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financial advice: how to invest your money.

I’m three months shy of turning 21 years old for the seventh time and I’d like to think that I’ve had a blessed life. Of course, I could always be happier but I’ve arrived at a stage of my life where I’ve never been so contented with my current material well-being.

I have a healthy variety of shirts, pants and shoes to choose from, a good collection of watches, a decent guitar, camera and laptop, a branded wallet and a smartphone. Two years ago, I remember counting my collection of 20+ Threadless t-shirts and 10+ Crumpler products. My room is hooked up with a 27″ LCD TV and a 5.1 surround-sound system. Bottom line is, there’s nothing I need, really, and I’m thankful to have (almost) everything that I’ve always wanted to purchase. I’ve done my fair share of possessions-accumulation during my days of earning a higher income.

But, so what? All these thing amounts to nothing at the end of the day for I will take none of these with me when I exit this earth; they will be useless and worthless eventually.

Of course I still have material desires – I’ve been eyeing this and this for some time now and each time I walk past an optical shop, I’d always check if that pair of sunnies is in stock and if there’s a promotion, and without fail, I’d politely say to the disappointed sales representative, “Okay thanks, maybe I’ll get it next time”, and walk away. Would I ever buy it? I think the question I ask myself these days is, “Is that good stewardship of money?” I’d be honest to admit that I’m still tempted by some items but I also deliberately desensitise myself from accumulating things.

I like what RS, the founder of this website, stated about conscious spending, for there’s truth and logic in his philosophy, even if it’s of a secular mentality:

“Spend extravagantly on what you love and cut costs mercilessly on what you don’t.”

Having a reduced income over the last nine months have certainly helped me to be more decisive and cruel in differentiating my needs and wants. At the same time, it has also helped to shape my “investment portfolio”. While I’m a prudent spender and a happy saver, I don’t think I’m qualified to give real financial advice – I mean, did you really think I was going to teach you how to invest your money on my blog? Come on! (:

But I’d like to share with you how I have been investing my money and why I’ve chosen to do it this way. Perhaps this could encourage or challenge you to revisit your spending habits and investment inclinations. I’m not sure if these items have eternal worth, but I’m confident that they have a life-long value. So, please allow me to share the three things I delightfully invest money in:

  1. People. I used to be stingy in treating people to meals. But over the years, I’ve learnt to be progressively generous, simply because people have been exceedingly generous with me. Nowadays, I’m always quite happy to foot the bill, especially if I am fellowshipping with a young person who has lesser resources. When people buy me meals, they indirectly tell me that I’m worth their time and money. And so, I pay (pun!) it forward – I hope my young people will feel the same way too – that they are worth my time and money. (Pun!) I’m putting my money where my mouth is. (I can also instantly detect those who are out to exploit this…)
  2. Knowledge. The older I get, the more I spend on books, seminars, conferences and audio CDs and DVDs. In fact, I just took advantage of the Desiring God July DVD sale and invested good money in some DVDs which I will be sharing with my cell. As for gifts, I also find myself buying books because I think that there’s nothing better than to give my friends the gift of knowledge. Besides, this is one investment that can be passed around, shared and revisited.
  3. Perspective. Lastly, I always enjoy expanding my horizon of perspectives and there’s no better way to do that than to visit new places and to do new things. I try to go on a couple of vacations every year and I always try to visit new destinations. I enjoy investing into my worldview (and sabbath too!). I get a kick from meeting new people, learning new languages, visiting new places, immersing in new cultures, tasting new cuisines and enjoying new experiences. And as a budding preacher, I believe that all these new perspectives will empower and enhance my ambitions to be a more dynamic and balanced communicator.

People, knowledge and perspectives are indefinitely more valuable than material possessions and I’d gladly invest extravagantly on them. Apart from these three items (at this point in my life), the rest of my money is really spent for function’s sake, like functional eating and functional travelling. My question then, to you, is:

What do you invest your money in?

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is your advice any good at all?

There’s a difference between good and godly advice. Everyone is able to offer their two-cents’ worth but not everyone makes sense. Therefore, it is important to surround yourself with counsellors who are able to expand your perspectives as well as to offer you solutions (or at least show you the possible consequences of any decision made). We should be cautious in selecting who we hang out with for it usually determines who we become eventually – surround yourself with cynics and you may just become one.

The way of the fool always seem right to him – they will hardly admit that they are wrong; don’t spend too much energy trying to convince them otherwise, but learn to just pray for them and commit them to the Lord. When I see how the advice that I dispense fall on deaf ears, it gives me an idea of how foolish I was when I was younger, and how I have refused and rejected advice. If you want to counsel others, it is important that you are rooted in the Word of God. Wisdom is knowing how to apply biblical principles to everyday situations. Hence, wise counsel and sound advice always comes from the Word.

It is also important that you are a Spirit-filled individual if you want to offer advice to others. I always tell my leaders to pray (silently) in the Spirit (in their hearts) when they talk to youths, and to be sensitive to what the Spirit might possibly prompt them to say instead. It’s imperative that we do not make up advice; for the lack of a better way to phrase it – let’s not bullshit others. There are days that I do not have the answer and when that happens, I will be honest and tell whoever I’m speaking to that I will get back to them a few days later. Don’t trust anyone who’s always got the answer. We must stop whenever and however the Spirit leads and prompts us to, and seek God for an answer first. I remember BH’s advice regarding advice-giving – “If people run to you, you better run to God, otherwise they might think that you are God!”

I try to surround myself with people who know what people are like – basically older and more mature individuals who have seen more people than I have. They give great insight to people and how to deal with those who are more challenging to manage. They teach me how to discern and share their experiences with me. Hence, regardless of how high-up I may rise in a leadership role, it is important that I do not isolate myself, but to surround myself with people who are involved in the right kind of attitude, and those who are like-minded. Having RY and PL to share with me their journey on being a ministry-man and a family-man gives me great leverage to know what to do when I’m faced with similar situations. However, after I receive their advice, I will still consult the Lord first for obeying what the He has set upon my heart to do is of utmost importance.

And then of course, there are those whom you simply trust with your life because you know that they always have your interests at heart. These are people whom have gone through seasons with you and the ones who have proved their consistency and availability in your life – basically, those whom have stood the test of time. He or she could be a best friend, parent, sibling, mentor or partner. Always treasure the value of their opinions simply because they love you without agenda and want the best for you.

In conclusion, in the area of giving and receiving advice, here are the four categories of people whom you should seek and aspire to become:

  1. Word people
  2. Spirit people
  3. People people
  4. Trustworthy people

These are the people whom you know will dispense good advice and godly counsel.

day two – hurt people hurt people.

These are the things on my mind at the close of the second day at Grace Retreat 2010.

  • When God pursues you, it is because He’s looking for a mouth to speak through, to accomplish His own purposes for His own glory.
  • Let us be wary about a cavalier attitude towards our calling and God’s anointing in our lives; many feel the touch of the mantle, but only a few respond to it.
  • Does authority come from positions and statuses or come from the Lord? A rhetorical question but a necessary reminder. Do you find security in who you are or what you do? What a timely reality check.
  • A stronghold is like a prison that keeps you in and keeps others out.
  • Fear may cause us to isolate ourselves and cause a driven person who is performance-oriented to gain acceptance this way.
  • A prior rejection of others may cause us to reject people even before they get a chance to reject us, as a result of our self-defence mechanisms.
  • Flying a kite teaches us a lesson on letting go; but beyond that, it teaches us to relinquish control of our own power to release it to a greater power that will take the kite to places that we could never imagine we could in the limitations of our power and ability; we should let go for something greater.
  • God challenged my perspective on being authentic. I used to live by, “Why should I tell you who I am? If I tell you who I am, and you don’t like who I am, that’s all I’ve got.” It was time for a paradigm shift and to trust God to protect my esteem and security, regardless of who or what I encounter.

I look forward to Wednesday. 79 to go! You give and take away, my heart will choose to say, “Blessed be Your name”. I love You, Lord. Amen.

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.”

let us never patronise God.

If I were hungry I would not tell you,
For the world is Mine, and all it contains.

– Psalm 50:12
(New American Standard Version)

This is one verse in the Bible that severely humbles me every time I read it; it keeps me on my toes because I’d never want to patronise God and offer Him mere lip service. Do I really think that the omniscient and omnipresent God doesn’t know what’s truly in my heart, beneath every word and deed? Who am I kidding? There’s no hiding from Him my insides. Each time I revisit this verse, I force myself to examine my private worship – for that determines the authenticity and power of my public worship. I’ve always believed that spiritual authority comes from time spent with God.

How can we even offer God something that He already has? What exactly is God hungry for? I’d like to believe that He is hungry for your praise and worship, devotion and thanksgiving, and your prayer and supplication. This sound extremely far-fetched but the truth is, God is after His own glory. And when you give Him the glory that is rightfully due to Him – I borrow JP’s thoughts – you are completely satisfied; it’s a place of gratification that nothing on earth can take, to know that you’re in the will of God.

Praise magnifies God’s being. Magnification isn’t making the subject bigger, but enlarging the subject in your perspective. Faith magnifies God’s doing. When God plays a bigger role in your life, the enemy and yourself plays a smaller role. That is why when you are in trouble, you ought to worship God, so that your faith can be built and that your perspective can be straightened out through God. And like the song we are so acquainted with, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in His wonderful face. And the things of this earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.”

Our response then, in the light of this verse, is to be a worshipper – one who directs and diverts the glory to God. And I believe, as absurd as this next expression may sound, that this is how we should feed God. Then maybe, God might speak to us; perhaps this is why we conventionally have a time of praise and worship before we hear God’s Word through a sermon. Worship is like ploughing the ground and the Word is like the seed being planted.

Hence, don’t be a casual worshipper if you want God to speak to you. Remember, God doesn’t need you to worship Him, so do not offer half-hearted worship – it has to be wholehearted, nothing less! If He was hungry, He wouldn’t even tell you. After all, the whole world (including you and I) already belongs to Him.

“Speak to me / And tell me all the things I need to know / I want to hear You now / (Can You) speak to me / I’ve opened up Your Word to free me / I want to hear You now” – Audio Adrenaline

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.

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

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