First post of the decade. Second one about crossing into a new one. Just a random “diary” kind of entry.
Was just lying in bed two nights ago and it kind of hit me. This past decade was the one that changed me the most as a person. It formed the transformative years of my life.
At the start of the 2010s, I was a totally different person and would have never imagined how I would be by the end of it.
In this decade, I tried out martial arts (for awhile). In this decade, I found my love for movies – especially the MCU. In this decade, I picked up the acoustic guitar. In this decade, I discovered my passion for writing. In this decade, I experienced four phases of life – secondary school, polytechnic, army, university.
There were so many other things that happened in this span of 10 years, but nothing transformed my life like the following: coming to Heart of God Church and knowing Jesus.
In 2011, I became a Christian and everything has been the greatest adventure since. It is hard to believe just 10 years ago, I did not know God.
More than the skills, experience and interests I adopted along the way, with Christ and church, I have found true joy, purpose and relationships for my life. I enter the new decade with faith, friends and family – more than I ever had before.
It’s crazy. In this next decade, I am going to enter my 30s (though not that soon). I am going to experience the next phases of life – love, career and family.
But no matter where life takes me, I set my eyes again, like I did in the 2010s, on the one Person that is always there for me.
If there is only one thing I can bring from my life in the 2010s to the 2020s, it is my relationship with Jesus Christ.
I may not know what the future holds, but I know Him who holds my future.
This is the final part of An Open Letter to Heart of God Church. Read Parts 1, 2 and 3 first if you haven’t.
Clueless. I think that is how I would describe myself from 8 years ago. Other than being remotely skilled in playing computer games & the guitar, and knowing how to study, I don’t think I knew much about anything else. It never crossed my mind that I was gifted, even though God has blessed each and every single one of us with unique talents.
I was just an ordinary boy, but in Heart of God Church, I was given countless opportunities to discover my gifts and be trained in my abilities. When I was 17 years-old, I joined the Videos Ministry. I had 100% interest in making videos and 0% skills to properly do so. Yet instead of being placed somewhere else where I could serve immediately, I was trained from scratch by the leaders and more experienced crew in the ministry.
From knowing nothing about Photoshop, After Effects & Premiere Pro, I went on to be part of big video productions in church. And that is only one example of how people invested their time, energy and heart in me. If I were to describe every little and big thing they did just to encourage me and build me, this open letter will never end.
I never saw myself as someone who can be creative and bold or even as someone who can make a difference in people’s lives. But my pastors and leaders saw beyond the young kid I was and believed in me. Even as I grew older (and am still ordinary), they continued believing in my dreams.
That is why today, I can do the things I do – making videos, writing, giving Bible study lessons, preaching in Connect Groups, and just leading people closer to God in general. If God had not led me to Heart of God Church, where Pastor How & Pastor Lia have built an entire culture around “making the dreams of others come true” and “using the church to build people”, I would never have known I could do all those things or make an impact in the lives of others.
I really believe that is why Christians should always worship God and honor their pastors and leaders. God deserves our worship, and He is the only one worthy of it; there is no being in this universe stronger, higher, greater than Him, yet He cares for us so much to engineer circumstances where we can meet and have a relationship with Him. We should also honor Him in all areas of our lives. As for our pastors – while we do not worship men, we certainly should give them honor.
Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.
1 Timothy 5:17 (NKJV)
It is a biblical principle we ought to apply in our lives. More than just preaching to us on stage, my pastors have spent two decades building the church and people off stage. In fact, Pastor How & Pastor Lia did so for 21 years without a real, proper sabbatical. I think the least we can do is honor people like them, who are not just pastors but spiritual parents to us.
That is the main reason why I wrote this open letter. It is to honor the God, the church and the people who have changed my life so much. More than just being equipped with multiple skills, I am more grateful for having grown in my character and my heart. Because to me, that is what it means to become Christians. That is what following Christ and being His children means.
What it means to Become
Becoming a Christian is less about being skilled and multi-talented, and more about having great character. Of course, we can and should have both character and abilities so that we can serve God excellently. But being a part of Heart of God Church and seeing how my pastors lead people has taught me what it truly means to become. At the end of the day, if my pastors or leaders had to make an ultimate choice between building a person’s character or abilities – character will always come first. It is simply more important. When our character is at the right place, everything else (our abilities, skills, talents) will fall into place.
I love my friends at Heart of God Church so much because they are people of great talents, and people of even greater character. They have what I would describe as both “the hands & the heart of ministry.” People do not see Christ in us just by our charisma alone. They see Christ in our character. Who cares if we are awesome at dancing, singing, public speaking – but our hearts are inward-looking and far away from God?
So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart, and guided them by the skillfulness of his hands.
Psalm 78:72 (NKJV)
As I was writing this letter, I just can’t help but thank God again & again. He did not just give me a purpose & meaning in life, He changed me for the better through His Word and His people.
Looking back, I think I’ve grown in a few ways. First of all, I have definitely become a little more patient and accepting of people’s imperfections, haha. Because Christ and my friends in church first accepted me for who I am, I now know to do the same for others. No one is perfect, and we all need Jesus!
On a similar note, another phrase you would hear often in our church is “Build bridges, not walls.” More than just being accepting of people who come to church, we also work towards the acceptance and understanding of other ethnic and religious groups in our local community. For me personally, I just think it’s a real privilege to live in racial & religious harmony in Singapore. We should continue to protect that and build bridges with our community.
What else? I think I have also become a person who is more joyful. Does that mean I don’t have problems? No! It just means my problems don’t have me. Even in the worst of days when I have nothing to praise, I can still praise Him. Jesus still loves me. He is still with me and for me. Now, the source of my joy is no longer my circumstances, but His presence! With Him, I can have true joy from the inside out.
You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.
Psalm 16:11 (NKJV)
With God and my friends, I have also grown to become a person of faith and boldness. I never imagined I could speak confidently in front of a group of people, much less preach to them. Neither did I ever had dreams for my life and future. Thank God He came into my life.
Last but not least, I think I have grown to become a person who is a little more others-centered. Like I mentioned before, it is hard not to be challenged & inspired to love others when I am constantly in fellowship with God and my friends at Heart of God Church. The heart of God, after all, is always for people.
For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
1 Timothy 2:3-4
We are so passionate about reaching out to people and bringing them to church because God desires it and has a plan for them. And just as how God has loved us and changed our lives, we want to see the same impact in the people around us. We simply just can’t keep all the blessings to ourselves. Ultimately, we are blessed to be a blessing.
With that, I would like to conclude this open letter.
I hope to whoever is reading this, that it has been a blessing to you. Thank you once again for sticking with this post and reading all my thoughts.
And for the last time today – thank you, Heart of God Church. I have written a lot of things over the past week about you, but honestly, no words can fully encapsulate the impact you have made in my life. Even though this post has ended, your amazing stories don’t end here.
To Pastor How, Pastor Lia, and all my leaders & friends, I am eternally grateful for you. See you all soon.
This is the third part of An Open Letter to Heart of God Church. Read Part 1 and Part 2 first if you haven’t.
Gratitude, once again, is my main motivation for writing this post. Assuming you have read the previous 2 parts of this open letter, you should remember me mentioning that I am thankful to Heart of God Church and its people because they have shown me what it means to belong, believe and become.
But at this point, I want to also thank you. If you have read to this point, I am grateful for your time and attention. Thanks for even considering reading all my personal thoughts about church, especially for the many of you who don’t personally know me. I hope that the remaining parts of this letter will be worth your minutes, and that you will find positive things you are searching for.
I’ve shared with you some of my experiences being a part of Heart of God Church for close to 8 years, and the lessons it has taught me about belonging. Now, let me talk about what the church has taught me about believing. When it comes to this topic, I have only two main aspects I want to focus on – believing in God and believing in people.
What it means to Believe
Believing in God is an unavoidable subject when it comes to Christianity because it forms the basis of a Christian’s relationship with Christ. It is a decision one must make on their own; and it is one I personally made with no regrets to this day. But believing that God is real and that I can know Him is only the start. Continually having that same faith and trust in God in every situation and season of my life is what I need to always work on.
Life has its ups and downs, after all. And as a Christian, going through it is a journey of faith. But what is faith? Faith is not just believing, but believing even when things we are believing for have yet to come to pass.
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
Hebrews 11:1 (NKJV)
I have never, for example, physically seen or touched God. Yet I have faith that He is real and loves me, and I will meet Him face-to-face one day in Heaven. This is because I see the miracles & lives changed in church every weekend (evidence), and I can feel His love, peace and joy in my heart every day (substance). It is almost like wind – we can’t see it, but we can hear it, feel it and see the effects of it. That’s how we know it exists.
Also, I cannot see nor travel forward physically to my future. But I can have faith as I imagine it and look forward in life. According to the Bible, my faith is what will allow my dreams to physically take form (substance). My faith is the evidence that these dreams (that are not seen in reality yet) will come to pass. That is why faith is so important. It is not believing in myself; it is believing in God – that He can move mountains in every area of my life. When I believe in Him, I can have faith for breakthroughs in my studies, family, church and relationships.
However, our faith “leaks” from time to time. While it is definitely possible to “top up” and build up my faith at home while I am praying and reading the Bible alone (and I do it all the time) – being a part of Heart of God Church, hearing weekly sermons by our pastors and being surrounded by a group of faith-filled people helps a lot too. Trust me, it is very difficult to be negative about life or to doubt God’s ability to work in your life when you are constantly found in an environment and atmosphere like this.
When we have faith, God can do anything He wills for our lives.
“You don’t have enough faith,” Jesus told them. “I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.”
Matthew 17:20 (NLT)
That begs the question – how do we know if we have faith? By our actions. People can tell that a person has faith not just because he/she believes in God, but in the way they worship Him, pray, speak about life and act. Real faith always brings about action, character change and good works.
For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.
James 2:26 (NKJV)
That is why being part of a church is essential in every Christian’s life. That is why I am so glad to have Heart of God Church as my home. I have to quote a verse I shared previously again because it perfectly describes why without church, my pastors, leaders and friends, I would never have progressed this far in my faith in God. Once again, remember that faith always brings about good works.
And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.
Hebrews 10:24-25 (NKJV)
Because I have so many role models in church, I am constantly inspired to give my best and have faith in whatever I do – be it volunteering in different ministries or loving people. Speaking about loving others, allow me now to share how being in Heart of God Church has taught me to believe in people.
It is not exactly the easiest thing to believe in people and invest time and energy in them so that they can grow to their maximum potential. This is especially true when it comes to young people. I mean, think about it. What do most young people have to offer? They have limited knowledge, resources and even freedom. Furthermore, what is there to gain from believing and investing in youths… except the pure joy one can receive from seeing them step into their destinies?
That is exactly how my pastors are like. This is why our senior pastors, affectionately known as Pastor How and Pastor Lia, started Heart of God Church – a youth church. They believed and still believe that young people can do great things for God. “What youths lack in experience, they can make up for with exposure. Youths are not just leaders of tomorrow, they are leaders of today.” Those are words that every HOGC member would have heard countless times from the pulpit and memorized by heart. Because that is our DNA.
So how do I know what it means to believe in people?
Remember I mentioned in the first part of this open letter that I came to church at the age of 15?
I learned to believe in people because I was first believed in.
I am just one of hundreds, if not thousands of young people who were believed and invested in, not because I had anything to offer, but because my church and my pastors just love and believe in youths. They have faith that young people can change the world.
This is the second part of An Open Letter to Heart of God Church. Read Part 1 first if you haven’t.
Okay, where was I again? Ah yes – friends. My friends didn’t love me because they had an agenda or because it was their job. They did it because they genuinely cared for me. Through them, I understood what true friendship means. True friends are not just people you can have fun with, but people you can do life with. True friends talk to you about anything and everything.
They are there in the valleys with you. They are there on the mountaintops with you. They encourage you and propel you towards the best life you can live. True friends are there even when there are no necessary reasons for their presence (school projects, work, common hobbies, etc). At the same time, we all eat, play and laugh with (and at) one another! We make memories we will remember for years to come.
Through these people, I saw what it means to truly belong – what it means to belong to a relationship, what it means to belong to a family. We always say that in church, it is where family becomes friends and friends become family. No wonder Christians call their friends in church their spiritual family. But to me, “spiritual family” isn’t just a nice thing to say. I really see my friends as family.
Just like any good, loving family, they gave me advice on which schools to go to and how to stay positive during my National Service. They taught me how to plan my time better, brought me out, gave me gifts, celebrated my milestones, believed in my dreams, corrected my flaws and spoke faith into my future. They loved me enough to speak the truth and always saw in me potential I never saw in myself.
I gotta be honest, for months, I came to church because of these people. I knew it was out of a good heart that they invited me to church and I didn’t want to reject them. And on top of that, they were awesome to hang out with! But week after week as I heard sermons preached by our pastors and stories of how people’s lives were changed, I had a revelation.
I began to understand that the reason why this people could be so loving to me was because they were first loved by Jesus. They understood and gave others true belonging because they first belonged to Christ. I realized that though these people love me, God loved me even more. Eventually, I couldn’t deny His love any longer, and that is why I became a Christian!
Then they said to the woman, “Now we believe, not just because of what you told us, but because we have heard him ourselves. Now we know that he is indeed the Savior of the world.”
John 4:42 (NLT)
Christianity is not just a religion, it’s a relationship – both with God and God’s family. And a relationship is about belonging. I initially came to church because of people, but I stayed till this day because of God. My belonging is no longer just found in Christians, but in Christ; and that is why I want to always belong to Him and His house.
Even after close to 8 years, my character is still being molded every single weekend in church. That is why I think it is important to spend time in God’s Word and presence on a daily basis, but also to spend time with our spiritual family (in and outside of church). We were designed to live in communities. Together, we are stronger.
Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.
Hebrews 10:24-25 (NLT)
I am so thankful to have a church I truly belong to. That is why I volunteer in church and give my time, energy and finances. It is my way of giving back to the place, people and Person that first gave so much to me.
But also, I do the things I do because I belong to this family. In a family, if you say that you belong to it and it belongs to you, then it is natural and right to not just receive, but also to give to one another, and to help make the house a better place.
It is the same for church! I do the things I do not because anyone told me I have to, but because I personally want to. In an environment where people live others-centered lives, I can’t help but be inspired to do the same as well. At the end of the day, I guess all these are part of what it means to belong to God, His family and His plan for my life.
Beyond that, serving and giving also helps build my character. Looking back on the past few years, my hope is that I’ve grown to know God’s heart a little bit more, and that I’ve become less selfish and more Christlike. One way to ensure that happens is that I always keep my heart and mind close to God.
It is natural for us human beings to always focus on the things we spend our treasured time and money on. Think about the last time you spent hundreds of dollars on a new gadget, bag or pair of shoes. You just couldn’t stop thinking about it and would even keep it close to you so no one would take it away from you or dirty it, right?
When I give my best to God and to church, it is one way to keep my heart aligned and less focused on myself. It keeps my heart pointed towards God and others. It keeps me close to Him.
Hi, readers. Today, I am writing and sharing with you a post that is really important to me. In fact, I believe it is the most important one I’ve written yet. It will also probably be broken down into a few parts because I have way too many personal thoughts and stories to share to keep it within one readable post.
But first, before I begin, just a little background about myself; I am a Christian and have been attending Heart of God Church for close to 8 years now. I volunteer in the church on a regular basis and to me, church is a Home.
At this point, you are probably thinking – why did I decide to write this post now? No one told me to do so, nor do I have anything to gain out of this (at least not from anyone I know). Well, I am writing this for myself. I am writing this so that I will always remember to keep a heart of gratitude. Because a sense of gratitude is what prevents a sense of entitlement.
I know – the words “open letter” are commonly used in widely published articles with the purpose of criticism. But I think it’s time for us to redeem the name of open letters! After all, some of the oldest pieces of open letters were not used to criticize or attack, but to bring faith, hope and love to people.
I am referring to the epistles of Apostle Paul, which can be found in the Bible. Sure, there are many parts of these letters that challenge character growth and change. But all these are done from a heart of love. I really like how Paul begins his letters:
Greetings from Paul
This letter is from Paul, an apostle. I was not appointed by any group of people or any human authority, but by Jesus Christ himself and by God the Father, who raised Jesus from the dead. All the brothers and sisters here join me in sending this letter to the churches of Galatia. May God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.
Galatians 1:1–3 (NLT)
Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God.
Philippians 1:3 (NLT)
While I am not an apostle nor anywhere near Paul’s greatness, I certainly feel I can learn a thing or two (or more) from him. We can surely all grow to be people of peace and thanksgiving, don’t you think?
Haha anyway, that was quite a lengthy intro. Let’s begin with the main content of this letter, shall we?
I want to start by saying this: to Heart of God Church, its pastors, leaders, volunteers and members – thank you.
Over the past 8 years, you have taught me what it truly means to belong, to believe and to become. To be more specific, I am going to take the rest of this open letter to explain what I mean. Let me first talk about belonging.
What it means to Belong
When I first stepped into Heart of God Church, I was 15 years-old. I was doing relatively well in life! In school, I was scoring good grades and was also the president of a co-curricular activity (CCA). At home, I lived with a supportive grandma and a loving mother. We didn’t lack anything financially, so whenever I wanted something, most of the time, I got it.
I was living quite a simple life, but I was happy! Perhaps, it was also because I had a good bunch of friends. During school hours, we were serious about schoolwork together. After school hours, however, we became gaming buddies, going on quests and slaying monsters in the virtual world until bedtime.
I talk about all these things because when I mentioned “belonging”, the natural instinct for a lot of you might be to paint a picture of me as some boy from a broken family without love or care. Or maybe you imagined a person without any friends. I personally know people like that whose lives have been redeemed & turned around 180 degrees by the love of God and His people. But that is not my story.
The truth is for me, up until that point in time, I never thought my life could get any happier and have any more meaning or purpose. I was happy just living for the fun and excitement in the day-to-day. Maybe some of you can relate to this. I didn’t think there was a need for God or church in my life.
That all changed on May 29, 2011 when I stepped into Heart of God Church for the very first time. The moment I entered the auditorium, I knew there was something different about this place. Not gonna lie – what really amazed me at first were the colorful lights, cool music and lively atmosphere. But when I left that day, what left the deepest impression on me was the people.
I still remember very fondly that on that day, after service ended, I was about to leave the building together with my cousin who brought me there. But I was given a pleasant surprise by everyone I met that day in church! Turns out, my cousin had previously revealed to them that my birthday was a few days away. So they decided to surprise me with a cake and birthday song, even though it was only their first time meeting me!
Now, to some of you, you might think this would be a really awkward situation. But for me, I was just grinning from ear to ear. Haha, I just felt it was so sweet of these people to decide to do something like that for me, even though we were not close.
Over the next few weeks and months, I came back to church together with my cousin. The people in church got to know me better, I got to know them better. And I realized that these are really genuine people, who weren’t just being friendly with me. They actually wanted to be my friends. And let me tell you, there is a huge difference between being friendly and being a friend.