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Faith

So you just became a Christian

by | 20 October 2017, 6:20 PM

Dear New Christian,

Welcome to the Church family! I’m glad you’ve chosen to follow Jesus and committed yourself to growing alongside a community. It takes tremendous courage to plug yourself into a new environment, but now you’re probably wondering – what next?

I’m not sure what your impression of the Church is, but some common impressions I’ve encountered are that Christians are “holy-moly” and spend a lot of time together. Maybe you think Christians are a bunch of “nice” people, or maybe you’re still convinced Christians are out to convert everyone they see. I hope this letter gives you a more accurate picture of the church life that awaits you.

UNCOMMON PEOPLE WITH A COMMON GOAL

For starters, it’s good to note that church life does not limit itself to the physical location of the church building. Instead, church life happens when people are assembled around Jesus and His Word (Matthew 18:20). Yet, the people who gather in His name are not perfect – in fact, we’re all far from it!

The Bible tells us that God reaches out to all kinds of unlikely people – some of Jesus’ followers included fishermen (Matthew 4:18-22), a Samaritan woman (John 4:7-41), a tax collector (Matthew 9:9, 10:3), and prominently, the “ex-Pharisee” and apostle Paul (Acts 9:1-19).

Likewise, be prepared that your church will probably be filled with “unlikely” Christians. Perhaps you even count yourself one too.

Imperfect as we all are, we are on a common journey with the same end in mind – we have thrown off our old selves and put on our new selves,

If you still have your doubts: The Samaritan woman had five husbands (John 4:18-19). Tax collectors in Jesus’ time were regarded as the worst of sinners, often categorised along with prostitutes (Matthew 21:32) because they often charged extra taxes and took the money for themselves (Luke 19:8). Paul, prior to his conversion, was a persecutor of the church (Acts 8:3, Philippians 3:6) – the man was recorded to be “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” before his conversion.

Nonetheless, imperfect as we all are, we are on a common journey with the same end in mind – we have thrown off our old selves and put on our new selves, and are on a journey of renewal as we grow to know our Creator (Colossians 3:10), and to be conformed to the image of His Son (Romans 8:29).

SHARED IDENTITY IN OUR SAVIOUR JESUS CHRIST

You’ll meet Christians who have grown up in church since childhood. Hence, you may be wondering whether second-generation Christians have it better, having grown up in the faith and being familiar with Christian life since young.

On the contrary, having attended Sunday School even as a preschool-aged child, I’ve wondered if you have it better – you have come to faith out of conscious choice and understanding. While I have come to own my faith for myself, my first exposure to church as a young child meant I didn’t fully understand the Christian faith then.

Hence, there have been times when I wondered if those who come to faith in adulthood are more aware and appreciative of God’s grace in their lives when He called them to Himself.

In Christ, old divisions and wrongful attitudes of superiority and inferiority no longer exist – we are all united in the common identity as children of God.

In reality, the length (or lack thereof) of our Christian journey does not matter as much as the fact that we are on this journey of faith together as a family. I may have been in the faith longer than you have – nonetheless, God shows the same generosity towards us as we persevere in faith (Matthew 20:2, 13-14).

Furthermore, in Christ, old divisions and wrongful attitudes of superiority and inferiority no longer exist – we are all united in our shared identity as children of God, despite our apparent human distinctions (Galatians 3:28). None of these affect a person’s qualification for salvation and service – God does not judge significance as the world does!

WE ARE ALL WORKS-IN-PROGRESS

Though I have been a Christian for a long time, I am still a work-in-progress just like you. The work God has been and continues doing in both my life and yours, will only be completed when Christ returns again (Philippians 1:6).

Because no one is 100% Christlike (yet), you may be surprised to discover in the course of interacting with your new family that we are all 100% human. There might be moments of tension or disappointment in someone. I find it useful to separate my faith from the people who embrace it – whether they exemplify Christ in their actions should not affect my belief and trust in Him.

In view of this, we are both called to hold firmly to God’s Word as we await Christ’s Second Coming (Philippians 2:16). Meanwhile, regardless of when we have accepted Christ as Lord, we are not to continue it in our own strength (Galatians 3:3), but to continually follow Him in steadfast love and faith (Colossians 2:6).

Love and blessings,
Me

/ eudora@thir.st

Eudora found herself writing on public platforms by chance. Apart from writing, she likes many random things, including spoken word poetry, adult colouring books, tea, stationery and fresh, clean laundry.

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Welcoming others into the church family

by | 20 October 2017, 4:45 PM

I was at a planning meeting for small group evangelism recently when someone posed the question of integrating new believers into the main church community. After all, she reasoned, even with short-term follow-up programmes, new converts can’t stay in their new convert silos forever – church life happens in community, hence integrating them into church family is important.

These thoughts struck a chord – looking back when they first joined our church as a new Christian, many of my friends muse that while the community was diverse and friendly, being rooted in community was not easy. They didn’t know the members who were rooted in church community, nor were they familiar with aspects of church life.

How can the Church help them integrate with ease into the larger church community? Here are some thoughts on the matter.

4 WAYS TO INTEGRATE NEW BELIEVERS:

1. EXPLAIN “CHRISTIAN TERMS”

This is a small step, but it goes a long way when churches explain Christian ordinances that take place during a church service. I know some churches who do – before the offering is taken, before Holy Communion and when the pastor says a corporate prayer, the process and significance of each of these ordinances are explained publicly.

This has the dual benefit of acquainting the new Christian with the procedures of the ordinances, while being a fresh reminder to the mature Christian on the significance of the ordinances. With a clear understanding of the meaning behind these new encounters in the Christian faith, I envision that this helps the newcomer feel less alienated as they observe it happening.

2. PUBLICLY WELCOME AND FOLLOW-UP

I’ve visited other churches before, and it can be distressing for a first-time visitor to be unable to find the way to the church gathering.

In the effort to retain newcomers to church, a number of churches I know distribute welcome cards to first-timers – they hope to get the contact details of the newcomer for follow-up and to build contact. I see the value of these cards for keeping record of first-timer numbers, but note that they should be used in a manner that keeps newcomers at ease.

When I first joined my church, the norm was for the presiding pastor to read out the names of newcomers for the congregation to welcome them. Observing that not everyone likes to be welcomed in such a conspicuous manner, the welcome card has since been tweaked to include an option of not being publicly introduced – this might be helpful for introverted guests, like me.

3. INTENTIONALLY INVITE TO EVENTS

I have a friend who had been exploring the Christian faith over the past couple of years before outwardly expressing a desire to follow Jesus over this year’s Good Friday season. My friends from young adults’ ministry and I wanted to get him plugged into the young adults community, hence invited him to our Trivia Night social event.

Over pizza and random trivia, my newly converted friend was able to get to know the rest of our community. While he now joins us for regular Bible study as his work schedule permits, I am glad his first experience with us was informal.

I imagine that integrating into a church or cell group with Bible study as the first encounter would be daunting, given the dual challenge of grappling with Bible study while acquainting oneself with the new faces. Having new converts join in a social event as initial exposure helps make things less daunting, as they only need manage one issue at a time.

4. CONNECT WITH COMMUNITY

About five years ago, my church began holding newcomer lunches every couple of months. These lunches are two-fold – intended for the church staff to get to know the new person better, and at the same time, for the newcomer to get to know the various ministries and platforms of discipleship.

While it may not be feasible for every church to replicate this, I see value in meetings of this nature – through this, the church leadership discerns suitable next steps for the new convert, such as plugging them into an appropriate platform that encourages an active participation in church life. At the same time, new converts find out more about suitable discipleship platforms for continued growth.

BY THIS THE WORLD WILL KNOW

Why, though, is it important to do all these things? The Bible tells us that community serves a purpose – our love for one another is the distinguishing mark that we are Jesus’ disciples (John 13:34-35).

Explaining these new experiences to newcomers is a way of loving them, so that they do not feel alienated in a new environment. This love for one another stems from the knowledge that we are going to be with other Christians throughout eternity – and we are called to start living in that light, beginning now. In Hebrews 10:24-25, we are called to mutually encourage each other to persevere, until Christ comes again.

As these newcomers join the family, they are included in this exhortation to obey the command to love and encourage the church family too. As the local Church loves and encourages them in this manner, may they pass on this love to others someday, too.

/ eudora@thir.st

Eudora found herself writing on public platforms by chance. Apart from writing, she likes many random things, including spoken word poetry, adult colouring books, tea, stationery and fresh, clean laundry.

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Should I be giving to every peddler I see?

by | 18 October 2017, 1:44 AM

Most of us are used to being approached by old, hunchbacked elderly selling tissue packets, but I was once approached by a young man who asked for some money for lunch. Although I typically walk away when such people approach me, my heart was softened that day.

“Sure, shall we go to the Kopitiam?” I offered.

I accompanied the man there and bought him a plate of mixed rice. On his part, he was careful not to exceed the budget he’d asked for, carefully deliberating his choice of vegetables.

As I watched him gratefully tuck into his meal, I wondered if I would do this again. I still feel like I did the right thing that day. Why?

GENEROSITY TOWARDS THE NEEDY

The call to be generous towards the needy is found in both the Old and New Testament.

In Deuteronomy 15, Moses teaches the Israelites God’s Law on the year of the Sabbath. In view of Israel’s inability to keep the Law perfectly, Moses tells the Israelites, “there will never cease to be poor in the land”, therefore they are to open wide their hands to their brother, to the needy and to the poor in their land (Deuteronomy 15:11).

In trusting God to meet our needs, we look away from our sufficiency to God’s sufficiency.

This commandment is echoed in the New Testament in Luke 14:7, where Jesus teaches that believers are to aim to do good for the poor without expecting to eradicate poverty in this age.

As we heed this commandment, we may be questioning the value of being generous with those in need. Proverbs 19:17 makes this clear: graciously lending to the needy is akin to lending to the Lord.

As we meet the needs of others, we demonstrate reliance on God to provide for our own needs. In trusting God to meet our needs, we look away from our sufficiency to God’s sufficiency.

NEED GENEROSITY BE FINANCIAL?

Cynics will argue that peddling tissue has become a profitable income-earner, where peddlers are scamming their buyers at rip-off prices. Yet, I choose to ask myself: Would I rather be in their position, where I have to make ends meet by hook or by crook?

Of course, I cannot be certain how the money will be used – if it will be used in the way the person claims. Hence, I admit I tend to err on the side of caution as I don’t want my generosity to be taken for granted. I don’t want to risk having my money being used on feeding a harmful habit, such as the consumption of cigarettes or alcohol.

But I also remember this: In showing love to someone else, I do him no harm (Romans 13:10). So, taking this all into consideration, I’m willing to be generous in kind rather than in cash.

In showing love to someone else, I do him no harm.

In personal experience, I have had the privilege of sharing time and energy with a family who is less well-to-do, by reading with their preschool children. They have been directed to the appropriate platforms for financial assistance; nonetheless, I am repeatedly reminded not to give them money, were they to ask for it.

As I give my time and energy, I believe the family is no less blessed – my presence is an opportunity for their caregiver to take a momentary pause in caring for them. I know she appreciates my presence – in the midst of caring for young children, she treasures conversation with other adults.

Likewise, the children anticipate my visits – being read to is a treat their caregiver cannot afford time for, as her time is spent on taking care of their basic needs.

TRUE GENEROUS GIVING

As we seek to be generous both in cash and kind, it is worth remembering we are not always able to give to every person we meet. Hence, we give as we are able, bearing in mind their greatest need is not physical, but spiritual.

The New Testament speaks of spiritual hunger and thirst in the gospel of John.

When Jesus meets a Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, He offers her some water, telling her that whoever drinks of the water that Jesus will give them will never be thirsty again. The water that Jesus will give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life (John 4:14).

This water Jesus professes to give refers to the Holy Spirit dwelling within a believer (John 7:38-39).

Later, Jesus tells the crowds He is the Bread of Life (John 6:35) – which is superior to the manna provided in Moses’ day. He says this to tell the crowds He gives essential and eternal spiritual nourishment, instead of meeting only physical needs.

Hence, while we are called to give generously to the needy, we do so with discernment – in order that we don’t run the risk of doing more harm than good for the needy person. We also should be looking out for opportunities to meet their spiritual needs, not just their financial ones, as God avails.

At the end of the day, we cannot guarantee they’ll always get helped, but we can ensure they’ll always get loved.

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:14-17)

/ eudora@thir.st

Eudora found herself writing on public platforms by chance. Apart from writing, she likes many random things, including spoken word poetry, adult colouring books, tea, stationery and fresh, clean laundry.

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Ownself plan own funeral – can or not?

by | 11 October 2017, 4:21 PM

Reading the news, I discovered that it’s an up-and-coming trend for people to plan their funeral. As one person interviewed for the article said: “I am the best person to know what I want.”

These prearrangements range from simple affairs aimed at reminiscence, to outrageous “life celebrations” of the deceased. One man wanted a karaoke machine for his loved ones to sing his favourite tunes on his last journey.

I was intrigued. I thought it would be great to plan my funeral, right down to the little details. And furthermore, if God really is calling me to a life of singleness, then I guess this would be the closest thing to planning for a wedding.

God has told us He has already numbered all our days. Yet I still seek as much control over my life as I can get.

So, I began to think about what my perfect funeral would look like.

It is not to be a “life celebration”, because death is real and my funeral has to include space for grieving. Yet I will place no obligation to dress in mourning colours: I want to give everyone the space to express the myriad emotions one experiences apart from grief. (Don’t wear red – a celebratory colour – out of respect, though.)

I want all my favourite songs on a playlist: I’ll Make a Man Out of You from Mulan; Circle of Life from The Lion King‘s another favourite. The latter would be apt for the occasion too!

Of course, there have to be Christian songs as well. This will be my last chance to testify of God and the life He has/had given me to steward on earth. So, I’d want these hymns to be included in the playlist – non-negotiable.

ONE LAST SONG: MY FUNERAL PLAYLIST

1. BEFORE THE THRONE OF GOD ABOVE

This song is dear to my heart, both as a plea to God, and a reminder of His promise of complete forgiveness of sin.

I clung to the lyrics of this hymn to tide me through a bad patch in life several years ago. On the cusp of young adulthood and in the midst of personal struggle, I found myself listening to this hymn many times, encouraging myself with its lyrics. In particular, the chorus resonated within the walls of my heart:

When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end of all my sin

For me, these lines convey the message that the Christian life makes no promises of comfort – but they do promise that all who trust in Christ are cleansed from the guilt of sin. It’s a song which affirms the reality of our sin, but also gives a definitive answer to the way out: Being purchased by the blood of the Lamb, through death on the Cross.

2. O GREAT GOD

Based on “Regeneration”, a prayer written in The Valley of Vision, it was an eloquent descriptor of my heart’s plea: For God to reign over my heart’s desires.

I knew, that left to my own devices, I would remain in the stain of sin. As someone who chose the Christian faith out of fear as a child, these lyrics encapsulated the transformation of my heart when l really owned my faith as a young adult.

Only by the Holy Spirit may a person understand the message of the Gospel – what fitting words to leave behind!

3. ALL I HAVE IS CHRIST

The lyrics of this song describe God’s mercy for Man, despite Man’s rebellion and indifference to Him. These lyrics are a testament to God’s grace towards His rebellious and sinful people. In particular, the last verse was an exhortation I wanted those present at my funeral to take home: Live for God, enabled by His strength to be vessels available for His use and glory.

Still, while I already have my funeral all planned out, I find myself not fully at ease thinking about it. It’s not just about it being a taboo topic in conservative Asian society. That’s not the issue. I know, despite the sting of physical death, that there is life on the other side of eternity.

This is the root of my unease: God has told us He has already numbered all our days (Job 14:5, Psalm 139:16); He has given me life, which I am to use according to His will. Yet I still seek as much control over my life as I can get. I want things my way.

I wonder if planning my own funeral is yet another attempt for control in the face of impending, inevitable death.

I didn’t set out to play God when thoughts of planning my funeral first surfaced. I still don’t think there’s any inherent wrong in wanting to plan your funeral. In fact, I see value in it: It saves the family of the deceased the added burden of deciding on funeral arrangements amid their profound grief.

I wonder if planning my own funeral is yet another attempt for control in the face of impending, inevitable death.

I know the impulse of my planning comes from an insecure and controlling heart. It stems from my fear of things not going as planned.

So I’m learning to hold on more loosely to the things I hold dear. This includes planning for my funeral; I hope to be at ease with giving up control over this when my time comes.

/ eudora@thir.st

Eudora found herself writing on public platforms by chance. Apart from writing, she likes many random things, including spoken word poetry, adult colouring books, tea, stationery and fresh, clean laundry.

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Home with her greatest love

by | 6 October 2017, 5:44 PM

Ms Loh was my music teacher when I was thirteen. I was thrilled when she became my literature teacher two years later, because she had been abroad for further studies the year before, and I was afraid she would be transferred elsewhere upon her return. Even in our briefest interactions, I always saw her gentle spirit in relating to others.

That was Ms Loh. Always bubbly, always smiling.

In my O-level year, in addition to Literature classes, she became my English teacher. On one of the practice essays she returned to me, I found a note with her number written on it as well as an offer to go through the essay on a Saturday.

It was a precious meeting to me. She was patient with my questions and heard all the last-minute panicked whines of a teenager facing national exams in several weeks. She was so encouraging, affirming me that she believed I would be able to attain a distinction. But it wasn’t just her patience that struck me.

Fundamentally, I was surprised that she would offer to help me with work on a weekend morning. Such was Ms Loh: Ever-ready to offer her help whenever she could, even for people like me who tended to slip under the radar.

I’m not sure why I saved her number. Perhaps I thought it’d be cool to have a teacher’s number. The last and only other time I texted the number was a few weeks later, on the school’s Founder’s Day, when I congratulated her for the Long Service Award she received then.

Academics aside, I remember our school musicals and our time in the performing arts. I remember the hymns and songs she taught us at Orientation and our music lessons. Whenever she taught us a song, her face lit up and her eyes twinkled. She spoke with the heart of someone who wanted her students to come to love the school as she did — never imposing or dictatorial — despite her senior position.

I last saw her from afar at the school musical five years ago. She was in the aisles of the concert hall, mingling with present and past colleagues and students. I remember squirming in my seat, eager to say hello. I was also afraid. I was a wallflower who faded into the background against my more outstanding peers. She tended to forget names, and I was afraid to be embarrassed in case she forgot mine.

Had I known what would have happened after, I would have approached her. I wish I did.

One evening in October 2015, I was out for dinner and scrolling through my Facebook feed when I saw a friend’s update. As I read her post, I came to realise that the anecdote wasn’t going to lead up to a happy ending. I was stunned into shocked silence when the end of the post carried the message that Ms Loh had gone home to Jesus.

Having interacted with her in some of her best years, I couldn’t believe what I’d read. The news took a day to sink in, as I learnt she had been ill with advanced stage cancer. It seems odd to say this, but seeing pictures of the progression of her cancer on the her memorial page brought a strange comfort.

Losing her was painful for all who knew her, but it was also a powerful testimony and encouragement to see that even when afflicted with physical illness, she never lost that same fervour for life. I’d like to believe that in the tough circumstances, she trusted in God’s sovereignty nonetheless.

I believe this is because she understood being a child of God did not exempt her from worldly trials such as illness, yet she also knew they had no hold over her. John 16:33 was her favourite Scripture verse.

 I wasn’t her favourite student because she didn’t play favourites.

I didn’t think I would feel the impact of her passing so intensely, and it took me by surprise when it did. Throughout the week of memorial services, I questioned why I was even affected at all. We weren’t very close, I wasn’t even her favourite student!

Then it struck me. I wasn’t her favourite student because she didn’t play favourites. Instead, she loved every student she taught with the same love God had first shown her.

And even in the midst of profound grief and loss, God redeems. I was reading the tributes left on her memorial page when I read this testimony:

The greatest joy that has arisen out of our immense loss of you is the news of your mom’s (Auntie Jessie) salvation this morning at Mount Vernon, Grace Hall. The Lord be praised!

I think that would have been Ms Loh’s greatest joy too. One might think it’s mere coincidence, but it is fitting that this was her last legacy on this side of eternity.

I miss her dearly, but I thank God for the season our lives intersected and that she is now Home with Jesus, her greatest love.


The late Ms Adeline Loh taught at the writer’s alma mater for 18 years, from 1997 to the time of her passing in October 2015. She considers it a blessing and privilege to have been Ms Loh’s student for three years.

/ eudora@thir.st

Eudora found herself writing on public platforms by chance. Apart from writing, she likes many random things, including spoken word poetry, adult colouring books, tea, stationery and fresh, clean laundry.

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The uncommon mission field: Reaching those with special needs

by Sheryl Tay | 29 September 2017, 6:39 PM

Whenever I think about the Great Commission, the first thoughts that come to mind are missionary journeys to the ends of the earth – preaching the gospel to the unreached, encouraging foreign believers to keep following Jesus.

The unreached people groups that come to mind are geographically far away from this tiny red dot. Yet, within our humble nation, there seems to be one unreached people group that has particularly limited access to the Gospel. This is not because they have not been exposed to it – rather, they cannot cognitively comprehend it.

They are the special needs community, which I closely work with as a special needs teacher.

THE GOSPEL IS FOR ALL

I once encountered an incident at work where my pupil re-enacted the parable of the wise man and the foolish man (Matthew 7:24-27). This was pivotal in helping me recognise the difficulties that people with special needs face in having access to the gospel.

After speaking to his mother about what had transpired in class, I realised she shared a similar goal as I did – to bring the Gospel to all peoples, especially those like her son.

Knowing that I too am a Christian, she expressed that it was often difficult for her and her husband to engage their son in Bible stories or the Gospel message, given his condition. They would wait for him to re-enact biblical accounts before they leveraged on the opportunity to engage him further about the re-enacted narrative and the Gospel.

Despite their son’s disability, they recognised he had the same ultimate needs as anyone else – to be cleansed from sin and reconciled to God.

You might wonder why can’t we just leave them be; after all, if they are cognitively unable to understand most things in life – aren’t they innocent of sin?

But Romans 3:9 tells us that everyone is under sin. Paul quotes from Psalm 14:3 and Psalm 53:3 when he says, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12).

As long as someone has made anyone or anything their “king” apart from God, he or she has sinned against God.

One thing that still seems lacking in the general climate in Singapore is the understanding that people with special needs are sinful too – a person’s cognitive deficit does not excuse him or her to be innocent of sin.

As long as someone has made anyone or anything their “king” apart from God, he or she has sinned against God and will be subject to His righteous and holy anger. People with special needs need the gospel too!

All the more, there is a pressing need for churches in Singapore to recognise the importance of preaching the message of salvation and repentance to our friends with special needs – they desperately need a Saviour, as much as we do.

But the resoundingly good news is this: Through faith in Jesus, all have been justified and have peace with God through Jesus our Lord (Romans 5:1). This means that people with special needs, likewise, are able to be reconciled to God – as we have – with proper awareness and understanding of their need for a Saviour.

THE CHURCH FOR THE WORLD

It is heartening that things are changing – we now see more churches in Singapore including people with special needs in their community and loving them. A number of churches and parachurches also run programmes that aim to cater to this group of people.

Among others, these include The Lord’s Garden Sunday School, held at Telok Ayer Chinese Methodist Church, and SHINE, a special needs ministry from Hope Church Singapore.

I hope to see even more churches persevere in teaching the Good News faithfully and accurately to members of the special needs community – so that in His time, He will meet their greatest need.

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Are you fazed by praise?

by | 28 September 2017, 3:17 PM

Have you seen this video?

As I watched it, I thought the video concept was novel, but didn’t otherwise think about it until I chanced upon this article on MindChamps preschool’s I’m Proud of You festival later that evening.

Coming across both in the same day left me intrigued – do we really need campaigns and events to encourage Singaporeans to do what seems an obvious thing: Praising your kids?

On the other hand, speaking as a child of the ’90s, praise was not commonplace. Good behaviour was expected – not specifically worthy of praise – but misbehaviour punished.

Many of my memories of school in the ’90s involve incidents that would not be condoned today.

Do we really need campaigns and events to encourage Singaporeans to do what seems an obvious thing: Praising your kids?

In primary school, I remember almost half my class being sent out over the course of a Maths lesson for not having completed their homework – something I cannot fathom happening in classrooms today. Another time, my classmate’s school bag was dumped into the dustbin, also due to incomplete homework.

In hindsight, I was spared the same fate because I was an obedient child – not so much out of respect for teachers or love for studies, but rather out of fear for the humiliation in being punished.

At home, my mother was not a Tiger Mom. Still, like most parents in my time, after she signed my tests or exam papers, she often scrutinised them to pick out my careless mistakes, while reminding me how much better I could have scored if not for my carelessness.

While I usually did above average, I was often reminded how much better I could have done, had I been less careless. (Mom, if you’re reading this, I understand you had good intentions!)

So this recent burst of efforts to encourage parents to praise kids seems to run counter to Asian culture, where it’s commonly felt that excessive praise could lead to pride.

But when we turn to the Bible, we see that God is one of affirmation.

WHAT IS PRAISE?

AN AFFIRMATION OF WHO YOU ARE

But the LORD’s portion is his people, Jacob his allotted heritage. He found him in a desert land, and in the howling waste of the wilderness; he encircled him, he cared for him, he kept him as the apple of his eye. (Deuteronomy 32:9, 10)

God praises His people – us, you, me! – and calls us the apple of His eye!

Note that this affirmation of the Israelites is about who they are, and not what they can do, or have done. On the contrary, this chapter was along Moses’ last words to the Israelites before he died, before they had entered the Promised Land. They had wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, a consequence of their rebellion against God (Deuteronomy 32:5, 20).

Yet, in spite of Israel’s rebellion, God remembered His chosen people and kept them as His treasured possession. Unconditional love overflowed into unconditional praise.

That’s the basis for praise – it’s affirmation of someone’s inherent value, not tied to the extent of their accomplishments.

AN ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF HOW YOU’VE TRIED

And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, “Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” (Matthew 25:20-21)

The parable of the talents in Matthew 25 is an often quoted passage to illustrate God’s approval of Man.

The praise of the master wasn’t based on the absolute quantitative measure of their achievement. The first and the second servant both received the same affirmation for their faithful efforts in stewarding the different amounts they had been given.

Similarly, we should praise others based on their faithfulness in responsible stewardship over a given task, not merely on the outcome at the end.

It takes time and effort to cultivate the mind-set of encouraging praise, which runs contrary to Asian culture, and probably isn’t what we were used to hearing growing up. But just as we crave the sound of affirmation ringing in our ears – “Well done, good and faithful (your name here)” – maybe it’s time to buck the trend, and become the generation that offers compliments before criticism.


Find out more about the Race For Praise 30-Day Challenge here

/ eudora@thir.st

Eudora found herself writing on public platforms by chance. Apart from writing, she likes many random things, including spoken word poetry, adult colouring books, tea, stationery and fresh, clean laundry.

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If God knows everything that’s going to happen, what’s the point of prayer?

by | 25 September 2017, 11:04 AM

Dear God, it’s me.

I don’t know why I’m telling You this … I’m sure You have more important people and things to care about. I’m sure You’ve already decided on the outcome of this matter, but since I’m supposed to tell You this – I have exams next week, and a packed schedule this week.

Please help me … I don’t know, survive?

In Jesus’ Name I pray, Amen.

Have you ever mumbled a prayer like this? As a student, I’ve said a lot of such prayers. Then as a young adult, other concerns came to the fore: Travel mercies, the salvation of friends and family, or sufficient competency at work not to invoke the wrath of my boss and colleagues, for example.

Sometimes, after such a prayer, I’ll murmur to friends later: “I know I’m supposed to pray about all this. Yet it feels like it’s a feel-good measure – something we do to make us feel good about the fact that we did it. But why do we have to? Hasn’t God already predetermined the outcome?”

My cynicism stems from my belief that surely God already knows if a plane will crash or not. Surely He already knows whether my friend will be saved in the end or not. And doesn’t He already know whether I will make it through a work day without stepping on anyone’s toes?

It’s not the action of asking that earns us a reward – it’s not about approaching God like we would an ATM.

Prayer seems even more pointless where a tragic end seems certain – like after an accident, where the victim is in critical condition. Or when a loved one’s illness becomes terminal and there seems to be no hope for physical healing.

Nevertheless, we are told to pray. In fact, we are told to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

So while it seems counterintuitive to pray even though we can’t see how it may change the situation, we persist. We do so because we’re commanded to. And we do so because it’s our privilege to do so – to be able to speak to God through prayer.

People who are reconciled to God have the privilege of communicating with Him as He did with Moses (Exodus 33:11), because we are now His friends (John 15:13-15).

PRAYER: A COMMANDMENT AND PRIVILEGE

In Matthew 6:9-13, Jesus has taught us The Lord’s Prayer. Among the things we’re told we ought to pray for:

  • “Your kingdom come, Your will be done”
  • “Give us this day our daily bread”
  • “Lead us not into temptation”

You could argue that a lot of this is pointless. Of course His will will be done. Of course He will provide for me daily, as Jehovah Jireh. Of course He isn’t going to lead me into temptation.

Why do I need to pray these things? In fact, in Matthew 6:8, Jesus even said: “For your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

Yet He didn’t tell us not to bother asking. Ask Him we should.

The key is in the repeated refrain from Matthew 6, which appears in verses 4, 6 and 18: “Then your Father will reward you.”

The teaching is that it’s not the action of asking that earns us a reward – it’s not about approaching God like we would an ATM. The principle is that when we present our requests to God in acknowledgment of His pre-eminence and presence in our lives, He acknowledges what is done in secret (again from Matthew 6:4, 6 and 18) through His mercies and lovingkindness.

Praying such a prayer is us effectively saying:

I know You can do this, Father, because I know You can do everything.

I don’t know every detail of your plans – if my friend will be saved, if my relative will be healed, if my boss will be kind – but I know your character, as a God of justice, righteousness and love (Jeremiah 9:23-24).

If it is in your will, Lord, do this wonderful thing.

GOD’S INSTRUMENTS TO DO HIS WILL

My pastor once told this story to illustrate the purpose of prayer. He wanted his two school-going children to keep their study tables tidy. As motivation, he offered them an incentive – a “table neatness” prize – for keeping their desks tidy for a week.

They obeyed, and received their promised rewards. His pre-schoolers, however, were not offered this incentive.

When they found out about their older siblings’ rewards, they wanted the prize too. So they made the request to receive the prize if they likewise kept their desks neat for a week. Of course, my pastor agreed to their request.

That was his intention all along – he had intended for his pre-schoolers to realise they would enjoy the “table neatness” prize, to want it, and ask him for it.

In a similar way, for God, it’s not just about getting the thing done, it’s about getting our hearts on board. Having His people pray is part of His plan to achieve His redemptive purposes in the world – a privilege He extends to us, for our benefit.

One example of this we see in the Bible is in Isaiah 37, which describes King Hezekiah’s conversation with God when Assyria declares war on Judah.

For God, our prayer is not just about getting the thing done, it’s about getting our hearts on board. Our prayer is us choosing to join Him as He moves.

When Hezekiah pleads to God to save him (Isaiah 37:20), God makes known that He has used Hezekiah’s prayer as an instrument (Isaiah 37:21) to defeat Assyria. Not only that, God also makes known that He had “long ago” determined that David would bring Assyria to ruin (Isaiah 14:24-27) and save the city of Judah.

It was going to happen anyway; the only question is if it would happen under Hezekiah or some other praying king. It wasn’t the prayer in itself that moved God’s hand; God was always at work.

Our prayer is us choosing to join Him as He moves.

So, whatever the inertia I have towards prayer: Yet I will obey Him. I will learn to persist in prayer (Romans 12:12, Colossians 4:2), taking baby steps in His time, for my own good.

/ eudora@thir.st

Eudora found herself writing on public platforms by chance. Apart from writing, she likes many random things, including spoken word poetry, adult colouring books, tea, stationery and fresh, clean laundry.

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Birthday musings of a twenty-something: What is there to celebrate?

by | 20 September 2017, 11:07 PM

So, how does it feel on your birthday?

I didn’t know how to respond when someone asked me this last week on my birthday. To be honest, I felt older, that’s all. What are birthdays supposed to feel like, anyway?

Past a certain point, you realise you’re not getting any younger. Each birthday brings with it further responsibilities and greater levels of #adulting. Not to be morbid, but I once had a secondary school teacher who put it this way – with each birthday, you move one step closer to the grave. Nice.

Then there’s the hype – I cannot stand the hype of my birthday. People fuss over you more than usual, asking what you would like for everything! I understand everyone means well, but after what seems like a barrage of birthday interrogations, sometimes it gets tempting to say I don’t want anything at all, just to stop the questions.

With each birthday, you move one step closer to the grave.

As for birthday cake-cutting and birthday song-singing, I’m not sure when I grew averse to them – in recent years, they have become part of the hype I cannot stand. I love cake, but surely one need not be obligated to partake in these birthday customs, long-held as they may be, right?

And don’t get me started on those Facebook friends you forgot you had who reappear that one time in a year …

But don’t get me wrong – I appreciate the love and thought that goes into each birthday gathering. So before I make myself sound more cynical than I already am, I am thankful for my birthday, though I hesitate to display it openly.

Perhaps it’s because I’m at an age where one starts counting blessings more closely. Or I’ve heard more stories of friends who’ve lost their loved ones in the last couple of years. Regardless, these make me keenly aware of the need to treasure those around me.

This year, I’m thankful for family and friends alike.

It brings to mind a conversation I had with a friend during the Lunar New Year period this year – she had asked me how I would be spending reunion dinner. I replied that as usual, I would be spending it at my grandma’s place with the extended family for steamboat, a family tradition that’s taken place for as long as I can remember.

I think my jaw dropped a little when she said, “Wow, you mean you have grandparents?” As I tried to mask my surprise and confusion, she continued, “I’ve never met any of my grandparents, all of them passed away before I was born.”

Since then, it has brought me renewed appreciation to have grandparents who’ve been able to watch me grow up, and that I still have my grandma today.

This year, I’m thankful for health.

They say being twenty-something is the prime time of one’s life – my fellow twenty-somethings have used this season of life to do volunteer work, travel abroad with friends, and take part in mission trips before they are tied down by having spouses and children to care for, among other things.

It is a season where one gets numerous opportunities to meet diverse groups of people through various life experiences. I am thankful that I, too, have had opportunities to do these, but realise these are impossible without good health – a blessing I cannot take for granted.

The caution not to take good health for granted hits home because several months ago, a friend my age had had a cancer scare. It turned out negative in the end, to her relief. Yet, it was sufficient reminder that illness can strike at any age, and being in good health is not always a given.

This year, I’m thankful to be alive.

The awareness of mortality isn’t limited to old age – on the contrary, I’ve been made more aware of my own mortality on hearing of the passing of friends’ friends, who are fellow young adults – the young victim of the fatal car accident in Johor Bahru last month was a friend of a cell group member.

As my cell group member informed us of his friend’s subsequent passing and shared with us his prayer requests for his friend’s family, it was a stark reminder of the fragility of life – that I must be thankful for each new day of life and the time I have with those I love.

This year, I’m thankful for God’s gifts.

As I spent this birthday with the Thir.st team, I found myself thankful for the opportunities to testify of God’s work in my life through writing – both within and without of Thir.st. It has been such a blessing and joy, especially because I am less than qualified.

Most friends I know who write for their day jobs have some form of media or communications background – unlike them, I am not a trained writer and all I have learnt about writing has been by exposure. I started as a contributing writer by chance about a year and a half ago, and am thankful for the opportunities I’ve had since then.

As I move into another year of life, my heart echoes these words in Keith and Kristyn Getty’s modern hymn:

My heart is filled with thankfulness
To him who reigns above,
Whose wisdom is my perfect peace,
Whose ev’ry thought is love.
For ev’ry day I have on earth
Is given by the King;
So I will give my life, my all,
To love and follow him.

For this reason alone, there will always be something to celebrate.

/ eudora@thir.st

Eudora found herself writing on public platforms by chance. Apart from writing, she likes many random things, including spoken word poetry, adult colouring books, tea, stationery and fresh, clean laundry.

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Is it okay to be competitive?

by | 19 September 2017, 11:21 AM

Competition.

The word evokes a whole spectrum of emotions like nervousness, envy and pride.

When I think of what competition looks like, sporting events and the honour winners bring to their countries come to mind. A recent example would be Joseph Schooling – Singapore’s first swimming Olympic gold medallist who beat Michael Phelps, 23-time Olympic gold medallist, in his final Olympic race.

For outside the sporting arena, competition is no less rampant: Parents strive to get their child into that primary school of choice, for reasons ranging from prestige to proximity. Students strive to get into that school through all means like direct school admission through co-curricular activities.

And even as young adults, my friends compete with many other couples to buy a flat. The right queue number enables them to get a choice unit for their Build-to-Order (BTO) flat applications. It’s that competitive, and failing to get a good queue number might mean a less-than-ideal location, or worse – not even being allocated any slots in the current exercise and having to wait for the next one.

But between the glory one gets from winning any competition and the ugly methods people have resorted to in order to win – I wonder if it is worth being competitive at all.

THE ONLY COMPETITION

On closer inspection, however, I recognise that apart from prestige and honour, competition has inherent benefit. For instance, it promotes a spirit of excellence. As athletes train to prove themselves worthy of the medal at the podium finish, they improve themselves to be of a higher standard than their opponents. It also encourages effort in one’s craft – resulting in the mutual honing of skills.

I realise that in our lives – not only is competition acceptable – it is also expected. In the Bible, sporting imagery is often used to describe the journey of the Christian life. The author of Hebrews urges believers, to “run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Hebrews 12:1).

Paul himself endured hardship for the sake of advancing the gospel, but he did it not for himself – but for something greater.

Likewise, in 2 Timothy 2:5, Paul persuades Timothy to endure for the gospel, reminding him that “[an] athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.” And later, to the Corinthian church: “in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize”, and urges them to “run that [they] may obtain it” (1 Corinthians 9:24).

Obviously, Paul isn’t endorsing the use of dishonest means to win. He uses race imagery to show that similar to running, perseverance in the Christian faith is running with the end in mind. In this case, it is to advance the gospel of Christ.

In a race, the runner requires discipline and control (1 Corinthians 9:26-7). Paul himself endured hardship for the sake of advancing the gospel, but he did it not for himself – but for something greater.

A RACE WITH NO COMPETITORS

Perhaps then it would be helpful to view those in the same race as running mates rather than competitors in the traditional sense. As God has already blessed us with every spiritual blessing, we derive our worth and satisfaction from Him alone.

Thus we ought not to view those running alongside us as obstacles to our success – on the contrary, our significance and success comes from our Creator alone – and we strive to remind others in the race of this truth too.

So with the right attitude, I think that it is okay to be competitive – just not against each other, but for the glory of God. Such competition does not and should not compromise on values to succeed using dishonest means, for we compete neither for prestige nor the pursuit of extravagant material possessions.

Instead, we compete to advance the Gospel, wherever God has placed us in each season of our lives. Bearing that in mind, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14).

/ eudora@thir.st

Eudora found herself writing on public platforms by chance. Apart from writing, she likes many random things, including spoken word poetry, adult colouring books, tea, stationery and fresh, clean laundry.

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Why I teach children with special needs

by Sheryl Tay | 15 September 2017, 5:20 PM

“One man built his house on the sand … It crashed! It crashed!”

What followed this bizarre outcry were more words I could not understand, not even as a special needs teacher. My student drew more lines on the board and made drastic hand gestures. His head turned toward different triggers, every few seconds – his mind was in chaos.

Later, this episode gave me cause for reflection:

  • Did I know what was in the mind of this child with autism? No, I think even he was not able to make sense of his thoughts.
  • Was I prepared to work with children with special needs? No, children were the last group I thought I would work with after graduation, much less so children with special needs.
  • Did I learn anything about special education at university? No, I studied linguistics.
  • Did I choose to work as an early intervention teacher for children with special needs? Yes, I did – with no regrets.

Teaching children with special needs was an unexpected but rewarding choice. Some of my greatest joys at work occur when my students show progress or express enjoyment in a particular activity – their happiness can be so contagious!

However, the work can also be draining: With children, many things can happen in the split second we take our eyes off them. Hence, I always have to keep one eye on my students – even when I am taking something from the cupboard.

I need to rely even more on God to help me love the child when he or she proves so difficult to love.

Yet, there are also times when I lose patience with my students, especially when they refuse to do  work even though the assigned task falls within their capabilities. It frustrates me because they avoid the task not because it is too difficult for them, but because they simply do not want to do it.

In such situations, it’s all too easy to start developing negative feelings toward the child, even though my frustration is with the behaviour – not the child. In such situations, I need to rely even more on God to help me love the child when he or she proves so difficult to love.

Although most of us would acknowledge that no human being is perfect, we tend to ascribe greater value to those who have no disability over those with a disability. In addition, some people may think people with special needs are vastly different from those without disability.

Yet, if we were to define “disability” as “weakness” – we’d realise that we all in fact have some degree of “disability”.

No one is without weakness.

Similarly, just as every person has strengths and weaknesses, so do people with special needs. Despite their disability, people with special needs have abilities and strengths in other aspects of life too. However, this doesn’t mean that just because a person has special needs, he or she shows special talent in music or art. Just like everyone else: some do and some don’t.

I believe that as we interact with members of the special needs community, we should treat them as we would any other person. This can mean two things: We should treat them with dignity and be careful not to put them down, just because they seem “different”.

We also shouldn’t think that they are more “fragile” than anyone else, solely by virtue of their disability. Hence, if they need to be corrected in anything, it should be done as firmly as with someone else without disability.

As we serve members in the special needs community, we seek to know them as individuals: Their strengths, difficulties, likes, dislikes and what helps them cope better. But sometimes, in our best interests, we may end up doing more harm than good.

For example, when we do everything for the person instead of giving him or her opportunities to do things independently, this may promote an over-reliance on others in the individual. Thus, knowing the individual well will help us make more informed decisions that would best benefit the person.

When we seek to include people with special needs in our community, we need to be willing to be flexible. This might even mean putting ourselves in uncomfortable positions to bridge the gap between us and persons with disabilities. However, while this may require stepping out of our comfort zones, discernment is also needed to ensure that we do not put ourselves in positions of compromise.

We might also need to change our worldview by seeking to better understand members of the special needs community, accommodating them and giving them opportunities to learn to adapt to mainstream society. Inclusion is a two-way street; both people with and without disabilities need to make a concerted effort to accommodate and adapt to each other.

For these reasons, I believe we’re not too different from people with special needs. We all have disabilities to differing degrees – yet this doesn’t make any of us any less human. I believe everyone – including people with special needs – have equal inherent value.

Every life is a gift; every life is precious.

“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” (Psalm 139:14)

There is no one life that is more important than another; every person has an equal but different part to play.

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What’s in a mission trip that I should go for one?

by | 13 September 2017, 6:04 PM

Up till five years ago, I was cynical on the purpose of mission trips.

I knew it was a commandment in Scripture that spanned as far back as the account of Jonah in the Old Testament, and was even able to quote the parts where the Bible’s call to missions was clear (Mark 16:15, Matthew 28:18–20). Yet, l struggled to see the place for missions displayed in practical terms – weren’t they no more than a platform for the sending organisation to assert superiority?

After my trip with Cru in late 2012, I moved to my present church. I hadn’t moved for missions-related reasons, but unlike the church where I had grown up, there was a greater focus on missions work here.

The first time I attended Mission Sunday service in early 2013, it was strange to hear the missions committee share with fervour about a community of people in a Chinese town whose name I had not heard of until that day.

As they updated the congregation with photographs of new gospel partners in the ministry, I was intrigued – for the first time, there was a name and face to missions, which had earlier been an abstract ideal.

That first Mission Sunday was insufficient to convince me of the full value of missions, but it sparked the curiosity to find out more about church’s mission work in China – where was this place, who were these people? As the year progressed, I watched as my friends made trips to China for various programmes such as English teaching, discipleship, and Christmas outreach.

Without exception, every team that came back shared how the members of the local church stood firm in faith (2 Corinthians 1:24). This was even more remarkable given the difficulties of being in a small church where members’ attendance were not always regular.

The teams also recounted the local believers’ desire for, and growth in spiritual maturity from since they first believed (Colossians 1:28, 4:12). Over time, God softened my cynical heart and by the end of 2013, I resolved to join a team for a trip when the opportunity availed.

This materialised in late 2014, where I had the opportunity to go for winter missions. In the course of a week, we attended a Chinese church service, conducted Christmas parties, and spent time in mutual encouragement and prayer with the local believers in the evenings.

As I wrote my reflections post-trip, I realised that the trip didn’t even feel like missions in the sense I had understood. Instead, it felt more like returning home to friends, since my interactions with the locals warmed my heart – they were hospitable and welcoming.

Short-term missions may not have significant immediate impact, they can serve as stepping stones to which God may call us to serve as longer-term missionaries.

Following this, I availed myself for winter missions again in 2015. By then, it was a commitment I made out of the desire to remain connected to our community of gospel partners abroad.

2015 was also the time my friends affirmed their desire to enter full-time missions through a ministry apprenticeship scheme in church. This is a two-year ministry training programme which culminates in being sent abroad for a term in the mission field. As they shared with me their motivations behind this decision, I realised that their decision to serve in missions was not a sudden, overnight one.

Instead, God had shaped their hearts through numerous short-term trips over the years, aligning their hearts to heed His call of proclaiming the gospel into all the world. This helped me see that while short-term missions may not have significant immediate impact, they can serve as stepping stones to which God may call us to serve as longer-term missionaries.

However, the opportunities to go on mission trips did not diminish my cynicism towards short-term mission trips either. While I now see the value that cumulative short-term mission trips have on their recipients, I am also mindful when helping to plan for these trips that the programmes should meet the needs of the recipients and not push the agenda of the sending team.

While not everyone may have the chance or be suited to participate in a mission trip, I think on accurate understanding of the heart of missions is crucial. As God commands the church to be His witnesses worldwide, our hearts receive this command in obedience (Acts 1:8).

Nonetheless, in seasons when we are not in the frontline of the mission field, we can pray for the people who have been sent as we remain behind. In such seasons, may we then be missional to meet the needs of our local communities as we are placed.

/ eudora@thir.st

Eudora found herself writing on public platforms by chance. Apart from writing, she likes many random things, including spoken word poetry, adult colouring books, tea, stationery and fresh, clean laundry.

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When it’s okay to say “No”

by | 31 August 2017, 2:53 PM

Earlier this year, my schedule looked like this: Work, weekly curriculum planning for English enrichment, monthly volunteer reading to two pre-schoolers.

In church, I have served as an usher for the past three years, while also volunteering for the special needs ministry. Since then, I have also participated in other activities, including child-minding and ad-hoc children’s ministry programmes.

While it’s a joy and privilege to serve, if I’m honest enough with myself, I’m involved in so many things because it’s I find it hard to say no when I’m asked to help out. Aren’t we supposed to serve others in love (Galatians 5:13)?

But what if – contrary to popular belief – it’s not only acceptable, but loving, to say no?

YOU KNOW IT’S TIME TO SAY “NO” WHEN …

1. “YES” IS TAKING A REAL TOLL ON YOU

“Adrian’s open to having dinner with us tomorrow. Anyone wanna come along?”

I received this text in a group chat. We hadn’t seen Adrian in a while because his brother had been hospitalised. We’d been looking for a way to support him during this trying period for him.

I type a non-committal reply: “I’ll let you know, subject to whether I’m tired — if I go, it’ll be my third consecutive night out.”

It’s not that I don’t care — I do! I want to join in, but I know myself well; I might not have the social energy for this, after two straight nights out.

I knew then I had a problem. Saying yes to all the commitments above had left me with no bandwidth left for a friend in real need. I’d given myself no buffer for being there. And it was too late by then to extricate myself from anything, last-minute.

While we ought to serve God with gladness, God also wants us to be still before Him in the midst of our busyness.

2. “YES” MEANS YOU CAN’T BE STILL BEFORE GOD

If you say “Yes” to keep yourself occupied, to avoid stillness that scares you, maybe it’s time to start saying “no”.

When I first availed myself, it was partly out of a genuine desire to be a part of these programmes. But I was also looking for a way to avoid stillness. The silence that comes with stillness is deafening!

In my mind, I think that when I’m at rest, I’m not being useful or making a difference to people around me — in contrast to others who cram four gatherings on a Saturday, with time and energy to spare. I have friends who teach full-time and still tutor during the weekends.

If I’m less busy than they are, I should be making good use of my time to do more — right? So, I felt that I could do as much as others around me, if only I persevered. Or rearranged my schedule. Or quit being a wimp about my schedule and served God and His people in love, without whining.

On its own, each commitment was manageable. But when combined, they drained me.

While we ought to serve God with gladness, God also wants us to be still before Him in the midst of our busyness. This brings to mind the narrative of Mary and Martha, recorded in Luke 10:38-42. Martha’s hospitality was well-intentioned, as she sought to be a conscientious hostess; despite her acts of service, Jesus rebuked her for being distracted, describing her as “anxious and troubled” (Luke 10:41).

That was me.

3. “YES” DEPRIVES SOMEONE ELSE OF THE CHANCE TO HELP

While I am thankful for all I have learnt and the people I have met through the various opportunities I have had, I am learning that saying “no” creates an opportunity for someone else to share in these treasured experiences.

I’ve learnt that when people are opening up to the idea of service – maybe they’re new Christians, or they’ve been prompted to focus a bit less on their personal life and work and to tithe their time and effort to God – we should always be ready with something meaningful to sink their teeth into.

This won’t happen if every position is taken up by people who are already in too many positions.

This may not mean giving up everything all at once. But I could, say, swap duties for a less busy week, to give others who are more time-strapped the chance to serve when they can.

The heart behind the decision-making process is key: Are we saying yes because we think we’re indispensable?

4. “YES” COMES FROM THE WRONG MOTIVATION

Of course, having “no” as the default answer is not the solution. If I’d said no to everything, I would have missed out on opportunities to interact with new people, some of whom have become treasured friends.

The heart behind the decision-making process is key: Are we saying yes because we think we’re indispensable?

Galatians 6:2 reminds me that there are people who will fill my lack. This is both a caution and source of encouragement: It is a privilege and blessing to serve God and His people through these commitments, but I am not indispensable in these opportunities. Even without me, God uses others to accomplish His purposes in the lives of His people, including those around me (Galatians 6:3).

It really comes down to this: In our busyness, are we saying “yes” to God?

/ eudora@thir.st

Eudora found herself writing on public platforms by chance. Apart from writing, she likes many random things, including spoken word poetry, adult colouring books, tea, stationery and fresh, clean laundry.

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by | 30 August 2017, 9:33 AM

I recall having “Missions Month” in Sunday School as a child. Each week’s Sunday School lesson included a brief exposure to a different culture, followed by the constraints the people faced in having opportunities to hear the Gospel. We ended the sessions with a list of prayer items for each people group.

It was intriguing to learn about different communities worldwide, but I didn’t see how it was relevant to me. Missions seemed like a cherry on top of regular church programmes – good to have, but not mandatory.

It didn’t help that as I grew older, I chanced on articles like this which suggested mission trips tended to do more harm than good. Every effort to provide aid to a developing country appeared to be a thinly veiled cover-up for the sending team to feel superior about themselves – “aid” provided without true consideration of the country’s needs.

In my misguided understanding, mission trips seemed merely a means to impose ideals and assert authority over a people group perceived as “inferior” to the mission teams’ homeland.

As God’s chosen instrument, all I can do is avail myself for His use, trusting God to save some in His time.

My first taste of overseas missions was an exposure trip to China in December 2012.

As part of Singapore Crusade for Christ’s (now known as Cru Singapore) 40th anniversary celebrations, 40 mission teams were sent worldwide to expand the reach of the gospel. My church had a Cru staff member who was leading a team up, so I signed myself up out of curiosity for new experiences, not from a heart wanting to heed God’s call to proclaim the gospel to the unreached.

We decided that we would use the encounter of Jesus healing the paralytic at Capernaum (Mark 2:1-12) to share the gospel, a story I had been familiar with since childhood. We thought it would be almost effortless to narrate this from memory – but soon learnt it was a different challenge altogether recounting it in Mandarin.

We Googled and searched our Bible apps in desperation for the version with the simplest Mandarin translation we could find!

That was the first thing I learnt about missions, even before the trip had begun: To never take for granted my knowledge of the Gospel, so that I am prepared to share it wherever, whenever.

Part of the programme included us preparing for a session of English enrichment at a private school, using the parable of the prodigal son. At the same time, a parenting talk would be held for their parents. We had no idea how many people would turn up, but as it was a weeknight during the Chinese school term, we were told not to anticipate a large turnout – maybe 10 people, or 20 in the best-case scenario.

That night, the turnout for the event caught the team by surprise, and I don’t say this in an encouraging way. Apart from the children of the couple who ran the private school, there was only one older lady, a non-Christian.

But on hindsight, that day wasn’t meant to be a lesson for kids, but for us. God was teaching us that He would bring to us the people He desired – not those we desired.

What happened to the people we believed You’d bring, God? Is this how You’d encourage a first-timer in the mission field?

But on hindsight, that day wasn’t meant to be a lesson for kids, but for us. God was teaching us that He would bring to us the people He desired – not those we desired.

As the missionary couple shared with us the nature of their work, they showed numerous pictures of their partnership with various Singapore organisations, both Christian and secular. They explained how the collaborative effort of each mission team and volunteer group played a crucial role in sustaining their ministry over the years.

This helped me realise that while it’s true that short one-off trips probably having a greater impact on those going than those receiving, the fruit of each individual trip has a cumulative effect, ultimately furthering the work of the ministry abroad.

It was clear that they appreciated our presence that night – it gave them opportunities to converse in Singlish, a rare but welcome reminder of home in their sixth year abroad. We spent the night playing games with the missionary family and singing Gospel songs together to encourage them to persevere for God’s kingdom, which is challenging when abroad and alone.

That was my first taste of short-term missions. Since then, I’ve gone on two trips to a different part of China with teams sent by my church.

I’ve learnt that while the programme may vary with every trip I make, God’s heart for His people doesn’t change. God calls His people to proclaim the saving knowledge of the gospel (Romans 10:14) so that those who hear it may be saved (Mark 4:12).

As God’s chosen instrument, all I can do is avail myself for His use, trusting God to save some in His time.

/ eudora@thir.st

Eudora found herself writing on public platforms by chance. Apart from writing, she likes many random things, including spoken word poetry, adult colouring books, tea, stationery and fresh, clean laundry.

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What’s the point of church if we can worship God anywhere?

by | 23 August 2017, 3:16 PM

I spent all my free time finishing work for a church missions project. I was exhausted, irritable, and just wanted to hide from the world.

I text Sarah*, a close friend from church, informing her that I wanted to skip the young adults’ ministry meeting that weekend.

I dragged myself to church, having skipped it the previous Sunday. I was prepared to skip church that day if I overslept, but somehow managed to wake up ahead of my alarm – in time for church.

“I wasn’t planning to come today, but God had His plans”, I mumbled to the friend next to me in service – anything to convey that I really didn’t want to be there.

“That’s because you woke up based on your ‘spiritual clock’ and not your biological clock today!” she teased.

As the service began, I spotted one chair turned around, facing the congregation – meaning our hearing-impaired friend, Debbie*, was there that day, and Sarah was interpreting the service for her.

While Sarah sometimes brings her hearing-impaired friends to join us, we don’t have a large enough community to start a ministry dedicated to hearing-impaired individuals – it falls on her to interpret the sermon for them.

Then it dawned on me why God wanted me to be in church. 

When Sarah interprets the sermons in sign language, her hands are full (literally and otherwise) and she cannot take notes during service. While she never asks for help having notes taken during service on days like these, I figure she appreciates the help she gets – the same way I appreciate my friends filling me in on weeks when I missed service.

The opportunity – the privilege – to meet the needs of church family pushes me to turn up on Sundays when I don’t want to.

My showing up that day enabled her to serve joyfully, without having to be concerned that she missed out the contents of what was said.

Within the same week, someone shared this article in the church Facebook group – a good reminder that each member in the body of Christ has been given different gifts to build up the body of the church (Romans 12:4-8).

Attending church with this perspective – even when it’s difficult, even when I don’t feel like it – gives me the opportunity to give and receive grace. While church is an imperfect family, each person is meant to be part of this messy, varied community, serving the church community, despite our own imperfections.

This series of events was not pulled from a distant past; they show how I felt about church just three months ago. Things have not magically changed since; some weeks, I step in just before the sermon starts, convincing myself that even though I have missed part of the order of service, I am present for the entirety of the sermon, so that’s okay, right?

Other days, I want to stay home in the comfort of my room, because unfamiliar faces in church feel too scary to handle.

But the opportunity – the privilege – to meet the needs of church family pushes me to turn up on Sundays when I don’t want to. While it isn’t easy to consider the needs of others when I’m not feeling my best, church is a place where we can share our burdens in the midst of struggles, or carry the burdens of others within the church community.

Sometimes, taking sermon notes for one friend is all I can manage, but it is enough – and I will continue to press on in serving the church community in small ways like this, the best I can.


*My friends’ names were changed upon request.

/ eudora@thir.st

Eudora found herself writing on public platforms by chance. Apart from writing, she likes many random things, including spoken word poetry, adult colouring books, tea, stationery and fresh, clean laundry.

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Are we all called to certain jobs?

by | 22 August 2017, 9:46 AM

Friends tell me they’re in a certain field of work in obedience to God’s calling.

In secular vocations, this was commonly heard for careers that required specific skills or fields of study, such as teaching or medicine. In Christian circles, friends shared that God had “called them” to the mission field overseas.

I was happy for them, but it left me discouraged. If God had “called” my friends to their careers, why did I not know His calling for my life? I was confused too – were there really Scripture passages saying that people are called to a specific field of work?

In the New Testament, the main mentions of God’s “calling” does not discuss work. It relates to becoming a Christian – Romans 1:6-7, 1 Peter 5:10, 2 Peter 1:3, among others – while other examples refer to living a holy and peaceful life (1 Peter 1:15).

The Bible mentions once the status to which God appoints us, referring to the states of remaining single, as opposed to getting married. Paul makes this point to call the Corinthians to live holy lives, regardless of whether it’s in marriage or in singlehood (1 Corinthians 7:20-23) – not in relation to a specific job fit.

So, really, what are we as Christians called to?

WHAT’S MY CALLING?

I AM CALLED TO CHRISTLIKENESS

As a Christian, God calls me to reflect His image into His world. As someone freed from sin, God calls me to stand firm in the freedom I now have (Galatians 5:1, Romans 6:1-2, 15), and not misappropriate this freedom as a chance to sin (Galatians 5:13).

Instead, I am to use my freedom to care for the world God has given us, by loving and serving God (Romans 6:22, 1 Peter 2:16) and His people.

I AM CALLED TO HOLINESS

Ephesians 4:22-24 tells me that as someone reconciled to God, I put off my old self, which is corrupt through deceitful desires and which refuses to trust and serve Christ. Instead, I put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

In being reconciled to God, He gives me a new identity in Christ, and calls me to live out the evidence of my new identity by being an imitator of God (Ephesians 5:1), shown through kindness and compassion to those around me, forgiving them as Christ first forgave me (Ephesians 4:32).

I AM CALLED TO THE HOPE OF ETERNAL LIFE

God calls me to bear His image by displaying personal holiness, knowing that I have reason to persevere in this – in anticipation of the hope of eternal life with God when Christ returns (Ephesians 4:4).  As part of God’s family, I know I am part of His people who are called to eternal life (1 Timothy 6:12), through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the Truth (2 Thessalonians 2:13, 14).

In response, I live out my sanctification as He enables me.

Stuart Townend’s modern hymn, There is a Hope, sums up God’s calling best: My highest calling and my deepest call, to make His will my home.

I believe that the Bible tells me that as a Christian, God’s main calling in my life is for me to bear His image and participate in His redemptive work in the world to bring people to Christ in all aspects of my life.

This doesn’t mean that God cannot or will not call me to a particular career – He may, if He chooses. But it suggests that God’s calling in my life goes deeper than a workplace calling.

Instead, the call to a specific career is secondary to His primary calling. Any marketplace mission I’m sent on is His means to redeem the world. This could happen in any work place, as we display Christ-like behaviours such as compassion, kindness, humility and patience (Colossians 3:12).

My role in my work place – and yours – is to represent Christ fully in my career. This calling is for everyone, regardless of the field we find ourselves in.

/ eudora@thir.st

Eudora found herself writing on public platforms by chance. Apart from writing, she likes many random things, including spoken word poetry, adult colouring books, tea, stationery and fresh, clean laundry.

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Why I’m (still) a Christian

by | 11 August 2017, 5:09 PM

My first exposure to Christianity was when I attended Sunday School, age 4.

I said the sinner’s prayer at age 7 after learning that people who did not follow Jesus would be thrown into hell. Being trapped in a fire was one of my greatest fears.

Then I began to doubt.

I started questioning whether I had said the sinner’s prayer in the right way. Unsure about my salvation, I would say the sinner’s prayer periodically.

On hindsight, I had become a believer out of fear, rather than out of an understanding of God’s love for me.

The “Christian” things I did in my childhood came out of a blind obedience to what the adults in my life deemed as appropriate. Merely practising a religion, I never thought to question any of it.

I memorised Bible verses weekly in Church. I breezed through all the Scripture memory quizzes. In secondary school, I attended a mission school, with regular Chapel sessions.

One might say I was a model Christian child.

In a safe environment, I was encouraged to ask hard questions about my faith as we tested the reliability of the Scriptures.

In my teens, I was introduced to several books which aimed to prove the historicity and truth about Christianity. Despite this, I never challenged myself to investigate for myself how reliable the Christian faith was.

I was afraid of the implications if I were to discover that the Christian faith couldn’t hold water. I was just as afraid of the fire then – as I had been at seven.

So, as you can see, holding on to the faith hasn’t been the most pain-free, clear-cut process for me. Yet, in spite of these struggles, I remain a Christian today. Why?

I follow God despite having the liberty, as a fully grown adult, to choose my faith. Why?

After I had completed my A-levels, an old friend invited me to a Bible study session at her university’s Christian Fellowship group. I had no plans for that day, so I agreed to join her.

This meeting turned out to be the first of many, showing me the Bible wasn’t a collection of disparate stories, but a single story of God’s redemptive plan for mankind — told in parts across different generations.

In a safe environment, I was encouraged to ask hard questions about my faith as we tested the reliability of the Scriptures.

These meetings helped me take Christianity seriously. This turned my faith around.

As I journeyed with my Bible study group and read widely, God led me to Himself. For the very first time, I developed my personal faith convictions:

1. We are saved for good works — not by them.

At the core of other faiths is the notion that Man is saved by following a certain moral code, which earns him favour in the sight of their deities.

However, the God of the Christian faith initiated the salvation of His people, despite our fallen nature (Ephesians 2:5, Romans 5:8). While Christians are called to do good works, this is the outward expression of our faith. Good works are our response to salvation — not an attempt to merit it. (Titus 2:14, Ephesians 2:10)

When I discovered this truth, I was set free.

2. We are saved by grace through faith, into a relationship.

Christians believe that only Jesus Christ saves. No man could ever be good enough to make it to Heaven on our own merit (Romans 3:23). Instead of despondency, however, God offers hope. In His grace, He sent His Son Jesus to mend the brokenness of this fallen world and reconcile His people to Himself.

My salvation is God’s gift, by His sovereign grace and mercy. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

This is why I continue in the Christian faith. In my heart, I know that God chose me — despite my brokenness and inadequacies. I’ve been freed to live as the Lord God has called me to, a far cry from my childhood’s misguided attempts at appeasement.

I had grown up, only to be born again. But this time, I am no longer a slave to good deeds for salvation. I am a child of God.

/ eudora@thir.st

Eudora found herself writing on public platforms by chance. Apart from writing, she likes many random things, including spoken word poetry, adult colouring books, tea, stationery and fresh, clean laundry.

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Welcoming others into the church family

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Ownself plan own funeral – can or not?

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The uncommon mission field: Reaching those with special needs

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Is it okay to be competitive?

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What’s in a mission trip that I should go for one?

When it’s okay to say “No”

What I learnt from my first mission trip

What’s the point of church if we can worship God anywhere?

Are we all called to certain jobs?

Why I’m (still) a Christian