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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?

how do you spot potential?

All right, it’s time for me to make a comeback on WordPress! I’ve struggled to recover my writing momentum after a five-day hiatus and being away in Cameron Highlands over the last few days didn’t help my cause. (It was a great break though!) Nonetheless, I shall give myself an easier head-start with a shorter entry tonight to break the silence.

Since PIERCE ended, I’ve had youths indicating their interests to be emcees, cell mentors, ushers and basically to serve in R-AGE. Of course, this delights me (and my shepherds) to no end! More significantly, this morning, I’ve had the privilege of welcoming the latest member to my beloved GII leadership family – NC! She shared with me her journey with God enroute to the DoYouLoveMe cell group and I just sat there at Ya Kun, and acknowledged the good work that the Lord is doing in her life. Her addition to the GII Shepherds means that “Plug & Play” will now be a monthly feature in the R-AGE @ GII services. (And everyone says “HURRAY!”) I can’t wait for the first installment in July!

I’d also like to record my answer to her question – “How do you spot potential in a young person?” I thought about it for a short moment and this was my response to her.

First and foremost, before you even identify any potential, you must get to know who the person is and this takes time and effort. The young people in this day and age are generally less likely to initiate approaching you, hence it’s important that you take the first step to be acquainted with them. Without any prior (or basic) knowledge of their background, personality and unique talents, you’d never get an idea of who they can become and how they can contribute to God’s kingdom.

Once that is established, it’s really about observing them. Again, this takes time and effort and most people write youths off very quickly, before they get a chance to express what they’re capable of and show you a glimpse of who they can become. I always believe that if you stick around long enough and are regular enough, young people will open up to you by the sheer virtue that you are ever-present; I’d like to believe that it’s never about charisma, but about consistency. No excuses for the introverted phlegmatic.

Now, I think I have an almost “blind” belief in young people because I trust God. I know He’s in charge of the process and I believe that He is in control of the outcome. Everyone is different and every person will become a unique jigsaw in the masterpiece of God; while some may have more significant roles and are more active than others, there is no one who is more or less important than the other – that’s my conviction, at least. So I tell myself that all I can do as a leader in authority, is to sponsor opportunities for young people to reach their potential, just like how my mentors have done so for me. I’m not afraid of making mistakes – even errors in judgment – and I think this helps the youths under me to feel that the pressure is off them. I always tell my youths that the only thing I expect them to do is to make mistakes – because I did and screwing up did me a world of wonders. Of course, I’ll try to prevent it, but I do not strive to stop it from happening. Some walls are meant to be crashed into; I always believe that God uses every single experience for His glory.

Often, I ask God to give me a vision of the “developed state” of the young person or leader that I am journeying with. I take a step of faith to believe that whatever I envision, I will play a part in helping that young person to realise his or her potential. The sense of satisfaction I enjoy when I see a youths soar in their capacities and capabilities is beyond what money can buy and what the world can offer. In an almost divine manner, God has been faithful to me – for most of the youth leaders and youths that I’ve worked with, they do eventually turn out to be what I’ve envisioned them to be. I thank God for giving me a “radical audacity” to dream and to see beyond what others can see – sometimes I even have the privilege of seeing beyond what the young person I’m journeying with can see. Don’t get me wrong – I’m far from being a soothsayer – I just try to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit and act upon what is prompted in my heart.

Of course, there are some youths who didn’t quite develop the way that I had hoped that they would. Did I despair? I used to. But the older I get, the more I learn to trust God, because I know His plans for that young person are far greater than mine. God’s detours are better than Man’s direction. I’m reminded time and again that God is God, and I’m just a privileged mentor. I’m a risk-taker though, and I love to see young people lead young people. To an extent, I find myself in the process of lowering the average age of leaders in R-AGE and somehow, that gives me an immense sense of gratification – more than half of my key leaders are barely 21 years old!

After I finished my breakfast appointment with NC, I had lunch with SY and I remember telling him how he carries the potential to be one of the pillars of the cell mentors corps. He shared with me his keenness to take on the role of a service emcee (which thrilled me greatly!) and I told him that I can’t wait to retire from being an emcee because it’s such a powerful sight for him (and his peers) to take ownership of the ministry.

As if it’s not obvious enough already, R-AGE @ GII is on the threshold of revival. I feel it!

when you have less tomorrows than yesterdays.

In the last couple of weeks, I went to the hospital twice; one was to visit the grandfather of a youth leader, and the other was to visit my paternal grandmother, who had a bad fall a few weeks ago and needed to be warded. She is my only remaining grandmother.

We used to be a lot closer when I stayed with her through my primary school days. However, our recent conversations barely scratch the surface. I remember praying for her in Chinese many years back (also at the hospital) and evangelising to her in Shanghai. She was physically weak and emotionally frail then and was surprisingly receptive to the Gospel. But right now, she’s in better health and I think she may have closed the doors again. I just returned home from visiting her with HY and I felt so distant from her.

This got me thinking about the things that go through an old person’s mind. After all, one thing about growing old is that you have all the time in the world to think about all the things you have done in your life, as well as the things that you will never get to do. There are memories that you’d inevitably revisit for the umpteenth time and with it comes the repeated lashing of hurts and pains; each time my grandmother recalls my grandfather, tears well up in her eyes. Honestly, there are times I wonder if she misses him as a husband or misses him as a father for a family that has fallen apart. I’ve experienced for myself firsthand the impact of an absent father; my grandfather’s passing in 1991 seemed to be the turning point of my extended family’s journey into dismay. But I digress.

I reckon that the typical aged person tends to remember the sadder moments about his life instead of the happier ones – I hope that’s not too quick an assumption, but why is that so? Why does he become gradually pessimistic as he ages? I certainly do not wish to age that way. I want to live my life in such a way that I will not look back in regret but to look back and feel great about all the things I’ve done and all the people I’ve impacted.

That night at the hospital, I saw sadness in my grandmother’s eyes. This is a morbid statement but I believe she knows that her time is limited and the day to bid this world goodbye is approaching. I couldn’t help but to think that she was thought about the things she wished she could have done better, the people she wished she could have treated better, and the words she wished she didn’t say. I saw remorse – but I may be wrong.

Please do not misunderstand me – I think highly of my grandmother and I need not prove her credentials through words. It’s just that watching her count her days made me ponder about how I’d be counting mine eventually. Is aging scarier than death itself? Sometimes I can’t help but think so, as I watch the old folks around me get older. And for geriatrics who have little activity to pass time with, they seem to spend the entire day staring into space – maybe they’re wondering if that’s how they are going to spend the remainder of their life. How would I deal with such a devastating thought?

I think it’s miserable and I think there’s so much more to life, even at an old age. I remember this quote (apparently a traditional Indian saying) about living and dying which I quite appreciated when I was growing up.

“When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life in such a way that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice.”

I’m pretty confident that, as with any death, the world would cry if I were to pass away at this instance, but the question that lingers is, would I rejoice? I guess I’ll have the rest of my life to figure out the answer. I don’t want to meet God in heaven and have Him put His arm around me and tell me, “You know, Joe, what I actually wanted you to do in this life was…” That would be an epic sadness which I’d want to avoid with my whole life.

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…

a personal appeal to adults on behalf of young people.

Previously, I wrote an article on the dangers of meritocracy – especially in the Singaporean upbringing and way of life. While we are all aware that we live in a society where our best is unfairly and unnecessarily juxtaposed against someone else’s good, we need to realise that there will come a point where we’ll just have to say “No” to the sickening and extremely poisonous repercussions of comparisons. I mean, seriously, if a young person is already giving his or her best, what else do you expect? One day, you will either drive him up the wall or out of the house. Is that it?

To combat low self-esteem and the unhealthy habits of pegging ourselves against others, I’d recommend that we employ the power of encouragement in our daily ins and outs. Indeed, a pat on the back pushes out the chest! I’ve said it time and again, that encouragement is to put in courage, where there is none. Never underestimate and neglect the necessity of encouragement – you can really empower someone with simple words of affirmation – eloquence is not required.

I believe that young people, when they come to a certain age, are actually smart and self-aware enough to make their own decisions and be responsible for it. Like it or not, one day we will have to stop treating them like they are still children. This is for their own good as well as for ours. The least (and most) that we ought to do as adults is to give them the benefit of doubt because I believe that youths do know their personal limits and they are doing. Yes, as mature adults, we probably would have experienced more than they have; and so our job is to warn them of the consequences of their decisions and to encourage them to be responsible for it. Look, we must know that we cannot protect them for life and shield them away from making big decisions. This is harsh, but we’ll be crippling them, really. Nothing is more powerful than telling a young person that you believe in him or her and actually following up your words with actions.

(On a side note, it is unfortunate that Singaporean guys pick up negative habits like acting ignorant, avoiding responsibilities and not taking ownership of themselves during their national service days. If a guy decides to adopt that attitude while in uniform, he wouldn’t just throw away two years but may actually cause more damage to himself as he unlearns the good habits honed during his teenage years prior enlistment. No wonder the girls are so outstanding nowadays. I genuinely hope that our boys would stand up and be counted like real men. But I digress…)

We should give our youths the opportunity to learn from their own decisions – both good and bad ones; when they knock into walls, they will be convinced of their folly and will make their own comebacks. Trust me on this – they will regret their decisions more than we ever think they will. I remember saying this before, that while we cannot stop someone from falling, we certainly can stop them from crashing.

I’m unapologetic for my repetition, but all we really should do as older individuals, is to believe in and encourage the younger ones. Already our society is telling them what they cannot do instead of what they can do – what an oppressing environment to dwell and develop in! Don’t add on to their existing pressure! Don’t do to them what everyone else is doing to them. If we love them, then we ought to tell them that they can and will make it, not how they cannot and would never get there – what good do these damaging words do, really? We need to learn to trust that they can make decisions and take ownership of their choices; there is greater value there than curtailing their liberty.

I’m not being a renegade or encouraging any young person to rebel – I’m merely sharing my honest opinion of why I think that our young people are more stifled these days than they ever are. We ought to help them to become complete and mature individuals, not hack them into pieces with our destructive words. Don’t be surprised at how outstanding our young people can become. I think they only need two ingredients – 1) time, and 2) someone to believe in them. Would we dispense these freely?

So from the bottom of my heart – hear me, please – let our young people live their lives, not relive yours. Let them chart their paths, not walk yours. Let’s guide them, not dictate them. The best form of encouragement is when it’s loud and repeated. May your face appear in their heads whenever they think about someone who believes in them and may your voice resonate in their hearts as the one who says, “I believe in you”. That, beyond a shadow of a doubt, is the greatest gift you’d ever give to them.

a decade of lessons learnt.

A few weeks ago, MF approached me to send her some lessons learnt while I was growing up. It wasn’t difficult coming up with content and I could write a lot more but here are 10 lessons that rolled off the top of my head. Seven of them were published in the R-AGE bulletin, so I’ll add three more here.

  1. You will make mistakes. Just don’t make the same ones.
  2. You will only get busier and busier, so start the habit of serving God as early as possible.
  3. School friends are friends for a season. Church friends are friends for life.
  4. Accountability doesn’t imprison you but sets you free.
  5. Having someone believe in you is the greatest gift you’ll ever receive.
  6. Never underestimate the power of encouraging someone else.
  7. No amount of ministry can compensate for failure in the familly.
  8. The quantity of close friends decreases as you age, but the quality of friendship increases. Invest more time in less people.
  9. You cannot please everyone, so stop trying. There is nothing more assuring than God’s approval.
  10. The higher you rise in leadership, the more you need to be comfortable with being alone.

I guess I could go on and on with a plethora of thoughts, really. That’s precisely why I have decided to resume blogging – to capture one thought a day, everyday, from an otherwise overwhelming influx of ideas. It’d be an achievement if I could capture and expand on 365 thoughts annually. Let’s see how far this blog would take me on my cognitive journey.

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