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for the sake of my young people, and my own children.

I’ve served the Lord in church since I was 14 years old. From being a young backup vocalist, I was privileged enough to serve in leadership capacities as I got older, be it leading worship, a cell group, events or a sports team. I praise God that I’ve grown in my capabilities, capacities, competencies, and matured in my character. But most importantly, I’m grateful for my journey towards Christlikeness. Not that I’m already there or even close to – but who is, in this lifelong journey?

I will border on being judgmental in this post but I hope you will see my heart in this. Not to judge but to warn; not to condemn but to remind. So I have decided to come out to say it anyway… After all, I’ve always been outspoken such matters.

One of the things that irk me most about ministry are leaders who serve for the wrong reasons. I think that leadership, especially higher-profile roles like cell or worship leaders, have become incredibly glamourised by the deceptive standards of this world. It’s as if our expectations of leadership in church have secularised; you’ve “arrived” if you hold a particular leadership position.

That’s absolute nonsense.

Everyone plays a different role in the body of Christ. There’s a higher and lower profile of course, but there isn’t a greater or lesser significance. Many times, I’ve shaken my head in disappointment (and disgust!) at leaders who desire leadership for the sake of glamour and popularity that leadership positions inevitably brings. Honestly, these leaders are short-changing themselves. But more dangerously, they are short-changing the ones who follow them.

Leadership is not a place you’ve arrived at. Instead, it is a time you will be activated in. Leadership is not a destination but a decision. Here’s a stern warning to all leaders and leaders-to-be, especially those whom I have the privilege of leading in R-AGE @ GII – don’t you ever lead because of how it would make you feel; I would make it my personal crusade to clamp down on this undesirable and unbiblical behaviour. Instead, you lead because you want to serve and love people. I will fiercely guard against this destructive attitude.

An immediate question that I think you will ask is – “How then would I know if I am leading with the right motives?”

So I shall attempt to give a yardstick based on my leadership journey.

A couple of days ago, I posted this on Facebook – “If you wish to lead them, feed them or serve them… You must first KNOW them. Otherwise, what’s the point?” I shall base my argument on this simple barometer – how well do you know the ones whom you are serving and leading? No, I’m not talking about knowing their favourite colour, food, hang-out or TV programme… I’m referring to how well you know and understand their spiritual condition. Amongst many other prying questions, you should ask yourself just these 10:

  1. Do you know their strengths and weaknesses?
  2. Do you know their greatest cause of sin?
  3. Do you know their immediate prayer requests?
  4. Do you know their felt needs and meet it?
  5. Do you know their last spiritual breakthrough?
  6. Do you know their family background and upbringing?
  7. Do you know their greatest fears and insecurities?
  8. Do you know how they came to know Christ?
  9. Do you know if they are responding to the Word?
  10. Do you know if they even trust you enough to share openly with you?

These are point-blank yes-or-no questions. If you can’t even attain a passing score, then may I lovingly beseech you to reevaluate your role as their leader and your involvement in their lives? This is especially important especially if you’re looking after a group of people – like a worship team, a cell group, or even a group of leaders. And since I am a youth minister, I am making impassioned plea to leaders who look after young people. Take care of these precious ones! Don’t ever, EVER, forget that you will shape their beliefs system!

Honestly, I don’t care which ministry you serve in, which church you attend, how old you are or how long you’ve served as a leader. As long if you’re serving in a ministry, then you are, by default, in the business of people. If you don’t know your people well, how will you deal with them? If you don’t put in effort to get involved in their lives, how will you ever become effective and influential among them?

If I may be frank, above and beyond human competencies and God’s anointing, I’ve always believed that I was a tad bit more effective in all my leadership roles not because of talent, experience or charisma, but simply because I knew my sheep. It was always an intentional effort to get to know them.

When I led worship, I looked into the eyes of my young people and it was as if I knew what their struggles were.

When I preached the Word, I knew exactly who or which type of people I wrote a particular point for, and always attempted to speak into their hearts.

When I taught in cell groups or workshops, I prayerfully prepared my content based on the needs I’ve observed in people.

And when I casted a vision for the ministry, I planned based on the different needs I have come to know through intentional interaction with them.

My friend, all this takes time and effort! It won’t and it can’t happen overnight. You can be a charismatic leader but if you have no care for your sheep, your effectiveness will plateau after a while. You can be cognitively competent, but if you don’t intercede for your sheep, you will merely engage their mind (and heart at best!) but you will never be able to affect their will and spirit. It is time we scrutinised our investments in our people!

People of God – yes, you leaders! – don’t be contented with scratching surfaces. Don’t cheat yourself. And don’t cheat your sheep. Don’t be satisfied with mere involvement. Move into commitment! Invest your time and energy in the people whom God has given to you to shepherd. Don’t patronise your sheep – you will end up raising a superficial generation of believers who will surpass your level of superficiality and become even more superficial than you ever will be. What a hazardous inheritance to pass on!

Is that the church you want your children to grow up in? If it isn’t, then you should do something about it. I know I definitely do not want my kids to roam around in a church like that and so I am doing something about it. What about you? This isn’t just my church, you know? It’s YOUR church, but it’s not for you, if you know what I mean. Get to know your sheep.

If you don’t know who you are leading, may I urge you then – no, may I beg you instead – to make intentional efforts to step out of your comfort zone to get to know your people. Otherwise, there is little point in you leading them. Don’t boss them around. Don’t delegate your role as a minister. There are some things that cannot be compromised or substituted. For the sake of my young people, and my own children in time to come, please do not consider leadership if you are not interested in building and investing into people.

This is my heart’s cry for you. Don’t become a leader by default but by decision. And don’t become a leader of position but a leader of people.

this one’s for you, ‘O’ level students.

Please forgive me for not being able to write as regularly as before; juggling a full-time job and a part-time education has been challenging. I’ve spent the best parts of the last few nights working on my assignment. I felt a sense of pride when I submitted it just now; not because I think it’s good, but because I think I have worked hard for it. I haven’t felt so driven about academia since I prepared for my ‘O’ levels.

I told myself that for every assignment or project that I embark on, I’ll try to make it relevant to my job. It helps me to stay motivated as I know it will give me a greater insight into my work. I’m thankful that I was able to do that for this assignment; the task was to come up with a business plan for a communications company. And I found myself investing so much time and energy into it because I truly believe that it is a business plan that might actually materialise in days to come! I’m excited to receive my lecturer’s comments because I know the business plan will be further sharpened.

Anyway, I am writing tonight not just to silence the days of silence, but to also share something I wrote when I was 18 years old. It was an article for Grace Pointer and I’d like to feature it tonight because I know the ‘O’ Levels are about to begin in a week! Nonetheless, you should read this if you’re sitting for your exams soon.

Memoirs of my secondary school days

Cherish your secondary school days while you still can. In retrospect, my days in the navy-blue and white of the ACS uniform will be penned down in my memory banks forever; that is because primary and tertiary education may never be as enjoyable as the secondary school days.

Needless to say, your secondary school education plays a pivotal role in your immediate future – your ‘O’ level results point the way to your academic future.

Back in Secondary 1 and 2, I was someone one would label “hate to love and love to hate”. I was a nightmare to my teachers, schoolmates and family members (they can bear witness to my horrendous testimony). On hindsight, my two years in shorts leave me in revulsion of myself. I would not be surprised if I had schoolmates and teachers waiting to stone me after school. Strangely, I was appointed class monitor, and it did not take too long for my classmates to boycott me, and that ultimately lead to me getting the boot.

Ironically, I was appointed as prefect in Secondary 2. Unfortunately, the prefect master had to remove me from the prefectorial board due to my ailing grades.

However, I scored exceptionally well in secondary 1 – I even qualified for an academic award. Alas, this diligent attitude did not follow through to secondary 2 and I managed to get 1st position in class, from the back! My grades progressively got from bad to worse in secondary 3 and I was close to getting retained!

My walk with God was perpetually in fluctuation. I received Christ just ahead of my entry into secondary school and I backslid throughout secondary 1. In the earlier part of secondary 2, I was what one would term a “Sunday Christian”. I vividly reminisce being an angel on Sundays and hurling abysmal obscenities the day after. I rededicated my life during the 1997 Grace retreat and I embarked on a slow, excruciating climb back to where God has called me to be.

Weeks prior to my ‘O’ level examinations, I was way behind my classmates. One of my regrets would unquestionably be the manner that I loafed in secondary school. That resulted in the doubling of my studying pains – I had to put in twice the effort to get identical results. My standards were so miserable I scored an atrocious 39 points for my preliminary examinations! But somehow, God had planned ahead for me – He assigned my uncle to Mission: Nearly Impossible.

Prior and during the ‘O’ level examinations period, my uncle (AH) spent every other Sunday taking me out to lunch. On top of the free lunch, the advice he dispensed was invaluable; it proved to catalyse my rude awakening. “Joey, study as hard as you can, I don’t want you to look back and regret your efforts”, he urged. Those simple words got stuck in and never left my mind.

Thereafter, I furiously pursued my books. I studied, day and night, night and day. Feel free to ask my mum or my sister how vigorously I studied. 15 minutes was all I took for meals, and then it was immediately back to my books. I had to master everything I failed to learn in 2 years, all in the short duration of 3 weeks! My room was literally sprawled with notes, worksheets and all varieties of paper. I’ve never used my brain this much in those four years.

It was an anxious moment on the day when the results were released. To be honest, there really was not much meditation left to do because the papers were already marked. One’s prayers should be done before and during the examinations. Nevertheless, I uttered a final prayer, “God, please give me 12 points!” (That was the safe aggregate for qualification into the mass communication studies course) And God did! God’s grace allowed me to enter the course of my aspirations. I knew I deserved all of 12 points because I seriously studied hard. However, I am certain I will still come to terms with a score exceeding 12 points because I have already strived for my best. God desires for you to try your best. And I mean your BEST. In fact, that is the ONLY thing God asks from you in every aspect of your life – to do your very best.

Young people, my advice to you is: STUDY LIKE MAD! Romance your books like never before! It would be tragic to receive your ‘O’ level results next year and then wail like a baby, wishing you had studied harder. It may seem hard to motivate yourself to study hard now, but I promise you it would be even harder to motivate yourself if you repeat. I almost did in secondary 3; but by God’s grace, I was spared from the anguish.

To folks in the normal stream: you have to work just as hard, if not harder! Since when MOE said normal stream students were permitted to slack? Do not be disheartened by the extra year, turn the tables around and capitalise on the extra 365 days to score even better than the rest! There is simply no excuse to be sluggish and slothful.

You must realise that if you do not study hard, it is YOU who will bear the consequences, not your parents, teachers, or your friends. Get my drift? Hence, study REALLY hard. Embrace your education; it makes the arduous process easier. There will always be light at the end of the tunnel; ensure your light shines for all to see (Matthew 5:16). Run towards your books; do not let them run after you.

sermon recap: must master my mouth man!

Please keep me in prayer as October will be a gruelling month. Above and beyond the commitments of a full-time job, I have a 30% assignment to submit on the 7th, a 30% written test to prepare for on the 19th, and a 40% group presentation to work towards on the 29th. (Yes, I can forget about having a decent birthday celebration this year.) Regardless, I desire to be excellent in all I do, nothing less, for the glory of God.

Oh Lord, I need Your grace more than ever. I need to put first things first. What matters most should never be at the mercy of what matters least; give me Your strength to sustain my walk with You and may I never fall into a performance trap! Help me to never compromise my time with You!

***

I’d like to post a recap of what I’ve shared over the pulpit last weekend. The most challenging (and exciting) part about preaching is to find the message in a passage. And this prophetic burden is best laid upon one’s heart through intercession. Yes, may the Lord reign, always, in all my sermons.

I titled my sermon “Must Master My Mouth Man!” and preached from James 3:1-12. I won’t be able to show my slides this time because I used Prezi; I’m thankful I tried something new because it halved my slides preparation time! I believe I will continue using Prezi.

It’s impossible to be perfect in speech

  • Every once in a while we will say the wrong things, say things wrongly, and also say unnecessary things.
  • A number of us would have hurt and been hurt by words; we tend to sin with our tongues so easily because we’re innately sinful.
  • James doesn’t provide a solution since it’s impossible to be perfect; instead, he gives three pictorial analogies to help us understand the power of our tongues.

Power to DIRECT – picture of a bit and rudder

  • Just as these relatively tiny objects actually determine the destinies of what they control, our speech has great influence over our lives.
  • A 500kg-heavy, 170cm-tall horse is directed by a 12cm by 8cm bit; a 330m-long, 18,000sqm-big aircraft carrier is directed by a 6.7m by 8.8m rudder.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of a bit, a rudder, or your tongue.
  • Illustration: scolding people in Huangshan. Lesson learnt: words are indeed infinitely influential.
  • Have you been a good testimony online or have you been careless with what you write on Facebook, Twitter or on your blogs?
  • Whether you choose to speak life or talk nonsense, your words have the power to influence the way other people look at Jesus Christ.
  • As long as it’s published for all to see, it’s no longer about you but about Him.

Power to DESTROY – picture of a forest fire and untamed animals

  • If you leave your tongue on its own, it has the natural ability to destroy and injure people.
  • Left on its own, a forest fire will destroy everything in its path; similarly, an untamed animal left on its own will attack anything in its path.
  • Our words have the potential for construction or destruction; our speech can single-handedly destroy us and other people.
  • Illustration: angry boy who hammered nails into the fence. Lesson learnt: let’s not leave scars and holes in people’s lives with the words that we use.
  • Damaging words rob people of their potential and destroys their self-esteem. See Proverbs 11:9 and Proverbs 12:18.
  • Do we pierce people with our word or with the Word of God?
  • Destructive rumours are detrimental to the church; gossip is the number one killer of the church and Christians have a tendency to talk too much.
  • When we participate in gossip, we become Satan’s instrument to destroy another person. Gossip kills but prayer heals. Let’s prevent Satan from getting access to our church.
  • See Proverbs 26:20. If you are not happy with someone, resolve it with him face to face. When you agree to gossip, you add wood to the fire. Small things become big and big things become fatal.
  • If all of us are sinners saved by grace then what gives us the right to speak ill of one another?
  • It takes a good character not to gossip but it takes a great character not to listen to gossip.
  • When gossipers have no audience, they will stop. Let’s make R-AGE a safe place where gossip or gossipers are not allowed to surface.
  • Discontinue gossip. Choose to be a peacemaker instead and offer to help resolve the conflict between the parties involved.
  • If you know someone who gossips all the time, avoid him, for you become who you hang out with. See Proverbs 20:19.
  • Similarly, if you hang out with people who have control over their tongues, you will also be like them; choose your friends carefully.
  • Learn to hold your tongue. See Proverbs 10:19. If what you say doesn’t build up someone, then learn not to say it; let’s be careful of passing unnecessary remarks on matters that do not concern us.
  • If someone tells you to stop gossiping, don’t judge him; at the same time, don’t be afraid of being judged for doing what is right. No one can fault you if you keep doing what’s right.

Power to DISCOVER – picture of water and fruit

  • The tongue has an uncovering quality; it investigates your character and inspects who you really are inside.
  • Don’t expect seawater to be fresh and don’t expect freshwater to be salty; and if you plant an apple tree, don’t expect durians, and vice-versa.
  • It just doesn’t make sense – it is ridiculous that we use our tongues for such different purposes – to praise God and curse men.
  • The problem doesn’t lie with the control of the tongue but with the condition of the heart. See Matthew 12:34.
  • Illustration: “I love sex!” declaration in an all boys’ school. Lesson learnt: let’s get real with each other – what you say is who you are.
  • Your speech exposes who you are on the inside. Don’t bluff yourself. You are what you say. You can’t hide it.
  • Your speech shows us what is brewing within you; the words you use, the jokes you laugh at, and the things you talk about reveal what’s in your heart.
  • Whatever spills out of your heart comes out from your mouth.

Heart surgery and hurt surrender

  • The Word of God is a mirror and judges the thoughts and intentions of our hearts; judgment is a good thing, for it brings us back to God.
  • But do not despair, God doesn’t leave us in our wretchedness. See Ezekiel 36:26 – “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”
  • If your speech reveals that you need a heart change on top of a change of heart, know that Lord has already done that through your salvation.
  • God’s grace is bigger than the condition of our hearts.
  • The challenge isn’t just to choose our words carefully but to change our hearts completely.
  • There’s no shame in wanting a heart that’s changed and renewed, and there’s no shame in surrendering your hurts to God and trusting Him to heal you completely.

comfort for the mourning.

Today, I mourn and grieve with one of my youth leaders, whose mother passed away suddenly due to an unexpected stroke in her neck. People of God, if you don’t know him but are reading this, pray for him and his father. And if you do, walk the extra mile and be available to help at the wake in any way possible if he requires you to. Contact me if you want the details to the wake. Let’s cover him with our love and support through his dark valleys and have faith in God to trust that He is sovereign. It is never easy to deal with departures.

***

comfort for the mourning
by joey asher tan

bleakness stares in your face
lost hopes, shattered dreams
echoing the rain, the pain and a reflectionless mirror
displaying a grief-stricken daze
reflecting also
the agony of tears

where it hurts most
lies the greatest comfort

too young, too soon
too suddenly
pray all’s fine when you wake next morn
but everything’s naught and everything’s torn
this couldn’t, it shouldn’t
i’m shaken with grief

the process is
but part of the plan

disbelief trails your shadow
a black market of unquenchable grief
sickening irony
of unfathomable timing and tragedy
never thought, not ever wished
alas, you’ve already seen her last

this is My plan
now you may not understand

stay strong now
you are in need and needed
by one who is broken to his feet
trickling down your cheeks
tears roll
with misery, forfeit and a tinge of courage

cast your cares to Me
for I am here with you

under attack
by lies you may not comprehend
may angels surround
may God protect
your mind, your emotions
your all as you suffer the wreck

for you I weep
like a soul without sleep

no answers, no replies
facts and figures form your sigh
don’t lose your way
don’t go astray
head for a fresh start
trust in Him and find His direction in your heart

yes, that is true
may it be, for you

a sinner you and I, and I grieve for her soul
you don’t know
but I just realised my deepest of concerns for you
crying out
reaching out
my arms embrace your being, my dearest brother

but I do know that’s when
divine comfort flows

i’m officially a student again.

A part of me greatly anticipates my impending degree programme.

I’ve always wished that I was older and a more mature when I studied for my Diploma in Mass Communication in Ngee Ann Polytechnic a decade ago. Of course there is hindsight bias, but I really should have capitalised the vast array of opportunities that were dished out to me on a silver platter; I had the perfect environment to excel academically and glean the most out of an exceptional education that (the original) Mass Communication course offered. There was a stable of outstanding lecturers, an avant-garde syllabus, an established institution and a plethora of commercial contacts at my disposal, but I was young and foolish enough to be embroiled in unnecessary boy-girl relationships, petty class politics and just poor self-discipline.

God is good nonetheless and despite my less-than-satisfactory performance, I have been able to put to good use in my career the things I learnt in school. In 2000 before the course commenced, I expressed interest in journalism and radio (because I enjoyed writing and talking) during the pre-enrolment suitability interview. But in my final year with Ngee Ann Polytechnic, I ended up specialising in books publishing, photography and journalism, and did just that in my final year with the Singapore Armed Forces. When I worked in Shanghai, I excelled in something I was weak at during my school days – marketing. As a youth minister, I have ample opportunities to apply everything that I have picked up in the last 10 years; indeed, God lets nothing go to waste.

Today, I get to have a go at academia again.

While I reckon the opportunities for my pedagogical development to be lesser and less dynamic than it was a decade ago, I am confident however, that this time, I will milk this learning opportunity dry. Above and beyond aiming for distinctions, I am more keen to sharpen my mind; I’ve never been this hungry to learn in my entire life.

I urge you then, young people, to make the most out of your education – study as hard and make as many friends as you can, and put in your best for every assignment, simply because there’s so much to learn and enjoy in your scholastic years. I hope and pray that when you reach my age, you wouldn’t be writing a reflection like this because you’d have learnt from my experiences and aptly taken my advice. Otherwise, I’d call you a fool – unlike you, I didn’t have me to learn from.

On my way home from school just now, I told HY that I’m confident that my technical competence and professional experience will put me in an advantageous position to excel in my studies. With a more mature head on older shoulders, I can only stick my neck out and ask God to give me the wisdom to apply what I have learnt and know in my latest attempt at tertiary education after being away for seven years. Unlike the past where I never could quite grapple why and what I was studying for, this time I believe in studying for an efficacious God who lets nothing go to waste. I know that the regrets I’ve expressed in this post will be turned around and result in great returns – not for me, or my future with HY, or my subsequent academic or career pursuits, but solely for the glory of God.

That said, while some parts of me can’t wait to start school, the remaining parts of me just can’t wait to start learning. The air is pregnant with excitement and it fuels my adrenaline for my re-education.

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.

a thought to break the silence.

The only way to live for none else but the Lord is to depend on His past, present and future grace, and not return to old sins; the refusal to revisit past evils and the desire to obey with action cultivates an unshakeable faith.

Lord, I desire physical rest for my exhausted body. The only thing that I look forward to more than sleep is to fellowship with You again at 6am. Amen.

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