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no, they really can’t hear you.

I can’t quite put a finger to it, but there’s just something that I don’t quite enjoy about American sports; I could never identify with the supposed excitement of baseball, basketball, ice-hockey or American Football. (Okay, maybe American Football’s an exception because I’ve really enjoyed The Blind Side or Remember The Titans.) In a nutshell, I cannot and do not appreciate these sports. On the other hand, I find football, and to a lesser extent, rugby, immensely more absorbing. I’ll classify these as European sports.

I’m inclined to think that American sports mimic fantasy while European sports mimic reality. Allow me to elucidate.

In a world of fantasy, there’s always something happening at every minute – be it a high and constantly scoring game like basketball, the player-bashing and violence of ice-hockey, the hope of catching a baseball that’s hit out of the playing arena, or the pre-game, half-time and post-game entertainment elements of the Super Bowl.

Whereas in the reality of European sports, spectators patiently (and optimistically) watch and wait for long periods of time in the game without any action. Then in a moment of sheer brilliance, our breaths are stolen by a mesmerising dribble, a defence-splitting pass, a thunderbolt shot, a trajectory-impossible free kick, a audaciously converted penalty or an incredible gravity-defying save. Our lives in the real world are not dissimilar – long periods of mundane monotony interrupted by a few spectacular and memorable events.

European sports contain the kind of moments that commentators often describe as “edge of your seat”. However, in American sports, there are so many edge-of-your-seat moments that you watch the entire game melted your couch, and head for a water and toilet break without hesitation, because you know that there’s gonna be another specular moment later. When everything is exciting, nothing is anymore.

The funny thing is, regardless of fantasy or reality, we all tune in to our favourite game of basketball or football on TV to be plugged into a world of fantasy (or should I say, non-reality), where deadlines and expectations disappear for that couple of hours.

Perhaps that’s the reason why football-junkies become addicted to Football Manager or Winning Eleven annually (when new versions are released), nullifying the trophy-less frustrations and building that dream team that real-life supported football clubs cannot seem to deliver.  And perhaps that’s why we enjoy planning a well-deserved holiday for ourselves – to get away from all the real-life predicaments we face in the office and at home.

Well, we can’t escape reality and go on a holiday all the time, but we certainly can enter into our worlds of fantasy with our weekly dosages of watching our favourite teams play on our larger-than-life LCD TVs. Maybe that’s why we experience euphoria each time our team scores. Keep watching, keep screaming, keep thinking that they can actually hear you.

fanning the flame.

It is inevitable that I am extremely excited about REAL and especially about the upcoming lock-in camp. I’m praying that God will send me the right 10 participants who are serious and not just curious. On a side note, I realised that I’m really quite a camp person; I spent the day putting together the lock-in schedule and I am proud of what I have put together because it looks different from the other years, refreshing and purposeful. I’d like to think that this lock-in camp packs a punch.

I’ve been accumulating sleep debt over the last week (mainly due to FM, I have to be honest here, but my repentance began last night) and as I dragged myself out of bed yesterday morning, I thought about my friends who have “burnt out” in ministry and what these former youth leaders are now. I’d like to think that there’s a huge difference between burning out and losing your fire completely. Think about that for a moment.

More often than not, (physical and emotional) fatigue is usually the cause of sizzling out and I think to address that, it’s an issue of constantly having input – be it through your devotions, mentoring sessions, bible studies or other methods. But losing your fire completely is a sad state of being – it’s like having your passion, zeal and zest for serving God completely removed. I cannot imagine the kind of person I’d be without passion! I’ve become so synonymous with passion over the years that without it I’d be devoid of my driving force, or in a more humourous way, my mojo.

I don’t quite know where I am going with this entry but I find myself juxtaposing how we used to serve and how we are serving now. Did something happen along the way? Did growing up or the allure of the world take something away from us? Some of us seem to have lost that spark in the eye, that fire in the belly, and end up serving the ministry with a lackadaisical attitude.

I have strong opinions about this matter and I do apologise if my tone sounds offensive, but it won’t stop me from saying that it is truly sickening when I see people shortchanging the ministry with a less than excellent spirit (because I know that they can do and have done better!), and yet put in 101% for academic or work pursuits. The question I’m asking isn’t “What’s your passion?” but “WHERE’S your passion?”

This entry is turning out to be a little tough to stomach but at least it’s out of my system. I especially caution those in leadership positions. Once these symptoms start to infiltrate the way you serve, you have to address it immediately by being accountable to someone. If you don’t already know, bad leaders produce bad members who’ll eventually result in becoming worse leaders. This downward spiral of standards and vicious cycle of mediocrity is poisonous not just for our generation but for the generations after us.

May we should rethink the way we ought to serve God.

shanghai tan part 2 – sleepless on sq.

It’s quite amazing that the last person to get onto the plane was actually given a window seat. No complains whatsoever, of course.

Well, after settling down from that pre-flight adventure, I caught my breath and got started on planning for next year. I can’t divulge information here so let’s just leave it at that. I decided to stop at 3am and to reward myself after such a dramatic evening, I clicked “Start New Game” on my newly purchased and installed Football Manager 2010. I know I’d regret embarking on this addiction but it’s the only game I play; I’ve built up quite a collection of original Football Managers since 2005.

It’s funny how guys connect via (fantasy) football; at 3:30am, after a glass of riesling and after putting unwanted players on transfer lists and putting in bids for desired players, the passenger sitting beside me decided to break the ice with me. I actually had the feeling that he would because of the occasional glances at my laptop.

“The new Football Manager, ah?”

I think it went something like that. Well, I shall not reveal his name or initials (because he might read this and I don’t want to embarrass him) but I’d like to think that it was a pretty divine appointment. He was my age and he also plays football and has a team. Like me, his girlfriend was from NTU and was doing her GIP in Shanghai. I think those common denominators were adequate for a good, long conversation.

The conversation naturally included what each of us do for a living. He’s a banker who used to serve as a youth leader in his church. He said he backslided a little and one reason why he’s heading to Shanghai is that his girlfriend, whose faith is a little stronger, wanted to help get him back on track in his walk with God. He also mentioned that he was getting a little tired of his job.

Well, I went on to share with him a glimpse of my journey towards full-time ministry and how important it was for me to pursue what was in my heart. I’m not sure if I’ve stated it on this blog before, but there is nothing more satisfying than waking up and going to bed every day and night knowing that you are in the centre of God’s will for your life. I feel like that at this point in my life.

Anyway, after hearing my sharing and after sharing his heart out to me about failed relationships, a collapsed ministry and a career standstill, he was also convinced that it was a timely and divine appointment (as he got onto this flight due to a last minute change). He told me that our conversation ignited a desire in him not only to get back on track with God, but to get his youth ministry restarted. How could I not beam with joy and praise God for His grace and goodness in blessing a 3-hour friendship?

We talked until the plane touched down in Shanghai and until the sun rose at 630am. I bade farewell to him at the baggage collection belt but I believe that we will keep in touch. On a side note, I’m pretty sure I will be able to share with him some of my youth ministry experiences as well as to get his church team to play against TeamR-AGE. I was extremely exhausted by the time I cleared customs but this encounter was worth losing sleep for. God used a random person like me in a random situation to draw His child back to Himself.

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