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i’m officially a student again.

A part of me greatly anticipates my impending degree programme.

I’ve always wished that I was older and a more mature when I studied for my Diploma in Mass Communication in Ngee Ann Polytechnic a decade ago. Of course there is hindsight bias, but I really should have capitalised the vast array of opportunities that were dished out to me on a silver platter; I had the perfect environment to excel academically and glean the most out of an exceptional education that (the original) Mass Communication course offered. There was a stable of outstanding lecturers, an avant-garde syllabus, an established institution and a plethora of commercial contacts at my disposal, but I was young and foolish enough to be embroiled in unnecessary boy-girl relationships, petty class politics and just poor self-discipline.

God is good nonetheless and despite my less-than-satisfactory performance, I have been able to put to good use in my career the things I learnt in school. In 2000 before the course commenced, I expressed interest in journalism and radio (because I enjoyed writing and talking) during the pre-enrolment suitability interview. But in my final year with Ngee Ann Polytechnic, I ended up specialising in books publishing, photography and journalism, and did just that in my final year with the Singapore Armed Forces. When I worked in Shanghai, I excelled in something I was weak at during my school days – marketing. As a youth minister, I have ample opportunities to apply everything that I have picked up in the last 10 years; indeed, God lets nothing go to waste.

Today, I get to have a go at academia again.

While I reckon the opportunities for my pedagogical development to be lesser and less dynamic than it was a decade ago, I am confident however, that this time, I will milk this learning opportunity dry. Above and beyond aiming for distinctions, I am more keen to sharpen my mind; I’ve never been this hungry to learn in my entire life.

I urge you then, young people, to make the most out of your education – study as hard and make as many friends as you can, and put in your best for every assignment, simply because there’s so much to learn and enjoy in your scholastic years. I hope and pray that when you reach my age, you wouldn’t be writing a reflection like this because you’d have learnt from my experiences and aptly taken my advice. Otherwise, I’d call you a fool – unlike you, I didn’t have me to learn from.

On my way home from school just now, I told HY that I’m confident that my technical competence and professional experience will put me in an advantageous position to excel in my studies. With a more mature head on older shoulders, I can only stick my neck out and ask God to give me the wisdom to apply what I have learnt and know in my latest attempt at tertiary education after being away for seven years. Unlike the past where I never could quite grapple why and what I was studying for, this time I believe in studying for an efficacious God who lets nothing go to waste. I know that the regrets I’ve expressed in this post will be turned around and result in great returns – not for me, or my future with HY, or my subsequent academic or career pursuits, but solely for the glory of God.

That said, while some parts of me can’t wait to start school, the remaining parts of me just can’t wait to start learning. The air is pregnant with excitement and it fuels my adrenaline for my re-education.

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top ten ways to lead when you don’t feel like leading.

I apologise for the blogging irregularity. These days, I’ve written many drafts but struggled to finish them. August looks demanding – I preach three out of four weeks and facilitate two iJourney sessions. My DYLM cell also coincides with my preaching weekends which leads to a double preparation of teaching materials. It’s also the vision-casting, planning and budgeting month. R-AGE @ GII is also growing with some steady momentum… Basically, everything is coming together all at once – I had better spend more time seeking God.

I do delight in developing my gifts though. I’m keeping my fingers crossed (and my hands clasped in prayer) on a potential ministry opportunity; if that takes off, 2011 looks set to be the most defining year of my (ministry) life thus far. I await with bated breath. Oh God, baptise me in wisdom!

You know, it’s easy to lead when everything’s smooth-sailing. I remember being inspired by DZ’s testimony when I (visited Sydney for the first time and) attended Hillsong Conference 2007. She shared about how she continued leading worship despite her miscarriage; it must have been a tough time for her and the church to experience the loss of a life – that’s transparent leadership for you.

Needless to say, I believe that all regular leaders and mentors (around me) had to lead through tough times too. I often wondered how much inspiration and perspiration they needed to draw from and produce respectively to pull through a rough patch. Here are the ten things I’d recommend for a leader to do when he doesn’t feel like leading, or adequate enough to be a leader, or simply when the chips are down.

1. Share only what’s necessary. You don’t need to give the details of your drought(s) and disaster(s) if you don’t have to. Employ discernment and choose with care whom you share life with. My recommendation – your family, partner, leaders/mentors, cell group, closest friends.

2. Remember that troubles are tempory. Bad times will pass – they usually do not last forever. Often, you end up doubling the pain because you choose to inflict blame on yourself for things beyond your control. Remember, God uses trials and tests to bring out the best in you.

3. Re-create your self-confidence. This is personal because I thrive on confidence. Surround yourself not just with people who love you but also those who desire God’s best for you – they usually have the right words. Let them put the pat on your back that pushes out your chest.

4. Do not dramatise. When you go through a terrible season, you don’t need to convince yourself that it’s worse than what it already is. Healthy pessimism can be helpful, but an overdose could leave you in the trail of destruction. When you are, learn to leave the bad news in the middle.

5. Avoid all loose talk. The last thing you want is to get embroiled in someone else’s misfortunes or to gloat about others to make yourself feel good. Don’t justify your situation and don’t discuss it. Cut off all gossip and secret conversations for they won’t improve your situation anyway.

6. Always remain loyal. As a leader, the biggest mistake you can make is to sell out your team of subordinates, peers and superiors. Teams are accepting of a leader who acknowledges his faults and makes a genuine attempt to atone himself. In your failures, they are still your team.

7. Continue to teach high standards. When the going gets tough, don’t compromise all that you’ve held on to and advocated. Conversely speaking, you should persist and insist high moral standards for those around you. Know that they are observing for your integrity in action.

8. Expect people’s manipulation. Look, it’s a dog-eat-dog world and there will be people who will want to capitalise on your weaknesses to gain an unfair advantage for themselves. Be innocent as doves and shrewd as serpents; don’t allow others to use you like a tool.

9. Be mindful of your speech. Know that everything you say can be quoted; the higher your public profile, the more you will be quoted. In times like these you must exercise restraint. Most leaders have an opinion about everything but it doesn’t mean they need to share every thought.

10. Raise your own bar. In this recovery period, as you consolidate, ask yourself this question – “Would you be fulfilled if you were to keep following someone like you?” Don’t ever shortchange yourself. Your appetite to improve skills and develop character should remain insatiable.

Hope that was helpful for you. For me, I’ll try to pick up my blogging momentum.

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!

(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!

is your advice any good at all?

There’s a difference between good and godly advice. Everyone is able to offer their two-cents’ worth but not everyone makes sense. Therefore, it is important to surround yourself with counsellors who are able to expand your perspectives as well as to offer you solutions (or at least show you the possible consequences of any decision made). We should be cautious in selecting who we hang out with for it usually determines who we become eventually – surround yourself with cynics and you may just become one.

The way of the fool always seem right to him – they will hardly admit that they are wrong; don’t spend too much energy trying to convince them otherwise, but learn to just pray for them and commit them to the Lord. When I see how the advice that I dispense fall on deaf ears, it gives me an idea of how foolish I was when I was younger, and how I have refused and rejected advice. If you want to counsel others, it is important that you are rooted in the Word of God. Wisdom is knowing how to apply biblical principles to everyday situations. Hence, wise counsel and sound advice always comes from the Word.

It is also important that you are a Spirit-filled individual if you want to offer advice to others. I always tell my leaders to pray (silently) in the Spirit (in their hearts) when they talk to youths, and to be sensitive to what the Spirit might possibly prompt them to say instead. It’s imperative that we do not make up advice; for the lack of a better way to phrase it – let’s not bullshit others. There are days that I do not have the answer and when that happens, I will be honest and tell whoever I’m speaking to that I will get back to them a few days later. Don’t trust anyone who’s always got the answer. We must stop whenever and however the Spirit leads and prompts us to, and seek God for an answer first. I remember BH’s advice regarding advice-giving – “If people run to you, you better run to God, otherwise they might think that you are God!”

I try to surround myself with people who know what people are like – basically older and more mature individuals who have seen more people than I have. They give great insight to people and how to deal with those who are more challenging to manage. They teach me how to discern and share their experiences with me. Hence, regardless of how high-up I may rise in a leadership role, it is important that I do not isolate myself, but to surround myself with people who are involved in the right kind of attitude, and those who are like-minded. Having RY and PL to share with me their journey on being a ministry-man and a family-man gives me great leverage to know what to do when I’m faced with similar situations. However, after I receive their advice, I will still consult the Lord first for obeying what the He has set upon my heart to do is of utmost importance.

And then of course, there are those whom you simply trust with your life because you know that they always have your interests at heart. These are people whom have gone through seasons with you and the ones who have proved their consistency and availability in your life – basically, those whom have stood the test of time. He or she could be a best friend, parent, sibling, mentor or partner. Always treasure the value of their opinions simply because they love you without agenda and want the best for you.

In conclusion, in the area of giving and receiving advice, here are the four categories of people whom you should seek and aspire to become:

  1. Word people
  2. Spirit people
  3. People people
  4. Trustworthy people

These are the people whom you know will dispense good advice and godly counsel.

wisdom from my favourite hunk in Perth.

As I attempted to clean up and archive the notes in my computer today, I found pearls of wisdom from CS. These were the things I remembered from his sharing with me over an afternoon coffee session in Clementi Central, way back in March. Re-reading it, I realised that wisdom and righteousness are timeless and evergreen – such advice never gets mouldy or irrelevant, regardless of which stage of life you’re at or in.

On ceilings:
“When people are against your ideas or what you share, involve them in prayer and ask them to bring it to the Lord in prayer too.”

This exhibits “Show your enemy the other cheek” in a different perspective. When you operate this way, it becomes unmistakable when God speaks to both parties. When we pray, He confirms and works, and even the most opposing opinions can work together, compromised and accepted, for the sake of working towards achieving His will. At the end of the day, all the glory will have go to Him for He enabled what was humanly impossible to be possible.

On arguing:
“There’s no winner in an argument. Someone will lose.”

CS’ sentiments on arguments confirm what I’ve always subscribed to – that I’d rather lose the argument than lose the relationship. (In the last six months, I realise that I have actually been practising this principle. And while it’s not easy deliberately losing – I’m being honest, I am a competitive and outspoken person and I have a man’s pride! – I’m actually at peace with it because I don’t find it a need to prove myself to anyone or to convince others of my ideas.) Conversely speaking, when you do prioritise people over problems, you may actually win both. Win them over and naturally they’ll be more inclined to listen to you and be opened to your ideas; they may even sway towards your argument and stand with you. Over the years, I’ve learnt that people are more willing to listen to you when they know that you have their best interests at heart. Ironically, they need to be first convinced of your affections for them before they are convinced of your argument.

On teachability:
“No matter how high you climb, there will always be areas you’ll need growth in.”

The day will come when you no longer have any man (or woman) above you in a hierarchal setting, but the Lord Himself. This is the greatest test of humility and teachability. The two most poisonous words in a confident, mature and experienced person is, “I know”. This arrogant phrase single-handedly puts people off in correcting you and giving you feedback. Always adopt an attitude of learning regardless of how old, wise, experienced or mature you are in a particular situation. The moment you stop learning is the (tragic) moment you stop living.

are we there yet? when will we get there? where is there?

The Secrets to Successful Writing seminar with PY this morning was held at my alma mater, Anglo-Chinese School (Junior) at Winstedt Road. It was my first time back since I last collected my PSLE results in 1995, when it was still Anglo-Chinese Junior School at Peck Hay Road. To my surprise, NS is still there; pity I had to leave immediately after the seminar, otherwise I would have popped by the staff office to say hello to a beloved Primary 6 form teacher who played a part in my journey to know Christ.

Advances in mobile technology has allowed me to check for bus arrival timings via the iris NextBus online service on the SBS transit website. (Trivia: it stands for Intelligent Route Information System.) It will always be helpful to know approximately when the next bus would arrive. Now, why would I want this information? After all, it changes neither the duration of my journey nor my designated route. Heck, it doesn’t even predict traffic conditions or tell me what time I’ll arrive at my destination. So, what good does it do for me to know how long it’ll take before I board the next bus?

I believe that prior knowledge of waiting time reduces anxiety and frustration, and for some, it even helps to manage stress levels; commuting during peak hours is already an exasperating experience and I think a predictive information system serves an effective countermeasure to improve travelling woes as I’ll know how long I’ll be on the road, or track – and if the waiting time is too long, I’ll probably make alternative plans (whether to continue waiting, change the mode of transport or take another route) since I can already predict the eventual outcome. The same concept extends to the SMRT and to a lesser extent, roller coaster queues in amusement parks.

However, in the event that you don’t board your bus or train at the estimated time, you’d feel doubly frustrated and disappointed because your expectations have increased; this is inevitable when you try to control your anticipation (and excitement) of what’s to come. And when you change your plans, you deviate from what you are normally familiar with and have grown to trust and rely on. Hence, I’d like to think that regardless of prior knowledge, there will always be a set of challenges for any journey taken.

I couldn’t help but think that my experience with the iris NextBus today was a reflection of my daily struggle to trust God in either the big and small, or long and short term plans. I’d be the first to raise my hands to admit my reliance on my own Intelligent Route Information System to navigate through life’s crossroads and toughest decisions. When you do that, it takes away your trust and belief in God’s original plan as you apply your knowledge of the future, understanding of the present and experience of the past. Don’t get me wrong – that’s wisdom – and it’s not a bad thing. But a careless flirtation and an over-reliance on human wisdom can often cause you to become distracted and disillusioned with your intended journey. My advice? Tread carefully (pun unintended).

I’m sure you can identify with a wrong decision that sometimes ends up in a much longer journey, an encounter with an unexpected traffic jam or even alighting at the wrong stop; it’s only natural to expect that because you have ventured into an unknown and, if I were to epiphanise it, a valley of darkness that you completely did not prepare for or expect. And most times, it’s always a result and consequence of your decisions. This applies to almost every decision – be it relationship, finance or family-related, etc. When this happens, you will need to be responsible for your choices and account for yourself.

At the end of the day, I believe that if God gives you a vision, then the challenge and step of faith for you is to trust Him to deliver you to the eventual destination safely and surely. Thankfully, our God is an efficacious God and nothing in the journey goes to waste – regardless of longer routes, indecision, detours or even unforeseen accidents.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and He will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

These famous verses are plastered on most of the walls of any ACS auditorium, including the one I sat in today, and it serves as a sobering reminder to let God take control of the steering wheel of our lives. May you remember to relinquish control of your life the next time you check for the next bus or train arrival times.

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