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death is a full-stop.

How do you know what will happen tomorrow? For your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.

James 4:14 (New Living Translation)

All of us share one thing in common – we are going to die one day. Love it or hate it, it will come true. Every complete sentence contains a full-stop. Death truly is the ultimate statistic for one out of one dies. Incidentally, just over these couple of days, Singapore witnessed the sudden and completely unexpected passing of a 19-year-old Darren Ng at Downtown East. It saddens me greatly that such a tragedy has taken place and more so because the boy is so young and it was over such a trivial matter! Sigh… But it also reminds us all that the only sure thing about life is death.

James addressed these businessmen because they spoke with such certainty and presumptuousness. His reply in verse 14 is straightforward, honest and in-your-face – “You don’t even know what will happen tomorrow”. We have a tendency to believe that we are in control of our lives, but to that, James retorted, “Your life is almost like smoke – now you see it, now you don’t!”

Morning mist is never seen in the afternoon; we’re here now but we can be gone tomorrow. However, sometimes we live like we’re going to be here forever but the fact remains – we’re not. Are you living to die or dying to live? I believe that once you learn how to die, you learn how to live. Let’s live our lives knowing that death is sure to come but that we have no idea when it’s going to arrive.

It’s common to hear (young) people saying that they will serve God when they enter a freer period of their lives. Let’s face it – there will never be a season of life where you will be less busy than you are now. (Besides, you can’t even guarantee that you’ll enter that period.) After secondary school, you have tertiary education; and after that, you’ve got to build your career; then you have a family to start and raise… There’s no end to it. Are you going to wait until you’re dead before you serve God? If you want to do something for Jesus, whether it is in church or not, do it now. Don’t be presumptuous and think that you have tomorrow to serve God because tomorrow may never come!

I was only afraid of death once in my entire life. And that was when I learnt about the hell that was presented in Haw Par Villa; it was actually the catalyst for my conversion to Christianity from Taoism. However, I don’t think the biblical hell is actually like that – I think it’s worse. That excursion made me ponder about death and honestly, my initial motivation to be a Christian was simply to escape this place called hell. I heard John 3:16 and I wanted eternal life because I wanted a ticket out of hell. Nothing else mattered. It was only two years later that I started to be serious about my faith.

Whether you admit it or not, deep down inside you, you fear the idea of death. But I believer that it’s not death that we fear, but the judgment after death that we fear even more. Whether you’re a Christian or not, you instinctively know that you have to stand before a higher being (God) to account for your life.

Generally speaking, there are two kinds of judgment.

First, those who don’t know Jesus Christ will be cast out of the presence of God forever. They will go to a place devoid of God’s presence. And I think to be separated from God’s presence forever is a terrible, horrible and miserable thing. Every time I sin, I feel a temporal emptiness and I absolutely abhor it; I cannot imagine what life would be like if I didn’t have God’s presence. To me, an eternity like that is unimaginably painful.

But when you are faced with the fear of death, you must remember that Jesus Christ has won over death and through Him there is eternal life. Our Saviour has saved us from eternal death! It is my prayer that regardless of how far you have drifted away, you return to Jesus and fall in love with Him all over again.

The second judgment is for those who know Jesus; this is when you will meet God face to face and He will determine your heavenly reward based on what you have done for Christ. What would God say to you? Would He say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant!” or would He say something else?

You must remember that life is a question-mark and death is a full-stop. But I thank God that that’s not the end of it; this is where God’s grace enters the picture. He calls for us to constantly align ourselves to Him. In fact, that’s what James has resolved to tell us in the next three verses.

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reflecting the future.

I’ll say this very loosely and irresponsibly; I am convinced that our behaviour today should give us an indication of our behaviour in the future. Of course, we all desire and hope that we will mature and grow beyond our weaknesses, and perhaps with wisdom and more experience we’ll see improvements.

My mentor PL once told me, after witnessing for himself my poor reaction to a family situation around five years ago:

“Joey, remember that whatever you are capable of doing to your family now, you will likely do it to your family in the future.”

That completely snapped me into place. And I’ve held those golden words dear to my heart ever since.

I’ve always seen myself as a family person; as my colleague and buddy in Shanghai SS would put it, “Joey is 26 (then) going 40”. He found it astonishing that a bachelor in the prime of his career in the wine industry, would have little or no affinity for partying, drinking, gambling, smoking or womanising (the vices, basically). Instead, he was (pleasantly) surprised (I hope!) that I found enjoyment in chilling out over coffee or hanging out at a friend’s place, engaging in a meaningful conversation and a hearty laugh. There’s a part of me that simply can’t wait to hang out with my own family nucleus in the future – playing with my kids, dancing with my wife and loitering in my house.

When RY came over to my place today, he said the same thing, “Joey, I notice you seem to… How do I put it… Have a thing about building a family, wherever you’re at”. I thought about it for a split minute and realised that his observation hit the nail on its head. I enjoyed building a family unit when I was with the Archer Company Tank Platoon, Wine Mall Marketing Team, Precious Thirds, TeamR-AGE and now, a work-in-progress, DoYouLoveMe. I’d like to think that this is a positive quality and it has to be God who ingrained it in me because I do not have an example in my own single-parent family unit to model after.

I know I have digressed, so here’s what I really wanted to say:

  • If you currently demonstrate a hot streak of temper at home and are constantly fuming and throwing your tantrum whenever you get mildly pissed off, then it is likely you’d do it to your own wife and children in the future.
  • If you currently enter a recluse whenever there’s a conflict between your loved ones and stubbornly refuse to communicate with anyone by shutting yourself off, then it is likely that you’d do that with your spouse in the future.
  • If you currently like to run away when things don’t go your way and escape from confrontations and avoid dealing with pressing moral, ethical, values or principles-related issues, then it is likely you’d abscond too from your family in the future.
  • If you currently show an irate face whenever you’ve had a bad day and behave in an antisocial manner that prevents people from approaching you, then it is likely you will exhibit this behaviour to your kids in the future.

The analogies given above are just a tip of the ice-berg. I am sure you are smart enough to know what I am talking about. This applies to any relationship, even outside of the family unit. So consider it carefully whenever you are about to do or say something that may jeopardise the harmony amongst your family (and friends). Remember that whatever that you do in the present has a chance of relapse in the future. Hence, build good and positive habits today if you want to establish a good and positive culture for tomorrow.

if you’re good enough, you’re old enough.

In football (or any sport), there is would be nothing more humbling and sobering than to have a 18-year-old take the place of a 28-year-old in the first 11. And it is because of this youth threat that teams like Manchester United, Barcelona and Arsenal would always be ahead of the pack in the longer run. Both teams do it differently – United and Barcelona are not afraid to blood their own youngsters by replacing senior players in the big games while Arsenal is simply a youth team with a couple of senior players.

That has to be the greatest vote of confidence that Sir Alex Ferguson, Josep Guardiola or Arsene Wenger could give to the younger ones. This “I believe in you” that the vastly experienced managers tell the vastly inexperienced kids give them the drive to succeed and the belief that they are actually good enough. This realisation probably sounds like this, “Wow, this world-class manager actually believes that I can go on and help team win. I cannot disappoint him!” And the introduction of youth forces the senior and more established players to sit up, roll up their socks, get their act together and start to pull their weight and measure their contribution to the team like multimillion-dollar paid players.

The introduction of youth brings a certain amount of vigour and reinvigoration to a team. I’m sure the older and slightly more jaded players get refreshed by the sheer enthusiasm and energy that these youths have for football. That is the reason why we enjoy watching the three teams that I’ve mentioned and we tend to switch off when we watch a team like Chelsea, which Sir Alex has famously said before, “A team over 30 doesn’t improve a lot”. AC Milan is the odd exception though, being a retiree’s home; while the departure of Kaka has made them a less attractive football spectacle, they still play some decent football; putting Ronaldinho, Beckham, Pato and Pirlo together still produces a fair amount of flair and good football.

When I examine Chelsea – a team with everyone on the wrong side of 30, I see a 32-year-old Frank Lampard backed up by a 34-year-old Michael Ballack and a 28-year-old Petr Cech backed up by a 35-year-old Henrique Hilario. They do not produce their own youngsters (buying doesn’t count!) and they currently do not have any outstanding youngsters that look like they could successfully replace someone in the first team. In short, I think that there is no future in the team. They are all hanging on to current and former glories and can only hope to sustain its success by preserving its existing team. If you want to determine the long term regenerative success of a club, you simply need to scrutinise the set-up of its youth academy. Just look at teams like Olympique Lyon and Ajax Amsterdam as good examples.

It’s commonly said that “Form is temporary and class is permanent”. May I add on my five cents worth and say that while that is true, it is the average age of the team that determines its long-term reality; if you have no youth, you have no future. Many times we hear the statement, “The youths are the leaders of tomorrow”. I think that that is euphemised rubbish from cowardly leaders who do not put their money where their mouth is – it’s like saying, “Yes, yes, you do have potential, but you don’t have ability yet, so I can’t give you the platform to perform. I, on the other hand, believe that the youths are the leaders of today. It applies to football and it applies to any organisation. In the words of the legendary Sir Matt Busby, If they are good enough, they are old enough”. I rest my case. May the youths of today pave the way for the youths of tomorrow.

But I digress. Now back to football, it’s three youthful and resounding cheers to the United, Barcelona and Arsenal philosophy of playing their football. Keep watching, keep believing in youths.

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