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top ten ways i will remember PIERCE.

I actually ought to be shot for only posting my reflections on Pierce now – especially when I encouraged all the campers to blog, facebook and tweet about Pierce – and I’m the last to be on the task which I set. Shame on me and thank you all for being merciful (I’m sure you’re more merciful than those who threw the water bombs with such glee!)

When I began the day, I knew that I’d write about Pierce tonight and I’m glad I met up with JH tonight; and as I shared with Him what God had done in Pierce, it helped me to consolidate my thoughts into bite-sized chunks. (I actually wrote a really long reflection on my mobile, but I think I’ll just can that for this instead.)

In no order of importance or significance, more like a what-comes-to-mind-first:

I. The difference between this awesome youth camp and the last awesome youth camp (Dream-makers) in R-AGE was the God-factor; what sets Pierce apart from the other events that I’ve been a part of over the last decade (and trust me, I’ve been part of a lot) is that God visited us in a progressively tangible manner with each passing hour. It is in the presence of God that our lives are changed and the presence of God was so strong in this camp that it was un-mistakable and un-manufacturable.

II. The youths rose to take ownership of the youth group. I smiled the widest during two particular moments; firstly, when I saw cell kids approaching cell mentors at the altar call to take turns to pray for them – forget about hierarchy or maturity, they just wanted to minister to their brothers and sisters! Next, when JN, TT, SY and LW approached me for a five-minute interval to teach the campers an R-AGE cheer which they had created themselves – that to me was “youths leading youths”. To these two items I’d say, “Outstanding and well done, R-AGE, keep it up!”

III. For me, there were two events that really galvanised the ministry. Even though we had already expected the youths to gang up on the committee during the war game, I felt that there was a spiritual significance behind that epic rallying of all the campers – I’d say this carelessly, but I think there’s something prophetic about that act of coming together for the same common purpose (of mercilessly destroying us). The other activity that, hopefully, would stick in the campers’ head for a long time to come would no doubt be the Midnight Workout and how they earned their camp t-shirt – it taught them about sticking together, no matter what, whatever it takes. I’m confident these two programmes brought our unity and togetherness to new heights. May it drive commitment to the youth group into their hearts.

IV. When you are surrounded by an outstanding team of Generals and Knights, you can’t help but to rejoice with them when you see them rise up to take the mantle of leadership and exhibit the qualities of excellence, passion, initiative, dedication and commitment. On paper, I already knew that my committee would make an amazing team and when execution took place, it confirmed their ability to deliver. I deliberately gave them autonomy and they reveled in it. Well done!

V. I had never in my wildest dreams expected Be a Barney to take off like that. When we printed about 400 cards, we thought it’d be just about right, and that we’d actually have a few leftovers for ourselves to bring home as keepsakes. I think it was just after dinner on the second day that EL reported the crisis to me, “Joey! We have no more Barney cards!” I smiled and thanked the Lord for how the campers really caught the Barnabas’ spirit of encouragement! They’re still at it now, I believe!

VI. Here’s some trivia for you – Plug & Play was actually an idea which I had wanted to implement in R-AGE way back in 2005 (I still have the meeting minutes!). It remained dormant for years until I identified the hidden potential in NC to “take over” it and take it forward. She took a good six months to say “Yes” to my invitation and it was my personal delight to see her execute the inaugural Plug & Play on the first evening. I was convinced there and then that there was no one except her who could pull it off in that manner and magnitude. She far exceeded my expectations and everything I had hoped Plug & Play would turn out to be; she basically took it and made it her own, and I’m sure she’d soar with it now.

VII. With every camp or retreat, and yes, I do mean every, there will always be hype at the end of it – there is no exception for Pierce. However, while it’s only been two weeks since Pierce concluded, I’ve already seen noticeable changes in R-AGE @ GII’s culture, both in and out of services and cells. It’s as if the youths finally realised that they could actually have so much fun, actually enjoy worshipping God, actually engage with sermons, actually pray for one another in such a manner and actually relate with one another with such kinship. Pierce somehow became a point of activation for the youths to actualise what they’ve always had. I remember telling JH that it’s not as if we went “higher from being already high”, but that we went from “zero into one”. Something just clicked and we never had that!

VIII. I am seriously considering publishing the evaluation forms for they will be a great source of encouragement for anyone who reads it. What encouraged me most was how a great number of youths indicated their interests to serve in R-AGE – as CMs, emcees, ushers and just about anything – simply because they want to contribute to the ministry and be a part of its growth!

IX. At the close of the first day, I had an opportunity to catch up with DL and she, very excitedly, shared her Dream-makers experience with me – she still kept Angel & Mortal notes from that camp in her Bible and she still remembered all the different activities and lessons, especially the one where we tortured the leaders. There and then, the Spirit reminded me of the potential of Pierce and that its impact and effect would continue to be felt a decade later. It has been my prayer and desire that this camp creates a mark in R-AGE @ GII’s journey to fulfilling God’s destiny. I believe and I confidently declare that, by faith, we will achieve our destiny in God!

X. Last but not least, Pierce seriously affirmed my full-time calling 1) with youths, 2) at Grace Assembly, 3) in R-AGE. I am immensely grateful to God for His faithfulness in my life and it gives me great courage in the coming days!

All right, I know the past few entries have been really long and grandfather-ish, but please bear with me for I already know what I am going to write about tomorrow and for the next couple of days and they sure look like they’ll be lengthy entries too!

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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.

sermon recall: barnabas the epic encourager.

It was a whirlwind weekend for me – preparing the Barnabas sermon was more challenging than the Mary Magdalene one. Nonetheless, it’s over and I thank God for all of it. Honestly, I thought my delivery at the G2 youth service was not up to scratch.. Sometimes I don’t know what disappoints me more – a lack of congregational response or failing to meet my high personal standards. But God is good; while I felt that the preaching at G2 was one of my poorest to date, I was surprised by the response at the altar call and received rather positive feedback in both quantity and quality from people I didn’t expect. For that, I’m encouraged and thankful, for God worked through my weaknesses (2 Cor 12:9) and still brought Himself glory despite my shortcomings. Form may be temporary and class may be permanent, but the Holy Spirit is forever – I’ll choose the Spirit’s help over form or class, anytime.

After a post-sermon debrief with RY, some melancholy moments and an evening of personal reflection and self-critique, I refreshed the sermon contents and preached a significantly different sermon at G1 – new illustrations, analogies, activities, focus points as well as more internalising and tightening up of contents. (I’m actually slightly saddened by this phenomenon because G1 would almost always receive the more polished sermon while G2 would receive the raw one; my optimism, however, rephrases raw as original. Oh, euphemisms…) And this was the first instance I’ve reviewed my contents so many times; so I reviewed it again this afternoon and here are the key points in my sermon as well as my own lessons learnt, in no particular order of importance:

  • Let us become the “Encouragement Safety Net” and the “Pedestal Platform” for each other.
  • What does it take to be a “good man, full of the Spirit and of faith”? Answer: Encouragement! (It works both ways, get it?)
  • If we want to be like the Spirit, then we must do what the Spirit does – to encourage!
  • Barnabas was called the “Son of Encouragement”; if your friends were to rename you today, what would your new name be? What would you be a son or a daughter of?
  • What the Holy Spirit does for us on the inside, we should do for others on the outside.
  • The key to creating a culture of encouragement is hoping and praying to be encouraged by others (passive), while making every effort to encourage others (active).
  • Encouragement is beneficial for both the encourager and the encouraged.
  • Not everyone can be a Paul but everyone can be a Barnabas; not everyone can be a leader but everyone can be a supporter.
  • Encouraging others is not about you or how well or badly you do it, but about what the Spirit can do through you.
  • Our common ground is how broken and wretched we are – hence we certainly can emphathise with everyone regardless of age or life experiences.
  • Everyone needs a person to believe in him, a “no-matter-what” person – through valleys, mountains, victories and defeats.
  • The ministry of encouragement has a long-term effect in the lives of young people; so we should be patient with one another as God is patient with us, for if we wait long enough, they might surprise us with something good one day.
  • Encouragement influences us in whether we finish pathetically or emphatically – it is the extra strength that we can give to and find from other people.
  • You can encourage people you don’t know by affirming them on what they did and not who they are.
  • You cannot stop someone from falling – that is inevitable – but you can stop them from crashing.

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I look ahead and anticipate the preparation of the next New Testament character. Watch this space!

reflecting the future.

I’ll say this very loosely and irresponsibly; I am convinced that our behaviour today should give us an indication of our behaviour in the future. Of course, we all desire and hope that we will mature and grow beyond our weaknesses, and perhaps with wisdom and more experience we’ll see improvements.

My mentor PL once told me, after witnessing for himself my poor reaction to a family situation around five years ago:

“Joey, remember that whatever you are capable of doing to your family now, you will likely do it to your family in the future.”

That completely snapped me into place. And I’ve held those golden words dear to my heart ever since.

I’ve always seen myself as a family person; as my colleague and buddy in Shanghai SS would put it, “Joey is 26 (then) going 40”. He found it astonishing that a bachelor in the prime of his career in the wine industry, would have little or no affinity for partying, drinking, gambling, smoking or womanising (the vices, basically). Instead, he was (pleasantly) surprised (I hope!) that I found enjoyment in chilling out over coffee or hanging out at a friend’s place, engaging in a meaningful conversation and a hearty laugh. There’s a part of me that simply can’t wait to hang out with my own family nucleus in the future – playing with my kids, dancing with my wife and loitering in my house.

When RY came over to my place today, he said the same thing, “Joey, I notice you seem to… How do I put it… Have a thing about building a family, wherever you’re at”. I thought about it for a split minute and realised that his observation hit the nail on its head. I enjoyed building a family unit when I was with the Archer Company Tank Platoon, Wine Mall Marketing Team, Precious Thirds, TeamR-AGE and now, a work-in-progress, DoYouLoveMe. I’d like to think that this is a positive quality and it has to be God who ingrained it in me because I do not have an example in my own single-parent family unit to model after.

I know I have digressed, so here’s what I really wanted to say:

  • If you currently demonstrate a hot streak of temper at home and are constantly fuming and throwing your tantrum whenever you get mildly pissed off, then it is likely you’d do it to your own wife and children in the future.
  • If you currently enter a recluse whenever there’s a conflict between your loved ones and stubbornly refuse to communicate with anyone by shutting yourself off, then it is likely that you’d do that with your spouse in the future.
  • If you currently like to run away when things don’t go your way and escape from confrontations and avoid dealing with pressing moral, ethical, values or principles-related issues, then it is likely you’d abscond too from your family in the future.
  • If you currently show an irate face whenever you’ve had a bad day and behave in an antisocial manner that prevents people from approaching you, then it is likely you will exhibit this behaviour to your kids in the future.

The analogies given above are just a tip of the ice-berg. I am sure you are smart enough to know what I am talking about. This applies to any relationship, even outside of the family unit. So consider it carefully whenever you are about to do or say something that may jeopardise the harmony amongst your family (and friends). Remember that whatever that you do in the present has a chance of relapse in the future. Hence, build good and positive habits today if you want to establish a good and positive culture for tomorrow.

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