike. We overcome the evil one by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of our testimony (Revelation 12:11) and it was almost instinctive that I did what I did – intentionally share the Gospel through my life, by my speech.

3. I truly enjoy meeting new people and I’m not afraid to air my opinions. In other words, I find it exciting to connect with all kinds of people and I’m outspoken, even in a new or unfamiliar environment. It’s been a while since I’ve mingled with non-church people and today I realised that my personality is quite consistent in every arena of my life. I can only be thankful for that.

4. I truly understood why I was a marketing manager in my previous job before I went into full-time ministry. When the trainer gave us insights into the world of media and marketing, I found myself instantly connected to and comprehended what he was sharing. These topics were my professional competencies and rice bowl; it was what I “specialised” in, sort of.

5. I truly am a senior youth after all. Instinctive compulsions are synonymous with youth. I self-declared to be senior because I no longer act crazy out of impulse, but I self-declared to be a youth because I still have these crazy impulses! (And also because I’m within Singapore’s official 15-30 year old age range!) Nonetheless, I thank God for this all-important suppressing ingredient called maturity.

6. I truly relish communicating and expressing myself through words to a different audience. On a daily basis, I work with Christians, be it my colleagues or my youths. Even the couple of at-risk youths I work with are Christians. I must admit that it’s slightly easier to speak to this group of people because we subject ourselves to a greater authority (in the Bible), and often can use phrases like “I’ll pray for you”, or “Have faith”, or “Trust God” as part of our arsenal of advice. I cherished the opportunity to articulate my thoughts with a deliberate reduction of Christian jargon.

7. I truly am able to speak the language of youth. Be it through the mediums of music, media, colloquial expressions or the virtual world, I realised that I could feel what a young person is trying to tell me in their multi-coded and often pseudo-confused state of mind, evidently manifested in their language – both verbal and non-verbal. Simply put, I think I can readily emphathise with a young person and I thank God for it.

8. I truly see myself doing this kind of work should God lead me out of full-time ministry one day. I always tell people that I take working in Grace/R-AGE a year at a time. I’d love to do it for the long run, but if I ever do something else, with the right credentials, this could be the other dream job I’d want to declare as my occupation – studying youths and talking to youths and people who work with youths about youths – what a combination!

9. I truly love young people. We were shown a surfeit of video clips throughout the course and whether I see something spectacular or sorrowful, I’d spontaneously ask two questions – “How can I rejoice with them?” and “How can I reach out to them?”. It could be the celebration of an achievement, the recovery of a failure or the development and fulfilment of potential. I absolutely yearn to be a part of it – whatever it is!

10. I truly am privileged to work with a kaleidoscope of youths. This is the first time I see my clients playing a significant role in my own training and development as a youth professional (if I could lump all of us into one overarching category). Unlike other youth workers in specialised roles (like social workers or psychologists) who attend mainly to one subset of youths, I have the wonderful benefit of meeting all kinds of youths from all kinds of social backgrounds with all kinds of upbringing and all kinds of aspirations.

All right, this post has certainly evolved into a piece longer than I had expected so I shall conclude it here; at the end of the day, this is how I would consider my job, or better phrased, my current phase of life – that it is my absolute dutiful delight and delightful duty to work with young people. And I praise God daily and nightly for putting me where I am. This truly is a reward that the world could never give.

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