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a reward the world could never give.

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.

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please don’t say it if you don’t mean it.

I’ve always opined that one hallmark of a responsible youth speaker (i.e. a person who speaks to young people) is to be authentic. KK, RY and AY are good examples who exhibit this crucial quality. You should never tell a young person something for the mere sake of saying it because it inspires them; I think that motivational speakers should avoid telling their audience something that is beyond their reach or is statistically almost impossible for them to attain. That’s not inspiring – that’s just bluffing.

Recently, I heard a youth speaker’s sharing with a group of young people and the contents of his sharing really caused me to raise both my eyebrows at him. First and foremost, there are only a handful of us who are musically or athletically gifted enough to make a living out of it; and even so, it takes years of dedication and that one good break. I think it’s all well and good if such a person has found success with his skill and talent but honestly and realistically, the odds of that happening are extremely low. While speakers should encourage and inspire, I think they also need to be socially responsible by not raising young people to a pedestal that they’ll struggle to get on. At the day’s end, hopes are unrealistically raised and cruelly dashed, and this results in a disillusioned youth.

After his talk was over, I saw his autograph and note to one of the girls. He wrote something like, “I believe in you – that you will be successful in life – I need you to believe in yourself.” He also openly declared that he loved the young people there but come on! Did he really mean it? I know I’m quick to judge here, but there was nothing that felt right in my spirit that night. I mean, what do all the words really mean to these youths if it comes from a stranger who doesn’t even know them! I was disgusted.

He then proceeded to share his five figure salary with everyone and stopped short of saying that he made it without completing his ‘O’ levels. What a dangerously reckless thing to declare! I believe he had a good intention to inspire them and his lesson also had two words dear to my heart – passion and desire – but pragmatically speaking, one would struggle make a living out with just these two qualities alone. There must be commitment and discipline to complement your passion and desire.

I was scheduled to speak after him and initially I had only wanted to share a short anecdote about the choices I’ve made when I was 13 years old but I felt the Spirit prompting me to balance and mediate what he shared to present a clearer picture. Hence I proceeded to talk about choices, perspective and attitude instead. I don’t deny it – he was a charismatic speaker with excellent oration skills but I wasn’t comfortable at all with the contents and attitude of his lesson; it was good but it was severely inadequate. And I will even go as far to say that it was irresponsible teaching.

Let us never tell someone that we believe in them if we do not know who they are, where they’ve come from and what they can do. Let us never tell someone that we love them if we’re unable to follow it up with action, for love is a verb; I think that it was impetuous for him to come into a session, where he’d probably meet the group for the first and last time, and to tell them that he loves and believes in them. This doesn’t sit well with me. We are all different – everyone had a different past, have a different present and will have a different future. The question then, is, are you happy? My answer – I’ve probably said it a million times – I could always be happier but I am situationally contented.

The reason why I dare to say I believe in young people isn’t that I think they have the ability to fulfil their potential but that I believe in what God can and will do through them. Before I say those potentially empowering or devastating words, I would deliberate for a long time and ask God to first give me a heart for them.

“Oh Lord, give me the contentment to accept what I have and the peace to accept what I do not have. I pray that the Lord will do damage control in the hearts of these young people whose ears these words fell on. Their future is in Your hands alone so may I learn to trust in You alone – the beginning and the end. Deal with me. I love You, Lord.”

if i can turn 100, then you can win a free gift!

Slow and steady wins the race and in the blink of an eye, ever since I kept up the habit of writing daily, I’ve arrived at a century of entries! And so to self-commemorate this unique achievement of consistency, I’m going to give away a handsome, spanking new branded NKJV Bible (pictured below)! This bible retails for $40+ in bookstores and it could be yours at no cost! Anyone and everyone is eligible to participate. (Even if you don’t want the bible for yourself, it’d make a good gift for someone else!)

Thomas Nelson’s Life & Style Compact Bible – Peppa’ Genius: Spring Line 2006

To stand a chance to win this bible, all you have to do is to write a short reflection (longer than one sentence) based on any of my 100 existing entries. You can choose to either extract a quote or an entire article to reflect on. I’ve been blessed through my daily reflections so now I want to bless my readers in a similar manner.

Samples:

1. Quote – “I could always be happier, but I am situationally contented.”

I’ve learnt to find blessing in counting what I have instead of what I do not have. This has brought me joy as I stop coveting what my peers possess.

or

2. Entry – “would you let go of me?” April 21, 2010

I had a troubled childhood myself; my parents didn’t have enough time for me. I’m determined to never let my children experience the same neglect!

Yes! It’s that simple! I’ll pick my favourite reflection amongst all the many entries (hopefully! I’m optimistic!) and the person who submitted it will bring home the bible!

This competition ends in two weeks on 14th May; I will announce the winner on 16th May. To increase your winning probability, you can submit as many reflections as you want. So go ahead, submit by leaving a comment and win a bible in the process!

You never know, you might just be the only one who submitted. All the best! (:

(In the sad and unfortunate event that no one bothers to submit anything, I will stubbornly attempt this method again at the 200th entry and give away the same bible. HAHA! I’m gonna keep trying until it exits my bookshelf!)

what does it mean to say “grace”?

Often we say “Grace” before partaking in meals as a formality without fully understanding its significance. I believe that “Grace” and grace is a gift from God as well as unmerited favour; we need to consciously remember that the food on our tables, though acquired by with our own resources, is still an indication of God’s providence in our lives. I say Grace because I want to give God the credit and the glory for the meal before me and so I engage my sentiments; I do not say Grace lightly.

I believe that saying Grace properly, seriously and appropriately has five main benefits which I’ve assembled in an alliteration. It gives you:

1. Perspective – If I may reiterate, I believe that all meals, big or small, cheap or expensive, are evidence of God’s goodness, faithfulness and providence in your lives. Most of the time, the meal is paid for with your money (someone else’s if you’re receiving a treat). Depending on your age, your money comes from either your parents or your job. Remember that it’s God who gave you your parents and your job. Surely, that reminds you of where your meal came from.

2. Purpose – When our hearts and minds are tuned into the right perspective, it helps us to answer the why of our communion. Besides eating for sustenance and survival, we should remember once again, that we should eat for God’s glory (note that the italics are not on the verb eat but on the presupposition for). Now, read carefully and get this – anything that is not done for God’s glory is naturally not for God’s glory; leaving God out of it would equate would equate to sin and that happens when we do not eat for God’s glory. More on that here.

3. (God’s) Presence – I find that praying together with fellow believers before meals is especially helpful in reminding us of the lingering presence of Christ, whom I believe is seated with us in every meal. In other words, saying Grace is the act of inviting God’s presence into the fellowship. There’s a holy repercussion in this acknowledgement – that our words and actions would carry intentionality and serve to build one another up, divert attention back to God and also be littered with grace.

4. Proof – I learnt this when I was working in Shanghai, away from an environment that is used to witnessing Christians suddenly bow their heads and close their eyes in public arenas to whisper a word of prayer before meals. Don’t underestimate how this mere act of coming before God to give thanks heightens other people’s awareness of your faith and whose you belong to. I’d like to think that saying Grace could prove “to be a wonderful witness for Christ to all the people” (John Piper).

5. Praise – I state the obvious; Grace is an expression of our genuine gratitude to God for the food – which is why we say, “Thank You”. I opine the inaccuracy of asking for the food to be “blessed”, simply because it already is a blessing that we are eating it! (Besides, to ask for the food to be blessed when it is already blessed reeks semblance to my former pagan practice – what‘s the point?) This analogy is exaggerated, but imagine the thankfulness we’d render in the light of famine or starvation.

I really enjoy JP’s writing and preaching. (I’m an ambitious dreamer, and I believe that one day, I will meet him in person.) There was a period of time that I recited his three well thought-out and excellently-written meal time prayers at all my meals; he wrote it for his own family’s use and at every meal they recite it together, from memory. I had actually wanted to revive this habit, but I was inspired to write, memorise and recite my own version, for my own family’s use.

So here it is, making its official debut, Joey Asher’s all-day “Grace”:

For All Meals, Anytime, Anywhere
Our gracious Father, we recall
Your true providence, both great and small.
The food ahead proclaims Your grace;
Let’s be still, Your presence we embrace.
We’re thankful, Lord, for nourishment;
Renew our strength, this good communion.
Our words, our deeds, they make You known;
We’ll proceed, for Your glory alone

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.

a decade of lessons learnt.

A few weeks ago, MF approached me to send her some lessons learnt while I was growing up. It wasn’t difficult coming up with content and I could write a lot more but here are 10 lessons that rolled off the top of my head. Seven of them were published in the R-AGE bulletin, so I’ll add three more here.

  1. You will make mistakes. Just don’t make the same ones.
  2. You will only get busier and busier, so start the habit of serving God as early as possible.
  3. School friends are friends for a season. Church friends are friends for life.
  4. Accountability doesn’t imprison you but sets you free.
  5. Having someone believe in you is the greatest gift you’ll ever receive.
  6. Never underestimate the power of encouraging someone else.
  7. No amount of ministry can compensate for failure in the familly.
  8. The quantity of close friends decreases as you age, but the quality of friendship increases. Invest more time in less people.
  9. You cannot please everyone, so stop trying. There is nothing more assuring than God’s approval.
  10. The higher you rise in leadership, the more you need to be comfortable with being alone.

I guess I could go on and on with a plethora of thoughts, really. That’s precisely why I have decided to resume blogging – to capture one thought a day, everyday, from an otherwise overwhelming influx of ideas. It’d be an achievement if I could capture and expand on 365 thoughts annually. Let’s see how far this blog would take me on my cognitive journey.

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