Tuesday, September 5, 2017

A Letter to the Youth Ministry

Our youth community has just finished a series on ministry. And boy, it got me thinking. A lot. It brought me back to when I first joined youth ministry. 

October 2012. 

I remember walking out to Starbucks from my church with the Youth Pastor, someone I didn't know existed until a few minutes before. It was an appointment to talk about a ministry vacancy: teaching junior high classes on Sundays. Obviously, the meeting covered a whole lot more than that (talk about great coffee talks!).

Who would have thought that my Pastor's spontaneous invitation to join his team would begin this groundbreaking, destiny-altering, life-changing journey of my life? I certainly didn't.

Because truthfully, it was an awful first few months. 

Almost all the teens there (who are most-probably starting college or halfway through college by now) knew how unconfident and awkward I was. Teens scared me, I wanted to cry so many times. Most nights I wondered why I decided to come. But surprise, surprise: I kept coming. Week after week. Friday after Friday.

I had only 1 reason why: I wanted to give God a chance to shape and process me out of my comfort zone. So if youth ministry was where I needed to be for that to happen, I had to stay faithful and not rush on making my own conclusions about where I am called to serve. And perhaps the only way for me to know that is to give it a try. 

Fast forward 4.5 years, 3 youth conferences and camps, and a-million-other-things-in-between later: 

I don't think I have ever loved doing what I do more than the way I love serving and being in youth ministry. 

I would be home from a normal Friday night youth service, or we would have just finished our annual youth conference. It would be a night when only 10 teens showed up and 1 fell asleep during the sermon. Or it would be one of those revival nights, with more than 50 teens responding to the altar call. It would even be home after a Saturday night coffee talk with a teen. They all are as powerful and fun, separately and altogether. Because they still get me wide awake at night, asking myself: 

Can you believe we get to do this? 


But I am forever grateful that I, we, get the chance to do what we do. Here and now. I am still in awe and wonder of all the work we get to be involved in, the people we get to meet, and the lived that changed along the way. 

Yes, I believe I've made good decisions throughout my life. Some really good ones. Decisions to leave and keep some friendships and relationships. Career choices, clothing purchases (I mean, I have tops that I bought in high school and they still look good and in-season until today. A very smart purchasing decision indeed! You get my point). 

But then there are those that turn your life upside down, only to prove God's will and shaping in your life. There are those decisions that seem so wrong, unexpected, and out of the ordinary at first, but slowly unfolds into a greater purpose. Decisions that completely change your life. Decisions that make you different, better human beings today. 

For me, joining youth ministry was that: 

the best decision I have ever made*.

*Well, maybe there is one or two that goes above that, ha! But top 5 ever for sure. 
*YET. The best decision I have ever made, YET. Because I'm totally convinced that when you walk with God, the best always yet to come. 

Friday, August 18, 2017

Water Drops and Comfort Zones

I recently had to make a decision whether I was going to keep my current job, or take the opportunity in front of me and enter a new different field of work and ministry. And during that week, I had a sleepover at a friend’s apartment. It was super fun and a much-needed break because I have been a little stressed out about the big decision I had to make. 

I mean, hello? I’m a perfectionist. Slightly OCD (that stands for Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, in case you don’t know). Order. Structure. Plans. Routine. Significant elements that make up my sanity.  But they all might change. Not in a bad way, but in such a significant way that I lost my ability to breathe just thinking about it. Yes, the most difficult decision I ever had to make in my life (so far). It was obvious I needed a really good break from it all.

So: Five girls, a tiny living room, just enough drinks and desserts, a little too much food, and way too many stories to tell. You get it, it was fun all around. But while everyone chatted their way through the night, one observation came to mind: 

There was a little bit of water dripping off 
from the edge of the sink. 

Normally, I would grab a tissue and wipe it off right away. But I don’t know why, that night I decided to sit back and do nothing. Maybe I was just too tired to even think about it. Maybe the sofa I was sitting on was too comfortable that I didn’t feel like getting up at all. In the end, I just shrugged and let it be.

Strangely enough, after I went home the next day, this observation remained vivid in my mind. I couldn’t shake the fact that I did nothing about the water drops. The scene kept replaying in my head the whole day until I realized this “brilliant” (Ha! Not so. Perhaps even so cliche!) conclusion about about comfort zones, changes, and life: 

I think, sometimes, we need to be ok with allowing 
the water drip, and not do anything about it. 

I think sometimes we need to go against what is comfortable. I think sometimes we need to be ok with things not going the way we plan and trust that God will make it work, even better than how we thought was possible. I think for some of us (like ME), it takes more courage to let the water drip than to get up and clean it. 

Because what if that one step, towards the uncomfortable, unknown, uncharted places, is the very decision that will carry you, into all the things God has called you to be? 

There’s a story about a queen in the Bible named Esther who was faced with a choice: risk her life to possibly save her people or do nothing and let all her people be killed. It was life and death. And as Esther took the time to think her decision through, her uncle (Mordecai) said one of the most profound and powerful statement you could ever find the Bible: 

"Perhaps you were born for such a time as this." 
(Esther 4:14) 

As for her: Esther took the risk. She went to the King to plead for her people and end up saving her people's lives. She was truly made Queen for such a time to save her people. 

The story of Esther is a lot more complicated and exciting than what I just shared to you in that one paragraph (take notes: Queen Esther is AMAZING!!!). But as I look at our own life, the choices and opportunities we have in our hands, Queen Esther, and water dripping off the edge of the sink, I am once again reminded that:

Everything we could be will remain 
a “perhaps” and “if-s” 
unless we step out and become one. 

You would never know and neither would I; until we can look outside our comfort zones, the free-falls and head-first-dives; with all the courage we can find and say: “YES”. 

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Sundays, U-Turns, and Sunset Skies

It was a normal, good Sunday. 

A good day at church, ministry was smooth. Had a good lunch, hung out with people, watched a great movie (OK, great is rather an understatement. It was one of the best movies I have ever seen in my entire life. EVER!). So, then it was time to get into one of my favorite parts of the weekend: a chill 5:30pm-kind-of Sunday drive home across the city. This time from the west side of the city to the east.

It was about a 50-minute drive home and it was 20 minutes in when 

I looked into my rearview mirror and my heart skipped a beat

I saw a glimpse of the sunset sky and it was beautiful. 

I could see it. It was red and orange and pink, with traces of white and grey and blurred flaming yellow lines. I don't think words can do justice. My phone's camera certainly couldn't. 

Man, how I wished I was heading to the west and not the east! I really wanted to see it in full view but my destination was on the opposite direction. Or maybe not?

Without a second thought I did something I have never done before just for the view of a sky: 

I steered right and took a u-turn. 

That's right. I decided to drive west, just to see the sunset sky in full view. The view lasted for less than 30 seconds before I took another u-turn to get back on track to the east side of the city, where home is. 

It was so worth it. 

It sounds ridiculous, I know. Impulsive and rather unnecessary. I mean, it's not like I wouldn't catch other pretty sunset skies, right? (Well, you never know; but you know what I mean!) But it was so worth it. Because in the midst of my ordinary good Sunday I got to bask in God's wonder in full view for 30 seconds. 

Full. View. 

At first, all I saw was a glimpse and it already got my heart racing a bit faster than it should have been. So, I didn't stop. I wanted more. I took a u-turn just to get a full view of the sunset sky, even though the distance from the u-turn to end it was no more than 100 metres away. 

I took a short detour to get God in full view.

And you know what, it was worth all the time in the world. It changed the rest of my drive home into a praise party. It changed my heart for the rest of the night. It sure encouraged me when I woke up the next day to face my hectic Monday. 

What if all it takes for us 
to be refreshed, 
to be encouraged, 
to fall back into love with God, 
is to take a short, 
seemingly unnecessary detour 
in the middle of our ordinary day, 
to see God in full view?

I'm not even talking about a full 1.5-hour chapel session, a 5-chapter bible reading, a full podcast watch on Youtube. I'm talking about 1-minute-prayers in the toilet cubicle. The 1-chorus solo karaokes in the carpark. The 2-minute silent stares at the sky at the balcony. The 1-verse read-alouds in the bedroom. I'm talking about the quiet walks to work and back. The watching kids be amused by leaves moving on the ground blown by the wind. 

For me, it was the sunset sky. I took a short detour to get God in full view and what I got was so much more than what I thought I needed. The destination didn't change, I still needed to head home. West wasn't my destination, but my short detour to bask in God didn't mess up any of that. It was the opposite. I felt joy and peace and love and everything mixed in between. It was the best feeling ever. What small wonders can do to the soul! 

Small, insignificant detours and pauses in the day, where we be still for once, and face God in full-view.

Maybe that's all it would take for you and me to get back up from whatever it is that's been weighing us down. Maybe that's what it takes for us to have the strength to keep going towards our destination. 
Whatever and wherever God is calling us to do and to go to.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Shouting Louder and Life Seasons

I recently preached a message about seasons, life, and the intentional decision to embrace it. Little did I know, instead of preaching a message for the teens at our youth group, it felt like I was preaching a message to myself. 

The gist of the message is this: 
Seasons are ever-changing and 
far too often, we can't choose our seasons. 
We can't control and choose the seasons we are in, 
but we can choose God who is in control over them. 

Have you ever felt like it was difficult to embrace the assignment that God has clearly given to you because you are entering a new season? Maybe it's a new community, maybe it's a new role. A new position, grade. If you do, you're in good company. Because I think this is exactly where I find myself right now.

So, among all the assignments that God has put in my heart, writing devotionals and journals (like this one) is definitely one of them. Have I been doing that lately? Ha! Not so much. And sure, it's a lot more difficult to juggle writing devos plus school research papers (and sometimes plus preaching scripts too!) all in the same week. But I realized lately though, that hasn't been the case. I hid from writing because it was the easier and safer alternative.

I remembered in April 2016 I posted a devo titled "Bare and Naked". And in there I talked about the fear and beauty altogether of being exposed, as an artist of any kind. And I wrote:

"What makes our works of art a masterpiece is simply 
how far we allow our works to get a taste of 
who we really are."

That post was published almost 1.5 years ago. I still agree with that principle. And I still believe that's a key to make great art. But guess what? 1.5 years later: it is still as scary as it ever was to share what I have written. Especially knowing that I am settling into new communities, new roles. 

A new season. 
The idea of being bare and naked, 
raw and honest, 
before a new set of public eyes. 

It was like a scream-fest in my head. 

"What if they judge me?"
"What if I'm not good enough for them?"
"What if they laugh behind my back?"
"Will I make a fool of myself?"
"Maybe I will make a fool of myself. Pretty sure I will."
"What have I gotten myself into?!!!!" 

Isn't this what most of us experience when it comes to being faithful, no matter who the spectators are or what we are up against? That it will feel like ground zero all over again. Like the assignment becomes as unbearable as it was at the very beginning. But we're not there anymore, are we? We made it through, at least somewhere through in the journey. It feels like ground zero, but it's actually just another stonestep along the path. 

The set of skills remain the same.
The passion remains the same
The assignment remains the same. 
It's just the seasons. 
It's only a change in season. 

Like I said earlier: We can't choose the seasons, but we can choose God. And it is in Him too that we find the purposes of our lives. The heart and soul of what and why we do what we do. The courage and strength to keep going despite of what the circumstances are and what the critics say. The shameless, relentless pursuit to show who He is through our artistry. 

As the seasons change, we can choose to stop creating and let the world lose one voice of hope. Or we can choose God, have faith and shout louder. 

I'm choosing to trust God and embrace my season. I want to shout louder.

Jeremiah 17:7-8 (The Message)
“But blessed is the man who trusts me, God,
    the woman who sticks with God.
They’re like trees replanted in Eden,
    putting down roots near the rivers—
Never a worry through the hottest of summers,
    never dropping a leaf,
Serene and calm through droughts,
    bearing fresh fruit every season.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

I Still Believe.

I never post stuff on social media about politics. I believe in keeping my political views and beliefs private. But on Tuesday, May 9th, 2017, a political figure in my country was sentenced to prison, and my nation is now split in two: those rejoicing for the verdict upon their enemy and those grieving for the imprisonment of their hero. And although I’m not here to take sides, this time I can’t help it. I need to speak up. 

I’m writing this because I believe there is an awakening happening in my country. I believe that beyond the celebrations and tears that took place after the verdict: hope is rising. In some ways quietly, in some ways very loud. Can’t you see? I have never seen so many hearts broken for injustice in my country. And these hearts are screaming their lungs out! Making sure their voices are heard. These hearts are not just speaking life, but they are shouting life over our country. Can you hear the desperation? The begging-on-their-knees kind of prayer for a breakthrough? 

I have never heard an outcry for justice so loud in this nation. And you’re telling me we have lost hope? I believe that if there’s ever a time that we must believe revival is so close, almost at hand, for our nation, that time is now. 

The circumstances might be the complete opposite of what we hope our country to become. I know we are brokenhearted, discouraged, and disappointed. But light shines the brightest in the darkest nights. So if our nation has to be split in two, why don’t we take a step back and instead stand in the middle to be a bridge of hope for our nation? 

I agree, our country is filled with flaws. Perhaps too many to count and mention. I'm not gonna lie; learning to love this country has been one of the hardest lessons I have had to learn in my life. We know that even though there are so many reasons why we should be proud of my country, there are all the more reasons to be ashamed and bitter towards it. But if all we do is curse our nation for what it has not become, will we ever be a nation we long to become? If we stay grieving and walk away, will we ever see the change we long to witness? 

No, I don’t think so. 

I think what this nation needs is our voice. A voice that speaks faith, speaks service, speaks generosity, speaks love. A selfless generation that understands it has to begin with someone at some point. As much as it hurts to see devotion paid with hate, I believe revival has to start with a seed of sacrifice. So perhaps it has to begin with us.

Seeing so many voices cry out and hearts broken over the past week have shown me how far we have come. With all our shortcomings, we have come so far. We have become bold and strong. We finally have the courage to speak up. Finally fighting for the things that matter. Finally realizing things have to change for this nation to move forward. We have come to the point where we understand hope matters. Service matters. Determination matters. Excellence matters. Love matters. Our nation matters. 

So, I choose to stand on the side of hope. I choose to take the side of revival. There is hope for this nation. There is a breakthrough waiting to make its triumphant entrance. God is rising up a new voice, a new generation. I believe God is doing something new. I believe He is making new rivers in the desert, new roads in the wilderness. I think revival is ready to shake the grounds of our nation. This is just the beginning. 

I still believe revival is ahead. 

Isaiah 43 

18 “But forget all that—
    it is nothing compared to what I am going to do.
19 For I am about to do something new.
    See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?
I will make a pathway through the wilderness.
I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.