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to establish a FAT and Hungry culture (part I) – faithful.

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Photo credits: Caleb Kay

In the next few posts, I’ll share snippets of my vision casting sermons at the recently concluded R-AGE Leaders’ Retreat called, “FAT & Hungry”. In this three-day camp, I preached on four attributes that I’d like to see in my youth shepherds and leaders. The first is Faithfulness.

I started my walk with God by faith. But did I stop there? No, I continued to grow in my faith by being faithful. In Luke 17:3-10, the disciples asked Jesus to increase their faith but perhaps Jesus was calling them to increase their faithfulness instead, since they already had a measure of faith. In this parable, we learn that our attitude towards doing God’s work is that of a servant to his master. Jesus provided the proper response in Luke 17:10, “In the same way, when you obey me you should say, ‘We are unworthy servants who have simply done our duty.'”

The difference between faith and faithfulness is that faithfulness is our response to our faith. Let’s ask God to increase not our faith, but our faithfulness. Faithfulness is what we do with our faith. Faith grows only when we faithfully finish what God has called us to do. If we don’t finish what God has called us to do, our faith might not actually grow. On the contrary, it may shrink! Since I have put my faith in Jesus (to save me from hell and to take me to heaven), now I should be faithful to Him.

Faithfulness does not mean “not being unfaithful”. If I say I am faithful to Huiyi, it means nothing if my faithfulness is about not acting negatively towards her but not doing anything positive for her. Faithfulness is not the absence of the negative, but the presence of the positive. Faithfulness isn’t only what we keep ourselves from but what we choose to invest ourselves in. Faithfulness is to be reliable, trustworthy, consistent and dependable. And these are rare virtues today.

There are two ways to develop a culture of faith and faithfulness:

1. Start enthusiastically in faith.

The son who pleased the father wasn’t the second son said he’d do it but didn’t, but the first son who didn’t say he would do it but did it. Obedience not intention pleases the Father. Actions speak louder than words; many people have great intentions but no many follow through what they intended to do. No one gets rewarded for intention. Automobile pioneer Henry Ford once said, “You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do”.

Action not intention gets the job done. Let’s develop a tendency for action. If you feel God is calling or prompting you to do something to advance His kingdom, stop hesitating and just act on it. A thriving youth ministry must develop a culture of enthusiastic obedience by faith. After all, the proof of passion is in the pursuit. If I say I am passionate about Huiyi, then it’s only natural that you see my pursuit in action.

But watch out for the perceived “what if” fears that stop us from taking action. We need to learn to pull these perceived fears into the light, for fear is a dark room where negatives are developed. Something that I’ve learnt from my mentor, Ps Benny Ho, is this principle called, “Ready, fire! Aim…” There are some who fire without getting ready – these do not hear from God properly. But there are some that just prefer to aim forever but never fire the first shot. This is similar to how you’d zero a rifle – you must fire the first shot to get a sensing before you calibrate your weapon.

Remember, faith is to believe what we do not see and the reward of faith is to see what we believe.

2. Stay earnestly in faithfulness.

I believe that faithfulness isn’t about doing something for a long time, but about doing something well at a particular season of life.

Proverbs 25:19 tells us that unreliable people are like a bad toothache or a walking with a sprained ankle – it hurts! If we depend on an unreliable person, we can never quite relax because we’re wondering at the back of ours mind if the job is really done, and we’ve got to chase that person again and again. Come on, if we say we’re gonna do it, then do it! Let’s remove unreliability from our system and make reliability our greatest ability.

Faithfulness is an attitude of the heart. We should faithful because God is faithful but also because God rewards faithfulness. The hardest part in both the marathons I’ve completed is in the middle part, when the going gets tough from around the 21st to the 32nd kilometre; the novelty of starting a marathon has worn off and the euphoria of the finishing line is beyond sight. That’s when tenacity gets us going.

A great example of tenacity is footballer Cristiano Ronaldo. He is youngest son of a cook and gardener in small town in Portugal called Madeira. When he joined Manchester United (the greatest football club in the world) in 2003, he said, “There is no harm in dreaming of becoming the world’s best player. It’s all about trying to be the best. I will keep working hard to achieve it, but it is within my capabilities.”

He put in years of hard work and was rewarded for it in 2008 when he received the ultimate individual accolade in football – the FIFA Ballon d’Or. He was now officially the world’s best player. In 2009, he became the most expensive player in the world when Real Madrid bought him from Manchester United for S$158,580,800. His annual salary in 2011 was S$47,070,692. Putting that into perspective, that means that Ronaldo earns S$128,961 everyday, S$5,373, every hour and S$90 every minute. After he finishes watching The Hobbit, he’d have been richer by S$16,120.

His manager, Sir Alex Ferguson (the greatest coach in the world) said this about him, “Although he had a natural talent, he in many ways manufactured himself. He practised and practised. You build up a mechanism and it becomes a habit. That was Cristiano’s habit, to do something after training… …There’s no fluke about it. I see Ronaldo practising all the time in training.”

Persistence and faithfulness will help us to start well and finish well. Let’s be like bulldogs – their noses are tilted upwards so that they can bite onto something and continue breathe without even letting go. That’s why they’re such ferocious canines!

So what exactly is faithfulness in ministry? These were the practical pointers I shared with my leaders and shepherds – I challenged them to be faithful:

  • To Jesus Christ in their personal walk with God.
  • To their respective teams (shepherds cells, leaders circles, youth and tertiary cells, service teams and event committees).
  • To their responsibility (as cell leaders, service team or event committee members, in ministry and committee meetings and to see what they’re doing as spiritual leadership and not simply labourious work).
  • To pray for the youth ministry (R-AGE) and the church (Grace AG) both in their prayer closets and in corporate prayer meetings.
  • To see evangelism as a part of their life and not a church event.

The great missionary Hudson Taylor once said, “A little thing is a little thing, but faithfulness in little things is a great thing.” God can turn your faithfulness in a little thing that He has called you to into a big thing. The challenge for us is, are we able to do all the small little things that people won’t notice, and still be faithful in these things?

Acts 6-7 records the entire life of Stephen. He was faithful, full of the Spirit and he stumbled into the ministry as a solution to a leadership problem and a simple need – to feed and care for widows that were being neglected. It wasn’t anything glamourous or the kind of job that one would take to get ahead or receive recognition from. And it certainly had little returns. I can imagine working with widows to be like working with youths. Both can’t give much back to you.

But Stephen taught me that faithfulness is the little stuff you do that nobody sees and probably no one celebrates. He was faithfully doing his everyday duties until a group of people started to create trouble for him. And with it, he ended up preaching the sermon of his life. He preached the very best he could because once he’s done, he’d be with God. His life came to a tragic end in Acts 7:54-59, when he was tragically stoned to death.

In the Scriptures, we often read that Jesus sat on the right hand of God. It’s mentioned once in Luke, Acts and Romans, twice in Revelation, thrice in Matthew and Mark, and six times in Hebrews. But read Acts 7:55-56 again and you’ll see something amazing.

But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed steadily into heaven and saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand. And he told them, “Look, I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing in the place of honor at God’s right hand!”

In Stephen’s case (and probably the only mention in the whole Bible) after he preached, he saw the Son of Man STANDING! WOW! Can you see it!? In my sanctified imagination, I can’t help but to see a standing ovation from Jesus to welcome Stephen into heaven! What a way to end his life and ascend into glory and honour – I want that for the end of my life!

May we be a youth ministry that has a “finishing anointing” – to be youths who not only know how to start, but how to end. May all of us start well and end well. So that when we meet God face to face, it would be to hear him say, “Well done, you good and faithful servant!” and see Jesus giving us a standing ovation after that!

[Credits: teaching materials adapted from Benny Ho and Steve Andres.]

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one more and one step toward one will.

This convoluted post is a result of my thoughts flying everywhere tonight.

My heart leaped with joy when I saw the prayer request of one of my leaders. I truly believe that an absolute surrender to the will of God is more liberating than you think it is; for when there is total surrender, there is total protection! I am reaching a point in my life where I see nothing better than to do His will, although I must declare that it’s still early days for me to declare something as presumptuous as that. But that is indeed my heart’s cry!

God established His covenant with us, and it was a covenant that was meant to last forever. He kept His Word and sent Jesus Christ to seal the deal. We on the other hand, can’t even keep to our side of the agreement. So I really thank God for Jesus Christ! The grace of God is shown repeatedly in the Bible and each time I read about it, I can’t help but to think of how undeserving I am of His awesome favour upon me as an unworthy person.

Time is the true litmus test of faithfulness and is best seen at the end of a journey, not at the beginning. I desire to be a righteous man who has faith to believe in God’s promises for my life. My greatest fear and possible hindrance? I fear most for myself of myself, for in my natural state, I am capable of exceeding wickedness and ungodliness – so may the Lord shield me from me for the sake of me!

Let’s not read the Word for information but let’s read the Word for transformation! Now, that’s when the Word will come alive in our lives.

Eternal God of the everlasting covenant, may You alone sustain me in my quest to know You more daily and please You more through active obedience. I need Your grace more than ever to do Your will. Help me. I desire to honour You by being Christlike, for Your glory alone.

paying it forward pays you back.

Two weeks ago, I placed an order for 11 DVDs and 2 books from the Desiring God website. I have received the goods and I am absolutely delighted because I will soon embark on a JP buffet. My DYLM cell group would be the immediate beneficiaries of this purchase for they will feast on my regurgitation (if you know what I mean). My friend helped me to process the order and sent it to his friend who happened to be in the States. He actually went two miles for me for he paid for express delivery to ensure that the products arrived at his friend’s place before his friend returned to Singapore. When he passed it to me last Saturday, he refused to accept my payment. “Let me bless you”, he said. I was stunned, but thankful to God and appreciative to this brother. I offered to buy him lunch, but he said, “If you were blessed by it, then go and bless someone else”.

The year was 2004. I had a group of friends who gathered frequently at a friend’s house in Kembangan to play all kinds of boardgames. I stayed in Bishan then. It was a good 45-minute commute home. One in two times, this friend who hosted the gathering would send me back to Bishan, then travelled back home. I thanked him for his hospitality and I remember he said that it was his (then) fiancee’s father who taught him to be generous. He quoted his father-in-law, “Go and bless others”.

A year on, I remember how I paid it forward. I sent one of my musicians home after a late-night worship practice and he was appreciative of my gesture. He said, “Eh bro, thanks man, next time when I start driving, I’ll definitely send you home”. I replied, “Don’t mention, send others home instead”. I realised that this pay-it-forward mentality was already ingrained into me.

If I wrote an autobiography, I would be able to fill out an entire chapter with God’s blessings to me through people, in point form. I consider myself to be a blessed person and so from time to time, I will pay for meals and drinks, especially if the other person is younger than I am, or is one of my sheep. When they show their appreciation, and whenever I remember to say it, I will tell them to “Go and bless [their] sheep” then.

“… Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'” (Acts 20:35b)

When I was younger, I was a selfish boy who subscribed to the “Give and Take” theory – you give, I take. I don’t know about you but the older I get, the more I want to bless others. I used to keep track of how much I spent on someone and my spending amount was directly proportionate to that person’s relational proximity to me. And I take mental notes; if the person doesn’t reciprocate, I’d reduce or cease completely the next time I am presented with an opportunity to bless him or her. I thank God that He’s helped me to overcome my old childish ways.

At the same time, I will also never be able to out-give my mentors; I don’t think they expect me to anyway. And just as my mentors have invested their time, energy and resources into me, I have done likewise, but I paid it forward to my mentees. I am convince that when we start to give without expecting anything in return, we become liberated gift-givers and blessing-bringers. I cannot deny how God has blessed me over the years and each time He blesses me through someone to remind me of His faithfulness, I can’t help but to be liberated and encouraged to be even more generous with my friends.

My friends, we will never be able to out-give God and it’d be crazy if we tried to out-give one another. May I then encourage all of us to give unreservedly, love unconditionally and expect absolutely nothing in return – especially to those who are in need. When all of us get involved in meeting each other’s needs, no one will be in need anymore. I don’t subscribe to the “full circle” theory, but you never know, one day all these blessings may return to you, but will probably end up with your children instead. I am half-confident to know that my youths – the ones whom I’m investing my life into right now – will, in time to come, invest their lives into my children and my children’s children.

Let’s pay it forward, for the valueless payment we receive for paying forward actually has the greatest payback value of all.

day three – arise, faith, arise.

On the third day, Jesus rose from the dead; on the third day of this Retreat, my faith rose to another level. These are the thoughts of a man with little faith and was gently rebuked by God, for He has certainly proved His faithfulness to me, not that He needed to.

  • To proclaim that the kingdom is at hand is to do the three things Jesus commonly did – to save, to heal and to do miracles.
  • Biblically, there are three types of faith – desperate, believing and persistent; regardless of category, we ought to depend on God as a newborn babe would depend on his mother, for without faith we cannot please God (Hebrews 11:6).
  • Faith is not about praying harder, longer or louder, and is not about begging or pleading with God, but focussing on God and how big He is, and not on our faith.
  • Contrary to popular belief, faith isn’t based on feeling, emotion or circumstances, but on facts; didn’t Jesus rise from the dead? That’s a fact and that’s healthy faith; you can’t get saved without the Holy Spirit filling you.
  • The mustard seed illustration is not about the size of our faith but the size of God, that we may see who He is and how circumstances yield to His power.
  • Faith is to be exercised and activated, after it is taught and learnt; it is the currency in the kingdom of God and the absence of it renders you invalid.
  • The Holy Spirit is the key to revelation and the grace of the Holy Spirit does the recalibration and reorientation. Conviction is not condemnation.
  • Don’t try to get something you already have. Instead, we should keep the Spirit dripping like a tap intentionally left turned on slightly, so that whenever we require Him, He will be there, ready to flow.
  • We’ll worry lesser about what others think of us when we realise how seldom they actually do. May this free my young people to relate with others.
  • In my full-time calling, I should never worry about the money factor or even allow it to be a consideration because God will always make a way.
  • Always pray in the Spirit, for when your body is out, your spirit is still praying. Praying in the Spirit means that you are always praying the will of God and hence you will always be on target. Lastly, praying in the Spirit is a decision – so make it, “I will decide to pray in my spirit”.
  • The three primary purposes of speaking spiritual language is for praise, intercession and edification.
  • After you learn to speak the language, you will learn to live the lifestyle; operating by the Spirit is to walk by the Spirit and not by the flesh and hence it should naturally lead to a fruitful life of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

In my time with God in the morning, He spoke to me through Psalm 126:3 and it’s a reminder of His steadfast grace, unmerited favour and unfailing love in my life. HY and I have picked out our top 20 choices but we have a feeling that we’ll end up with that particular unit that we set our eyes on from the start.

“The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad.” God is good, He really is. Oh me of little faith. I should learn to step out of the boat!

“My son, you don’t need to prove anything to anyone because you are already fully-approved by Me and Me alone and that’s enough. Be secure in who I’ve created you to be and don’t get tangled in meeting the expectations of men.”

anticipating the future with thanksgiving and hope.

Without a shadow of a doubt, it was a one of the most momentous nights for HY and I, and certainly the most significant landmark of our journey together yet. And because we try not to count chickens before they hatch, we won’t announce what we’re celebrating over until we actually secure it – this keeps us praying without complacency until 10 June. And as we began the night declaring, “Blessed be Your name, whether You give or You take”, we’ll continue to pray with hope, in the attitude of an open-palm surrender. Chat us up if you want to share our joy. And please, continue to keep us in prayer! After tonight, HY and I can only declare the goodness and faithfulness of God – this episode has certainly pushed our faith to another level. How can we keep from singing His praise and giving all the glory to Him? We experienced a miracle tonight for God answered our prayers beyond all our expectations. It went better than we had speculated, for sure!

But speaking of speculation… I shall divert your attention to something I found on a website, which would be really ridiculous if it actually happened to SMRT in the future.

the heart of gratitude.

A couple of weeks ago, I was dealing with disappointment. In my  journeying with and surrender to God, I’ve learnt that to deal with disappointment, I need to approach it with an attitude of thanksgiving and a realignment of purpose. I’m a highly committed individual synonymous with being passionate; hence I often get disappointed when people do not meet my expectations because I always wear my heart on my sleeve. When I was younger, I used to create a commotion each time this happens. As I mellow with age, I’ve learnt to be wiser in handling disappointment – sharing with the right people and only after settling my emotions with the Lord. PC once shared with me that it’s always easier to see God’s faithfulness at the end of a season; so I’ve learnt to be patient and to trust God for His timing and method.

20th March 2010 marks a significant day for the shepherds in my immediate ministry:

  1. KY commissioned as a 2LT,
  2. MF & MW had a positive cohesion with their CMs,
  3. KJ & BL joined my team of shepherds,
  4. EL & YX recovered from their cough,
  5. CN & JC returned safely from Australia and China respectively and
  6. HY completed her FYP
  7. I’ve removed all 25 dressings

This time, there’s something slightly different about feeling their joy and celebrating their victories with them. I can’t quite put a finger to it, but I’d like to think that it’s because I’ve been praying for them; there’s a sense of satisfaction knowing that maybe I’ve played a minute part in the spiritual shift of things. It’s like what RB shares in Nooma 018 “Open” – tapping into the creative power of God.

20th March 2010 is also a momentous day for my Church – we voted in favour for the redevelopment of G1 (on the condition that the 1.4 plot ratio is approved) and if necessary, would take bank loans to finance this project. I’m confident that the Board and the leadership of the church understands that while it is the hardware that’s being rebuilt, significant time, energy and (financial) resources must be invested into its software. Failure to do so would result in an ultimate inability and incapacity to realise the vision. The last thing we want is to have a spectacular building without the right people trained and enabled to fill the spaces which we have catered expansion for.

I am learning to trust God more and more for His providence and I believe that, in the words of BH, “When there is total submission, there is total protection“. On one hand, I’m delighted that we can finally advance as a Church, on the other hand, I pray that we will understand the sobering responsibilities that now line our way. I believe that if we, as a Church, have missed this point of investing in our people, then there really is no point in physical redevelopment. The leadership must be committed to see through this vision.

Let our hope be in You, Lord, and may You show us Your way – I desire nothing more and nothing less.

when exhaustion sets in.

During my devotion a few days ago, I thought about the impending December and how crazy it was going to get – and how tired I was going to be. I applaud and take my hat off CX and RY who have been doing it for a decade.

On this note, I reckon that disillusionment sets in when people are exhausted. I’ve said this before and I believe that fatigue causes us to get emotional and irrational, and this results in us losing interest in people, events and pursuits. Whenever we feel moody we don’t want to talk to people. Whenever we feel down, we feel like we have nothing left to offer so we stop giving. When we are feel tired, all we want to do is to avoid everything and everyone and just recluse into our own space. Can you identify with that?

If you have ever felt that way, which I’m sure you have, that’s completely human and understandable. We have physical capacities and limitations and there’s only so much we can give or do, I guess.

And that is why I was so encouraged when the Holy Spirit directed me to Psalm 121:1-8. This is the absolute faithfulness of God:

1 I look up to the mountains — does my help come from there?

2 My help comes from the LORD, who made the heavens and the earth!

3 He will not let you stumble and fall; the one who watches over you will not sleep.

4 Indeed, he who watches over Israel never tires and never sleeps.

5 The LORD himself watches over you! The LORD stands beside you as your protective shade.

6 The sun will not hurt you by day, nor the moon at night.

7 The LORD keeps you from all evil and preserves your life.

8 The LORD keeps watch over you as you come and go, both now and forever.

We should give Him praise for being someone who neither sleeps, tires or slumbers! What a great assurance! We can put so much confidence and trust in God to deliver us! This portion of scripture reminds me that God is like a 24-hour call centre that never stops operating, never takes a break and is available whenever, wherever.

When I get tired of seeking You, You never get tired of seeking me. Oh God I praise You for Your lovingkindness and steadfastness in my life. Thank You for never giving up on me and for always persisting to pursue me. I love You, Lord.

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