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my journey to Jesus Christ – a personal testimony.

I’ve always been grateful to God for His grace that has seen me through my growing-up years. For me to be serving Him full-time as a youth minister is a long shot from what was actually intended for me by default of my family’s heritage. Many of you would have heard this before so please bear with me as I share my conversion story again. After all, telling of God’s redemptive plan never gets old.

Caution: this is a long read – prepare the tidbits. (P/S: I’ve already kept it brief!)

I am the firstborn of my generation in a traditional Taoist family. When my parents divorced in 1991, I stayed with my grandmother and my father (for he had the legals rights to my custody). Our flat was a make-shift temple (but some of the devotees probably saw a temple in a make-shift flat, if you know what I mean). I vividly remember the day I counted with my index finger, statue by statue, the number of idols we worshipped – over 130. Yes, it’s a staggeringly scary number. Every August, my family would organise a festival to the celebrate the birthday of the main deity of our temple. Throngs of people would be in attendance and I was always actively involved. There were more people who came to my house to offer incense, ask for protection, consult mediums (yes, possessions took place at my home regularly) than to visit my grandmother, who is the custodian of the temple. Being the eldest grandchild, I was supposed to take over the temple from my uncle, who played the role of a general manager, of sorts. I was exposed to a lot of the operations; I knew and could recognise all the deities by their dialect salutations, chanted during rituals, played the “worship” music (of drums and cymbals) and of course, mixed with tattoo-clad gangster three times my age. They said I had so much “spiritual potential” that I was made the godson of two prominent deities and I was the youngest “layman” to be involved in all the activities. I certainly enjoyed the attention and favour everyone bestowed to me and I reveled in it.

Despite being in a missionary institution (Anglo-Chinese School), I only heard about Jesus Christ when I was in Primary Four, at an external Scripture Union Primary Age camp that my science teacher invited me to go along with her. It was then that my discovery of Christianity begun. I remember talking to my grandmother about the camp and how I may want to follow this “Jesus”. Needless to say, I received a huge dressing-down. A year later, after a school excursion to Haw Par Villa, where we took a boat into the “18 Levels of Hell”, I became tremendously afraid of dying – more specially of ending up in hell. I remember the night that I couldn’t sleep because I was mentally disturbed by all the different punishments I saw in “Hell”; liars had their tongues cut off, murderers were cruelly decapitated and thieves were violently amputated – I was guilty of all these sins and I didn’t want to end up as a mere lump of flesh forever. In tears, I walked out to the living room and had a Papa-I-don’t-want-to-die-and-go-to-hell conversation with my father. Two years later, after the Primary Six Leaving Examination (PSLE), I attended a Christian Fellowship camp organised by my school. I have no recollection how I even signed up for it. Nonetheless, it was at that camp that I gave my life to Jesus. My motivation was simple – I didn’t want to go to hell and John 3:16 was the deciding factor for my conversion. I’m being honest here; I didn’t really embrace the idea of suffering something worse than death itself for all of eternity. The person who led me in the sinner’s prayer was Brother Alan Lim. Here’s the excerpt of what I remember about my conversion conversation:

Alan Lim“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”

Me: You mean, I just need to believe?

AL: Yes, it’s as simple as that.

Me: You mean, I won’t go to hell and be tortured after I die?

AL: You will have eternal life with Jesus.

Me: You mean, it’s free?

AL: Yes, it is free.

Me: Okay then, I want to be a Christian.

AL: All right, I will lead you in a “sinner’s prayer” but do you know that once you say this, there’s no turning back?

Me: Yes, I know.

AL: Good, let’s pray then. Repeat after me, “Dear Jesus…”

That was it – I didn’t want to go to hell and this “Jesus” person offered me a way out of it. It was free and I didn’t need to do anything except to confess with my mouth and believe in my heart. I mean, it’s a no-brainer deal! Who wouldn’t accept this offer? I certainly wanted this “eternal life” and as a simple-minded Primary Six boy, I was completely sold by this salvation idea. I had to keep this conversion a secret for a good four years before I finally decided to declare it to my grandmother. It was a Sunday and I remember telling it to her while we were together in a taxi (and I still remember that conversation taking place when the cab was travelling along Lower Delta Road, turning left into the slip road that connected to Tiong Bahru Road, towards Redhill MRT station). Strangely enough, I can’t remember how I started the conversation. But she was aware that I have missed the August festival for four years running now.

Me: Ah Ma,你知道我现在是信耶稣了,每个星期天都会去教堂的。(Grandma, do you know that I believe in Jesus now and attend church every Sunday?)

Grandma: 我当然知道啦,我不管你要信什么,你变乖就好。(Of course I know. But I don’t care what you believe in, so long as you become obedient.)

You see, when I stayed with Ah Ma for those four years in that four-room Jalan Besar flat, I was a terrible and horrible kid to look after. I have stolen from my own grandmother, the neighbourhood convenience store and even the departmental store in a shopping centre. Everyday, I hung out with hooligans until midnight, gambled, accompanied them to extort money, threatened people and participated in activities that terrorised the neighbourhood; many times my grandmother had to personally search for me at 11pm. I spewed vulgarities (in dialect) like it was second-nature to me. I’ve changed tutors 11 times in three years and I constantly escaped from tuition and even made a couple of (lady) tutors cry. I basically had no regard for authority. Mind you, I had “achieved” all these as a primary school kid; that’s right – I was on my way to becoming “yellow chinese trash”, as I would affectionately call myself. I had “boys’ home”, “juvenile delinquent” and “no future” written on my forehead. I wasn’t an unintelligent boy, but my ill-discipline nearly caused me to be thrown to EM3 (the weakest academic band) during the Primary Four Streaming Examinations.

My close shave with EM3 was the last straw for my mother. She acted quickly, just like how she “saved” my sister from this destructive environment a couple of years ago. She took this opportunity to gain complete custody of me, and my sister and I were reunited after being separated from one another for a few years. I moved to peaceful Ghim Moh from turbulent Jalan Besar; it has been the three of us ever since 1995. By God’s grace(!), I made it through the PSLE with 4 A’s and I remember doing it without any additional tuition (as my mother could not afford it). It was a miracle now that I think about it, no matter how I look at it. I am certain that God was massively involved in redeeming me and I am certain that there must have been people who were interceding for me. I was the first amongst my immediate family to be saved, then my sister (although she attended church before me), then my mother. Again, by God’s grace, the five eldest grandchildren of my paternal family are all Christians now and they serve God actively in their respective churches. I was no longer that repulsive primary school boy that my grandmother used to look after and my significant turnaround was certainly obvious to her. No wonder she said it doesn’t matter what or who I believed in, so long as I became obedient.

(Okay, that sharing was a little longer than I had imagined… And I’ve really enjoyed writing all that… But) I shall come to my main point now.

A lot of people have told me, “Wow, Joey, you have such a good testimony! My testimony is so boring…”

But I beg to differ, for I merely have a dramatic testimony.

To me, a good testimony is this:

“I am obedient to my parents; I study hard in school; I attend church with my family every Sunday; I go for cell group every week; I am well-behaved and even-tempered; I read the Bible and memorise the Word of God; I spend time with God daily; I treat everyone with respect; I love my brothers and sisters-in-Christ; I pray for my friends and constantly encourage them; I serve God actively in church; I take care of those who are in need; I heed the advice of my pastors, mentors and leaders; I am faithful, available and teachable; I love God, love His Word and His people.”

I don’t know about you, but I think that a person who has that kind of story to tell is a remarkable individual for that life demonstrates years of obedience and courage to be different from everyone else; I opine that you don’t need to fall away from grace to experience God’s grace. Everyone has a story to tell and it is the element of a changed life by a great God that makes the testimony powerful and effective.

I may have a captivating story to tell of God’s grace, redemption and goodness in my life, and God has certainly used it to glorify Himself in the last 15 years. But that’s just me! For every one drug addict or ex-convict who turns his life to Jesus, there will be nine others who fall to the wayside. In Revelation 12:11, we know that we will overcome the evil one by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony; the Word of God doesn’t indicate that this testimony needs to be dramatic or good – but that we simply do our part to testify, which means that we ought to tell others about what God has done in our lives. Never, ever, underestimate your testimony simply because it’s a simple one.

The key here isn’t to compare your story with mine but to tell you my story, and for you to tell me yours, so that at the end of the day, God gets all the glory. May I urge you to always testify no matter where you are, who you’re with, or what you do, for you never know how God will use your testimony to display His awesome glory and amazing redemption. Let’s save some, by all means possible!

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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!

the stream versus the rock – who wins?

I just returned home from a very late night chat, which I thoroughly enjoyed, with XY, because I was able to share from the bottom of my heart, and to let him see for himself the fire in my eyes with regards to my future. I also felt privileged as he shared a part of his life I’d never thought I’d hear. It was an open, honest, vulnerable and hugely satisfying conversation. I’m thank God for sending a brother like him into my life. It’s quite amazing how God connects in seamless tandem two individuals with vastly different upbringings, ideals, religious beliefs, values, dreams and decision-making models – not to mention our love-hate interest for each other’s football team (though that was not mentioned tonight). I even shared a little of my faith with him, why I love God (and how that is everything to me), and how I earnestly pray for his salvation. One day, he will know God.

As such, I’m unable to write a comprehensive article tonight. I don’t even know how to title this post. I do, however, would like to share two thoughts that have been tossing in my head the entire day. One stems from a quote and the other is how I approach my relationship with HY and why I think our love for each other is burning so strongly.

“In the confrontation between the stream and the rock, the stream always wins – not through strength but by perseverance.” – H. Jackson Brown

And the other is simply how the Holy Spirit reminded me that the only way to love HY unconditionally and more everyday, is to love God even more and as my first priority. Humanly, it’d be impossibly to do so – both ways.

ever-ready, everybody; anytime, anywhere.

After youth service today, I found myself presented with the opportunity to share the Gospel with two pre-believers, in the presence of two other R-AGE youths who are believers. It wasn’t these guests’ first time in our service, so I was a little surprised that no one has taken the effort to formally share the Gospel with them. I enjoyed the 45-minute conversation with these youths because it has been a while since I presented the Gospel in such an informal manner; it was refreshing to remind myself of my own salvation.

As I shared, the Spirit started to bring back to memory on exactly how to do it in a systematic manner. The sequence, scriptures, truths and probing questions all arrived at the right time. I was a little rusty but I thought I managed to deliver the message clearly while interweaving my own testimony into it as well as involving the two christian youths to share as well as inviting the pre-believers to ask questions. Interestingly enough, on my way home after sending HY back, JP’s sermon on Romans 1:16 was the first track on my shuffled playlist.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

In the very short message, JP compared the shame of the 60’s against the shame of the 90’s. In the 60’s, a believer would be ridiculed for believing the Gospel to be the truth. In the 90’s, a believer would be ridiculed for believing that there’s even a truth. Isn’t that postmodernism in a nutshell? I realised that youths today are a lot less receptive to the truth (regardless of whether it’s biblical truth or moral truth), and would much prefer to define it for themselves, according to their terms and what works best for them. No wonder we have more and more free-thinkers and pseudo-intellectuals thinking that they know everything. (I don’t even dare to say I know anything, hence my personal pursuit of knowledge and prayer for wisdom.)

I’d like to think that believers these days, as many are second-generation Christians, are becoming slack in their knowledge of the Word, hence they are unable to put up a defense for their own faith. I’m not talking about big-time apologetics; I’m talking about the simple justification of why they are even a Christian to begin with. Faith is never a hand-me-down commodity. It has been well-documented and preached by many pastors that “God has no grandchildren”. I firmly opine that one must own and be responsible for their own faith!

Faith is becoming a poisonous element to skeptics. It is precisely due to the subject of faith, their lack of and non-subscription to it which prompted their skepticism. No wonder the Word declared it clearly in Hebrews 11:6, as if it preempted postmodernism, that, “Without faith it is impossible to please [God], for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.” I’d like to think that one reward of having faith in God is that we have the peace of God that reigns in our hearts forever, in the face of skepticism and postmodernism, rendering our faith to be unshakeable (by God’s grace).

In future posts perhaps, I’ll share my other thoughts on my faith issues. But for now, I’d like to exhort all serious Christians (who naturally should be compelled to be passionate about evangelism) to be prepared to present the Gospel and their testimonies at any given time, for any given occasion, simply by ensuring that they have:

  • Memorised the necessary scriptures for sharing (John 3:16, Romans 3:23, Romans 6:23, Romans 5:8, Romans 10:9 etc.)
  • Practised the chronological sequence of themes (Creation, Judgment, Sin, Redemption etc.)
  • Written and rehearsed their own testimonies of how they came to know the Lord or how the Lord has been real to them
  • Familiarised themselves with frequency asked questions about the Christian faith

May I also encourage you to engage the Holy Spirit and rely on Him to direct the session and to do the convicting; this is crucial because we must remember that our duty is evanglism, not salvation – we leave that to Jesus. In closing, note that these above four factors are in past tense. I firmly believe that we must be in state of readiness, not preparation. Perhaps it’s time to have remedial sessions for Gospel-sharing.

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