les contradictions

I am
a mountain lover
who is also afraid of heights;

I am
a city dweller
who hates city noise and city lights

I live
in the midst of tension,
but tension lives in me too –
always here, but also always not yet;
always remembering
in a bid to forget.

I stand
on the cusp of change
but it feels like a rocky precipice
instead of a tarmac intersect
what if i fall?
“oh, but what if you fly?”

I crave
Silence to hear myself think and yet,
the answer would be given to me
in loudly heard blasts and neon lights
say, where do we go from here?

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Where’s God in the Picture?

I’ve been on a mini hiatus from the blogosphere again. Totally unintended though. Well, it’s because I haven’t exactly been in the best headspace lately. I’ve been worrying about my life (not for my life, I’m not in danger thank God). A lot. And particularly the kind of worry that begins with the question, “What if this (insert situation name here) fails?”

Totally disgregarding Matthew 6:25-34. You know, that do not worry passage.

In fact I’ve gone and done just the exact opposite. All week long for the past couple of weeks, I’ve jumped back and forth many plans in my mind and found peace in none. Many of them sound like backup plans for possible failures in my current endeavours. I’ve even thought that if one day, I make a total flop of my current ministry work and have to leave, then perhaps I’ll venture into opening a cafe that doubles, no triples up as a bookshop plus florist plus art studio plus cozy music corner. Oh oops that’s quadruple upping. The plan is to set up this quadruple cafe thing, let it run and when it’s steady, I’ll finally be able to go do missions work overseas just like I’ve always sensed God calling me to in my long term future. Key caveat: without having to worry about income. I’ve also researched on how I can tap on eligibility to buy my own house using my CPF in 5 years’ time so that too can become side rolling income while I maintain my job.

And so this has sent me on a downward spiral in all kinds of ways and on multiple areas in my life. I don’t know why I felt such a need to carve elaborate backup plans, but I’m willing to bet it has something to do with excessive worry, and worry from a lack of trust in God. I truly don’t know the measure of my faith until God says to me, as if using a loudhailer and stopping me in my tracks, “You’ve gotta stop worrying and start trusting me!”

In yesterday’s dinner conversation with a friend, I found myself thinking aloud the same brand of worry in the area of friendships. With all my friendships, there always is the looming question in my mind: “What if this fails one day?” To that she said, “Where is God in this picture?” I managed to squeeze a tiny try of an answer last night, but today I’ve given it more thought.

As I reflect a little more today, I realise that I tend to build relationships up to a certain level of intimacy and when it reaches that point, I start to wonder how much further the friendship could go before something happens and the relationship sours. Long before anything even happens and unbeknownst to these dear, dear souls , I build safety barriers and find safety nets so that the crash wouldn’t be so hard-hitting if something really does happen to the friendship. Especially since becoming a ministry staff (where church friends are also the volunteers I “manage”), this has brought a new level of complication to relationships that I haven’t yet worked through. I began to doubt people’s sincerity and the strength of each relationship.

In this way of thinking, there’s very little room for hope and genuine love. There’s a whole lot of self-preservation and fear. I’m afraid of intimacy that demands my vulnerability and potentially getting hurt in the process. There’s worry rearing its ugly head again. The kind of worry that begins even where nothing has happened. I really need God on this one, to intervene in my mind, help me unlearn and relearn His approach to relationships. Gosh, how did Jesus love the disciples so dearly given that He knew for sure how they would desert and betray Him when push comes to shove? How did Jesus keep His head in a good headspace when the lines between ministry and personal life were blurred? Maybe it’s not about finding this elusive line that’s supposed to magically bring harmony and balance.

I’ve been hanging a banner of worry over my neck and that banner weighs a ton more than God would have me carry. That banner spells “inevitable disappointment in the future whether sooner or later” but I know in my heart of hearts that this is not how God designed me to approach life. I have trained myself to become a pragmatist in response to experiencing hurt in life, and while some pragmatism is beneficial since it increases wisdom, my pragmatism is tinged with the absence of hope. In this picture, where is my God in whom I hope?

Looking at another friend’s missions funding page this morning, I see a glimmer of God in my future, a thrill of hope. Before she left for her missions stint in South Africa (you go girl! So proud of you), she started a funding page that needed X amount of money. I’ve had the privilege of journeying her from the very start of this whole process – from conception to execution. I remember how I would see with my own eyes, funds rolling in online and offline. I saw how people would pass her envelopes and angbaos. In today’s page update, I saw that she had received funds waaayyyy exceeding what she stated she needed. When the missions stint was merely just a dream we were discussing, we never saw God on this day, a great big smile on his fatherly face giving her a nice thumbs-up and a knowing wink, knowing how He’s provided all the funds she needed with extra to spare.

Back to the topic on future plans – my one day maybe cafe (ooh One Day Cafe’s not a bad name!); my future missions tripping life, my future income churning house, my future whatever… I think dreams are good in and of themselves. And God has given us a great gift to be able to dream. But it’s far better to dream from a place of hope than because of fear. “Where is God in this picture?” is a far better question to ask than “what if this fails?”

God, show me where You are in all life’s pictures.

On Platforms: Ann Voskamp

One of my favourite wordsmiths writes to my heart with this article on the truth about platforms. It’s so good I’ll just clip the whole article here on my blog:

* * *

We plant seeds here on the farm, kneel and put hands in the dirt.

From dust we have come and to dust we will return — we’re all just dust.

One of the kids kneels in the dirt, looks up, and asks:

“So, I asked this kid yesterday what he wanted to be someday? And he said he was going to be a famous player. Why do all the kids want to be famous? Is that kinda the point of everything — to become famous? What if I just — wanna be a farmer?”

I mention that to the kid:

That when plucky Jennifer Lawrence tripped in her festooning white gown, trying to get up on that platform to get her Oscar—the world kinda fell in love a bit more for her stumbling, blessed humanity.

Because, really now, who teaches you how to hold up the piles of taffeta and take the stairs for an Oscar?

Who teaches anyone how to stand up and be famous?

It just isn’t done—or at least, if you check out the headlines in the checkout aisle, it’s rarely done well.

Because the thing is, no one is meant to really stand on platforms.

Sure, everyone’s got a platform under them—every parent, every creative, every businessperson, every person who is standing somewhere, near someone.

Sure, the movers and shakers would have us thinking that a platform is what elevates your visibility above the crowd so your message finds its your audience.

But there’s a deeper current of Truth running through the cosmos: 

“He must increase, but I must decrease.”

And in a world where there are 93 million selfies taken a day and counting — the strange thing is, for all the striving to be seen:  The more exposed we are, the more unknown we can feel. 

Fame and feeling noticed —- isn’t the same as being known and feeling loved.

How do you tell the kids — that the truth is:

You don’t have to pursue fame to transcend your own mortality, because Christ pursues you and in Him you transcend all of time right into eternity.

The greatest venom of fame can be that you start thinking mostly about yourself — to the point of death by self.

And you’re not made to think mostly about self — you’re made to think about serving, about others, about giving away yourself.

It’s a conversation to have when you’re bending low in dirt, planting small seeds, dirt under your fingernails:

A platform is whatever one finds under one’s feet—and the only thing that is meant to be under a Christian is an altar.

The only call on a Christian is not to pick up a microphone, not to pick some stairs to some higher platform, but to pick up a cross and come die.

The only call on a Christian is to build every platform into the shape of an altar, to shape every platform into the form of sacrificial service.

Every platform, every microphone, every podium is meant to be a nail—fixing us to Christ, the only One lifted up.

The loamy earth is dark in our hands.

When our culture places a premium upon stardom — we live in perpetual dark.

Culture that is fixated on stardom misses the light of extraordinary people doing holy, ordinary work.

The sun is catching in the trees over the field, falling on the Farmer’s bent back, on the backs of the kids with their hands in dirt.

A boy looks up at his dad, smiles. And my heart kinda burns:

 You will most deeply find yourself when you find yourself serving others — and looking up into the face of God.

The world tilts upside down and finally aright — when we see all platforms and the purpose of everything is simply taking on the form of service.

Serve from a real place:

A platform isn’t about remarkable marketing; it’s about serving in a remarkable way.

It’s about serving from a real place of humility, authenticity, and vulnerable transparency.

Cease striving to get to a higher, greater platform—and start praying to go lower to serve greater.

Jesus’ platform was a place of serving from His real humanity, as He walked and talked and broke and gave away His real life. The most remarkable platforms are those that are altars that leave the mark of the sacrificed Christ. 

Serve a real need:

A platform is a holy place to kneel down and wash the very real wounds of the hurting. Jesus’ platform wasn’t about pushing his agenda or ‘product,’ but about caring for people’s afflictions and pain.

Serve real value:

A platform isn’t about self-serving, but is about humbly serving possible solutions. Jesus’ platform was about bending low to offer that which had real, eternal value.

I find a way to tell that kid kneeling down in the dirt:

Could have been the tulle and satin that made Jennifer Lawrence trip trying to get up to that platform. Might be what you see in checkout headlines and in the pages of the Good Book:

The soul was never made to carry the weight of fame. 

The frame of a soul was never made for fame. The frame of a soul was made to serve. 

Fame can only be carried by the One who could carry the weight of the world on that Cross.

“You know what I think, Son?” I turn to the boy planting his seeds in dirt. “I think if you could talk to Jennifer Lawrence or all the famous players in whatever big league they’ve landed in? I think they’d tell you all the same thing….”

I lean over, lay a few more seeds into his open hand.

“I think everyone should get rich and famous and get all the things they want — to find out that none of that’s the answer that they really want.”

And the boy half-grins and nods, plants his small seeds in the warm dirt.

And there’s a way to believe in the value of The Seed Life, a way to believe in the eternal answers found in small things that do the best work in hidden ways.

The boy and I and his dad, we plant seeds, the knees of old jeans worn and dirt-laden with the bending, with the brave beauty of going lower.

carrying promise

What is it like to carry promise? To remember, to remember, places and faces the Lord has etched into your heart and have grabbed at your affections. To surrender, to surrender, that this dream was his to give and to him alone it belongs. To wonder, to wonder, where the breakthrough he declared would be and when it would come. To suffer, to suffer, the grief of dreams not yet achieved.

A month ago I was fascinated by this line in the Bible, when I was writing my paper and studying Luke for it: “Mary kept these things in her heart.”

Luke 2:19 “But Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often.”

Luke 2:51 “And his mother stored all these things in her heart.”

In the midst of a dense narrative where each line carries so much passing time condensed, these words catch my eye and snag at my heart. The author wrote in such a way that the reader would pause to listen in, for a few melancholy moments, to the inner thoughts and emotions of Mary, mother of Jesus.

She carried the Promised son of God in her womb for nine months. And when the child was born and grew up, she carried the promise that God spoke of Jesus: he would be very great and be called the son of the Most High, heir to the throne of David, reign over Israel forever and whose kingdom will never end. What a promise to carry, and to wait upon as she must have wondered in amazement how this would unfold upon this tumbling toddler, this temple-roaming pre-teenager, this thirty year old man fresh into ministry, this very human son of hers. It would all become clear only much later, when he in his most human moment was laid upon stone in Joseph’s tomb, and three days later rose again. And still, clear would be seen but through a tainted glass, for who knows how His great kingdom lasts when there are rulers of earth and rulers under wreaking havoc everywhere there is to rest one’s eye on?

She has my sympathies. I carry promise too, and more than one or two. The Lord said, this is going to be a year of breakthrough. The Lord said, you will send and lead teams from here, you will write songs of healing to the nations and with words set captives free. The Lord said, this is where I have called you, serve this house, I will use you. In his unfolding of time, I find my faith often folding inside. It is not clear now, but I will see, sooner and later. But seeing does not always lead to believing, and believing is going to require more than my sense of sight.

She has my admiration. It is no simple feat to carry, to labour, to ponder, to store hope in her heart, to treasure the words of God. It is no small thing, that over her lifetime, her days were lived to remember, to surrender, to wonder, to suffer.

But we will always have hope. An anchor steady and sure for our souls. Though the victory is not yet felt, the victory is already won. His kingdom is forever established over the earth while kings and rulers yet enact their plans.

What is it like to carry promise? It is to remember, to surrender, to wonder, to suffer, and all this is eternal gain as I stand under the shadow of the Cross, at which even my richest earthly gain would be counted as loss.

Happy Good Friday dear Jesus, You made the worst day in human history the best day in all eternity.

 

what do you really want

A while back God revealed an inner insecurity. It happened, by his mercy, and unexpectedly, while I was enjoying the most delicious plate of juicy, tender roast chicken soaked in creamy mushroom sauce at dinner with Becky, at Poulet. Oh, how we both love Poulet so very much, we practically rave about it each time we meet.

Dinner conversations with Becky are safe, so I opened up a topic that had been bugging me. I started by sharing about how I miss the times I had a group of my own girls to officially mentor and “do life with,” and how I find that in my present job scope, there isn’t enough room to do such things let alone is it structured in such a way that favours these types of mentoring or “life-doing” activities. It’s so unfavourable that I have to practically force squeeze it into my schedule and make sure I cover meeting up whoever the Lord lays upon my heart to meet up.

Halfway through that sharing, I started tearing up. I had no idea it would hit me so hard. And then I said, “I think this is revealing an insecurity. I need people to need me. If I’m not the person that these youths run to when they have trouble in their life, I feel useless and unwanted. I feel like I have failed as their leader.”

In recent moments, this insecurity has bubbled up time and again. It comes up when I see youths at gatherings, or ladies at brunches, or fellow colleagues hash-tagging #mentoring #ministrylife and so on in my social media feeds. I think this is my version of what some youths call FOMO. I have a legit fear of missing out – on people’s lives.

In all objectivity, I think there are many facets to this. For starters, I’m letting comparison ruin my contentment in the season that God has me in my specific department with my specific job scope. At the same time, I believe that I am not limited to nor am I defined by my job scope. I can bust out of that and stretch. Of course, there is real physical limited capacity, so I have to manage time and energy. But it is possible. And I need to be realistic about expectations. Prioritise. I can’t cover the whole worship ministry, but I must touch base with the top tier of leaders regularly, at least.

But I think the deeper issue God is working within me is one that is of a dredging nature. He’s dredging out all the emotional yuck and gunk so that he can get to the core. And at the core he’s asking me, put aside what you feel, because that’s misleading you. Sam, what do you really want?

I realised that I don’t want to be involved deeply in every single person’s life per se, out of the fifties and the hundreds. I don’t want the imagined (and oh so misguided) prestige of being everyone’s Aunt Agony. I don’t want to define my success as a ministry leader by how many people call me up for daily advice. I don’t want to define my effectiveness by how many girls and boys are gathered around my dinner table, or how many people invite me to their homes, or how many house blessings/funerals/hospital visits I get asked to, or how many fellowship events we have. I don’t really want people to need me, because that’s an unhealthy co-dependent relationship and so wrong at so many levels.

So what do I really want?

Here’s where the real ache in my heart is: I highly value authenticity in relationships, to the point that I would rather be known to the people in my life as Sam, plainly and simply. Not Sam-the-ministry-staff, or Sam-our-boss, or Sam-my-leader, or Sam-the-worship-leader, or Sam-the-event-coordinator.

I think there’s a tricky river to navigate when I approach people in various situations wearing different hats, simply because I do have many overlapping roles in ministry. Perhaps there is something about my disposition in each ministry relational encounter, and perhaps it is something I need to acknowledge and work with, as well as work within myself to accept. And aside from the perhaps-es, I ache to slow down. To slow to such a pace that I don’t have to rush past the people in ministry – a touch here, a word there, a prayer here, a rehearsal there. I am aching to create margin in my life, not just for time to do what’s priority in work, but to prioritise people I meet along the way at my work. I want relationships to not be work.

I don’t exactly know how this can happen practically, but at least I know where to channel my misguided (frankly egotistical) “I need people to need me” tendencies now, and how to take these thoughts captive in obedience to Christ and instead ask of him – Lord, show me how these relationships should really be. Let me be excellent at work but let me not just relate with people on merely the work level. Grant your favour upon the relationships I have, that what I’ve just mentioned be a mutual desire between myself and the other parties. At the same time, deepen my identity and security in you, that I will not have an irrational FOMO. FOMO is a poor motivator and it will not sustain me in leadership. Instead, let me be motivated by your love to reach people. Only because of love, not for self-gain. All in Jesus’ name, amen.

the beauty of small things

Good morning, folks. It’s 7am on a Saturday morning in my little corner of the world. Yes, you read correctly, I’m up early on a weekend. There’s been a small stirring in me this week to cherish mornings more than I usually do. There’s a sweetness to waking up before my family stirs, to hear the sound of birds chirping outside my window before the coming and going of vehicles on the highway next to my estate drowns out their morning song. Then there’s the sweetness of my morning coffee, too. One packet of kopi-O dunked in freshly boiled water, and a helping of my favourite Meiji milk. Stir it like a kopitiam uncle, and sip to delight.

This is breathing room. And in this space, the Lord is reminding me of the beauty of small things, or as my favourite worship leader Christy Nockels would say, “glorious in the mundane.” How quickly and easily I overlook the value of small things.

The Lord loves small things done with bigness of heart. Jesus’ ministry was marked by the small things. When he came into the world, it was a small manger. He had a small baby shower at which three wise men appeared. When he busted out onto the ministry scene at age thirty (what a relief for me to hear!), he didn’t hold huge Reinhard Bonnke-ish rallies in front of tens of thousands. The beginnings of his ministry were small, befriending a fisherman here, a tax collector there. And even when he drew crowds, he always focused on people one at a time.

I think God has special blessing upon the small things. He blessed the small baskets of five loaves and two fish. He said faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains. He told us to be like little children (Matt 18:3), and said the least shall be greatest and the last shall be first. Every little prayer in the least of my moments presses through the atmosphere into the bigness of his heart.

Frustration comes easy to me when I want things big (and now), and I forget the beauty of small things. When comparison not only steals my joy, but brings contempt for the small things I already have. In the playback reel of my life, it will be the small moments that add up. The way a friend shares small updates of her missions journey with me. The way this worship teammate always drives me home after rehearsal, never failing to make small talk in that short ride. The small prayers we pray in our small groups in church, with hands held, saying “Lord use our five loaves and two fish and multiply it for your purposes and your glory.” The way a small attitude shift makes a big difference between peacemaking or escalation of a conflict situation. The way small efforts are all I can afford, and sometimes though only yielding small change, but still I find the grace in him to persevere.

The big moments are great, but as with all shiny things, they lose their lustre after a while. The small things are what the Lord keeps in his heart, because in the work of transformation he’s doing in me, he’s not done until every small part of my life becomes yielded to his way.

Galatians 6:9

So do not grow weary in doing good, for at a proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

I don’t know when that time is, or how big that harvest will be in the natural, but I do know that every seed sown turns into a bushel of wheat that the Lord picks up and uses, whether in the supernatural or in the natural, in his time and on his scale. And that’s grand.

And Christy Nockels doesn’t know this, but her faithfulness in publishing podcasts from her corner of the world helped me remember the beauty of small things because of this episode: https://christynockels.com/ep-23-mini-podcast-update/

 

to be a voice and not an echo.

This voice of mine. I use it, I abuse it, I misuse it.

I use it to lead worship on weekends at my church. I use it to encourage someone. I use it to crack jokes that bring laughter to my home and workplace. I use it to teach from the Bible. I use it to sing new songs and prophetically over others’ and my own situation.

I abuse it when I mismanage my schedule and line up too many singing/teaching programmes back to back, and then I get throat infections with it.

I misuse it when I speak words that are unkind, ungracious, unhelpful, unnecessary, unbecoming, untimely.

Today was a great day spent with a trusted friend. We spent a great amount of time talking about the things upon our hearts. Yet as I reflected on the conversations we had, I realised that many of my utterances were of defeat and discouragement. And contempt, oh so much contempt.

“There’s no breakthrough anywhere,” I said about my current experience with ministry. “This xyz situation is headed into a state of crisis if somebody doesn’t do something now, and why does it always have to be me?” I complained. I listed the faults of my leaders, the flaws of my co-workers, the falling-shorts of our lil’ old church in comparison with other bigger, better, brighter churches, and the failures of our members.

Death in dialogue. And in my internal monologue, death too. I berated and discouraged myself in my inner thoughts, and I proclaimed so many negative things about myself.

How is it that the same mouth that sings life in praises to God can also utter such death?

Warfare. Upon my emotions today, especially today. Every little incident became a trigger of a negative string of thoughts. Every scenario I played in my mind was tinged with a dark screen, it is little wonder that I had so much negativity upon my speech today.

Fight. At 9pm, I decided I will not take this lying down. “Enemy you shall not win the fight for my joy in God tonight,” I said as I finished up my late dinner. I went home and into my room, closed the door and began praying and reading the Bible. The Lord lifted my spirits as I lifted my voice and spoke His healing, hope and solutions into the places I spoke death into earlier today. He shifted my perspective and convicted my heart of some attitude shifts I needed to make as I flipped the pages of my Bible, and found these verses:

“Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh and blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:10-12)

“Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” (1 Thess 5:16-18)

“Dear brothers and sisters, honor those who are your leaders in the Lord’s work. They work hard among you and give you spiritual guidance. Show them great respect and wholehearted love because of their work. And live peacefully with each other.” (1 Thess 5:12-13)

Resolve. I choose to close today with these verses on my mind and my voice uttering the same hope and power that is from my God. If I were to merely state things as they are now, I am simply an echo. Criticism is ever easily upon the lips of the crowd, what’s new that hasn’t already been said? May it be that I will be a voice, and not just an echo, speaking as if it weren’t so, life and truth into the spiritual realms of this world.