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#THIRSTACOUSTIC: Take Me

by | posted 17 October 2017, 5:03 PM

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“Our fight is simply to make it to tomorrow”: This is what depression looks like

by Mak Kean Loong | 9 October 2017, 4:34 PM

I almost committed suicide in August of 2017. I’d made plans. I’d started to put part of it into action, unbeknown to those closest to me.

I have a loving wife, a couple of good kids, and a supportive extended family. My Bible study group meets at my house every week, and we are a close-knit group. My support mechanisms are in place, and I know what I should do when depression hits, due to an earlier episode.

So why did things go wrong?

My temper had been getting worse day by day, even in the workplace. At home, I found myself over-critical of my boys, and easily tired. I withdrew from many social engagements. I forgot how to be happy. I’m still not sure how much of that was negativity, or how much of that was something else. My moods were often low. The doctors would call my persistent low mood dysthymia.

The stage was set. No one, including me, expected that the crash would happen.

Depression is a reality, and pain can lead us down paths we never knew existed. Let me try to give an idea of how depression feels.

Picture yourself putting on something that wraps itself around the top of your skull. Attached to this is a chainmail veil that drops over your eyes and ears. At the same time, a steel band is put around your heart, and starts to constrict, just a little, even as a cape of liquid metal drapes itself on your shoulders. It’s not heavy, but the weight is definitely felt. None of these can be taken off at will.

Now everything that you see and hear is filtered through this haze. All positivity is filtered out, through your eyes and ears. Pleasure is taken away, and whatever you see, touch, taste, hear, is now tinged with grey negativity. It’s never totally black. It’s a drip torture, little by little. You start losing touch with the world.

If this change was sudden, it might be easier since you know for sure you need help. Instead it drips on you, little by little, giving hope that things may improve, even as it takes away hope.

The band around your heart grows tighter. Everyday, the cape drags down further, gradually. It becomes harder to breathe, and every day grows dimmer, as you drag your feet, as you try to carry on. Soon, you can no longer lift your head. Everything feels like you’re slogging through mud. Drink tastes dry, and food tastes like sand.

Occasional bursts of enjoyment gets through, but nothing lasts beyond that sparkle of time, which makes it even more painful because you can’t reach back for it.

Despair starts to set in. Your self-worth drops. Hopelessness is your constant companion, as pain wracks your heart. Breathing becomes ever more difficult, and death itself seems like a good way out. It doesn’t matter how positive life is for you. Every step is painful, and everything is gray with despair. Every blessing becomes pale, every good thing becomes a shadow that you desperately wish to taste and enjoy, but can’t.

Words matter at this point. Words that tell you that you’re worth something; that someone cares. If you don’t even have that, suicide becomes a reality to dance with. Even with support, death becomes delicious, something to savour, because the pain is so deep that nothing else can fill your heart. As the pall continues to grow, as you struggle to breathe, to walk, to think, nothing matters anymore.

That is how depression feels for a sufferer.

I won’t publish my plan, so that others won’t get an idea of how I planned to end my life. But it had been well thought out. When I reached home that day, I knew how I was going to do it.

Yet, I promised myself – God’s grace upon me! – to call the Institute of Mental Health’s emergency helpline. If no one picked up, or I got disconnected, I would proceed as I’d planned.

I held the phone for 10 minutes. The counsellors were busy. When someone finally answered, I kept my word. I spoke. She listened. She asked. She advised me to come in to the IMH emergency clinic as soon as possible. She gave me directions, and made sure that I knew their number, so that along the way, I could call if I was in danger. I told her I would.

She had no idea that she was instrumental in saving my life.

I was admitted to IMH for my suicidal plans and tendencies. The time there wasn’t always easy, though everything was regulated and I was well taken care of. There were group therapy sessions in the ward I was in, and I responded well to medication. I was discharged after a week; other patients usually stay for at least a few weeks.

If my story speaks to you in any way, to your current struggles or past feelings, please know this: You are not alone, and help is available.

If you have never sought medical help before, please consider it. There are various means that you can use in Singapore.

If you are not having suicidal thoughts, or don’t believe that you will act on your thoughts in the short run, visit a government polyclinic to get assessed. GPs in Singapore are generally well equipped to assess such conditions. I have managed to get compassionate help from my private GP as well as a polyclinic GP. They will refer you to any government hospital specialist if there is a need.

There are also other sources that you can seek for help from, such as counselling centers, or private therapists.

If you are already seeking medical help, remember that you are not alone. There are many people who are also seeking medical help for mental issues. Don’t feel ashamed, or fall for the fallacy that if you are mentally ill, you are mentally weak. No one chooses to be ill, just as no one chooses to have a broken arm, or the flu. Don’t blame yourself.

Be responsible in taking your medication, and keeping up with your follow-ups – that is already a huge thing. Be responsible for your own actions, and apologise where you need to, but don’t apologise for being sick.

If you feel suicidal, answer the following questions:

1. Do you have constant thoughts of suicide?
2. Do you have a plan on how to commit suicide? Can you describe it to some level of detail?
3. Do you have a timeline by which you wish to commit suicide?

If your answer is yes to any/all the questions above, seek immediate help. Death may seem to be the only option, and may seem delicious and easier – but your mind is lying to you. There are other ways out, and you need to seek help.

Call the Samaritans of Singapore at 1800-221 4444. Alternatively, IMH has a 24 hour helpline at 6389 2222. Both numbers are manned by trained volunteers or counsellors around the clock. Why not talk to someone who is willing to listen to you before you do anything? You have nothing to lose by calling either of these numbers as soon as possible.

There are major changes that mental health sufferers will have to adapt to. Our expectations of life and the world need to be toned down. Get well first. As long as we are not well, there are fights we cannot fight. When we are better, we can then educate others on the illness, and increase awareness of the issue.

Our fight is simply to live to the next day. When we have accomplished that, we can fight for the next week. When we have conquered thinking a week ahead, we can then learn to fight a month ahead.

Don’t expect too much of yourself, because your mind needs to recover and heal. Sometimes the healing can take years. Sometimes miracles happen, and healing is quicker. If not, don’t forget that such mental illnesses are there for the long haul.

If you find yourself dipping back into the darkness, try not to despair. Talk to your mental health professional at the closest possible opportunity. Work with your doctor or therapist, not against them. Pharmaceutical conspiracies are precisely that – conspiracies. The amounts we pay for our medicines, especially at government hospitals, don’t justify the doctors keeping us on treatment for longer than necessary.

Our doctors and therapists work hard to help us get better. If you are not comfortable with the doctor or therapist working with you, by all means, ask for another one. Just don’t do that too often, as there aren’t that many in Singapore to go around!

Get a support group that understands you without demanding more from you. Support groups can include friends, family members or members of your religious group. We need to grow and heal at our own pace, and no one has a right to dictate the pace for us. Our actions will determine how much we progress through therapy and medication.

If we are not honest with our support groups, or our doctors, we can’t expect to get better any time soon. If we are honest and responsible, reaching out for help when we need it, there is every hope and chance that we will come out from under this dark cloud at some point.

Singapore remains a country where depression and similar mental conditions remain not well understood. The medical help structure however, is robust, and has contributed to saving lives. Don’t waste our lives or hurt the ones who love us, by taking our lives into our own hands. Seek help, and remember that we are never alone in this fight. At least you now know that I’ll be struggling alongside you!


This blogpost was first published on the author’s own blog. It has been edited for length and republished with permission.

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I’m an introvert, but I won’t let that be my excuse

by | 9 October 2017, 4:17 PM

I’m a claustrophobic introvert and it’s pretty obvious.

Me-time is my favourite time of the day. It’s when I just lie on my bed and read, or watch some YouTube videos. Just me and myself.

Needless to say, the days I dread most are the days when I have gatherings or events to head to. People. Humans. They drain the life out of me.

My closest friends know this: I hate socialising and meeting new people.

For instance, I was on my way to a church retreat after work one evening, when the sudden thought of having to interact with many strangers scared me. I made a U-turn and headed home instead.

I love solitude and silence. Left to my own devices, I would just stay at home forever — and I know I’m not the only one.

THE FRIEND WHO GOT AWAY

I got to know Janice (not her real name) in JC. We quickly became close friends because we were so similar. Janice was easily exhausted from being surrounded by people and overwhelmed by the tasks she had to do.

She began skipping classes once a week. Then it became twice a week. Eventually she was just never in school.

She kept retreating to her safe space and comfort zone.

I love solitude and silence. Left to my own devices, I would just stay at home forever — and I know I’m not the only one.

It became increasingly frustrating for us as her friends because we were constantly trying to track her down. We had to call her at home every morning to get her to come to school, and every night to make sure she got her homework done.

There was Project Work to do, and there were SYF selections coming up. But Janice just stopped showing up.

She ended up repeating JC1, but eventually her escapism got the better of her and she dropped out of school altogether.

No one from my circle of friends in JC has managed to get into contact with Janice since.

THE INTROVERT’S ESCAPE

I totally understand the motivation behind Janice’s tendency to run from everything.

My current workplace has an “open desk” concept. That means there aren’t any cubicles or partition. Also, the office is basically housed in a renovated storeroom, so there isn’t exactly a lot of space.

I’m sandwiched between people and our team isn’t exactly the quietest and tidiest one around. It’s an introvert’s worst nightmare.

So when the option to work offsite came up, I jumped at it immediately. It felt like cold water for a thirsty man.

I was more productive at home. It was tidy, quiet and spacious. I got more things done and I saved time on commuting and lunch breaks. It was a win-win situation.

I rationalised my decision with the cold, hard statistics I could see tangibly. I mean, being in my comfort zone helps me!

Until I realised that it was becoming poison for my heart. On the days when I had to come into the office, I was filled with dread and frustration. I couldn’t wait for the day to be over so I could quickly get home to my safe place.

Work became merely a routine of tasks I had to complete. I didn’t know what was going on in my colleagues’ lives and how they were doing. Constantly retreating to my comfort zone, I switched off my interpersonal skills completely.

But it wasn’t supposed to be like that. Whatever happened to team spirit? Whatever happened to being there for one another? What happened to relationship building?

WHY I SHOW UP

Eventually I decided that I would show up in the office every single day. Even on our stipulated offsite days.

If I continued to stay in my comfort zone, where was the reliance on God? Where’s the room for God to move in unthinkable ways? Where’s the trust in God?

It would be so easy to live my life the way my personality would otherwise dictate. But I can’t let my introversion be my excuse that keeps me from living life to the fullest.

I still don’t go to gatherings as often as my friends would want me to, but I try. It’s difficult, but I ask God for help. For strength. For patience. For endurance. For joy. I ask Him to expand my perspective, that even in overly-social functions I can find meaning and purpose over sheer reluctance.

It would be so easy to live my life the way my personality would otherwise dictate. But I can’t let my introversion be my excuse that keeps me from living life to the fullest.

Maybe I’ll bless someone with my presence. Or maybe, I’ll be blessed by something someone will say to me.

I choose to show up. Not because I am obligated to. I know that doing things out of a spirit of obligation will eventually burn me out. But I see the greater picture: Christians can’t be light in a dark world without showing up. I cannot be a light in the world by hiding at home (Matthew 5:14).

Jesus first showed up for me.

This is why I choose to lay my introversion down at the altar. This is why I show up.

/ christina@thir.st

Christina is a designer and a writer. She is an INFJ who loves matcha, beautiful typography, good books and sad music. She also dreams of raising her own pet penguin one day.

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I was planning to get married, then I got cancer

by Yolanda Lee | 6 October 2017, 4:21 PM

“Yolanda, I’m really sorry but you have cancer.”

I didn’t know how to react. My mind was a blank. The doctor continued explaining my report, but I just stared blankly at her. As I lay down for her to examine me, I noticed that tears were streaming down my face.

“Triple Negative Breast Cancer” was what the doctors called it. A rare form of breast cancer.

Anyone else would have called it their worst nightmare. And now it was mine.

It was August 2016. I was 28 years old, working as a music educator and happily in a relationship for more than a year. Howard and I were already discussing marriage and our future together. Life was really good and I had nothing to complain about.

I had discovered a pimple-sized lump underneath the skin on my right breast. I didn’t think too much of it until a month later, when I realised it had grown to the size of a grape. It might just be a simple cyst, I thought.

Two weeks later, I finally saw a doctor at the hospital to get it checked up and removed. The cyst had grown to be about 5cm in diameter. Cancer didn’t cross my mind. I was still convinced it was benign.

Walking out of the clinic after receiving my diagnosis, I felt as if my entire world was crumbling to pieces.

I’m too young to have cancer. I have a lot of things in life to accomplish. I still want to look pretty, to have fun, to go on holidays and eat delicious food. I still want to get married. With cancer, will I be able to? Will Howard accept me?

I was to undergo a full mastectomy of my right breast. They couldn’t save it because the tumour occupied more than 80% of the breast.

After my surgery, I saw that one side of my chest was heavily bandaged and flat. I braced myself for how it would look like after the bandages were removed. I asked myself every day in the hospital: When I see my body in the mirror, a huge scar across my chest – one breast no longer there – will I break down and cry?

Would this make me less of a female? I worried about how Howard would see me. Honestly, I feared how other people would look at me, more than how I’d see myself.

The next course of my treatment was chemotherapy. The initial side effects were severe nausea and headaches. I couldn’t eat or sleep well for the next few days. It got so bad that even drinking a sip of water would cause me to gag. I was like a living corpse.

One week after my first session, I realised my hair was falling out while I was in the shower. I stood staring at the clumps of fallen hair in shock.

I knew it was coming, but seeing it happen with my own eyes was another thing. Even gently combing my fingers through my hair would cause it to fall out relentlessly. When I woke up in the morning, my whole pillow would be covered with hair.

He revealed to me: This is your new crown. The crown of faith, strength and courage.

The pain of watching my hair fall off was far worse than having to see myself bald. It was like watching bits of yourself waste away to nothing. In the end, I plucked up the courage to visit the hairdresser to shave my head bald.

As I watched her take huge snips out of what little hair I had left, followed by the sound of the electric razor shaving my head, I had to fight extremely hard to hold back my tears.

Lord, lend me your strength. I do not want to cry here in public. Hold me tight and keep me strong.

But that night, during my quiet time with God, He revealed to me: This is your new crown. The crown of faith, strength and courage.

Then, as though my life hadn’t fallen apart quite enough, I was informed that chemotherapy would eventually cause me to lose my ovarian functions. That meant I would become infertile. I would also experience menopause at the age of 28.

How could this be? Just months ago, I had been talking to Howard about how many kids we wanted – and now I couldn’t even have children biologically. But thanks to modern medicine, there was a solution: Freezing my eggs in a storage unit for In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF) in the future.

I had to undergo 14 days of injections to grow and ripen as many eggs as possible before the surgery to have the eggs extracted. I also had to take monthly jabs to protect my ovaries as much as possible in hopes that they might function normally even after my treatment.

“If you tell me this is going to be enough for the future, I’m trusting You and I’ll be contented. But if it is not enough, then give me what You think is best for me.”

But it was through this trial that I got to experience a miracle of God for the first time. On average, it is recommended to have 10 to 15 eggs ripened and frozen for IVF to be potentially successful. On the second last day of my injection cycle, I only had 6 eggs – a far cry away from what was considered to be a safe amount.

I prayed to God and asked Him, “Lord, I only have 6 eggs. If you tell me this is going to be enough for the future, I’m trusting You and I’ll be contented. But if You think it is not enough, then give me what You think is best for me.”

He was silent. But the day after my injection cycle ended, I entered the operating theatre with a heart set on trusting Him and went through the procedure.

The surgery was supposed to last at least two hours, but within 40 minutes, the doctor had managed to extract 10 eggs and ended earlier than expected. God had answered my prayer in His own way and showed me that He heard my cries.

In the initial discovery of my cancer, I questioned God so much about why I had to go through this suffering. Why does this have to happen to me when everything was going fine? Why now? Why me? Why, God, why?

I felt like everything had been taken from me. I had lost my hair. Lost my natural ability to have children. I had even begun to experience lingering numbness in my fingers and toes. I’d heard of patients who lost their sense of touch because of chemotherapy and were ultimately unable to even hold a pencil. Being a piano teacher, I couldn’t have this happening to me.

It wasn’t that I was angry with God. I was just really sad.

I came to Him on my knees, crying and questioning Him; it was so difficult to fully surrender myself to Him. Then, one day, I heard Him for the first time, loud and clear, “My child, I need you to do this. You are not alone, for I will be with you.”

I believe what it says in Isaiah 40, that those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Jesus is for me.

Finally I could say that I wasn’t afraid to die. I told Him that If I were to not make it through surgery or cancer, I was no longer afraid, because I knew He’d be there on the other side waiting for me.

In May 2017, I finally completed my chemotherapy treatment and was declared cancer-free.

I was more than ready to head back to work – back to a normal life. There were medical bills from the treatment and future reviews that I had to pay and save up for. Becoming a cancer patient meant that I was no longer able to buy insurance. That means I have no fall-back plan should I ever become ill again. And I have no guarantee that I won’t have another relapse of cancer.

One week before I returned to work, I was told that my contract with the company had been terminated because they deemed my health condition to be a liability. They offered me a part-time contract instead, and as I was financially desperate at the time – I took it up.

The confusion resurfaced in my heart. I thought the trials were finally over … How could I lose my full-time job as well, God?

Then, in early September, I went for my quarterly review at the hospital and was told that I now have osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is when you develop fragile bones, with an increased chance of fracture. It is more commonly seen in older women as a side effect of menopause, but as my ovaries had stopped functioning because of chemotherapy, I am experiencing it too.

Now I have to be extra careful with my physical movements and try to maintain a healthy weight. I currently only weigh 39kg. You can’t tell by looking at my size, but that reveals how hollow my bones are because of the osteoporosis.

Besides this discovery, two really tiny white spots were also found in my remaining breast from a mammogram and ultrasound scan. Not again.

The doctor tells me that I need to go for more scans, and if there is cause for suspicion, she will have to do another biopsy to determine if it is cancerous.

God, please don’t let me go through this again. I don’t think I can do it. I thought it was over already?

I have struggled and wrestled with God. I have yelled and cried in front of Him.

But again and again, I choose to surrender. He knows best. He knows my heart through and through.

The scar across my chest is a beautiful reminder of the time when God was there by my side to fight the battle for me. It is also a reminder of the moment that I chose not to give in – but to keep the faith and fight. It represents who I used to be – someone who treasured her outward appearances – and who I am now. A warrior.

At this time of writing, one of the spots has miraculously disappeared. The doctors have no idea what the remaining spot is and because it is too tiny, they can’t do anything about it right now. The only thing we can do is continue to pray and wait.

Please, remember me in your prayers.

Despite all the uncertainties, I choose to trust in God’s promises and in His providence. I trusted Him once and He didn’t fail me.

I’ll trust Him again no matter what.


The month of October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Yolanda now actively speaks to lend her support to fellow cancer fighters around her. If you know anyone who is going through the same situation and needs a companion for encouragement, drop her an email at yolandalee88@gmail.com.

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I was almost aborted

by | 28 September 2017, 1:09 PM

For many parents-to-be, finding out the gender of their unborn baby is usually an exciting and touching moment. But not for my parents.

My father really wanted a son. Imagine his disappointment when he found out that the baby in the womb – me – was a girl.

To make things worse, my mother felt insecure in their marriage. Newly relocated to a different country, she wasn’t sure it was the best time to bring a child into the equation. She was depressed and lonely.

She planned to abort me.

I only found out about this when I was around 11 years old, after eavesdropping on a conversation between my mother and a relative.

When I confronted her about this some years later, my mother didn’t shy from admitting it, though she said she wasn’t proud of it.

She was almost 30 then, she said. She was still settling into marriage. She had a job to think about. She wasn’t doing things on impulse.

In the end, she later told me that she just couldn’t bring herself to do it. “I tried to imagine the future that was in store for you. You had a bright future ahead. It would’ve been selfish for me to just live for myself.”

In August 1993, I was born with multiple physical deformities – a club foot and a tumour on my head – due to my position in my mother’s womb and a traumatic labour. My mother said it was one of the saddest days of her life. When she saw me, she was filled with regret.

A LIFE OF SCARS

Knowing I had almost been aborted changed how I lived.

I grew up distant from my father and I don’t recall having ever made any real emotional connection with him when young. For the longest time I didn’t know why. I remember finding the many birthday and Father’s Day cards I’d made for him strewn carelessly around the house or even used as rough paper. Neglected, unreciprocated. It became the norm for me.

Every time an argument sprang up at home, it would end with, “It’s all because of you.” I was the cause of my father’s unhappiness. I was the cause of my mother’s pain. I was the cause of their marriage falling apart.

I shouldn’t have existed.

I was the cause of my father’s unhappiness. I was the cause of my mother’s pain. I was the cause of their marriage falling apart. I shouldn’t have existed.

It wouldn’t be fair to say that my parents didn’t try their best to bring me up. But unfortunately, I grew into my teenage years conscious that I was an unwanted burden to my parents. So I became extremely introverted. I hated birthday celebrations because, “what for?”

I never really fit in anywhere. I was bullied in school and I spent my childhood trying to meet my parents’ expectations – just so that they could like me more. The better I performed, the more applause I got, if only fleetingly.

At the root of it, it always felt like nothing I did would ever be enough to satisfy them. I was an empty shell. I struggled to find a sense of belonging and a purpose for living.

Maybe I really should have been aborted, I thought.

WHY AM I HERE?

When I was a confused 16-year-old, I visited a church and came to know God.

All my peers were abuzz about which JC or poly they’d wanted to go to, and they all had big dreams for their future. For the first time ever, I started to really ask myself: What more is there to my life?

I didn’t know.

Knowing God didn’t immediately erase away all those years of unworthiness and non-existent self-worth. I didn’t immediately feel purposeful in life, and I definitely didn’t forgive my parents right away. In fact, it actually felt even sadder to know that while I know God is loving and sovereign, I still had to grow up under such painful circumstances.

Why me? Where was God all these years?

I was that cynical young Christian. In my world, God had a plan for everyone, but He forgot about me.

I HAVE A DESTINY OF MY OWN

I looked at God the same way I viewed my parents. They were distant and achievement-oriented, and so was He. In order to win His affection, I would attend cell group and service diligently. Faith to me was purely based on good deeds.

It was only until the recent years that I slowly understood for myself the truth that I am a child of God.

And when I did, for the first time, I felt different. I felt special. I felt loved. Extraordinarily loved.

God said that He knew me (Jeremiah 1:5), even in the womb. He made me wonderfully and fearfully, down to the number of hairs on my head (Matthew 10:30). He goes with me wherever I go (Deuteronomy 31:8). He has never forsaken me (Deuteronomy 31:6).

I came to understand and accept the truth that I am a child of God. And when I did, for the first time, I felt different. I felt special. I felt loved. Extraordinarily loved.

God has a destiny for me. For me!

It’s okay if my parents didn’t welcome me. It’s okay if they saw me as imperfect. It’s okay if I wasn’t good enough for them.

Because I now know: My life isn’t an accident (Psalm 139:16).

THE LONG ROAD OF HEALING

The journey of reconciliation and healing from years of hurt and resentment built up is long and difficult.

There are days when it gets really tough and my mind goes back to that same thought: It would be better if I had been aborted.

But I wasn’t. I was given a chance to live.

When I recently talked to my mother again about the possibility that I had been aborted, she said she was thankful she never went ahead with it. “It might have been the easy way out, but I think it definitely would’ve been lonelier. I’m relieved that you’re still around,” she told me.

Our past can shape who we are today and how we see each other. But I’ve learnt to put away my bitterness towards my parents. My father has long accepted that I’m his daughter, and, like any dad would, has warned me about the male species. My mother now calls me her best friend.

Birth and abortion – it’s not like other choices we may be called to make. It’s life and death. It’s black and white, no greys in between.

You’re here, or you’re not here.

/ christina@thir.st

Christina is a designer and a writer. She is an INFJ who loves matcha, beautiful typography, good books and sad music. She also dreams of raising her own pet penguin one day.

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Do you find yourself stuck in survival mode at work?

by Galven Lee | 26 September 2017, 11:58 AM

The biggest issue faced by young working adults today is the absence of spiritual ambition. While there is much striving towards worldly measures of success, a void of spiritual vision exists in how Christian working adults see the integration of their faith and vocational calling.

On one hand, it is so easy to focus on feeding our carnal appetites for validation, achievement and success. This crowds out our wonder over the Gospel, amazement at the vastness of God’s grace and commitment to the Great Commission of disciple-making in and through everything we do.

On the other hand, we need to see role models and practical examples of how it is possible not just to survive, but be an active minister of reconciliation and kingdom transformation in the world.

Together, both factors lead to a crisis of spiritual ambition, where young working adults do not realise that we have been called to such a radical partnership with God.

We need to see role models and practical examples of how it is possible not just to survive, but be an active minister of reconciliation and kingdom transformation in the world.

And I think not enough is being done to address this issue. While terms like “marketplace ministry” and “kingdom” are very much in vogue today, many events and conferences approach the topic without bringing in actual practitioners across industries and fields who are playing their part as radical kingdom ambassadors.

In fact, we often limit our imaginations of such activities purely to sharing the Gospel at work and being good at our jobs.

While both are important, it is of tremendous significance for us to realise how we are called beyond that to engage and transform the culture by transmitting God’s kingdom values through the work we do, the policies we set and the objectives to which we are working to.

So we need to affirm the intrinsic value of every member of Christ’s body. A high-flying banker does not have a more successful CV than a social worker at a Family Service Centre. Conversely, the social worker’s job is not inherently more holy or meaningful than that of the banker.

All of us are placed in various families, workplaces and communities. The Church as a whole needs to examine and understand how we can proactively go out there to be voices of righteousness and shining lights in the nation.

We often limit our imaginations of such activities purely to sharing the Gospel at work and being good at our jobs.

We are called to be gatekeepers, watching over the metaphorical “gates” of our city. This means that we need to move from a day-to-day “survival” mode in the workplace to becoming a transformative influence wherever God has placed us.

I believe that God, the God of miracles, constantly opens up creative possibilities and kingdom opportunities for the taking. It is up to us to walk into these amazing possibilities that God has prepared for us, in our families, workplaces and communities.

The desire to raise up more young kingdom ambassadors led to the formation of the LuminoCity conference, which was birthed during a discussion at the Hong Kong international airport in 2015. Horace Hui, a young professional from Hong Kong, discussed with the leadership team of FGB Gatekeepers Singapore the importance of rallying young Christian working adults across Asia over a common platform.

The team was then returning to Singapore after conducting a kingdom/marketplace training school for professionals in Hong Kong. In that Holy Spirit-inspired moment, they saw the present need for a platform to rally young professionals across Asia-Pacific to catch the vision of transforming the culture of society and discipling nations.

Thus, plans were made for the inaugural edition of LuminoCity in 2016. Although originally intended for young Christian professionals from the Asia-Pacific, the first edition saw participants come from as far as Finland and Ghana.

It was clear that the Lord was impressing on our hearts that it was imperative for LuminoCity to be a global coalition of like-minded believers, passionate about influencing cultures with the values of God’s kingdom.

The verse that God had given us came from Isaiah 60:1 – “Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you” – which reflected the vision of believers arising and bringing the glory of God and His Kingdom over their cities and nations.

LuminoCity is a gathering of the nations for God’s kingdom purposes. It is a rallying point and a time of renewal and seeking the Lord for personal revelation and national destinies.

It is also a significant spiritual event and a global declaration to the spiritual realm, that the Lord’s people will do the Lord’s work in the places that the Lord has placed them in – no turning back, preceding revival in the nations.

We also hope that the diversity of topics across the whole spectrum of society and insight from an eclectic, international mix of speakers will provide sufficient inspiration, best-practices and practical steps for participants to bring back to their life, living and livelihoods.

We hope that LuminoCity will serve these purposes for young Christian professionals as they dialogue with one other in this intimate, three-day conference.

Can we accomplish this in a three-day event? No – the deeper work of discipleship takes months and years. Hence FGB Gatekeepers Singapore, the parent organisation behind LuminoCity, focuses on providing a variety of intergenerational mentoring and discipling relationships and platforms.


LuminoCity is a 3-day forum that will bring together thought-leaders and disciples in the marketplace for conversations to shape the culture of our day. It will be held from November 3 to 5, 2017, at The Pavilion. Visit the LuminoCity website for ticketing information, and follow them on Facebook for updates. The early bird offer of $180 (usual price $250) ends this Saturday, on September 30, so book early to avoid disappointment.

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A new hope

by | 25 August 2017, 1:00 PM

Hope. It’s a loaded word.

What exactly is hope? What is the basis for it? How do we learn to hope? And how does it look to you?

We hope for many things, and in many people. We hold onto hope amid uncertainty.

We bear hope in the small things – I hope that I can leave school on time today so that I can make it for the concert – and the big things – I hope she pulls through, you whisper, staring through the glass surrounding the ICU ward.

This natural human inclination to hope for something reflects a recognition of a higher power – or at least the longing for one. A higher being who will hear our cries for help. Something, someone for us to cast our worries onto.

I was a cynical 16-year-old when I attended my first church service, ready to disprove God with my real-life experiences with hope and its failure.

Hope is no bad thing. Hope brings people together. Hope gives people the strength to carry on. But it is not to be confused with optimism. Human hope more often than not ends us up in disappointment.

I know this disappointment too well. When I was 14, I hoped to become a doctor. Through my growing up years, I hoped to lose weight and be skinny like all other girls. I hoped for a relationship that would last and a high-flying job in the marketplace.

I hoped for many things and put my hope in many people, but all these things eventually fell through and I was crushed time after time with disappointment. I was emptied by false hope.

I was a cynical 16-year-old when I attended my first church service. I was ready to disprove God with my real-life experiences with hope and its failure. But I realised I’d got it all wrong.

I have learnt that hope is, in truth, almost the opposite of our ordinary usage. Hope is an indication of certainty; a confident expectation.

Hope tells us that God has not abandoned us in this world. There will be tears, but He will wipe them away. There will be death and decay, but resurrection and new life will eventually spring forth.

It is hope that erases the victory of the grave. Hope is what helps us to sing, “Death, where is your sting?”

Hope is just like a reservoir of strength.

Hebrews 6:11 calls us to the “full assurance of hope”. It means a hope that is fully assured. It is confident. Certain. Not a “fingers-crossed” hope. It does not waver. It is not the lip-biting and heart-stopping moment as you watch your team take a direct free-kick in the last minute of a match.

When Psalm 42:5 (NKJV) says, “Hope in God!” it does not mean to cross your fingers. It does not mean that God might work.

Hope tells us that God has not abandoned us in this world.

Human hope disappoints everyone eventually. Even Christ-followers. It will never satisfy us. It is short-lived and temporal. It wavers and easily fades away. Perhaps you have been hoping for a long time that you’re now bordering on hopelessness.

Eight years ago, I came to church completely deflated by false hopes. That very day, the pastor preached a sermon about real hope – and I was sold. My problem wasn’t that I was harbouring hope, but that I’d placed my hopes in things and people that would inevitably fail.

Roadblocks will still be in our way and difficulties will still befall us. But real hope does not disappoint (Romans 5:5). Be confident that He will come through. Be strong in God. Be courageous in God. Stand strong in Him.

Put your hope in Him.

/ christina@thir.st

Christina is a designer and a writer. She is an INFJ who loves matcha, beautiful typography, good books and sad music. She also dreams of raising her own pet penguin one day.

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Battleship Island: The war wages on, but we have hope

by | 24 August 2017, 6:57 PM

WARNING: SPOILERS ABOUND.
IF YOU HAVEN’T WATCHED THE MOVIE, GO WATCH IT FIRST. DON’T SAY OPPA DIDN’T WARN YOU!

“How was the movie?”

My mom asked me after I’d came home from watching Battleship Island, a World War II epic inspired by historical events. The storyline centres around Japanese wartime atrocities against Korean civilians in a forced labour camp on Hashima Island, also commonly known as Battleship Island.

I couldn’t answer her.

It wasn’t that I didn’t like the movie. My heart was racing throughout the show, and the explosive action on screen had me retreating into my seat. Yet I couldn’t bring myself to say that I’d enjoyed the movie.

The main reason – war movies aren’t entertainment.

It’s easy to get caught up in the thrill of cinematic storytelling, but rather than purely fictional plots, war movies are built largely on actual events; on someone else’s reality. I found myself recoiling in fear as I watched the men being beaten ruthlessly into submission and young girls being dragged off to comfort stations. I had to remind myself to breathe.

The scenes were gory and disturbing, but even more disturbing was knowing that what I saw was probably only a fraction of reality.

This wasn’t just a figment of some screenwriter’s imagination or a distant memory from the past. The characters might have been created for the screen, but we know from the history books that the cruelty portrayed was not.

I tried to put myself in the shoes of 8-year-old Lee So-hee (Kim Su-an, Train to Busan), the daughter of Lee Kang-ok, one of the men conscripted to work the treacherous mines of Battleship Island.

Kang-ok promises So-hee that they will one day be free again.

Almost forced into a comfort station with the rest of the captured Korean women, she unexpectedly finds favour with the Japanese due to her singing skills and is relieved of her initial posting. Even so, it is unthinkable for a young girl to have to endure such a nightmare and witness mankind at its ugliest.

Yet in such horrific times, she continues to trust in whatever her father tells her – as he tries to downplay the gravity of the situation for her sake – and hopes for the future with childlike faith.

In the later half of the movie, I was also moved by one of the unnamed characters – a one-legged man who had been crippled in a mining accident. He wasn’t foolishly optimistic; he knew the dangers and potential consequences of trying to escape the island. But he wasn’t going to sit and wait for the Japanese to kill them all either.

He might have lost his leg, but unlike some others, he hadn’t lost his hope.

He was adamant that even if he had to die, he wasn’t going to go down without a fight. And to the end, it was this hope that helped him to persevere in their escape.

Hope. In these situations – is there really hope?

I find myself in no position to say this. I’ve never experienced anything close to war, violence, bloodshed or terror. I’ve never tasted poverty, starvation or a desperation that my life depended on.

Division, hate and violence are still very much prevalent all over the world at this very moment. Terrorism continues to rage worldwide. Every day, young women are captured to become sex slaves of ISIS and other militant groups. Refugees are fleeing war-torn Syria in droves, and North Korea remains a nuclear threat.

The monstrosity of humankind still runs in the veins of men right this very moment, as innocent blood continues to spill onto the soil of the earth.

If I was heartbroken from watching a movie, then how much more God – who time and again has witnessed humanity fall wilfully into self-destruction?

But when we young Singaporeans only understand war from the safety of our newsfeeds and cinema seats, it’s so easy to become numb to news headlines and immune to injustice.

In our daily mundane lives, we forget about those who are suffering beyond our shores. Or we choose not to think about them. Maybe most of us don’t even know how to think about them.

After watching Battleship Island, I felt burdened – for the world and for my own emotional handicap. I started to ask God to put in me a bigger heart for mankind. I wanted to know His heart even more. If I was heartbroken from watching a movie, then how much more God – who time and again has witnessed humanity fall wilfully into self-destruction?

In a world where war and violence have become daily news, it is easy to become hopeless about the future ahead and live in fear. It is easy to give up and succumb to the circumstances around us. A popular MRT poster for terrorism reads: “Not if, but when.”

You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. (Matthew 24:6)

We need to prepare ourselves for battle. Just like the crippled man, don’t let the Enemy use fear to seize you and take you captive. And just like little So-hee, believe our Heavenly Father when He urges us to have hope (John 16:33). We are armed with the promises of God and His unchanging character.

He is merciful. He is kind. He is compassionate. He fights for us. (Exodus 14:14)

If God hasn’t given up on humanity through the ages of time, then hang in there. We don’t have to be afraid. He’s not done with us yet.

/ christina@thir.st

Christina is a designer and a writer. She is an INFJ who loves matcha, beautiful typography, good books and sad music. She also dreams of raising her own pet penguin one day.

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“I felt like the dumbest student in school”

by Denise Soon | 17 August 2017, 2:34 PM

I grew up in a family where I was always taught that “character is more important than how well you do in school”. My parents never pressured me to get straight As. They were okay with failure as long as I’d tried my best.

But I began to heap the expectations on myself when I was in Primary 6. I didn’t do very well for my PSLE and was placed in the Normal Academic stream.

I remember crying when I received my results. My parents couldn’t understand why I was so upset with myself when they were not.

I harboured high hopes for my future, but wouldn’t do anything to achieve any of it.

When I was 13, I realised that I wanted to pursue Psychology. I had it all planned out in my head – I’d go to Ngee Ann Polytechnic, then NUS. But despite these goals, I allowed myself to be distracted from my studies in secondary school.

I harboured high hopes for my future, but wouldn’t do anything to achieve any of it.

I was busy chasing relationships, and often got into disciplinary cases for bullying, truancy and disrespecting my teachers. I became this vulgar, hot-tempered, rebellious kid. I struggled academically.

There were times when I really wanted to change and get serious about my studies, but some of my teachers, peers and even my own family would say things like “You’re from Normal Academic, you’ll never get that far,” or “You’re not the studious type, don’t expect too much.”

I remember the worst insult I received from a teacher: “You’re Denise Soon, how can someone like you ever do well in school?”

Was being Denise Soon a bad thing? Was I hopeless?

I came to know God when I was 16 and I became determined to become a better student. But it was hard: I’d never learnt how to study. Only how to play.

So I didn’t do too well for my N-levels and O-levels, and I didn’t manage to get accepted to study Psychology at Ngee Ann Polytechnic. But I was thankful that my O-level results enabled me pursue Psychology at the University at Buffalo under SIM Global.

That meant I would start university at 17. I felt inferior: Most of the students there either had an A-level certificate or a poly diploma, whereas the different path I’d taken meant I was in university straight after my O’s.

I didn’t know anyone else who was under probation. I felt like the dumbest student in school. Part of me blamed God.

Someone told me, “Even if the rest don’t do well, they have something to fall back on, but you only have your O-level cert. If you fail, what can you do? Who would want to hire you? Which other school will accept you?”

I was scared.

According to the requirements of my major, if I were to get anything below a GPA of 2.5 for my first year, I could very possibly be expelled.

I also started to get heavily involved in church at that time. I started to serve as a life group leader, an actor and creative scriptwriter in the kids’ ministry, and as a musician. I was busy juggling church commitments and school for the next 2 years. But my grades were getting worse with each passing semester.

Before my 3rd year of university, I received an email from the school telling me that I was being placed on Academic Probation.

I was scared because I was left with just one more year. I didn’t want to get expelled. I was averaging a D-grade, and my average GPA every semester had been dropping – my GPA at the end of Year 2 was 2.4.

I didn’t know anyone else who was under probation. I felt like the dumbest student in school. A part of me felt disappointed with myself for not managing my time better. Another part of me blamed God.

Where was Your grace when I needed it the most? I served You so hard – sometimes to a point where I didn’t have enough time for my studies – so how could You let this happen?

 

I had to take a long, hard look at the student that I had become. 

I realised that I put in less effort in modules I wasn’t interested in. In some semesters, it was easier to count the number of times I was present in class, instead of the number of times I was absent. I chose to scroll through Facebook, rather than my lecture slides. I’d fall asleep in class even if I wasn’t tired.

All this meant I wasn’t very good salt and light in school. How could I claim to live for Jesus if I couldn’t even show basic respect to my lecturer? How could I say that I’ve been transformed by Jesus, if the way I behave shows otherwise?

I struggled to serve in the kids ministry – I felt like a hypocrite teaching the children about Godly values if I wasn’t living them out at home or in school. I thought about stepping down.

Denise also serves as a cell group leader in the kids ministry.

I had to take a summer semester, but it came between my annual church conference and church camp. 

I had a to-do list that seemed endless. Mid-terms, final exams, term papers, a million readings – while preparing to serve on the worship team for church service and camp, and write sermons for the kids ministry.

There was one week when I had to practice 11 songs; some days I had church-related activities the day before an exam. Every week I’d question whether it was worth committing myself so much to church, at the cost of my grades.

I was afraid of prioritising God because I found it hard to trust that He would provide. I looked at my friends who weren’t in church, with more time to study, getting better grades.

I was angry and bitter. I was desperate. But I also knew that I could let the situation come between me and God – or I could let it draw me closer to Him.

So I bargained with God: If I give up my time to serve you, I expect you to help me with my grades.

I recently got back my results for my first summer semester and to my surprise, not only did I manage to pull up my GPA but I also aced my term paper and my exams with a score of 99.9%.

Looking at the results, I can confidently say that #onlyJesus could help me pull through my academic struggle. I was never one who did extremely well in my subjects; to even ace a higher level module, I knew it had to be God.

Even when I failed to trust him, He never failed me.

At this year’s church camp, what my pastor said hit me hard.

“Have we become such busy people, with so much to accomplish every day, that we’ve forgotten about the brokenness in our lives and our desperate need for a Saviour?” he challenged us.

“When something you desire directly competes against God’s desires, you deny yourself of your desire to pursue God’s desire.”

Denise at church camp this year with her SIM campus group (top) and her cell group (bottom).

I’ve learnt to trust that God will provide everything I need – so that I’m not distracted to do the real work.

I’ve learnt that I should never feel guilty for serving too hard, while worrying that God will shortchange me.

I’ve learnt that God wants to see how I make my choices. Will I choose to pursue Him or pursue my grades?

There’s a cost to going all-out for Him, but there’s also a cost to not going all-out. When I stopped to count the cost, I realised that if my studies don’t revolve around God, then what’s the point?

Jesus went all out for me. Now I must learn to do the same – not just in church, but at home and at school as well. He deserves my all. 💯

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There’s much to be thankful for this National Day

by | 7 August 2017, 12:58 PM

I’m not the most patriotic person around.

I don’t volunteer with the grassroots and I’m completely oblivious to any community events held in my constituency. Truth be told, I don’t really care.

And I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way. I scroll through Facebook every morning and resonate with my friends’ angry posts about yet another train breakdown.

I read news articles on our upcoming Presidential Election and I lol within.

Don’t even get me started on how the lift in my HDB block is faulty half the time. As I write this, the lights in my lift haven’t been working for a week already.

To be completely honest, my mind starts drifting whenever the next prayer item at any church event is “Singapore”.

This is how emotionally detached I can be when it comes to this country. My heart is always yearning to be somewhere else.

But then I walked the different lands, met the people, tasted the food … and realised there is no other country like the one we’ve been placed in.

Have you noticed? Singaporeans are a funny bunch — we tend to become so much more defensive over our country when we are overseas.

We get upset when people mistake our country as being somewhere else. I remember being continuously mistaken as a Mainland Chinese while overseas. When they realised I was of Chinese descent but spoke English natively, their next assumption was: Oh, Malaysian?

There are many things we can complain about our home. Yet there are also many things we can be thankful for.

Another time I was overseas at a busy traffic light where the locals just dashed across between cars and motorcycles. I stood at a safe distance and waited for the green man that never seemed to come. I stood out like a sore thumb in a jaywalking crowd. But suddenly I heard a familiar voice behind me.

“Eh, wait lah! The cars so fast, traffic light changing already.”

Singaporeans!

I can’t even describe to you the joy I felt in that moment.

There are many things we can complain about our home. Yet there are also many things we can be thankful for.

I recently came across an article on National Geographic documenting the homes of tens of thousands of Hong Kong people.

Just like us, these people lived normal, humble and hardworking lives.

But the difference – their homes were approximately the size of a coffin. Many can’t even stand up straight in their homes.

In Singapore, even the flats under our Public Rental Scheme are at least 10 times the size of those “coffin homes”. In comparison, our public housing system looks almost too good to be true.

Yet we complain.

My mother left behind her life in a neighbouring country as a young 20-something and arrived in Singapore about 30 years ago in hope of a better life. A brighter future.

You wouldn’t want to live back there, she told me.

True enough, on one occasion when we went back to visit some relatives, the local customs officers demanded for a bribe for us to pass. Their reason: Our bags were too big, despite them being completely within the airline’s regulations.

I feel very much relieved every time I return from overseas and pass through customs, knowing that I’m in good hands.

There’s much to be thankful for.

I have a house to return to. I have a roof over my head and a bed to sleep in every night – with air-conditioning as a bonus.

I go to church and I can speak publicly about my faith without worry.

We have easy access to our favourite social media platforms. We don’t have to consider migration to escape some poor provincial life. We don’t live in constant fear.

Singapore may not be the most perfect country, but I choose to be thankful for what we have.

As controversial as it may seem, I’m also thankful that we are a “democratic secular state“. In this I am talking about how our Government can’t and won’t use some claimed higher spiritual authority as an excuse for violence – as happens so easily and often in many other nations.

Timothy Keller writes in Making Sense of God that there is yet a truly secular state that exists with “a genuinely pluralistic society” and a “marketplace of ideas” in which people of all kinds of faith, including those with secular beliefs, could freely contribute, communicate, coexist, and cooperate in mutual respect and peace”.

I beg to differ. Singapore may not be the most perfect country, but I choose to be thankful for what we have. It sounds schmaltzy, but it’s taken a lot for me to reach this understanding.

Home is the place we’ve been called to love, to serve and to protect. It is the land that God has placed us in, to work it and take care of (Genesis 2:15). Our country has been blessed with much.

While there is always as much fault as we can find with this country, there will always be things to give thanks for (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

So while there might still be a long, long way to go for us in the “I ❤️ SG” department, I’m sure if we take a moment to think about it, we’ll easily find one thing we’re thankful for this National Day. And not just because it’s National Day.

/ christina@thir.st

Christina is a designer and a writer. She is an INFJ who loves matcha, beautiful typography, good books and sad music. She also dreams of raising her own pet penguin one day.

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Stop pretending that everything is okay

by | 25 July 2017, 3:40 PM

How are you?

I’m good.

Have you ever reached a point where your life feels like a lie the whole time?

No matter how many hollow how are yous you’re asked, you’re always good, even when you’re not – because we all know that no one’s really looking for a true answer.

Maybe you don’t have the words to sum up the mess you’re currently in. Maybe you don’t even know where to begin.

And in the process of repeatedly lying to others about your okayness, you start convincing yourself that everything is okay too.

Then one day it all falls apart. The facade cracks under the weight of reality. All this while, you’ve been wandering: Wandering in pretence and denial.

LORD, HELP ME TO REMEMBER

The Israelites wandered around in the wilderness for 40 years because they just couldn’t fully believe and trust God. Not for long, anyway.

Faced with the rough situations they found themselves facing, they forgot how they’d originally cried out to God for deliverance from their Egyptian masters (Exodus 2:23-25).

It’s so easy to only focus on what we think God isn’t doing, forgetting what He has done, or not seeing what He is doing.

I remember one weekend when I was serving on the worship team, my senior pastor came up to me backstage and told me that his nephew had complimented my guitar-playing.

I was flattered, but encouraged by the comment. We proceeded to have what I thought was a really powerful and ministering session of worship later during service. My spirit was lifted.

Fast forward a few hours, to a post-service worship evaluation, when someone casually pointed out that my guitar-playing felt underwhelming and distracting.

Immediately my spirits plummeted. I was discouraged. I started blaming myself and my lack.

God’s telling us: I know you’re not perfect. That’s why I chose you: That in your weakness, my glory can be revealed.

That one comment had eradicated all that happened earlier in the day. I forgot about the great time of fellowship with the people I was serving with, the encouragement from my senior pastor and the joy of freely praising and worshipping God on stage.

My eyes were fixed on what went wrong. Everything else paled in comparison to that one negative comment.

But what I’d failed to see was that in God’s kingdom, everything doesn’t have to be perfect. Everything doesn’t have to be okay.

It’s God’s gentle rebuke to Moses just before he returned to Egypt to set his people free. I’m not eloquent, God. I’m slow of speech. I’m not okay. God’s reply:

Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” (Exodus 4:11-12)

In other words: I know you’re not perfect. That’s why I chose you: That in your weakness, my glory can be revealed.

LORD, HELP ME TO BELIEVE

The man with the epileptic son in Mark 9:24 recognised his difficulty in believing but the need to do so. He exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

On the other hand, the Israelites, though physically out of Egypt, were still yearning for their old comfort zones (Exodus 14:12) because they couldn’t believe what God said He was going to do.

You can take a person out of Egypt, but not Egypt out of a person.

Sometimes the detour is the road we’re meant to take. Sometimes your seasons of wandering have a lesson or two in them.

The Israelites’ disbelief turned an 11-day journey into 40 years of wandering in the wilderness.

Imagine trying to get to point A to B on a GPS. While the initial directions may seem straightforward, sometimes we find ourselves rerouted because of external factors: Traffic, train breakdowns, bad weather … Seldom are we actually able to travel punctually in a direct, smooth path.

Recalculating.

When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea. The Israelites went up out of Egypt ready for battle. (Exodus 13:17-18)

Sometimes the detour is the road we’re meant to take. Sometimes your seasons of wandering have a lesson or two in them.

LORD, HELP ME TO CARRY ON

It’s time to drop the pretence. Come as you are into His presence.

Our burdens are not simple, and usually can’t be relieved by simplistic platitudes. Cheer up! Hang in there, it’s gonna get better!

Nope.

But what can relieve a complex burden is a simple promise.

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” (Matthew 11:28–30)

Don’t make an 11-day journey into a 40-year trudge through the wilderness because of your pride, blindness, deafness, hopelessness, restlessness, or stiffneckedness.

If things are not okay, they’re not okay. That’s fine. That’s human.

Most of all, that’s room for you to really see Jesus at work in you. And that’s the starting point of hope.

 

/ christina@thir.st

Christina is a designer and a writer. She is an INFJ who loves matcha, beautiful typography, good books and sad music. She also dreams of raising her own pet penguin one day.

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When authenticity is no longer authentic

by | 17 July 2017, 8:42 PM

Times are changing. The real world isn’t exactly the real world. Our online personas aren’t exactly us. It’s as if everyone is now a brand, needing a certain level of brand management.

Personal Instagram feeds are so highly curated now. Feeds are so visually cohesive and appealing, with beautiful backdrops and high-quality images with a VSCO filter slapped on.

Yet even with all the effort that goes into the curation and filtering, everyone still says the key to maintaining your online persona is authenticity.

Or at least the appearance of being authentic.

#ART?

I’ve heard friends in the arts community voicing their disappointment and anger about the public response towards the recent Yayoi Kusama exhibition at the National Gallery. You’ll know if someone has been to that exhibition, because it’ll be plastered over their Instagram feeds. Instagram story after story, post after post.

There was a post going around Facebook calling out an influencer for using “an art exhibition to shill for some watch — one that can barely be seen in the picture.” Unfortunately, she wasn’t the only one.

A quick search of the #yayoikusama hashtag on Instagram reveals a staggering 402,820 (and counting) posts – many of which are portraits of people posing in the rooms with Kusama’s work acting as just a backdrop. Interestingly too, there are another 6,136 posts under various hashtags of the artist’s name misspelled.

Since when was everyone so interested in art?

IS THIS THE REAL LIFE? IS THIS JUST FANTASY?

Instagram turns our lives into a show. We set the stage. We frame the camera. The people and things around us become props. We become the director or even the lead actor if we want to. Valuable moments in life turn into a complicated staged production.

In the pursuit of authenticity, we’ve lost our authenticity. We’ve become like everyone else. We no longer know why we’re doing what we’re doing, but we only know that we have to keep doing it. We don’t even think about it.

Since when did everyone become purveyors of artisan coffee?

In the pursuit of authenticity, we’ve lost our authenticity. We’ve become like everyone else.

The idea of authenticity becomes a journey down the rabbit hole for both those who enviously and covetously browse and buy the idea of it and those who post to sell it.

Type in #liveauthentic into the Instagram search bar and you’ll find over 19 million posts, many of which feature someone posing against a cool scenery or backdrop along with a caption full of hashtags that don’t matter.

The desire to #liveauthentic not only compels us to disguise and hide our flaws (MeiTu XiuXiu, anyone?) but also to romanticise them.

Ever seen someone post something along the lines of “I’m just trying to be real here”? That is when #liveauthentic has been hijacked by self-centredness.

By the way, I’m not throwing stones at others – I’m guilty as charged. People have always said that I’m “Insta-happy”, referring to my willingness to post frequently about my life.

This is ironic, since I’m an introvert; why do I behave like an online extrovert, friends ask me.

On one occasion while I was overseas and posting about how good the food was, a friend texted me to tell me to “stop it”. I was pretty sure my intentions were just to journal down daily experiences in my life. But then again, my posts apparently affected others.

Where do we draw the line?

MULTI-TASKING OR MULTI-MASKING?

It is hard to tell which is more dangerous: The loss of our sense of spontaneity and authenticity on Instagram, or the rabid attempts to fake an Instagram-perfect life.

There was a time when I starting to fall into the idea that my self-worth depended on the approbation of my followers. Seeing that my followers – mostly my church friends – only liked my church-related posts, I subconsciously started to only post about church.

I was filtering my life just to suit my audience’s preferences.

In the competition for a spot on my Instagram feed, a good and memorable dinner with loved ones can’t win a completely pointless yet nicely planned flat lay — unless it’s got a high-quality photo.

I eventually got frustrated and tired. This isn’t the real me. I realised that there were so many facets of my life I had compartmentalised, overlooked and kept away for the sake of the social media game.

Probably the clearest example of such compartmentalisation is the phenomenon of running multiple personal Instagram accounts — one for the curated you and the other for the unfiltered you.

Why the need to wear so many masks if all we want to be is authentic?

The secondary Instagram accounts usually feature a visually unappealing feed and captions that are completely uncensored and vulnerably honest. To facilitate your multi-tasking, Instagram recently introduced the ability to toggle between multiple accounts from directly within the app.

But why the need to wear so many masks if all we want to be is authentic?

We are ceasing to see. Using our eyes to appreciate the beauty of things around us is no longer enough. It always has to be documented. My first thought at a breath-taking sunset: Where’s my phone?

We seesaw back and forth between false realities of ourselves. We put on a mask in a bid to live the authentic life that everyone seems to be living.

It’s so tiring.

Who am I, really? What is my identity? What am I here for?

There is a place and space to #liveauthentic in our Christian walk. That place is rooted in the firm foundations of Christ, and not ourselves. If Christ isn’t enough to define us, then what is? What could ever be?

/ christina@thir.st

Christina is a designer and a writer. She is an INFJ who loves matcha, beautiful typography, good books and sad music. She also dreams of raising her own pet penguin one day.

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Where have all my church friends gone?

by | 13 July 2017, 2:42 PM

I’d woken up with a nagging image of my former cell group member in my head. I wondered why. I hadn’t heard from her or seen her around for quite a long time, come to think of it; I decided to drop her a text to see how she was doing.

She told me she’d been busy at her new job and we ended the conversation on a good note. Everything seemed fine.

A few weeks later, I heard that she had decided to leave the church.

I was shell-shocked. She was the one who was always at cell group. She was present throughout exam periods (when attendance always dwindled), through the dry seasons (when people started leaving) … Everyone counted on her to be always there.

We used to run the race together. Now I look around and they’re no longer here with me.

Then I went to look at old cell group photos, and realised that many members have already left the church – and even the faith.

These were the people who chided me when I chose to skip cell group for no good reason. They pursued me when I was on the slippery slope of falling out of church. They championed evangelical events and got me involved even in the busiest of exam seasons.

We used to run the race together. Now I look around and they’re no longer here with me.

KEEPING YOUR FAITH

How do you keep the faith when the people you’ve grown up with in the faith are all going, going, gone?

I’ll be honest: It’s been disheartening. It’s been difficult.

It’s difficult when people you are close to leave the church. It’s difficult to leave (I’ve toyed with the idea before – admit it, we all have). It’s difficult being left behind.

I understand that most of those who left didn’t make that decision lightly. They’re usually dealing with some serious pain and turmoil.

But those who remain deal with the pain and grief of losing a friend. That was me.

WHOSE FAITH IS IT ANYWAY?

With each friend that disappeared, I grew more weary and doubtful. Then I realised what had happened: I had grown dependent on the people in the church. They made church comfortable. They made church fun.

But our faith should never be found in people. People come and people go. People will fail us. Our faith can only be found in our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

I am called to go wherever He goes, not to go wherever my friends go. I needed to make my faith my own, not theirs.

In the gospel, John tells the story of people who believed in Jesus through the excited testimony of a Samaritan woman who had a life-changing conversation with him at a nearby well.

So the Samaritans went right to the source – they sought out Jesus himself, and urged him to stay with them. They listened to Him for two days – then they believed.

They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Saviour of the world.” (John 4:42)

Going to church makes you a Christ-follower as much as going to McDonald’s makes you a hamburger.

Owning my faith involves a daily conscious decision to make Jesus the leader of my life and the forgiver of my sins. It happens through a lifetime of conscious and intentional choices to hear Jesus for myself and to do what He says. It doesn’t just happen just because you’ve been physically present and attending all the worship services and lifegroups.

As my senior pastor always says, going to church makes you a Christ-follower as much as going to McDonald’s makes you a hamburger. To be a Christ-follower, I need to own my faith actively. Every single day.

If not, I’ll find myself falling away from the faith as well.

In learning that, I found the strength time and again to carry on even when I’m the only one left.

‘THANK YOU FOR HOLDING SPACE’

My mind goes back to an incident when a brother in our cell group suddenly sent us all a long text saying that he no longer wanted to come to church.

This was during our weekend-long church conference. Right after the conference ended, my leader rallied the group to dash straight down to his house to just be with him. Check if he was okay. See if our presence could make a difference.

That night in his home, we just ate dinner together in his kitchen. It was unusually quiet for a group of 10 people.

Some weeks later, he showed up in church again. I never found out what triggered his sudden desire to leave. But he later shared with me that he was thankful for that night, when we went down to be with him and not question him.

He thanked us for holding space for him to sort his emotions out, but at the same time for not letting him go.

BEHIND EVERY NUMBER IS A LIFE

This was the spirit my leader imparted to us, that no one gets left behind (Luke 15:4). When one man is down, we go to him. We bring the church to him.

People might say that this is all for the numbers. That with every person gone, the church statistics suffers. That’s also true. Who did you think was paying the bills for the church facilities?

But behind every number is also a life. A name. A face. A story. A child of God. Aren’t we called to empty hell and fill up heaven?

It is my prayer that my friends will one day find their reason to come back into His arms again.

Till then, I choose to stay. To commit myself to what Jesus has instructed: The fulfilment of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20).

And that’s my comfort. That even when you’re the only one left, He promises that He will be with you to the very end of the age.

/ christina@thir.st

Christina is a designer and a writer. She is an INFJ who loves matcha, beautiful typography, good books and sad music. She also dreams of raising her own pet penguin one day.

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Saying yes to God – one year on

by | 3 July 2017, 1:13 PM

In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps. (Proverbs 16:9)

I wrote that verse out and put it up on my room walls the night before my ‘A’ Level examinations.

Five years later, that poster has completely faded out. But the verse is etched onto my heart.

I had my future all planned out.

I was very sure that after graduation I would be diving into my highly-anticipated design career. My dream? To be working with East Asian design powerhouses. I had no time to lose; I had to start somewhere quick. Somewhere prestigious would be good.

So I did. I loved the work I was doing so much so that I could turn a blind eye to the consistent long working hours.

Deep down I knew that my soul needed something more, something greater. But what I saw there and then was me progressing towards the fulfilment of my dream.

“FOOL”-TIME MINISTRY?

I first heard of Thir.st somewhere in mid-2015. A faith-based creative project? Sounds like a wonderful initiative, I thought.

But when a friend asked me if I would consider working full-time there, my mind screamed: Run!

I’ll be honest. The idea of working at Thir.st scared me.

All I could see was what a hindrance to my life full-time ministry would be. Full-time? More like fool-time.

Full-time ministry meant that my dream career would have to be put on hold indefinitely. No reputable industry career for my parents to be proud of, no fat paycheques to splurge on holidays and, you know, things.

All I could see was what a hindrance to my life full-time ministry would be. Full-time? More like fool-time.

Think about it, my friend would go on to tell me. So Thir.st sat quietly at the back of my mind for the year that flew by.

THERE MUST BE MORE THAN THIS

Upon graduation, I received job offers here and there. I went for interview after interview, but none of the jobs sat well with me. These things, as I realised later, would only be distractions that would not allow me to get to where God wanted me to be.

I knew that there must be more than this, but I was avoiding thinking about Thir.st at the same time. I continued flirting with my options while pretending to not hear God.

I was on the run; I would not surrender myself.

Deep inside me I bargained with Him. I already gave You the days of my youth and my entire university life! I thought it was enough. I thought it was the end of me taking surprising turns in life.

But God is patient. He perseveres. In passionate pursuit of me, He outran me. One afternoon, at a prayer meeting in church, an old worship song started cranking up in my head, and the lyrics came to life for me.

God of my youth I remember
Your call on my life took me over
Your love has seen me through all my days
I stand here by Your grace

I decided to stop checking my email inbox for anymore job offers. I was done with pretending. I’m in, I told God.

On May 23, 2016, I gave my word to work full-time at Thir.st. On my way home, I finally checked my email. A new email came in – a job offer from a government ministry. I would be lying if I said my heart didn’t dip a little when I saw it.

But as with all distractions, the disappointment was extremely short-lived (10 minutes, to be exact). I knew that the burden in my heart had finally been lifted. The wrestling stopped. For now.

WRESTLING BUT NOT RESTLESS

On July 4, 2016, I took my seat in the office and embarked on a new journey as the visual editor of Thir.st.

There isn’t anything romantic about full-time ministry. The world wonders why a fresh grad will dive seemingly unthinkingly into full-time ministry work. My parents wonder if they’ve raised a child with no sense of reality and responsibility. Friends wonder if perhaps it was the only and last door open.

What a fool, some laughed.

Church friends think it must be really rosy and cosy. It’s not. The wrestling continues.

There are days when I return home from a gathering with friends who are now working in high places and I feel dejected. There are days when I go to a secular gathering and get teased about selling my life to the church. There are days when I receive lucrative job offers from prestigious design studios and I wish in my heart that God would just say go.

People ask me all the time how long I see myself being in this for. I don’t know. The act of surrender involves not setting a deadline while putting your hands to the plough.

But my wrestling does not equate to restlessness. One year on, I have learnt to see the purpose behind my work. I have seen how the stories have touched people and how the content has helped many. I begin to see my role as a facilitator to bring people one step closer to God.

People ask me all the time how long I see myself being in this for. I don’t know. The act of surrender involves not setting a deadline while putting your hands to the plough.

You surrender the end as you did the beginning. You devote your all wholeheartedly to whatever you do, right here, right now. No thinking about what if, what could have been, what could be.

There is no personal glory and agenda in my work. Since this is what I do, I do my best. I no longer wrestle about the surrendering, but I only wrestle to surrender. In my wrestling there is peace.

If the days of my youth (or whatever is left of it) are called to be given to Him fully with my arms open wide and my heart fully surrendered, then so be it.

Yes, God. I’ll say yes every day.

/ christina@thir.st

Christina is a designer and a writer. She is an INFJ who loves matcha, beautiful typography, good books and sad music. She also dreams of raising her own pet penguin one day.

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When my mentee came out to me

by Olivia Lee | 26 June 2017, 11:22 AM

“I have something to tell you. I’m attracted to the same gender.”

Someone I was mentoring in church had suddenly asked to meet me. She looked extremely jittery and it was clear something was up.

“I … like girls. And there’s this girl …”

Her voice was shaking, her eyes fixed on the table. It was a side of her I had never seen in our years of friendship. She sat before me, completely vulnerable, her life peeling apart like layers of an onion.

She told me that she’d been in a secret relationship with a girl from our church for some time, but she wasn’t proud of it.

In that moment, what I saw wasn’t her coming out to me. It wasn’t her relationship with a girl. Instead, what I saw was her vulnerability.

“I know it’s not natural. We both know it. I want this to stop. But I just can’t.”

In that moment, what I saw wasn’t her coming out to me. It wasn’t her relationship with a girl. Instead, what I saw was her vulnerability. I saw her trust – her trust in me that allowed her to bare her darkest secrets. Her fears. Her hurts.

“Aren’t you going to get angry?” Her eyes were welling up with tears.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard people around me speaking about same-sex attraction in hurtful ways. Ever said “that’s so gay” as a joke or to describe something you don’t like? These things are insensitive. They hurt.

The church needs to be ready and equipped to walk this journey alongside brothers and sisters. Through my own experience of journeying with Christian friends who came out to me, I’ve learnt that we really should rethink some things we often hear.

TRY NOT TO SAY …

1. “Love the sinner, hate the sin”
This overused line has become the top offending statement for many. To say “love the sinner” often sounds as though we view others as “the sinner” and that we are holier than them, which isn’t the case.

2. “Struggling with homosexuality/SSA”
This is only appropriate when referring to someone who admits to be in conflict over their sexuality and is resisting the tendency. People who accept and live with their same-sex attraction are not struggling with it.

3. “The gay lifestyle”
This implies that everyone who experiences same-sex attraction has the same lifestyle, which is untrue. Many may frequent gay bars and clubs, but there also many who live very sedate and conservative lives.

I thanked my mentee for trusting in me enough to share with me whatever she was going through. For a Christian to come out about her sexuality to someone in the Church was definitely something that required more than just a bit of courage.

We need to learn to walk alongside them rather than just telling them what to do from the bleachers.

So if you are someone who is struggling with same-sex attraction, I know that you didn’t ask for this. It’s not just a phase. I won’t tell you that it’s a passing thing that will be over soon. Because we both know that it won’t. You didn’t create this. It’s not your fault. There is nothing inherently wrong with you.

But here’s the catch: You are not to blame for your feelings and inclinations, but you are responsible for managing them wisely and properly.

And you are never alone in this journey of managing your feelings.

Paul wrote in Galatians 5:17, “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.”

We all deal with various kinds of temptations and inclinations that yield to the flesh — just that some are more common than the others. Most people don’t toy with the idea of cutting themselves every time they are sad or angry, but some do. Many people aren’t tempted to indulge in pornography to destress or to feel better, but many are.

This is the reality of the struggle between the flesh and the spirit. You are not meant to give in, helplessly, every time you have an urge. The need for self-control is part of the reality of Christian living.

Not only should we try to make it easier for someone to talk about their sexual struggles, we must avoid making the mistake of always talking about it. By only talking about this aspect of their life all the time, it reinforces the wrong idea that this is all there is to them and that this is their identity.

I made that mistake we made. I briefly shared about the situation with my leader just to keep myself and my mentee accountable and in check. But unfortunately, it blew out of proportion. Leaders kept asking me, “How is (insert mentee’s name here) and her struggle with that?”.

No how have you been or have you eaten, but it was always how is the SSA situation going?

Here’s the catch: You are not to blame for your feelings and inclinations, but you are responsible for managing them wisely and properly.

I would like to think that they came from a place bearing good intentions at heart. But the constant questions about just that particular issue in my mentee’s life made it feel as though it was all there is to her as a person.

There were also other battles going on her life. Her financial worries, her parents’ disapproval about her faith, the stress she’s facing in school …

Our identity isn’t built on our sexuality. Or our achievements. Or what school we go to. Or where we work. Or our relationship status.

Our identity is fundamentally found in the person of Jesus. We are defined by God and God alone. He identifies each and every one of us as His own (2 Corinthians 1:22).

We still have a long way to go in terms of learning about how to walk alongside each other, for better or for worse. But what I have learnt in my years with my mentee is that only the revelation of Jesus in our lives – the awe from finding our identity in Christ – can spark the beginning of any transformational work in our lives.

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I don’t shun you for your beliefs. Could I ask the same from you?

by | 23 June 2017, 12:06 PM

Christians? Haters. Bigots. Hypocrites. Party-poopers. Wet blankets.

I’ve heard it all before. I come from an arts school and creative background, so I have friends — many friends, in fact – who hold very liberal worldviews and lifestyles. It was clear as day that we were different. We lived completely different lives, stood for absolutely different causes, and our Sundays were definitely spent differently.

But as different as we were, these people were also my classmates. My peers. My friends.

Many of my friends make fun of me being Christian – “are you sure by being near us you won’t become less holy?” – while some openly attack Christianity as if I wasn’t there. The negative impression they have of the Church and those in the Church is obvious enough.

I often wonder which aspect of my faith repulses them.

I love these friends of mine, I really do. While I may not endorse and subscribe to their way of living, I accept them and respect them as my friends. I celebrate and rejoice in life’s milestones with them, and my heart breaks with theirs when something goes wrong.

But while I love them as my friends, I’ve found this isn’t fully reciprocated. Friends have shunned me just because I’m a Christian. The vibe is that they can’t trust me, like I’m a spy planted by the Church, or a time bomb, waiting to unleash my doctrine and condemnation on them.

They withhold a part of themselves from me. And I get it: It’s just what they’ve experienced before – when others have done just that, passing judgement on them and preaching to them a set of rules, telling them what to do and what not to do with their lives.

I can’t blame them.

The strange thing, though, is that most of my Christian friends are not the loud and militant Christians we hear of in the media. Quite the opposite: They are mostly silent. The gist is: “Best to keep quiet in case we say the wrong things.”

I guess I understand their response. We Christians have been on the receiving end of much flak. It probably pays to be careful.

But silence is usually read as consent. So when they choose to stay mum on any issue, that is seen as a lack of protest. Agreement.

Most of my Christian friends are not the loud and militant Christians we hear of in the media. Quite the opposite: They are mostly silent.

It’s sad. The current state of our culture is plagued by division. Anyone who disagrees with the Left is automatically put on the Right (what’s really right anyway?). If you aren’t for us, you must be against us. On the other hand, those on the Right see compromise and kiasi-ness – spinelessness – in anyone who doesn’t get red-faced and stand up for the causes they believe in. If you aren’t against us, you must be for us.

But as a Christian, I camp on neither of these sides.

The Church isn’t called to accommodate culture. No – the Gospel is offensive. Tweaking it to accommodate culture means you water down the Gospel. It means you’re only preaching grace and not Truth. The angels in heaven aren’t singing “Grace, grace, grace”. They are singing “Holy, holy, holy” (Revelation 4:8).

The Bible is about grace/love and truth. They go together like peanut butter and jelly. Batman and Robin. Kaya and toast. We must engage culture with love but also with truth.

We speak the truth in love to war against this present-day dichotomy of worldviews. We’re not the Left. We say, this is wrong. We’re not the Right. We say, you are loved. Which means we say simultaneously: This is wrong and I love you.

The love and truth of Jesus Christ cannot be contained in a bunch of rules, an event or even a colour.

Timothy Keller put it so well. In the Bible, #lovewins, but not in the way people tout these days.

Love! Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails! (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

Jesus is in the business of transforming lives through love. No matter a person’s life choices, social status, or even sexual preferences, life transformation results from the journey with Him – not from merely changing into a different set of clothes before embarking on the journey.

It is sad and ironical that in our pursuit of love today, so little love is demonstrated. We put people down in order to get our point across. We slap labels onto one another because we can’t see eye to eye.

I may totally disagree with you on what brings true happiness and I will always live by my own personal convictions as a Christian, but I cannot dictate your thoughts and choices. Maybe others have tried to do so. Not me. Who am I to tell you what to do?

If God was in the business of condemnation He would’ve sent a condemner, but instead He sent a Saviour.

Because that’s not what God called me to do. We are all familiar with John 3:16, but I take my cue from the verse that follows: For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:17)

If God was in the business of condemnation He would’ve sent a condemner, but instead He sent a Saviour. A Saviour to save our souls through unmerited love.

My role, my responsibility, is then to love people enough to care about their eternal souls. That’s not telling anyone what to think. It’s just telling them what I think – beyond that, it’s their life.

At the end of the day it seems like we’re all after the same thing: Love. I choose the love that doesn’t hold people down, but sets them free.

/ christina@thir.st

Christina is a designer and a writer. She is an INFJ who loves matcha, beautiful typography, good books and sad music. She also dreams of raising her own pet penguin one day.

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Single and cool with it

by | 19 May 2017, 2:21 PM

At 24, I’m not really at the age where I should be worrying about “feeling single”. It feels like I just graduated yesterday, and it hasn’t even been a year since I started working full-time. I’m still very young!

Or so I tell myself. Because the reality is that time is ticking away. One by one, my peers are getting attached and married. One of them is awaiting the birth of her first-born in a few months’ time. She’s my age!

Suddenly it seems like we’re all not as young as we thought. And I’m beginning to feel like I’m falling behind in this trajectory that everyone else seems to be on.

Where is my Mr Right? Should I start bracing myself for a lifetime of singleness?

Tick tick tick tick tick.

When everyone around you talks about marriage as if it’s a pot of gold at the end of the proverbial rainbow, it becomes easier and easier for someone who is single like me to feel as if I’m missing out on the full and complete package life has to offer.

Frustrated that I was being stereotyped as the single Christian (whose life seems to be going nowhere because she is single), I resolved one night that I was going to consciously embark on a journey of seeking contentment in my singlehood.

I decided I was going to take ownership of my singlehood. I needed to learn to be content living in my current state of singleness. Of being just myself. Of being on my own.

Here’s what I’ve come to learn: Singlehood is not a second-best. If single is what I am right now, then it is God’s best for me right now!

We’ve mixed up singleness and loneliness. But they’re not the same thing. One doesn’t have to come with the other.

I’m beginning to see that singlehood is a gift (1 Corinthians 7:7). It does not have to be a pit of bitterness. While it may not be a gift many would choose for themselves, we do not choose our gifts. We are given them by a divine Giver who knows the end from the beginning, and wants above all else to give us the gift of Himself.

We’ve mixed up singleness and loneliness. But they’re not the same thing. One doesn’t have to come with the other.

Singleness becomes loneliness when I wait for that someone to come into my life and never leave again. Singleness becomes incompleteness when I wonder if and when God will bring my “significant other”. Singleness becomes self-pity when I saw that I seemed to be lacking something unlike others.

No one in Christ has to ever wait for joy. We may have to wait for a spouse, or for a job, healing, reconciliation. We may have to wait for all those things and a thousand things besides — with no guarantee or promise that these things must or will come to pass. But Jesus bled and died at Calvary to ensure and promise that we never have to wait for joy and fulfilment.

Psalm 16:11 does not say that in marriage (or a new job, or a healing miracle) there is fullness of joy. Instead the psalmist says, “In your presence is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Joy and fulfilment can be found right now, wherever we are, whatever the marital status.

Someone once shared with me that understanding and embracing the gift of singleness is understanding the relationship between worship and joy. When a life is devoted to the worship of a holy God – worship not just in the singing of song, but in the complete giving of ourselves in praise and surrender in all circumstances – there is joy. When joy is found in the presence of a holy God, worship will overflow.

When worship and joy collide, the room in my heart for discontentment or loneliness gets crowded out. The gaze of my heart is turned outward and upward.

When joy is found in the presence of a holy God, worship will overflow.

While it is still occasionally awkward to sit through courtship and wedding (and, increasingly, birth) announcements, deep down I know that God knows what He’s doing with me. There are still some days when I really want to be like everyone else. But on the many other days, I don’t. And I’m happy about it.

When service to Christ and joy in Christ are married within me, I am then able to see that every gift He gives is good. Even when it does not come in the shape of a marriage proposal.

/ christina@thir.st

Christina is a designer and a writer. She is an INFJ who loves matcha, beautiful typography, good books and sad music. She also dreams of raising her own pet penguin one day.

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Almost 30, still single – but things are looking up

by Chan Sihan | 28 April 2017, 10:53 AM

There are many reasons for someone to be single.

Perhaps the standards we seek of our ideal partner might be too high: Maybe you’re holding out for an adventurous woman who is beautiful, yet with the inner beauty of biblical Ruth, or a God-fearing man whose features are worthy of the cover of Men’s Health magazine.

Maybe nobody in your circle of friends or influence appears a good fit. Perhaps you are always hanging out with people much younger/older than you. Or none of them are of the same faith. Or they are, but you can’t find the middle ground on some doctrinal beliefs.

Perhaps you are single now because you are so tired and worn out from past rejections.

I am about a month away from my 30th birthday as I write this, and I have experienced practically all of the above. Too many times have I received the all-too-familiar question from well-meaning friends and not-so-distant family members: “Why don’t you have a girlfriend’?”, or “Isn’t there anybody you’re interested in?”

While these are well-meaning questions, they sometimes cause a certain profound hurt to surface in my heart. I can definitely say I am not intentionally single.

I’ve had crushes on numerous women in the past decade, and the closest thing I have ever come to a relationship was an official “exploration” with a girl in church – essentially just us getting to know each other better as friends. We never even held hands. Needless to say, it didn’t work out; it was a car wreck due to selfishness on my part.

The yearning led to disappointment, the disappointment to self-condemnation, the self-condemnation to anger. Yes, I was angry with God.

I’ve found almost every other girl I’ve been interested in in church has been practically unapproachable. Being in an Asian society, it really isn’t easy to get to know a person of the opposite gender without raising a red flag that screams that you’re interested in them.

My two older siblings already have families of their own (with two and three kids, respectively), and here I am, single and with nary a past-relationship to even ponder upon. It hurts. It really does.

I often ask God why. I wish I had the answer.

Those of us who are single, or who have been (and that means all of you), have definitely asked this question at some point. How we yearn for somebody to care for, to share the joys and sufferings of life together. We all want to be desired, to be admired and loved not just by anybody, but by somebody we ourselves desire after.

This yearning in me grew over the years. The yearning led to disappointment, the disappointment to self-condemnation. Perhaps I’m just not attractive enough. As hard as I tried to improve on my character and personality, I never could seem to compete with that other good-looking, mild-mannered guy in that other life group.

Self-condemnation eventually led to anger. Yes, I was angry with God. Why wouldn’t He, in all His sovereign power and loving grace, answer my simple prayer for a wife?

This cycle of emotions repeated itself numerous times, more than I’d want to remember.

To me – as I’m sure it does to many of you – having a partner to love and live life with appears the best thing that could ever happen. And, by extension, not being attached feels the worst thing; it means we are not attractive. Undesirable.

But good as it is, there is a better thing than mere human companionship.

Nothing trumps the fact that God loves us, so much in fact that He died for us even while we were His enemies (Ephesians 2:4-5)! We are loved and desired by the greatest being in the universe – and here we are bemoaning our singlehood.

I’m not undermining our desire for a physical companion. However, isn’t it comforting to know that there is more to love than just earthly companionship and marriage? Scripture reminds us that the institution of marriage is temporary (Matthew 22:30).

Obedience to Christ and holding fast to His covenant will not go unnoticed.

So if we’re not fixated on marriage as the end-goal of our existence – which it surely isn’t! – what is the hope that is held out for those of us who are single?

“Thus says the Lord: ‘To the eunuchs [those who cannot procreate but turn their lives into a unique service instead of marriage] who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.'” (Isaiah 56:4-7)

That is the hope we have: The promise of an everlasting name better than sons and daughters!

What does that mean? I can only imagine! But what I do know about it is that it is better. Better than anything I could imagine in my limited human mind. It is something no earthly marriage can attain. It encourages me that obedience to Christ and holding fast to His covenant will not go unnoticed.

The focus of our lives should be to honour Christ, and the institute of human marriage is meant as a picture of what the marriage between Christ and His bride, the church, is like. But why yearn merely for a reflection when the real thing awaits? Why seek the temporary promise of an earthly marriage, when we can look forward to what is eternal?

Consider the example of Paul, who appears not to have been married during his time writing epistles as the apostle to the Gentiles. In 1 Corinthians 4:15 he writes about how he is as a father to those he watches over, while in 1 Thessalonians 2:7 he says he cherishes them as a mother.

Similarly, I may not have a physical family to raise, but the Lord has graciously given me a spiritual family to look after. It is through His grace enabling me to overcome my struggles in life that God will speak and build people up for His glory.

Yearn and desire for God’s will to be done in your life, even if it means that you will be single for the rest of your life. It may not sound like the best option to us, but the Lord has a greater promise for you, and He will honour your faithfulness to Him.

And that is infinitely, eternally greater than we can hope for from a temporary marriage in this temporary life.

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Prone to wander(lust)?

by | 27 April 2017, 6:17 PM

Some years back, I watched The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. While many had said that it felt like a feature-length “Just Do It” advertisement, the constant theme of “stop dreaming, start living” throughout the movie struck a deep chord within me.

This is life. I thought.

Exactly five months after the movie, inspired to have my own Walter Mitty experience, I embarked on my first-ever solo trip to Taipei. I was 20.

For the first time in a long while, I felt courageous. I felt free. I felt alive.

THIS IS LIVING …OR IS IT? 

The 21st Century young adult’s mind is often found wandering. We scroll through our Instagram feed decorated with beautifully curated travel photographs by our peers. We look with admiration and envy. We grow disillusioned, restless, sick with everything in the here and now.

At some point, my default homepage on my browser was an airline website. I spent great lengths of time staring at my annual calendar, seeking out cheap airfare deals and travel blogs.

Such is the fickleness of wanderlust: A flicker of a thought, a few frames from a movie, what could happen once we get to the place we’re lusting after.

We believe that everything will be perfect if we could just be there.

I soon realised that in desiring to always be somewhere else, I was constantly discontented with my current location.

After my first solo adventure, my fulfilment was short-lived. Within two weeks, in sober dismay, I was counting down to my next great escape.

I rationalised with myself: You deserve a break! This will be a healing trip. You will come back a different person! You need this!

But I soon realised that in desiring to always be somewhere else, I was constantly discontented with my current location.

10 days away from my parents would give me a breather from their nagging. A week away from work would help me to destress. But all in all I knew I was running away from my reality. I was taking the easy but temporal way out of my problems.

And yet after every trip comes that same familiar feeling we all know too well—a painful slap back into reality, where our physical body returns but our minds are still wandering.

It hurts more than ever to be facing the same old problems where we’d left off. Our minds start wondering if only I was somewhere else again. If only, if only. The cycle repeats.

We are here, but never present. It’s a very sad reality.

WANDERLUST: A SYMPTOM OF SOMETHING DEEPER

Our inclination to wander can overflow into other areas of our lives. The desire for a new lifestyle, a new home or country to live in, or even a new identity. We may start to lose ourselves. We start to wander away from God’s heart.

We ignore what God has already given us and grumble to Him for what we do not have – that’s discontentment.

Discontentment, when unmanaged, when full of entitlement, is a dangerous thing.

How, then, do we learn to be content?

The secret to contentment is actually very simple.

Paul shares his experience and secret from the prison, that “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:11-13)

I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.

This is the key to contentment.

Discontentment, when unmanaged, when full of entitlement, is a dangerous thing.

While travelling can offer one a momentary sense of freedom, abandonment and independence, it is only the truth of God that can truly set us free from any kind of bondage. The truth of His love, grace, majesty and glory.

The truth of how He fully knows us.

In this glorious truth, He invites us to live, breath and exist fully in Him, that we’ll never hunger or thirst again.

God gives us more than what travelling can ever offer. It’s of a deeper, more abiding nature — far more valuable and priceless than any flight deal, Airbnb stay, or Walter Mitty quote.

Today, I choose to be present. This is really living.

/ christina@thir.st

Christina is a designer and a writer. She is an INFJ who loves matcha, beautiful typography, good books and sad music. She also dreams of raising her own pet penguin one day.

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It is okay to be not okay

by | 26 April 2017, 7:24 PM

Have you ever felt a pain so great that it pounds through every fibre of your being?

I have.

My mind goes back to one night some years back when I’d gone to see a volunteer counsellor in one of the prayer room sessions held in church. I had just gone through a traumatic patch in life, and I was struggling to find myself again. I was broken through and through, but all my friends ever said to me was, “You should really move on with life, this is taking too long.”

Well, as if I enjoy being stuck in this brokenness. 

I felt that I had no one to turn to, no shoulder to lean on and no listening ear to confide in. That night I unloaded all my hurt and pain to the counsellor, an older lady in her late forties.

The next morning, I received a call from one of my leaders in church.

“(The counsellor) gave me a call. Why did you even go to her?”

I was chided for confiding in someone outside of the campus ministry I was under (“people will think that we are not taking care of you”) for a pain that was so personal (“I think you’re grieving too much and for too long; you need to move on”). That it was not okay to be not okay.

But looking back, I beg to differ.

It is okay to be not okay.

A BRUISED REED HE WILL NOT BREAK

There is a significant biblical witness of “lament” as a valid response to troubles and pain. Many of the psalms are called “Psalms of Lament” – poignant cries of distress and grief. Often the psalmist complains about the hurt inflicted by those around him. Sometimes he is troubled by his own thoughts and actions. Other times he expresses his frustrations with God Himself.

The book of Job is filled with cries of lament. So are some of the words of Jeremiah, who likens God to a deceptive river with unreliable water (Jeremiah 15:18). That’s harsh!

But their grief was brought before God in the fullness of emotion, the way we can only do so with someone we trust. They were brutally honest about their feelings.

We should never assume that if we are trusting and walking with God, we wouldn’t ever weep, feel angry or hopeless. We need to be gentle and patient with ourselves, as we would be with people who are in grief and sorrow.

In Isaiah 42:3, it says this of the Chosen Servant, Jesus Christ: “a bruised reed he will not break, and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice.”

Their grief was brought before God in the fullness of emotion, the way we can only do so with someone we trust.

The bruise that we are talking about here does not mean regular minor injury. It denotes a heavy and deep contusion. The injury might not show on the surface but it is nonetheless potentially fatal.

Jesus will not break the bruised reed or snuff out the dying candle (Matthew 12:20). He cares for the fragile. He loves people who are beaten up, badly battered and painfully bruised. They may not show it on the outside, but inside they are dying. Jesus sees all the way into the deepest parts of our hearts and heals us where we are bleeding (Psalm 147:3).

Suffering and hurting people need to be able to weep, grieve and pour out their hearts instead of being immediately shut down by being told to move on. Nor should we do that to ourselves when we are in pain.

WHAT ABOUT OUR OWN HAPPINESS?

Timothy Keller wrote in his book, Walking with God through Pain & Suffering, that “suffering reveals, communicates and imparts God’s glory as nothing else does”. While His glory cannot be increased because it is already perfect, it can be magnified.

If God is treated like God during our suffering and pain, then it can reveal and present Him in all His greatness and glory.

If we seek God as the non-negotiable good of our lives, we will get happiness thrown into the mix somehow. Yet if our aim is mainly and solely personal happiness, we will end up getting neither.

But how does suffering benefit us? How do we benefit when we’re not even “happy”?

Happiness, in Keller’s words, is a by-product of wanting something more than happiness – to be rightly related to God and our neighbour (Matthew 5:6). If we seek God as the non-negotiable good of our lives, we will get happiness thrown into the mix somehow. Yet if our aim is mainly and solely personal happiness, we will end up getting neither (Matthew 10:39).

It is in the darkest moments that we easily feel we are getting absolutely nothing out of God or out of our relationship with Him. But what if it is during then, when it does not seem to benefit us at all, that we continue to pray, praise, worship and seek God?

If we do that, that is when we finally learn to love God for who He is, and not for His benefits.

REJOICING IN SUFFERING

What does it mean then, to “rejoice in suffering”? Rejoicing cannot simply mean having happy emotions.

We need to acknowledge that suffering creates inner sorrow and makes us weak. To deny our hurt, to tell ourselves that we are fine, means we will likely pay a price later. We will eventually find ourselves blowing up, breaking down and falling apart. Then we will realise we were kidding ourselves. We were hurt more than we thought we did.

To rejoice in God means to dwell on and remind ourselves of who God is, who are we and what He has done for us. If Jesus who was perfect was also a man of sorrows, who are we to not feel any sorrow? Rejoicing in suffering happens within sorrow.

Rejoicing doesn’t come after the sorrow. It doesn’t come after the weeping. It doesn’t come after the pain. The pain drives us into the joy of our salvation – the joy of knowing God – and enhances our relationship with Him. The joy enables us to actually feel our grief without sinking and drowning us.

It is okay to not be okay. But the key lies in what we do when we are not okay.

/ christina@thir.st

Christina is a designer and a writer. She is an INFJ who loves matcha, beautiful typography, good books and sad music. She also dreams of raising her own pet penguin one day.

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“Work, for I am with you”: Celebrating God’s faithfulness in my university years

by | 24 April 2017, 5:46 PM

16 May, 2016. FYP has ended. For real. The end.

Today I went back to school, perhaps for the last time ever, to pack my graduation show booth up for tear-down.

My FYP booth – a year of frustrations, running into dead-ends and sleepless nights, all contained within these two walls.

Time has really flown by. And yet at the same time, it feels like a long time coming. To be honest, my final year in university has been fraught with anxiety and loneliness. My nights were filled with vivid nightmares, and I was plagued by constant paranoia.

Now standing in front of my FYP that was encapsulated in a 180cm by 230cm booth, I wonder if my final year – or even my entire four years in school – put a smile on God’s face. I hope they have.

Some four years ago, He gave me a very specific calling to abandon my own dreams and to apply to NTU’s design school to pursue a route that He had planned for me. He wanted me to use whatever gifts I had as a positive influence.

I was hesitant and afraid, but I chose to trust Him anyway. In these four years, I tried my hardest even in the hardest of times. I confronted my own fear of socialising to devoting myself in building His community of creatives in school.

The community that God had planted in our school – we devoted ourselves to meeting regularly, supporting and guiding each other through challenges in school and prayed for our school.

He brought me on a supernatural journey to learn what it means to let go and let God; what it means to let Him establish my every step; what it means to include and remember Him in my every decision; what it means to stop asking God’s plan to fall into my own; what it means to lay my rights down with a “hallelujah”.

I wasn’t the best student out there. I wasn’t blowing everyone’s minds with cool works every semester. I definitely wasn’t scoring straight A’s contrary to the general belief that design school is a breeze to score.

It was in university that I went through some of the darkest and deepest valleys in my life.

I worried constantly about many things: What if I couldn’t major in visual communication? What if I couldn’t get the modules that I needed? What if I couldn’t get an internship? What if I couldn’t get a FYP supervisor…?

But God never gave up on me.

He pursued me in the darkest nights and in the most painful of times. He lifted me from the darkest pits. He blessed me abundantly beyond what I’d imagined.

When I was in the darkest nights, He said, “Create. Keep creating, because it is what I’ve called you to do.”

I got into my ideal major. I got all the modules I needed and most of the modules I wanted. I scored two internships at two well-established design studios. I found myself an FYP supervisor before the official application window even opened.

When I was in the darkest nights, He said, “Create. Keep creating, because it is what I’ve called you to do.”

When I was jaded, He said, “Work, for I am with you.”

When I was in doubt, He said, “Don’t ever discount the partnership that you have with Me.”

He has always been faithful and never once did I ever felt that He had forsaken me. I understood what His love meant – passionate, unconditional, undivided, fierce, loyal, unwavering, long-suffering, forgiving, faithful …

And I continue to discover that everyday.

Now I leave school with a deeper understanding and assurance that I live not for my own, but for Him in me.

I’m thankful that four years ago I chose to embark on this ride He called me on to. My prayer today is that I give praise for the closure of this chapter and maximise this next (hopefully temporal) season of rest and silence while I wait upon Him to send me on towards my next destination in His good timing.

Now I leave school with a deeper understanding and assurance that I live not for my own, but for Him in me. All that I have today and all that I am today, is to Him alone — I’m an heir of His grace. This refining through the fire, wasn’t that hard to bear after all.

The end, NTU. It’s been a life-changing one.

/ christina@thir.st

Christina is a designer and a writer. She is an INFJ who loves matcha, beautiful typography, good books and sad music. She also dreams of raising her own pet penguin one day.

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The boy who’s always been picked on – and the God who picked me

by Mattias Tan | 17 April 2017, 4:25 PM

I’ve always been bullied.

Growing up, I felt no one understood me. I always felt that my parents favoured other people. At least, to my young mind it looked that way – it seemed they always spoke nicely to other people but were often harsh towards me.

Looking back, it’s only fair that I thank them; after all, they were raising me the best way they knew how (Hebrews 12:10) with the aim of producing good fruit (Hebrews 12:11).

Relentlessly picked on by the neighbours’ children, I was given humiliating roles that nobody wanted to play during role-play sessions. I was set up to fail at drawing competitions, and laughed at for being the slowest runner on the block during catching.

Going to school was not exactly pleasant either. Having to explain to my parents where lost lunchboxes went was a nightmare, especially when they insisted that I misplaced them again, even if that really wasn’t always the case. (To be fair to them, I had a penchant for misplacing my belongings a fair bit).

Not just lunchboxes – umbrellas and water bottles were regularly misappropriated and secreted away, and oftentimes the only way I could get them back was by demanding them back (which often failed and resulted in more mocking and name-calling), or getting a teacher in to help (which meant I got my things back, but at the cost of more name-calling, while subsequent bullying just got worse).

I couldn’t even look in the mirror – I couldn’t stand to see the person I saw staring back at me.

Just as I thought the worst was over, with my mediocre PSLE results, I leapt out of the proverbial frying pan into the raging inferno: Secondary school. Not only did the bullies from primary school follow me to secondary school, they ganged up with the popular kids, so the bullying didn’t stop – it intensified.

From the name-calling and hiding of things I suffered in primary school, it progressed to public humiliation, them taking turns to lob paint at me, and so many other terrifying ordeals.

Through it all, I spent most nights crying myself to sleep, their sharp words ringing through my mind as I wept. Things got so bad that I couldn’t even look in the mirror – I couldn’t stand to see the person I saw staring back at me. All their words seemed so true, so apt, so painful.

Determined to fix myself, I turned to one area that I thought could fix my pain: Power.

At that time, I held a relatively low rank within my uniformed group. But fuelled by an insatiable desire for copious amounts of power, I leapt at all opportunities to get the most prestigious and powerful positions, which would enable me to wield a disproportionate amount of power over the other cadets in my unit and get them to do my bidding, regardless of their views.

Not only was I power-hungry inside my CCA, I was the same outside, too. Harnessing the rage boiling inside me from being bullied, I took it out on others, taunting them, hiding belongings and so on.

But none of it satisfied. None of it stopped the nightly crying. In desperation, I turned to yet another way out: Companionship. At that time, I thought that having a girlfriend would be the solution to all my problems. I figured that even if it didn’t stop the bullying, it would at least make it more bearable, having someone who cared for you and was willing to hear you out.

Soon, I was getting myself involved with a girl and we both depended heavily on each other emotionally to get through the day. But the relationship didn’t work out, and after everything, I realised that the hole was still there. It wasn’t patched up.

As French mathematician, physicist and philosopher Blaise Pascal surmised: We all have a God-shaped void which cannot be filled by anything other than what it was intended to be filled by.

At my wits’ end, I decided to turn back to God. I was brought up in a Christian household, and though I doubted His existence back then – mostly due to the emotional experiences that I been through – I still attended church. Though I mostly did so to seek companionship and please my parents, I was unconsciously absorbing and remembering all that was said during sermons and worship.

It was in the endless, rolling deserts of South Australia that all the pieces finally fell into place.

It was my CCA’s biennial overseas trip and we were headed Down Under to Adelaide. The first week was spent in the city, but on the second week there, they decided to let us experience life in the desert.

One night, as I looked up, I saw the Milky Way, with the various constellations dancing about. And then it hit me. I was blown away by the fact that, despite creating all the stars, putting them into place (Colossians 1:17) and knowing each and every one of their names (Psalms 147:4), He knows and cares for me too (Matthew 10:30).

I knelt down and wept at the realisation that I was not only known but loved by The Most High God.

When I returned to Singapore, I attended my youth ministry’s annual Worship Night. At the service, I could feel the presence of God washing over me like waves, washing me clean and reassuring me that I was His and that nothing could ever separate me from His Love.

I knelt down and wept at the realisation that I was not only known but loved by The Most High God.

I went back to school, and no, the bullying and name-calling did not stop. I still feel the fear today of the next taunt, the next shove coming around the next corner. But I know now that in all these trials, God was with me throughout, and that He was the only one I could rely on.

And that will never change.

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I could do things my way – but there’s a better way

by | 12 April 2017, 1:00 PM

Throughout the years, my heart has been yearning for things that God has not been giving to me. I yearned for a reputable career in the creative industry, but I’m now a full-time ministry worker. I desire for a relationship, but I’m still very single. I wish I had time to hang out with friends, but I find myself occupied with ministry even outside of work and church.

Week after week, the routine repeats. Full-time ministry work. More ministry after work. Lifegroup planning, mentoring, worship duty, more mentoring, lifegroup, more ministry planning. Still haven’t met up with the friends I’ve been trying to meet. I sink into my bed at the end of the day with absolute fatigue. Still single. The buzz from the flurry of activities dies down and the silence from my loneliness becomes louder than ever.

On some days, it is easy for me to fall into a pit of loneliness and disappointment towards God. This wasn’t what I pictured. Why is it so lonely to do Your work, God?

Then He spoke to me, “You need to do my work, my way. Trust me.” He asked for my full, total surrender.

LIVING WITH A SENSE OF EXPECTANCY

To do God’s work requires me to avail myself as His worker. A worker does not decide for himself his work for the day, but he waits on instructions from his superior. For me to be able to do God’s work effectively, I need to live with a sense of expectancy every day towards God.

What does the Lord want to do with me today? What does the Lord want me to do today?

I have no agenda of my own.

When I think that there is only one solution out of a problem and God has to give me that or nothing, that is me bringing my agenda to the table. Me thinking that I should be happy and not lonely doing God’s work? That is my agenda. My own agenda closes my own mind. A closed mind is a closed heart and a closed door.

This is the key to the freedom to do God’s work. To do God’s work effectively, I have to do it His way. I need to stop relying on my own strengths and logic. I need to make space for God’s plan in my life. I need to trust and obey Him.

TRUST AND OBEY

When our feelings from our own unfulfilled agendas become so great that they overwhelm us, it is easy for us to lose sight of what is at hand and the reality. The disappointments come like a mighty waterfall. The currents engulf us. The weeds wrap our around us. It is in these moments we feel that God has forgotten about us and shortchanged us.

But we forget that the truth is greater than our feelings. God loves us. (Psalm 42:8) God is our solid rock. (Psalm 42:9)

To do God’s work God’s way is to be a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit. (Jeremiah 17:7-8) It has no agenda of its own and it simply does what it ought to do. It trusts and obeys the natural occurrence of life and finds fulfilment of its purpose through it.

The heart which has no other agenda but only God’s is the heart free from itself. It is fully surrendered and it fully trusts. Its emptiness is filled with the love of God. Its solitude can be turned into prayer.

I have no agenda of my own.

/ christina@thir.st

Christina is a designer and a writer. She is an INFJ who loves matcha, beautiful typography, good books and sad music. She also dreams of raising her own pet penguin one day.

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7 places to go this Easter weekend

by Thir.st | 7 April 2017, 3:53 PM

Good Friday and Easter are all about the death and resurrection of Jesus. Here are 7 churches telling that story in 7 different ways that weekend.

1. THE LEAP: HOPE CHURCH SINGAPORE


Jail, addiction and guilt threatened to destroy a father’s bond with his son. Who could help them beat the odds to restore their relationship? Who could bridge the gulf between them? Find out in this Easter documentary on April 15 and 16 at Hope Church Singapore.

15 April (Saturday): 2pm & 5pm
16 April (Sunday): 10am
The Axis @ Textile Centre
200 Jalan Sultan #04-24
Singapore 199018

16 April (Sunday): 10am
North East Centre
Seletar Country Club
101 Seletar Club Road
Singapore 798273
A free shuttle bus service is available.

For more information, click here.

2. DANNY: BETHESDA (BEDOK-TAMPINES) CHURCH


Have you ever wanted anything so badly that you would give up everything just to have it? This is the story of DANNY, a prize fighter in a post-apocalyptic future, whose success in the arena is fuelled by his drive to prove his father wrong. He thinks he’s conquered the world – until he discovers the truth about his father. Now he’s in the fight of his life.

14 April (Friday): 10.30am & 5pm
15 April (Saturday): 5pm
Bethesda Bedok-Tampines Church
300 Bedok North Avenue 3

For more information, click here.

3. 72 HOURS: CORNERSTONE COMMUNITY CHURCH

72 Hours chronicles the journey of a man named Jesus, from the Garden of Gethsemane to an empty tomb in Jerusalem. He suffered betrayal from His disciples, was brought before Pontius Pilate for His sentencing, given a crown of thorns, and was crucified on the cross; before men, but for their very sake. He was deserted, left to die, and was buried.

Three days later, a group of women came to anoint His broken body at the tomb. Yet, all they could find was an empty tomb … and folded linen. (In Bible times, folded linen on a dining table meant the diner had to excuse himself for a while, but would be coming back.)

This Resurrection Weekend, take a journey back in time 2,000 years ago and relive the 72 hours that altered the course of mankind forever.

15 April (Saturday): 1.30pm (Youth), 5pm & 6.45pm
16 April (Sunday): 8.30am, 10.15am & 11.45am
Cornerstone Community Church Main Auditorium
11 East Coast Road
The Odeon Katong #03-01/02
Singapore 428722

For more information, click here.

4. THE LAMB OF GOD: COVENANT EVANGELICAL FREE CHURCH

The Lamb of God is a multi-sensory presentation about Jonathan, a shepherd who stood transfixed at the Cross of Jesus. It was there beside the glistening pool of blood that he realised what the Lamb of God really meant.

14 April (Friday): 9am & 11am
Bukit Panjang Centre
10 Jelapang Road
Singapore 677740

14 April (Friday): 9am & 11am
Woodlands Centre
90 Woodlands Drive 16
Singapore 737878

14 April (Friday): 9am & 11am
East Centre
4 Changi Business Park Avenue 1
Singapore 486016

For more information, click here.

5. UNFORGOTTEN: CITY HARVEST CHURCH

Unforgotten is a bilingual evangelistic drama production that revolves around the lives of a mother and son, and how their lives take on a drastic turn when they encounter an unfortunate event. Witness the love of Jesus and how He brings about healing and reconciliation through his ministry on earth. 

The drama will be followed by the preaching of the Word, which will be interpreted into Mandarin.

14 April (Friday): 4pm
15 April (Saturday): 5pm
16 April (Sunday): 10am
Suntec Singapore
Level 6, Halls 601-604

For more information, click here.

6. FINAL WORDS FROM THE CROSS: THE CITY CHURCH

The City will be culminating their Final Words From The Cross sermon series with a Sunday celebrating our Resurrected King. Breakfast will be served at 9.30am, followed by a time of rejoicing, a powerful message and lunch after.

16 April (Sunday): 10AM
THE CITY
62 Cecil Street
TPI Building #06-00
Singapore 049710

7. EASTER 2017: TRINITY CHRISTIAN CENTRE

It took more than nails to keep the Son of God on the cross. Experience the extravagant love of Jesus this Easter at Trinity Christian Centre, with a time of worship and sharing of the Word.

14 April (Friday): 10am
15 April (Saturday): 5pm
16 April (Sunday): 8.30am & 11am
Trinity Christian Centre
247 Paya Lebar Road

For more information, click here.

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The credit analyst who left everything behind for an unpaid internship in Cambodia

by Esther Lim, International Justice Mission | 27 March 2017, 4:50 PM

When I was younger in the faith, I used to hate the idea of working in the church office. That was my only concept of what full-time ministry could look like. I had the perception that it would limit my worldview and the people I could meet, with work entirely revolving around church operations and the people in it.

After I graduated, I worked mainly in the finance field. The last role I held was as a credit analyst with a big Japanese bank in Singapore, and it was a really cushy job.

At some point, I volunteered briefly with a church located in Geylang. We would fan out into the streets each week, offering prostitutes – we call them streetwalkers – a word of prayer, homemade cookies, and hugs of care and love.

This short stint opened my eyes to the reality of human trafficking in our own backyard. As I read more about this issue, I got to know of the organisation International Justice Mission (IJM) and began toying with the idea of participating in the work of justice through their internship programme.

My journey leading to going full-time really wasn’t as dramatic and supernatural as you’d think. In fact it happened in the mundane and the daily living out of my faith. After God placed in me this seed of the possibility of taking up this internship programme some day in the future, I started to think about when it might happen, all the while still “roughing it out” in my mundane job, knowing that He had a purpose for me in the marketplace.

I thought 2017 would be a good year considering that I now have adequate financial resources – I don’t want to depend on others for support – and knowing that my parents are still healthy and working.

One day, while on my regular night stroll around the park, I told God that I’m just going go ahead and set the year apart for this work, as an act of worship unto Him. That night I felt God’s delight and pleasure over my decision. In the mundane and day-to-day walk with the Lord, I experienced having my desires transformed and seeing Him meet them, much like in Psalm 37:4: “Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

Along the way I also received a prophesy confirming my decision to go at this time, at the end of my 7th year of work. Personally, though, this wasn’t a significant push – I’d already made up my mind.

And that’s how I find myself now working in Cambodia, Phnom Penh, in the third month of a one-year unpaid internship with International Justice Mission, a Christian human rights organisation that is fighting the cause of modern day human slavery.

A photo from my first trip out into province to visit our clients. Due to confidentiality, it is not possible to get many photos on these client visits.

Moving out to do something out of comfort zone is always, well, uncomfortable. In planning for my move overseas, there were many nitty-gritty details that had to be taken care of, and sometimes dealing with everything at once can be overwhelming. But being in such a vulnerable position puts you in a position to learn to depend on God and experience His provision.

For example, I experienced His leading and provision in finding my current accommodation, which has helped me assimilate faster in this foreign land. Not only did I get a good deal on my rental rates, I also confirmed my accommodation in record time, on the 3rd day of my arrival in Phnom Penh. God indeed knows our needs through and through.

Neither am I alone in the journey. I know of many Christians here who are working in various NGOs, supporting various causes in their own capacities, serving the people here in Cambodia and surrounding countries. There’s so many avenues to serve if we would just look out for it.

I’ve experienced so much in this short span of time. And I know that by the end of this internship journey, I will have had many more intimate encounters with God to talk about.

The view from the balcony at my new place in Phnom Penh.

Some people have this misconception that God’s call is all-or-nothing: Either you are fully in, or you are fully out. While we should incline our hearts to seek to follow him fully every step of the way, we need to understand that realistically, God’s call in our individual lives is often progressive, and he reveals more of Himself as we follow Him in taking the next step of our faith, in whatever state of readiness we are in.

So if God is calling you to take a step of faith today, I encourage you to take it and see how God can come through for you. Even if you were to fail, know that God’s hands of grace is not too short for you.

As followers of Christ, we can count on His faithfulness and His ability to come through for us when we step out in faith towards his leading. If God is to call, he will also equip and prepare, and we can take heart in that.


International Justice Mission (IJM) is an international Christian nonprofit organisation focused on human rights, laws and law enforcement. It is currently the world’s largest anti-slavery organisation, rescuing victims of violence, sexual exploitation and slavery. To extend your support, in whatever form, please drop Esther an email at esther.limwanqi@gmail.com.

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I don’t like the way I look – but I’m learning to love who I am

by | 22 March 2017, 10:03 AM

“Your daughter dances like an elephant,” my dance instructor announced to my mother in front of everyone after class one day. I was 7.

It was nothing new. Every week the instructor did her best to make me feel like I didn’t belong, and this week she finally did it with my mother around.

I’m not your “average girl”. When I was in kindergarten, I was the tallest in the class at 130cm. I stood a whole head higher than everyone else and I felt compelled to slouch so I wouldn’t stick out like a sore thumb. Outstanding isn’t always a compliment.

I’m not exactly a gangly girl either. I’m generally big-boned, so usually sport a bigger frame than my peers — though I was never overweight by the standards of any school health check-ups or BMI tests.

My mother was embarrassed by what my dance instructor had put her through. The day after I was publicly labelled a dancing elephant, my mother told me, “If you were skinny and small like those other girls, you wouldn’t have been made an outcast.”

I look into the mirror and all I can see are things that I hate. This is my journey in living with the weight of body negativity.

1/7

|

My face is haunted by baby fats of yesteryears that linger and refuse to go away, no matter how many of those “face slimming roller” gadgets I’ve tried.

2/7

|

My face shines like the flash of a camera, no matter how many different skincare products I’ve used. People think I’m perpetually sweating. Sometimes I give up and lie: “Yes, the heat is killing me”.

3/7

|

My eyes are so small they look as though they are always closed. They are so small that my face looks like it’s just 90% skin and 10% eyes.

4/7

|

My arms are huge however I look at them. From the front, from the sides, from the back. I would pinch at them and imagine if I could just trim the excess off with a pair of shears.

My mother’s obsession with my appearance and size led to the downward spiral of my self-esteem. She constantly reminded me that I should step lightly, unlike an elephant. I was never allowed a full bowl of rice. I wasn’t allowed to eat anything after 5pm, even if I hadn’t eaten the whole afternoon. Three bites into a meal, she’d ask without fail, “Aren’t you full yet?”

I started to struggle with binge eating. I’d stuff my face with food as early as 6 in the morning, and starve myself for the rest of the day. I began to internalise my mother’s obsession over my weight.

When I came to know God as a secondary school student, I struggled with the truth that God loves me for who I am. Who I am? You mean, after I’ve lost all this weight?

My problem with body negativity was so deep-seated that it would not be reconciled with the knowledge of God’s unconditional love. In fact, it only got worse. I started counting the calories in every single thing I ate. I weighed myself every morning and night. I had a journal in which I recorded my body measurements each day.

5/7

|

My waist. Where is my waist? “Where is your waist?” is my mother’s favourite question. I continue to keep my non-existent waist out of sight by hiding under baggy clothes.

6/7

|

The ghost of body negativity creeps into my head during meals and screams at me: ARE YOU SURE YOU'RE HUNGRY? My mind is thrown back to the most recent time I stepped gingerly onto the weighing scale.

7/7

|

I sit down at the dining table as if I’m preparing to do a bungee jump. "There’s no turning back after this."

It took me a few more years to slowly unravel the truth within Genesis 1:27: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

I’m still learning. The “image” here has nothing to do with what come to our mind first when we hear the word “image”. Beyond the physical, the Latin root behind this word — Imago Dei­ — refers to the fact that humans bear a likeness to God in their moral, spiritual and intellectual nature.

There is so much more to my “image”. Being made in the image of God means that I’m more than the measurements and calories. I know my imperfections.

I am trying to love this body of mine along with all its imperfections that God has fearfully and wonderfully made. I am trying to love it not because I think that my thick waist proves its perfect use as a bolster, or that my always-oily face means that I save money on highlighters and moisturisers, but because it is mine.

I take it as an accurate chronicle of who I am and what I have been through, not as a failure in what society expects of me.

And just so you know, I’m munching away on a Kinder Bueno bar as I’m writing this.

/ christina@thir.st

Christina is a designer and a writer. She is an INFJ who loves matcha, beautiful typography, good books and sad music. She also dreams of raising her own pet penguin one day.

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Stop comparing yourself to others – you’re better than that

by | 16 March 2017, 9:35 AM

We compare the number of followers and likes we have on social media. We compare our grades and the prestige of our schools. We compare our job titles and salaries.

In today’s society where we’re told competition is inevitable, comparison just seems to be a natural by-product. We’re engaged in a constant struggle to keep up. We’re easily wound up in jealousy and comparison. How can we ever keep up, we wonder.

Here are three handles – adapted from a sermon preached by Senior Pastor Jeffrey Chong of Hope Church Singapore in November 2016 – to help you adopt a Godly perspective to exit the hamster wheel of comparison, and learn to truly rejoice in the successes of others.

HOW TO OVERCOME THE SPIRIT OF COMPARISON

1. Celebrate each other’s successes

It’s generally easier for us to suffer with others easier than to rejoice with them. If someone is doing badly, it’s easy for us to offer comforting words and a shoulder to lean on — because we can do it from a vantage point that says, “Poor thing, I’m stronger than you.” It’s from a position of strength.

But when we have to celebrate with someone else’s successes, we are coming from a position that “he/she is better than me”. That’s what makes it difficult for many of us – acting from a position of weakness.

If we can’t bring ourselves to do this, we’re like King Saul, insecure and irked by the fact that the people honoured David more than him (1 Samuel 18:6).

God’s Word teaches us to intentionally celebrate the successes of others. This means that when someone does better than us, we do not envy. When we do better than others, we do not boast (1 Corinthians 13:4). And similarly, if someone isn’t doing as well as we are, we must learn to emphasise and suffer alongside. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it. (1 Corinthians 12:26).

2. Compare yourself with … yourself

Saul started to compare himself with David instead of focusing on his own reputation as a great warrior (1 Samuel 18:8). In the light of what others were saying about David, the reigning king became displeased and discontented with his own achievements – even though nothing had changed about what Saul had done.

When we start to compare ourselves against others and find out that we’re doing better than others, we run the risk of becoming proud. On the other hand, when we realise that others are doing better than us, we’re at risk of becoming jealous. Comparing is generally a fruitless exercise; the truth is we’re called to take pride in what we achieve without comparing it against someone else (Galatians 6:4).

God has a special, individual race marked out for each of us. With our unique gifts and all the doors that God has opened for us, we should strive towards being the best that God has destined for us to be (Hebrews 12:1-2). And it doesn’t matter how the world views that.

This is the secret to being contented and yet not complacent.

3. Collaborate, don’t compete

If only Saul chose to fight alongside David, not against him. Can you imagine what a powerful duo they would have become? Yet Saul chose to try to get rid of the competition (1 Samuel 18:10-16).

We may not be attempting to assassinate our competitors like Saul, but our desire to compete can manifest in other ways. We may slander others or be sceptical and sardonic towards others’ successes.

There is critical thinking (discernment is good), and then there is a critical heart. This critical heart prevents us from celebrating with others and affirming them. We try to make make others smaller, just so we can appear bigger.

If someone is doing better than us, instead of defaulting to envy, perhaps we can stop to think about what we can learn from them to improve ourselves.

When Saul chose to compare and compete instead of collaborating and learning from David, he ended up being the biggest loser instead.

The reason that David had many great successes in his life was that he had the ultimate collaborator (1 Samuel 18:12, 1 Samuel 18:14). At the end of the day, the only partnership we need to have is with God.

/ christina@thir.st

Christina is a designer and a writer. She is an INFJ who loves matcha, beautiful typography, good books and sad music. She also dreams of raising her own pet penguin one day.

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This is no time to live carelessly: Bill Johnson at Kingdom Invasion

by | 15 March 2017, 11:31 PM

Christians don’t only have the ability to affect the atmosphere – we have the responsibility to change it, said Bill Johnson.

The senior pastor of Bethel Church, speaking at the second day (15 March) of Kingdom Invasion 2017, told the audience at the Singapore Expo: “We were designed to manifest the presence of God on earth.”

“If you don’t discern the presence (of God), you will be reduced to principles. People study real money, not counterfeit money, to be able to tell what is real.”

He went on to share about how a simple act of kindness and service can actually turn out be access points to encounters with God.

“God doesn’t just touch people on a surface level – God heals on so many different dimensions… We owe people an encounter with God.”

He shared with the congregation that as Christians, we not only have the ability to affect, but we can also change the atmosphere.

“The strongholds of people’s lives are in the thought realm. The presence of the Lord removes people from a place of their own deceptive influences and helps them to think clearly for the first time in their lives. There is no lack in your soul in His presence.”

He went on to give the example of Moses and the burning bush, saying while God might appear to be ignoring Moses’ question of “who am I?” (Exodus 3:11-12) by only answering him with “I will be with you”, but He could actually be saying: “Who are you, Moses? You’re the man I’d like to be with”. God promised His presence before Moses could even wrap his head around the entire situation.

“We don’t just live carelessly; we need to live with ambition.” Bill urged that we become architects and designers of culture who live with intentionality so that we can shape the value system of our nations.

“When you walk in the room, the odds change: we carry the presence of a Person who has manifested for who He is. We are here to give language for what the lost are aching for.”

Amidst this, he encouraged the congregation to first set their face on God.

“He watches over the watch of those who watch over the Lord.”

Kingdom Invasion 2017 will run until Friday at Singapore Expo Hall 1. Night sessions starting from 6pm are free, subjected to availability of seats. For more details, visit www.kingdominvasion.sg.

/ christina@thir.st

Christina is a designer and a writer. She is an INFJ who loves matcha, beautiful typography, good books and sad music. She also dreams of raising her own pet penguin one day.

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“Civilised nations do not kill our own children”: Lou Engle calls for Esthers to arise in Singapore

by | 15 March 2017, 2:54 PM

“In 1969, the Prime Minister of Singapore (Lee Kuan Yew) began to allow the legalisation of abortion and that decision was further sealed deeply by Roe v. Wade in 1973. But I prophesy that God is going to rise… He is going to raise up voices, intercessors, movements of adoptions and single mother homes.”

Lou Engle was speaking at the 5th edition of the annual Kingdom Invasion conference on Tuesday (14 March) night.

“Civilised nations do not kill our own children.” Addressing directly to women who have been through abortion themselves, Lou said, “Let your greatest pain be your greatest prophecy and bring forth justice in the nation.”

Later that night, the message was deeply on focused on the call for a generation of Esthers to rise up in Singapore.

He called for a movement of Esthers to reverse the decree of abortion in Singapore and the region.

“Esthers bring the keys to change history and to lead the nation into a mighty breakthrough.” He recalled how the women’s march took place earlier in the year in Washington D.C. and referred that as a sign of how Satan has overplayed his hand.

“When Satan has overplayed his hand, we know that Esthers will rise up soon and very soon.”

“TIME TO OVERTURN THE DECREE”: JENNIFER HENG

Standing forefront as the Esther of all Esthers was Jennifer Heng. With a trembling voice, she shared God had ignited in her a passion to stand up for abortion issues and how He had prepared her since then for a time such as this. Too much has been left unsaid and it is time for us to overturn that death decree, she proclaimed.

“There is a call to end abortion in Singapore that will have a profound effect on the foundations of our nation and other Asian countries. It is time to overturn the decree.”

The night ended with throngs of females coming to the altar to respond to the call of starting a pro-life movement in Singapore while males were seen to pray over them as a form of honour and respect.

A PROPHETIC DREAM

Lou Engle was speaking with regards to a dream he had about Singapore regarding the books of Daniel and Esther.

“I had this dream that two books were needed in Singapore – books that had been lost or simply misplaced. One of these books is the book of Daniel, and the other is Esther,” he shared. He went on to elaborate that God had impressed upon him that Singapore would become an apostolic sending place, to release the transformation of economies and cultures across the globe with prophetic clarity. Specifically, the call was to rise up Daniels and Esthers to reshape the economic and abortion landscape in Singapore.

Kingdom Invasion 2017 will run until Friday at Singapore Expo Hall 1. Night sessions starting from 6pm are free, subjected to availability of seats. For more details, visit www.kingdominvasion.sg.

 

/ christina@thir.st

Christina is a designer and a writer. She is an INFJ who loves matcha, beautiful typography, good books and sad music. She also dreams of raising her own pet penguin one day.

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Kingdom Invasion: Dare to be a Daniel, Lou Engle challenges Singaporeans

by | 15 March 2017, 2:49 PM

Lou Engle, speaking at the 5th edition of the annual Kingdom Invasion conference on Tuesday (14 March) night, urged all businessmen and women in the marketplace “to fast and pray like Daniel” in order to release the revelation of Daniel into Singapore.

He prophesied that Singapore will become the Antioch of the East to transform the culture of economies in the region.

Businessmen in Singapore were riled up to model after Daniel, who accurately perceived the shifting of earthly regime as a kairos moment to fast and pray.

“In fasting, you set the landing strip for divine revelation!” Lou declared.

The call to unity amongst businessmen to stand between the heavenly and earthly realms was a declaration of God’s ascendency against the principalities hindering the fulfilment of Singapore’s calling to be a center that transforms the culture of economics of other nations.

“I prophesy there is a coming summit of businessmen in this nation, and because of this word, that they will not compete with one another, they will be like Antioch, where they come together and they fast and minister to the Lord and in the midst of it God will begin to lose divine intervention to reform the economies of nations.”

Besides the businesspeople, Lou also touched on the fact that Singapore has much to thank for leaders and authorities who has kept the nation on course.

The word of the night came from Daniel 2, when a new king had been risen up in Persia – King Cyrus was prophesied by Isaiah that he will release the Jewish people out of Babylon to go back to build the temple of the Lord.

“God changes times by raising up kings, and taking them down. You’re got to understand the times and seasons through the rising up of kings and taking them down.”

He went on to explain how newly-elected U.S. President Donald Trump, while controversial, has issued decrees to benefit the body of Christ.

“America is in a profound moment right now,” Lou declared, “Times and seasons change in Daniel and in those times he seized the moment and he fasts and prays.”

He shared that the 2016 U.S. election shook the nation and the world, and as a result the church of Jesus rose up.

“The election has been a disruption for those who want to build a Christ-less world, but God has disrupted their party. We can’t just celebrate the disruption, we need to continue to pray. Trump has shaken the nation – he is an interruption to the ever-growing anti-Christ philosophy in the U.S., whether you like him or not.”

He also noted how the recent worldwide call for witches to unite in cursing Trump was an interesting notion, that “however controversial he has been, the forces of darkness are against him now. Darkness is only against forces of light.”

“Singapore cannot just think that ‘we’re gonna live in peace’ because crisis moments are coming. In times of crisis, vacuums take place. Key men and women will rise up to throw themselves into that vacuum to determine which way the hinge of history will turn.”

He was speaking with regards to a dream he had about Singapore regarding the books of Daniel and Esther.

“I had this dream that two books were needed in Singapore – books that had been lost or simply misplaced. One of these books is the book of Daniel, and the other is Esther,” he shared. He went on to elaborate that God had impressed upon him that Singapore would become an apostolic sending place, to release the transformation of economies and cultures across the globe with prophetic clarity. Specifically, the call was to rise up Daniels and Esthers to reshape the economic and abortion landscape in Singapore.

Kingdom Invasion 2017 will run until Friday at Singapore Expo Hall 1. Night sessions starting from 6pm are free, subjected to availability of seats. For more details, visit www.kingdominvasion.sg.

/ christina@thir.st

Christina is a designer and a writer. She is an INFJ who loves matcha, beautiful typography, good books and sad music. She also dreams of raising her own pet penguin one day.

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Serving in the spotlight: The youth leader

by | 28 February 2017, 9:58 AM

You may be a worship leader who leads a congregation of 5,000 to worship on the weekends or the lone musician in a house church. You’re front and centre for half the worship service and a familiar face to most of your congregation. With all this attention on you, it can be easy to fall into the trap of pride while serving in the spotlight. In this series, we ask worship leaders and musicians how they take the attention off themselves and point the congregation back to God.

JOSHUA KWOK is serving as a youth leader and youth committee member in the youth ministry of Ang Mo Kio Methodist Church. He recently graduated from NUS and is currently working in NTUC Union.

How did you end up in this ministry?

I grew up in church but growing up I didn’t feel connected to the community in church. So when I was Secondary 3, I decided to stop attending youth ministry and just attended the main service with my parents. I was very disconnected with the community in church and wasn’t living a God-directed life.

Towards the end of Junior College, an auntie who is a friend of my dad felt led by God to approach me to help her set up a youth ministry. I felt that this could have been God’s way of leading me back to Him, so I decided to help out.

At first, I was supposed to just help out, but as time passed by, I was given more responsibilities. As I became more exposed to God’s Word and as I saw the transformation that God was working in the lives of the youths, my passion for God increased. God also opened up many opportunities for me to serve, forcing me out of my comfort zone, leading me to depend on Him and to experience more of how great He is.

Did you ever encounter any personal struggles in your ministry?

One of the fears that I had was public speaking. I always had this fear that I wouldn’t know what to say when I was up on stage and the fear of that caused me to be nervous, and the nervousness just made it worse. It was like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

During my church’s youth camp in 2011, I was leading the “Faith in Action” committee, which aimed to expose our youths to some of the needy communities in Singapore. My Pastor asked me to share my “walking on water” experience of me leading the committee during one of his sermons. I remember editing my script a few times, and I found it very hard to focus on the worship session and his sermon as my fears kept ringing in my head.

But I kept praying and asking God for help, and I’m glad that I was given the courage to speak in front of the congregation.

In the years since, I’ve been given more opportunities to be in the spotlight, and I’ve become more confident in public speaking. Those fears have diminished over time. God has even given me ideas to speak ad hoc.

In fact, my fear is now the opposite – that there may be an increasing tendency to rely on my speaking skills to motivate or convince the crowd, instead of prayerfully relying on God to convict the crowd.

Do people have certain expectations from you because of your role in church?

When I was leading a Christian camp in school a year ago, a camper told me that he had this perfect impression of me – that I was this perfect guy walking rightly with God and also doing well in many other areas of my life. However, as he began to hear more of my sharing, he came to realise that I have many flaws and God’s grace is made perfect in my weakness.

Through that, God was exalted, not me.

We tend to hide behind a mask; we want others to think highly of us and take on more things than we can handle, when actually we are nearing burnout. We give others a false image of who we are.

It’s natural to have expectations about one another. When it comes to ministry and service, and those expectations come from a genuine desire to build up the church, I think it’s helpful.

The problem is not with expectations but with a mismatch of expectations. We tend to hide behind a mask; we want others to think highly of us and take on more things than we can handle, when actually we are reaching burnout point. We give others a false image of who we are. That’s the mismatch.

As long as we stay honest in our sharing, people will soon realise that we are all flawed and sinners, and it’s truly God’s grace that enables us to serve. Keep doing that and the expectation will eventually be correctly matched.

In your years of service, have you been derailed by pride?

About a year ago, God led me to start an outreach group in school with some of my friends. As the week passed, with our weekly broadcasts, more and more people caught the vision and joined us.

I began to realise I had slowly allowed my service to become my identity, and how much I loved the approval of man – like when others looked up to me for my perceived spiritual maturity. The success of my ministry both in church and in school has allowed pride to grow in my heart and to think highly of myself than I ought to.

God allowed me to see that even the good things I had set out to do for God had mixed motives. I had allowed pride and not God’s glory to be my satisfaction.

I was humbled. I began to see ministry very differently when I saw the sinfulness of my heart. So now, whenever I feel the tendency to fall into pride, I am reminded of the sinfulness of my heart and how much I need Jesus. I became more honest with God in my prayers, and that honesty brought me to a deeper level in my relationship with God.

How do you manage the tension between the attention you receive from serving in the spotlight and remaining humble and rooted at the same time?

We really need Jesus and only he can satisfy the longings of our hearts. That motivates me to continuing serving knowing that through service, others can enjoy God. At the same time, it’s really exciting to gain a deeper experience of who God is through service – He really amazes me as He displays His power.

I’ve learnt that it can be so dangerous if my heart is not in the right place. I can still disguise myself with knowledge, skill, ministry experience. But this actually does a lot of harm to the people I may lead, and to myself.

God allowed me to see that even the good things I had set out to do for God had mixed motives. I had allowed pride and not God’s glory to be my satisfaction.

Sin is very deceitful and it blinds our spiritual eyes easily. A spiritually blind person has the tendency to be blind to his own blindness.

Hence, I cannot be deluded that I know myself best, and I have to allow others to speak into my life. I allow both my mentors and close friends to speak into my life and to point out my blind spots. Placing myself in a position where I can be critiqued humbles me and allows me to receive so much more.

When I fall to pride, I’ve been put in many difficult situations where I’ve felt weak and needed to cry out to God for help, for His intervention.

The opposite of pride is humility. As C.S Lewis says, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” It’s important to then channel our thoughts towards God more often, because only the recognition of the awesomeness and beauty of God can kill our pride.

So I try to spend extended time with God. When I was still studying in school, I took a weekly Sabbath where I intentionally take time to spend extended time with God to reflect about who he is in my life and to allow him to point out areas where I need to repent as well.

Joshua and his fellow youth committee members from AMKMC youth ministry. (Photo courtesy of Joshua)

Can you give some encouragement for other people in a similar position as you?

For those who serve in the spotlight, it’s very easy for our hearts to be thrilled by the approval of man, rather than the glory of God. So it’s very important to preach the Gospel to our hearts daily. We need to guard our spiritual disciplines with the intention of keeping our personal devotion and love towards God alive, always growing. Go out on “dates” with God and spend extended time with him in the Word and prayer.

Be encouraged in the knowledge that God will not leave us alone; he is in the process of transforming us into his likeness. He will intervene in your pride, and help you see your desperate need for His forgiveness and grace. What’s more important is how we respond to his intervention.

For those who serve in the spotlight, it’s very easy for our hearts to be thrilled by the approval of man, rather than the glory of God. So it’s very important to preach the Gospel to our hearts daily.

We all are very familiar with David, a godly man after God’s heart. But in one instance he succumbed to temptation, resulting in adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah. He was blinded to his own sins but God sent Nathan to help him see that he has acted wickedly against God. In response, David humbled himself and sought God’s forgiveness.

When we are blinded to our own pride, God will intervene to awake us from our blindness just as he did with David. And just like with Paul, whose thorn in the flesh prevented him from becoming conceited. In Paul’s weakness, God’s power was made perfect.

God will definitely put us in situations to humble us when we are falling into pride.

/ christina@thir.st

Christina is a designer and a writer. She is an INFJ who loves matcha, beautiful typography, good books and sad music. She also dreams of raising her own pet penguin one day.

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Serving in the spotlight: The worship service usher

by | 20 February 2017, 10:41 AM

You may be a worship leader who leads a congregation of 5,000 to worship on the weekends or the lone musician in a house church. You’re front and centre for half the worship service and a familiar face to most of your congregation. With all this attention on you, it can be easy to fall into the trap of pride while serving in the spotlight. In this series, we ask prominent, highly visible people in ministry how they take the attention off themselves and point the congregation back to God.

Val Seet is currently serving as a befriender and committee member in the Hospitality Ministry in the Young Adults Ministry at Living Praise Presbyterian Church.

How did you start serving in this ministry? 

When my cell leader first broached the idea of me serving as an usher in the Hospitality Ministry, I was fairly new in the church at that time and the commitment did not seem too heavy; just one Sunday every few months and I only had to give out bulletins at the door — easy!

Subsequently, the same cell leader noticed that I had a natural flair for speaking to people, and got me onboard the befriending team.

As I grew closer in my walk with God over the years, that translated into me wanting to be more involved in church. I found myself attending young adult events more regularly, getting excited over them and also getting people to be excited, too.

Have you faced any difficulties serving in such a public ministry? 

The first few weeks of in the befriending team were nerve-wracking! Looking at my cell leader greet each member by name, I was in awe of her commitment to get to know every member of our church. I struggled to remember names and faces, trying to decipher if the person walking through the door was new to church or just a new face to me.

I once approached a lady to ask if she was new, and to my embarrassment she replied that she had been attending the church for almost 10 years!

When you see what others receive from their serving, it’s infectious.

There was also getting over the fear of awkward conversations when speaking to a newcomer. What do you say? How much should you probe into their personal lives? How many questions should you ask? What if you have nothing left to say?

But it gets better with practice and encouragement. I needed a lot of that!

Being so visible as the first person most people meet in church, is pride ever an issue for you? 

My less-mature old self used to hold the perspective that people serving in ministry are “holier” and therefore should strive to be “blameless”. While that expectation is not completely wrong — because striving for excellence is a good thing in itself — it wasn’t for me to judge how worthy someone is, for them to be serving God.

Here I don’t define pride as just being proud of yourself or your achievements. More than that – and at a more dangerous level because it can be so subtle – pride also involves thinking that you are better than someone else.

All my “goodness” and “worthiness” – if I compare myself to someone else and decide that I’m not as bad – is self-righteousness.

I sometimes stop myself and ask: “Am I doing this for reasons other than God’s glory?”

The Bible aptly put it into perspective for me in Isaiah 64:6. Our righteousness is just like filthy rags in the eyes of God. I realised how much of a horrible person I was for holding on to double standards — being able to extend grace to myself by justifying thing, but not doing the same for the others, sometimes being critical of them even without knowing the full picture.

Being conscious of the dangers of pride has greatly transformed the way I think, pray, and work. I sometimes stop myself and ask: “Am I doing this for reasons other than God’s glory?” After painfully peeling away every reason I offer up, more often than not at the core of it I usually find pride there, disguised as justification.

CS Lewis said, “Humility is not about thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” I rarely think about the attention I receive actually, because it’s not useful and does not serve any purpose at all. Just focus on the task at hand!

What do you think has serving in Church has done for your relationship with God? 

Service puts you with other Christians who also want to please God, and that has an effect on your own relationship with God – when you see what others receive from their serving. It’s infectious.

You find yourself wondering what is it that makes this person say yes to all these church commitments, when he or she can actually have a relaxing weekend. And you start wanting that too.

I rarely think about the attention I receive, because it’s not useful and does not serve any purpose at all. Just focus on the task at hand!

On an individual level, it also helped me to look outward, beyond my own struggles, and I gained a better perspective about my life’s purpose. The best feeling in the world is knowing that you’re doing what you’re meant to do.

/ christina@thir.st

Christina is a designer and a writer. She is an INFJ who loves matcha, beautiful typography, good books and sad music. She also dreams of raising her own pet penguin one day.

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Lovers or just friends? Or is there a better option?

by | 8 February 2017, 5:58 PM

“We’re just friends,” Esther (not her real name, to protect her dignity) insisted when I asked her about this guy she’d been hanging out with. They’d been out for brunches, movies and late night suppers for months. He’d walked her home in the dead of night, they’d bought each other gifts on random occasions and incessantly texted every single day.

Fast forward a year: Now Esther’s an emotional wreck after things “ended” with that guy. They fell out because she wasn’t happy that he was becoming close friends with other girls even though he and Esther weren’t “together”.

“This feels like a breakup,” she cried to me over the phone one night. “He never asked me to be in a relationship with him, so that leaves us as friends, right? But it still hurts like a breakup. I don’t know anymore.”

Red flags should have gone up when she insisted on staying “just friends” when it was clear something romantic was brewing. Esther ended up hurting so badly because she wasn’t honest with herself about what she wanted out of the friendship.

THE LIE OF “JUST FRIENDS”

When Esther first insisted they were just friends, I couldn’t help but feel sceptical. Did she really mean to say that they were friends, but that she was secretly hoping for more? The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?

The Bible instructs us clearly: Let your “Yes” be “Yes” and your “No” be “No”. For whatever is more than these is from the evil one (Matthew 5:37). Even notorious lothario John Mayer knew this, when he sang:

Friends, lovers, or nothing
We’ll never be the in-between, so give it up
Anything other than yes is no
Anything other than stay is go
Anything less than “I love you” is lying

Falling into the lie of just friends, Esther allowed herself to be stuck in limbo, where she not only wound up hurt but also became the centre of speculation and gossip.

The love in friendships – phileo – is highly unnatural because it doesn’t increase survival value. Yet it dramatically elevates the human experience.

Truthfully, we can never be just friends, because we were created for something more, something greater. We were made to share unconditional familial ties as brothers and sisters first. But “just friends” isn’t the same as being “brothers and sisters”. It’s a sign of us being aware of the potential of something romantic happening. “Just friends” implies that mere friendship is the lesser desired option compared to a relationship.

Esther’s failure to honestly identify her own true motives behind the friendship led to her eventually feeling as though she was going through a breakup.

LOVE, ACTUALLY

In the words of C S Lewis, friendship “has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival”. Often considered the highest form of human love, the love in friendships — phileo is highly unnatural because it doesn’t increase survival value. Yet it dramatically elevates the human experience.

When we view relationships with our very human and tainted eyes, this is where the problem begins. By using modern dating practices and romantic qualifiers portrayed in the media to measure the extent and depth of our relationships, we are choosing to needlessly segment the body of Christ. We begin to see a need to label each and every relationship that we have. In every boy-girl friendship we leave room to wonder if there is potential for “something more”.

In our fixation on categorising every relationship, we are missing out on what is truly something more. We preclude the possibility of sharing the familial and unconditional love that each of us needs, and through which the world gets to experience the love of Christ (John 13:35).

So, set the boundaries that each of us know we should have, but remember: We should never aim to be “just friends”, because we called to be so much more. Be as honest as we can with ourselves, and as blameless as we can be in our relating with friends. But don’t let the culture of the world — a culture which is increasingly infiltrating the Church, sadly — and its obsession with Hollywood pipedreams of “romance” drown out the need for real, kindred and unconditional friendships with one another.

/ christina@thir.st

Christina is a designer and a writer. She is an INFJ who loves matcha, beautiful typography, good books and sad music. She also dreams of raising her own pet penguin one day.

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When how you love is shaped by Korean dramas, don’t expect a happy ending

by | 1 February 2017, 9:02 AM

“Valentine’s Day is coming. Again.” My friends were lamenting about their lack of plans for that most dreaded event of the year for singles. I answered almost immediately, “Well, we could stay home and watch some Korean dramas.”

Last year was a great year for K-dramas. We saw Descendants of the Sun taking over the world by storm. Suddenly everyone wanted to be in military uniforms, and it was the best time to be in NS.

An onslaught of hit dramas followed. There was W, a cross-dimensional love story between a female surgeon and a male webtoon character. Then there was The Legend of the Blue Sea, a love story between a mermaid and a charming con-man. Following this was Goblin, a love story between a 939-year-old goblin and a 19-year-old high school girl. You name it, they have it: Love stories of all kinds.

But something was amiss. I’d developed an unhealthy dependency on these dramas because of the lack of any “action” in my own life. With no knight in shining armour in sight, I’d turned to these K-dramas for company. And in return, they’ve been planting unrealistic expectations of love in me.

5 K-RAZY IN LOVE: HOW K-DRAMAS MESS WITH HOW WE VIEW LOVE

1. Damsel in distress? Don’t stress: A chaebol heir in shining armour will come soon

All K-dramas start this way. The main girl has the worst start to life, and a bleak future awaits. Then by some magical twist of fate, she crosses paths with the heir to a chaebol (a large family-owned business conglomerate), and their lives are changed forever. Dude also has to be as mean as possible. (See Point 2)

2. An abusive relationship is the way to go

The rich chaebol heir treats the poor girl aggressively, with zero respect. Sure, the girl can be feisty and fight back at times, but also finds herself falling for him at the same time. Abusive guys always win.

3. Nice guys finish last

The nice guys never win, even if they’re chaebol heirs too. They’re the ones who treats the girls right, with consideration and respect. They’re always there for the girl, but are eventually forgotten. No wonder so many of the nice guys turn bad in the course of dramas these days.

4. Always stand by your man (even when well-meaning friends and family try to dissuade you)

Wise counsel does not exist in K-dramas. Or rather, wise counsel is always presented as bad guys – the meanies trying to tear the protagonists apart. The more people advice the main girl against her abusive relationship with the mean chaebol heir, the more she should disregard them and believe that their love shall prevail.

5. Don’t date an actual human being

This has been a trending element in the hit dramas of the past year. One of the protagonists has to be a non-human (mermaid, goblin, grim reaper, ghost, webtoon character … what’s next?), and together with the human protagonist, they’ll overcome all odds in fighting for love. Even when faced with life-threatening situations, the human’s instinct is never to flee because they’re a match made in heaven.

These might sound ridiculous and illogical now, but they pose a dangerous threat to our own perceptions towards love.

‘LOVE’ LIKE THIS?

I’ll just say it straight: K-dramas can be a powerful form of emotional porn. They combine prolonged sexual tension with clichéd storylines that glorify maudlin romance.

With each episode we watch – and there are so many episodes – we begin to view love through a tainted lens.

The notion that you’re only truly successful when you’re rich, famous, desired by many and happily in love. The safely-played-out fantasies of male pursuit and reforming the bad boy.The fairy tale transformation of Cinderella from rags-to-riches. All this, when somehow similar narratives in real life rarely turn out the same way.

With each episode we watch – and there are so many episodes – we begin to view love through a tainted lens. We wait for that soulmate who will come and save us from the problems we’re facing. We expect love to be an exciting, thrilling, out-of-this-world adventure. We think that being nice will get us nowhere. We ignore the well-meaning advice of our loved ones and choose to be blind for “love”. I’m not going to even touch the bit about loving non-humans.

There’s nothing wrong with the act of watching and enjoying K-dramas. The problem with K-dramas is when we overindulge in them, and draw misplaced gratification from them.

FATAL FANTASY

Seeking emotional gratification from K-dramas, and any other form of media, is so dangerous as it can start to eat us up unknowingly. There are things like pornography, adultery and lust which are more explicitly worrying. But the hidden gratification we derive from K-dramas can be as dangerous, and insidiously so.

I’ve found myself drifting off into a fantasy of my own after a big dose of K-drama. Maybe I’m Cinderella. Maybe my chaebol is coming for me soon. I found myself describing traits of K-drama males when asked about my ideal partner (“Basically you want a Lee Min Ho lah”, my friends tease me).


These days I ask myself: What am I trying to get out of watching this show? I consciously make sure that I’m not spending all my time pumping overly unrealistic romantic fantasies into my psyche, to the point that it begins to alter my perception of reality. I’ve learnt to start setting boundaries for myself.

This doesn’t mean I’m cutting myself off from K-dramas entirely. I’m learning to appreciate K-dramas for more than the romantic illusions/delusions they offer. The thoughtfully crafted soundtrack, the beautiful mise-en-scène. The artful script, and the underlying message behind the plot. (To be fair, Goblin had a really good soundtrack and a thought-provoking message about mortality.)

There are times when life should not imitate art, and art should remain art. A Korean drama is one such instance.

I’m learning to appreciate K-dramas for more than the romantic illusions/delusions they offer.

/ christina@thir.st

Christina is a designer and a writer. She is an INFJ who loves matcha, beautiful typography, good books and sad music. She also dreams of raising her own pet penguin one day.

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You have an audience with your relatives once a year. Don’t waste it

by | 23 January 2017, 1:39 PM

Chinese New Year, in the recent few years, has become a season of poignant reflection for me.

It was during Chinese New Year that I saw my grandmother and grandfather for the last time, in 2011 and 2014, respectively.

In my grandmother’s final years, she was really sick. My dad constantly nagged at me to visit her, but I chose not to do so for selfish reasons (I can’t communicate with her in her dialect anyway, We are not close anyway, I am very busy preparing for exams anyway). Two months after I last saw her on Chinese New Year, 2011, she passed away from complications after a limb amputation procedure.

I lived with regret for the months that followed. I replayed the last time I saw her over and over in my head. I regretted just sitting silently in one corner during that visit. I regretted the many times my dad invited me along to visit her, and I turned him down. I regretted not being really present even though I was physically present.

You’d think that I probably would’ve learnt my lesson, but sadly not. In Chinese New Year 2014, I saw my grandfather for the last time.

You may only see this auntie or that cousin once a year on Chinese New Year. But how would you know if you’ll ever see them again?

The second day of Chinese New Year also happens to fall on his birthday on the Lunar Calendar, and on that day each year we used to cook up a feast to honour him. It is a day we used to put aside our differences and intolerance towards each other, and sit down at the same table together, as one big family. In a family like mine with its strained relations, this was an occasion to be treasured.

The tradition went with my grandfather.

Nobody saw it coming. My late grandfather was always in the pink of health, and looked younger than his actual age of 81. After my grandmother passed away we all said we’d visit him more often, but months passed and we didn’t. Everyone was all too busy with our own lives. He was always healthy and independent, apart from his poor hearing, and that gave us an extra false sense of assurance.

Then one night he was admitted to the hospital with a high fever, and within the next 12 hours his condition deteriorated precipitously. And then he was gone forever.

The regret I felt was all too familiar.

IT’S TIME FOR MEANINGFUL CONVERSATIONS

I think most of us can identify with the feeling of sitting around quietly on a family visit, staring at our phones for a few hours to shield ourselves from awkward conversations with relatives whom we don’t actually recognise.

We head off to relatives’ houses with the expectation that it’s going to be really boring and they’re just going to ask the same old questions again. We pay no attention to what’s going on around us, and make no effort to have conversations that are actually meaningful.

We start to see Chinese New Year as a season of dreary family obligations to fulfil. This is especially sad for a season of joy that’s meant to bring families together.

You may only see this auntie or that cousin once a year on Chinese New Year. But how would you know if you’ll ever see them again?

This Year of the Rooster, it’s time to wake up. It’s time for some meaningful conversations – before it’s too late.

Had I known that it would be the last time I’d ever see my grandmother, I would’ve made an effort to have at least one meaningful conversation with her. I would’ve at least found out more about her — why she came to Singapore as a single mother, how she brought up my aunt on her own, what her dreams were as a young woman, how she met my grandfather … There were so many things I did not know about the matriarch of the family.

And had I known that it would be the last time I’ll ever see my grandfather, I would’ve sat with him or gone on a walk with him. I would’ve asked him why he loved taking walks so much. I would’ve put in effort to have some meaningful conversations with him.

IT’S TIME TO RECLAIM THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE SEASON

Instead of heading to visitations begrudgingly, and giving curt single-word answers to the unavoidable questions from our relatives, what if we took the effort to make the season more meaningful for our families, or at least for ourselves?

Look around you. That cousin who is younger than you? You can probably give some advice on his studies. That aunt who was recently widowed? You can ask her how she’s been doing. That high-flying cousin who seems to have it all? You can ask her how she really feels about all these glittering accomplishments. That uncle who got divorced? You can be his listening ear.

In the Old Testament times, priests were chosen to represent people before God and they were the only ones who could enter the presence of God. Now, we are called to be a royal priesthood that is set apart (1 Peter 2:9) for God. We are all priests of God in our own ways. So, as mediators between God and pre-believers, how can we represent God to the people around us this Chinese New Year?

Not everyone will appreciate our efforts to have meaningful conversations, but it’ll at least help to make this season more bearable, more purposeful. We can turn this annual snoozefest into an opportunity where we can minister to people we rarely get to meet.

This Year of the Rooster, it’s time to wake up. It’s time for some meaningful conversations – before it’s too late.

/ christina@thir.st

Christina is a designer and a writer. She is an INFJ who loves matcha, beautiful typography, good books and sad music. She also dreams of raising her own pet penguin one day.

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The (Middle) Kingdom of God is near

by | 23 January 2017, 12:34 PM

China. A country which three-quarters of Singaporeans have blood links to.

I’m a third-generation Chinese immigrant. My grandfather on my mother’s side was the first to make the long trip from China to Singapore, and always took pride in telling us of “our great and wonderful China”. I was educated in Chinese-dominated schools my whole life, and as a result I have many friends who are Chinese nationals.

Despite all this, China seemed very far away for me. It was a distant concept, a stranger. I never saw myself heading there for any reason, probably for the rest of my life.

God had other plans. I found myself on plane to the south of China in the fall of 2016, for a conference with the local churches there.

A street we passed by in China. The majority of shops were sparsely unfurnished and dimly lit even in the city areas, a far cry from the impression of rapid modernisation the media has portrayed in recent years.

 

We gathered in a small dingy hall on the outskirts of the city. The stench of cigarettes smoked and liquor spilled over the years clung onto the carpets. The worship setting was spartan compared to what we are used to at our weekly services back home.

To us it seemed like we had less-than-ideal facilities and equipment, but the locals clearly didn’t think so. As we interacted, their eyes carried a shine, a passion, an excitement that I haven’t seen in quite a long while in Singapore.

They were so eager to learn from us about praise and worship. They were so excited about the preaching of the Word. They had so many questions. They filmed and recorded down every single moment because they didn’t want to miss out anything.

Some of them shared with us that they faced difficulties in securing gathering venues. Some had to pick up multiple instruments to fill up the gaps in the worship team. Due to the Great Firewall of China, they don’t have access to the abundance of worship videos and tutorials we see on YouTube and Facebook. They conduct water baptisms in bathtubs at people’s homes.

They shared about how churches, especially in the recent years, have come under unprecedented pressure. This happens even to the government-sanctioned churches. Pastors have been arrested, church leaders put into mental institutions and on house watch, churches have been demolished, and crosses taken down and destroyed.

I felt a tinge of guilt as I listened to them. We take many things for granted in church back home: Resources, skills, experiences … even people.

We learnt from locals that the average salary of a fresh graduate is slightly under 5,000 Chinese yuan – about one-third of the Singaporean average. The ubiquitous lottery stands are extremely popular with the young adults in China.

 

In Singapore, we complain about the air-conditioning being too cold. We grumble when they don’t sing our favourite songs during worship. We get bored when the same topic is preached for the second time in a year. We get upset when others take our favourite seat in church. Have we become too comfortable at home? Have we gotten complacent? Have we forgotten what it is like to persevere, to fight, to hope for the things yet unseen?

To the church in China, their faith is like a lifeboat to keep them afloat, an anchor to cling onto. In their largely agnostic and atheist society, their pursuit of God is like walking on a tightrope; a story of the underdog, but without the triumphant ending in sight … yet.

My heart aches now when I think about how they have to fight for their faith and the right to worship. It breaks for those are being barred from finding out more in their search for a greater God. My head hangs low in shame when I think about the many occasions I took God for granted and was flippant about my faith.

Signs of nationalism are hard to miss — here a canvas that says “爱国” (patriotism) is seen in a wet street market.

 

I was initially hesitant to put into words these thoughts. I was afraid of facing these truths laid out before my eyes, and I feared I might place anyone in danger.

But I thought back to my biggest takeaway from my time in China: I brought back a gift. Or rather, the revelation of a gift. God has blessed me with the gift of being effectively bilingual in English and Chinese, so that I may hear the stories of the Chinese church and tell them to the world.

I realised this on our last night in China. As we took a drive around the city we were visiting, Matthew 9 came to my mind.

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

If God has blessed you to be bilingual, will you just take a moment to think about how you could use that gift to bring the greatest gift of all to the 1.4 billion souls in China?

/ christina@thir.st

Christina is a designer and a writer. She is an INFJ who loves matcha, beautiful typography, good books and sad music. She also dreams of raising her own pet penguin one day.

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To my fellow Christian introverts: The struggle is real, I know

by | 27 December 2016, 2:11 PM

After reading this piece, an extrovert had something to add, as always. Read To my fellow Christian extroverts: The struggle is real, I know.

We are made introverted for a reason. It’s not a liability – but it shouldn’t be an excuse, either.

I am an introvert.

To be exact, I’m an INFJ. Out of the 16 Myers-Briggs personality types, the INFJ type is believed to be the rarest, forming less than 1 per cent of humanity. We are the most introverted of all introverts.

As an INFJ, I struggle in Church. The need for me to even be physically present in Church, amongst the people, can be daunting.

I’ve lived with the perception that the Church loves the extroverted Christian, and the extroverted Christian loves the Church.

The extroverted Christian is the person who might rally the people passionately, be the first to befriend any visitors and the last to leave because they are always busy chatting with others. They seem to radiate charm, passion and confidence.

But for us introverts, there seems to be just no room to breathe comfortably in Church.

We face challenges that others might find baffling. There’s the inevitable round of greetings: “If you’re visiting for the first time today, stand up so we can welcome you!” Then there are the painful icebreakers: “Get up, find someone you don’t know and tell them what you’re thankful for this week!” And there’s the much-dreaded public prayer: “Let’s have Introvert end the meeting by leading us in prayer!”

So it’s easy for introverts like me to feel discouraged and out of place in a church setting. Sometimes it just seems like we introverts just aren’t as good as “being Christian”.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been sat down and challenged by well-meaning church leaders, who tell me: “You’ve got to be more outspoken!”, “You need to be more assertive when leading the team!”, “Why do you stutter when you pray? Why are your prayers so short?” and even “Why are you so anti-social?”

😔  Introverts are so misunderstood. So, to help you, and to help us, here’s …

THE EXTROVERTS’ GUIDE TO INTROVERTS

1. We’re not anti-social – we just prefer smaller groups

Introverts are not anti-social just because we don’t fancy social gatherings and we prefer to have one-on-one conversations. Introverts like to be alone more than we like to be with large groups of people. Introverts restore our energy by spending quality time with ourselves, or an individual person instead. Spending time with large groups of people can be draining and frustrating to us.

In a church setting, introverts sometimes may choose to only speak to a single person at any one time instead of an entire group of people. Just because you don’t see us rallying a crowd of people, or hosting a group of new visitors, doesn’t mean that we are spending our time in church hermitting and being anti-social.

2. We’re not sulking – we just want some space

Introverts are also largely misunderstood for being unhappy and upset all the time.

My life group once decided to go out to a restaurant with a live band playing. The lights were so dim, the music was so loud and there was so much chattering around me. It was overwhelming, and I kept quiet for most part of the night because I felt drained just being in that place.

Later that night, my leader asked me privately if I was unhappy about something because of what she saw as my “glum” demeanour. The truth was that I wasn’t unhappy about anything. I simply felt too overwhelmed by my noisy and crowded surroundings.

3. We’re not helplessly meek – we can be effective leaders, too

A huge misconception about introverts is that since we are so introverted, we have no leadership skills.

When it comes to areas of serving in church, some of us may prefer more behind-the-scenes roles. People tend to expect us introverts to volunteer for the more “silent roles” by default. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t serve in the more “extroverted” roles, as an usher, worship leader, preacher or even the senior pastor.

The misconceptions about introverts could potentially result in the culture where unique individuals are brushed aside and dismissed. But we are all made different and unique; we shouldn’t be expected to fit into cookie-cutter stereotypes. God uses all kinds of people for His purposes. Many leaders in the Bible didn’t feel capable of doing what God asked, but He found use for their strengths and even their weaknesses. God saw potential and used them powerfully – regardless of personality type.

INTROVERTED, BUT NOT SELF-FOCUSED

Some of us are naturally louder and more outgoing, while others are just naturally inclined to be quiet. I believe that God made me introverted. I am naturally quiet and this is part of God’s perfect design.

My inclination towards quietness and solitude helps me to know myself better. It helps me to understand things better. It helps me work better. It helps me to focus on God. Sometimes, in my quiet moments, I hear the most wonderful things from God.

I see why He made me an introvert. But that doesn’t mean that I allow myself to stay in my comfort zone all the time.

My natural inclination is to shun people and stay home alone, rather than to be with the crowds and serving people. I believe this inclination can become self-centred and selfish, if I’m not intentional in my actions and interactions.

God calls us to be willing to deny our desires (Luke 9:23). The Christian life is a life of self-denial. It is a life of saying, “Even though this — staying home alone, opting out of gatherings, choosing to remain silent – is what I want, my identity as a servant of God compels me to do something different instead.”

I’m slowly learning that at the end of the day, introvert or extrovert, these personality traits are merely what we are and not who we are. If we elevate these traits and choose to let them control our lives, we’re using them to justify selfishness instead of selflessness.

We are all made different, for good reasons. But our strengths (introspection) cannot become our weaknesses (the refusal to connect with the people of God). So, to those who still think I’m an anti-social hermit – I’m working on it. Give me some space.

/ christina@thir.st

Christina is a designer and a writer. She is an INFJ who loves matcha, beautiful typography, good books and sad music. She also dreams of raising her own pet penguin one day.

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I had my heart broken in church

by | 27 December 2016, 1:45 AM

On bad boys and a good God.

Growing up in church I’ve witnessed a fair share of broken hearts and experienced it first-hand as well. People are shocked when they hear of this. Isn’t the church supposed to be a place of refuge?

The quest for love is fraught with difficulties and risks, in church or not.

Love and marriage are a blessing from God – which is why Satan is so eager to come in to destroy relationships, hatefully and deviously.

I THINK YOU’RE NOT THE ONE FOR ME

I was 20 when this guy in church asked me to get into a relationship with him. We were close friends prior to that, and I thought we were well matched. We had common interests and goals, and seemed passionate about the same things for God.

We sought the counsel of our spiritual leaders, and everything seemed about right. Little did I know that I was about to step onto a steep path that would leave me dealing with hurt and fear for years.

It was an emotionally abusive period. I was constantly getting put down (“I do it because I want the best for you”, he claimed) till I felt that I was never going to be good enough. He compared me to other girls and was dissatisfied with me — how I looked, how I dressed, how I didn’t meet his needs, and how I wasn’t living up to his expectations.

I was sinking into depression, but I was scared to raise it up to anyone or to end the relationship.

Despite us going into the relationship with marriage in mind as our eventual end-goal, the whole thing was short-lived. Exactly six months after it began, it ended with a simple WhatsApp message from him. “I think you’re not the one for me,” he wrote.

Love and marriage are a blessing from God – which is why Satan is so eager to come in to destroy relationships, hatefully and deviously.

Even at the end, it seemed like it was my fault, as always. Falling into self-condemnation meant my emotions had become Satan’s playground.

In the aftermath, I felt like a scorned woman in church. I could hear the devil saying: Who’s gonna want you now? You’re unwanted and discarded! I was back at ground zero in my quest for love. This time round, ground zero felt lonelier than ever and even further away from the altar, because of all that was given and lost.

And while six months might not sound very long, the damage it caused lasted way longer than that.

Already flung into the deepest valley I’d ever been in, I later found out from friends and leaders alike that this guy struggled with commitment.

He had a tendency to jump from girl to girl, I was told, but I had no clue about this at all. He was known for burning his way through every girl in the community and leaving a trail of destruction in his wake.

I wondered why no one warned me.

Sure enough, about a month after we broke up, he confessed his feelings to a girlfriend of mine.

So it wasn’t really all my fault all along, but it took me more than another six months to climb out of the pit of self-blame.

BAD BOYS (AND GIRLS) EXIST, EVEN IN CHURCH

In my lonely road of recovery, I realised that I wasn’t the only one facing the same problem. I saw friends around me entering relationships with so much hope for the future, yet coming out hurt and in shock.

One friend told me that her life had been ruined by a guy who constantly preached to her about fidelity but had no idea how to practise it himself. Another friend found out that his girlfriend slept with someone else while she was overseas on a school exchange programme.

I was shocked. I was angry. I wanted justice served. I asked God: “Why is there heartbreak in church? Why are there bad guys in church?”

His answer was simple, but it took me months to grasp.

Hearts will break. Your heart will be broken over and over again. Yet each time our heart gets broken, it’s a call from God for us to grab hold of Him, lean on Him, seek His grace and power.

We are all imperfect and flawed. We are creatures who are prone to wander from a perfectly loving God – so how much more so from imperfect partners?

And church is a place where sinners gather, so bad guys and girls of course will exist.

Or as Morton Kelsey put it: “The church is not a museum for saints but a hospital for sinners”. One of the primary purposes of the church is to give a hand to the sick, not pat the healthy on the back. We’re all in this together, but it’s a journey where there will be mistakes and misunderstandings.

THERE IS FELLOWSHIP IN PAIN 

There is a unique shame and brokenness associated with heartbreak, lost love and breakups. Love and relationships are usually more celebrated in the church than anywhere else — and rightly so. Unfortunately, these same traits often make breakups a taboo topic, awkward and uncomfortable — at best embarrassing, and at worst scandalous or humiliating for the parties involved.

Hearts will break. Your heart will be broken over and over again. Yet each time our heart gets broken, it’s a call from God for us to grab hold of Him, lean on Him, seek His grace and power.

The unbelievable but beautiful truth is that the broken me makes way for a better me.

I felt like I was damaged goods after the breakup. People return items they no longer want, and usually these returned goods are damaged and thereafter discarded. Another friend of mine going through the same process felt that she’d been ruined in God’s eyes and in the eyes of others. We lose the ability to trust, to hope and to love. And that is exactly what Satan wants.

The unbelievable but beautiful truth is that the broken me makes way for a better me. An insight into the failings of man helps us better fully understand the power of Jesus’ resurrection – knowing the pain and suffering He went through for us, despite our wretchedness.

It is in my pain that I get to know Jesus on a deeper and more intimate level.

HEARTBREAKS ARE NOT FOR NOTHING

Mary Wilder Tileston once wrote, “Whatever befalls us, however it befalls us, we must receive as the will of God. If it befalls us through man’s negligence or ill-will or anger, still it is, in even in the least circumstance, to us the will of God.”

He didn’t take a break from loving me in my breakup. Even if the whole episode was a mistake, His purposes are forever bigger than my blunders.

Our heartbreaks are not for nothing. It could have been him or me who primarily caused the death of our relationship, but it definitely wasn’t God. God didn’t cause the pain either, but through it I was reminded of His glorious purposes.

His promises to never leave nor forsake me are true every moment, through any relationship status.

I can testify that God has never abandoned me, and he never will. He didn’t take a break from loving me in my breakup. Even if the whole episode was a mistake, His purposes are forever bigger than my blunders.

No relationship will last forever, but the good work that God will do in us through them — even through the failures of those relationships and the pain they might bring — will.

Don’t put your hope in a man, or a woman. It’s so dangerous; when they fail us, as they inevitably will, our worlds so quickly collapse around us, like a house of cards. Instead put your hope in God, our guide and anchor even in times of human failure, heartbreak and hurt.

/ christina@thir.st

Christina is a designer and a writer. She is an INFJ who loves matcha, beautiful typography, good books and sad music. She also dreams of raising her own pet penguin one day.

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The Thir.st Christmas playlist

by | 20 December 2016, 5:10 PM

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

To mark our first Christmas, we have compiled a playlist of our all-time favourite Christmas tunes just for you. From the good ol’ Nat King Cole jams to some refreshing worship Christmas mashups by Lincoln Brewster and Paul Baloche, give it a listen and we hope it brings you some warm Christmas cheer.

Merry Christmas!

/ christina@thir.st

Christina is a designer and a writer. She is an INFJ who loves matcha, beautiful typography, good books and sad music. She also dreams of raising her own pet penguin one day.

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Is there The One?

by | 19 December 2016, 10:40 AM

Boy meets girl. They begin talking to each other on a regular basis. They start hanging out. They grow attracted to each other. But then they hesitate to take the relationship to a deeper level, because of a question that weighs heavy on them: “Is he/she The One for me?”

I’ve seen two friends – let’s just call them Tanya and Tony – getting close, each investing their time, emotions and hope into their deepening friendship over three years. Tanya kept expecting Tony to make “the move” on her, but he never did.

Tanya later found out that Tony was exploring his other options at the same time, because he didn’t know he if Tanya was The One for him.

Then there’s the other extreme. Joey (not her real name) confided in me that a guy she was on pretty good terms with had suddenly told her very confidently that she was The One for him.

Joey got scared. She didn’t know how he could be so sure when she wasn’t. She distanced herself from him out of fear, and their friendship fizzled out soon after.

THE FEAR FACTOR

Both the incidents mentioned left the parties involved with a certain level of hurt and confusion – and fear.

Fear. Fear of the uncertain. Fear of the unknown. Fear of making the wrong decision.

The question of “is there The One” is fundamentally rooted in fear. We are afraid of making the wrong decision and picking the wrong person. Deep down we just can’t help but wonder if there might be a better-suited person out there for us.

We wait for a clear voice from God saying “yes, this is The One” or “no, this is not The One”. But it may never come.

THERE IS NO PERFECT SOULMATE

We have to first understand that we are created complete – perfectly, wonderfully (Psalm 139:14). You don’t need The One to be more complete. Living with the notion that there is a perfect soulmate out there for you isn’t in line with what Jesus has in mind for you.

The search for the perfect soulmate should never become the primary concern in life. Simply because there is no perfect soulmate.

It’s all about choosing to love the one you are with. That’s The One for you.

When we define The One as the perfect soulmate, finding (or in some cases, doubting the finding of) The One too often and easily becomes an excuse for giving up on a relationship rather than working on it to make it the best possible.

IF NOT THE ONE, WILL ANYONE DO?

While there is no perfect soulmate, it still matters who you choose to spend the rest of your life with. Marriage is a union of two imperfect and different people coming together. The person we eventually marry will disappoint us and fail us at some point for sure, for we are all imperfect human beings. The two people commit themselves to each other to reflect the enduring love between Christ and His church.

It’s all about choosing to love the one you are with. That’s The One for you.

So, be less fixated about finding The One and instead trust God to lead and guide you to someone, if that is indeed His plan for you (He may decide that you’re best without someone – will you trust Him on that?). True happiness is not about finding The One, but in being contented in the unconditional love of our loving Father. He’s the one.

/ christina@thir.st

Christina is a designer and a writer. She is an INFJ who loves matcha, beautiful typography, good books and sad music. She also dreams of raising her own pet penguin one day.

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The heart of worship: More than a song

by | 16 December 2016, 4:42 PM

When the music fades
All is stripped away
And I simply come

When we ask, “How was the worship?”, we usually mean, “How was the music?”

But worship isn’t just about the music. Music is just one of the many expressions of worship. When we worship God with music, we are using one of the many tools we have to help us connect to God.

Our worship to God can also manifest itself through various other expressions, from the preaching of the Word to fellowship with the community, to meeting the needs of the less fortunate, to discipling fellow believers.

For such expressions to take place, we first have to present ourselves fully to Him. It has to be heartfelt and sincere. It has to be personal. The overflow of our love and obedience towards God will manifest as expressions of worship no matter what we do.

Longing just to bring
Something that’s of worth
That will bless Your heart

God doesn’t need us to glorify His name. But He deserves it. And He desires your heart.

Romans 12:1 says to “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God — this is your true and proper worship”. Worship has more to do with our relationship with God than it does with music.

I’ll bring you more than a song
For a song in itself
Is not what you have required

Worship springs from a surrendered and grateful heart, and God desires to know this heart.

Just like how parents think, “if only my children understand my heart for them”, God desires for us to know His heart.

Our hearts are our innermost beings. Our inner man must be fully presented before Him so that we can connect with Him.

 You search much deeper within
Through the way things appear
You’re looking into my heart

He wants to have a personal relationship with every one of us. He is seeking those whose hearts will be completely surrendered to him.

We cannot worship the one we do not know. We have to be connected with Him to allow the Holy Spirit to work in our hearts, to help us worship Him in the ways that delight His heart.

That’s true worship. It’s really just all about God. All about Jesus.

 I’m coming back to the heart of worship
And it’s all about you, Jesus

/ christina@thir.st

Christina is a designer and a writer. She is an INFJ who loves matcha, beautiful typography, good books and sad music. She also dreams of raising her own pet penguin one day.

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How, then, shall we Tweet?

by | 15 December 2016, 5:10 PM

We were sitting in a crowded café in downtown Seoul. It was our last day in Korea. The weather was great. There were still places in our itinerary that we hadn’t visited. Yet we just sat in the café for the next three hours, because my cousin was focused on uploading a photo to her Instagram feed.

It couldn’t just be any photo. The next photo had to match her existing feed, the filters had to be edited nicely, and it had to be perfectly captioned. Staring at a phone screen was how we spent our last few hours in that vibrant city.

Social media has driven the digital generation into a whole new level of obsessive documentation and curation of our lives. We pour ourselves into building our perfect online persona for the world, and we build our esteem based on the number of likes we get. But the trade-off is that we start losing our true identity.

While the Bible obviously does not mention anything about social media, it does tell us how we should carry ourselves around others — online or not. Before you brandish your smartphone, consider these two questions:

1. Who are you trying to please?

“Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10)

I’ve seen people who are so fixated on the number of likes on their social media platforms that they refresh their feed every 10 minutes. Once a friend asked me if she should remove her post because it only garnered 1 like after having been published for a whole afternoon. It made me wonder — is this really why we do social media?

Be clear of our motives for posting on social media. Do you post to make yourself more likeable? Are you doing it to impress others? Do you only feel a sense of validation when your post garners more than a certain number of likes?

We pour ourselves into building our perfect online persona for the world, and we build our esteem based on the number of likes we get.

The Bible warns against seeking approval from all the wrong places. When we seek approval from everywhere and everyone else but God, we are merely building cisterns that cannot hold water. (Jeremiah 2:12-13) This means that we will never be satisfied. Contentment comes only in seeking and finding Jesus.

2. Who are you trying to glorify?

“In his pride the wicked man does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God.” (Psalm 10:4)

On another day, another friend of mine sent me two photos — a photo of her perfectly-put-together #OOTD (outfit of the day) and a photo of her group of friends in church. She asked me which photo I thought she should post on Instagram. Eventually what went onto her feed was her #OOTD photo, and she even made sure I went to like it.

When I asked why she chose that photo, she said, “The #OOTD people sure like me. But the group shot spoils the aesthetics of my feed, and won’t get so many likes, because it’s all church people.”

I’m not saying that we should ban all #OOTD photos. But have we, for the sake of our perfectly-carved-out persona and image on social media, forsaken things that are more dear and important to us?

We pour ourselves into building our perfect online persona for the world, and we build our esteem based on the number of likes we get. But the trade-off is that we start losing our true identity.

Seeking approval from the world gives birth to pride in our hearts. When we place praise over purpose, we start to lose sight of what is truly important.

Can we perhaps try to use social media for a greater purpose? Perhaps instead of focusing on our self-glorification, why not make use of this powerful and influential platform to send out messages of light? We are called to glorify God in all that we do (1 Corinthians 10:31). Social media gives us a voice of our own — and it is up to us to decide how we want to use this voice.

/ christina@thir.st

Christina is a designer and a writer. She is an INFJ who loves matcha, beautiful typography, good books and sad music. She also dreams of raising her own pet penguin one day.

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Worshipping when I don’t feel like it

by | 9 December 2016, 5:37 PM

What do I do when I’m in a worship session but I just can’t bring myself to say the words?

You are worthy of it all.

Another church service, another worship song. Everyone around me was singing, eyes closed, hands raised.

I tried to do the same, but I just couldn’t seem to bring myself to do so.

I wasn’t having a very good week. Praising God wasn’t something I wanted to do at the moment. I felt like a hypocrite trying to sing words I didn’t really mean.

Then God said to me: “You’re missing the point of worship.”

WORSHIP ISN’T ABOUT HOW YOU FEEL

We don’t worship just because they’re playing our favourite songs. We don’t worship just because the music sounds good. We don’t worship just because we’ve been having a pretty good week.

Worship isn’t about how we feel. While these things may affect our desire to worship, they don’t make our worship – nor should they break it.

Our worship must be real in our hearts, and at the same time it must be based on a true understanding and perception of our God.

We must understand that the main reason and sole purpose of our worship is to glorify God. Worship isn’t primarily about our response to a circumstance, or what we can gain out of worship. The moment we enter worship with our own agenda is the moment we completely miss the point of worship.

WORSHIP IN SPIRIT AND IN TRUTH

The essence of our worship is put plainly in John 4:23-24. Jesus said that true worship is about worshipping in spirit and in truth. Our worship must be real in our hearts, and at the same time it must be based on a true understanding and perception of our God.

When God is all we have left, that is when we will learn that He is all we need.

You can’t have one without the other. Worshipping only the mental grasp of the truth, but devoid of emotion, produces artificial and robotic worshippers. On the other end, worship based on our feelings without being rooted in truth produces a temporal spiritual high and cultivates shallow and superficial worship.

WORSHIP ANYWAY

When your emotions – the way you’re feeling at that very moment – make you hesitant to worship, just worship anyway. Love is an intentional act of obedience. Let the lyrics of the songs minister to you. Let the voice of the church strengthen you. Let God speak to you through the preaching of His word. Let your heart catch up with your head.

Worship isn’t about how we feel. While these things may affect our desire to worship, they don’t make our worship – nor should they break it.

I have realised that nothing beats crying out to God when I least feel like spending time with Him. When God is all we have left, that is when we will learn that He is all we need. That is when we respond to God in reckless abandonment and total dependence.

There is power in the cry of desperation and in persistence, and God sees our heart when we cry out in worship, despite our desire not to. Especially when we desire not to.

He is worthy of it all.

/ christina@thir.st

Christina is a designer and a writer. She is an INFJ who loves matcha, beautiful typography, good books and sad music. She also dreams of raising her own pet penguin one day.

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Is it okay to want to be rich?

by | 7 December 2016, 11:15 PM

I used to be obsessed with money. It was something my family lacked, so wealth represented power, status and a worry-free life.

My family suffered in the wake of the 1997 Asian financial crisis. After Dad’s business folded, we had to sell the family car and learn to live simply. But it was still a struggle for Dad to provide for the family as the sole breadwinner, straining his relationship with Mom.

It got so bad I didn’t feel good adding to his burden, opting out of school trips to choral competitions in Europe. My schoolmates laughed at me. I even thought about skipping university at one stage, just to “save” $30,000 in fees.

Our money issues seemed like the root of all problems. Over time, I found myself enslaved by my fear of not having enough money. Even when I had money from jobs I worked, it was never enough.

But as I dipped my feet in the working world as a fresh graduate, I gradually got sick and tired of being stuck in that relentless chase. Jesus didn’t die for me on the Cross only for me to remain entrapped by the worries of this world. I don’t want to live discontented.

MONEY NO ENOUGH

I remember getting my first paycheque for a part-time job fresh out of junior college. It was exhilarating to earn my own keep for the first time in my life, but that quickly died the next few months and I started wanting more.

Eventually I left to join another company that offered me a higher part-time salary.

My striving continued into my undergraduate years. As a designer, I took on one freelance project after another, but the joy of seeing my bank account inching upwards was short-lived, and was always followed by a sense of emptiness.

I slowly realised that everything was meaningless, because I will never have enough.

Proverbs 16:26 tells us that “the appetite of labourers works for them; their hunger drives them on”.

The human condition means that we are always hungry, always yearning for more, but yet never satisfied.

ENJOY WHAT YOU HAVE

Ecclesiastes 6:9 also talks about the appetite – the “roving of the appetite”, the Teacher calls it – which refers to how our affections move impatiently and quickly from one thing to another.

After I bought the DSLR camera I really wanted, I wanted a film camera and then I wanted a new guitar. And oh, the latest iPad Pro too!

How much is enough? Just a little bit more.

The human condition means that we are always hungry, always yearning for more, but yet never satisfied.

In our consumer society, it’s difficult to be contented with what we have. With online shopping, everything is just a click away, and we don’t actually feel the pinch of cash physically being taken out of our wallets. It’s effortless – and a dangerous pit of discontentment.

ONLY GOD TRULY SATISFIES

So how do we choose the wisdom of contentment over the foolishness of dissatisfaction?

I take great comfort in Philippians 4:12-13, when Paul writes:

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

God will meet all of my needs abundantly in Christ Jesus. The secret lies in being content in Him. The love of God is something that lasts forever, surpasses all understanding and truly satisfies.

Jesus promised in John 4:14 that “whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst”.

When we accept that only God himself can truly satisfy our deepest longings and desires, we stop trying to accumulate the things of this world for ourselves.

Money is never enough, but He is more than enough.

/ christina@thir.st

Christina is a designer and a writer. She is an INFJ who loves matcha, beautiful typography, good books and sad music. She also dreams of raising her own pet penguin one day.

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