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happy first year anniversary.

Tonight marks the completion of my first year as a full-time minister in R-AGE and Grace AG. Three questions have dominated my heart in the last 24 hours.

  1. How have I contributed?
  2. What legacy have I left behind?
  3. Who have I become?

I am still in deep thought over these three questions. Actually, I have surprised myself by not asking, “What have I accomplished?”. I’d like to believe that it’s a sign of growth and maturity. I remember again tonight, that the Great Commission is not an assignment from God but an alignment to God.

Many things have also come to pass in the last 365 days. I’ve decided to exercise introspection tonight to perhaps, attempt to recall three ministry highlights.

  1. Directing REAL 2010 and investing into my champions
  2. Leading R-AGE @ GII and mentoring my shepherds
  3. The privilege of the pulpit and growing in my preaching

There were many other moments which were hard to leave out – like the unforgettable PIERCE – but my choices were made based on what I wouldn’t and couldn’t have been able to do if I didn’t come into full-time ministry. It all began with a simple act of obedience – which is the highest expression of stewardship – to answer the calling that had brewed in my heart since I was a teenager.

God has been marvelously good and gracious to me. And so I would also like to remember His many blessings in the past year. The three events have affected and reminded most me of His everlasting faithfulness in my life.

  1. Purchase of Dawson, for it catalysed my breakthrough with HY’s parents
  2. Providence of mentors – from Peter Chao to Benny Ho to Edmund Chan
  3. Potential of joeyasher.com, for through this blog, I’ve gained access into people’s lives

Looking back at the year that has passed also allows me to look forward to the year that is to come. 2011 looks next to be one of the most eventful years of my life. Amongst many new events that will be added over time, here are three that I look forward to the most. May God will these to happen in His time and way.

  1. Marrying and sharing my life with HY
  2. Embarking on various mentoring journeys
  3. Growing the youth ministry and as a youth minister

But above all else, I desire most to:

  1. Love God more
  2. Love God’s Word more
  3. Love God’s people more

So tonight, I do not celebrate a year of my forgettable achievements but a year of His unforgettable grace. And with that confidence at the forefront of my mind, I can’t help but to await the next 365 days as a youth minister in R-AGE with a great sense of hope, anticipation and excitement. I put my faith in a big God

Not my will, but Yours be done, O Lord. Thank You for Your favour, grace, mercy and loving-kindness. I love You Jesus, deep down in my heart.

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a reward the world could never give.

I’ve got another confession to make and tonight this confession turns into a testimony of God’s faithfulness and goodness in my life. My spirit has truly been lifted up!

At the beginning of March, after the REAL 2010 graduation ceremony, I plunged into what I’d call, “Ministry Depression” for a couple of weeks. I remember telling RY, LK and HY how disappointed I was with my beloved REAL 2010 alumni. No, it wasn’t because they weren’t outstanding because they are, but very humanly speaking, I was deeply sad that after two months of investing my life into theirs, I received nothing in return except for handshakes, verbal appreciations and SMS encouragements.

Now, I’m being extremely honest here and I choose to spill my heart because there’s a an important lesson behind it. To be frank, I was expecting more from them; I know I’m not supposed to expect anything – after all, that’s what I’ve been teaching them the last two months – but I am being really human here; I remember telling myself, “You mean, that’s it? This is all I’m getting from the 16 of you after I poured my life into you? Wow. Thanks a lot”. Then I reclused into my own melancholic orbit and I convinced myself to quickly move on from this disappointment. I even wanted to harden my heart to them so that I will not allow myself to be hurt like that again. I’ve always openly declared that I’m a secret melancholy and this perpetuated it. My REAL champs may not have realised it because (I think) I’ve camouflaged it well, but I remember responding to them in a curt and cold manner that was very uncharacteristic of me. Some of my youths think that I’m superhuman because that’s the facade that I project but truth be told, I’m really just an ordinary human being with normal affection and affirmation needs as well.

There was little I could do really, except to talk to God and to let Him deal with me. I retreated into my own prayer closet and I came clean with God. I told Him exactly how I felt about how REAL ended and I asked Him to help me to overcome this disappointment by His grace. (This was before I spoke to my mentor, best friend and girlfriend.) I was rebelliously stubborn and I mentally rejected the scriptures that the Holy Spirit brought to my mind. I didn’t want to hear any “holy-moley-sunday-school-ten-year-series” consolation. And I shut my emotions away. But the more I dissected my heart before God, the more painful it was. A pruning process isn’t pleasant indeed. At the end of my emotional and spiritual tussle, the Holy Spirit led me to two scriptures, in this order:

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” – Psalm 51:17

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.” – Colossians 3:23

I am convinced that when the Lord ministers to you, you will be comforted. God is faithful and before He rebuked me, He gently let me know that it was all right to think like that and to feel that way, through Psalm 51:17. I just wanted to bare my heart before the Lord and I found great assurance in His divine embrace.

Once the Lord met my emotional needs, He began to address my thinking by pointing me to Colossians 3:23. I repented before the Lord for my poor attitude and mentality that were in the wrong places and I asked Him to give me new lenses to appreciate this situation. I determined it in my heart to continue to love my young people, regardless of whether affirmation was present or not, simply because God loves them and has compelled me to do likewise; I am doing this because I love them – nothing more, nothing less; I wasn’t going to allow a lack of encouragement to stop me from fulfilling my calling to be a youth pastor. This was a test that I had to overcome and by God’s grace I knew that I would overcome it. It was important that I did not lean on my own strength.

Of course, I would never share this unless I have emerged out of the miry clay; it wasn’t wise to air my struggles to the world before the Lord had finished dealing with me. (I did reveal a glimpse of my emotions but only very briefly.) Once I had this issue resolved within me, I shared my journey with RY and asked him how he dealt with this through his years of ministry; I shared it with LK to be accountable to him; I shared it with HY because I am completely vulnerable with her. Yes, I did take a couple of weeks to recover but I was so glad to have trudged through it.

What can I say? God is faithful and sovereign. I believe He has intentionally held back the affirmation of men until I was secure in Him. A week after my lipoma operation, I received the REAL cushion from my champs. I remember telling RY how delighted I was to receive a gift from them and he smiled and rejoiced with me – I was already satisfied and if the gift had stopped there, I would have been a happy man. But my God is a God who dotes on me and goes the extra mile just to tell me that He loves me. I remember GM telling me that this was just “part one of the gifts – part two will blow your mind”. Of course that filled my heart with even more joy, but I didn’t need anything anymore because I already had God’s affirmation. I decided to be phlegmatic about this part two – if it comes, good, if it doesn’t, that’s all right.

Then it came today. And it blew my mind. So I shall let the pictures do the talking.

What can I say? I’m moved beyond words (and the 11 champs I had lunch with today saw my expression) – this incredibly-thick two-volume masterpiece was painstakingly assembled over the course of 10 weeks. The amount of work that has been put into this is immense – and I can only try to imagine its production process – conceptualising it, selecting pictures, printing photographs, pasting photographs systematically, comprehensively adding secular quotes, scriptures, their own reflections, my own quotable quotes which they remembered, cutting all these captions, meticulously sticking it into the album, decorating and designing it, investing money to make it happen…

WOW I REALLY DO NOT DESERVE THIS.

All I have done in the two months with them was just to do what God has always compelled me to do; what I’ve always enjoyed doing regardless of whether I was full-time, part-time or half-time; what Grace Assembly of God hired me to do; and what gave me the greatest satisfaction in life – believing in young people through my speech and actions. To an extent, I was really just doing my job.

AND THEN THEY GAVE ME THIS TRIBUTE.

I couldn’t help but to thank God for His unmerited favour in my life. I am stunned speechless. How can I not love them, love God, love my job and love other young people even more? I’ve said it many times and so I will say it again – there’s a reason why the REAL 2010 alumni will always remain in a special place in my heart. They reinforced it today. I can only look back and thank God for every minute spent with them.

I love you all. Thank you for blessing me. You have no idea how much this means to me. You gave me a reward the world could never give. I really love my job. Thank you, Lord, for placing me in such a privileged position. I love You so much.

how do you stop swearing?

Growing up in a pretty nasty neighbourhood in Jalan Besar, I picked up all kinds of language from gangsters and pseudo-gangsters. In retrospect, it must have been quite a sight to hear a prepubescent boy spewing endless vulgarities in a high-pitched voice, at people who were probably twice his size. I must have been possessed to have such guts.

Being educated in Anglo-Chinese School only made it worse. If I learnt lewd dialect in the rougher neighbourhood environment, then I certainly balanced it off with an equivalent amount of profane English words in a polished and cultured institution. Swearing became a part of my vocabulary and it was a routine for me as a 14-year-old to curse in hellish language on weekdays and to praise the Lord with hallelujah language on weekends.

I was a hypocrite and a terrible testimony in how I used my tongue for good and for evil.

The use of vulgarity could be habitual; it gets dangerous when this bad habit becomes chronic. Regardless of your religious beliefs, there’s nothing worth boasting about if you are expending an arsenal of damning words in your daily usage. You could be 13 years old or 30 years old and still there won’t be a good reason to employ the use of abusive words. I’d like to believe that in a professional (or even in a social) setting, it is a massive turn-off if you carelessly and subconsciously allow vulgarities to roll off your lips. The scary thing about swearing is that there no longer seems to be any societal standard anymore. These negative expressions have been infused into our culture and it has become the neutral norm, unfortunately. No one frowns at a cussing teenager anymore.

Personally, I have enforced a no-swearing rule wherever I went, so long as I was allowed to exercise authority – be it with my tank platoon, colleagues or in TeamR-AGE. And just very recently through REAL2010, I also enforced a complete boycott of all lewd words – including DMN, SHT and WHL. I’m proud of my REAL champs for this achievement of the epilation of vulgarities in their communication. I used to toss these three words frivolously, but now, the mere sound of these words make me cringe and become instantly uncomfortable.

But that’s my conviction and I do not wish to shove it down anyone’s throat; I’d be careful not to get too legalistic. This doesn’t make me a better Christian, of course, but I think it makes me a more effective witness for Jesus. I pay special attention to the words that I use not because I am concerned about my personal reputation or because I’m a youth minister. I scrutinise my language because I am more concerned about the reputation of Jesus, whom I’m an ambassador of.

I fondly remember a particular sermon at my first Grace Retreat in 1997, that turned my life around; DF, the founder of R-AGE, preached about “Bullseye Living” and it was at the altar call that I rededicated my wretched, hypocritical and double-headed life back to Jesus. I consciously and willingly (not emotionally) decided to make Christ my bullseye that afternoon and to start to live like a real Christian. The first thing that the Spirit prompted me to change, was to cease swearing immediately.

Honestly, I don’t know how you behave when you’re out there; I don’t know if you’re the same person at home, in school and in church. A lot of you may struggle to quit this destructive and seemingly incurable habit of swearing. I’d like to offer you some advice – and the method which I practised to great effect to help me kick this awful habit.

I simply prayed and asked the Spirit to help me stop swearing. Then I simply decided not to swear anymore. And that was it – an instantaneous decision that resulted in an instantaneous change – cold turkey, if you know what I mean. I returned to school after that June vacation and left all my baggage and bad habits buried at the foot of the cross.

If I, someone with a comprehensive knowledge of destructive vulgarity in all languages, could overcome swearing overnight, then surely you can do it too. Ask the Spirit to help you and by the grace of God you will eradicate all unwholesome talk and commence to use your tongue for His glory alone. I’m praying for you!

too urgent to be important.

I just spent my entire evening putting together the Mary Magdalene sermon for tomorrow youth’s service. I am excited about delivering this one because of the sheer amount of lessons that Miss Magdalene could teach us with her life. While I have work on my mind, I also know that I have been writing daily and I have every intention to keep up the habit. So I shall blog while I take a break from writing the transcript and designing the slides (and I know that doesn’t sound like a break to most of you).

I think that it is especially relevant that I share my thoughts on the commonly debated definitions of importance and urgency. A man needs to realise which jigsaw he is and when he’ll be fitted into God’s masterpiece. If a man understands his role in his God-given life (be it a son, brother, boyfriend, buddy, officer, marketing manager, pastor or whatever), he will be able to derive his sense of vision – and this vision should steer him forward by way of goals and pursuits. Proverbs 29:18 (KJV) cannot be more true, “Where there is no vision, the people perish…”

It is from this vision that a man would be able to assign different levels of importance to his countless pursuits. Now, I think that there are many, too many, important quests in our lives, but once we neglect the important things, they becomes urgent. It stands true for aspirations like daily devotions, conversations with loved ones, consistent studying time, regular exercising, and even saving money; if you abandon any of these items for a long enough time, they automatically become urgent – spiritual dryness, detached relationships, academic straggling, poor fitness and health, and a pathetic bank account, respectively.

Let me give you a classic and relevant example. Fact – I’m a Sanguine and I procrastinate. (Now, I blame it on a lack of inspiration but the purists would rather attribute it to inconsistency.) I’ve known all along that I own this new testament characters sermon series since the beginning of the year and I keep telling myself that there’s REAL, there’s G2, there’s my surgery, etc. to clear before I attack this beast. Well, to put it honestly, I’ve deserted this important task for three months and only commenced work on it last week. So now this has become an urgent assignment (like it’s not obvious enough). There’s still a lot of quality and excellence put into it, don’t be mistaken; I spend on average 20 hours to prepare each sermon. And HY has already warned me against this consecutive burnings of midnight oil, yet it has still transpired. (Negative demonstration here – so learn!)

Now, from roles, we get visions, and from visions, we get goals, and from goals, we get priorities – the key to juggling importance and urgency. Remember, priority is not how much space or how many times it appears in your calendar, but the sequence by which it enters your calendar. If spending time with God is high on your priority list then it should enter your calendar first, and your other activities should be planned around it; the same principle applies to time spent with family and loved ones. So here’s the lesson – prioritise well if you want to perspire lesser.

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.

recovery reflections.

I don’t really write about events because I’ve set out this blog to capture more thoughts and reflections than moments, but I think I should remember my thoughts and feelings about this particular piece of memory in my operation recovery.

Many of you would know that on Tuesday I underwent surgery to deal with Dercum’s Disease; the team of surgeons removed all 25 lumps (L arm-2, R arm-5, L leg-2, R leg-2, F torso-9, B torso-5) which I had identified on my body. There are many things which I am thankful for throughout the entire process:

  • The excellent SGH team – be it nurses, assistants, anesthetists or administrators. There’s a lot that could be learnt from their care-giving; I left that evening with better idea of what it meant to show hospitality, from none other than a hospital team.
  • Normal bodily motion and function – with 25 dressings all over my body, my movement is restricted, uncomfortable and painful. I believe I would never take normality for granted again; the temporal inability of doing things normally heighten my appreciation.
  • Sudden and unexpected team of prayer warriors – be it from my DoYouLoveMe? cell, Shanghai MannaM@X cell, REAL2010, colleagues, family members and random friends. I must have had at least 25 people praying with and for me. God does His math properly – one for every lipoma.
  • Non-reaction to General Anesthetic – I’ve had neither allergic nor nauseating reactions to GA. Seems like everyone whom I’ve spoken to (who has undergone GA) either puked or felt really giddy. My doctor said I may also get sore throats and coughs. But praise God – I’ve had zero reactions. (By the way, I managed to stay awake for all of four seconds.)
  • Mummy’s unfailing storge (natural love and affection from parents) – 10th March marks her birthday and yet she spent the entire day making sure I was all right. The closest agape an unmarried man would experience would undoubtedly be from his mother. I could never be more thankful for the last 27 years of care-giving, self-sacrificing and out-loving from this remarkable woman.

I’m also especially thankful for HY. Three years ago, immediately after I left the SAF, I went for a minor operation to remove three lipomas on both arms. HY was there with me; back then, I was still courting her. Three years on, HY was also there with me, this time as my girlfriend and what a difference three years have made:

  • The comfort and assurance I felt when I was pushed back to my ward to recover, and to find a familiar face of love who had been waiting there for the last two hours. That is something I should never take for granted because she doesn’t owe it to me; she didn’t need to do it, she wanted to.
  • HY had a fear and natural dislike for hospitals and yet she overcame that to care for me. Of course there were boo-boo moments (for us to know, for others never to find out), but it made it all the more memorable.
  • She demonstrated patience for my impatience and a cool head for my hot head. This last statement actually does sum up how HY makes me a holier person by allowing me to overcome my weaknesses by learning from her strengths.
  • HY came to my place today to also celebrate Mummy’s birthday. She bought and brought along with her my recovery pack – two boxes of Post cereal and Magnolia milk for my breakfasts over the next week, Bee Cheng Hiang pork floss for my congee lunches and (my two favourite snacks of) Famous Amos cookies and Jollybean peanut pancakes in case I go hungry at night. It doesn’t get more thoughtful than that! HY never fails to demonstrate to me that love is indeed a verb.
  • Her presence during my absence from work this week have made and will continue to make a world of difference. She was there on Tuesday, Wednesday and she has offered to accompany me for Thursday. Every Naruto needs a Sakura in their lives for speedy healing, uh? (:

All right, I’ll be missing in action until next Monday (when I visit my doctor for the follow-up medical appointment). I doubt I’ll be mobile enough to make it to church services this weekend. I’m gonna try to work on the Newbies sermon series during this period of absence but I highly doubt my productivity. There’s little packing that I can do at home due to the awkwardness in moving around too. So… I think I’ll just be reading, playing FM (hehe), watching free movies on MioTV and couch-potato-ing a lot during the next few days. I welcome company.

There’s so much to praise God and to give Him glory for. He is good, in control and will bring it to pass. I serve a God who heals and a God who provides. And so I continue to covet your prayers. Please pray that:

  1. The root of the disease has been removed;
  2. There won’t be a recurrence – new lumps won’t grow, old lumps won’t return;
  3. Insurance will cover the bulk of the surgery cost – it wasn’t a cheap operation by any measure, and as it stands, I’m footing the entire bill;
  4. My body will heal well;
  5. Scars will be minimal;
  6. Wounds won’t be painful when I move around, sit or sleep, and
  7. There will be no infections or complications

And now I shall head off to watch Man Utd beat the living daylights out of AC Milan. (It’s 1-0 now but I may come back to edit this last sentence depending on the final score 90 minutes later…) [Edit: I’m a prophet. The final score: Man Utd 4 AC Milan 0.]

the men who mentor me.

I know, I know, this blog seems to have gone through another parched period. And I hope, that by 1st March, I’ll be able to write regularly. Do bear with me as I am about to resume normalcy in my life. As I’ve said it many times before, there are so many thoughts in my head, it’d be an accomplishment if I’m able to capture and expand on one thought per day.

The virtual silence is by no means a representation of the frenzy that I have experienced in my schedule over the last two months. It’s been crazy, but I like crazy. It’s been intense, but I thrive on intensity. I just returned from an 8-day trip to Sri Lanka (point proven, I didn’t even get a chance to post prayer requests!) and I’m in the midst of preparing for the REAL graduation ceremony this Sunday. On that note, it’s going to be a bittersweet afternoon.

Nonetheless I shall break the reticence by being thankful for the mighty men in my life. I’ve had countless mentors over the past decade and their presence in my life does compensate (to an extent) the lack of a fatherly figure. These men have sharpened and shaped my character and they play a part in who I have become today. Currently, I’m privileged and honoured to be mentored by the following mighty men:

  • On pastoring and relationships, I have RY.
  • On family and finances, I have PL.
  • On leadership, I have PC.
  • And the latest addition… Yes, it’s official today (!!!), on mentoring and preaching, I have BH.

So yes, I am blessed and really thankful for the road I’ve travelled with them but I’m more excited about the road that we’re about to travel. I cannot wait to pick their minds and learn from their journeys of faith and experiences. May I imitate their interpretation of who Jesus is to them and may I continue to remain teachable and open to their words of Godly wisdom and advice for me.

I guess this only bodes well for the younger men and women that I am mentoring. It’s gonna be a great ride!

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