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Nobody said it was easy

by | 22 October 2017, 1:27 AM

Pain, porridge and mashed potatoes.

If you’ve ever had braces for your teeth, you might know what I’m talking about. It’s been 7 months since I got mine, little metallic pieces glued permanently onto my teeth. 

Friends warned me of the wires and the ulcers, but I had decided that the other side of pain and suffering – straight teeth – was worth it. There are days when even speaking is hard, but I’ve never thought of quitting. Straight teeth and my impending jaw surgery to correct my underbite will be worth it!

Doesn’t that paint a picture of the hope of transformation of our Christian walk itself?

We go through pain and suffering when we realise that what’s on the other side — being made more like Christ — is worth it (2 Corinthians 3:18).

When we make that decision to get aligned with His will, we don’t have to be discouraged when the growing gets tough – and sometimes downright impossible to endureInstead, we choose to rely on God’s grace to ultimately transform us into His likeness, if we stay the course (Philippians 1:6).

It will be daily hard work not to give free rein to our sinful nature – the natural way things are. But it’s always worth letting God do His work to change our carnal habits and straighten our slanted thought patterns.

Having grown up in a cage, it feels safer to remain a slave to our sin rather than be free in the wild. Left on our own, I believe most of us would rather take the path of least resistance than to fight.

In the holding room between slavery and the Promised Land, the Israelites sought the familiarity of a full stomach (Exodus 16:3). In bondage, they could eat all the meat they wanted. And after days and weeks and months of God-given manna out in the wilderness, they suddenly found themselves craving the “comforts” of slavery over their freedom.

Sound familiar?

When we make that decision to get aligned with His will, we don’t have to be discouraged when the growing gets tough.

It was in the uncomfortable desert that the Israelites’ true nature — their preference for temporal comfort and instant gratification — was brought to light. They had cried out for years for deliverance, yet had somehow forgotten God’s divine intervention and mercy in granting them exactly what they wanted (Exodus 3:9-10).

For as long as we refuse to let God’s Word convict us of our sins (James 1:22-25) and anchor our hope in His faithfulness to have our best interests at heart always, we will remain unchanged, unrepentant and ungrateful. To yank open the curtains and let light expose the truth about us, that’s scary. But we’re doing it for the God of love (1 John 4:16).

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24)

I believe God has a bigger plan for you than to let you remain in your old ways.

Our old self is corrupted and deceitful. We must abandon it for good, putting on the new self as God’s blood-bought children.

God promised the Israelites ownership of an entire land flowing with milk and honey, yet the Israelites would rather be slaves for meat. But we are no longer slaves. When we’re inclined to grumble as the Israelites did, let’s remember that God can give us more than we can ever hope for ourselves (Ephesians 3:20) – even if we do not see it yet . 

Don’t lose your faith in the holding room. Grace began the work in us and Grace will see us through. Our inheritance is on the other side of faith and patience (Hebrews 6:11-12), and it will be worth it.

Nobody said it was going to be easy. But neither does it have to be that hard.

/ fiona@thir.st

Fiona is secretly hilarious. One of her dogs thinks so too. She loves a good chat with strangers, store assistants, and fluffy dogs.

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The grand old man and his treasure

by | 20 October 2017, 5:23 PM

“Yes, boy, you may pick the most expensive toy in the shop, and I’ll give it to you.”

The owner of the toy shop, a grand old man, came beside the boy, crouched down, and asked him: “Would you give up all your other toys in exchange for it?”

He saw the boy’s excitement quickly fade when he said this. He had seen the same look in the eyes of the other children who had come through his doors before.

“Thank you sir, that sounds like a nice offer, but I will pass.”

They couldn’t see how even the most expensive toy in that shop was worth giving up all their toys for.

And that’s how the grand old man’s prized treasure remained on the highest shelf. No one was willing to give up all their toys for it.

Until one day, another young boy wandered onto the street where the toy shop stood.

For the first time, someone realised that the old man was offering him something quite extraordinary, to someone so undeserving.

The grand old man saw him from afar, and beckoned him over.

In a kind voice, he said what he always said, “Boy, you may pick the most expensive toy in the store, and I’ll give it to you. Would you also give up all your other toys, in exchange for it?”

“But even if I gave you all I have, it won’t be enough,” the boy said.

For the first time, someone had realised that fact.

The grand old man beamed, “Yes, boy, I know, but that’s why I’m giving it away – to you.”

“But why would you do that? Why would you give me your treasure?”

Again, for the first time, someone realised that the old man was offering him something quite extraordinary, to someone so undeserving.

“I’m looking for someone who would treasure it,” the old man said. “And you, my child, are someone who understands what I’m saying here.”

“Yes, sir, I do understand what you’re saying. Please wait for me, I will go home at once to gather my things.”

The story of the grand old man and his expensive treasure is the story of God and us.

In our story, yours and mine, God offers us Jesus Christ (John 3:16).

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Roman 6:23)

The gift of God – Jesus Christ – doesn’t seem terribly extravagant, or even necessary, until we feel the sting of sicknesss, disease and death.

The gift of God – Jesus Christ – doesn’t seem that desirable and precious to us, until we taste the bitterness of sin.

God’s gift of eternal life is not one for polite display, casual entertainment or back-of-mind remembrance.

To receive Jesus – God’s treasure – is to receive forgiveness for our sins and mistakes. To receive Jesus is to know our Maker and to spend our lives with Him – it’s life as it should be, life as it can be.

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” (Revelation 3:20)

The giving up of our personal treasures – all that we have – can never be the key to receiving God’s gift that He freely gives.

From the moment we can even begin to understand what the gift of Jesus Christ truly means for us, as the second young boy in the story did, it will show:

“But why would you do that? Why would you give me your treasure?”

God’s heart for us is that we understand His heart for us:

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.”

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” 

(Matthew 13:44-46)

The gift of salvation, of Jesus Christ, of welcome into God’s kingdom – cannot be bought; it can only be received.

Therefore, the giving up of our personal treasures – all that we have – can never be the key to receiving God’s gift that He freely gives.

It is but an indicator (Matthew 6:21) that we have indeed realised – and now see – the surpassing worth of having God in our lives:

“Yes, Sir, I do understand what You’re saying. Please wait for me, I will go home at once to gather my things.”

Everything else pales in comparison.

And God waits for us, as the grand old man did at the doors of his toy shop, for His children to come to Him, in joy, so that He may give us the very Kingdom itself:

“But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:31-32)

As A.W. Tower led his readers in prayer in The Pursuit of God: “Father, I want to know You, but my coward heart fears to give up its toys. I cannot part with them without inward bleeding, and I do not try to hide from You the terror of parting. I come trembling, but I do come. Please root from my heart all those things which I have cherished so long and which have become a very part of my living self, so that You may enter and dwell there without rival.” Amen.

/ fiona@thir.st

Fiona is secretly hilarious. One of her dogs thinks so too. She loves a good chat with strangers, store assistants, and fluffy dogs.

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What if I’m just a calefare?

by | 12 October 2017, 3:48 PM

As you scan the crowded bus for a seat, you see a familiar book cover. Ah, somebody’s reading the same book as you! At the cinema, the crowd’s in-sync surround-sound laughter triggers a split second where awareness meets detachment – you’re again reminded that we’re not all that different.

We co-exist in the same time and space, together with a lot of people. We are passersby in the blurry background of a stranger’s story – hundreds of times a day – but that sense of vagueness is easily broken by a smile, a collective chuckle in a movie, a “today weather very hot ah“, a shared interest with a fellow human …

These connections tug on our heartstrings to the extent that you allow it. And if you do, the music that it makes cannot be ignored. There is something grand and poetic about our existence –  listen close enough and you’ll hear it. 

But life is never easy to navigate. It’s like buying furniture from IKEA, you have to assemble it, put things together. And you cannot opt for assembly service.

Top of the World” by the Carpenters was my favourite song growing up. Back in the day, home printers weren’t a thing yet so I would hand-write the lyrics on paper and sing my heart out to it.

“Such a feeling’s coming over me, there is wonder in most everything I see.”

That was my favourite line (if I really had to choose one) from the theme song of my childhood. When I first stepped foot into primary school, I was that kid who was always filled with wonder and ready to conquer the world.

And you can probably guess what’s coming next.

The rose-tinted lens through which I saw life began to lose its sheen. Nothing seemed to be happening for me anymore.

I didn’t feel as special as I used to, my family was falling apart, and I was lagging behind at school.

The new recurring theme of disappointment in my life made me consider if perhaps I was born just to be a film extra – a calefare, a nobody – in the grand scheme of things. Maybe I just wasn’t main-character material.

Yet in my heart, I knew that it wasn’t so. There was a gulf that had to be bridged – one within my very conscience. How could I possibly feel like a nobody and a somebody at the same time?

“You’re nobody till somebody loves you
You’re nobody till somebody cares”

(Russ Morgan, Larry Stock, and James Cavanaugh)

These lines are from the famous pop song first published in 1946 and made popular by Dean Martin. It’s one of those things that sound like a truism. But is it?

If a child came up to me, crying, saying that he feels unloved, I probably wouldn’t tell him that there is a possibility he might be right, even if I felt that way about myself sometimes.

I would ask him about his parents, his friends and his family. And even if the evidence shows that that child is indeed unloved by all the people who should have loved him – we know in our hearts that he should be loved. 

Some of us would rather be convinced that we are not nobody, but isn’t there greater comfort in knowing that we’re loved by somebody?

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

God, the King of all Heaven and Earth, fought to be our somebody.

Regardless whether you believe in God, the fact remains: God loves you and so gave His life so that you may know His love for you.

And if there’s even just a smidgen of hope in your heart that you are not nobody, despite what circumstances might suggest, would you consider the possibility that it is because God – the greatest Somebody – first loved you? 

Even before your parents could, even before anyone else did, He loved you.

When someone says that “Jesus died on the cross for you”, it can sound quite jarring. I used to think that it was a bit uncalled for since I didn’t ask Him to die for me! But if Jesus didn’t die for us (John 3:16), we cannot say for certain that He loves us.

Would you consider the possibility that it is because God – the greatest Somebody – first loved you?

We are all valuable because God first loved us. And that is the firm foundation for our worth, one worthy to build our lives upon (2 Thessalonians 3:5).

What are the things that give you a sense of security in your worth as a person?

Is it a big loving family? A great group of friends (#squadgoals), a 10/10 spouse, or a promising career?

If there is even a chance – no matter how slight – that those things may fail you, then it is at best shifting-sand when compared to the security that God’s love promises us.

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

Knowledge of this Love frees us to persist in wonder, no matter what life throws at us.

You’re somebody because God loves you!

/ fiona@thir.st

Fiona is secretly hilarious. One of her dogs thinks so too. She loves a good chat with strangers, store assistants, and fluffy dogs.

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I’m way too bad at goodbyes

by | 9 October 2017, 4:20 PM

Sam Smith says he’s too good at goodbyes. Me too.

I used to pride myself on being the stronger person – that I’d be the one who would get over a relationship faster. I’m the one who feels less. I’m the one who loves less. I’ll get out before it’s over.

In the game of relationships, I had to be the better player.

But in the pursuit of proving myself, I forgot to ask: Even if I win, what’s the prize? So I found out the hard way, one day, when it was Game Over and I didn’t get to say goodbye first.

Player 1 left, and I was left hanging.

Everything people said about breakups was true. There’s nothing more maddening than to have clichés come true in your own life. I finally understood why people use the term “heart-wrenching” – it felt that way.

Even the air I breathed felt thinned out – it was suffocating, and I didn’t know if I could ever recover as all the lights in my world started to dim.

I wanted time to stop. I wanted everyone else to stop what they were doing. How could life go on like that?

But on the outside, I tried my best to function. I smiled, I ate, and I worked. But with my bedroom door closed, in the very room where I heard him say goodbye, I could barely manage to stand.

For days, I laid on the floor in my room because I couldn’t do anything else. I don’t think I’d ever felt this much pain in my life. I was angry and I was mad. But I knew I had to stay alive.

So I ran to a quiet room – to meet with God. It sounds like a cliché, doesn’t it – “Yeah, go to God.” But it was the only thing I knew could save me from the overwhelming grief that threatened to swallow me up.

I sat there with a box of tissues. I didn’t ask for answers, I didn’t even ask why it had to happen. I simply asked for His presence.

God didn’t show up like a genie, because my pain didn’t go away immediately. He didn’t come in a rushing wind, or in any dramatic fashion, and my heart was still in pieces.

But in my brokenness, I saw my desperate need for God. God was my lifeline and I refused to let go.

You will cry a lot, but don’t let go.

My road out of the confusing fog of pain was a long one, and it wasn’t always clear if I really was walking out of it. But I was thankful for the drab routines. It was in the winding journey of showing up for work and my small conversations with strangers that life began to form again in the shell of a person I had become.

Everything in me screamed for isolation, but God knew that I needed people. So at my new workplace, without even mentioning my newly-broken heart, I began to experience healing – just by being in the company of people.

In the months ahead, I learnt to laugh again. And I learnt to feel. The raw and fierce pain wrapped up in my heart helped me to empathise with others who are also hurting, others who are also in pits of despair of their own.

In the messy aftermath of aborted relationships, failure and regrets are never far away. But I now know that grace and mercy are also never far away.

There are days when I felt like I’ve moved on, and then other days when out of nowhere, my old friend grief comes by and reminds me of the things I don’t need. Don’t you wish for complete closure? Don’t you want more answers? You’re a failure!

When anxiety wants to take over and replay the unpleasant memories, I’ve learnt that the only way out of it to refuse going down that path.

Unlike Sam Smith, I don’t think I need to be good at it, but I have to say goodbye.

Heartache is always just one ingredient in the nasty concoction of lost love. In the messy aftermath of aborted relationships, failure and regrets are never far away.

And from my own experience, I know that grace and mercy are also never far away. It came in the form of work that kept me occupied. It came in the quiet knowing that I’m going be okay. It came in my resolve to want to be okay. It came in God’s outstretched arm to me.

I don’t know how He did it, but God used every bit of my pain to bring me closer to Him. It wasn’t wasted. I could have easily gone the other way – further away from Him and deeper into the grave of self-pity – but I’m grateful that He saved me from that.

The girl who wanted to be good at goodbyes was simply afraid of being unloved. I used to believe that I wasn’t worthy of love because I’m not pretty enough. I believed that who I am wasn’t enough. I believed that I had to carry my family baggage of divorce forever. 

I wanted to be proven wrong – to find someone who would never leave. I had to learn that that’s a job only God can do. He alone can love us perfectly and give us worth.

When everything fell to the ground, I was destroyed. But bit by bit, over 6 months, God spoke His truth into me. He relaid my foundation when He told me that I am loved by Him, no matter what happened in the past.

He got me to rethink the notion that I had to carry my family baggage forever, because it just wasn’t true. So I surrendered it and finally accepted the new life that He gives, and left the old one behind – for good.

So … I don’t have to be good at goodbyes anymore.

And neither do you. If you’re going through a similar experience – you’ll be okay, because God loves you, and His love is a dependable one (Romans 8:38-39). If you doubt that God loves you, ask Him to show it to you. Let God– not another woman or man – prove it to you.

/ fiona@thir.st

Fiona is secretly hilarious. One of her dogs thinks so too. She loves a good chat with strangers, store assistants, and fluffy dogs.

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Are you favourite child material?

by | 2 October 2017, 5:26 PM

“Madam Lim doesn’t hate anyone in our class. She loves everyone. But she doesn’t have to like everyone.”

That was my reply to a classmate when we were in Primary 3.

We were walking in twos up a makeshift staircase to our temporary assembly hall as my friend asked the group, perhaps as a trick question: “Do you think Madam Lim hates anyone in our class?”

It was not plausible to my nine-year-old mind then that our teacher could hate any student in the class, hence my answer.

But I also knew it was one thing not to be hated, but another thing to be liked as a child.

In my young mind, since everyone is already loved – as if by default – to be liked was the elusive element that made it more desirable. 

To be loved but not liked felt like a lesser trophy, a consolation prize.

Perhaps it was the #asianparenting; I knew they loved me – but I wasn’t always convinced that my parents liked me. Especially when I failed my Math exam, when I didn’t match up to other kids in some way, or when I didn’t get into that secondary school.

Few of us might contest that our parents love us, but the debate on who’s the favourite child – the one they like most – can be a touchy topic.

And perhaps that’s why some of us get tired of hearing “God loves you”.

“He says that to everyone! And I’m sure He likes (so and so) more.”

You might not be challenging the notion that God loves you in general, but you may be unconvinced that He really likes you – specifically you. 

Think about the people you’d want to hang out with for lunch – these are the ones you like. You enjoy their company, you’re interested in their opinion on things and you want to hear about what’s going on in their lives.

And the truth is, that’s how God feels about us. He’s not indifferent; his love is not lavished upon us indiscriminately or casually – but very purposefully. He knew what He was signing up for when He proclaimed His feelings towards you on the Cross. 

God knows each of us.

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”
(Psalm 139:13-14)

And He likes us! He wants to hear about what’s going on in our lives. He doesn’t just love you out of obligation or from afar. He’s deeply interested in all that goes on in our lives and He wants to be with us.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Philippians 4:6)

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

“When I said, ‘My foot is slipping,’ your unfailing love, Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.” (Psalm 94:18-19)

“The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17)

Dare you let your heart rest in the truth that your heavenly Father delights in you?

He doesn’t compare you to the next person and He doesn’t ask you why aren’t you like so and so. God made you in His image (Genesis 1:27) and you – yes you! – are wonderful to Him.

So won’t you lay aside your buts and ifs and boldly love Him back?

When we finally come to a place where we know once and for all that we will always be deeply loved (Psalm 100:5) by our Father, our love for Him shall never wane – but only grow with each passing day.

That’s what a favourite child’s love for his perfect Father looks like.

Will you be His favourite child?

/ fiona@thir.st

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Mission: Possible

by | 29 September 2017, 10:45 AM

The topic of missions is not a comfortable one to talk about – sometimes not even in our cell groups. It questions our willingness to do the unnatural and the uncomfortable.

But we have a mission – and a Great Commission – to accomplish.

If we see ourselves as His disciples, our Christian mission is a singular purpose we orient our lives around, and it doesn’t always involve an air ticket to a faraway place. Mission doesn’t have to mean overseas trip.

Check the thesaurus – other words for mission are “purpose” and “function”. When we look at it this way, we recognise that our lives are meant to be lived as an answer to God’s call. That’s our purpose, our function. Our mission.

And while we all have the same mission (Matthew 28:19-20), we may be called to carry out our mission in multiple ways.

Here are 9 different realms of missions to help us get some handles on our mission – what we are called to.

WHICH OF THESE 9 FORMS OF MISSIONS ARE YOU CALLED TO?

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EVANGELISM
Isaiah 52:7, Luke 10:1-9, Mark 1:15

What emotions does the word evangelism stir up in you?

I’m a first-generation Christian who only got to hear about Jesus because a secondary school classmate plucked up the courage to tell me about the Christ. So when I think about evangelism, it’s a picture of Jesus reaching out to me through my friend.

To evangelise is to tell the story of what God has done for us through Jesus Christ.

We are not the gift; Jesus is. We point people to the Source, the Living Water, so that they might find Him, quenching their thirst for a real Hope in all of life’s conundrums.

Think about your mission: Are there people around me who hasn’t heard of the story of Jesus? Am I living a lifestyle of evangelism? Am I mindful to build genuine relationships with my friends and neighbours? Do I enjoy telling other people about Jesus?

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RECONCILIATION
2 Corinthians 5:17-20, Matthew 5:9, Matthew 5:43-45

God kickstarted the work of reconciling all man back to Him when he sent Jesus to the world, so that through him, our sins may be atoned for and forgiven. Jesus was the Way (John 14:6) for us to return to God.

The mission continues today for all of us Christians whom God has called to be His ambassadors: Through acts of forgiveness, we provide people with access to healing and restoration that comes from God. We’re called to be peace-makers.

Think about your mission: Are there people we need to reconcile with? Are there people we can bring together for reconciliation? Are there divisive social issues that we can intercede for to ask for God’s move of reconciliation?

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CONTEXTUALISATION
1 Corinthians 9:19-23, Acts 15:28-29

Jesus came for the world – that’s a lot of people. A lot of different people.

The good thing is that Jesus didn’t call us to all be the same, we only have to be like Him. And depending on the cultures that we are from, even that may look a little different.

That’s where contextualisation comes into the picture. It’s about bringing the Gospel to people wherever they are, helping them to understand what it means to follow, love, and honour God in their culture.

Because we are so different, we express our love for God in different ways. People should be able to love Christ without having to dress, worship, or do things the same way as us.

Think about your mission: How can we bring Jesus to people from other cultures in our community? How can I help them to understand the gospel? How can I encourage them to lead a Godly lifestyle within their culture?

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MERCY
Micah 6:8; James 1:27

Mercy is the healing balm that heals hearts and restores relationships, but it’s not a quick-fix solution. Mercy cannot be applied through batch processing.

The act of mercy requires us to care for people, one person at a time, just as Jesus tends to each of us personally.

Mercy is the practice of serving others, especially the needy, poor, and disadvantaged. And it requires love, time, and humility. When we respond with mercy to the people around us, we respond to God’s love towards us.

Think about your mission: How can we extend God’s love towards the poor and needy? Are there people in my community whom I can show mercy to? Can I regularly carve out a portion of my free time to help those who are in need?

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ADVOCACY
Esther 4:13-14, Proverbs 31:8-9, Nehemiah 5:1-12

Advocacy. It’s a big word. But if you pray for others, you’re already an advocate – someone who raises a case to God on behalf of someone else.

An advocate is also someone who supports a cause. Advocacy is the act of transforming political and social structures to align more closely with the Kingdom of God.

Some ways to advocate God’s kingdom could be by creating awareness, exposing evil agendas (eg human trafficking), showing solidarity and mobilising the church to act.

Is there a particular cause or injustice that you feel needs to be changed? Regardless of your position in society, there is something you can do as an advocate who is on a mission.

Think about your mission: What are some social issues we see a need for advocacy? Disadvantaged youths; foreign workers; marriages; families. Will I play a part in bringing God’s kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10)?

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FRIENDSHIP
1 John 1:3, John 15:13-15, James 2:23

God first extended friendship to us (John 15:15). And friendship is Jesus’s way of reaching people regardless of their status in society, gender, or religion.

Jesus crossed cultural boundaries (Matthew 4:9) to befriend the Samaritan woman at the well; He knew the state of her life, spoke to her need and offered her a way out. Jesus saw Zacchaeus, a tax collector hated by many, and stayed at his house and forgave him.

Friendships built on long-term relationships lead to mutual personal transformation or societal change. It’s how we display God’s love to the people around us, in or out of the church.

If you want to display God’s love, build friendships. With friendship, people no longer become “conversion targets” or goals in an outreach project, but lives that Jesus came to rescue. A soul isn’t a statistic.

Think about your mission: Are we passive in cultivating and maintaining friendships? What is our attitude towards our co-labourers in ministry? Are we driven by task or love?

7/9

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INTER-RELIGIOUS CONNECTIONS
2 Kings 5:1-6, 1 Peter 3:15, Acts 17:16-21

How often do you come into contact with someone of a different faith? And have you taken the time to understand where they come from?

Paul modelled it for us. When he was in Athens, he didn’t only talk about the good news of God in church, but spoke in the marketplace (Acts 17:16-17) as well. By placing himself in the marketplace, Paul had the opportunity to speak to people of different faiths, and in turn, got to speak about his own faith in God.

A group of Greek philosophers invited him to speak (Acts 17:19-20). Though some sneered at him because he spoke about God’s power, still some others became followers of God because of what they had heard (Acts 17:32-24).

Think about your mission: How are we cultivating friendships with those from other faiths? How well do we understand their faiths and customs? How can I boldly yet respectfully proclaim my own faith?

8/9

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CREATION CARE
Genesis 1:28, Genesis 2:15, Deuteronomy 10:14

By caring for God’s creation, particularly the natural world, we are being good stewards. If God affirms that His creation is good, then as His good stewards, we need to be responsible with it.

We know the 3Rs: Reduce, reuse, recycle. But we don’t often see it as part of our Christian mission. Exercising care for the world that God created goes beyond a national campaign or political agenda.

So the next time you see a poster to “make every drop count”, remember our Creator’s part in giving us everything we have on Earth, and our responsibility not to take this gift for granted.

Think about your mission: Do we recognise that our natural world was created by God? Do we see ourselves as a steward of God’s creation?

9/9

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HOLY SPIRIT
Acts 1:8, John 20:21-23, Romans 15:13

“Mission is, from first to last, the work of the Holy Spirit.” (Scott Sunquist)

Our quest to fulfil the mission cannot be done apart from the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit empowers us to be participants in God’s mission. By the Spirit we have supernatural power to change the hearts of men and bring salvation to them.

There is no contest where the resurrection power of God is concerned – He alone conquered death. And because of that – we have a Mission Possible.

Think about your mission: Do we depend on the Holy Spirit’s leading in my daily life? Do I recognise the power of the Holy Spirit? Do I operate in the power of the Holy Spirit or in my own strength?

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-20)


The 9 practices of mission were adapted by Pastor Eunice Low from Bethesda (Bedok-Tampines) Church, from her studies at Fuller Theological Seminary, in a module titled “Practices of Mission”.

/ fiona@thir.st

Fiona is secretly hilarious. One of her dogs thinks so too. She loves a good chat with strangers, store assistants, and fluffy dogs.

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Reflections on sudden deaths and unexpected tragedy: Our time will come

by | 27 September 2017, 5:46 PM

I knew Steven Lim, but I hadn’t heard of Pradip Subramanian. Not until the news started to pour in.

Subramanian, the president of the World Bodybuilding & Physique Sports Federation (WBPF) Singapore wing, had died an hour after a celebrity Muay Thai match at the Asia Fighting Championship (AFC) on September 23, 2017. He wasn’t even supposed to be in the ring – he was a last-minute stand-in for Sylvester Sim, who pulled out citing insurance concerns.

With all the fake news around today, I wish this had been fake news.

Death is all over the headlines. In the last few weeks, we’ve tuned in to news about multiple Category 5 hurricanes devastating North and Central America, and earthquakes in Central and South-west Mexico.

But those are in countries halfway around the world, and the news is reduced to mere numbers – death tolls. Sometimes it’s hard, from this distance, to really grasp the tragedy unfolding. Which is why, sometimes, the news of an unexpected and sudden death closer to home hits us harder.

Pradip’s death hits harder because he’s one of us. He’s a young Singaporean son, just 32 years old. Earlier this month, we lost another – an even younger soldier – in an army training exercise mishap.

This life matters only because of what follows it. How are we living our lives?

Death is no respecter of persons, and it could be any one of us next.

A traffic accident, sudden heart failure, or cancer – life can come to a sudden halt at any time. Death, especially the passing of a loved one, brings us to the solemn realisation that life really is short.

Memento mori. Death is a certainty, a prognosis we cannot run from. The day to say goodbye to our loved ones will come, or maybe it will be them bidding us farewell. It may come sooner than expected, or in ways we never thought would befall us.

Time runs out for everyone. And only a few things will hold up when that day comes:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. (Matthew 6:19-20)

You do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. (James 4:14)

What is your life? What is worth living for? What is worth dying for? What are we fighting for?

Many people say it’s about the legacy they leave behind. But the Bible teaches me that, someday, that too shall pass.

See, I will create new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. (Isaiah 65:17)

The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:17)

Nothing of this earth, in this life, will stand the test of time. Not the heavens and earth as they now stand. Not the world and its desires. Not our monuments, accolades, wealth, plaudits, dreams, ambitions.

This life matters only because of what follows it. In the light of eternity, how are we living our lives?

/ fiona@thir.st

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Chicken soup for the Cineleisure Auntie

by | 20 September 2017, 5:39 PM

“Have you bought anything from her before?”
“No …”

I still wish I could change my answer. I wish I had bought something from her.

My friend was referring to the “Cineleisure Auntie” – a familiar white-haired stranger who used to sit at one of the busiest intersections on Orchard Road. Perhaps you’ve seen her between Mandarin Gallery and H&M, ever-present with an assortment of food items to sell.

Feeling guilty, I did think about buying something from her every time we crossed paths, maybe stay for a chat. Yet I chose not to, for there was always somewhere else to be – I never had enough reason to stay.

Next time, I reasoned.

Several months later, I would finally do something for that old auntie – just not in a way I ever expected.

 JUNE 6, 2014. I was in a morning class at school.

Out of the blue, Cineleisure Auntie suddenly popped into my head. I was surprised at the sheer strength of the impulse to look for her. 

I knew I had to.

I messaged a few friends who also knew her about my decision so I wouldn’t back out. I began to think and plan that afternoon: What could I bring for her? Does she drink coffee? Maybe I could bring doughnuts …

Then, one of my friends replied my text message.

Cineleisure Auntie had been hospitalised. I would not be able to find her at her usual spot anymore. This setback would surely have ended my quest in the past, but somehow, it was different this time.

As I waited for more news, I decided to go home to see if there was anything I could bring along in the event someone discovered her exact whereabouts. On my way back, I received another text message.

In the message was the name of the hospital and ward number Cineleisure Auntie was staying in.

When I got home, I was greeted by a surprised Mum – I wasn’t supposed to be home till later. She pointed to a large pot on the dining table and said, “I had a prompting in my heart that I should make soup today, even though none of you will be home for dinner tonight.”

The voices of doubt that had been stirring in my heart faded away.

Later, at about 2 in the afternoon, Mum and I arrived at Singapore General Hospital – armed with a thermos flask of chicken soup.

Block 6, Level 4, Ward 64, Room 18, Bed 5. I recited those lines several times in my mind while waiting in line to get a visitor pass.

I wondered what Cineleisure Auntie would be like: Would she welcome us? Does she speak Mandarin – or only dialect? Why is she in the hospital?

It was a big and open ward. There were eight beds and no privacy. Bed 5 was all the way inside, but it was by the window, at least. Cineleisure Auntie’s hair looked a lot whiter than I had remembered.

“Hello, Ah Ma.”

And with that, we became friends. Cineleisure Auntie warmed up to us quickly, especially when I told her I was a student. But what really worked was that pot of chicken soup.

Mum told Cineleisure Auntie that Heaven is where God is – a place where there would be no more pain.

Over the next two days, we bonded over Ben & Jerry’s and bird’s nest. We learnt that she was suffering from Stage 4 colon cancer. Her condition was deteriorating fast; her doctor had lifted her dietary restrictions so that she could enjoy the time she had left.

Though she would drift in and out of consciousness, Cineleisure Auntie’s wits were always sharp whenever she awoke. In her lucid moments, we talked about our Teochew roots, and sometimes about the discomfort that she was feeling in her abdomen.

Mum talked to her about Heaven. She told her that Heaven is where God is – a place where there would be no more pain (Revelation 21:4).

It was my first time hearing about Heaven in dialect, and while I only understood bits and pieces of what they were talking about, I could see in Cineleisure Auntie’s eyes that she was listening intently. I believe she understood everything that was being shared with her.

Finally, my Mum asked her to pray to Jesus and welcome Him into her heart. She did.

Four days later, she slipped into a coma and passed away shortly after.

Although Cineleisure Auntie lived alone and had no kin, she wasn’t alone in her last days at the hospital. A group of friends were there for her daily, rallied by a young student named Shermaine, who had befriended her during her hawking days. 

Facebook user Tere Han had posted about Cineleisure Auntie’s deteriorating health condition. Shermaine responded by tracking her down, from her house to the hospital she was admitted to.

If it wasn’t for Shermaine, who persisted in looking for an old lady she was not obliged to care for, or our mutual friend who helped me connect the dots, I may never have been able to meet Cineleisure Auntie.

I also suspect that if it wasn’t for Diane – the writer who chronicled her encounter with Cineleisure Auntie in a blog post that went viral – I may not have kept her in my mind for as long as I did. Only now do I realise to my amazement that the day I made my very first hospital visit to meet Cineleisure Auntie was an exact year after Diane’s post was published.

Each of us had our own story as to how we got to know Cineleisure Auntie, but I know that God was the common thread that linked our stories together.

She may have spent most of her days surrounded by strangers passing her by, but at the end of her life, Cineleisure Auntie was surrounded by family, albeit of a different kind – people God had sent to bring her back to Him.

Each of us had our own story as to how we got to know Cineleisure Auntie, but I know that God was the common thread that linked our stories together.

He was the most important company she would keep during her final days on earth – and in the days beyond. All because we responded to the call to bring her some chicken soup and the Good News of Jesus Christ (John 3:16).

As we watched Cineleisure Auntie’s coffin roll past the viewing gallery into the furnace, the heavy atmosphere was punctured by joy when someone shouted: “Ah Ma, see you in Heaven!”

God, I’m so glad I got to meet Ah Ma. And I can’t wait to see her again.

/ fiona@thir.st

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Am I who my résumé says I am?

by | 17 September 2017, 8:28 AM

What do you say if someone asked you about yourself?

We’ve been through the drill in school – wait for your turn, think of something witty but not over-the-top, stand up in front of a group of strangers, deliver it.

As we go into higher education or into the working world, we meet people who are less like us – in terms of age, education background, or personality – and the pressure to impress can get #real.

To introduce ourselves, most of us might bring up our work – what we’re studying or do for a living – it comes quite instinctively as a normal (and effective!) act of self-disclosure to new acquaintances. It’s personal but not too personal.

But whenever our work comes up in a conversation, it’s hard to avoid the comparison game, isn’t it?

Sometimes you hear it in the chorus that the impressed group makes when they hear a job title that commands admiration, “Wah, doctor ah!”

Other times you hear it in the falling intonation from your new friend who hasn’t even heard of your company – “Oh…”

Work has been as inextricably tied to our identity as our names are; it’s what we tell people about ourselves. And more than we might realise, it has become what we feel makes us valuable and useful.

I had a fleeting thought one day: What if all my certificates and achievements over the years become nullified?

There will be a considerable amount of unraveling that’ll take place if my qualifications were no longer valid. All our hard work down the drain aside, are we still who we think we are?

For some of us, that thought is frightening. Perhaps because we’ve more to lose, perhaps because we’ve staked so much of our worth on our achievements.

When I look at my own résumé, it doesn’t seem to be much, especially when I compare myself to my peers who have not just studied at great universities abroad, but also excelled in their side pursuits.

But then I recognise that it is much in its own way.

While it may not win the jostle for a coveted job at a big firm, my résumé is a covert testimony.

If we know where to look, we can find gold – not just in our achievements, but in our personal triumphs too.

In the empty spaces between lines of black Helvetica, in the unwritten – lie the stories of our lives. We’ve gone through so much as people on a journey and we sometimes overlook the precious, personal details. Only we know the unwritten things. 

Only I know the lengths of which my mother went to ensure my education wasn’t disrupted by changes in the family. Only I know the emotional struggle I experienced trying to fit in at school. Only I know that it is by sheer grace that I have come so far.     

And these things don’t always show on the sheets of paper on which we summarise our “professional lives”.

“We live in a society that encourages us to think about how to have a great career but leaves many of us inarticulate about how to cultivate the inner life.” (David Brooks, author and New York Times columnist)

Résumés are created for scrutiny – often quite ruthlessly– but if we know where to look, we can find gold – not just in our achievements, but in our personal triumphs too. And if we miss those things, we risk placing all our worth in our achievements.

Take stock! Our personal growth cultivates in us something that cannot be nullified – it’s our inner life. Don’t neglect the seemingly uninspiring and unique details of your life, they may not be remarkable to the #haters, but they count for more than words can say. 

They count towards a story that is yours, written by the same God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Exodus 3:6). 

It may take you some time to see the greatness in you, but it’s there. So don’t stop smoothing out the rough edges and allowing yourself to be moulded into the person God made you to be (2 Corinthians 3:18).

So, yes, I am who my résumé says I am – and a whole lot more too.

/ fiona@thir.st

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Weighing the cost of an iPhone X

by | 14 September 2017, 5:08 PM

I remember my first.

It didn’t resemble a brick. Instead, it was yellow and black, like a bumblebee; the first mobile phone I remember ever seeing was an Ericsson. This was in 1997.

My mum’s new gadget – it wasn’t smart, but by no means was it dumb – was all the rage in my family. Everyone wanted to try the flip cover and type on the number pad. So satisfyingly analogue.

I got my first mobile phone (I think it was a Nokia 6100) a few years later. It didn’t matter that I didn’t have anyone else other than my parents to send text messages to – I had my own phone and I could do this:

That was the era of dial-up internet access, GPRS and ASCII christmas trees (before emojis 🎄).

In 2007, Steve Jobs gave us the first iPhone – the original iPhone. I got my first iPhone the following year, but I didn’t have a 3G phone plan, so it was practically useless without a WiFi connection.

I brought my new gadget everywhere anyway – because that’s what you do when you had an iPhone.

It was as much a status symbol as it is today. And it has always been priced as a premium product – the 32GB version of the iPhone 4 saw the crossing of the thousand-dollar threshold in Singapore.

Fast forward a decade, and the most expensive iPhone ever was launched on Tuesday (September 13).

But consumers aren’t so sure about jumping straight in this time round, because the iPhone X – Apple’s top-of-the-line 10th-anniversary iPhone – sells upwards of S$1,648 (without a phone contract!) in Singapore.

William Jevons, an English economist, wrote in 1871 that the value of a product depends on how much a person desired it. Consumers create value, not the producer.

The iPhone is a premium product and its value was never intended to be a function of the cost of the product.

How much you pay is a measure of what you truly value.

MY PALACE VS HIS TEMPLE

Maybe you, like me, sometimes struggle when it comes to holding back on spending in this age of conspicuous consumption.

Think about our readiness to spend on good things for ourselves, and compare that to our desire to spend on God. Giving to build His church, sowing into His kingdom, tithing.

There’s an equivalent comparison in the Bible. King Solomon built a splendorous temple for God (1 Kings 6:2), according to the specifications that God had given Him. You’d think that would be a good thing, right?

But the very next chapter (1 Kings 7:1-2) details the palace he built for himself. It took 13 years to complete, almost double the 7 years it took to build the temple.

According to the dimensions stated, the temple was 36,000 cubic cubits large (a cubit was a measurement based on the length of a forearm). But Solomon’s own palace measured 150,000 cubic cubits – more than four times larger than the temple he had built for God.

What about you? Do you spend more time and money building your own palace than His temple? Would you be willing to build a temple unto God that is bigger than your own palace?

Or even if we don’t spend much money on ourselves, are we actually using our resources to do what God has called us to do? We could be avoiding doing all the “wrong” things like spending on big-ticket, luxury items, yet never actually invest in the things that matter to God – putting our money where our mouth is.

Do you spend more time and money building your own palace than His temple? Would you be willing to build a temple unto God that is bigger than your own palace?

King Solomon may have gotten carried away with the scale of his palace, but there was one thing he did right: He built God’s temple first. It’s the principle from Haggai 1:4, which asks of the people: “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your panelled houses, while this house (the Temple of God) remains a ruin?”

When we put God first in how we use our money, time and all our other resources, it reflects who the King of our heart is.

This isn’t a call to false, legalistic modesty. I’m not saying to hold off a purchase just so you can say you did. Depravation for depravation’s sake is meaningless. All I’m saying is, whether or not you’re getting one of the new iPhones – or any other big-ticket item – it’s good to use the occasion to check yourself: How willing and ready am I to spend that same amount of money for God’s purposes?

Our honest answer will show us the condition of our heart, and how much room it has for Him. When it comes to the things of God, just like with the iPhone X, you’re looking for more capacity –you want to be the 256GB heart, not the 64GB one.

 

/ fiona@thir.st

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“I will take this secret to my grave”

by | 31 August 2017, 5:08 PM

Are you hoping you can take some of your secrets to the grave with you?

I have stuff from my childhood that I wanted to carry to my grave. I wonder how many other weary souls are now going through life struggling under the weight of their secret shame. It’s hard work – keeping up with a life of shadows and subterfuge. And there seems to be no way out.

The industry of shame thrives on things that we feel forced to keep hush-hush about. We get trapped in the illusion we try to project.

It doesn’t matter what the incident was, or how it trivial it may be when compared to other people’s experiences; shame is not sold by the gram. Shame is shame. And it hurts us all.

I remember one night when I said those words to myself; “I will take this to my grave.”

I’d been thinking of all the things I’d never told anyone about for so many years – things from my childhood.

I’d never dared to speak to anybody about those things before, but I had rehearsed it in my head countless times, imagined what it would be like to have someone listen with compassion and tell me that it’s okay now.

Why keep things secret? Because of fear – of being judged, of being deemed unworthy – and pride. What would people think of me if they found out?

This resolution kept me from love. Shame, the tyrant that it is, keeps you from reaching out, even though love is within reach.

Why keep things secret? Because of fear – of being judged, of being deemed unworthy – and pride. What would people think of me if they found out?

That night, I felt I was coming to the end of my rope. I needed another option.

And that’s when I thought about what Jesus said: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

Because He has come, life is now an option. But I was still pacing around somewhere between death and life. I wasn’t dead – I’d chosen eternal life – but I wasn’t embracing the full life that Jesus offered.

But Jesus said that He has come, and I must leave my old life – everything about it – behind (2 Corinthians 5:17).

I must walk away from the grave. 

While I held my secrets close to me, I also longed for someone to tell me that it’s okay now – that I am still worthy of love.

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

Only God’s word has the power to declare if any of us is worthy of love; and He proved it, sending His son to the Cross, that in His death and resurrection we might have life. And You need to hear it from Him for yourselfShame’s grip on us is over (Romans 8:1). We stand uncondemned.

The love and power of God is the only antidote that can reverse the death-sting that is shame.

That night, I had to learn to put aside the shame that I had grown so accustomed to, and trade it in for love. To break out of the clutches of shame and its chorus of insults, I learnt I had to continually choose to listen to the voice that could break the curses. I needed to hear Him speak.

The love and power of God is the only antidote that can reverse the death-sting that is shame.

I called, He answered. And shame fled.

The next thing I had to do was to open my life up to people who could be trusted. It wasn’t the easiest nor the most instinctive thing for me to do – but I needed people around me – people who would display God’s love and remind me of the truth when I need it the most (2 Corinthians 6:11-13).

Several months later, I stood in the midst of a huge crowd at a Christian conference. And I will always remember the roar from the crowd when we sang this line:

“And as You speak, a hundred billion failures disappear”

The roar of voices and shouts of victory from the 20,000 others in the crowd reminded me that I have never been alone – not in my failures; and certainly not in my victory. Who else but God could pull off such a prison break? Who else could cancel our failures, drive away our shame and give us new life?

“And as You speak
A hundred billion failures disappear
Where You lost Your life so I could find it here
If You left the grave behind You

So will I
– So Will I (100 Billion X) by Hillsong United

Don’t bear your shame to your grave. He died so you don’t have to. Lay it on His. Then leave that grave behind.

/ fiona@thir.st

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Ah ma and the afterlife: My seventh-month thoughts

by | 29 August 2017, 6:21 PM

“Cannot swim today, it’s too late already, later the zhui gwee (‘water ghost’ in Hokkien) catch you ah.”

It was that time of the year again – the seventh month (七月) in the Chinese lunar calendar. I could argue that I needed the swimming practice, and I’d wear my arm floaties – but no one was going to out-talk ah ma. And certainly not a five-year-old child.

The beliefs that my grandparents held about the seventh month spilled into my early life, through swimming bans and cautions to avoid the makeshift altars left out by the roadside.

I remember watching my family members fold “hell money” before burning it in a small, red burner that sat outside the house.

“How are they going to get the money?” I remember asking as a six-year-old.

I joined in the festivities anyway. I liked seeing my family do things together, and I wanted to be a part of it, even if my tiny hands never did succeed at folding a paper ingot.

Not just me – it feels like there’s a generation gap in keeping up with the traditions.

The traditions of seventh month were embedded in my consciousness. But the annual activity ended when I moved out of my grandmother’s house.

Not just me – it feels like there’s a generation gap in keeping up with the traditions.

Most of us don’t oppose the rules in open defiance, whether out of fear of offending the spirits, or out of respect for those who do follow the tradition, depending on your beliefs.

I’m sure many of us in the younger generation still think twice about taking something from a makeshift altar by the pavement or taking the front row (said to be reserved for “special guests”) at a getai.

These days, I no longer participate in the traditions and rituals of the seventh month. You wouldn’t find me offering incense, though I would gladly sit out of a swimming session – out of respect – if someone from the older generation requests that I do.

I always wondered what this season says about what we believe about life after death.

If we burn paper money and houses for our relatives, does it mean we believe that the underworld is where they have gone? Is that also where they believed they were going?

The festival may not mean what it used to for me – but it gives pause for thought. It’s an opportunity for us to think about death before death comes.

There is a great big, confusing web of religion, folklore, science and superstition to make sense of. But at the heart is the profoundly simple question that even children ask: Where do we go after we die?

Is this lifetime all there is to the story? But then why does it feel like we were made for more?

This month, the country pauses to focus on death – honour for the departed, the horror of hell, the inevitability of the end. 

Some of us go in search of answers, while some of us prefer to find out only when the end comes. I fell somewhere in the middle of that continuum.

As a child, I wondered if I had a say in where I would go, and if it was dependent on more than just being a good person in this lifetime – because that sounded like a terribly tall order (1 John 1:8-10).

Many years later, I found my answer in the Bible. Jesus said that He has come to give us life, and it has been fully paid for – for anyone who would believe (John 3:16). 

I’d seen depictions of “heaven” in both American and local Chinese television shows, but I’d never heard it spoken about as a reality for my life until I read the Bible:

“My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?” (John 14:2)

This month, the country pauses to focus on death – honour for the departed, the horror of hell, the inevitability of the end. Don’t discount the possibility that hell isn’t all that could await.

/ fiona@thir.st

Fiona is secretly hilarious. One of her dogs thinks so too. She loves a good chat with strangers, store assistants, and fluffy dogs.

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Food – it’s more than just something you eat

by | 28 August 2017, 12:48 PM

I’ll be honest. I haven’t been the most sincere thanksgiver-of-food.

I might say that I’m thankful for God and the food, and I might run a quick #DearGodthankyouforthefood in my head, but my gratitude was lacking.

The truth is, I didn’t value food enough to be thankful for it.

Sure, I love food, as my friends would attest, but only as a social and gastronomical experience. But I took it for granted that food would always be on my table.

Which meant I used to skip my meals a lot. I would skip meals simply because I was too lazy to prepare food, and too picky to settle for “just anything that would fill my stomach”.

The result? I end up on my power-saving mode – like my iPhone – where I have enough juice to stay switched on, but not enough to do anything worthwhile, without a risk of fizzling out.

If I feel more secure when my phone’s battery level is above 70%, shouldn’t I watch my own energy level with as much fervour? (I can almost hear my mom saying “I told you so.”)

Our giving-of-thanks with each meal reminds us to look to God every opportunity we get (Psalm 34:1), even in things that feel mundane. Gratitude towards God injects wonder back into our soul that so easily goes on autopilot – which is not a good mode. We’re supposed to be intentional about the discipleship process.

When we’re attuned with God, we are conscious of God in our daily dealings.

Go back to Primary School science. You remember plants and photosynthesis? Plants convert light energy into chemical energy. That’s their food, to help them do their thing as plants – grow deeper roots, bear more fruit.

That’s us, too. Food is about having the energy to not just survive, but to grow deeper roots – love God – and bear more fruit – love your neighbour.

We need energy to contend for our faith.

Food is about having the energy to not just survive, but to grow deeper roots – love God – and bear more fruit – love your neighbour.

We need energy to work with all our heart, to pray when we don’t feel like it, to love when it’s inconvenient, to worship when we’re weak, to intercede when we’re limited, to rejoice when every fibre of our being says otherwise, to hope when bleakness tries to befriend us, to resist the devil, to guard our hearts.

It may seem pretty obvious to you, but it took a loving nudge from God to remind me that if I am to do all that, I have to make sure my body is ready for the battle ahead. In my case, that means bothering to have my meals consistently!

I didn’t want to be caught in a situation where I’m too physically weak to help someone in need or too lethargic to intercede in prayer.

So even as we pray for divine strength from God, it’s worthwhile to consider if we have been mindful to take care of our diets – from which we obtain physical strength – such that we’re doing our best to be good stewards of our health and resources.

I don’t know about you, but I’m running hard for the finish line. I’m giving it everything I’ve got. No sloppy living for me! I’m staying alert and in top condition. (1 Corinthians 9:26, MSG)

So, my grace these days goes something like this: “Thank you God for giving me the food I have in front of me now, and in such abundance. As I gain strength from this meal, remind me and help me to love You more and to serve Your people better today.”

How does yours go?

/ fiona@thir.st

Fiona is secretly hilarious. One of her dogs thinks so too. She loves a good chat with strangers, store assistants, and fluffy dogs.

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The unusual mammogram

by Bee Lian Chng | 25 August 2017, 4:08 PM

I’m not the kind to keep up with health screenings, but I went for a mammogram anyway – something told me I had to. When my results came back from the lab, my veteran GP confirmed from her experience that it was cancer.

It was likely that I would have to have my right breast removed.

My first instinct was to rush to a private hospital and go for surgery immediately. As soon as possible. I had always believed that it was important for me to make and save enough money for medical emergencies like this – so I could get treated at a private hospital.

But when my doctor asked if I wanted to go to a private or public hospital to follow up with a specialist, God prompted me to go to a public hospital. So I obeyed and opted to go to one close to my home.

My GP referred me to a specialist at the Changi General Hospital; my appointment was set for two weeks later.

How would you spend those 14 days? For me, they were nothing like you would expect – it was nothing like what I had expected.

I experienced peace; and it wasn’t shallow, or transient. It was peace that was deep enough to envelope my weary heart and keep it afloat. It was also weighty and comforting; it was peace like I had never experienced before in all 50 years of my life. 

A waiting room isn’t the place we usually expect to find peace, but there I found peace.

Caught between unexpected bad news and uncertainty, I spent those 14 days in deep and quiet devotion with God. He taught me what it meant to move together with Him, even in the face of cancer. And I learnt to trust the one who always has my best intentions at heart.

I was not going to let go of God, not even in the face of a mastectomy.

At the hospital, another mammogram was conducted by a senior technician. She confirmed that they found something in my right breast and I was sent for an ultrasound scan next.

Over the next few hours, they ordered more checks and scans for me.

During the last two rounds of ultrasound scans, I fell asleep, despite the discomfort. In my sleep, I saw a dark, shadowy figure standing on the left side of my ultrasound table. The figure spoke to me:

“If the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines;
If the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food;
If there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls;
Will you still rejoice in the Lord? Will you still be joyful in God your Saviour?”

Without hesitation, I answered him, without a sliver of doubt in my heart: “Yes, I will still rejoice and be joyful in the Lord my God.”

Upon my answer, the dark figure vanished.

The next moment, I saw a bright light and I heard a voice asking me if I would allow Him to take away a part of my body. I knew that it was God speaking to me. At this point, I thought it meant He would help me through the mastectomy, the removal of the breast.

Again, without hesitation, I told Him that He could take away whatever He wanted.

He was an even greater, more merciful God than I could have imagined.

My answers were coming from the deepest part of my heart – the part that is tested when confusing and painful things happen. I was not going to let go of God, not even in the face of a mastectomy.

Right after I answered, the ultrasound technician woke me up and I headed back into the waiting room for the final results.

When I sat down before the doctor, he told me: “Congratulations.”

In the final few rounds of scanning, they couldn’t find the lumps that had been detected previously. I didn’t even need a biopsy, or a follow-up review. The doctor stamped the word DISCHARGED on my appointment card … and that was it!

It only became clear to me then that when God had asked to take away something from me, He was referring to the cancer in my body, and not the mastectomy that I had already mentally prepared myself for.

He was an even greater, more merciful God than I could have imagined.

We question God’s faithfulness to us when bad things happen in our lives. But I wonder how many of us are able to stand firm when our faithfulness to Him comes to question.

I left the waiting room with my cancer healed – grace for today – and my faith intact. My bright hope for tomorrow.

Some time after my brush with cancer, as I studied the book of Habakkuk, I came upon a very familiar passage. I’d never read it before.

“Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Saviour.”

(Habbakuk 3:17-18)

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Why I stopped doing yoga

by | 22 August 2017, 12:31 PM

I’ve got a bad neck and a troublesome lower-back injury, so I’ve tried to prioritise regular stretching and exercise.

This time last year, I tried both yoga and pilates in an attempt to help me get into a regular habit of proper, real stretching. My troublesome back calmed down a lot in those few months.

But I found that the mention of yoga raised some brows in the Christian circle.

I had to find out: When it comes to yoga, can we reap the physical benefit without the spiritual entanglements?

Can I do yoga if I am mindful to worship my God instead of other gods?

Yoga is an spiritual discipline rooted in other ancient religions – more here. It’s alive and well today, especially in mainstream Western culture. You can’t walk 5 minutes without seeing a yoga studio in Singapore.

It’s friendly and hip … but it’s still yoga. More than a physical exercise programme, the goal of yoga, which means to “join” in Sanskrit, is enlightenment and unity with the universe.

When it comes to yoga, can we reap the physical benefit without the spiritual entanglements?

In classes, the yoga practice begins with surya namaskara – sun salutations. The pose originated as a way for yoga practitioners to worship the sun god, Surya. So, all the poses were originally intended to do more than merely give relief for your aches.

When I first started my classes, my focus was entirely on trying to copy the instructor’s poses. But as I got more familiar with the poses, I realised that something was … off. As my spiritual senses “came back to me”, I realised what I was subjecting myself to: The worship of another god.

I realised my question on whether Christians can do yoga was a self-seeking question one – and it wasn’t the right question. We can do anything we want. But should we?

Walking out of class that day, this verse popped into my mind: Do not bow down before their gods or worship them or follow their practices.” (Exodus 23:24a)

I kept thinking about it, and asked myself the questions: Would I bow down at a physical altar that hosted other gods? If I do so, would “praying on the inside” and “meditating upon His word” make it any more acceptable?

No.

No one worships God by placing an offering (in this case, our body) on the altar of another god. If our intention is to worship our God, the One true God, then we cannot do it through the worship of other gods – which is what yoga is, no matter how it’s advertised as a fitness routine.

“Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise.” (Ephesians 5:15)

I learnt that if I desire to honour God, I must cease to worship anything else – even if I long for its other benefits, like yoga’s promise of relief for our aching bodies.

I have since stopped practicing yoga altogether. But to be honest, I have thought of going back. The temptation is real, especially with the lure of the beautiful, airy spaces a lot of hipster yoga studios use.

What helped was telling those around me about my decision to stop going for yoga classes. I had friends around me who knew that being friends mean helping to hold me to a higher standard.

Would I bow down at a physical altar that hosted other gods? Would “praying on the inside” and “meditating upon His word” make it any more acceptable?

There are realms – some more innocuous than others on the outside – that we have to navigate as believers. We cannot be successful if we try to do it without the Holy Spirit as our guide (John 14:26) and His Word as our weapon.

“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24)

/ fiona@thir.st

Fiona is secretly hilarious. One of her dogs thinks so too. She loves a good chat with strangers, store assistants, and fluffy dogs.

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I’m not ready to meet you, God

by | 14 August 2017, 1:04 PM

“If the plane crashes, then we’ll just go to heaven earlier!”

We were about to board a plane to Sydney when my friend said it. We’d been talking about MH370 and other recent aviation tragedies. It was meant to be comforting, I’m sure, but I was disturbed.

I was not ready to meet God.

I haven’t achieved anything significant in my life! I haven’t found someone to grow old and happy with! Nor had any kids yet! And I still need to decorate my dream house with the books I’ve been stockpiling for my it’s-gonna-be-epic bookshelf!

My well-conditioned, well-drilled Christian brain immediately hit back: How could you even think that? Does not the joy of meeting God far surpass all these things?

While I had grown to love God’s presence, I couldn’t help but be fearful at the thought of actually meeting Him – coming face-to-face with the One who searches hearts and examines minds.

My instinctive thoughts were all the things I would miss out on if I were to die anytime soon. But in that split second in which my innermost thoughts surfaced, I learnt something about my heart and its true treasures: I was choosing the things of the world over the God I professed to love.

I was still holding on to the worldly notions of what would bring happiness that I’ve had since I was a child, way before I met Jesus.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with kids, marriage and beautiful bookshelves. They aren’t the problem.

The problem comes when we prize these gifts above the One who gives them (James 1:17).

What I learnt before that flight was that God wasn’t my only treasure. I had not captured in my heart the surpassing worth of knowing Christ (Philippians 3:8). I was settling for the world.

In reflection, I thought about the sweet moments in my life when God had surprised me with His presence:

  • I was strolling home on a beautiful day. Nothing seemed terribly ordinary, when I suddenly felt His smile upon me. My heart leapt for joy.
  • I opened my Bible in a hurry to get a passage in, before I headed out for the day. I didn’t expect much, but the Spirit opened my imagination, giving me backstage-access to the unfolding drama at the Red Sea.
  • When my heart was burdened and heavy with darkness, He said that He would show me a new way to live: In the lightness of freedom, and in company with Him.

But at the same time, I was afraid of meeting God face-to-face.

I haven’t become the person God would be pleased with. I have so many more things about myself that I need to change; I need more time.

That was how I felt – why I wasn’t ready to meet God. While I had grown to love God’s presence, I couldn’t help but be fearful at the thought of actually meeting Him (Romans 14:12) – coming face-to-face with the One who searches hearts and examines minds (Jeremiah 17:10).

The comfort I have is that, as I grow to be more like Him, He will see the good work He has started in me all the way through to completion.

I was too focused on the truth about Romans 3:23, that as a sinner, I should have no business being in the presence of a Holy God. In my self-loathing, I’d forgotten the truth that follows in Romans 3:24: That all are justified freely by His grace, through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

When we think about the sinfulness of our heart and the mistakes we still make, we’re ashamed to enter into God’s light. But the truth is that we only have to be afraid if pleasing God is not our priority.

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God. (John 3:19-21)

God knows who we are – sinners, redeemed by His grace. We have an assurance that when we choose to draw near to Him and live in His light, there’s forgiveness instead of shame. There’s grace instead of condemnation. There’s eternal freedom.

All great dichotomies, none of which make sense. And yet we have them. That’s grace!

The comfort I have is that, as I grow to be more like Him, He will see the good work He has started in me all the way through to completion. So that when I finally meet Him, I will not be afraid, but satisfied.

As for me, I will be vindicated and will see your face;
When I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness. (Psalm 17:15)

Moments later, the engines in the wings of the plane roared to life. I took to the air — a little closer to God.

/ fiona@thir.st

Fiona is secretly hilarious. One of her dogs thinks so too. She loves a good chat with strangers, store assistants, and fluffy dogs.

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I live to fight another day: Reflections on Dunkirk

by | 11 August 2017, 1:50 PM

Sometimes, after a movie, I find myself walking out of the cinema feeling the same way I leave church services on good days.

I got this same feeling again when I saw Dunkirk. Nolan’s latest masterpiece centres on the desperate struggle of Allied soldiers against the German advance at Dunkirk.

Their only hope lies in a mass evacuation from France’s beaches – so they can live to fight another day.

I saw myself reflected in the faces of the defeated soldiers.

It’s been a difficult year for me. I’ve been struggling with my self-worth. I’ve asked myself endlessly: “Who am I?”

I’d been going to church, worshipping Father God for almost a decade – yet I didn’t really feel like I was His child. My identity remain centred on the things I did and the roles I played.

I knew that He loved me, but I felt like I wasn’t enough.

I still wasn’t as pretty as her. I wasn’t as talented as him. I felt I had to prove myself: Be more driven in life, have a better heart, say the right things …

There was no end to this performance treadmill. I could never get off. It was a losing battle from the start, because at the core of my being, I didn’t believe that I was loved.

The bitterness of feeling unworthy ate away at my heart, a potent mix of pride and shame.

Like the dying soldiers on the coast of Dunkirk, I needed to be rescued. I needed a saviour.

But I believed I was beyond God’s reach – too unworthy.

What I hadn’t realised was that that wasn’t an obstacle to God’s love – that is precisely the point of His love. I am entirely unworthy. And yet God in His grace reached out to me in love.

I had been fighting my own battles for a long time. At some point I was barely surviving, and in turn I started dying. At the lowest point in my walk, I heard God’s voice again.

I came to the end of myself, with nowhere left to go.

Ashamed of my sin and rebellious heart, I broke down before the Lord and asked for forgiveness.

I felt like the soldier in Dunkirk who boarded the train headed home, embarrassed at having to be evacuated from the front line, fully expecting to be met with ridicule by his countrymen.

Instead he met an blind old man who was handing out blankets to the rescued soldiers at the train station.

“Well done, lads. Well done.”
“All we did is survive … ”
“That’s enough.”

The soldier was humbled at the old man’s gesture of kindness; it all felt so undeserved, I imagine. Which was exactly how I felt when God quietly said to me:

没事, 回来就好. It’s okay, you’re home now.

I imagine that when God says “it’s okay”, he’s not just saying it. I mean, He’s God – His word is life and truth. I see Him saying it as He raises His mighty hand, lifting the crushing weight of all that weighed us down.

Then I see His other hand, reaching out to us.

“When I called, you answered me; you greatly emboldened me.” (Psalm 138:3)

In my weakness, God gave me strength. He led me through the fog of confusion as we sorted out my life.

God spoke to my heart, and told me that He loves me. I had always known it in my mind, but He said it again for my heart.

My spirit surged in response to it. I was alive again. His voice dispelled all my fears. It quenched the flaming arrows which had kept me down for so long.

He helped me recall who I was in Him. I put on the armour and took up my sword (Ephesians 6:14-17). I knew how to fight again.

But Dunkirk was one episode in a long war. We may feel safe now, but we must expect other blows to be struck.

In response to the evacuation at Dunkirk, Churchill said: “Our thankfulness at the escape of our Army must not blind us to the fact that what has happened in France and Belgium is a colossal military disaster.

“And we must expect another blow to be struck almost immediately at us or at France.”

Soldiers on the front lines, deep in battle, won’t know when victory is theirs – all they know is that they have to fight for as long as they’re told to.

As Christians, we are in that unique position. We know that at the end, we win – Jesus will return. But for now, this is wartime – we have to stay alert (1 Peter 5:8).

We live to fight another day.

/ fiona@thir.st

Fiona is secretly hilarious. One of her dogs thinks so too. She loves a good chat with strangers, store assistants, and fluffy dogs.

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The grand old man and his treasure

What if I’m just a calefare?

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Mission: Possible

Reflections on sudden deaths and unexpected tragedy: Our time will come

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Am I who my résumé says I am?

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Why I stopped doing yoga

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I live to fight another day: Reflections on Dunkirk