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top ten (re)discoveries of being in youth work.

I spent the last two days on course at SSTI (Social Service Training Institute), the training arm of NCSS (National Council of Social Service). There were many factors that contributed to my thorough enjoyment. It was conducted at their main office at Ulu Pandan Community Club – yes, a three-minute stroll over 200 metres – even nearer than walking to the bus terminal. It was great to network with people in this line of work; I was glad to meet three full-time staff from NCC and I think we connected well. The trainer was a former senior pastor of a local church and he received his postgraduate education from (my dream institution) Fuller Seminary. It was great to meet people from different demographics with a similar heartbeat for youths.

At the risk of sounding cocky (forgive me), I didn’t really learn anything new for there is nothing new under the sun. Most of the findings could be researched online and most of the principles could be self-deducted with common sense. Unfortunately, (the participants and) I do not have the luxury of time to do either, so I was glad that this course helped to piece together the thoughts that were already in my head; I declare it so arrogantly (forgive me again) because a lot of what was taught can actually be found in the 70+ drafts that I’ve written so far, just phrased slightly differently. The presentation may vary, but the train of thought and cognitive motivations are one and the same.

However, this (“Engaging Youths Through Their Culture”) course did affirm my calling, as well as my decision to enter full-time ministry to work with young people at this point of my life. I think it will benefit anyone who has “work with young people” in their job description. Here are the ten things I’ve (re)discovered about myself at the end of the course:

1. I truly am wired for youth ministry. Again, another immodest statement (forgive me, I’m on a roll!) but it is what I honestly believe; I am acutely aware of my strengths and weaknesses. This course has reinforced the preexisting thoughts and mentalities in my head which I have independently developed over the years. There’s no work I’d rather be doing than this.

2. I truly have the DNA of an evangelist. Within hours, I found myself sharing God’s goodness in my life and my journey to full-time ministry to Christians and non-Christians alike. We overcome the evil one by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of our testimony (Revelation 12:11) and it was almost instinctive that I did what I did – intentionally share the Gospel through my life, by my speech.

3. I truly enjoy meeting new people and I’m not afraid to air my opinions. In other words, I find it exciting to connect with all kinds of people and I’m outspoken, even in a new or unfamiliar environment. It’s been a while since I’ve mingled with non-church people and today I realised that my personality is quite consistent in every arena of my life. I can only be thankful for that.

4. I truly understood why I was a marketing manager in my previous job before I went into full-time ministry. When the trainer gave us insights into the world of media and marketing, I found myself instantly connected to and comprehended what he was sharing. These topics were my professional competencies and rice bowl; it was what I “specialised” in, sort of.

5. I truly am a senior youth after all. Instinctive compulsions are synonymous with youth. I self-declared to be senior because I no longer act crazy out of impulse, but I self-declared to be a youth because I still have these crazy impulses! (And also because I’m within Singapore’s official 15-30 year old age range!) Nonetheless, I thank God for this all-important suppressing ingredient called maturity.

6. I truly relish communicating and expressing myself through words to a different audience. On a daily basis, I work with Christians, be it my colleagues or my youths. Even the couple of at-risk youths I work with are Christians. I must admit that it’s slightly easier to speak to this group of people because we subject ourselves to a greater authority (in the Bible), and often can use phrases like “I’ll pray for you”, or “Have faith”, or “Trust God” as part of our arsenal of advice. I cherished the opportunity to articulate my thoughts with a deliberate reduction of Christian jargon.

7. I truly am able to speak the language of youth. Be it through the mediums of music, media, colloquial expressions or the virtual world, I realised that I could feel what a young person is trying to tell me in their multi-coded and often pseudo-confused state of mind, evidently manifested in their language – both verbal and non-verbal. Simply put, I think I can readily emphathise with a young person and I thank God for it.

8. I truly see myself doing this kind of work should God lead me out of full-time ministry one day. I always tell people that I take working in Grace/R-AGE a year at a time. I’d love to do it for the long run, but if I ever do something else, with the right credentials, this could be the other dream job I’d want to declare as my occupation – studying youths and talking to youths and people who work with youths about youths – what a combination!

9. I truly love young people. We were shown a surfeit of video clips throughout the course and whether I see something spectacular or sorrowful, I’d spontaneously ask two questions – “How can I rejoice with them?” and “How can I reach out to them?”. It could be the celebration of an achievement, the recovery of a failure or the development and fulfilment of potential. I absolutely yearn to be a part of it – whatever it is!

10. I truly am privileged to work with a kaleidoscope of youths. This is the first time I see my clients playing a significant role in my own training and development as a youth professional (if I could lump all of us into one overarching category). Unlike other youth workers in specialised roles (like social workers or psychologists) who attend mainly to one subset of youths, I have the wonderful benefit of meeting all kinds of youths from all kinds of social backgrounds with all kinds of upbringing and all kinds of aspirations.

All right, this post has certainly evolved into a piece longer than I had expected so I shall conclude it here; at the end of the day, this is how I would consider my job, or better phrased, my current phase of life – that it is my absolute dutiful delight and delightful duty to work with young people. And I praise God daily and nightly for putting me where I am. This truly is a reward that the world could never give.

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the original handwritten roller coaster lyrics.

It’s been a pretty long Saturday and it’s gonna be an even longer Sunday so I shall keep it simple tonight. I became thankful for the journey I’ve taken as a song-writer when I found handwritten lyrics to Roller Coaster in one of my notebooks. This song-writing event took place at a FhLY jam session in L3 Hall. When RL first played the signature electric guitar introduction, I asked him what image came to his mind. He said, “Like I’m taking a roller coaster”. That was it – and after countless revisions, here’s the version that we recorded for the No One Else album. I’m pretty proud of this track! (Too bad I can’t upload the MP3 unless I purchase a Space Upgrade…)

ROLLER COASTER

I soar up and slide back down
Life is like the weather, never really in my control
Unstoppable, inescapable
Time is like an earthquake, happening without warning

This is a crazy roller coaster ride
But tonight

I feel great; nothing can stand in my way
The world’s at my feet, it’s like I’m delirious on God
Invincible, I’ll try the impossible
Spinning round and round, falling up and down
So watch me, I’ll rise again

Walk with me through barren lands
Now and then I feel dry, wishing You would rain down again
Am I an act of real pretence?
Thriving on the high, I just broke down from my breakthrough

Words: Joey Asher
Music: Joey Asher & Ricky Liang
Written on: 26th January 2003
Revised on: 4th October 2008

© FhLY

no longer a worship leader and at peace with it.

I dug out an old notebook a few weeks ago and within the first couple pages I found a list of nine things I had wanted to accomplish that year. I recorded these things in 2003, when I was 20 years old, in the final semester of my polytechnic days.

  1. Get grounded in the Word.
  2. Learn piano and guitar intensively.
  3. Stay single until 21st Oct 2003.
  4. Transfer captaincy of TeamR-AGE.
  5. Record FhLY album.
  6. Record Castor & Pollux album.
  7. Attain driving licence.
  8. Cultivate a lifestyle of punctuality.
  9. Learn to be more pastoral.

It’s interesting to note that the items that I’ve made little progress on are #2, #5 and #6, which are incidentally all related to music! Well, seven years have passed and with each passing year the likelihood of accomplishing these three items diminishes. Perhaps I’m not all that passionate or serious a musician after all. What a sad thought.

All right, that silly introduction above has little to do with what I am about to share.

Music is a big part of my life; I’d like to believe that while I’m not musically trained, I am musically inclined because I pick things up pretty quickly – be it percussions, strings or even song-writing. I’m always attracted to worship teams and as I peered into the 3rd Level Hall tonight to check out the worship team in action, I reminisced my days of being a worship leader and how that I spent most (and the early) parts of my ministry in church in CAMY. I progressed from a 14-year-old backup vocalist to a worship leader in both the youth and adult services.

God called me into worship leading when I was 15 years old, at a “Bondage Breaker” conference in Trinity Christian Centre, and I’ve always pursued this area of service. I was confident that I had the anointing of a Spirit-led worship leader. And God is faithful; throughout the years of worship leading, God always sends at least one person to affirm and to encourage me in my calling, usually by someone who was in the congregation; God has never missed out affirming me on any session and I am most thankful for it.

When I went to Shanghai and saw the “state” of the worship atmosphere in my church, I immediately felt compelled to join the worship team to “rescue” and “value-add” it. The Holy Spirit rebuked my prideful self and I quickly dismissed this arrogant attitude of wanting to “fix things” and to “show them how it’s supposed to be done”. I could easily enter the ministry under the pretense of humility but what good would it do if I served with a wrong heart? For months, it was an internal struggle because I knew that I could contribute positively and to even make a significant difference!

I didn’t feel that God was calling me into worship leading for that season of my life in Shanghai so I avoided the music ministry completely and just waited for His prompting of where I should serve in church. I did continue to lead worship, but only in my cell group. (This sounds really haughty and I apologise for it but) word got around of my skill, effectiveness and experience “This worship leader is pretty anointed!” and a couple of months later, as if to perpetuate the already dire situation with my pride, I was approached twice by the worship pastor and one of the key worship leaders; they invited me to join the ministry. (It must have been painful to read such words dripping with arrogance but I’m just being honest with my struggles and being real with my journey.)

Yet I’ve never moved into the worship ministry ever again because I was convinced that my season of being a worship leader is over. I felt the peace when I rejected both invitations and I also found the non-entry necessary for the development of my own humility as I stepped away from this area of ministry. I wanted to be sensitive to the Spirit’s leading and I believe I did the right thing, even though becoming a worship leader again felt like the right thing to do by my own logical deduction! (This isn’t a good gauge but worship leading no longer gave me a kick – I didn’t find it a challenge anymore.)

Instead, I felt the Spirit calling me into mentoring and preaching; in fact, I find that mentoring, preaching and leading are my three primary domains of ministry at this point in my life. Just as how God has prospered me as I pursued His prompting in my worship leading days, I believe that God will also give me success as a mentor, preacher and leader, simply because I desire to be obedient to His will for my life. I humbly ask you to pray with me, please; I only want to be a vessel.

Why do I share these inner thoughts tonight? I believe that it is more important to recognise the divinely-designated season of your life directed by God than to do what the ministry demands or what you’re naturally good at or gifted in. It may not make much sense at first but the satisfaction you get when you review your step of faith is immense. I desire always to walk by faith (to do what God directs) and not by sight (to do what Man demands). And the only way to do so is to remain connected with God.

Oh Lord, thank You for reminding me about John 15:5. Indeed, apart from Jesus, I can do nothing and I am absolutely nothing without Christ! I desire to be near You so that I will do the things that You desire and become the man You have designed. I love You.

top ten Google tricks you probably do not know.

Google has become such an integrated part of our lives that it has replaced Internet Search; you simply Google something instead of Internet searching something. I’m using Mac Safari as my web browser now and only laziness (to transfer bookmarks) is causing me to delay my switch to the better and faster Google Chrome web browser. With Google TV, Docs, Maps, Calendar, Mail, and Groups amongst the other products that I use on a daily basis, I thought it’d be good if I put together the top ten lesser-known tricks in our regular use of the Google search bar, to make virtual activities a little more convenient.

1. Definitions. Key in “Define [insert keyword]” and save some time there instead of checking via an internet dictionary.

2. Blog search. Pretty self-explanatory – search within listed blogs only. (It’s pretty interesting when I see how WordPress reveals how people end up at my blog.)

3. I’m Feeling Lucky. Ever wondered what this button is for?

4. Products. Type in “Better than _[insert keyword]_” and you will get an idea of how good something is. Remember the underscores. If you are someone who’s frugal and wants a good buy, try Froogle. (Clever wordplay!)

5. Translator. This is so good that it translates beyond just phrases, but entire websites and even documents. The amazing thing is that it continuously learns.

6. Conversions. You could just about convert everything. For example, type “123 metres in feet” or “456 SGD in RMB”. Too bad it doesn’t convert pre-believers.

7. Time. If you have a lot of friends overseas and want to know what their local time is, type “What time is it in [insert country]”. Never call at the wrong time ever again.

8. Checking within sites. This lets you zero in on one website. For example, type in “site:joeyasher.com huiyi” to find every post with her being mentioned.

9. Bypass proxy. Not really applicable in Singapore but definitely helpful in Shanghai where just about everything is blocked by thegreatfirewallofchina, including Facebook and WordPress, and for a period of time, Youtube and Wikipedia. Type in “cache:website.com”. Also helpful for annoying company fire walls.

10. Chuck Norris. My favourite, of course, is to type in “Google Chuck Norris” and press the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button. Have a good laugh at the result.

Some additional trivia… During the time that I was in China, Google actually legalised the download of music (simply because they can’t keep up with the country’s normalised piracy). But don’t bother accessing it via a Singapore IP address – you’ll be denied.

The groundbreaking thing about Google is that it is a learning organism. For example, everything that is being searched for, including the actual search results and what appears in the search field (i.e. the autofills) is a result of what people key in, find and eventually click on. Google then intelligently learns these search behaviours; that’s why most of time you actually can find what you are searching for within the first couple of pages – because thousands upon thousands of others have searched what you are currently searching for.

Like many others, I’m inclined to recognise Apple and Google as the leaders of our world today – their influence and impact on our society are staggering; they pave the way for change and have a say in just about how we look at and use things. For e.g. iPhone revolutionised the way we look at mobile phone usage and Google revolutionised the way we use the Internet. This phenomena is mind-blowing (and potentially devastating).

Now if only Christians could exert that kind of influence… Hmm…

the best way to write song lyrics.

My first-ever self-composed song is called “Neighbour” and I wrote it when I was 18, when I barely knew how to play the guitar and with the only four chords that my fingers could press – G, C, D, Em. This simple song was about the Good Samaritan. A couple of years later, I formed a band with present it to my band, and performed it soon after.

I’m not a prolific or an accomplished song writer like DH or SL but I’ve written a number of songs along the way. I’m a lot better with writing words than music and so I always pay greater attention to the lyrics than the melody. In my journey as composer, I’ve written songs themed on falling in and out of love, worship, about my history, current affairs, popular topics and of course, those inspired by scriptures. Over a decade, I realised that songs based on scripture always stand the test of time; these songs are timeless because they’re based on the everlasting Word of God! Hence, I’m inclined to write more spiritual and scriptural songs these days simply because I want my songs to last.

One of my personal favourite scriptural song is “Tears in a Bottle”, which is inspired by Psalm 56. I remember writing it at my place together with RL and we completed it in about an hour. Upon finalisation, we just knew this would be a good song. He was confident of the melody and I, of the lyrics; I had a listen to one of our live recordings recently and it’s strange to say this, but my own song inspired me to draw closer to God! I’d like to attribute it to the combination of these two components – its lyrics speak to your spirit and its melody speaks to your soul. Simply put, it’s a song that ministers!

There are many ways to write a song but in my humble opinion, there’s nothing better than to write a song based on scripture. If the Word of God has lasted all the ages and still continues to speak to people, then I’m confident that a song based on the Word will last for a long time and continue to speak to people after a long time!

TEARS IN A BOTTLE
Psalm 56

V1: Your love is a shelter over my head / In times of fear / The world can destroy my faith today / But I’m not afraid / Many tear me down to see me hurt / They stab me from the back / The ones who wage war against my soul / Oh Lord, please take them away from me

PC1: In Your love, a voice sheds light on me / In Your hope, I hang my portraits of faith on the walls of / My shattered hopes and broken dreams

C: I look at the stars, I gaze at the moon / And marvel at the wonderful You / When I am afraid, I won’t hide my head / I know it’s because You’ve carried me through / Sometimes I’m attacked, sometimes I get scared / But what can mere men do to me? / You watch my footsteps, You carve me a way / Tears in a bottle, You’ll save it for me

V2: My Lord has rescued me from death / When He died on that cross / My shame He bore so willingly / And now I am cured / Countless things I’ve done, I’ve hurt the One / Who sacrificed His Son / And now I realise, I recognise / What a true Friend He really is

PC2: In His love, I’m washed as white as snow / In His hope, I fight the fear of the endless battles / That fiercely rage within my soul

Guitar Solo / Repeat Chorus / Fin.

Words: Joey / Music: Ricky & Joey / 1st Feb 02 / © 2002 FhLY

P/S – I’m silently hoping that this song would make its debut in R-AGE sometime this year and also be featured in the next No One Else album, if we’re gonna produce another.

how should you apply and appreciate talent?

As I lounged into my seat to observe AS’s piano recital at the Yong Siew Toh Music Conservatory yesterday, I realised that I grew frustrated at my inability to fully appreciate the beauty of the Chopin pieces that she was apparently playing so brilliantly. It was an accomplished performance, no doubt; her fingers moved so much faster than I could move my lips, musically it sounded like a formidably difficult piece to pull off with so many off-beats, odd synchronisations, and flats and sharps that seem to fit in perfectly when they normally would sound out of place. It was only the second time I saw Singapore’s child (now teenage) prodigy in action but there I was, reclined in my comfortably red seat, wishing that my musical knowledge was more inclined so that I could appreciate her performance at the level that it was meant to be appreciated at.

How do you enjoy a performance you can’t appreciate? I’m inclined to believe that talent is best appreciated by the talented, for our enjoyment is vastly limited and restrained to our personal capacities and standards – I could never fully comprehend the difficulty of AS’s piano pieces and the level of her accomplished techniques; my enjoyment was sadly limited to a mere sensory admiration, instead of a technical, emotional and intellectual appreciation. Football, music and even preaching are all art in various forms but our appreciation of even its respective equipment knowledge or showmanship styles has been greatly marginalised due to our ignorance of these art forms. We won’t even be able to comprehend the painstaking efforts and countless hours invested to perfect the art.

I found myself asking two questions:

  1. How should you apply the talent at your disposal?
  2. How should you appreciate the talent on display?

So as I fidgeted in my seat, I naturally recalled the parable of the talents, where it’s not about how much talent you have, but about what you do with it. Each of us would have our assigned lots in life. The whole idea is to utilise the lot in the best way you know how to; for the more you use it, the better you get at it and may possibly even acquire new skills along the way. I think this is applicable to any art form. Think about it – if I decide to practise scales in a bid to up my guitar playing ability, and I get good at it, I will open up the door to new genres of music for me to learn and appreciate. In football, if I put myself through dribbling drills, I will eventually get stronger on my weaker leg, and I will open up the option of eventually shooting or crossing with my weaker foot. Before I could polish my abilities as a lead singer, I had to ensure that my basic singing abilities were above average. Practice doesn’t just make perfect – it paves the path for new skills.

I remember a quote by John Keating from one of my all-time favourite movie, Dead Poets Society:

“… And medicine, law, business, engineering – these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love…

These are what we stay alive for.”

I think that beauty is multi layered – where one standard of excellence is carefully smuggled beneath another. I juxtapose the foundations of three art forms – the left and right hand of a pianist, the skill and the fitness of a footballer, and the preparation and oration of a preacher. The pursuit of excellence and the discovery of new art forms will exponentially enhance and elevate our appreciation of life.

we should always keep it fresh.

Tonight I watched the Mayday DNA concert at the National Stadium; this was my fifth time watching them, but the first time that the tickets were free, thanks to TT’s involvement with Youth Olympic Games. The last time I saw them was last Spring in Shanghai, about a year ago, and I paid S$150 for a seat 30 rows from the stage. This might just be the final time I’ll watch them… Unless I receive complimentary tickets again.

I declare this to be the final time because I know just about every single showmanship trick, stage line and musical arrangement that they have up their sleeves. I wasn’t impressed anymore – I didn’t clap or wave my hands or dance and I didn’t get high anymore. I was entertained, but that was it. Yeah, there were new elements – a huge robot, a children’s choir, an impressive mini orchestra as well as a new song. But I told HY that I wouldn’t have gone tonight if it wasn’t because a free show. She concurred.

Don’t get me wrong, it was a excellent concert; anyone attending it for the first time would have left the stadium impressed (although for the ideal experience, you’d have to sit at the more expensive seats directly in front of the stage). Mayday still remains one of my all-time favourite bands and I will continue to hum their music and be inspired by Ashin’s song-writing prowess, but there’s nothing new about them under the sun anymore. It was a great concert yet I was bored.

On my way back after sending TT, NY and HY home, I thought about what I was going to write about today and I was reminded of Mark 6:4 (NLT).

Then Jesus told them, “A prophet is honored everywhere except in his own hometown and among his relatives and his own family.”

I haven’t done my homework on this verse yet but I offer my quick thoughts anyway. I’m no longer impressed with Mayday because I could predict my concert experience. This got me thinking about why people decide to leave church or change services for somewhere or someone better, not because the new place or preacher is actually good (or better), but because they probably could predict all the antics of their regular service and sermon. Whenever Grace Retreat approaches, there’s an air of anticipation for the fresh word in season that the speaker would bring; I don’t deny that anticipation, but I think that our regular preachers are just as solid – the only difference is that we are familiar with them, too familiar sometimes.

I remember telling myself to attempt to treat every service like it’s the first time I’m attending it, or as if it’s a special retreat or conference service, or as if it’s the first time I’m hearing the preacher – all this to keep the experience fresh and to keep it new. I get a better understanding of why Jesus said the above-mentioned after tonight’s concert. The Mayday concert was spectacular, no doubt, but it was also boring because I was already used to it. The miracles Jesus performed were still miracles (there’s nothing unspectacular about healing illnesses!), but He wasn’t as effective in His hometown because I’m guessing the locals already knew what was coming up next in the list of Jesus’ to-do’s.

Tonight, as I remind myself to keep my own service experience fresh, I remind you to do likewise. You’ll be surprised at how much more receptive and expectant you might just be at your next service.

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