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my journey into full-time ministry.

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.

Click here to read my cover letter as a webpage.

Click here to read my cover letter in PDF format.

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.

are we there yet? when will we get there? where is there?

The Secrets to Successful Writing seminar with PY this morning was held at my alma mater, Anglo-Chinese School (Junior) at Winstedt Road. It was my first time back since I last collected my PSLE results in 1995, when it was still Anglo-Chinese Junior School at Peck Hay Road. To my surprise, NS is still there; pity I had to leave immediately after the seminar, otherwise I would have popped by the staff office to say hello to a beloved Primary 6 form teacher who played a part in my journey to know Christ.

Advances in mobile technology has allowed me to check for bus arrival timings via the iris NextBus online service on the SBS transit website. (Trivia: it stands for Intelligent Route Information System.) It will always be helpful to know approximately when the next bus would arrive. Now, why would I want this information? After all, it changes neither the duration of my journey nor my designated route. Heck, it doesn’t even predict traffic conditions or tell me what time I’ll arrive at my destination. So, what good does it do for me to know how long it’ll take before I board the next bus?

I believe that prior knowledge of waiting time reduces anxiety and frustration, and for some, it even helps to manage stress levels; commuting during peak hours is already an exasperating experience and I think a predictive information system serves an effective countermeasure to improve travelling woes as I’ll know how long I’ll be on the road, or track – and if the waiting time is too long, I’ll probably make alternative plans (whether to continue waiting, change the mode of transport or take another route) since I can already predict the eventual outcome. The same concept extends to the SMRT and to a lesser extent, roller coaster queues in amusement parks.

However, in the event that you don’t board your bus or train at the estimated time, you’d feel doubly frustrated and disappointed because your expectations have increased; this is inevitable when you try to control your anticipation (and excitement) of what’s to come. And when you change your plans, you deviate from what you are normally familiar with and have grown to trust and rely on. Hence, I’d like to think that regardless of prior knowledge, there will always be a set of challenges for any journey taken.

I couldn’t help but think that my experience with the iris NextBus today was a reflection of my daily struggle to trust God in either the big and small, or long and short term plans. I’d be the first to raise my hands to admit my reliance on my own Intelligent Route Information System to navigate through life’s crossroads and toughest decisions. When you do that, it takes away your trust and belief in God’s original plan as you apply your knowledge of the future, understanding of the present and experience of the past. Don’t get me wrong – that’s wisdom – and it’s not a bad thing. But a careless flirtation and an over-reliance on human wisdom can often cause you to become distracted and disillusioned with your intended journey. My advice? Tread carefully (pun unintended).

I’m sure you can identify with a wrong decision that sometimes ends up in a much longer journey, an encounter with an unexpected traffic jam or even alighting at the wrong stop; it’s only natural to expect that because you have ventured into an unknown and, if I were to epiphanise it, a valley of darkness that you completely did not prepare for or expect. And most times, it’s always a result and consequence of your decisions. This applies to almost every decision – be it relationship, finance or family-related, etc. When this happens, you will need to be responsible for your choices and account for yourself.

At the end of the day, I believe that if God gives you a vision, then the challenge and step of faith for you is to trust Him to deliver you to the eventual destination safely and surely. Thankfully, our God is an efficacious God and nothing in the journey goes to waste – regardless of longer routes, indecision, detours or even unforeseen accidents.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and He will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

These famous verses are plastered on most of the walls of any ACS auditorium, including the one I sat in today, and it serves as a sobering reminder to let God take control of the steering wheel of our lives. May you remember to relinquish control of your life the next time you check for the next bus or train arrival times.

i’d rather have teh-peng.

HY and I had this hilarious little conversation (which made me think about perspective) as we strolled to her place last evening:

HY: How come you look so short today?

JA: Maybe it’s because of the shoes I wore?

HY: Can you please not wear these sneakers next time?

JA: Huh… Do you know how many shoes I cannot wear when I go out with you?

HY: DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY HEELS I CANNOT WEAR WHEN I GO OUT WITH YOU???

JA: (flabbergasted and shrunk) Okay, good comeback.

I’m inclined to believe that our quality of life is largely determined by our perspective. Everyone goes through similar seasons of life. While it is granted that everyone experiences different degrees of joy and pain, victories and struggles, we should also accept that our journey isn’t as uncommon as we think it is. Yes, what I am indicating is, regardless of how special you think you are, or how many horrible things you’ve endured, you’re really just another one of us.

So the one thing that sets a common man apart from another one, is his approach towards life and all its ups and downs. Hence, I shall audaciously believe that my life is that much more interesting than anyone else’s – not because I actually live an interesting life – but because I live my life interestingly. I believe that our lives are essentially mundane, therefore we must choose to live it extraordinarily. (Maybe now you understand why I’ve deliberately titled one of my categories, Extraordinary Mundane.)

Pardon the cliche analogy, but if you offer me a glass of water, and ask me if it’s half-filled or half-empty, I’d simply ask for a cup of teh peng instead. Life is truly about perspective – for perspective influences and determines experience.

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 REAL afterglow.

Thank you for lovely part one. Can't wait to receive the "even better" part two!

It is with tremendous pride and delight that I present to you the 9th alumni of REAL. The class of 2010 is a group of young people that have endeared themselves into a special place in my heart. I’ve had the joy and privilege to witness and rejoice with all their struggles and victories, successes and failures, and their strengths and weaknesses. I thank my God in all my remembrance of them.

I am confident that God has tailored a unique journey for each of their young lives. Another road begins at the end of this one and it is my earnest prayer that they will walk it even better than they did the last two months. Their impending progress fills me with a sense of anticipation.

I have never stopped believing in them; I began to believe in them when I first interviewed them and nine weeks later I still believe very much in the potential that God has put into their young lives of many more tomorrows.

Many of them will go on to contribute significantly in the marketplace and in the ministry – be it as high-flying professionals, civil servants, social workers, business people or even as missionaries and pastors. I secretly hope that they will remember the journey that they first began in REAL2010 and how this sojourn has played a pivotal role in shaping them to be the man and woman that God has designed them to be.

These 15 young men and women have, without a doubt, left an indelible legacy for the future generations of REAL participants. Well done!

My dearest champs, thank you for giving me the opportunity to love and shepherd you. I will miss all the times I’ve spent with you and I’m thankful to God for giving me the last 63 days with you. Remember to always be REAL before God, because that will set you free to be REAL with yourself and with others.

Never stop believing, never stop loving, never stop serving. Know that I love each and every one of you very much, I am always available for you and I will always be praying for you.

obedience vs sacrifice.

If you had overheard the candid conversation I had with God prior to me coming into Full Time ministry…

Me: So, I really want to obey You and go full time, instead of sacrificing, because I know you desire obedience over sacrifice.

God: What are you sacrificing?

M: I don’t know… I guess you know, like the great amounts of money that I’ll be earning, the wonderful high positions that I’ll be holding, that beautiful house that I’ll be residing in, those fantastic annual holidays that I’ll be bringing my family on… You know… All these things… Well, but I love You and I just want to obey You instead of thinking about these things that I’m going to sacrifice.

G: Have all these things happened yet?

M: [stunned] Oh, erm, well, no… But it probably will, right?

G: But it hasn’t, right?

M: [resigned] Yeah…

G: Then they are not sacrifices. : )

M: [speechless] … -_-

All right, some bits were dramatised but essentially that really happened. I guess I’ll never know how life would be like in the ministry or in the marketplace so instead of speculating all the what-ifs, I should just focus on today and perhaps ask God for a preview of tomorrow.

I truly believe that I do not have to take the paths that others have walked on. My journey of faith is mine alone and may it be an adventure for me as well as for directly affected by my decisions.

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