I’ve said this many times – I have a dream job.
I still pinch myself every morning because God has given me the privilege of being the youth pastor of the youth group that turned my life around. And because of indebtedness towards this youth ministry, work never feels like work as it is something I’d have done anyway.
Huiyi and I wanted to start a tradition in R-AGE – a 开工餐 at the start of the year to kick-off the year of ministry. I gathered those who were working together with me as full-time staff (my ministry interns) as well as those in my Think Tank (key leaders in my strategic team). These folks are critical to the operations, leadership and growth of the youth ministry.
So after dinner last night, my wife and I went to Sheng Siong Supermarket and bought over 20 different ingredients for the steamboat dinner that we were hosting tonight. There was enough food to feed a small army. We told ourselves to go all out to bless the people who go all out to bless the young people. We wanted the eight of them to feel loved and like they deserved nothing but the best.
Together with my awesome mother-in-law (who kindly and generously offered me her time and energy), I spent most parts of today preparing the food. I think she put in the most work for this steamboat – she prepared the soup broth, marinated the meats and chopped the vegetables. As I ate lunch and did a little grocery shopping with her earlier today, I felt so incredibly blessed. It is God’s grace that I’ve found favour with my mum-in-law, and I am grateful.
And I realised that my wife and I are like Martha and Mary respectively – you need both types when hosting a gathering. She is amazing – she helped me clean up everything when we finished dinner – and this after a full day of work. I am blessed indeed! Darling, you’re a wonderful pastor’s wife – thank you for being a part of and embracing my ministry and calling as your ministry and calling. (:
The 10 of us ate to our hearts’ content and had a great evening together. It’s truly a blessing to serve the Lord alongside brothers and sisters whom you like and love. These young men and women are like my family. I cannot imagine leading the youth ministry without them by my side. I also cannot imagine R-AGE without them.
Ministry is all about relationships indeed. I thank God for being a part of these God-given relationships and the privilege to do life with them.
Tonight marks the completion of my first year as a full-time minister in R-AGE and Grace AG. Three questions have dominated my heart in the last 24 hours.
- How have I contributed?
- What legacy have I left behind?
- Who have I become?
I am still in deep thought over these three questions. Actually, I have surprised myself by not asking, “What have I accomplished?”. I’d like to believe that it’s a sign of growth and maturity. I remember again tonight, that the Great Commission is not an assignment from God but an alignment to God.
Many things have also come to pass in the last 365 days. I’ve decided to exercise introspection tonight to perhaps, attempt to recall three ministry highlights.
- Directing REAL 2010 and investing into my champions
- Leading R-AGE @ GII and mentoring my shepherds
- The privilege of the pulpit and growing in my preaching
There were many other moments which were hard to leave out – like the unforgettable PIERCE – but my choices were made based on what I wouldn’t and couldn’t have been able to do if I didn’t come into full-time ministry. It all began with a simple act of obedience – which is the highest expression of stewardship – to answer the calling that had brewed in my heart since I was a teenager.
God has been marvelously good and gracious to me. And so I would also like to remember His many blessings in the past year. The three events have affected and reminded most me of His everlasting faithfulness in my life.
- Purchase of Dawson, for it catalysed my breakthrough with HY’s parents
- Providence of mentors – from Peter Chao to Benny Ho to Edmund Chan
- Potential of joeyasher.com, for through this blog, I’ve gained access into people’s lives
Looking back at the year that has passed also allows me to look forward to the year that is to come. 2011 looks next to be one of the most eventful years of my life. Amongst many new events that will be added over time, here are three that I look forward to the most. May God will these to happen in His time and way.
- Marrying and sharing my life with HY
- Embarking on various mentoring journeys
- Growing the youth ministry and as a youth minister
But above all else, I desire most to:
- Love God more
- Love God’s Word more
- Love God’s people more
So tonight, I do not celebrate a year of my forgettable achievements but a year of His unforgettable grace. And with that confidence at the forefront of my mind, I can’t help but to await the next 365 days as a youth minister in R-AGE with a great sense of hope, anticipation and excitement. I put my faith in a big God
Not my will, but Yours be done, O Lord. Thank You for Your favour, grace, mercy and loving-kindness. I love You Jesus, deep down in my heart.
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!
I’ve got another confession to make and tonight this confession turns into a testimony of God’s faithfulness and goodness in my life. My spirit has truly been lifted up!
At the beginning of March, after the REAL 2010 graduation ceremony, I plunged into what I’d call, “Ministry Depression” for a couple of weeks. I remember telling RY, LK and HY how disappointed I was with my beloved REAL 2010 alumni. No, it wasn’t because they weren’t outstanding because they are, but very humanly speaking, I was deeply sad that after two months of investing my life into theirs, I received nothing in return except for handshakes, verbal appreciations and SMS encouragements.
Now, I’m being extremely honest here and I choose to spill my heart because there’s a an important lesson behind it. To be frank, I was expecting more from them; I know I’m not supposed to expect anything – after all, that’s what I’ve been teaching them the last two months – but I am being really human here; I remember telling myself, “You mean, that’s it? This is all I’m getting from the 16 of you after I poured my life into you? Wow. Thanks a lot”. Then I reclused into my own melancholic orbit and I convinced myself to quickly move on from this disappointment. I even wanted to harden my heart to them so that I will not allow myself to be hurt like that again. I’ve always openly declared that I’m a secret melancholy and this perpetuated it. My REAL champs may not have realised it because (I think) I’ve camouflaged it well, but I remember responding to them in a curt and cold manner that was very uncharacteristic of me. Some of my youths think that I’m superhuman because that’s the facade that I project but truth be told, I’m really just an ordinary human being with normal affection and affirmation needs as well.
There was little I could do really, except to talk to God and to let Him deal with me. I retreated into my own prayer closet and I came clean with God. I told Him exactly how I felt about how REAL ended and I asked Him to help me to overcome this disappointment by His grace. (This was before I spoke to my mentor, best friend and girlfriend.) I was rebelliously stubborn and I mentally rejected the scriptures that the Holy Spirit brought to my mind. I didn’t want to hear any “holy-moley-sunday-school-ten-year-series” consolation. And I shut my emotions away. But the more I dissected my heart before God, the more painful it was. A pruning process isn’t pleasant indeed. At the end of my emotional and spiritual tussle, the Holy Spirit led me to two scriptures, in this order:
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” – Psalm 51:17
“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” – Colossians 3:23
I am convinced that when the Lord ministers to you, you will be comforted. God is faithful and before He rebuked me, He gently let me know that it was all right to think like that and to feel that way, through Psalm 51:17. I just wanted to bare my heart before the Lord and I found great assurance in His divine embrace.
Once the Lord met my emotional needs, He began to address my thinking by pointing me to Colossians 3:23. I repented before the Lord for my poor attitude and mentality that were in the wrong places and I asked Him to give me new lenses to appreciate this situation. I determined it in my heart to continue to love my young people, regardless of whether affirmation was present or not, simply because God loves them and has compelled me to do likewise; I am doing this because I love them – nothing more, nothing less; I wasn’t going to allow a lack of encouragement to stop me from fulfilling my calling to be a youth pastor. This was a test that I had to overcome and by God’s grace I knew that I would overcome it. It was important that I did not lean on my own strength.
Of course, I would never share this unless I have emerged out of the miry clay; it wasn’t wise to air my struggles to the world before the Lord had finished dealing with me. (I did reveal a glimpse of my emotions but only very briefly.) Once I had this issue resolved within me, I shared my journey with RY and asked him how he dealt with this through his years of ministry; I shared it with LK to be accountable to him; I shared it with HY because I am completely vulnerable with her. Yes, I did take a couple of weeks to recover but I was so glad to have trudged through it.
What can I say? God is faithful and sovereign. I believe He has intentionally held back the affirmation of men until I was secure in Him. A week after my lipoma operation, I received the REAL cushion from my champs. I remember telling RY how delighted I was to receive a gift from them and he smiled and rejoiced with me – I was already satisfied and if the gift had stopped there, I would have been a happy man. But my God is a God who dotes on me and goes the extra mile just to tell me that He loves me. I remember GM telling me that this was just “part one of the gifts – part two will blow your mind”. Of course that filled my heart with even more joy, but I didn’t need anything anymore because I already had God’s affirmation. I decided to be phlegmatic about this part two – if it comes, good, if it doesn’t, that’s all right.
Then it came today. And it blew my mind. So I shall let the pictures do the talking.
What can I say? I’m moved beyond words (and the 11 champs I had lunch with today saw my expression) – this incredibly-thick two-volume masterpiece was painstakingly assembled over the course of 10 weeks. The amount of work that has been put into this is immense – and I can only try to imagine its production process – conceptualising it, selecting pictures, printing photographs, pasting photographs systematically, comprehensively adding secular quotes, scriptures, their own reflections, my own quotable quotes which they remembered, cutting all these captions, meticulously sticking it into the album, decorating and designing it, investing money to make it happen…
WOW I REALLY DO NOT DESERVE THIS.
All I have done in the two months with them was just to do what God has always compelled me to do; what I’ve always enjoyed doing regardless of whether I was full-time, part-time or half-time; what Grace Assembly of God hired me to do; and what gave me the greatest satisfaction in life – believing in young people through my speech and actions. To an extent, I was really just doing my job.
AND THEN THEY GAVE ME THIS TRIBUTE.
I couldn’t help but to thank God for His unmerited favour in my life. I am stunned speechless. How can I not love them, love God, love my job and love other young people even more? I’ve said it many times and so I will say it again – there’s a reason why the REAL 2010 alumni will always remain in a special place in my heart. They reinforced it today. I can only look back and thank God for every minute spent with them.
I love you all. Thank you for blessing me. You have no idea how much this means to me. You gave me a reward the world could never give. I really love my job. Thank you, Lord, for placing me in such a privileged position. I love You so much.
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.”
Before I headed for Shanghai, I told my uncle that I was reconsidering his offer because I was actually first considering heading into full-time work with church. He thought I was crazy. “Why you want to become a monk so early in your life!?”, was his candid retort, and his limited understanding of what working in church was like – a monastery. Of course, my mother disapproved my desire to work as a youth minister then, so I reluctantly headed to Shanghai instead.
I didn’t enjoy it at first, but God is good. Within six months, I got the hang of it, overcame the dread of being there unwillingly, made a ton of friends, settled in a cell group and began to excel in my job. When I decided to end my 21-month Shanghai chapter last July, my former colleagues were shocked when they found out that I went to work in church. They thought it was a waste of my talent and that I was too young for a job like this; they basically thought I was crazy to abandon a comfortable lifestyle for something so radical.
Of course, they had no prior knowledge of my journey with the Lord. Not many people know of my promise to God – that I’d give Him the best years of my career (which I think is now). I don’t know how long, far or intense this full-time calling is, but I know it is NOW. And my only response is not to trust and obey but to obey then to trust. Hence, tonight, I felt led to publish my cover letter to Grace Assembly of God. May my journey into full-time ministry inspire and encourage you, as well as to give you a glimpse of my conviction and surrender to God regarding this part and period of my life. Enjoy the read.
And just for the record, my mum didn’t just agree to me heading into full-time work, she actually supported it! Praise the Lord for answering a three-year prayer. The story of how she came to this miraculous decision deserves to be mentioned on a separate entry.
I just got home not too long ago from an extremely satisfying meal at Pasta Fresca with LS – I credit him for my singing techniques as well as for spending time to groom me as a singer 13 years ago. It’s amazing how that has laid a strong foundation for me to perform as well as to lead worship. The most important vocal technique I learnt from him – how not to slur in your singing. Thank you, LS, for believing in my potential back then and for continuing to believe in what God has in store for me even ’til today! Details withheld, but I really enjoyed being able to share so honestly and openly and knowing that he fully understood my every sentiment because he was able to identify with it.
Other than that, I thought it’d be important for me to jot down the things that was impressed upon my heart during our internal prayer meeting this morning:
- Remember your covenant
- Renew your vision
- Reaffirm your calling
- Reinstate your passion
- Realign your will
I serve a faithful God and I know that He who has called me in will keep me in!
I’m heading for PY’s writing seminar early tomorrow morning so I shall keep this account short and sweet. Looking forward to learn from an established author!