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sermon recap: time for spiritual puberty!

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First and foremost, I think it was amazing that R-AGE spammed Facebook over the weekend with testimonies of how God impacted our lives. I shared about purchasing Skyville with HY. Click here for the Facebook note and here for the original testimony. This activity was part of the Evangelism Pillar that RL, KY and I produced. It’s a simple idea that turned out to be brilliant beyond our imagination; we designed a lesson to help our youths share how God changed their lives and to tag at least five Christians and five non-Christians, then invite them to R-AGE services this weekend. It went better than we had expected and I’d like to believe that it’s an activity worth repeating a few times every year.

I can’t wait for Saturday! The first PLUG & PLAY (!) since PIERCE will take place at 2:50pm bring your friends this Saturday and be early! With PUSH at 2pm, service at 3pm, Be Our Guest at 4:45pm and cell at 5pm, July looks set to close on a high! RY will also be preaching the third installment of the LIVE LOUD series. We’re doing a verse-by-verse study on the book of James and I had the privilege to open the series with the overview. CX preached last weekend and I’ll be preaching again next weekend. I know this sermon recap is two weeks late but better late than never!

  • James is a what-you-see-is-what-you-get and an in-your-face book that teach us not just to live normally, but to live it out loud for everyone to see. The author is straightforward, direct, practical and honest. He was writing to young Christians who were scattered and were facing trials.
  • These five chapters are like a synopsis of the issues that the church faced then, and even now; the things that caused disharmony in the fellowship. The one root problem in these issues? Spiritual immaturity. James exhorted his readers to mature spiritually.
  • People, unlike the all-knowing God who can see through your heart and know instantly if there is faith in there or not, cannot see the contents of our heart; the world knows the faith in our hearts by examining the works of our hands.
  • BH phrased it perfect: “We are not saved by works but we are saved to work… …Faith is the root of salvation but works are the fruits of salvation.” Works are indeed the consequences of salvation. “People will work because of their salvation for work comes forth from faith.” (Woohoo! I can’t wait to meet BH for our mentoring session on Wednesday morning!)
  • Maturity is not 1) how old you are, 2) how much you know, or 3) how much you have done, but to be “brought to its end; a finished state; at completion; perfect human integrity and virtue; and a full grown adult of full age”. It is a process that doesn’t stop until we meet Jesus Christ.
  • He offers us eight distinguishing marks of maturity. A maturing person:
    1. Is positive in the midst of problems (James 1:2)
    2. Keeps his or her desires under control (1:4)
    3. Is accepting of others (2:8-9)
    4. Has consistent beliefs and actions (2:17)
    5. Is careful with his or her words (3:2)
    6. Strives to be wise (3:17-18)
    7. Has a humble attitude (4:10)
    8. Is connected (5:16)
  • We have to love God and others actively (NT) and passively (OT). It’s extremely easy to fall short of God’s holy standard so it is only by God’s grace that we can make the cut. I always believe that the way we treat the least and the weakest of us show us how strong we truly are as a ministry.
  • The mark of a true Christian isn’t in a perfect lifestyle, but a lifestyle that is being perfected. Your friends will recognise the effort that you make to change. If you keep doing what’s right, no one can tell you that you’re wrong. Consistency is proved and achieved over a long period of time and reputations are built on consistency.
  • When there’s a breakthrough with our words, there will be a breakthrough with our lives. I issued the official R-AGE language challenge: to once and for all get rid of crude words on top of all known vulgar words – from real-life conversations, Facebook, Twitter, blogs and MSN. Let people notice the difference by noticing the absence.
  • People may admire a person if he or she has a righteous, faultless and sin-free life but people will respect a person who desires to change. Wisdom is necessary for maturity because it will govern the way you speak and behave; so always strive for wisdom.
  • I introduced IBM (In-Between-Meetings): I encouraged everyone to have at least one IBM in the week. Initiate and organise meet-ups beyond the weekends – be it to study, pray, eat, or even play together. Don’t give up meeting one another. A united youth group goes beyond meeting once a week!
  • I challenged all leaders: Having a mature individual around brings about steadiness to a group. Love it or hate it, leaders are being watched and mimicked. Hence, we should lead by example by setting and being the example for the younger ones who look up to us.
  • Everyone grows up at a different rate and time, and the maturation point is what we strive for – being completely mature. God alone will bring us to that point. The key to unlocking maturity has nothing to do with us, but with God, so boldly ask Him for wisdom today.
  • Selfishness and self-centredness is the greatest obstacle to maturity for it is instinctive to think about ourselves first. When we can’t look beyond ourselves, we can never look toward the needs of others. It does take effort to consider the needs of others’ better than our own.
  • A maturing church is a growing church. Just like physical puberty, when you spiritual puberty you will experience all kinds of spiritual growth – gradual, sudden and new growth. When we emerge out of our comfort zone to mature spiritually, we will grow as a church.

I look forward to preaching again next weekend!

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(my) desired qualities of leadership.

I don’t read many leadership books because I don’t really believe that leadership can be taught through text. I believe that leadership is a skill best taught through real-life experiences and best learnt through real-life examples.

As I watched the latest (leaked) episode of Naruto Shippuden 169, I couldn’t help but to be drawn to Naruto’s hidden and often-understated leadership and charisma. It may just be anime but it has taught me so much about life and in this case, leadership. (Actually, I wrote an article on the top ten reasons to watch Naruto before.) Naruto has a magnetic personality and he has qualities that just naturally endears you to him – he may be reckless but he’s so charmingly reckless you can’t help but to join him in his recklessness. I think Shikamaru got it right when he said, “That guy, has something no one else does… …When I’m with Naruto, ‘I want to walk alongside him’, is what I think”. I desire to have leadership qualities like that!

And so it got me thinking about the kind of leader I aspire to be as well as who and what I’m inspired by. I see some of these qualities in the leaders, mentors and role models that I look up to. In my primitive perspective, an outstanding leader should have or be:

  1. A forward-thinking visionary.
  2. Depth in character and understanding of self.
  3. Knowledge and expertise (a.k.a. IQ).
  4. Charisma and people skills (a.k.a. EQ).
  5. Determination and fighting spirit.
  6. Courage and a willingness to take risks and try new things.
  7. Wisdom, patience and maturity.
  8. Authentic and unafraid to exhibit flaws and shortcomings.
  9. An unquenchable desire to learn from mistakes, improve and improvise.
  10. Humility to acknowledge defeat and apologise whenever necessary.
  11. Confidence and an acute awareness of his strengths and weaknesses.
  12. Situational awareness and appreciation.
  13. A keen sense of strategy and shrewdness.
  14. Excellence and thoroughness.
  15. Commitment to follow-through with the plan and vision.
  16. Versatility and an all-rounded capability.
  17. Sensitivity and compassion to reach out to the underdogs.
  18. Spirit-controlled and a master of his temperaments.
  19. Consistency and a reputation that has been proven over time.
  20. Always one step away from fulfilling his glass-ceiling potential.

But most of all, I think, a leader must have followers. Otherwise, it is absolutely useless to possess all the above-mentioned qualities if you have no one to lead! If people aren’t willing and wanting to “walk alongside you”, then as a leader, you will simply be rendered ineffective and redundant. I think that’s the harsh but honest truth.

Frankly, it didn’t take me very long to list these 20 qualities and I could easily (and seriously) go for another 20 more (and I’m sure you could too), since I’ve merely shared my opinion of an ideal leader. However, the more I think about it, the more I think that Jesus is our perfect role model of a leader – I can’t think of a better example who has all these qualities and one whom I’d want to emulate than my Saviour.

I think I will expand on each of these qualities another time. For now, I just wanted to extract these thoughts out of my head. I need a good physical rest tonight!

what determines the strength of our weaknesses?

In any social group – be it a cell group in church, amongst classmates, amidst extended relatives or in the company of colleagues – there always seems to be one person who is visibly weaker or slower than, or simply different from the rest. And we all know that this person’s anomaly causes him or her to stick out like a sore thumb.

I’d like to think that we’ve seen and experienced them all; we have met those who are mentally disabled, autistic, those with disorders like OCD (obsessive compulsive disorders) or ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), those with poor EQ (emotional quotient) or relational skills, those that incredibly rude and intolerably inconsiderate, and finally the everyday individuals who are excessively sensitive, irritating, bossy or opinion-less, and the likes, who already struggle to fit in because they’re just different from the norm; they can’t (or struggle) to fit into the social group. As a result, when people don’t know how to deal with them, they simply shun them; those who are worse than scum scorn them. Shame on these insensitive individuals.

I was such a person.

This happened when I was in Primary school, before the saving power of Jesus Christ changed my life. There was a mentally handicapped boy in EM3 who was ostracised by everyone because he constantly went around to ask fellow students, in the strangest and most pathetic manner, “Do you want to be my friend?” As with (almost) every 11-year-old, I gave him that look of disdain and I walked away in disgust. I will never forget how low I stooped to that day and I carry that disappointment to this day.

I believe that the way we treat the least of us determines how strong we are. Already, these weaker individuals are eschewed by the world – I don’t expect many people to stop in their tracks to specially tend to or take care of them; no, most won’t even patronise them. They simply turn away in apathy – and I reckon it doesn’t even bothers them in the least bit. Our hearts have turned cold to those who are unlike us.

Like it or not, Christians, these people do exist in the church and more often than not they might just be sitting in the midst of us. How do we treat them? How do we respond to them? How do we extend love and grace to them? Sadly enough, more than half of us treat them in the same manner as the world treats them. No, unfortunately, these individuals are unable to find their city of refuge in church. Yes, we ought to be ashamed of ourselves. Aren’t we supposed to be the place that accepts everyone, regardless of who they are? It’s as if having to cope with a condition isn’t hard enough on the individual – we have to worsen it. It’s easy to love those who are lovely, isn’t it? But what about those who are unlovable? We ought to take a good hard look at ourselves in how we embrace people. My heart is so heavy even as I pen down these thoughts.

I’ll make it a little more relevant to us Christians, since I assume that most of you who read my blog are of the Christian faith. I’d say it again, the way we treat the least of us determines how strong we truly are. It’s like I’m rephrasing an old adage – that you are only as strong as (how you treat) your weakest link. If I want to see how loving a cell group is, I will examine how everyone treats the slowest, weakest and most unlovable member. So I find myself telling myself that whenever I deal with a needy person, the reputation of my church (and that of Jesus Christ) is at stake. I don’t know if this is the best motivation but I’m being honest. I feel pressured to do well, not for myself, but for the faith and organisation that I represent. I had better do well, so help me God.

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!

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