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retrospection: painting on a white canvas.

In the blink of an eye, I approach the sixth month of my full-time work with R-AGE. I will not deny that it has been a dream job so far for I don’t even feel that I’ve worked a day – even when I’ve clocked way more hours than what I am required to clock per week. My “clients” are my beloved youths, my “managers” are my G2 Shepherds, my “boss” is my mentor, my “colleagues” are my friends, my “work documents” are the pages of the Bible, my “company” is the place that I worship, my “business meetings” are mentoring sessions with youths and my “products” are leading, mentoring and preaching – I cannot ask for a better combination of work elements. God is good!

At the start of this year when I took over the G2 youth community, I had set out several tasks to complete as well as to lay down certain ground rules for my leaders and myself. Looking back, I rejoice at what the Lord has allowed me to accomplish thus far. As I prepare the Barnabas sermon for this weekend, I feel a tremendous sense of job satisfaction that not many people can claim to have – I thank God and give Him all the glory for this. Indeed, the enjoyment of work is a gift of God to man (Ecclesiastes 3:13).

At the workplan retreat at the turn of the year, I remember sharing with my G2 leaders my basic expectations of them. I think I must have caught them by surprise when I said, “I expect you to mess up”. I’m not looking for perfect leaders or for exceptionally talented ones – there’ll be no sense of accomplishment, challenge or rejoicing if I’m working with finished articles. I believe the journey is more important than the destination, but if we do not know where we are headed for, we will be lost. I told them that I also expected them to be 1) committed to their kids and to be 2) accountable to their leaders (especially in the area of existing and potential BGRs), as well as to 3) pray regularly, 4) display initiative, 5) lead by example, 6) be responsible and 7) demonstrate excellence in all that they undertake – just seven golden requirements. I firmly believe that good leaders raise better ones and bad leaders produce worser ones.

I also requested for time and patience so that I can figure out their needs and wait upon God to give me a fresh vision and direction for the ministry, which I can roll out in phases in the coming months. I also identified the thin manpower, especially evident in the lack of male leaders. I understood their common initial sentiments of feeling inadequate, lacking readiness and struggling to connect with their kids. As a number of them up their ante in their pursuit of God, and as I see them step out and take their place as junior shepherds of the ministry, my heart beams with pride – for I see God’s strength in their weakness, Christ’s victory in their defeats and an inevitable reliance on the Spirit to see them through their leadership roles.

As I shared with NC over lunch today, I believe that we need God to be more godly, Christ to be more Christ-like and the Holy Spirit to be more Spirit-filled; we will never be able to approach a theocentric God in an anthropocentric manner. And I firmly believe in my heart that we are on the threshold of revival – first in our being, then in our ministry. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in G1, G2, Grace or another church, we are not going to accomplish anything if we depend on our own strength. We must continually seek the Lord for guidance and believe that the power of the Spirit will enable and empower us to accomplish the will of God for our lives and in our ministry.

It’s only been six months, and already there’s a lot to thank God for. Brothers and sisters – apart from Jesus, we can do nothing; we are absolutely nothing without Christ. The canvas is white – let’s paint it well.

the makings of a great boss.

My relatively short working life of six years has seen me through three organisations, one each in the government, private and charitable sectors, both local and overseas. And I’ve had the opportunity to work with and under the leadership of six bosses, so I am able to differentiate a good boss from a great boss. (No, I will not write about the bad ones.) And without over-spiritualising my thoughts, for I know who my real Boss is, I’d like to share my thoughts on the current one – RY – a man whom I admire greatly and one whom I model after.

First and foremost, I consider it a great blessing to be working with my friend and mentor – someone who has seen me through the ups and downs of my life for nearly a decade. He knows me inside out – my strengths and weaknesses – and knows how to challenge and correct me at the same time. RY has been there for me from the day I developed a desire for full-time ministry to the day God confirmed the calling for me to enter. He was with me at the interview with Grace before I left for Shanghai (yes, I nearly joined Grace in 2007). And he was there with me at the interview last October.

The great gifts that a boss could give to his subordinate is to first believe in and sponsor opportunities for him, protect and fight for him, groom and guide him, listen to and let him share his dreams, and whenever necessary, rebuke and humble him. RY has been an excellent boss because he does all that and a little bit more. I know that he looks out for me from behind the scenes but never announces it. I also know that he wisely refrains from telling me what I need not know because he has my best interests at heart. We don’t give enough credit given for these understated attributes, but it certainly affirms my loyalty to him and gives me the drive to work harder for a boss like that. More importantly, it makes me want to trust him and entrust myself to his captaincy.

Something that I greatly respect RY for was how he deliberately chose not to tell me about his ministry plans for me when I nearly joined in 2007. He understood me well enough and knew that if he had let the cat out of the bag, I’d have jumped onboard on impulse, wanting to take on the exciting challenge. Instead, he patiently waited for God to deal with me and for me to make a decision to enter full-time ministry with my motivations fixated on pleasing God alone. Throughout this time, he continued to pray for me and waited two years before I was available to make that decision again.

To be honest, a great pull factor for me in coming into full-time work with Grace, is that I’d be able to work with and learn from RY on a day-to-day basis and on an intimate and intense capacity. It is rare that anyone can find a boss who is able to completely understand the professional and personal struggles that you are dealing with because he has gone through all of it himself. For that, I have the blessing to learn from his journey of both faith and frustration. While I may learn mentoring principles from books and other speakers, I experience mentoring principles lived out firsthand from RY’s God-led handling of me. There have been more times than one that when I mull over ministry decisions, I find myself asking, “Now, what would Ronald do in this situation?” – That’s the extent of RY’s influence in my life.

As he debriefed me today in the office after I delivered the sermon (which I really enjoyed!), I was filled with a deep sense of gratitude for a good and godly boss who leads by example and who takes the effort to work with me on the details. He doesn’t need to go the extra miles for me, but he chooses to. At the end of the feedback session, before we entered the lift, I patted him on the back and thanked him, from the bottom of my heart, for taking care of me. For all the years that I will continue to work with him, I’m penning this moment down because I’ll always want to remember that RY is the best boss that I’ve had, yet. I confidently know that Jesus must have been a great boss because I see His greatness in my life through RY. Thank you Lord, for sending RY into my life.

And thank you, Pastor Ronald, I love you.

the first was a woman.

I have been given the privilege to preach for the entire month of April. First, a traditional Easter message, followed by three consecutive sermons of lessons we can learn from three selected New Testament characters. This is one of the biggest ministry challenges for me (yet) and I absolutely relish it.

The Holy Spirit inspired me to merge the character study series together with the Easter message. As a result, this weekend I will launch the series and present to you my observations of Mary Magdalene the gutsy lady who was last with Jesus in His humiliation, and the same lady whom Jesus first appeared to in His resurrection. What an impressive reputation to own!

(There’s an external speaker confirmed for the Sunday youth service) So may I invite all who are reading this to head on down to Grace II this Saturday (3rd April) at 3pm, to hear from and learn with me the outstanding attributes of Mary Magdalene. Discover for yourself how relevant her experiences can be for you!

Extracted from John 20:1-18 (New Living Translation)

Early Sunday morning, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance. She ran and found Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved. She said, “They have taken the Lord’s body out of the tomb, and I don’t know where they have put him!”

Peter and the other disciple ran to the tomb to see. The other disciple outran Peter and got there first. He stooped and looked in and saw the linen cloth lying there, but he didn’t go in. Then Simon Peter arrived and went inside. He also noticed the linen wrappings lying there, while the cloth that had covered Jesus’ head was folded up and lying to the side. Then the other disciple also went in, and he saw and believed—for until then they hadn’t realized that the Scriptures said he would rise from the dead. Then they went home.

Mary was standing outside the tomb crying, and as she wept, she stooped and looked in. She saw two white-robed angels sitting at the head and foot of the place where the body of Jesus had been lying. “Why are you crying?” the angels asked her. “Because they have taken away my Lord,” she replied, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”

She glanced over her shoulder and saw someone standing behind her. It was Jesus, but she didn’t recognize him. “Why are you crying?” Jesus asked her. “Who are you looking for?” She thought he was the gardener. “Sir,” she said, “if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and get him.”

“Mary!” Jesus said. She turned toward him and exclaimed, “Teacher!”

“Don’t cling to me,” Jesus said, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them that I am ascending to my Father and your Father, my God and your God.”

Mary Magdalene found the disciples and told them, “I have seen the Lord!” Then she gave them his message.

Tomorrow will be my first Good Friday as a full-time staff and I’m filled with even greater awe of what Christ has gone through for me. See you this weekend!

my bleeding heart.

After four years, I will finally allow this letter see the light by publishing it on my blog. “Bleeding Heart” was penned when I was 23 years old. I’ve made almost no edits to the original content and kept it in verbatim as much as I can (including bolds and italics) to preserve its integrity. I’m using this letter to illustrate a point that I will make in the sermon that I am preaching over the weekend, titled “The R-AGE DNA”. It is my prayer that through this letter, you catch a glimpse of my heartbeat for youth ministry and my heart that bleeds for R-AGE. These are not just mere words; I’ve followed it up with action by stepping into full-time youth ministry with R-AGE. I truly hope that it inspires and encourages you. If you do read my blog before you hear my sermon, then do cover me in prayer.

November 18, 2006

My dearest beloved brothers and sisters in R-AGE,

You are receiving this mail because you are serving this youth ministry. I am sending this mail out to you after many days of prayer and consideration because the response to this could go either way. These issues have been burning in my heart for a long time and I think the time is ripe for me to verbalise them. This mail is borne out of my own initiative and passion for R-AGE, therefore I claim full responsibility for it. I am praying that it will spark off a positive reaction from you and that it will somehow ignite something in your walk with God, and more specifically change the way you serve R-AGE. My intention of writing this letter is to provoke reaction, but without offending anyone. This is as raw as it gets; these words come from the bottom of my heart.

I am passionate about R-AGE. I have been here since it inaugurated 9 years ago and I have seen R-AGE through the ups and downs. I am passionate about this ministry. I love the young people, I love my pastors, I love my mentors and all those people who have touched me in one way or another. I love the boys in my beloved TeamR-AGE, I love the people in CAMY and I love every young person whose life I am involved in. It has been a progressive involvement and I’ve never been so involved in my entire duration here. I am physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually involved. And I urge to you be! I love this ministry because without R-AGE, I’d never be who I am today. I am thankful to God for R-AGE. I thank God for His grace. I am living proof of God’s grace. And so, now, it is my turn, it is OUR turn, to make R-AGE the place for others, what it has been for us, for me. This place is my heartbeat. My heart bleeds for the young people in R-AGE. R-AGE is my battlefield and my paradise; R-AGE is my city of refuge. R-AGE is where I have grown and it’s where I wanna see growth.

How much do you love your ministry? My inadequacy in the English language is crippling my ability to describe how much I love R-AGE, really. I live and breathe R-AGE. This is where I belong. This is my home. I am an ambassador of R-AGE. I am a spokesperson of R-AGE. I am a fierce defender of my pastors and I am fiercely loyal to my leaders. I am devoted to this ministry. Try speaking ill of the ministry or of the leaders, and I’ll be on your back. I question rationales and theories no doubt, but at the end of the day, my heart longs for this ministry to realise its massive potential. This place has evolved to where I want my children to serve and be a part of, if God wills it. I take ownership of the ministry. Do you?

For years, I’ve been praying and praying for R-AGE and for God to raise leaders that want to see the ministry move forward. We need to be like-minded, there is a great need for that. We need to move in the same direction, which the pastors have set, as they hear from God. There is a great need for cohesion – amongst the leaders of all levels, the various ministries and amongst the young people. I am still praying. I applaud and thank God for leaders whose heart burn for R-AGE. But if you are standing on the fence, how much longer will you? It’s about time we started to unleash the immense amount of potential in the ministry. THE TIME HAS COME and we have to seize the day. We gotta have faith in what God can do in R-AGE! It’s about time YOU REALLY DID SOMETHING FOR YOUR YOUTH MINISTRY!

Let’s not delay a day further. We don’t have to live in spiritual mediocrity. We don’t have to be contented with JUST THIS. There really is so much more than this. A youth ministry utopia is really not that far away. It is not an absurd lofty idea that only happens to other churches. It can and it will happen in our church, in our youth ministry. But we, who are in it, must first believe in it. And we have to walk hand-in-hand. We have to run in the same steps. We have to look towards the same direction. To see people queuing for hours to attend an R-AGE service is really not that impossible.

I pray that you will serve out of commitment and not convenience. Don’t just serve because you have free time. This is not a hobby or a past-time; this is ministry! Young lives are at stake. Make time for it. Give priority to it. Spend quality time with people that are under your care. Get out of your comfort zone.

I pray that you will give your time, not just your talent. This is not talent-time. I thank God that you have chosen to serve God because you have a gift, but it’s so much more than that. Don’t take the easy way out. There’s so much more than just talent. It’s about heart. H-E-A-R-T!

I pray that you will be filled with involvement and not indifference. Don’t sit on the fence. If you want to do something, go ahead and get it done. Take initiative and make the first step. I think the young people deserve much better than a mere passive interest. They deserve nothing less than your best. Don’t shortchange them. Don’t shortchange yourself. Don’t shortchange God.

I pray that you will pursue and not just promise. This is not a wishing well. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Be men and women of action, for it speaks louder than words. A sacrifice is a sacrifice because it hurts for you to give.

I pray that you will raise up young people and not rest on your laurels. There is a great need for duplicity, especially if you’ve been serving in the ministry for a long time. The greatest thing you can give to a young person is belief. Jenn Hui gave that to me – this is based on a true story, my life story. The best thing that he ever did for me was to simply believe in me; then he empowered me for ministry. I’ve never looked back. That’s what you need to do for them.

I pray that you will be in relationship, not in residence. If you love Jesus, you feed His sheep. Spend time with them. Invest in their lives. Pray for them. Impart to them. Share with them the many life experiences that you’ve had by the fact that you’ve lived longer than them. Teach them the Word. Wisdom is applied knowledge. Love them, for we love one another because God first loved us. I pray that you will move from passive liking to active loving.

Like it or not, YOU, as leaders, will determine the kind of youths that R-AGE will produce. You are responsible for their upbringing. Be excellent examples for them to follow. This is a call for us all – from the pastoral level to those in key leadership positions to those who are playing the basic leadership role. Don’t just make a difference in their lives… BE THE DIFFERENCE in their lives. The quality begins from the top. Inspire them to be an excellent leader of young people by first being one yourself. You have to lead by example.

I dream of the day that parents would flock to this ministry and they would be eager to be associated with R-AGE. They would be excited to call themselves a part of this ministry. They would be supporting their kids if they were to serve in any area. They would be the ones providing a spiritual covering over us. They would be our prayer warriors. They would be the spiritual fathers and mothers of young people who don’t have older folks to turn to. They would want to give, they would want to bless, they would want to teach, they would want to impart. In turn, they will receive. They would release their children to serve God and they would empower them to be involved. They would want to form the bedrock of R-AGE. Pray, it can happen. It WILL happen!

I dream of the day where we no longer have small little cliques all over the place. I dream of the day where all gossip and lying and breaking of unity would cease forever. I dream of the day where everyone – leader and follower, man and woman, boy and girl – come together to have fellowship, building each other up in the body of Christ. I dream of the day where there will no longer be any walls between young people. I dream of the day where apathy and indifference would vanish from the ministry. I dream of the day where our passion becomes contagious, and we’ll have a burning desire to see the ministry move forward.

I dream of the day when we grow so big we run out of space; the Chapel in Grace 1 and the Sanctuary in Grace 2 couldn’t even contain us. I dream of the day we become so expressive in our worship to God we become an example for other youth ministries in Singapore and all over the world to follow. I dream of the day we are so loud, so extravagant in our love for God and for each other, non-believers would flock to our church. I dream of the day our young people would become addicted to God. I dream of the day when we no longer have to ask our friends to come to church, because they’ll be the ones asking when the next service is, telling others about God, sharing with people the love of Christ.

I dream of the day where evangelism becomes part and parcel of the lifestyle of the young people in R-AGE. They would know what to say and when to say what. They would be unashamed of the Gospel because it is the power of salvation! They would speak life into the non-Christians. They would uncontrollably share their testimonies to their friends. They would be living testimonies for God where ever they are and the only reputation they care about is about what others think of Christ in them.

I dream of a thriving youth ministry – a leader of the youth ministry revolution in Singapore but also a quiet, humble, reliable supporter of missions and the lower profile ministries. I dream of seeing young people abandoning themselves in praise and worship. They feel free in God’s presence and they are not inhibited to do so. They just let it all go. It’s where their lives are changed. I dream of becoming a dynamic youth leader, and leading a legion of dynamic youth leaders who really would believe in Jesus so much they would go all out, to the ends of the earth for their Saviour. I dream of young people being equipped with the Word of God and having the abundant life that Jesus talks about, starving for the Word, turning away from their sinful ways. Being young is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

It is my earnest prayer that you become the catalyst in your cell group, in your ministry, in wherever you are in R-AGE! I am here to stay in R-AGE until God calls me elsewhere. I am dreaming big and I am gonna live the dream. This is home, this is where I belong, this is where I live. R-AGE is who I am. I love the young people and R-AGE because I love God. I’ll just keep on loving God and my love for the young people and R-AGE will keep increasing. It’s as simple as that.

I have flaws and I will have to work on the things that I have mentioned. But I dare to dream. And I dare you to dream. I dare to believe. I dare to inspire. I dare to influence. I dare to commit. I dare to rise up to the occasion. I dare to lead. I dare give it all. I dare to put myself aside. I dare to dream. I dare. Do you?

I am committed to make things happen in R-AGE. Now, will you join me? The time has come. The time is now.

Yours truly,
A product of God’s grace,

Joey Asher

“Apart from Jesus, I can do nothing;
I am absolutely nothing without Christ.”

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.

retaining relevance.

Only God knows how long I’ll serve Him in a full-time capacity, so I shall not put a time-frame to it, except to say that I’m taking it a year at a time; that might just be the wisest approach.

One of the scenarios which I am fiercely guarding myself against is expressed most succinctly in the adage, “Don’t be so heavenly that you have no earthly use.” I have to constantly remind myself that I need to remain relevant to this world that I live in. It would be regretful if one day I no longer can relate to people who are worldly.

I am about as worldly as any of you. I have desires and aspirations just like any of you. I try to die to these things so that I am able to subject myself to the ways of Christ. It’s not easy, but neither is it noble; it’s merely just a choice that I have consciously made and a journey which I have deliberately decided upon.

I secretly wonder how many of my colleagues today can assimilate themselves back into the marketplace. It’s the same question I’d ask those in civil service, especially those who are in the defence force. Can you cut it when you leave, when titles and ranks and statuses are stripped from you? It would be dangerous for us to get so comfortable in ministry that we completely forget how to relate to people who do not share the same ideals as us. May I never slip into that hazardous territory.

just as blessed.

We all have our own journeys of faith to take. Every person who goes into full time ministry embarks on a different route. And it doesn’t mean that a person who does NOT go into full time will end up any better or worse (however it’s being defined) as a full time staff. Do I struggle with the possibility that I might not have enough? I might if I consider the lives of the current full time staff that are seated beside me. But why should I look upon their lives as a probable outcome of me? That would totally limit God to operate – I want to offer up a clean sheet of canvas for Him to paint on.

However, on the topic of material well-being, I think that it doesn’t matter at all. By fixating our eyes on temporal things, which pass away after all and which we bring not with us when we die naked just as we were born, we would have completely missed the whole point of what following Christ is about. I think that a call to ministry and a call to the marketplace is JUST as important. There isn’t a “greater” or more “noble” calling. We’re both as privileged and as empowered to carry out the Great Commission. I’d like to think that Jesus wasn’t asking for some, or asking you to be rich or to be poor to follow Him – He was asking you to give your all and be nothing. So that He can be everything. I’m learning this daily.

As I wait for the torrential downpour to subside before I head off to work, I am reminded that God’s rain falls on everyone – full time ministers, marketplace ministers, students, parents, Christians, non-Christians. It doesn’t matter. Hence I’d like to think that our destiny is really in our own hands, just as it was in Adam’s hands. The crux of the matter is in where and who we are turning our eyes to. I don’t expect everyone to see sense in my decision because sometimes I struggle to see sense too. But I know this for sure – I want to obey God. And I think (for now), that’s all that matters.

Have a blessed day. Obey God. That’s all that matters.

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