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My wasted years as an orphan

by | 15 August 2018, 9:42 PM

My relationship with my dad was a good one as I was growing up.

He loved me very much, always told me I was his favourite son (I’m the only son) and always affirmed me. He worked hard for the family but also made sure to spend time with us. We were very close as a result.

But when I was 17, he was diagnosed with cancer. He was strong and upbeat for the most part. And we prayed day and night through many months of his suffering.

I’ll never forget that one night I carried my dad around the house – he was all skin and bones by then — when I realised his time might actually be up. Beyond desperate, I even asked God to let me trade places with him.

Let me be the one to suffer.

But there was no healing, and my dad eventually passed away in the hospital. I remember looking out of the hospital windows into the night sky when it happened, as if I was looking for God: Show Yourself!

Dad had held onto his faith as he stepped into paradise, while I threw mine away as I fell into hatred. I hated God for allowing his death to happen. I really hated Him. I was mired in furious disbelief at how a good God could stand idly by as a good man – a great father – succumbed to illness.

In my heart, I told Him: “Since You took away my father, I don’t need you as my Father God.” What was He good for anyway, if He’d failed to show up when I needed Him most?

And what compounded my bitterness and anger was knowing that throughout the time I was begging God for healing, my best friend was having her prayer requests answered just like that.

What was God good for anyway, if He’d failed to show up when I needed Him most?

Gold dust to encourage her cell group? Done. But healing for a good man who’s served God and man faithfully? Silence.

In anger, I spent years away from the faith, mixing with the wrong company and getting involved in the wrong things, until the initial excitement began to taper off and the familiar emptiness and rage returned.

The short version of this story is that my hopeless landed me back on a search for some shred of meaning. I found myself back in church one day, looking for hope — but back then I didn’t want to call it God.

That was around 5 years ago.

It took years to unpack the hurt and process it with good people. Years to forgive – for a heart of stone to become flesh again. But like the smaller waves that come after bigger ones, the great grief of my life waned over time.

But with the residual bitterness in my heart, I settled for an uneasy acceptance of God’s sovereignty. There hadn’t been proper resolution from my anger towards God; I’d still turned from Him as Father. “Father”, to me, was a ripped-out chapter in my book, and I settled for the experience that remained.

God was certainly sovereign in my life. I mean, He was still God. But it wasn’t fearful reverence I had in my heart, but a kind of indifference and disbelief that He loved me like a father loves his son.

All the things I had from my early father: Love, affirmation, guidance … I still couldn’t bring myself to receive that from God.

“Father”, to me, was a ripped-out chapter in my book, and I settled for the experience that remained.

But it was at a retreat where God revealed to me that my father’s faith wasn’t mine. A wise man I know once said, God has no grandchildren. And I’d spent my whole life as God’s grandchild. So when I lost my earthly father, I experienced true fatherlessness for the first time. Because I didn’t know God.

At the retreat there was a time for ministry during the worship session of the last day. We were worshipping when the presence of God swept through the congregation. I hadn’t expected anything from the retreat, but suddenly I found myself on my knees and in tears.

Then I felt a voice speak into my heart: “I love you, My son.”

In that moment it was like a knot inside me was untied, and I knew I was truly free from the grief I had buried deep within — free to live as a child of God.

There are days I still miss my father, but now I truly know that God is sovereign in every single decision — a rock-solid conviction wrapped in the love of the Father. Though my earthly father has left for just a little while, I’ve gained a heavenly One, and He is more than enough for me.

/ gabriel@thir.st

Gabriel isn't a hipster, but he loves his beard and coffee. In his spare time, he'd rather be on a mountain.

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Bishop Rennis Ponniah: Are we hungry for revival?

by | 10 August 2018, 5:43 PM

“There is a time to lower our banners, and to raise one banner – the banner of the Lord Jesus Christ,” declared Bishop Rennis Ponniah at the Celebration of Hope (COH) Pastors and Leaders Gathering on July 24.

At the meeting to update church and ministry leaders about the 2019 evangelistic event, the Bishop of the Anglican Church in Singapore opened with an appeal to prayer: “I greet you as messengers who need the power of God. We can’t do this without the power of God. Only God can open the heart for people to see the glory of God, and what He has done through Jesus Christ.

“We need to cry out to God for His grace, mercy and power.”

Are we hungry enough for revival?

Speaking to a few hundred pastors and church leaders, he then read from the Parable of the Persistent Widow (Luke 18:1-8). Exhorting the congregation of the need to persevere in prayer, Bishop Rennis underlined the truth that God can be relied on to speedily answer the prayer, and God will rule in favour of this people.

“Because of the widow’s persistence, she gained the judgment in her favour. How much more will God?” he asked. This was the crux of his message: Are we hungry enough for revival?

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE HUNGRY?

1. We should be hungry to see God’s glory in our land

“This goes beyond the church,” Bishop Rennis said. “We are hungry that His glory should be in our land. We see abortion, the breaking of the marriage covenant, child abuse.

“We, like every nation, are liable to God’s judgment,” he said solemnly.

“But how does God see our nation? We know that righteousness exalts a nation in the eyes of the Lord. I know the first step is repentance – identificational repentance. Because we are part of a nation – and our nation is on a slippery road.”

2. We should be hungry for the salvation of souls

The Bishop noted that from 2010 to now, there has been a 1.5% increase in those who identify as having no religion.

“The situation is dire,” said the previous President of the National Council of Churches of Singapore.

In comparison, over the same timeframe, the number of Christians in Singapore has grown from 18.3% of the population to 18.8%.

“In our society you’re just as likely to meet someone who’s agnostic or atheistic as you are to meet a Christian,” he said.

In our society you’re just as likely to meet someone who’s agnostic or atheistic as you are to meet a Christian.

He encouraged the Church to look beyond the statistics to realise that lives are at stake. Bishop Rennis recalled the friends in his life that matter to him, from fellow leaders all the way to his laundry man.

“Can I be in eternity without them?” he asked. “There are people in your world you meaningfully relate to – will they be in eternity with you?

“Urgent love. When you catch it, you’ll pass it on to the people you meet.”

3. We should be hungry for revival

In closing, Bishop Rennis then brought to mind the 12 football boys who were trapped in Tham Luang. He spoke about how the people rallied to save them – that our faith has a real need for this same spirit of unity and sacrifice.

The church must show the same hunger to save, he said.

“Are we hungry for God’s kingdom advance?”


The Gospel will be shared at the National Stadium, 17 to 19 May 2019, at the Celebration of Hope, a united initiative by the National Council of Churches of Singapore, Evangelical Fellowship of Singapore and LoveSingapore. Visit celebrationofhope.sg for updates.

/ gabriel@thir.st

Gabriel isn't a hipster, but he loves his beard and coffee. In his spare time, he'd rather be on a mountain.

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Should I believe in ghosts?

by | 10 August 2018, 5:19 PM

Do ghosts exist?

That was the question in the Thir.st office the other day. An intern had shared about his experiences of waking up with inexplicable scratches on his back for almost a whole year. We ruled out a number of logical explanations for the scratches and wondered if these disturbances could be spiritual in nature.

(Final answer: No, it was just faulty bedsprings.)

That got us talking about things like deliverance and spiritual open doorways. As more of us began sharing about our own experiences with the supernatural, it became clear that these encounters weren’t as rare as they seemed.

One often felt a heavy presence in a certain spot of the house at night, while another owned pets that had gone crazy and died on the same night.

Even our editor shared that the alarms would trip with the security feeds showing a dark figure passing through, upon which someone then suggested it could’ve been the ghost of a fallen Japanese soldier from WWII.

Could that really be true? Can the soul of a dead person hang around on Earth to haunt the living?

I’d wager the vast majority of us have had such experiences. I’ve personally heard rows of padlocks whirring in my army bunk at night before, and I’ve seen a ghostly white woman approach me as I rested in an abandoned room at an Air Force base.

Are experiences like these really the products of ghosts – that is, dead people?

It’s something we don’t have to avoid talking about, because the last thing we want to do in our lives is cede ground to fear, especially unfounded fears. Ideally, we want a life lived in the perfect love that casts out all fear (1 John 4:18).

So just to spare you the suspense and state it upfront: From our reading of Scripture, dead people do not come back to haunt the living. It’s a commonly-held belief, but it’s a myth that needs to be debunked.

What is real, however, is the presence of evil spirits in this world.

The best question to always start with: What does the Bible say about this?

A helpful starting point to our discussion is, “What happens to our soul when we die?” Some people believe the soul sleeps, pointing to examples like Lazarus (John 11:11), or the dead girl who Jesus raised to life (Mark 5:35). They were all “asleep” before being resurrected.

While that view of the afterlife may make for a compelling initial reading, I don’t buy it. Instead, I agree with John Piper that sleep as mentioned in the Bible is “simply a description of death by a softer picture of what it actually looks like“.

Piper picked two Scriptures that seal the deal for me. The first comes from Paul’s famous words in Philippians 1:21-23, “To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labour for me. Yet which I shall choose, I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.”

“Be with Christ.” That to me, connotes a sense of being present — of being fully conscious of where one is and with whom. Piper himself writes that Paul “calls it ‘gain’, not because he is going to go unconscious and have zero experience for another thousand years, but because he goes into the presence of Christ”.

The departed, be they kindly or evil in life, do not come and go as they please in death.

The second example Piper offers is also the story I had been thinking about: Lazarus (different from the one in the Gospel of John) and the rich man. Both men died, and were transported to their separate lots in the afterlife — fully conscious, fully present.

What really stands out to me are the great spiritual boundaries in effect. We read of “a great chasm … set in place” (Luke 16:26) which at least suggests to me that a soul’s freedom of movement is not something that happens across the afterlife to earth, or vice versa.

What I am saying is that the departed, be they kindly or evil in life, do not come and go as they please in death.

The Word says that “each of us will give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:12), which leads me to believe that upon death, we have an infinitely more important and pressing thing to do than to hang around and guilt-trip relatives or haunt army camps.

Trauma, injustice or pain are not strong enough to keep one’s soul lingering on earth after death.

So that’s strike one against the notion of lingering souls.

As I chatted with our editor about this, just for discussion’s sake, he brought up the example of Saul and the Witch of Endor (1 Samuel 28). TL;DR: Saul was in trouble, desperate and got a witch to summon the spirit of Samuel.

For some, there may be a troubling implication here in that, if folks from heaven can be summoned up, who’s to say folks from hell can’t? Was the spirit of Samuel a demon or the prophet’s ghost himself?

But given that everything the spirit of Samuel told Saul (1 Sam 28:16-19) actually came to pass, there is little reason to think the familiar was in fact a disguised demon. Here is the Benson commentary on verse 19:

“Now as no evil spirit or impostor of any kind could possibly know these particulars, which were all exactly accomplished next day, nor even Samuel himself, unless he had been divinely inspired with the knowledge of them, it is surprising that any person should imagine that this appearance of Samuel was either a human or diabolical imposture; for it is evident it could only proceed from the omniscient God.”

I believe that this episode was a one-off sanctioned by the Most High God, and had little or nothing to do with the witch’s powers. I believe only God has the ability, if He so wishes, to transport souls from the afterlife to the earth.

The example I’m thinking of here is Moses and Elijah – one long dead, the other many centuries after he’d been taken up into the heavens – appearing momentarily before Jesus to Peter, James and John before vanishing again (Matthew 17:3, 8).

As I read this chapter I wasn’t scared. Instead imagining what this holy manifestation must have been like produced a good kind of fear in me — reverential awe at an awesome God.

“As the cloud fades and vanishes, so he who goes down to Sheol does not come up; he returns no more to his house, nor does his place know him anymore.” (Job 7:9-10)

Ghosts do not exist, but evil spirits do.

The Adversary is out to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10); his fellow fallen angels have the same agenda. So I wouldn’t put it past demonic spirits to ride on ghost stories, myths or spooky traditions in order to perpetuate a culture of fear.

Nor would I discount them from impersonating people, even loved ones to wreak havoc and bring maximum fear to the lives of people. Remember, “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14).

Sounds pretty bad, right? Well, the good news is that we are not at the mercy of the demonic forces — not when we have Jesus on our side. If you believe in Jesus, you are not a helpless protagonist in a horror film. Instead we are adopted as sons and daughters of the Most High God (Galatians 3:26).

We are priests and kings (Revelations 1:6)! That means we can appropriate the Blood of Jesus and cast out that which defiles and disturbs, in the name of Jesus.

God through His Son Jesus, has given us the “authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy” (Luke 10:19). What a relief to know we have this powerful promise that nothing will harm us — one guaranteed by the Undefeated King.

Continue to exercise your authority as a king from the Kingdom in your home, in Jesus’ Name. A house that is often tidied and cleaned up is a clean house.

If you have a lot of fear in your life, it’s likely because you’ve been feeding it.

Here are some ways we feed fear: Ungodly beliefs, like being afraid of the ghosts of loved ones. Open doorways, like a passion for horror and gore films. Things like charms you’ve kept around for “good luck”. Persistent defilement through religious artefacts within your home.

These “little things” slowly widen the holes for dirty water to leak through, so that before you know it, you’re swimming in a pool of snakes.

The answer is that we need to guard what we let in through the doors of our minds and houses, and we need to strive to abide in Jesus. You fill your house with bad things, you get a bad house. You fill your house with good things, you get a good one.

Continue to exercise your authority as a king from the Kingdom in your home, in Jesus’ Name. A house that is often tidied and cleaned up, is a clean house.

The next time you ever feel fear, remember that you are a child of God – Your Father runs the universe.

Remember Paul’s counsel: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me — put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8-9).

The God of peace with us. That’s a pretty awesome promise to think about! So the next time you ever feel fear – maybe the next time you encounter some of the eerie experiences we started this story with – remember that you are a child of God. Your Father runs the universe.

“For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!'” (Romans 8:15)

You can trust in the unfailing protection and love of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit within you will never lose to anything (1 John 4:4).

/ gabriel@thir.st

Gabriel isn't a hipster, but he loves his beard and coffee. In his spare time, he'd rather be on a mountain.

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“The Greek word for go, means go”: Canon J John on evangelism, hope and lifting roofs

by | 24 July 2018, 6:52 PM

“None of us have got it together, but together, we’ve got it,” Canon J John declared with a smile as he took the stage. Sensing the crowd’s amusement at the witty line, he then proceeded to have everyone repeat it after him.

The international evangelist, whose real name is John Ioannou, was preaching on unity and evangelism at the Celebration of Hope (COH) Pastors and Leaders Gathering on July 24, 2018.

In commemoration of 40 years since the Billy Graham Crusade in 1978 and Singapore’s 200th year since our founding, COH culminates in 3 days of rallies at the National Stadium next year.

“One of the great things about this vision and initiative is that it brings us together,” said the 60-year-old Canon, who brought well-known preacher Christine Caine to Christ in her younger years.

“No one monopolises God’s truth. Now we think we do, but there is no one church here that monopolises God’s truth. For the sake of the lost and for evangelism, we are happy to work together.

“We’re not focusing on our differences, we’re focusing on what we have in common, and what we have in common is good news – the Lord Jesus Christ who offers us our hope for the future.”

Canon J John at the National Stadium, where Celebration of Hope will be held

He then posed a question to the few hundred Singaporean pastors and church leaders seated in Saint Andrew Cathedral‘s New Sanctuary: What are we?

Then came the answer: “We are global Christians with a global mission, because we have a global God.” Canon John then turned to Matthew 28 and read out the Great Commission. In particular, he zoomed in on the word “go”.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19)

“I’m Greek, I’m bilingual — I read the Bible in Greek. And lots of people like to get up and say, ‘In its original Greek, (this verse) means this’ — and it usually doesn’t,” he said to a burst of laughter from the audience.

Then, serious again: “The Greek word for go, means go. We need to go!

“Many of our churches encourage people to go on a missions trip. I do too: I say walk next door – it’s cheaper. You don’t have to spend a year fund raising. Walk. Next. Door. That’s the best mission trip any of us can go on. Why? Because people are lost.”

Young people praying for each other

Canon John then recounted a story about his son: “Killy and I, we have 3 sons. When our eldest son was just 2, we lost him in a department store. We looked everywhere for him, but he had disappeared!

“What a terrible feeling to lose your child. And we’d only just seen him 30 seconds ago.”

In his story, Canon John explained that he’d rushed to the reception to ask for the shopping centre’s microphone, and when the lady in charge hesitated on letting him use it, he’d jumped over the counter to get to it.

When we’ve seen the Cross, the love of Christ compels us.

“I couldn’t care less what people thought of me,” he remarked. “My son was lost! Did it matter to me what they thought? No! My son was lost and I would do whatever I could to find him.

That’s the analogy we find in Scripture that encourages us to seek and save the lost,” he said.

Once again with a twinkle in his eye, he continued with a play on words: “A missionary is not someone who crosses the sea, a missionary is someone who sees the Cross.

“When we’ve seen the Cross, the love of Christ compels us.”

Canon J John preaching at the COH Pastors and Leaders Gathering

Turning to Acts 1:8, Canon John explained that when we receive Jesus, we receive His Holy Spirit which empowers us to be witnesses.

“The Greek word for witness is marturia, from which we get the word ‘martyr’,” he said solemnly. “Many of our brothers and sisters have been martyred, so it’s not going to be easy to witness – you’re giving your life.”

In underlining the need to do whatever it takes to get people to Jesus, Canon John then referred to Mark 2:1-12: “I love the story of the four men who took their friend on a stretcher to see Jesus Christ.”

Let’s lift the roof of our thinking to get people to Jesus.

In the well-known account, the house was so full that the men couldn’t get in through the door. Canon John pointed out how incredible it really was the cripple’s friends to then climb the roof, open a hole large enough in that roof, and lower a full-grown man on a stretcher down to Jesus.

“How did they do that?” he exclaimed. “Listen: Let’s lift the roof of our thinking to get people to Jesus.”

“God uses every way —prophecy, prayer, praise, proclamation — to reach the lost. So we too must do everything that we possibly can to get people to Jesus.”

Youth gathering to worship

Canon John then spoke on the importance of having evangelism as a mindset, quoting 2 Timothy 4:5: “But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.”

“Do the work of an evangelist,” he repeated. “He didn’t say stop doing the work of a church leader and become an evangelist.

“What he said in the original Greek is to lead the church as if you are an evangelist.

He didn’t say stop doing the work of a church leader and become an evangelist – lead the church as if you are an evangelist.

“We’ve got to think like an evangelist. So that your whole DNA and your church’s DNA is all about the people who don’t come – as well as the people who do come.”

Canon John continued, “I’ve been in the ministry for 39 years and my conclusion is this: Evangelism is the practice of praying, caring and sharing. These are things we need to do anyway. We are a church who prays, cares and shares!

Praying together at a worship event

“I want you to start in the place of your greatest failure. Where is that for you? For your congregations?

Then, he said, “Cultivate your web of relationships. To reach the world, you have to first reach your world.

“I know some people have been called to bypass ‘Samaria’ and ‘Judea’,” he qualified. “But these are the 2%.”

98% of us have been called to reach the world by reaching our world. That’s what we need to do as leaders and encourage the congregation to do!”

To reach the world, you have to first reach your world.

“You know, 500 years ago a theologian called Erasmus translated John’s gospel,” he shared.

“This is how he translated John 1:1: ‘In the beginning, was the conversation.’ I really like that. All we are doing, is keeping the conversation going.

“We’re praying that God will help us to share the good news, to articulate it — to keep the conversation going.”

In closing, Canon John addressed the heart behind the coming year of evangelism. “Before somebody becomes a Christian, they’re in negative territory. The negative territory goes all the way back to -100.”

Canon John said that as we pray for them, care for them and meet felt needs, that number changes for the better: “I know God can take a -100, and take them like that. But he often doesn’t. He woos them.

“And we each have a part to play in helping people on their journey to faith.”

One National Stadium, 50,000 in seating, 3 nights of proclaiming the Good News.

“That’s 27,500 Christians every night,” Canon John said knowingly. “Each one bringing one friend.”


Canon J John will share the Gospel at the Celebration of Hope on 17 to 19 May 2019, National Stadium. COH is a united initiative by the National Council of Churches of Singapore, Evangelical Fellowship of Singapore and LoveSingapore. Visit celebrationofhope.sg for updates.

Photos of youth were taken at FOPx Worship Night 2018.

/ gabriel@thir.st

Gabriel isn't a hipster, but he loves his beard and coffee. In his spare time, he'd rather be on a mountain.

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For revival to come we must become one: Pastor Vincent Lun on the crucible of community

by | 20 July 2018, 5:47 PM

“This gathering is about drawing the Body of Christ to intimacy with God, and unity within the Body,” declared Pastor Vincent Lun at One Thing Gathering 2018.

Speaking about unity and reconciliation, Pastor Lun said he prepared for his message with two questions on his mind: What is important to God, and what is on His heart?

“Unity within the Body of Christ is something that’s really close to God’s heart,” concluded Pastor Lun, who pastors Kingdom Community Church. “Part of the preparation for the Body of Christ to welcome the Lord Jesus to come back is to build unity, for us to become one.

“He wants the saints to dwell in unity together.”

Pastor Vincent Lun at One Thing Gathering

Speaking about the Passover, Pastor Lun pointed the attendees to John 17:20-23. “This was very much on His heart: That his sheep, flock and followers would love each other and become one.

“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us …” (John 17:20)

“Just as He and His Heavenly Father are one, when we talk about being one in community and family, we’re not talking about just social relationships, it’s not about just having a good time together. It’s a kind of unity and oneness that reflect the unity within the Godhead. Jesus prayed that we might be one.”

If we want revival in our church, nation or generation, we need to learn to become one.

With great conviction, Pastor Lun said that churches are great at coming up with strategies and programs to win the world for Christ, but questioned what these programs are undergirded or fuelled by.

“Here lies the strategy for world evangelism,” declared Pastor Lun. “When we are one, then the world will believe that the Lord is the Messiah.

“If you want revival in your church, nation or generation – one of the most important things we need to learn to do is to become one.”

Community precedes revival, said Pastor Lun. “One of the passages often quoted when talking about revival meetings is Acts 1. In Acts 1:4-6, the Lord told them to wait for the promise of the Father.

The disciples had already received the Great Commission from Jesus (Matthew 28:19-20), but He had also said to first go to Jerusalem and wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit before they went out to disciple others.

“Why did they have to wait 10 days? I’m sure they were confused,” Pastor Lun posited. “But they came together. And 10 days later – they were “all together” (Acts 2:1). Only when they were all together were they ready on the day of Pentecost.

“Their hearts were one, ready for God to pour out His Holy Spirit.”

There’s a difference between ‘coming together’, and ‘we’re all together’. We can come together for an event, for service, for cell group – but it doesn’t mean we’re all together.

Pastor Lun then touched on the Billy Graham Crusade of 1978: “I really believe what provided the energy and momentum, was that the Church was one.

“From what I know, 230 out of 260 churches in Singapore participated in the Crusade in some way or another. That’s almost 90%. Have we done something like that since then? Nowadays if we can even get one third involved we’re very happy already.”

According to Pastor Lun, that unity was what really pleased the heart of God. He believed that God poured out His spirit on the nation because we were one. “And for the last 40 years, we’ve reaped the fruits. What will the next 40 be like? Can the Church really be one again?” he asked.

Community builds character, continued Pastor Lun as he began the latter half of his message.

“After being in ministry for over 40 years, I’m convinced that the crucible for Christlikeness is learning to love one another. It’s dying to self that builds character and Christlikeness more than anything else. It reveals what’s in our heart.

“I can attend a gathering like this, worshipping and raising my hands and all that. And that’s good, God loves that.”

He paused. “But if in my heart I cannot forgive someone who’s offended me, maybe someone in our church or cell, then that’s missing the point.”

Still on the topic of humility, Pastor Lun brought up an old story. “I was helping Jason (Chua) with the Burning Hearts Conference when he surprised me by asking me if I could pray before the session started.

“I agreed, but 5 minutes before I was due to pray, someone came up to me and told me something about someone who had offended me years before.”

Jason Chua of Burning Hearts and Pastor Vincent Lun sharing the pulpit

Something bad had happened to that someone, and Pastor Lun said his immediate response was carnal and vindictive,: “Very good, there is a God.” Immediately, however, he felt the Holy Spirit convicting him by bringing Psalm 24 to mind.

“Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?
Who may stand in his holy place?
The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not trust in an idol
or swear by a false god.” (Psalm 24:3-4)

Pastor Lun said there and then he faced a choice: To be able to ascend the hill of the Lord, or to remain unclean by bearing a grudge? He chose the former, as he confessed his sin and repented, even sharing this struggle with a brother in Christ.

Pastor Lun began to narrow in on the topic of reconciliation: “Every time I talk to someone who’s left the church, 8 out of 10 times they leave because they’ve been offended.”

He explained the mindset behind such movements: “If it’s a big church I can go to another cell. I can go to another service.” Then he quipped, “If it still doesn’t work, I can even go to the Chinese service. I would have done it except I’m the pastor!”

According to Pastor Lun, oneness and humility go hand in hand. “It takes humility to say sorry. I was upset with this brother. I really felt he was in the wrong. I was waiting for him to apologise.

Humble reconciliation breaks down certain things – it’s purifying.

“But the Holy Spirit said this to me: Let the one who’s more spiritual be the first to apologise.

“I said God, he is more spiritual!”

Pastor Lun shared that he struggled with it for many months before taking the initiative to reconcile with this brother – but it was worth it. “It’s hard to explain what happens in the heart. Humble reconciliation breaks down certain things. It’s purifying.

“When you actually go through it by the grace of God, you come out feeling like you’re a little more purified.”

“Humility is increasingly forgetting ourselves,” Pastor Lun said in closing. “It becomes less about what you and I want – it’s about what God wants. 

“But it’s a muscle you have to train. Each time you do it, it gets a little bit easier. It may take weeks or months. But you’ll feel a sense of freedom you’ve never felt before when when you begin to let God shape your heart.”

He shared a final story with the congregation about a father who had very successful children. But he wasn’t happy, Pastor Lun said, because they were not getting along with each other.

“More than successful individuals,” he said. “A father’s delight is to see his children getting along. With this revelation, I’ve learnt to put more emphasis on my relationships than just getting things done well.”

“Behold, how good and pleasant it is
    when brothers dwell in unity!”
(Psalm 133:1)

The crucible that God uses to shape hearts and mind is community, he reiterated.

“At the end of the day, it’s not the environment that has changed – you have.”


Happening from July 19-21, 2018, for the first time in Asia, the One Thing Gathering calls for young people who have purposed in their hearts to live with abandonment and devotion to Jesus, to do His work, be His voice and see His transformation in the nations.

To register your attendance, visit their page. Night sessions are free!

/ gabriel@thir.st

Gabriel isn't a hipster, but he loves his beard and coffee. In his spare time, he'd rather be on a mountain.

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“Will your life be a reference point for the next generation?”: Jason Chua at One Thing Gathering 2018

by | 20 July 2018, 1:33 PM

“All we see today didn’t come from nowhere. Someone paid a price for it. May it be said of us, that our children’s children will look at us and say thank you for being faithful.”

Speaking about the need for local Christians to return to their first love, Jason Chua told attendees at One Thing Gathering 2018 about the narrative God has written, that Jesus is coming back to make every wrong thing right – and how we all get to play a part in it.

“We can trust in Jesus’ leadership. He’s the one building the church, we are merely partners with Him.

“So if God has written a narrative that is certain and sure, and Jesus’ leadership is perfect, then the real question is this: Do we know what God is doing in our generation?

“And if we trust God’s leadership, are we yielded to what He wants to do or what we want to do?”

As he paced across the stage at RiverLife Church‘s Main Auditorium, he raised a striking point: “We constantly ask God: ‘What is Your will in my life?’

That question can come from a heart that wants to be great in the eyes of men. The better question to ask in light of God’s narrative and leadership is this: God what are you doing in my generation – and how can I be a part of it?

Behind a worn Bible on the pulpit, he impassioned: “Behold the Man. Look straight into His eyes. Allow the Holy Spirit to take you into the Word. Trust the leadership of Jesus.

“There is a real man behind this Word and He is looking for young men and women to be caught up in His plans and what is on His heart.”

Jason then moved on to speak about Singapore’s 40-year cyclical review since the Billy Graham Crusades in 1978.

“This 40th year thing … I believe it’s from God. I think it’s an invitation from God. It’s not just about making it to some 40th year mark – but for the next 40 years! I feel with my heart that God gave us a clear word because He’s inviting us to be a part of what He’s doing.

“I see an invitation from God to our nation as a collective people. Not just the young, but also the old. God is inviting all of us in this hour, He is calling us higher to see Him and to know what is on His heart.”

The 32-year-old founder of Burning Hearts moved on to compare Singapore with the Church of Ephesus in Revelations.

“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These are the words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.

“Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” (Revelations 2:2-5)

This is us, he said. “We work hard. We work until we are dying and we don’t even know it. And these sound like good things to have – don’t they, pastors? If your congregation was hardworking, long-suffering. Isn’t that good?

Jason said the Ephesus church was the premier church of the first century. Paul himself spent three years discipling and teaching them as many turned from magic and pagan worship to Christ!

But Jason said Jesus had one thing against them – that they had forsaken their first love. “And yet we don’t see them anymore. If you go to Turkey today – they are in ruins. I think they did not turn from their ways, which is why their lampstand was taken.

God desires your heart more than what you can do for Him, he said.

If what has once burned brightly has gone dim, God has an issue with it, Jason continued.

“And He will do anything to get that heart back, even at the expense of taking everything away from us. What we have, what we own, what we put our confidence in, our freedom of worship – if these things if they are hindering us from loving God, He can take them away overnight.”

Citing Job, Jason said that God had done it to him: “I was an underachiever in a land of overachievers. I tried all ways to get things so I could feel like I could match up to those who who were doing better than me.”

But Jason said that God saw something missing. What used to burn bright, when he was a 15-year-old boy who had first encountered and experienced God, had faded into “complacency and passivity”.

My prayer to God is that my surrendered life will become a reference point for the next generation – a picture of what wholehearted love means.

Speaking about his experience in Kansas, Jason said God had pealed away layer by layer of his life away there.

“I thought that God was so mean. I’m already so poor and you still take from me. I’m already underachieving and you make even more pathetic. Why me?

“God stripped everything away, to the extent that I was left with nothing. But I see now that God taking things away from my life was the only way I could enter the chamber of His heart. I began to see that all He wanted, was that this heart of mine would be His.

“And when I came back to Singapore, I had the God-given courage to live a way that looks foolish to others. But in the eyes of God, it’s precious.

“My prayer to God is that my surrendered life will become a reference point for the next generation – a picture of what wholehearted love means,” he said.

Jason posed a challenged to the youths in the audience: “Is Jesus worthy enough for us to live a certain way? If you truly know what He’s like, He’s worth it.

“People think I live a dumb way, selling all I have for a prayer movement. You can’t monetise prayer. People ask me, isn’t this a bit too extreme? To live a life of devotion that doesn’t make sense at all?”

Jason confidently continued, that in comparison to how Christ has lived for us – his lifestyle of less was nothing. Jason said that Jesus left his first-world heaven for a third-world earth; his personal sacrifice was of no comparison to Jesus’.

“My prayer is that God will raise up people who will live extreme lives for Jesus. I want this generation to be a reference point for the next generation, to know what whole-hearted love looks like.

“God must have His inheritance in Singapore.”

Jason said that what he experienced in Kansas City wasn’t just for him – it was also for Singapore.

I want your gaze and your heart – that was the word that God had given to Jason. In Kansas, Jason had pressed God on the destiny of Singapore: “All we are doing is building our own things, caught up in our own little lives, doing whatever we want to do.

“Back then I felt like God had forgotten Singapore – no clear word. But right now, when there is, what are we going to do about it? ”

Jason said God told him, “I have not forgotten Singapore” – over and over again. “I want your gaze, I want your heart. In the midst of all these beautiful things I’ve given to them, I want your gaze, I want your heart.”

He’s more interested in whether the fire in your heart is burning, than what you can do for Him.

As he began to close, Jason said that God wants our gaze on Him and He wants our heart.

“Before even doing anything for Him, would you give him your gaze and your heart? He’s more interested in whether the fire in your heart is burning, than what you can do for Him.”

“He’s looking straight into the heart of Singapore right now. Until you’ve been undone by the Lord, you cannot do anything for Him. Until you begin to see who He really is, be undone for Him, you can do nothing for Him.

“I’m not talking about ministry and serving. I’m talking about what God wants to do for the nation,” he said in reference of Singapore being a missionary-sending nation. “How can we be a sending nation unless we know the One who sends us?” he asked.

Addressing both the young and old, he continued: “Will you respond to this next invitation for the next 40 years? My prayer is that the lampstand of Singapore will stand burning when He returns.

“I tell young people, I don’t just want to burn while I’m still young. When I have grey hairs, I still want a heart that burns. When I sit on my rocking chair, I want my grandchildren to say, ‘I want to be like you granddad, you were sold out for Jesus.’

“Even if I don’t see His return, I want to die burning.”


Happening from July 19-21, 2018, for the first time in Asia, the One Thing Gathering calls for young people who have purposed in their hearts to live with abandonment and devotion to Jesus, to do His work, be His voice and see His transformation in the nations.

To register your attendance, visit their page. Night sessions are free!

/ gabriel@thir.st

Gabriel isn't a hipster, but he loves his beard and coffee. In his spare time, he'd rather be on a mountain.

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A young church leader’s journey through sexuality and lust

by Aloysius Tan | 19 July 2018, 4:39 PM

Aloysius* serves as a leader in a large church where he has mentored hundreds of youths and young adults for over more than a decade. But beyond the public persona, few others know about his troubled past with lust and sexuality. This is his story.


If you’re in my circle of friends, this is something I would have probably shared about before: The biggest struggle in my life is lust.

It goes back all the way to primary school, I think it was in Primary 5. That was when there was a bit of, you could say, self-discovery, when I discovered masturbation.

I didn’t know what was it about. It was only in Primary 6 when one of my friends asked me during recess, “Do you masturbate?” I honestly didn’t know what he was talking about, so I was like, “What? Masturbate room?”

My friend replied, “No, no – it’s this.” He was making a certain motion with his hand. Knowing then what he was referring to, I replied sheepishly, “Yeah, I do lah … This whatever thing that you call it.”

And with that, they pulled me into their “group session”.

The four of us would do it together at a secluded staircase in a building near my school. It was in this group masturbation setting where I was first touched by another guy. Even the porn they introduced me to was deviant in nature: It never had two people in it – there was always a whole bunch of them.

That was the start of my addiction. And it got pretty bad because I would masturbate at least three times a day. I would stay up late at night just so I could surf the web in secret. My computer was plagued with all kinds of viruses – and so was my mind.

The consequence of having such a sexual experience in my childhood was scarring, to say the least.

What my friend did to me at that staircase really messed me up quite a bit. It meant that my first sexual experience was homosexual in nature and done in a group – something that was reinforced by the forms of pornography I was introduced to.

It made for very unnatural attractions. Though a year later our little group had gone our separate ways, I found myself trying to form a new covert group of friends to do the same thing in secondary school. I almost succeeded in my attempts several times – but thankfully I never followed through. My conscience kept me from doing so.

I had my first girlfriend around this time. I was attracted to her emotionally, but I was sexually attracted to guys. I felt like I was living two lives: In school, I was the teacher’s pet, I had good grades, I was a great student. But on the other hand, I had this deep and dark side buried inside of me.

At this point, between my compulsive desires, the frequency at which I watched porn, and the increasing deviancy of the porn I was watching – I felt screwed up.

I felt so screwed up and filthy.

But this was also the period I first came to church, where I eventually accepted Christ.

Becoming a Christian gave me the first impetus to begin fighting against lust and acting on my unnatural desires. But my struggles were still something I was not yet ready to share about.

In the mean time, I continued to grow rapidly in church. My leaders liked how excitable and energetic I was and gave me more opportunities to serve, raising me into leadership positions. Just nine months in, I began serving as a mentor. So I shepherded and taught, and watched as those under me grew as well.

But for all my “growth” and service, things still got to a point where I just couldn’t take my double life anymore. How could I be singing hallelujah in church while failing this badly in private?

A day came when I was walking with my mentor and suddenly blurted out: “Is masturbation a sin?” In reply, he asked me why I had asked him that question. We talked a bit more until he asked me the really pertinent question: What had triggered this for me?

That meant I had to finally share about what had been going on all these years. But it took me 45 minutes before I could even say a word to him.

Eventually I told my mentor about those guys, what had happened with them in primary school, and my sexual attraction to the same gender.

When I was done, it felt like a stone had been lifted off my heart. My mentor listened, but didn’t present me with any solutions. I appreciated that. He only told me I wasn’t alone, and that there were others in church who had shared with him about similar experiences.

By God’s grace and wisdom, I picked up a few valuable principles to hold on to in the fight for an authentic faith. Having Christian community and mentorship helped, but it wasn’t like the church gave me a crash course or intensive guidance on how to cope with this area of sexual struggle in my life.

The first thing I came to realise was that there is a difference between love and sexuality. Because we live in a world where love is very much sexualised, a lot of young people have this thinking: “I love you because I’m sexually attracted to you.” But that’s the wrong starting point.

Sexual attraction is not love. I can vouch that this kind of confusion exists as someone who was sexually attracted to guys because I was first stimulated by one. It made for a struggle with same-sex lust that was started and continually fed by the type of pornography I locked myself into.

My recurrent sin reinforced my wrong thinking.

Against the lust that I had known, I began to see what love really was about. God’s love is different. His love beats lust a hundred billion times to one because real love is infinitely better and so much more than lust.

Love is about sacrifice. It’s about discipline. It’s about all kinds of good things that lust isn’t. And for all I saw of God’s love, I saw that this loving God is, to the utmost, holy. I knew I had to change.

I told myself that if I keep saying, “I can’t control myself” and just caved every time temptation came – I would stay like a child for the rest of my life. And that life of self-pity would be my lot.

I didn’t want that, so I started to be accountable. Accountability was huge for me. No matter how good or bad my walk was, I would keep my mentor in the loop. Even if all I had to send were long messages about my stumbling – I kept myself honest to him.

I tried my best to set high standards. And when I fell, I would reassess what caused the fall so I knew what kinds of triggers to avoid. I’d say I learnt 4 main handles in this fight against sexual sin.

4 POINTS TO BEAT PORN

1. Acknowledge there is sin

Not only do we need to acknowledge how far we’ve fallen – we also need to see how much grace God has for us. When our hearts are broken and contrite about the state of our flesh, we’ll be interested in God’s own heart about the issue we’re bringing to Him.

Know what God says about the sexual sin you are involved in, the theology behind why you fight, the verses to lean on in hard times. When you know God’s heartbeat on the issue you’re facing, then you won’t be fighting for no reason.

2. Recognise it is a habit

For instance, though I know in my mind that my compulsive masturbation is a bad habit I no longer want, my body doesn’t. I’m a creature of habit, so though I’ve made up my mind to do something different — my body often does something else entirely.

I might not even trigger myself by watching a suggestive show on TV, but there are times my body just goes off – like a microwave on a timer – without any apparent stimulation. That means it’s a habit and an urge you can curb.

So to inculcate habits you do want instead, there must be very practical measures put in place, right down to your environment, the people you associate with and the media you consume.

3. Forgive yourself

Forgiveness is so frequently overlooked. I used to have a lot of flashbacks to what happened at the staircase in primary school with those other boys. I thought to be past that, all I had to do was forgive them and move on.

But it’s about more than just forgiving the ones who abused you. We need to take the step in the spiritual realm to declare in Jesus’ Name that our chains of bondage are broken. We need to proclaim His truth over our lives, that we are redeemed.

Often we find it easy to forgive others, but we forget to do so for ourselves. We must receive God’s forgiveness and forgive ourselves for true inner healing to take place.

4. Lose the fear

Early on, every time I faced temptation I would get afraid. I would think to myself, “Oh no! It’s happening again!”

I was so afraid I often forgot I actually have authority in Christ! Because of Jesus, I can say to the spirit of temptation, “I cast you out in Jesus’ Name.” The spirits should cower in fear — not us. We are children of God!

Whenever I fled from temptation courageously, I held one particular verse dear to heart. It’s from the latter part of 2 Corinthians 10:5 which says, “Take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

But even as I was learning principles like these, I had to reconcile all this failing and inner healing with being a church leader, because I was still concurrently involved in hundreds of lives.

If you asked me how I made it through those years, my answer would be God’s grace. There were so many weekends I’d be so happy for the growth of my ministries, yet devastated within at my own personal failings when it came to purity in the middle of the week.

As much as I fell, I anchored my struggle on the knowledge that God is not expecting perfection right now from me. It is a journey of transformation by the power of His Spirit; He is looking for a broken and contrite heart. He wants me to be blameless, and I don’t mean sinless – I mean above reproach.

“For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. (Titus 1:7-8)

That has meant a continued fight for my life against sexual sin. A fight to keep sharing, keep accounting, keep changing and growing. To that end, whenever self-condemnation or self-pity knocks on my door in times of failure, I remind myself that there is now no more condemnation in Christ (Romans 8:1).

I let my struggles remind me that my authority and victory come solely from Christ – not me. While we consecrate ourselves before the Lord, there is one defining thing to remember: Jesus is our Redeemer and Saviour, and it’s only because of Him that when God looks at us – He sees not the filthiness of our sins, but the image of Christ because we are in Christ.

I know this is the generation of authentic people. But while we are authentic, we should also be principled. We should never be any less zealous or enthusiastic for God. So even as we young people are spontaneous and all-out for Christ, let’s continue to be real in showing others who we are.

My dark childhood and sexual struggles have become a source of blessing and encouragement to my mentees, who in turn are stirred to be as honest and vulnerable as I am with them. God used these experiences to help me lead a National Service (NS) group in my church for many years — a ministry that finds sharing difficult because guys tend to be more private in their struggles.

As I look across my ministries, I see that God has created in them a culture where there is vulnerability, openness and a willingness to share deeply. We’re fighting together, and finding freedom. We’re no longer finding our identity in our lives’ repeated failures but in who God says we really are — His children!

If I didn’t have the childhood I had, and the struggles I still deal with right now, I think my ministry would look very different.

Years later when I began to consider companionship in the opposite sex, God revealed certain truths to me.

I realised that sexual attraction is just one aspect of the gift of intimacy. Beyond physical intimacy, there are also emotional and spiritual aspects of intimacy I hadn’t considered. I was looking for whole and total intimacy, but mistakenly thought that it was found in sex.

Though I still face same-sex attraction on occasion, I’ve come to see that these attractions don’t mean they are my identity. I know now that who I am is not defined by what I experienced in the past, and it is better to love a person the way God does.

If I could talk to my 11-year-old self, this is what I would say.

There’s more freedom than you can imagine that is coming your way. But it will only happen when you finally let the light in. You are going to trade your shame for Christ. You are going to exchange your guilt for healing.

God is going to help you through this. You are going to become a blessing to fellow brothers and sisters and He is going to use your testimony.

God will turn your ashes into beauty.


*The author’s name has been changed for confidentiality.

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So you didn’t like the sermon

by | 16 July 2018, 8:50 PM

Have you ever criticised your church?

Recently, a good number of my brothers and sisters-in-Christ — people who are close to me — are beginning to have their doubts about their churches on a number of issues. Some weeks it’s about something the preacher said. On another, it might be about a reckless choice of song during worship.

While it’s crucial to keep standards and be sensitive to audience feedback, upon reflection I honestly find that a lot of the criticism comes from a place of pride.

We all care for our church to varying degrees, but I find myself wishing more effort was spent on ensuring there’s edification and encouragement after a disagreement rather than a pat on the back for saying something theologically clever.

Because there’s always going to be something to disagree about, we need to learn how to disagree without causing dissension.

“If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.” (1 Timothy 6:4)

Whether it’s theological differences or wrong song choices, there’s a great deal in the Church today with the potential to divide us if we let it. But there’s also a lot more common ground than we realise.

So how can we have unity without uniformity? How do we disagree within closed ranks? If we want to call ourselves a united body of believers, these are questions we must have answers to.

PRIDE AND POSTURE

Recently, I attended my church’s bi-annual camp in Malaysia. Going with a group of young people, it was actually my first time attending such a camp and I didn’t really know what to expect.

The camp turned out to be very heavily focused on family issues like marriage and fatherhood, so a lot of the singles quickly felt left out in terms of content and context.

By lunch, it had gotten to a point where I had been in multiple conversations about the sheer irrelevance of the sermons. That sort of conversation really fed into my bitterness about the camp. I worked my socks off last week to clear assignments, paid $500 and took a 9-hour coach ride to be here for this?

That attitude of mine lasted until the night service, where I repented for being so stuck up and insistent on my own way. As the speaker ambled up the stage, I told God quietly: “I know You didn’t bring me here to waste my time, and I don’t want to waste Yours. You have something here for me, and I really want to learn it. Help me to be humble as I listen.”

And everything changed after that. When I pressed in to learn humbly, something clicked. And I began to listen to what the speaker was saying — the importance of getting marriage and fatherhood right. And so I learnt.

My personal belief is that a lot of our reactions today stem from entitlement.

Marriage, fatherhood, motherhood and family are not things that singles get to ignore. In fact, until that night I was tempted to believe that holiness in the home was just something that happened once I got married.

Nothing could be further from the truth — it takes the real hard work of fathers to be the spiritual thermostat of their homes. It takes discipline and time today. As men, our spiritual disciplines and walk with God must be on point if we want to lead a godly family.

I can’t speak for my whole generation, but my personal belief is that a lot of our reactions today stem from entitlement. At least for younger Singaporeans, you want anything — you snap your fingers and there you have it. Instant gratification in just the way you desire. So I find that we tend to react poorly when we don’t get that.

We’ve gotta respond instead. When we encounter a situation we’re uncomfortable in, we need to stop complaining as the first recourse. I know how much I need to shut up for a second and ask God what He’s doing; I’m scared to think of how much wisdom I’ve missed out on just by merely dismissing it before I really hear it.

And if you know me, you’d know I have a very binary view on life, in that every decision either takes you closer to God or further away from Him. So the next time you start openly disagreeing with a sermon or song, check your posture. At the heart of it, do you just want to sound right? Do you just want people to agree with you?

Or do you really want to lovingly build up the body of believers God has put you in?

Unity is generally an easier thing when we agree. But do we want people to also end up closer to God even – especially – in our disagreements? At the bottom line, it’s all about the net kingdom profit.

HUMILITY AND HONOUR

What if you decide that unity is the highest value in your church? What would your conversations sound like? How different would the way your ministries are run be?

Conversations either honour leaders or dishonour them. Conversations about members either respect them or belittle their concerns. Regardless, if they don’t have love in them, the harsh truth is they are just words meant to make you sound smart.

But if they are spoken in the love of God, they build up the church, its leadership and members.

“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8)

We don’t do honour very well, but we desperately need it. Especially when we disagree, we need to be able to have conversations that still encourage, edify and exhort. We are so frequently doing the very opposite, that Satan might as well recline on a deck chair given how terribly efficient we can be at his work.

We need to whip out Ephesians 4 a little more, and be mature enough to have conversations about the things we disagree with without being stumbled, or worse – stumbling others. Even if we don’t like a particular sermon, speaker or song, we need to be able to talk about these things in a way that still honours the brother or sister, that still allows for mutual edification and unity.

If it’s not mutual edification or unity, then it’s disunity and dishonour. And if you’re leader, you have the added responsibility with your words. The younger ones are looking up to you, and they will either watch your weekly disdain of the speaker or follow in the culture of honour you are making.

Look to make net kingdom profit.

/ gabriel@thir.st

Gabriel isn't a hipster, but he loves his beard and coffee. In his spare time, he'd rather be on a mountain.

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3 things I wish I knew before starting university

by | 16 July 2018, 8:08 PM

It’s that time of the year again – university term is starting. Some of you are beginning a 3 to 4 year journey of college education, for the rest, it’s a brand new semester.

Well, whether you’re a freshman or a senior, one thing remains true: The time will be up sooner than you think. As someone whose 4 years could have been better spent,  this is written with one hope only – that you don’t waste that time.

So in the spirit of the article, I’m not about to waste more of your time. Maybe those who’ve gone before me have even more advice to give, but here are my 3 tips to save time.

3 TIPS TO SAVE TIME

1. YOU CAN’T ATTEND EVERY SINGLE CAMP

I’m gonna be honest with you: Not every camp will be worth your time. Many will offer to teach you things like how to bid for modules, or where stuff is, but really … You can learn that online. Another thing you can do online – do some research on what various camps are like.

This is a personal peeve, but camps somehow have the potential to devolve into poorly-disguised mini-games simulating kissing or other suggestive activities. Forced mingling is awkward as it is, but if you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation with people you’ve just met – I’ve seen how difficult it is to just walk away.

I did a quick poll with a few friends, and more often than not, we know now that O-Week friends don’t last. When it’s time to pick modules you’ll have to make new ones anyway — only this time without the pretend-kissing and/or influence of alcohol.

So pick wisely. Know why you’re signing up for a camp – and don’t feel pressured to either!

2. WORK ON YOUR WORK ETHIC

I had the worst work ethic throughout most of my university life. The freedom of picking arts courses compounded the problem of my indiscipline. Didn’t like a class? Skip it. Prof boring? Skip! Too early? Skip!

My ala carte attitude towards modules and lessons made for an awful attitude towards courses — which made for an awful attitude towards life in general. Things became about me. Did I like doing it? Was it convenient for me?

I took the general sense of entitlement and pick-and-choose spirit into my work outside of school and my friendships, and I paid high prices for that sort of attitude. It took a lot of time to unlearn, and a lot of painful days in the working world before I saw how damaging my laissez-faire university lifestyle had been.

What if you took university as practice for work? What if you worked on making your skills excellent, and your work ethic impeccable? Stepping into the working world might be easier by virtue of hard work in an internship or attachment. Either way, you’ll thank yourself for developing the right attitude and skill-sets to take into the workforce.

3. DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK “SO WHAT”

I think it’s largely fair to say that by the time I reached Year 4, most of my batch-mates were either just waiting to get out or enjoying life before work. By midway through most of us had read hundreds of works and written dozens of papers. The sheer volume of literature we were wading through week after week left me disillusioned.

What was the point of it all? Who really cares about this stuff? Does it really matter?

Some works change you, leave a lasting and profound impact on the way you think and read. Those are great. But for every 1 of those pieces you get maybe 9 more meh ones that just leave you feeling kinda scared. Scared that you’ll spend your life on something that ultimately doesn’t matter. Like reading or writing fluff.

Often the mundanity of my schoolwork in university awakened me to the idea that there must be more than this. And that was the best lesson I took from the dozens of modules I chalked up: Don’t waste your life.

Maybe, you’re thinking that I just didn’t have a good experience — that’s why I’m so salty. Well, you might be right, I’m certainly open to the idea that I got my university experience wrong.

But the one thing I got right was to question what I really wanted out of all of it. Was I just chasing a scroll? Was it just for a job? Was entering a local university just a matter of fact, or the logical next thing to do?

The points of pointlessness in my journey got me asking the hard questions, but the hard questions led to solid places for why I do what I do. If university is a place where one quests for knowledge, then let your quest lead you to a grand purpose in life.

Die well. There’s infinitely more to all of it.

/ gabriel@thir.st

Gabriel isn't a hipster, but he loves his beard and coffee. In his spare time, he'd rather be on a mountain.

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Lessons on discipleship from a little dog

by | 12 July 2018, 11:47 AM

Over a recent public holiday, I hung out with a few good friends at one of our homes. There, I met my friend’s new dog, Taurus, an adorable mongrel who’s painfully shy.

As we spent some time trying to connect to him — which was proving rather difficult — my friend said something in particular that really made me think: Raising a dog is really like discipleship.

MEET THEM WHERE THEY ARE

I’m a tall man, so for one reason or another, Taurus was afraid of me. He would skitter past me whenever I walked near, and when I stood up in the living room he would not want to come out of his little indoor kennel.

My friend speculated that maybe while Taurus was a stray, a tall man once kicked him. She also mentioned that he’s a year old – so in dog years, he’s pretty much an angsty teenager.

After I made a few jokes about Taurus being cooped up in his room writing poems, I knelt down to Taurus’ level. And he immediately came out of his hole to eat out of my hand. I had brought myself down to his level, and engaged him with something he was interested in — kibble!

“To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.” (1 Corinthians 9:20)

It’s not that far a stretch to say that the real-life equivalent would be to initially engage a disciple on their terms, based on what they’re interested in. Baby steps before bigger ones. Just as my friend knew Taurus’ condition well, we also should know our flocks’ condition in caring for them (Proverbs 27:23).

MANAGE THE ATMOSPHERE

“Sometimes when I come back from work, I’ll run around the house and let him chase me, repeatedly yelling his name to get him excited.

“He’s only as excited as you are.”

That was what my friend told us about training and spending time with Taurus. Well, I tried that for a little bit before Taurus began growling at me — so maybe a bit more of Step One first!

“Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” (Hebrews 13:7)

If you lead a cell group, or mentor someone, you’ll know that the temptation is to fall into a routine. Eventually you’re just performing a role, and that’s really dangerous. Leaders are responsible for the holistic atmosphere of the group, similar to how mentors are in charge of shaping how interactions play out each time they meet a mentee.

So will it be an “Oh, hi” kind of thing, or will we actually show up excited to teach our kids new tricks? And even as I was thinking about this, my girlfriend, who was playing with Taurus, said to me: “It’s caught, not taught.”

LOVE IS TENDER AND TOUGH

My girlfriend was having a lot of success with Taurus getting him to go through some of the tricks he’d already been taught. Armed with a handful of kibble, she would speak him to sternly, but reward him at the end of it.

I, on the other hand, was really only good at the rewarding part. I couldn’t bear to be firm with the little guy and I would just reward him regardless. So it came as little surprise when he didn’t really listen to me.

One truth that was reaffirmed for me was this: Discipleship that is “soft” love and sayang all the way will get you nowhere fast. There is definitely a time and space for soft love, but if you spend all your time listening — never speaking life into the person’s life — the person will stagnate. And that failure would be on us as leaders (James 3:1).

“Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.” (1 Thess 2:7b-8)

As we left my friend’s place, we said goodbye to her and Taurus from behind the windows of the bus. When I saw how patient, kind and affectionate she was with Taurus, it really drove one simple truth home.

It starts with love.

Without love, all these things we know about discipleship are just processes or tips. Without love, there’s no point. In the first week that my friend got Taurus, one of the sweet (or morbid) thoughts that she had was of how Taurus would die in about 15 years. I think that the brevity of life has a way of making our love swell for our neighbour when we contemplate it in a healthy way.

Think of the faces in your cell group or those of your mentees. Start with the end in mind: What if you only had a year with them? Let this urgent kind of love be the fuel for shepherding them towards God.

/ gabriel@thir.st

Gabriel isn't a hipster, but he loves his beard and coffee. In his spare time, he'd rather be on a mountain.

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The mask he wore to church

by Oliver Kuek | 11 July 2018, 5:47 PM

You know what it’s like being attracted to the same sex as a Christian?

I certainly don’t. And for a long time I lived without knowing what that tension was like – that double-life of fear and shame our brothers and sisters go through. I remained blissfully unaware until a few years ago, when one of my mentees from cell group texted me saying that he needed someone to talk to.

That was nothing unusual. Jonathan* and I had been having regular meet-ups so I figured he just had something a bit more pressing to share that night. We agreed to meet at a park after cell.

Jon was unusually quiet during cell. Not like he was one of the louder ones, but that night he was observably unresponsive – withdrawn almost. And even more so when we sat down to talk after that. By then, his face had taken on the pale and anxious look of a person about to throw up.

So I said, “Hey man, it looks like this is something that you’re finding pretty difficult for you to say. So, take your time alright? Don’t worry about the time, you can share whenever you’re ready and when you want to.”

Even with that word of assurance, we continued to sit by the river in silence. Jon’s eyes were fixed downwards to his shoes the whole time. Some minutes later, he began tearing.

I can only imagine the pain you’ve been experiencing this whole time, not having anyone to share this with.

“Hey. What’s wrong, Jon? You can tell me,” I said. Nervous words started to stumble out as he began sobbing: “I don’t even know how to say this.”

“I’m … Attracted to the same gender.”

Bombshell. For some stupid reason I had never thought about how to respond meaningfully in such a situation. My eyebrows might have raised for a split second before I caught myself and prayed as fast and as hard as I could. God, what do I say?

Seconds later, the words came. “Jon. Thank you … Thank you for telling me.”

I remember saying something along these lines: “That was incredibly brave of you to do, and thank you for trusting me. I can only imagine the pain you’ve been experiencing this whole time, not having anyone to share this with … Your secret is safe with me.”

Jon didn’t have any more words after I spoke. He looked so alone in the dim light which seemed almost to shroud him. I hugged him as he cried hard into my shoulder.

After Jon’s “confession”, we became closer as brothers in the faith. I know he knows I don’t judge him, but I bet he knows I’m just as clueless about this whole thing as he is. I’ve never really had to think about the perpetual tension he lives in: How the heart wants a person, and yet that same heart knows deep down it isn’t the right way forward.

And how do you live as a Christian with same-sex attraction? Unless you’re out of the closet, you basically have to put on a front and lie your way through questions about your relationship status, or just be single and celibate and hope no one asks too many questions.

How tiring it must be to live with these masks. And I believe there are ways we can do better in caring for brothers and sisters like Jon.

Why have I written this? I guess I want to say to the Christian who’s struggling with same-sex attraction, that I probably understand only a fraction of what you live through on a daily basis. From the strained hope of long having asked for this cup to be taken from you, to not knowing why I was born with such attractions – I can only imagine what it’s like being in your shoes.

To see how you have not been faithless in striving towards the godliness and self-restraint God has called all of us to compels me in my own journey. And if I’ve acted out of ignorance or entitlement, forgive me. I am not better than you. We all come from the same fallenness. As such we are all offered the same grace.

How then can we offer each other this same grace as Jesus Christ offers us, whether the struggle be same-sex attraction, anger management, addiction, pride, body image, illness, grief or loving others not like ourselves?

In my view, we can always do better as a Church, one body of Jesus Christ. We are one family, and if we love the family as much as we say we do we have to stand together, with each other; nobody gets left behind.

There is a Jon in every Church – possibly even in every cell-group. I think it’s not so much about how we can change him, but how we can bring each other closer to Christ.


Names have been changed for confidentiality.

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Are you tired of being a cell leader?

by | 7 June 2018, 6:37 PM

Are you leading someone difficult?

At any level of leadership, you are going to come across sheep who are difficult to herd. You push them in one direction, in search of better pastures — but they insist on staying where they are even as the wolves approach.

Exhausted, you finally find a sheep who’s been missing for weeks, but it runs away the moment it sees you — and it’s sprinting headlong for a cliff. Or you care for one who’s hurting, and it turns around and bites your hand as you try and soothe him.

Being a shepherd isn’t easy. It’s downright hard.

It can be very tempting to rage-quit when it gets difficult, especially in dry and busy seasons. But that’s exactly what the wolves want. They’re lying prone by the mouth of a far-off cave, watching you with the slumped shoulders — just about ready to throw in your rod and towel.

Licking their lips, they’re ravenously waiting for a massacre when the sheep scatter.

So unless God has clearly called you to step down, I’m not sure we get to call it quits by ourselves. As you think about service, let me offer some of my thoughts.

6 THOUGHTS FOR THE TIRED CELL LEADER

1. We are not exempted from shepherding

Sit on this one for a moment: Whatever you’re doing for your members isn’t any different from what God is doing in your life.

As shepherds, it can be very easy to believe we’re past “sheep” issues, that we don’t need shepherding ourselves anymore. But the simple truth is we are no better. Past the metaphor, we are all still sinners before God. So He is the only one who really gets it.

After all, since the beginning, He’s been discipling and disciplining His children — but always with love. Can we say the same about our service?

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” (Hebrews 12:5-6)

So we need to get off the pedestal. I know how tempting it is to criticise a member who’s insubordinate or even rebellious. But don’t let your heart deceive you (Jeremiah 17:9) — you are of the same ilk as him. As God has given you grace, give your sheep grace.

2. Be honest, we’re just humans

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27)

Do your sheep know your voice? The honest truth is that there have been seasons where I’ve been so swamped, I’ve entirely dropped the ball with some of the guys I’m supposed to lead. That’s on me. How can I be frustrated when they don’t listen, when I’m not even making the effort to keep up the conversation beyond cell group time?

So while it takes two people to play ball, I admit there are times I’ve been the tired kid who’s brought the ball home … And left it there.

3. There is space to look up

I was talking to my own cell leader earlier this week about leading. He shared something useful about charting the ups and downs of members’ lives. His point was that if you only focus on the downs, you will burn out in no time.

And it’s not like any member’s “chart” is entirely downhill. I believe there are always victories, big or small. So we’ve got to remember the ups too.

And I can confirm it works — I already apply this to my relationship. Whenever I’m with my girlfriend, and we share an awesome experience together — I take a mental snapshot of the entire moment and I decide in my soul, “This is worth it.”

And when the tough times come — and they will come — I flip through my mental scrapbook of “worth it” moments and remember why I’d do it all over for her again.

Give it a shot.

4. We must believe the best in others

“Love bears all things [regardless of what comes], believes all things [looking for the best in each one], hopes all things [remaining steadfast during difficult times], endures all things [without weakening].” (1 Corinthians 13:7, AMP)

Whenever I’m talking to a member on a downward trend, I have a tendency to get tired of it. I think to myself, “Great, this issue again.” I get frustrated with the lack of a breakthrough, and I begin to believe they might not actually want it.

But that’s not love. Love believes and looks for the best in people. God give me eyes like You do, to see people the way You see them. Let me see them for who they could be in You.

There is no room for cynicism in a shepherd’s heart.

5. We are catalysts for change

Think back to the graph I was talking about earlier. I’m sure you can think of a few members whose graph is heading downwards.

That’s fine. Don’t be surprised especially when the lost looks lost. This is the reason you’re a shepherd! Because a lot of the times, when you meet up with them, it’s a little jump-start for them — a little spike in their graphs.

It’s a lot less burdensome when you realise it’s not your job to fix them. You are just a catalyst for God in their lives. At every point in the chart, your job is to see how to make it spike again if it’s falling, and if it’s already rising — how to make it skyrocket.

But know that God’s growth is not always our idea of growth. Sometimes it’s exponential, other times it’s slow.

6. God must be our ultimate leader

It boils down to abiding in the vine (John 15). Every problem in the world stems from distance from God, and every answer is found in Him.

So if you’re tired of a certain member, before thinking of ways to get out of that situation — and we are very good at doing this — go back to God. If you’re jaded by higher leadership — go back to God. If you’re burnt out — go back to God.

Whatever it is that is eating away at your joy cannot be solved by more vacations or carving up more free time. Sheep or shepherd, we need God like we need oxygen. You cannot lead without being led by the Spirit. You cannot feed others if you are starving and refuse to admit it.

Be honest with yourself. You deserve it — your sheep do too. Then take the time to rest with your own Shepherd.

He’s been looking for you.

/ gabriel@thir.st

Gabriel isn't a hipster, but he loves his beard and coffee. In his spare time, he'd rather be on a mountain.

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The most important thing in the Church: Unity

by | 24 May 2018, 4:35 PM

“What is the one yardstick we can use to gauge if a mission trip is successful?”

This question was posed to us by the pastor who led a recent mission trip I was on. We offered various answers in response, mostly centred on salvations.

Instead, his answer was unity. His reasoning: “The ministry of love must first exist among us before it flows out into the nations.”

I believe it. If there’s no unity, there’s no blessing. Work not done in the bond of love and peace is mere work, not worship.

And here’s the thing: The devil is using thorns like miscommunication, misunderstanding or misconceptions to steal, kill and destroy our unity. But God can also use these thorns to shape us at the same time.

He wants to posture us. To make us unoffendable. To make us more and more like who we’re destined to be.

I believe unity must be the highest value in any church, and it should be the highest value in the Church.

As believers, we are connected to one another; we are part of the larger family of God.

“From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Ephesians 4:16)

We are the body of Christ (Romans 12:4). We can have unity without uniformity. I’ve spoken to many fellow millennial Christians who are tired of the divisions. One tells me, “We are so deep in our holy huddle, we fail to see we’re not just one church.”

What would Singapore look like if we stopped focusing on being merely right, and instead became entirely devoted to being right with God?

It’s easy to refuse to accept that many other churches can co-exist within the larger Church. And it’s easy to feel the divide because there are so many barriers to unity, like pride. It makes resolving theological differences such a challenge, especially when they are addressed in antagonistic ways.

Yes, we have many differences – but we have much common ground as well! What would Singapore look like if we stopped focusing on being merely right, and instead became entirely devoted to being right with God?

“We are often divided, because we’re not desperate enough. We’re not desperate enough because we fail to see God’s agenda for deep change and wide horizons.”

This was Pastor Edmund Chan’s encouragement to local church leaders at the LoveSingapore Prayer Summit this year. One thing he said really stuck with me:

“The Church is unstoppable when it’s under God’s hand. We have to receive the commission from God and arise as the Church of God.”

He was talking about the need for the larger Church to arise in its outreach initiatives in the years to come, and how disunity was one recurrent “challenge” faced by the Singaporean church. In my view, “challenge” is putting it mildly; we have the grave problem of disunity.

And again it makes me wonder what would the Church – or Singapore – look like if we dropped our personal agendas and picked up God’s agenda? What if we swapped boasting about our knowledge and traditions – for boasting in God alone? What if we traded pride for humility?

“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:3-6)

Unity is not mere tolerance. Adopting a mindset of “you do your own thing, I do mine” is the surest path to a chasm. Instead we are to make every effort to do the will of God within the bond of love.

I know the God we serve is a God of peace. If we as believers are not first reconciled among each other, how can we expect to reconcile the nation to God? How great is our need to strive for unity between mainline and border Christianity, across denominations and ethnicity!

God help us strive tenaciously for peace!

Do you want to see Singapore saved? 

If so, I’d like you to mull over this one fact about the 1978 Billy Graham Crusade: Did you know that approximately 230 out of the 260 churches in Singapore at the time took part in the Crusade?

That’s an overwhelming majority – 9 in every 10 Christians – serving a single cause. They were of the same mind (Philippians 2:2), whether they sang in the choir, directed traffic as car-park marshals, or prayed over their brothers and sisters who responded to the call for salvation.

That’s the picture of unity we need to see and surpass in our generation.

May unity be our first recourse — never the last resort.

Do you want revival? Then you need to know what happens when a people come together in unity for God’s agenda. It’s found in Psalm 133:3: “There the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.”

Life forevermore. If we are right with God as a Church, we can expect to see the greatest blessing – salvation – run rampant through our nation.

Let’s close ranks in the coming battle. May unity be our first recourse — never the last resort.

/ gabriel@thir.st

Gabriel isn't a hipster, but he loves his beard and coffee. In his spare time, he'd rather be on a mountain.

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The double life of a mission tripper

by | 23 May 2018, 8:05 PM

One thing about missions trips that I find beautiful is the simplicity of being.

What I mean is, life becomes simple in a holy way: All that matters each day is that we accomplish a work for God — something of eternal kingdom value. Working intentionally for God’s glory in any mission context is incredibly satisfying.

For example, on my mission trip to Thailand, even in the local culture of sabai-sabai (everything is “chill”), I still felt incredibly purposed driven. And with that God-given purpose came joy, not grumbling or questioning.

But life back home doesn’t always feel that way. I’m fortunate enough that I have a job I know I’m called to, so I don’t drag my feet to work. But there are still days where it’s a grind, and I’m tempted to lose sight of that original purpose and passion. I lose the joy and clarity that comes from a life of God-centred single-mindedness.

And in this stale context, the clock resets. You start counting down the days to the next mission trip, or the next holiday or whatever it is that will numb this second, “lesser” state of being.

Why is that?

Why the pendulum between the mission and the mundane? My conclusion is some of us might be leading two lives: The “mission” and the “grind”. Let me break it down further:

  • In my mission field, I live an intentional life centred on doing God’s “one thing”.
  • In Singapore I do a hundred things in one day, and only a few of those things are for God.

See, in the mission context, even the mundane things magically fall under the hierarchy of being done for God. For example, in the simple act of taking out the trash, it’s done intentionally so that God’s workers can keep going in a clean environment.

But in Singapore our eyes aren’t quite opened that way. If I have to take out the trash it’s a lot easier to ask, “Why do I have to do this? Why can’t someone else do it?”

And the reason for that spirit is because many of us work with a wrong hierarchy when it comes to God. We like to rank priorities. We say that God is number one, and then we rank other things below Him like family, work and relationships. It sounds good – but it falls short.

The correct mindset to have is God as number one in all things: God enthroned in my family, God enthroned in work, God enthroned over my relationships.

That’s what Jesus at the centre of it all means —”mission life” is that glimpse of a life ordered by a holy hierarchy.

What would Jesus find us doing in Singapore?

Would we still be standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side for the Gospel? What is the spirit of our life? And what are we truly striving for?

What would life look like if enjoying God, desiring God, furthering the kingdom or doing God’s work was also the overarching priority of our lives – just as it so tangibly is in the mission field?

“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the Gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the Gospel.” (Philippians 1:27)

This is Paul is writing to the church in Philippi with much thanksgiving and joy. In the same chapter this portion comes a little after the famous part of Philippians where Paul says “to live is Christ, and to die is gain”.

I know a life with Jesus at the centre will be a glorious one – and it’s there for the taking. If you’re a regular mission tripper, let’s pray that the Lord will help us to take that intentionality from missions back into “normal” daily life.

God, help us discover what a life for Christ looks like.


With an expected one billion people in Asia moving from rural to urban areas by the year 2030, the number of world city dwellers is expected to rise to 70% by 2050. There is an urgent call to the Church, especially as the majority of new urban dwellers will be young (under 25 years old) and live below the poverty line ($2 a day).

The GoForth National Missions Conference, happening June 21-23, 2018, will look at an array of diverse strategies to empower individuals and churches to reach and transform cities with the love of Christ. Visit their website to find out out more.

/ gabriel@thir.st

Gabriel isn't a hipster, but he loves his beard and coffee. In his spare time, he'd rather be on a mountain.

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In sickness and in health

by | 23 May 2018, 7:38 PM

I fell pretty sick on Labour Day.

I still remember it was a Tuesday morning, and I was furiously taking notes at Momentum 2018. I had already been feeling a little unwell – dry throat – the night before at BSF, but I figured I could just sleep it off.

But not until I could physically feel the ulcers beginning to grow in the back of my throat as I sat listening to Dr. Suzette Hattingh preach. When I got home after leaving early, the spots had already come out on my hands and feet. I was pretty sure I knew what it was — HFMD (Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease).

I suffered for the next 11 days. At one point there were close to 20 ulcers in my mouth. Though this wasn’t as bad as the time I got herpangina — a record 27 ulcers in my mouth — it still made for two very difficult weeks.

I couldn’t really talk, and eating was no fun at all. And the ulcers hurt so much they gave me headaches. I remained whiny and full of complaints for days until I took my frustration to God.

And thereafter I learnt a few things.

3 SENTIMENTS ON SICKNESS

1. Let your sickness teach you gratitude

The first few days were actually reasonably tolerable. It was Day 4 when the ulcers began to appear under my tongue. Then I really couldn’t talk properly at all. Because of how infectious HFMD is, it meant I couldn’t be around people.

After a few days of frustration, as I asked God why this had happened, I was reminded of just how much I missed my girlfriend. And longing has a way of growing affection — it made me treasure time together more.

Beyond that, being cared for by my mother, I was reminded how blessed I am by her. Though I felt horrible, it was a silver lining to know God had put a wonderful mother in my life to help get me through a difficult time. By the end of it, I appreciated her a lot more.

When Mother’s Day came around, I made sure to honour as best as I could.

2. Let your sickness remind you of stewardship

While I was resting at home, a good friend of mine messaged me to see how I was doing. And during our conversation, it dawned on me just how much I take health for granted.

I often sleep late, don’t eat well … I push my body to its limits in a negative way. But it’s only when you’re lying in bed, completely helpless apart from gobbling painkillers, that you realise you could be doing better.

I don’t want to live with a body that is kept together (just barely) by God’s grace, as far as I can be responsible for its welfare, I want it to be the temple it should be (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

It needs to be strong to lift my children. It needs to have stamina for long days. Strong knees for where ministry takes me. It needs to look and run like it’s managed by a man who honours God. My falling sick reminded me I’ve got a lot to do on that front.

3. Let your sickness inculcate compassion

For a few days, my prayers devolved into complaints and whiny lamentations about my condition. It was always: God, why? God, can you faster heal me?

Until I submitted my frustration to God, it never struck me that I throughout these prayers I did in fact have the certainty that I would make it out of my sickness. I knew I would be well — it was just a matter of time.

But other people don’t have that. Some are lying in bed and facing death. Some go through rounds and rounds of chemotherapy with hope — but no certainty they will be healed. I was ashamed to see how self-absorbed I had behaved in my suffering.

It made me consider how life must feel like for those facing giants in wards or hospices. And for people like my father, who faced down cancer and never wavered in their trust of God’s character as Healer, right up to their passing … It makes me marvel at their faith.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16)

So don’t waste your sickness. Whether it’s for a day, a week or an indefinite period, let your infirmity push you closer to God.

As I’ve learnt, we can count ourselves blessed that we can utterly rely on a Saviour who has already won the worst battle for us. Count ourselves loved that we have a constant fire in dark days; stand firm in the knowledge of God’s character.

Rest, knowing that no matter how our earthly, fragile bodies may let us down, He holds you and me in the palm of His hands.

/ gabriel@thir.st

Gabriel isn't a hipster, but he loves his beard and coffee. In his spare time, he'd rather be on a mountain.

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Is your faith more than just good feels?

by | 23 May 2018, 6:47 PM

Do you remember the moment when you accepted Christ into your heart?

Think back with me to where it all began: Were you saved in a stadium bathed in lights? Or did it occur in the quiet of your own bedroom?

Or maybe you were just born into all of this, and you took these eternal things into your hands as a matter of fact. Perhaps, you’ve never really had a burning bush encounter, but you grew to know about God book by book and verse by verse. Do any of these statements relate to you?

As we go deeper together into these questions, I want you to know there is nothing in my heart that wants condemnation or shame to come from this article. God help us all to know You more authentically. I have just one last question for you, before we jump into the thick of it: What is your faith built on — an emotional experience or evidence?

Is your faith only based on an emotional experience?

I’m referring here to “initial conversion experiences”, or instances when someone believes he’s encountered God for the first time.

We cannot live on a good experience alone. Our first encounter with God must followed up with a new life that is lived riveted to His Word. If your faith is built on a singular emotional experience, on a feeling or a fleeting emotion — it is not likely faith that will last. Could one memory sustain anybody for the rest of his life?

“Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:4)

Besides, there is a temptation to believe we can “recreate” the presence of the Holy Spirit. We may not be consciously doing it, but it truly can be tempting to believe you can invite the presence of God with elements of service apart from sincere devotion. Smoke machines, programmed lights, a certain chord progression on the synthesiser — these are not inherently bad things.

A person may first find God through an emotion or a certain kind of “feeling”, but it’s not enough for anyone to only “know” God through these fleeting things. The truth is I’d be willing to wager there is more to the Most High God than a certain chord or sentiment.

Now if you accepted Christ over goosebumps or tears — that is still a wonderful thing. Don’t let my words change that for you. But I hope we all see that our first moment of salvation must signal the start of our devotion to Him for the rest of our lives.

Life cannot look the same when we learn about His character and know the things on His heart as told to us from Scripture.

Or is it based on evidence?

A faith based on evidence — a life lived from knowing the Truth — is stronger than one built on emotion. Emotions shift like sands in the wind, and memories have a way of fading and even twisting — but Scripture never passes away or changes.

““Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Matthew 7:24)

If we live on every word that comes from God’s mouth, and apply them in our lives — we are living on a firm foundation. And certainly, knowing why we believe what we believe is something all believers must strive to (1 Peter 3:15).

God’s Word is all-sufficient, containing all we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). The only thing I’d dare say about that, is that knowing about God is not the same as knowing God. If we think Bible knowledge alone can save us, we are puffed up.

Instead, we must always begin with humility. We need to acknowledge we don’t know it all, can never know it all — and we certainly don’t know it all about God. We must acknowledge our need for the Holy Spirit to help us encounter the reality of God — whether we are standing in a sold-out stadium or studying the Bible in the reading room.

Don’t build your life on nice emotions and good feels. That’s relying on a spider’s web, and it is certain to twist and fail you in times of sickness and poverty. If you lean wholly on the Solid Rock, you will never be shaken (Matthew 7:24-27). You will build things together with a Creator God that will have eternal worth.

What kind of faith do you have, and what kind would you want? You get just one lifetime to make your decision.

/ gabriel@thir.st

Gabriel isn't a hipster, but he loves his beard and coffee. In his spare time, he'd rather be on a mountain.

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How to build your personal prayer altar: Suzette Hattingh at Momentum 2018

by | 1 May 2018, 4:47 PM

“If we don’t have a personal revival, we cannot be part of a national revival,” Dr Suzette Hattingh declared at Momentum 2018 on May 1.

Speaking about the need for Singaporeans to rebuild their personal prayer altar, Hattingh told the attendees at the sold-out Star Vista Theatre: “When God wants to bring a true revival – a true outpouring of the Spirit – He will bring it to the same level as the prayer in the land.

“God is preparing the nation for a harvest. God is dealing with our destiny for the nations.”

As she paced across the stage, the 61-year-old doctor asked the rhetorical question of why we have prayer meetings or personal altars in the first place: “Our personal altar is not just for us to be personally blessed. The personal altar of God is the beginning of revival.

“You cannot give what you don’t have. Whatever flows out of your spirit will touch others – nothing more, nothing less!”

But, she said, it takes discipline to grow the passion for prayer at the personal altar.

“People always ask me if I wake up excited to pray everyday. The truth is I wake up, and the first thing I say to God is, ‘God you made this night – but you made it mighty short!’

“Though prayer wasn’t my first passion, I made it my first discipline. Now it’s my first passion and discipline – a lifestyle.”

Dr Suzette Hattingh speaking at Momentum 2018, themed: Houses Of Prayer Everywhere.

 

WHAT IS THE PERSONAL ALTAR OF PRAYER?

While she said she believes in being prescriptive and directive about prayer, the key is not the exact format of prayer, said Dr Hattingh. The key is to be praying at all.

“The issue is not how we pray. The issue is that we pray. Prayer is not about how long we pray. It’s not about an hour or a half hour. It’s about making time to meet my beloved – to love God,” she told the audience of 6,000 at the LoveSingapore event.

“My personal altar is where I meet with the Lord. It’s not a place – it’s where you commune with God. Whatever form it takes – it’s between you and God.

“Some shout, some speak in tongues. I don’t believe in recipes … I believe in the presence of God!”

God is preparing the nation for a harvest. God is dealing with our destiny for the nations.

HOW TO BUILD YOUR PERSONAL ALTAR

Dr Hattingh, who began her ministry interceding for Reinhard Bonnke’s evangelistic rallies, gave some handles on building a personal prayer altar, based on her own daily communion with God.

1. WORSHIP, BECAUSE YOUR FIRST LOVE IS JESUS

“The personal altar for me is the place where I must touch God before I can touch the people. Jesus gave us the pattern. He fellowshipped with the Father – loved the Father – then He loved those around Him,” she said.

“I love the Lord so that I can love people who I love. My personal time with God is not just to intercede or ask for things – my first and utmost responsibility is to love God.

“We are called to be a lover of God before we are a pastor or a leader.”

Here she lowered her voice, to almost a tender whisper: “Our first call is to be a pleasure unto God, and from there flows out everything else we do.”

Dr Suzette Hattingh speaking at Momentum 2018.

Dr Hattingh warned that you can keep a daily prayer altar but lose sight of your love of God; a prayer discipline can devolve into a routine. “Losing your first love does not mean losing zeal, it means losing focus,” she said.

Sharing about a time when she was burnt out with prayer, Hattingh said: “My whole prayer life had become about what God must do for us, instead of just loving Him.

“You need to build your own fire if you want fire. So at 4am I will start worshipping. If you’ve ever heard me, you’ll know my singing kills the living and raises the dead – but it doesn’t matter. Alone in my room, I start worshipping God.

“My altar of passion has to burn high before I even dare to pray for others. You are only as strong as your personal altar.”

2. WORDS RELEASED, BECAUSE WE WORSHIP A GOD OF REVELATION

“After you have worshipped and magnified Jesus, don’t stop there. It’s only the beginning. From that place, you become God’s mouthpiece from your personal altar!”

Her voice dropping to a whisper, Dr Hattingh referenced Matthew 6:4. “What you pray in secret, God reveals in the open.”

She added: “In the Holy of Holies, you’re in there not just for you to be blessed. That task you have is to start releasing things into the spiritual realm.”

Your task at the personal altar, is to be able to speak on behalf of God, because Christ is in you.

We must have a thirst to hear the word of God, said Dr Hattingh. And we must have the confidence that His Word is good and true.

“The spirit of God in you is a Creative Spirit – the same one that raised Christ from the dead, the same one that gives you words that release life into the Church. The same spirit that moved on the day of Creation, that raised Christ from the dead, that fell on the day of Pentecost!” she declared.

“We need to understand, at that personal place with Jesus alone, we become the voice and channel – the very vehicle of what God has shown to us – so that God can use our everything to start speaking into the emptiness of Singapore!

“Your task at the personal altar, is to be able to speak on behalf of God, because Christ is in you (Colossians 1:27).”

3. WAGE WAR IN THE SPIRITUAL REALM, BECAUSE YOU ARE GOD’S MOUTHPIECE

God speaks to us for a reason, said Dr Hattingh, citing Isaiah 55:11. “So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

Because God has a plan for us to be the “vehicles” of His message, Christians must move to the next level of hunger to build our personal prayer altars, she said.

“Move on from the place where just you are blessed – just enjoying Jesus. Move to the place where we contend for the destiny of our life, nation and nations.

“If we can have 6,000 people releasing everyday the fruit of what God wants into the spiritual realm – Singapore will be getting ready for revival!”

But Dr Hattingh said that the responsibility falls on believers to respond and speak up in faith. If Singapore, the “Antioch of Asia” fails to rise up to the calling, the surrounding nations suffer, she said sombrely.

“If you don’t speak, you rob your land from healing. You rob your nation from its destiny – the nations from your nation’s destiny!

“Move on from the usual place, you have the Creative Spirit of God within you. Move on to your destiny – to be a worship channel of what God wants to say over the land, so that its destiny can be fulfilled.”

/ gabriel@thir.st

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Are you praying stock prayers?

by | 30 April 2018, 11:07 AM

Prayer wasn’t always close to my heart.

The logic I lived by for quite some time was that since God knows everything already, why bother saying so much? It wasn’t until I began praying whenever I saw ambulances in heavy traffic that God did something in me.

That single decision one morning on the road inspired a new way of life, so to speak. God gave me the faith conviction that He hears every single prayer I make.

I think I even fancied myself as a prayer warrior at one point. My lifestyle of prayer really was a good thing I had going for a few years.

But what happens when practice becomes a routine? That was my problem: While the practice of prayer had led to a lifestyle, I became lazy over time. Something that was part of a beautiful lifestyle had devolved into monotonous mechanical routines.

Constant prayer became a lifestyle several years ago, but it was only until a couple of months back that I caught myself missing the point — I was praying stock prayers. Specifically, I had been praying for ambulances so long that the prayer I used had become well-rehearsed.

“God, for whoever is in the ambulance or waiting for it. Help the ambulance get to where it needs to go fast. Send help and healing to the suffering person, and give him a chance to know You as his Lord and Saviour. Preserve his life. Do what only You can do. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.”

I know I genuinely desired the injured or sick to receive help quickly. But while I trusted in a tireless God to do tremendous things, I had fallen back on templates — doing the bare minimum for the best outcome.

The heart behind it was lazy — “slothful in zeal” (Romans 12:11). I distinctly recall listening to music in the car, when I saw an ambulance speeding past me — I mouthed the necessary words as quickly as possible so I could get back to listening to the song.

It’s sad. I had gone from petitioning prayer to almost mindless mumbling.

So, I decided to reflect and find out what the Bible says about prayer.

John 15:7 tells us, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” Abiding was certainly not on my heart a lot of the time. I wanted to do the right thing, but I wanted to get it over with quickly so I could get back to whatever it was I’d actually rather be doing.

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.

“But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matthew 6:5-8)

With a chapter as well read as Matthew 6, it’s easy to gloss over certain phrases that you’ve seen for dozens of times. But this time it jumped out: Actually going into your room and shutting the door to pray takes time. Prayer, according to Jesus, requires effort and intention.

And here was the kicker: ” … Do not heap up empty phrases.” Somewhere along the way, I had lost the plot. I had became one of the Gentiles Jesus was warning about — heaping up phrases not as though talking to an actual Person, but repeating them like magic words. The more the better.

God, I need You to teach me to pray better. Give me a new heart to genuinely intercede, one that prizes a sacred sincerity far above mere eloquence.

You know how it’s like when someone wants to talk to you, and you already know what they will say — but you still listen anyway? You do it out of respect or courtesy – maybe even love. Even if that means sometimes you’re pretending to listen, just so they feel heard.

God isn’t like that. He knows every word we will speak before we say it — He knows we might tell Him the exact same thing in the exact same way — and yet He can’t wait to pick up when you call and hang on every word you say.

You see, what God desires is connection. And He loves it when He’s the first recourse — not the last resort. He even loves it when we fall asleep in His arms, halfway through telling Him about our day.

That’s a Person who’s listening in for your call, delighted to receive even a minute of talk time. So, I don’t want to pray stock prayers anymore. They don’t help me to connect with God more intimately when I speak to Him. They make me comfortable. They make me lazy.

The challenge is to pray something new and spontaneous each time we open our mouths to God. We can never surprise Him with what we say, but we can choose to bring Him pleasure whenever we speak.

“O Lord, open my lips, That my mouth may declare Your praise.” (Psalm 51:15)

/ gabriel@thir.st

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Why we don’t call home more often

by | 19 April 2018, 12:45 PM

You may have heard this verse before, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” And we thank God that it is true. But when I read the verse, I also think of how our faith is so often dependent on crisis.

How many of us only pray when there is some sort of crisis in our lives? Something we cannot control with human means, something we’ve run out of solutions for.

I wonder if less things would boil over into our laps if we talked to God more. You’ll notice that I used the word “talk”. I’m writing about prayer in the context of it being an ongoing lifestyle – almost like a regular phone call home – not just an SOS hotline.

Today I’m thinking of prayer and reflecting on how the simple act of talking to God has changed my life.

Last year, I had the privilege of listening to Dr. Leonard Ravenhill preach at my church. One of the most memorable things he said to the congregation was this: “Prayer is the privilege of stepping into the Control Room of the Universe and meeting God.”

Imagine that. We are so quick to look horizontally to each other for a word of comfort or advice, but we forget we have a similar, even more powerful vertical relationship and access to the Creator of Heaven and Earth! Jesus paid for this privilege with His own blood, and how little we use it gratefully – much less treat it as such.

Dr. Ravenhill offered a framework of “3 Ps” which really summed up who God is when it comes to prayer (the verses are my own personal examples).

Presence: Now that the veil is torn, without a need for anymore yearly mediation, God is very present and available to help us at all times. (Psalm 46:1, Hebrews 4:15-16)
Passion: He wants to help us. (Psalm 40:17, 72:12)
Power: He is able to help us. (Psalm 121:2, John 14:26)

I had such a good time researching these verses on who God is when it comes to prayer and helping us. The Psalms, especially, are bursting with God’s promises to help those He loves.

This is the point: It is rare to find someone whose help for you is always present, willing and able — but God’s help is all these things, all the time!

Some of Dr. Ravenhill’s closing words in that sermon were most remarkable, “God wants us to take hold of our power and authority in Him. No more mere looking up — look down with God and execute!

“Prayer is touching Heaven to change Earth.”

One of my mentors once said: “Prayer is the first recourse, not the last resort.” In one of his sermons, he shared an invaluable framework which he uses to pray effectively with. He calls it “ACTS.”

Adoration
Confession
Thanksgiving
Supplication

Adoration is giving God praise and worship for who He is. Confession is admitting our sins to God, who forgives and sanctifies us. Thanksgiving to God is honouring Him, recognising that we owe Him everything. Supplication is praying for our needs or others’.

It’s a very holistic approach to prayer, important angles of prayer that help foster a living, breathing relationship with God. If your prayer only sounds like a cry for help — you can go one step further and do better.

Prayer has been Christ’s chief passion upon ascension (Hebrews 7:25).

S.D. Gordon puts it far better than I ever can: “Thirty years of living, thirty years of serving, one tremendous act of dying, and two thousand years of prayer. What an emphasis on prayer!”

Prayer is what God loves. Now, I want us to step into the Control Room of the Universe for a second.

“And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people.” (Revelations 5:8)

Incense gives off a sweet fragrance when burned. So, what is the incense used in Heaven? It is prayer.

God values prayer. Think about it: When designing Heaven He could have chosen to perfume it with absolutely anything He wanted. Yet He chose prayer — anything else and it would have been unfair.

This is what Dan Hayes has to say on the inequitable nature of prayer: “In prayer, we all, regardless of our differences, have equal access to Him and equal love and grace and power from Him at our disposal.”

Prayer is the divine equaliser, because unlike preaching or worship-leading or teaching, all men can pray.

Thank God for the simple reason that talking to Him is something everyone can do. And when we pray, it brings a pleasing aroma into His home.

Perhaps it’s time we called home more often.

/ gabriel@thir.st

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Why am I always tired in ministry?

by | 10 April 2018, 3:21 PM

I’ve been thinking about this question for quite some time now.

There are the occasional gaps of time that allow for some breathing room, but I inevitably feel spent. A couple of days ago, I was sitting in the office with a fellow burnt-out colleague in the ministry, and I asked her: “Is this how it’s supposed to feel like?”

“Nope, definitely not.” And after I mulled on her answer, I was inclined to agree — purpose can only carry you so far without joy.

So what was my problem?

Because I often feel like I’m doing all the right things.

I attend church and cell group, lead cell and serve in other ministries. I have mentors and pastors I can pour my heart out to, I’m spiritually fed through BSF, I’m well-adjusted and have good support systems …

By right, I should be able to function. Yet after a long day of writing or editing articles, when I have to sit down and write something for one of my other ministries — it’s like the well has run completely dry.

Honestly, a lot of the time, I’m tempted to feel guilty.

I want my life to be poured out for God and for others, but I feel like a dry towel being squeezed for water. So, like a good Christian, I pray to God to fill me up — fill me till I’m overflowing!

Sounds good, right? But after a long time, there’s still no change.

Then how?

“Don’t forget to top-up your tank,” is a common mantra dished out to the depleted.

And sure, without being sarcastic, it’s true. I do believe we must abide in the vine.

But when I look at my colleague, who is also a good Christian doing good Christian things, and see just how burnt out she is — I wonder where we’ve gone wrong.

God, help me to see if this is an issue of workload or something more.

Because there’s that tension in ministry between dreaming big for God — dreaming something so “kingdom-sized” it’s doomed to fail without His help — and simply biting off more than you can chew.

Lord, let me do just what You want — not what I think would be good to do. And serving where God does want me to serve, I need to pray for God to increase my capacity — for my hands to keep up with my heart.

I need God to keep me honest: Simply doing all the right stuff doesn’t equate to a life of right living.

I have to be really careful as I write this next part — I’m not trying to give you a free pass to quit your ministry.

Serving isn’t supposed to be “easy.” There are somewhat less demanding ministries, as there are very demanding ones — but all require constant fuelling from God and a measure of sacrifice.

To be very clear, the heart behind my words is simply to have you consider the nature and spirit of your service.

Where I worship, my church has a policy where every leader “steps down” at the end of the year. They then reconsider their ministry commitments for the coming year, and if they are convicted to serve again, they rededicate themselves at a special service in January.

Here’s the thing: I don’t think I did that last year …

It didn’t help that my leaders didn’t actually ask me to. To be fair, in ministries where labourers are in short supply, I can see why that question might seem unproductive — even self-destructive —to ask.

Continuing to serve just seemed like a matter-of-fact to me. These ministries I was involved in were good things! So, must be good, right?

If I could turn back time, I would have properly asked God what He thought of my involvements. I’ll serve as best as I can, to the ministries I’ve already committed myself to — but there’s definitely a lesson here for me.

A final aside: Have you ever wondered why you keep seeing the same faces in ministry? 

There might be a lack of volunteers, or perhaps so-and-so is called to the position for a long season. But I wonder if more people in our church don’t rise up because we’ve overstayed in our ministries.

Are they too comfortable? Or are we too comfortable? As the next generation steps up to take the reins, we must check if we are too proud to let go of the things we’ve had the privilege of being stewards for.

No one is indispensable, and it takes humility to walk away.

God, only let me serve where You have called me to!

/ gabriel@thir.st

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Your first calling is to be a friend of God

by Thir.st | 10 April 2018, 1:34 PM

“Worship is the highest form of service. In Hebrew, one word to describe the act of blessing is ‘barak.

“It is to humble and prostrate yourself — like a dog coming to lick the hand of its master.

“Your first calling is not to do the five-fold ministry — not even to reach the lost! Your first calling is to be a pleasure unto the Lord.”

These were Suzette Hattingh’s opening words when she took the stage on the last day of Kingdom Invasion 2018. A former associate evangelist with Reinhard Bonnke and founder of missions organisation Voice in the City, Hattingh’s teachings commonly focus on the Holy of Holies and intimacy with God through prayer.

“Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him; bless his name!” (Psalm 100:4)

“The Holy of Holies is not ‘the right atmosphere’, it’s not ‘goosebumps’. It’s not a specific way of worshipping. The Holy of Holies is where God dwells and where we meet with God.”

FELLOWSHIP BEGETS FRIENDSHIP

Expounding on Genesis 2, Hattingh said, “God created Adam for fellowship. We were created for fellowship. Our first task is to be a friend of God.

“Abraham was friend of God. Enoch – we don’t know if he was an evangelist or a prophet — but we know he was a friend of God.”

Before she herself is an intercessor, Hattingh presents herself first for fellowship with God. “God is inviting us to walk into the presence of God. The Holy of Holies should be as natural as breathing.”

“To be a friend of God isn’t arrogance. It’s all because of the blood. We can only go into the Holy of Holies because of the blood, because Jesus paid the price.

“I want you to understand that Jesus rent that veil so God could invite us to come boldly into His presence. We don’t go in there by our merit, we go in there by the atonement of the blood.

“I can never understand pride when we are in the Holy of Holies. The more you see Him, the more you see you. And the more you see you, the more you need Him.”

INTIMACY BUILDS IDENTITY

Hattingh also posed a sharp question: Why do we sometimes fear when we are challenged to do ministry? Her answer was simple, “In the Holy of Holies we look at Jesus, in the world we tend to look at ourselves.

And instead of looking at our lacking selves, we should not shy away from what God has still called us to do. “It is your responsibility to administrate spiritual power, releasing it into the spiritual realm!”

“From that place where you pray and spend time before God in amazing intimacy — you have to take what happens there and impact the spiritual realm.”

And that starts with laying aside false humility. “I’m not this, I’m not that. It’s not about what you feel – it’s not about you!”

If we understand who we are and the kind of dominion we have, we won’t have such a thing as an identity crisis.

“If you don’t administer spiritual power, you rob a nation of its breakthrough. You rob the harvest places of their harvest. And how will you be fruitful? You have to speak!

“You are to fill the earth with the fruit of your love, your giving, your speaking. If we understand who we are and the kind of dominion we have, we won’t have such a thing as an identity crisis.”

“It’s not about man, or the praise of man. It’s not ‘your ministry, my ministry‘. It’s about walking into the Holy of Holies, uniting with Christ and partnering with God.”

That means that the bulk of Kingdom work is spiritual in nature, where the war is waged on our knees in prayer: “Alone in my bedroom, me and the Trinity – all hell has to listen to that.

“… So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11)


Suzette Hattingh will be speaking at LoveSingapore’s annual gathering, Momentum, happening May 1, 2018. In this year of prayer, the Momentum 2018 conference will focus on the theme H.O.P.E (Houses Of Prayer Everywhere) and dedicate itself to challenge and equip God’s people to delve deeper into prayer, intimacy with God and intercession for the nation. Register your attendance here.

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Are you content to be nameless?

by | 2 April 2018, 2:17 PM

Do you do thankless or nameless work?

That’s work that’s behind the scenes — like in the back-end of the office or the engine-room. It’s tedious work, and there’s a fair chance no one will ever credit you for it.

That’s my sort of work for this season, and it’s challenging at times. But God is teaching me to be content to be nameless.

I make efforts to be teachable and humble, but the honest truth is that I can still be very proud. I take a Kingdom mindset on the work that I do, but there’s still always a small part of me that’s striving for self-glory.

God, help me stop caring about the credit!

The nice thing about doing anything “front-end” is that you have your name plastered over it.

It’s something like being a car salesman, your pitch is good enough to make a sale — you get the plaudits. In a sense.

But the editing work I do is different. Simply put, there are times when I’m tempted to feel as if I’m the grimy mechanic in the back of the dealership. Every day, all sorts of cars roll into the garage, and it’s my job is to take a closer look at it to see what I can do.

Usually in a few hours’ time, the car is fixed — it runs! But everyone sees the salesman as the person who got the car out there, not the mechanic. That tends to be the point where my carnal nature rears its head. But it was me — I got that beauty you now see up and running!

It’s never easy for the workers doing thankless tasks.

There’s a far greater reward when we serve God in secret than when we strive for worldly credit.

But a man with a Kingdom mind doesn’t strive and crave for the plaudits of man, saying, “Look at me, look at me!” A heart truly set on serving the Kingdom is one that is desperate for people to see God in the work!

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:5-7)

There’s a far greater reward when we serve God in secret than when we strive for worldly credit. How much more effective would I be in ministry if I stopped drawing attention to myself, and started drawing attention to God in every single thing?

God sees. He sees all the work that you do. And He also sees the heart behind the work, which is a very sobering thought. When God’s eyes fall upon you, will He see sacrifice or selfish ambition?

My portion is what God has assigned to me, and my job is to do it well. It’s as simple as that. What value is there from constantly comparing the work that you do, to the work someone else does?

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Philippians 2:3-4)

Again, how much more effective would our Kingdom work be, if we competed or compared less — and collaborated more? Don’t compare!

The only time we should be scrutinising someone’s else’s work is to see if he or she needs our help. After all, we are serving the same King.

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men” (Colossians 3:23)

Acclaim and accolades this side of eternity count for very little. That’s a lesson that’s slowly sinking into me, and I can’t wait for God to fuse it to my identity as His child.

If even the highest crowns are cast before the Throne in Heaven (Revelations 4:10), what credit on earth is even worth hoarding? I want to chase what is eternal — what will not fade away (Matthew 6:20).

My God, would you make my heart right before you. Establish the work of my hands (Psalm 90:17) for Your glory. Make me an obedient vessel, let Your will be done.

/ gabriel@thir.st

Gabriel isn't a hipster, but he loves his beard and coffee. In his spare time, he'd rather be on a mountain.

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Forgive the unforgiveable: Ed Silvoso at Kingdom Invasion 2018

by Thir.st | 16 March 2018, 6:42 PM

“Let me tell you the worst story I’ve ever heard,” Ed Silvoso told the thousands in attendance at Kingdom Invasion 2018.

“I met someone who had been raped by her father from the age of 2 to 17. As a result of the abuse, she became bipolar and had a split personality. Her schizophrenia resulted in episodes which almost saw her running her husband over in a car and killing her baby.”

This was a woman trapped in great suffering and pain. How could she be expected to forgive someone like her father?

Hurts that aren’t resolved go on constant replay for the rest of our lives.

The founder and president of Harvest Evangelism and the International Transformation Network followed this up with the story of a man whose wife was full of fear because she had once been robbed.

“Every night between 2am and 3am, the wife would wake up, scream and shake her husband awake, telling him there was a thief downstairs,” said Silvoso, speaking at the Singapore Expo on March 16, 2018.

“For 20 years the husband would faithfully check the house. One night, however, there actually was a thief in the house. He pointed a gun at the husband and said, ‘Give me all your money or I’ll blow your brains out.’

“I’ll give you anything and everything,” replied the husband cooly. The thief was shocked at how cooperative his victim was.

“… On one condition: You come up with me and meet my wife. She’s been waiting 20 years just to see you.”

Ed Silvoso at Kingdom Invasion.

THE DAILY PAIN OF THE PAST

Said Silvoso gravely: “Even though she was robbed only once, she was robbed every night for 20 years.”

His point was that many people still live in the pain of their past – every single day.

“Hurts that aren’t resolved go on constant replay for the rest of our lives. Especially hurts which are inflicted by people close to us. Those closer to us who hurt us; these are people we can’t simply delete from our memory.”

“We must dispose of the old things, the hurts inflicted on us — the traumas — by learning to apply God’s grace to them,” said Silvoso.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

“The grace of God is designed to forgive our sins and also enable us to forgive the sins of those who have sinned against us — even if they have not repented,” said Silvoso.

“The moment we are saved, the grace of God comes and touches every terrible thing in our lives and turns them into new things. And that’s what the devil doesn’t want us to know.

“We have a choice to look at the person who sinned against us. We can look at them in the flesh, or in Christ.”

THE STING OF DEATH

Silvoso then told another story about a girl and a father who encountered a bee. The girl was terrified of being stung by the bee, and ran behind her father. Her father caught and held the bee in his hand. In the process, he got stung.

The father showed the trembling girl the now-stingless bee, and said: “It can’t sting you anymore.”

That’s Jesus. Christ has already taken the sting for that terrible thing done to you – or by you. When He wrapped grace around the Cross, the emblem of the curse became the symbol of blessing!”

When grace is applied to sin, God can bring good out of a bad situation. Silvoso pointed to Stephen in the Bible. As he was being stoned to death, Stephen looked up and didn’t see the angry faces of men. Instead, he saw Jesus (Acts 7:55-56).

With his last breath, Stephen said, “Father, do not hold it against them.”

Watching all this was a man named Saul. Within a few chapters of the book of Acts, this great destroyer of the early Church had became Paul, the builder of the Church.

“Look at the power when grace is applied to sin. When grace is applied to sin, God can bring goodness out of a bad situation.”

“For your city to be transformed, we need to understand the dynamite power of grace so we can be set free – totally free.”

DON’T GIVE UP

Silvoso then returned to his story of the lady who had been raped by her father. She asked Silvoso: “Pastor, why did this happen to me?”

Where was God while her father was raping her? “Fair question,” said Silvoso.

She had tried to kill herself twice in her life. The first time was at just 5 years old: She wanted to jump into the river after her mother beat her when she told her of the rape.

“Well, why didn’t you kill yourself then?” Silvoso asked her.

When the devil reminds you of your past, remind him of his future: He is going to get thrown into the lake of fire!

“Her mouth began to twitch. And she remembered that Jesus was there with her at the river, and He had put His hand on her head.”

Eventually, through clenched teeth, she managed to pray to God about her father. “Even though I hate him, I forgive him.”

Silvoso repeated: “When grace is applied to sin, God can bring good out of it.” He prayed over her and she was healed, something clicked within her spirit — fusing her split personality into wholeness.

“Sometime later, I met her again. She didn’t have a split personality, she was whole. And she had a ministry for people who were abused. Today she is a mighty restorer of the downtrodden,” said Silvoso.

CHOOSE TO FORGIVE

You can choose to forgive even if you don’t feel like it, said Silvoso.

Try this simple prayer, he suggested. “Father God, I confess that the blood of Jesus is more than sufficient to provide forgiveness for every sin, and that your grace is always read to overflow where sin abounds. I agree with the Scriptures that you will make all things work together for good — including the bad things that I now place under the blood of Jesus.”

He pleaded: “You have to choose in your heart to forgive. The grace of God has already touched everything within your soul. Now you just need to confess it with your mouth.

“We choose to forgive. We choose to forget. The pain will come back, but we must keep repeating our intention to forgive until it becomes a conviction. Don’t deny the anger — neutralise it by declaring, I am forgiven!”

Satan will keep trying to derail this process of forgiveness and healing, Silvoso added. But we have to stand firm and fight the instinct to dwell in past hurts.

“When the devil reminds you of your past, remind him of his future: He is going to get thrown into the lake of fire!”

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“Have the right finish line in mind”: Ed Silvoso reviews Singapore’s Antioch call to transform nations

by Thir.st | 15 March 2018, 5:12 PM

Very often, the work of the church stays in the church. It’s a massive tragedy, said Ed Silvoso, who brought a powerful message of discipling the nations through the marketplace to Kingdom Invasion 2018.

“We’re bringing multitudes into the four walls of the church but never looking beyond,” the founder and president of Harvest Evangelism and the International Transformation Network told the audience in the morning of March 15, 2018.

“What goes on inside our four walls, inside the church building, should happen all over the city.”

In Silvoso’s words, the Church was designed to be an all-encompassing, ever-expanding movement – an out-going, dynamic people, not a static building. “Look how we have been fooled. Can you find the phrase ‘I go to church’ in the Bible? You are the Church!”

“I don’t know if you realise how religious we are,” Silvoso said, “What is needed for Singapore to become an Antioch is for leaders to choose the right finish line.”

“That finish line isn’t more people going to church – it is discipling a nation.

“It’s not about a bigger church, but the transformation of cities and nations.”

And to effectively disciple a nation requires moving out of the four walls of the church building and bringing the church to where people are: The marketplace.

The finished line isn’t more people going to church – it is discipling a nation.

This was a concept well-understood by the early church, which explains why the Gospel exploded across the world not from Jerusalem, the original religious centre, but from the merchant city of Antioch, where Paul brought his ministry to marketplace people.

Likewise, Silvoso believes we need revolutionary and radical transition from the religious to the secular, just like Saul, who is believed to have taken on the name Paul after ministering to the Roman proconsul Sergius Paulus (Acts 13:7, 12-13, 43).

It wasn’t just a turning away from his former life as a persecutor of the first Christians – Saul was a name steeped in his Jewish roots, but Paul was a Roman name that emphasised his citizenship.

That change in identity meant that Paul wouldn’t be perceived to the Roman authorities as a Jewish preacher, but a Roman one who had a “transformation ministry”.

Silvoso made a sharp point: “Paul wasn’t just an asset to the church – he was an asset to the community.” His ministry largely involved partnering with marketplace Christians, such as Aquila and Priscilla, and equipping them to take the Gospel to the rest of the community in tangible ways.

“Don’t try and reel Aquila and Priscilla into the church, go to the marketplace and work with them,” he said.

According to Silvoso, there are four types of Christians in the marketplace.

FOUR TYPES OF MARKETPLACE CHRISTIANS

  • Christians who simply survive in the marketplace
  • Christians who apply biblical principles in the marketplace
  • Christians who operate in the power of the Holy Spirit in the marketplace
  • Christians who transform the marketplace

To make his point, he went on to share a few testimonies of transformative Christians who had the right finish line in mind. One was an ice-cream vendor in Phuket who – starting by praying over the ice-creams she sold – eventually brought 700 people to Christ. Her church has since grown to have over 20,000 members.

“Her scooter became a chariot of fire and her ice-cream cones were like arrows in the hands of a mighty woman!” Silvoso declared with a laugh.

“If you want to see what you’ve never seen, you have to do what you’ve never done.”

The other was a taxi driver named Gregorio Avalos who wanted to transform Argentina, inspired by the teaching of his pastor that to disciple a nation started by discipling a city.

He prayed over his taxi, even anointing it with oil, and began to serve passengers in Barrio Las Flores, where he lived – a city that was also the headquarters for a huge drug cartel.

The right finish line is when what goes on inside four walls once a week begins to happen 24/7 in the marketplace with signs and wonders.

Eventually, Avalos ran for and became the president of his neighbourhood association. God used Avalos’ new position to introduce men of influence to him, enabling the destruction of Barrio Las Flores’ drug bunkers. That meant they were now able to pave the streets and build sewer systems. Soon, they built a new hospital, school and train station.

In this new and safer city, people now felt safe to came out at night. And when evangelist Carlos Anacondia came to preach at a night rally, over 10,000 people came to know Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Saviour.

Silvoso was beaming as he recounted this story. “Today an entire province is being discipled – all because one taxi driver had the right finish line in mind!”

What is needed for Singapore to be an Antioch? It’s for her leaders to choose the right finish line. It’s when what goes on inside four walls once a week begins to happen 24/7 in the marketplace with signs and wonders.

In closing, Silvoso called for a time of prayer.

“Pastors, give the church back to Jesus and God will bring you your Aquilas and Pricillas with whom you will transform the marketplace. Pray: Forgive me for calling it my church – I give it back to you. It’s your church, I am your servant. I humble myself before you.”

“Christians in the marketplace, give your job back to Jesus – give it back to God. Lord Jesus, I hear you knocking at the door of my workplace. I open the door and say, ‘Jesus, come in! I enthrone You.’


Kingdom Invasion 2018 will run until Friday at Singapore Expo Halls 7/8. Night sessions starting from 7:30pm are free, subject to availability of seats. For more details, visit www.kingdominvasion.sg.

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Coming out of death’s door: I wasn’t supposed to be alive

by | 6 March 2018, 3:03 PM

I was actually about to die.

When I first fell ill, I didn’t think too much of it. I’d never been the healthiest kid around, so falling sick was not uncommon. My family wasn’t well-to-do, and since my sisters and I were pretty much left alone most of the time, we usually put off visiting the doctor unless it was absolutely crucial.

That morning, however, I couldn’t get up. This particular illness hadn’t gone away – on the contrary, it seemed to have gotten progressively worse overnight. I remember waking when it was still quiet and dark, feeling as if all the strength had left my bones.

It was worrying, being scarcely able to lift my head or speak much.

At first, my sisters were calm. It had to be a really bad flu, they reasoned. But I still remember overhearing my older sister reasoning in the next room, “Maybe we should call him.”

I was lucid enough to infer that “him” probably meant our family friend. While he wasn’t a doctor, as a teacher he always seemed to know what to do — and he was like family. That was the last memory I had before I fell asleep again.

I didn’t dream that night. My body must have been far too tired for dreams.

But within me I felt a strange lightness. I felt so light, I was almost floating off the bed! Confused, I reached for the bedside table, only for my fingers to grasp through air. Air!

This must be an out-of-body experience. The sharpness of that thought surprised me, as I’d been living in a mental haze for what seemed like a long time. I felt like I was in a different dimension altogether. Like I was underwater.

But I knew there were people in my room, trying to talk to me. Whenever they touched me I could see the ripples pulsate across my skin. Someone squeezed my hand desperately. A blanket was placed over my body, although I could no longer tell if it was hot or cold.

Had they found help for me? God, what was going on? 

All forces around me were now dancing in waves beyond the room. The sound of people’s voices travelled slowly — but from far away. I heard my sisters’ cries, and my heart sank. Even through my closed eyes I could sense the door to my room being shut, cutting off what was left of the dim light.

Then it all went silent.

Lazarus, come out.

My eyes shot open at the sound to unbearable light. I was squinting against the gleam of the man at the door.

Where was I?

The bed I once lay on was now a cold stone bench. I sat up and discovered I was wrapped from top to toe in linen bandages – grave clothes! And it all became very clear to me in that moment: My heart had stopped beating, I had died, and I was now in the family tomb!

I didn’t even take a minute to think about how this was even possible. With new found strength in my body, I stood up and walked out, emerging to a small sea of friends and family.

What a sight it was to behold — and in full colour! Most stood agape at me – mouths open, eyes transfixed – but it was my sisters who immediately rushed to my side. As they crashed into me, enveloping me in their tight embrace, I realised I no longer felt weightless — but alive!

He had come for me. There he was, Jesus, my dear friend, standing right in front of me, his smiling face still streaked with tears. Only now was I slowly beginning to realise what had happened. I began to cry.

Unbind his grave clothes, and let him go.


This is an adapted account of the death and resurrection of Lazarus, taken from John 11:1-44.

/ gabriel@thir.st

Gabriel isn't a hipster, but he loves his beard and coffee. In his spare time, he'd rather be on a mountain.

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Are you fighting with a friend?

by Titus Tan | 26 February 2018, 11:27 AM

For two years, I’ve been embroiled in a terrible fight with a good friend.

It’s a long story, but the crux of it was that greatly hurtful words were ultimately said after months of friction over a misstep of mine. That caused immense resentment to fester within both parties.

Given that I’m a “words” person, I remember feeling violated in the aftermath of that meeting where my friend cut me up deeply for my mistakes.

I know my flaws are real, and that they are great. I know I have blindspots, so I’m always open to truth spoken in love. But that wasn’t what I got that day from my friend.

Deeply wounded, we’ve been fighting on and off ever since. As I don’t have any issues with anyone else in my life except this one person, I was utterly baffled why he had such an axe to grind with me.

I felt wronged.

WHY CAN’T YOU BE WRONGED?

I was still mired in pain many months later, when I related this hurt with my pastor who had a similar experience in a friendship. He shared one thing that stuck with me.

In the midst of my pastor’s need for vindication and justice, he heard God ask him one thing: “Why can’t you be wronged?”

My pastor spoke on quietly: “God is the most wronged. And what did God ever do? All He did was save us regardless of how we treated Him.”

As I reflected on why I was so angry, I realised that my behaviour was not pleasing to God. My hatred had defiled me.

I was more interested in justice than mercy. I wanted vengeance, not forgiveness.

And in my quest for vindication I grew self-righteous and proud. I was so consumed with the need to be above reproach that I had become the judge.

I was more interested in justice than mercy. In truth, I wanted vengeance – not forgiveness.

When my pastor reminded me of what God did for me – even when I was still a sinner (Romans 5:8) – I saw God’s undeserved grace for me.

I saw how hardhearted I had been to my old friend. Like Jesus, now I wanted to turn the other cheek. I wanted to give grace to my fellow pilgrim.

TURNING AWAY TOGETHER

I see that in His perfect timing, God has been faithfully leading us towards reconciliation. With a heart set on peace, I asked my pastor, “How? How do we reconcile?”

He shared that when two people come together to reconcile, both must do an about-face on the issue. That’s walking away from the issue – not necessarily each other.

But both must turn.

If only one turns, the other continues to face him on that same issue – then it is unresolved.

I ventured to ask, “But you know how bad things are. You know how he hurt me. What if he does it again?”

My pastor replied wisely, “Then apologise for your part, and move on – I wouldn’t say too much in that meeting.”

“If a person comes with fortified walls, ready for a resolute defence or worse – a fierce attack – then there’s no reconciliation to be had. But you can make sure you are right before God.”

FIGHT TO FORGIVE

Isn’t that what matters at the end of the day? Not to be right before men – but God.

The Word tells me that it’s “good and pleasant” when “brothers dwell in unity” (Psalm 133), so I want please God on this issue. That means I can’t sweep things under the carpet – I must try for peace with all sincerity.

To that end, I invited a separate pastor to come and be our mediator at our peace talks. I suppose it was like a boxing match: We needed a referee to make sure no illegal moves or low-blows were landed from either side as we thrashed things out.

Pray for me. And if you’re facing a similar fight as I am, then I urge you: Look to make peace.

I can’t sweep things under the carpet – I must try for peace with all sincerity.

I am convinced of the need to be reconciled to one’s brother or sister, especially when serving together.

The adversary seeks to use discord and enmity – the thorns (people) in our flesh – to destroy us. But at the same time God is also using these things for our good, refinement and His glory.

God’s or the devil’s. Those are the two true sides we get to pick from.

So lay aside the weight of unforgiveness and choose well.

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How God’s love saved me from the trauma of being bullied

by Simeon Choo | 19 January 2018, 5:07 PM

It’s never easy for a victim of bullying to talk about his or her past.

Why? Because it brings them back to that experience – back to the painful shame, hurt and hopelessness. It was exactly how I felt when I went to see a counsellor about the bullying.

I couldn’t even bring myself to mention the names of the bullies as it would sicken me.

As a kid, I had a pretty normal life. I loved both the outdoors as well as more sedentary activities, but somehow never had an interest in racquet or ball sports. I didn’t enjoy wrestling TV shows and card games either.

Because of that, I learnt the cruel lesson that kids can be really mean. I was excluded from their activities, taunted and labelled “weak” just because I didn’t share their interests. I was called a “sissy” and other terrible names.

I developed an inferiority complex and a sense of self-loathing which I would carry for many years. This went on in school and even in Church! I hated going to Sunday services. I hated feeling the shame of being left out.

And somehow … I just couldn’t tell my parents how I felt.

But I always felt unwanted.

In my secondary school and pre-university days, I did have a few good friends, but whenever anyone approached me, my first instinct would be to question why he or she would waste their time starting a conversation with me.

I’m not worth your time. My life isn’t as interesting as yours.

These were just some lies that I believed in wholeheartedly. These ungodly beliefs inflicted deep hurt within me, and left a void in my heart which constantly cried out for friendship.

By the time I was to enlist for National Service, my heart finally broke. I thought to myself, I’m going to be an outcast in the army.

I was deeply comforted when I realised that my worth stemmed not from the acceptance or praises of men – but from the unconditional love of my Saviour, who valued me enough to die for me.

Up till that point, God to me was the God of my parents. But at the end of my tether, I could only pray.

With tears flowing down, I earnestly asked God whether I would be alone my whole life. Then … I told Him I was ready to accept whatever His will for me was. That moment of surrender marked the beginning of a deep and personal relationship with Jesus.

That night, I slept peacefully for the first time in a long while.

I didn’t know it then, but God had already begun to heal my brokenness.

All those years of pain and low self-esteem resulting from the hurtful words and actions by my bullies … I finally gave it all to God. And when I did, I heard Him speak the words of Psalm 139 to me:

“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”
(Psalm 139:13-16)

I was deeply comforted when I realised that my worth stemmed not from the acceptance or praises of men – but from the unconditional love of my Saviour, who valued me enough to die for me.

Thereafter, during my NS and university days, I forged many genuine friendships especially with my Christian counsellors. For the very the first time, I experienced how wonderful it was to have a supportive network in a church community.

The road to recovery isn’t always smooth. There were even times I blamed God for the bullying. Yet it amazes me how gently He responds to me each time.

In particular, 2 Corinthians 12 is a passage which always gladdens me. I am ever encouraged by Paul’s testimony of being able to rejoice in his afflictions and weaknesses – for in doing so He was boasting in and making known the power of Christ.

I realised that through my own weakness, God has given me an eager heart to reach out to others who, just like me, don’t fit the mould, are cast out or unwanted by society.

Certainly, I am still on this journey. There are still times when the painful memories resurface. And I know I still haven’t fully forgiven my bullies yet. So I constantly ask God for the grace to forgive them, just as Jesus forgave me.

And as I journey with my Best Friend, I can say with full conviction, that whatever life brings me through – I will still rejoice and give thanks to my God.

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Why try to twist God’s arm, when you can just hold His hand?

by Michele Lee | 15 January 2018, 4:50 PM

It’s tempting to think we can “manipulate” God into giving us something better.

For example, have you ever prayed these kinds of prayers?

  • Jesus, I have spent so much time on ministry, so please bless my work in 2018 …
  • Jesus, I promise to give you the best 15 minutes of my day, now shower me with Your blessings …

We are not the followers of fickle-minded or careless gods. We don’t worship and make sacrifices to sweeten the tongues of smaller gods, who in turn give reports of our behaviour to bigger gods.

Our Most High God is not capricious – He does not change His mind on whims or fancies. Hebrews 13:8 tells us that, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever”.

God will not be manipulated. It’s just not something we can do. He does not change like the shifting shadows (James 1:17). Consider this hard-hitting interpretation of Isaiah 1:11-17 from The Message version of the Bible:

“Why this frenzy of sacrifices?” God’s asking.

“Don’t you think I’ve had my fill of burnt sacrifices, rams and plump grain-fed calves? Don’t you think I’ve had my fill of blood from bulls, lambs, and goats? 

“When you come before me, whoever gave you the idea of acting like this, running here and there, doing this and that — all this sheer commotion in the place provided for worship?

“Quit your worship charades. I can’t stand your trivial religious games: Monthly conferences, weekly Sabbaths, special meetings — meetings, meetings, meetings — I can’t stand one more! Meetings for this, meetings for that. I hate them! You’ve worn me out!

“I’m sick of your religion, religion, religion, while you go right on sinning. When you put on your next prayer-performance, I’ll be looking the other way. No matter how long or loud or often you pray, I’ll not be listening.

“And do you know why? Because you’ve been tearing people to pieces, and your hands are bloody.

“Go home and wash up. Clean up your act. Sweep your lives clean of your evildoings so I don’t have to look at them any longer. Say no to wrong. Learn to do good. Work for justice. Help the down-and-out. Stand up for the homeless. Go to bat for the defenceless.”

God is all-knowing and all-powerful. He is neither fooled by our “charades” nor in need of help or motivation from us to do His thing.

He has already told us what is good and required of us: To do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with Him (Micah 6:8). But don’t read that like a checklist of Key Performance Indicators: God isn’t interested in our performance. No, our primary work is simply to believe in Him.

Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: To believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:29)

What matters to Him is we give our hearts to Him: Broken and contrite hearts (Psalm 51:16-17), hearts which He will continue to mould and perfect until Jesus comes again (Philippians 1:6).

There’s no more need to twist God’s arm for things. Just hold His hand, follow His heart and walk with Him. Seek first His righteousness. And then all these things shall be added unto you.

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Die, disciple, die

by Senior Pastor Lawrence Khong, Faith Community Baptist Church | 13 January 2018, 12:11 AM

And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:23-25)

The call to discipleship is the call to the crucified life. The only way to spiritual fruitfulness and fulfilling God’s commission and will is the crucified life.

The answer isn’t more giftings or anointing, because God is already working among us.

We need death.

Think of Paul’s words in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

A committed life will not cut it. Only a crucified life will. A dedicated life will not cut it – only a deceased disciple can!

We have watered down what the Christian faith is. We often say that there are believers, and then there are disciples. But the Bible never makes that distinction: There are only disciples of Jesus.

In Biblical times, to follow Jesus was to be cut off from their community. They were seen as a cult, they gave their lives. When we give our lives to Christ, that’s what it looks like.

A BAPTISM SERVICE IS A FUNERAL SERVICE

The crucified life is Discipleship 101. This is what baptism means: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death?”

A baptism service is a funeral service! So when you’re put into that water, you’re buried – you’re dead!

We are baptised to be raised into the glorious resurrected life, fulfilling God’s purpose and nothing else. We are lifted up to live out God’s fullness.

So it’s not about commitment, its about crucifixion. Not dedication, but death to self. Not being driven by a call but being driven by the cross.

The crucified life is not a balance between God’s agenda and mine. It is a complete eradication of my own ambition. No longer my agenda but Christ’s!

And there’s no such thing as being “a little” crucified. Either you are crucified, or you are not. Either you are dead, or you’re not. If you’re half-dead, you’re not dead!

Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies!

There’s no middle ground when it comes to death. The crucified life is not a balance between God’s agenda and mine. It is a complete eradication of my own ambition and agenda. No longer my agenda but Christ’s!

It’s not a compromise between what I desire and what God wants. It’s not about me anymore.

GO AND DIE

The crucified life is about coming to a tomb, looking at the tombstone, and seeing your very name carved on it. Each time we have a problem in the Christian life, all we have to do is come back to the tomb and remember we are dead!

A dead man is never afraid. A dead man is never offended. A dead man cannot be hurt by anyone.

It’s not about you and me: It’s about Christ, and what He desires. So every time your will and God’s clashes, just die. Every time you are stung by criticism – just die again.

God says … Go and die.

Because when we keep coming back to our own crucifixion on the cross, the life of God in us grows!

There’s no middle road. Either you are crucified in Christ and Christ is living in you, or you’re not walking the crucified life.

THE CRUCIFIED LIFE IS ABSOLUTE

After 40 years of full-time ministry, I’m back again at the basics.

We’ve gone through all the studies, and I’m not belittling them – most of us are educated beyond our intelligence – but I find that no matter what happens, I come back to the bottom line. I come back to the revelation on the Cross.

There, nothing is complicated. There’s a solution for every problem at the Cross. It solves every problem.

“I can’t stand my wife, she’s so naggy!” Just die again. “I don’t feel like loving her!” No problem, just die to self.

Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies it remains alone!

Death is the most liberating experience. In death we have the resurrected life.

Commitment alone won’t cut it. There are people who are determinately committed to a cause … But they fail. They run out of steam. They give up.

Only a crucified life cuts it. It’s not just a commitment to the cause, it’s a commitment to the Cross.

God has begun to show me what the crucified life is about. Death is the most liberating experience. In death we have the resurrected life. The crucified life is absolute.

THE CRUCIFIED LIFE IS EXTREME

The crucified life is giving yourself to doing God’s will no matter what it is – no matter what it costs.

Many pastors and theologians are very scared of the word “extreme”. People tend to say, “Be careful, don’t go to the extreme”. But did you know there are two sides to “extreme”? There’s a good extreme and and a bad extreme!

And did you know that the Cross of Jesus Christ is extreme? That the love shown at the Cross is extreme?

That the Creator of Heaven and Earth would come as man – that’s extreme! That He would empty Himself, be obedient even to the point of death – that’s extreme.

God has never called us to be a moderate Christian. He never said, “Love me moderately”. No, what does the Bible say? Love the Lord your God with all your heart. All that you have.

His love for us is extreme. So our love for Him must be extreme, too.


Adapted from a sermon preached by Lawrence Khong, Senior Pastor of Faith Community Baptist Church, at the LoveSingapore Pastors’ Prayer Summit 2018.

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Stressed about planning for Christmas?

by | 14 December 2017, 1:05 PM

I was recently trying to write something about Christmas so that people who aren’t Christians would be able to understand what it’s truly all about. But it only made me realise that many Christians ourselves don’t really know what Christmas is either.

We offer up all the stereotypical answers like, “Christmas is all about thanksgiving”, or,“It’s about joy!”

But what do our Christmases really look like?

Sadly, in recent weeks I’ve heard about families who bicker over simple Christmas stuff like “where to hold the party” or “who’s bringing what”.

Where’s the generosity and gratitude? There are countless families this Christmas who won’t be able to celebrate anything because of war or famine. Someone’s parents might have died in an air raid. Or drowned at sea as they fled their country in boats.

We have so much to be grateful for, and we are blessed to bless others. In any celebration, hearts of generosity and gratitude produce lasting joy.

So if Jesus were to show up at your party – and this really should be a starting guideline – what would He really find upon walking in?

Grumbling or grateful guests? Humble hosts or hedonistic indulgences? I don’t know.

It often feels like some of us obsess over planning a birthday party for our best friend to the point we actually forget to invite Him.

But I think a lot of us have missed the point: Christmas is about Jesus. It’s about sacrifice and thanksgiving – remembering what Christ did for us.

Which is why it’s so sad to see us being Marthas over Marys. Are we so caught up with making everything perfect – making sure everything’s super Christmassy – that we forget the Reason we’re celebrating in the first place?

Let’s put our pride down and humbly serve the Lord, putting together His event His way.

Because as I reflected on the nature of these Christmas events, I wonder if it’s as if some of us are planning a birthday party for a stranger. You need to know what the person likes and dislikes – what’s on the person’s heart and what he even wants.

Whatever it is you’re doing in December, just slow down and think with me for a second: What does God actually want out of our Christmas? More … stuff?

Or does He want something more like finding His child ready to sit and have a unhurried chat – quality time?

At least from what I’m seeing, it often feels like some of us obsess over planning a birthday party for our best friend to the point we actually forget to invite Him!

Each time we reach the turn of a new year, we have a tremendous opportunity to realign our vision to God’s – to recalibrate our lives for His glory and purposes.

How wonderful this season would be if our Christmas parties pointed our guests to Jesus. I know it’s going to be so refreshing, sitting by His feet in grateful celebration together.

Dear friend, there’s more than enough striving in the year. I hope you choose the better option this Christmas.

“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42)

/ gabriel@thir.st

Gabriel isn't a hipster, but he loves his beard and coffee. In his spare time, he'd rather be on a mountain.

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It’s Christmas! So what?

by | 11 December 2017, 6:40 PM

If you ask most Christians what they think Christmas is about, I’d wager the answer would sound something like “a season of thanksgiving” or a “time for joy”.

People who aren’t Christian might also say something similar about The Christmas Story – and it’s usually pretty accurate.

That famous story is quite perfectly summed up in another famous verse: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Christmas in all of 24 words.

Maybe you know the details: About 2,000 years ago, a baby boy was born. But not just any baby. This one fulfilled all of the promises God had given to the world: That He would be miraculously born to a virgin, in a little town called Bethlehem in Israel. He would be called Jesus, which means “He saves”.

This Son of God had to be born a Son of Man because only in the flesh could He be sacrificed to pay the price for the sins of all men, paving a way to reconciliation with Father God. He saves.

Christmas is the day when hopeless humanity — mired in sin and doomed to die eternally — was offered a saving solution by God the Father through His Son Jesus Christ’s birth and eventual sacrifice on the cross.

If we as Christians truly confess, believe and accept that Jesus is Lord – then our lives would change, following Christ with all our hearts. We’d grow to be more giving, gracious and full of gratitude. Honouring His love and sacrifice, the spirit of Christmas would be an everyday thing.

But the truth is, many Christians don’t look like that. And these are all qualities quite foreign to Singaporean culture itself.

You need only to look at the vitriol online these days, the self-gratifying hate at Annie Ee’s victimisers, or the thankless, quick-to-complain nature of many Singaporeans to see that as a nation, we don’t do Christmas very well.

So many of us have settled for this way of life: We criticise, we quietly dissent and we strive as the fear of losing out kills off love for our neighbour. We spend all our time buried in work, increasingly numb to the possibility of true purpose.

Whether we know it or not, our souls have an innate longing for all that is higher.

And fair warning for the few of us who’ve “made it” in this world – life is good until it’s not.

It’s harder for the comfortable because worldly pleasures can entrap and blind. Our culture of comfort dulls our hearts for the grander things of God.

Truly, whether we know it or not, our souls have an innate longing for all that is higher. But many of us are conditioned to spend our lives pursuing hollow happinesses, only to wake up one day in bed and see the desperate emptiness of things – and that’s if you’re fortunate!

So, be fair to yourself. Look deep into your heart and sincerely weigh if beyond all the stuff you’re amassing – you have a constant peace, hope and joy.

Think now about this “spirit of Christmas”. That tangible air of thanksgiving and joy you feel and anticipate annually? That excitement for something different – something almost magical?

That’s just a small taste of a life spent as God’s own child. It’s a fraction of true joy that even a dulled heart feels.

But it doesn’t have to be that way, you don’t have to wait until you’re at the end of yourself to see truth. That’s time you don’t have to waste – and you really don’t have time to waste (Psalm 144:4).

Jesus is the only way, the truth and the life (John 14:6). He offers the gift of salvation. He holds joy out in His hand, joy that doesn’t fade when hard times come. He gives peace that is better than any kind of security the world puts out.

Don’t shortchange yourself in this life – where you will spend eternity is at stake.

If you feel hopeless – perhaps even disillusioned by religion – I want to tell you that a relationship and life with Christ is the only hope for a better world (Revelations 21:4).

Don’t shortchange yourself in this life – where you will spend eternity is at stake.

This Christmas, don’t be cheated of what you could have, celebrating for just one day when there’s an eternity worth dancing over!


Here’s how you can accept Jesus Christ into your heart through a simple prayer of faith:

“Lord Jesus, for too long I’ve kept you out of my life. I know that I am a sinner and that I cannot save myself. No longer will I close the door when I hear you knocking. By faith I gratefully receive your gift of salvation. I am ready to trust you as my Lord and Saviour.

Thank you, Lord Jesus, for coming to earth. I believe you are the Son of God who died on the cross for my sins and rose from the dead on the third day. Thank you for bearing my sins and giving me the gift of eternal life. I believe your words are true. Come into my heart, Lord Jesus, and be my Saviour. Amen.”

If you’ve said this prayer and would like help getting connected to a local Church or community of believers, feel free to drop us a message at hello@thir.st! You could also pop by one of the many Churches celebrating Christmas this weekend – find one near you using our Christmas directory!

/ gabriel@thir.st

Gabriel isn't a hipster, but he loves his beard and coffee. In his spare time, he'd rather be on a mountain.

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The other story behind the ban mian auntie

by Thir.st | 6 December 2017, 1:42 PM

If you’ve been following the news, you may have seen the video or heard the story of the ban mian seller who turned her life around.

When Madam Leong’s husband abandoned her and her young daughter, she was left struggling financially and even contemplated suicide.

Desperately begging her not to jump, Madam Leong’s daughter was able to encourage her mother back onto a better path, which saw her opening a ban mian stall in 2015.

Her story has since gone viral, and long queues have formed at her stall as it touched a lot of Singaporeans.

But there’s actually even more to Madam Leong’s life-changing experience, captured by Hope Church Singapore in an interview with her for Mother’s Day this year.

In it, Madam Leong reveals that a few days after contemplating suicide, she met an old lady who heard her struggles and shared the Gospel with her.

Feeling utter hopelessness that night, she prayed for the first time to Jesus for a good night’s rest. She woke up in the morning bathed in a bright light that inexplicably made her joyful … Hopeful.

Already encouraged by the encounter, her daughter spurred her on to open a ban mian stall. Knowing full well that such an endeavour would be arduous, Madam Leong prayed about it.

And faithfully, God began to open doors for her: The coffeeshop boss approached Madam Leong to offer her a stall for just $50 a day.

Her cell group pooled money together to love and support her in tangible ways. Then articles written about her story went viral.

All these little miracles have pointed her to the providence and reality of God.

“God loves me so much,” Madam Leong shares in the video, “I told Him I will not give up.”

“I will carry on because God is real.”


If you’d like to support Madam Leong, you can visit her at her stall at Blk 31 Holland Close, #01-241.

Mon-Fri: 10am-3.30pm
Mon-Fri: 5.30pm-8pm
Sat: 10am-8pm
Closed on Sundays 🙂

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Are you constantly comparing yourself to others?

by | 4 December 2017, 3:34 PM

Have you ever tried to be someone you’re not?

I’ve always thought I was pretty well-adjusted and secure in my identity as a child of God. But I soon met a curveball at work when I started comparing myself to some of my colleagues. Two of them in particular are extroverted and gifted orators — qualities I don’t possess.

The funny thing is that I have no particular impulse to be extroverted or a speaker, and yet I compared myself to them.

“Each of you must examine your own actions. Then you can be proud of your own accomplishments without comparing yourself to others. Assume your own responsibility.” (Galatians 6:4-5)

I had become envious of their gifts from God, of the value they were bringing to the Kingdom. But what I should have been looking at was God Himself — keeping my own heart and work in check.

Serving in ministry, I think many of us begin the work with good hearts. But when pride in our work is left unchecked, conceitedness can creep into our hearts, especially if we want to do a big thing for God.

But as God’s children, there’s no space for a spirit of comparison in our work or ministries(2 Corinthians 10:12) .

Because the thing is, if you constantly have your eyes on the people around you, a day will come when you eventually stop looking at God altogether.

Making comparisons only leads to rivalry (Philippians 2:3) and pride — never true humility. It makes for divisions and sides though we are all God’s children — equally loved.

When you see the magnificent things that are happening through these people’s lives — the results of God’s anointing and blessing — intentionally give God the glory.

If you must look at people, then look at the Almighty God who is working through them. And when you see the magnificent things that are happening through these people’s lives — the results of God’s anointing and blessing — intentionally give God the glory.

For what He is doing through them is entirely because of Him. The very moment we begin to think otherwise is when pride has crept in. Things will slowly start to be about us.

And if we continue going down that path, we’ll eventually begin claiming His glory for ourselves.

I spent a few weeks making such comparisons before God shook me out of my stupor. And I’m thankful He did, because all I was doing was wasting time.

The simple truth is that if we keep trying to be someone we’re just not meant to be, we’ll never become who God wants us to be.

And that’s exactly what the Adversary wants: For us to be derailed and distracted from walking into our God-given destiny.

If we keep trying to be someone we’re just not meant to be, we’ll never become who God wants us to be.

I recently attended Hillsong’s Worship and Creative Conference, where the band introduced two of their new songs, which will be released next year. Both these songs had verses which really spoke to me.

Make me a vessel, make me an offering
Make me whatever You want me to be
(New Wine)

I am chosen, not forsaken
I am who You say I am
(Who You Say I Am)

The words seemed to take on a whole new meaning for me as I worshipped freely — my life and destiny once again abandoned to the sovereign will of God.

So who are you really?

And who will you choose to be? I know in my heart that there is a unique plan and role for each and every one of us in the family of God. God has chosen us, and given each of us our portion for this life.

The bigger question at hand is whether we will steward our unique gifts and stories, and imitate Christ (Ephesians 5:1). Not people — but Christ!

A right view of our place in the Kingdom produces thanksgiving and peace. So there’s no need to strive — or for strife — because we belong to Him.

When we live from acceptance, we no longer have to live for it.

/ gabriel@thir.st

Gabriel isn't a hipster, but he loves his beard and coffee. In his spare time, he'd rather be on a mountain.

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Orphaned at 28, I wanted to commit suicide

by Chris Asher Ang | 21 November 2017, 5:14 PM

I experienced my first anxiety attack right after my mum passed away in front of me — from a brain haemorrhage in a Hong Kong hospital.

For once in my life, things had actually been going along relatively well. Having moved past the delinquent years of teenage-hood, I was walking a better path at 22. I was finishing up my National Service in the Police Force, I was getting ready to return to school, I was leading and growing well in Church …

But all that came crashing down with one phone call.

UNEXPECTED REUNIONS

I was on shift as a police officer when my cellphone rang sharply one night. I looked at the familiar number that was calling me and realised it was my dad. This was surprising because since we had a dysfunctional relationship and my parents worked in separate countries, none of us really spoke at all.

I picked up the phone and said my first hello in months, “Hi Dad.”

“Your mum collapsed at work, and it’s due to an internal haemorrhage,” he said. My mind went blank and I could barely respond, but he continued without relent, “Can you fly over?”

I borrowed money from my aunt and took the next flight out to Hong Kong. I was in such a rush that it was only on the plane that I realised I was still wearing my tactical belt!

When the plane landed, I emerged from the airport’s doors to the sight of a sizeable contingent of my mum’s colleagues. They were waiting for me anxiously, faces ridden with worry. After I squeezed into one of their cars, we sped off to Queen Elizabeth Hospital.

It had been awhile since I last saw my mother. When I finally did so that day, she was unconscious, surrounded by strangers who busied themselves over her shaving her head and checking charts. Wrappings of various sorts were pulled over her face and from where I was, I could see numerous tubes running through her.

Looking at everything, looking at all the blood … I couldn’t speak.

As I stared at the scene before me in disbelief, someone tried explaining to me that the blood vessels in my mother’s brain had burst. And in a lowered tone, they told me they didn’t have the technology to fix the clot.

There was the option of a certain kind of operation, one that would likely paralyse her and severely impact her quality of life. Where they would operate was just over the location where the brain sends signals to the rest of the body to do things — and that meant my mum wouldn’t be able to do a lot of things when she woke up. If she woke up.

And now I had to choose. As my dad was unable to reach Hong Kong till the next day, he told me that he wanted me to make the decision.

I told everyone I needed some time.

JUST AWHILE MORE

By the next day, most of the people who mattered to my mother were filling up the ward she lay in. I could tell she knew we were around, but she couldn’t move or respond.

She pulled through the next few days, but by the second week, most of my external family had to fly home. Eventually it was just my father and I taking turns to be with her. One of those days, he had returned to his hotel to rest, so I took over and watched over my mum.

I still remember lying on the side of her bed, just watching her. And then I heard God gently say: “Your mum has fought a good fight. What is waiting for her is a crown that will never end.”

It sank in then that her time had come. I knew in my heart that God was about to take her home. But I held on — I was reluctant.

“God … Just awhile more.”

He said nothing in reply to me. But just then — for the first time in days — my mum moved! I realised she was actually awake when she squeezed my hand in hers. She squeezed it as tightly as she could. Hope surged in me as I squeezed back, and we looked at each other.

There were tears in her eyes as she smiled one last time at me. And just as suddenly as she had returned to me — she left.

As I started wailing, the walls of the ward seemed to shift and move steadily towards me. The cramped room I was now alone in began closing in on me, and I remember feeling small. So, so small.

Nurses burst into the room and attended to me as I lay on the floor, hyperventilating from the first anxiety attack of many to come. In between the hot tears that streamed down my face, I could make out in the corner of my eye the shape of my father standing silently at the door of the ward.

ANXIOUS YEARS

When we returned home to Singapore, I tried to slip back into the rhythms of life. I looked for semblances of normality in school and in ministry, where I was serving in a leadership position.

The overwhelming stress I experienced in my polytechnic years were often a trigger for my panic attacks. Nobody knew I was struggling from anxiety until I told a small group of people in Church. But they weren’t equipped to help someone with anxiety — and they regrettably made a few mistakes with me.

They told me, “Chris, your life isn’t right — go back and pray”, and then they sent me for spiritual warfare class. I said it was a mental issue, but they told me God could heal me.

So the panic attacks continued to plague me, and all I’d hear were the words “you are worthless” over and over each time they happened. I’d be crossing the road and the anxiety would arise out of nowhere: You see that car over there? You should go to the road and let yourself be knocked down. You’re not worth a single thing at all!

Once I could hear God so clearly, but now every single day was a battle against the new voices to stay alive. And I grew more anxious and angry as time went by.

Some time later my cell leader backslid — he had been dealing with his own demons — and this fractured our group. So we split up. After that, someone actually told me that it was possibly because of my sins that this had happened to us.

I was seen as the source of all the problems in cell and ministry. They told me I would stumble all the people I led unless I got my act together. I didn’t know what to do. It took a few more similar incidents before I finally was able to see that my current Church wasn’t a healthy place to be for me. And I prayed for God to take me out of there.

Then during my Quiet Time, God spoke to me through Isaiah 43. He told me to specifically search for a Church with had a theme verse with the Greek word kainos (new) in it. I searched, and I found that Church.

But even after joining a new community, things were still rough. One year into my new Church, I was quarrelling frequently with the mentor assigned to me, I was battling daily anxiety attacks … The list of bad things seemed endless. The weight of life upon my shoulders was unbearable.

And it all finally broke me when I learnt early last year that the doctors had found a tumour in my father’s lymph nodes.

SON, I LOVE YOU

One night in March 2016, as I watched my father lie in his hospital bed — life slowly ebbing away from him — I decided that I was done with my own life.

I’d had enough. I didn’t want to handle all of it anymore. I didn’t tell anyone. I just made plans and went to a high building in my neighbourhood and got ready to kill myself.

On the highest floor, I put down all my stuff, placed my phone on the ground and began to climb over the parapet. As my legs dangled over a dizzying height, a warm and familiar voice spoke firmly in the quiet night.

Son, I love you.

I heard God tell me that — clear as day — like a friend. As a Father.

And it was enough. Weeping, I came down from the ledge.

Suddenly, my phone started buzzing on the floor. I wiped my tears and looked to see who would be calling at 1 AM.

It was my mentor who I’d been fighting with for most of the year.

Over the phone, he told me he had woken up to use the bathroom when he was prompted by God that he should call me. And then — he probably heard me stifling sobs — he asked me if I was crying. I remember saying not too lucidly that I was “perfectly fine” and simply enjoying the “high view” from where I was.

It must have been divine discernment, because even in his stupor he connected the dots and cried out, “But Chris — you stay on the second floor! You wait! You sit! I’m coming!”

When he found me, the first thing he did was to embrace me tightly. And as he held me — I think he knew just how much hurt and pain I’d been through — I cried my heart out.

I wept so loudly that a neighbour came out of her house to investigate. When she saw two grown men hugging just under the parapet, she was shocked, demanding to know why my mentor was hugging me and why I was in a pool of tears! She thought I was being violated until I quickly explained what had happened.

When she went back into the house I started laughing for the first time in a long time. Though still sombre from the emotional moment, my mentor started laughing as well. We laughed and laughed, and the darkness around us felt lighter.

That night I had found a true friend beyond my Father God. Just like Him, my mentor was for me, not against me. I haven’t forgotten his words to me before we parted: “Chris, how can I help you? How can I pray for you?”

KAINOS

God has taken me a long way since those dark days. I am laughing again — the life is back. I still struggle with anxiety but I believe I’m well on the road to recovery and that healing is on the way.

I have seen how God has used my story to touch the lives of those around me. Because I share openly about my past, people who also struggle from anxiety feel safe enough to share their journeys with me. And that allows for me to be a channel of encouragement and God’s love for them.

Now I truly feel like I belong in my cell group and my Church, and I am surrounded by people who genuinely care for my well-being and want to walk with me in my struggles. I live each day strengthening my spirit-man, my mind and my body. I work out and keep fit, I stay engaged with people, I stick close to God. I daily overcome.

And now I work as a social worker! I love that I’m not desk-bound, and that I get to make home visits and touch the lives of at-risk youth.

I look at everything God has brought me through, and I count myself blessed to still be here. I give thanks that I’ve survived. And then I look upwards. I see my Father God who has loved me since I was conceived in my mother’s womb.

And I know He has wonderful plans for me. I know He will use me to do good in this world.

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In ministry, learn to hold loosely to whatever you create

by | 8 November 2017, 4:01 PM

Having served in my church’s performing arts ministry for just over three years, the single most important lesson I’ve learnt so far can be summed up in a few words my pastor shared with me right at our very first ministry meeting:

Learn to hold loosely to whatever you create.

The principle of holding loosely in such a ministry means that while we take pride in our work and do our best, we remain humble and gentle enough not to insist on our own way when an executive decision is made. We don’t have our feelings hurt.

We have instead the overarching perspective of furthering God’s kingdom – God’s way.

HOLDING ON TO HONOUR

I’ll give you a hypothetical example: If I spent four days creating a video for a church event’s publicity and my pastor, after seeking God and sincerely chewing on the issue, decides the video just doesn’t work – that’s alright. I hold loosely. I let go.

I’m able to sacrifice my work, though it be precious to me, because I’m trusting that God’s purposes will be achieved in His way. Then I honour my leaders by submitting peaceably to the executive decisions made.

Of course, it would feel foolish and painful to make such sacrifices if the leadership is unwise or callous. While we believe the best of our leaders, we also need to be wise in managing the inevitable disappointments in our ministries.

We want a culture where we honour each other, and each other’s work.

So this culture of honour only works if it goes both ways. Those who lead have an obligation to make sure that their vision and instructions are clear, so that co-labourers in the ministry produce the right thing at the right time.

Any project will experience cuts and changes, but you never want to waste a person’s time by first being unclear or indecisive. Leaders shouldn’t treat the principle of holding loosely as a trump card to play so decisions can be made on whims and fancies. Things should only be scrapped outright as a last resort.

We want a culture where we honour each other, and each other’s work.

LETTING GO OF PRIDE

Having worked with my young adult pastor for a few years, our relationship has gone from co-labourers to friends. I can see his heart for God, and I know that his decisions are made on the basis of how best to serve the Kingdom.

That makes it very easy to trust and submit to his leadership.

For example, last year, I spent many hours making this one prop for the Good Friday play. It ended up not being used, and I was genuinely alright with that. Why? Because from the start I had the principle of holding loosely in my heart, and I have a similar baseline as my pastor.

All I care about is that it works – that the whole thing we’re doing is ultimately something of eternal value. And if it stings, I just remind myself of the principle behind Matthew 6:4-6. God rewards those who serve and seek him in secret.

“… Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:4-6)

In the times I serve God with that heart, I find that nothing is ever truly “wasted”. God sees all we do.

So hold loosely, put pride in your work, but don’t become prideful. It should never be about us or our work.

God alone knows if we are serving for fame or to further the Kingdom.

“And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:24)

/ gabriel@thir.st

Gabriel isn't a hipster, but he loves his beard and coffee. In his spare time, he'd rather be on a mountain.

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I shouldn’t be this weary, but I am

by | 8 November 2017, 10:34 AM

I had recently become very tired in a season of back-to-back commitments and events. I was daily labouring for good things, with a heart in the right place, but it had gotten to a point where I was nearly exhausted.

I needed joy and strength, so I went to my church’s upper room to pray. And there I read that famous verse on rest:

“Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11.28-30)

COME TO ME

In the first place God says to us who are all so tired: Come.

Come and spend time with me. Come and find rest. Will we carve out time to come and sit by Jesus’ feet? (Luke 10:42) He’s waiting to give us rest.

We need to train ourselves to go to God. I’m learning that true rest isn’t quite something that falls into your lap. It doesn’t equate to more hours of sleep, an afternoon with a good book, or a day spent café hopping. It’s found when we rouse ourselves from slumberous ways, and actually go to Jesus to spend unhurried time with Him.

Paradoxically, rest requires intentional effort.

TAKE MY YOKE

Jesus says to take his yoke. We have to be intentional about doing so. A yoke is a wooden crosspiece you put on the necks of two animals, to which a rope tied to the cart behind them is fastened.

The yoke which we carry will direct and determine the path of our entire lives. So whose yoke are we wearing? Is it the yoke of our self-ambition – the yoke of what we want to do in life? The yoke of what we think rest means?

Or are we carrying the yoke of the Father’s will? If so, we have a great promise in Proverbs 3:6.

“In all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:6)

And what are we carrying in our wooden cart behind us? Our work, all our stuff? Are we even carrying things that have to do with God? If we’re yoked to the wrong things and pulling the wrong cart – is it any wonder that life would feel like a meaningless chore?

But if we are yoked with Jesus, we have this promise that His “yoke is easy”, and His “burden is light”. After all, it means that our yoke partner is infinitely wiser and stronger than us. We just have to follow His lead.

That doesn’t mean life will be smooth sailing. You still have to pull the cart! There is work to be done. But it does mean you will be filled with peace – restfulness in work – driven by a higher purpose being aligned to his His will. That’s what a Matthew 6:33 life looks like.

LEARN FROM ME

To “learn” is to be teachable. Personally, it meant acknowledging in the upper room that what I thought would be restful might not be the best way for myself. If we would follow Jesus we must lay our pride down. We need to humble ourselves, let God into our lives, and say: “I don’t know better than You. In fact, I don’t really know at all. Lord, please show me Your better way.”

And He did. That afternoon I sat by Jesus’ feet, realigned my life to His will, and told my Lord I wanted to learn from Him. After an unhurried time, when I lifted my head from the carpet floor and got off my knees, I left the room feeling more rested than I had been in a long time.

*BONUS POINT* RENEW YOUR MIND

I was at a conference recently where Senior Pastor Yang from Cornerstone Church was speaking. One thing that stayed with me was this: “Your life doesn’t change over long periods of time. Life changes when thinking changes. If we don’t start thinking new thoughts this year, we’ll be living last year next year.”

It’s certainly true, so to renew my thinking I made a little chart which I call The 6 Whats. I like to take it to a private place with God and ask Him to give me clarity and speak to me as I begin to fill the chart up:

THE 6 WHATS
1. What am I worried about?
2. What do I feel about it?
3. What’s the normal solution?
4. What does God say about this in the Bible?
5. What must I surrender to Him?
6.What will I do in obedience?

I like to put these questions into a chart with columns. One “what” for every column. In the first column, I write down what worries me: “Daunted at the long week ahead”.

Then I write what it makes me feel in the column next to it: “Drained”.

In the third, I write what I think is the solution: “More sleep”.

At the fourth, I get my Bible out, ask God to speak to me, and I read. I make it a point not to use my phone, or to Google certain answers. I just sit with God and let my mind be fully engaged with the Word, without shortcuts. Then when my heart stirs at something God says about my current issue, or certain words pop up at me, I write them down: “Come to me … Take my yoke … Learn from me …”

At the fifth, I surrender my old way of thinking in Column 3 – what I think is the solution – to God, and ask that He leads me along His better way. Then I tick the box to seal the surrender.

Finally, as I kneel before God, and take His yoke upon myself, I begin looking to Him for the next action step. How will I now live life differently, so that I can imitate Christ. What will I do differently the next time my struggles resurface?

We desperately need clarity in a cluttered life. We need to chase God’s destiny for us so that when pain and pointlessness set in, we’ll still have purpose.

By giving up our old ways of thinking for God’s ways – rejecting that which is normal and worldly for what God wants – we may then experience a renewal of the mind (Romans 12:2).

Peace is waiting for you. Come, take it and learn from Jesus.

/ gabriel@thir.st

Gabriel isn't a hipster, but he loves his beard and coffee. In his spare time, he'd rather be on a mountain.

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26 dead, 20 wounded in Texas church shooting

by | 6 November 2017, 12:33 PM

While we were sleeping last night, 26 brothers and sisters in Christ were shot dead as they attended church in Texas. At least 20 more were wounded.

Their service had just begun at around 11am, when a young armed white male crossed the street to the church and opened fire. Then he walked through the doors and kept shooting, according to reports.

26 dead, 20 wounded.

Tasked to write this article, I just didn’t know what to say. All I could do as I drove to work was to pray: Oh, God. Help me care. Give me something life-giving to say.

And as I waited at a red light, it dawned on me that the truth was that the event seemed so distant that I wasn’t sure it meant anything to me. Over my morning coffee, God convicted me that the real reason for the great, quiet apathy hanging over me was a heated discussion I had years ago with an American man about the firearms issue.

I recall that the conversation ended with me saying I’d pray for his family’s safety. On his part, he told me that a foreigner could never understand the American argument for guns. He’s right about one thing – I still don’t understand that need for guns.

Regardless of whether we think our logic or manner of governance is superior, it doesn’t give us a free pass not to care.

But I developed an unhealthy conviction from that exchange: That those who insist on keeping their guns just don’t get it – it’s a cultural thing. Nothing is going to change, this is going to keep happening.

Over the years, the various shootings that followed sporadically in the years to come – as they invariably do in the USA – were all just a logical consequence to me. Told you so.

But the news this morning shook me up. What could be logical about 26 people dying and 20 others getting shot at – massacred – while worshipping their God? Our God?

Regardless of whether we think our logic or manner of governance is superior, it doesn’t give us a free pass not to care. We are commanded to care (Mark 12:31). There’s a very fine line between a lack of empathy and callousness.

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” (Edmund Burke)

So this is me caring again. I think of how I celebrated my Church’s 31st anniversary over the weekend, and thank God that every family got to go home intact. I look at my adorable 5-year-old nephew, and earnestly thank God he doesn’t face the risk of being fatally shot 4 times by an automatic rifle.

I get to the office, and around the water-cooler I say something about this tragedy that isn’t “America, what. What do you expect?”

In great darkness, I’m looking to a time where there will be no more night.

Instead I tell everyone what I’m truly expecting: When the dwelling place of God converges with that of man’s, it will be a time when He “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, [nor] mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev 21:4-8).

In great darkness, I’m looking to a time where there will be no more night (Revelations 22:5). In the ruins of this broken world I can only look to GOD, who puts an end to strife (Ezekiel 28:24) and death itself (Isaiah 25:8).

Today may be a day of grief and mourning on this earth. A day for national self-reflection in America. A day for soul-searching in Churches elsewhere, including in Singapore.

But I believe that in Heaven, there’s a different vibe. For today, 26 new friends were welcomed into a wondrous new home (John 14:2-4) – as martyrs, killed for their worship of God Most High. The highest honour of all.

/ gabriel@thir.st

Gabriel isn't a hipster, but he loves his beard and coffee. In his spare time, he'd rather be on a mountain.

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Tired and looking for strength? Read this

by | 2 November 2017, 3:12 PM

Every Friday morning, I attend a Bible study led by our Senior Pastor (SP).

A lot of times, the principles he shares with us are the same ones he’s been preaching for decades. And frankly speaking, I’ve heard these principles so many times there are occasions I’m tempted to think he’s being naggy.

But you know, the thing about nagging, is that the people doing it to you have a certain truth and knowledge that they believe is important to share with you.

He was talking about spiritual strength in times of trials, difficulties and stress:

“Where do we get the strength mentioned in Philippians 4:13? The answer is in Nehemiah 8:10, when we have the joy of the LORD. And how do we get the joy? From Psalm 16:11 — in Your presence there is fullness of joy.

“And what do we do in His presence? We build our altar of thanksgiving, praise and worship. As you build your altar of thanksgiving, you get insight into the problems you face (Romans 1:21).

“When you build your altar of praise (Hebrews 13:15) and worship, it brings you to surrender.”

We listen to the same preacher and message for years, but in terms of growing in our spiritual disciplines or transforming the way we lead their lives — no change.

Simple enough right? SP’s teaching – as is the case with the entire Bible – has life-changing potential. But who’s listening? It stood out to me because I had been ministering to a lot of tired Christians. I knew a lot of friends who could have used that hour of devotion with SP.

But so many of us just don’t get it. We listen to the same preacher and message for years, but in terms of growing in our spiritual disciplines or transforming the way we lead their lives — no change.

Still doing things our way. Just putting our heads down and getting through it.

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” (James 1:21)

But what would life be like if we actually applied the Word in our lives? If instead of showing up on Sunday and nodding through — or off — during the sermon, we actually changed how we do things?

We’d certainly live a lot differently if we were both hearers and doers of the Word. God will meet humility with life-change if we seek His better way. So today if you’re feeling tired, don’t just sleep a little more or watch a Korean drama. Try finding strength His way:

  • Build your altars of thanksgiving, praise and worship
  • In His presence, actually have your unhurried time with Him
  • Find joy in being with God – it’s a state, not an emotion
  • Then you’ll have strength – empowerment comes after surrender

/ gabriel@thir.st

Gabriel isn't a hipster, but he loves his beard and coffee. In his spare time, he'd rather be on a mountain.

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Somewhere only we know: The sacred intention of time alone

by | 31 October 2017, 8:52 PM

Do you have a place that only you and God know of?

There’s a pastor at my church who often tells of a particular spot where God will meet him. This pastor goes for his run, turns at a particular bend, and without fail God will speak to him right there.

Crazy, huh? I wish I had that sort of thing going with God. The truth is I don’t think God and I are that close – He doesn’t speak to me quite so audibly – but I’ve still been building that intimacy with Him by setting aside a place just for us.

THE POWER OF PLACE

You might be wondering: Why be so specific on a place? After all we’re no longer living in the Old Testament where we can only meet God in the Holy of Holies during the “appointed times” (Leviticus 23). Through Christ we now have direct access to God always.

That’s certainly true. But there’s still value in having a special place with God where we can build personal altars unto Him. My Senior Pastor shared over the weekend that whenever a biblical great encountered God in the Old Testament, he’d built an altar to the LORD:

  • Noah (Genesis 8:20)
  • Abram (Genesis 12:7-8)
  • Moses (Exodus 24:4)
  • Joshua (Joshua 8:30)
  • Samuel (1 Samuel 7:17)
  • David (2 Samuel 24:25)
  • Elijah (1 Kings 18:32)

We might not be biblical greats, but the same principles apply. Today, when a person sets aside a place to build an altar to God, he’s opening a door to God. He’s getting ready for a divine encounter and intervention in his life.

“It was at this time that He went off to the mountain to pray, and He spent the whole night in prayer to God.” (Luke 6:12)

Even our Lord Jesus had his own place. It was a secret mountain retreat where He could seek His Father in preparation for the greatest task in history. So His example is the one I want to emulate — I have my own place which only God and I know of.

And like sharing a lovers’ secret – something only the both of us know – it’s intimate.

When a person sets aside a place to build an altar to God, he’s getting ready for a divine encounter and intervention in his life.

In a secret place on this sunny island, I have my rendezvous with an omnipresent God. I leave my phone in the car, take my Bible and make a short trek to “meet” him.

It’s not superstition or legalism — it’s an intentional place and time intentionally set aside for my Father.

At every big crossroad and decision of my life I meet Him there, and He never fails to give me wisdom. He sees all my fears and anxieties, and as I lay them down before Him — He shows up and gives me peace.

He never fails to give me courage when I face difficult choices there with Him, intimately reminding me I am never alone in my Father’s world.

PRAYERFUL POSTURE OR PIOUS PRETENCE?

While being intentional about a place is a wonderful boon to intimacy with God, I am careful to emphasise the importance in not becoming superstitious or legalistic about a sacred place, because that isn’t nearly as crucial as having a sacred intention to draw near to God.

Do we have such a sacred intention? What’s the posture of our hearts towards intimacy with God? Are we literally, intentionally, on our knees for more of Him?

I believe that one of the great benefits about having a private place with God is the seclusion it affords. Being away from people and being with God really reveals one’s posture towards his Maker when no one else is watching.

“When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. “But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:5-6)

In my life, I’ve often found that when I’m truly alone — I’m truly myself. And what better version of myself to present to God for His use than the real one?

So have a secret place with God where you can build a special altar unto Him. Find a retreat where you can be honest and intimate with God, and there let Him reveal to you the offensive ways (Psalm 139:24) in your life, that you might continue well on the straight and narrow path.

/ gabriel@thir.st

Gabriel isn't a hipster, but he loves his beard and coffee. In his spare time, he'd rather be on a mountain.

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A message from the Principal: Acknowledging God’s hand in education

by Belinda Charles | 27 October 2017, 7:16 PM

Formerly the principal of St Andrew’s Secondary School and St Andrew’s Junior College, Belinda Charles is no stranger in the education sphere. Today she serves as the Dean of the Academy of Principals, where she mentors those who would mould the nation’s future.


My Christian faith has enabled me to see every student and every teacher as a human being created by God – each with special gifts from Him.

It wasn’t easy however, coming as I did with all the prejudices and perspectives the world had clothed me with. Taking these lenses off so I could see things a bit more like how God sees, took a long time and a lot of heart work.

But of course, not everyone sees things from a Christian point of view. Pushback comes when perspectives clash.

As I formerly ran a mission school, I always found it sad when people valued the good work done by the school – respected its traditions and missionary heritage – but could not bring themselves to acknowledge God’s hand in all of it.

That always brought me back to the wise Chinese saying of always remembering the source of one’s water: 饮水思源.

One of the clearest instances of pushback I recall was when there was a lot of public pressure not to insist on students attending chapel as part of the school experience.

But besides that, there were no other huge objections. No one objects when in our daily prayers, we ask for God’s protection and God’s blessing on all our students.

Every student as far as I know appreciates the school prayers for the student population during examinations and many, not necessarily Christians, will even ask for such prayers.

When teaching about sexuality, we hold to the Christian belief in the sanctity of marriage and also in abstinence. As these are conservative tenets we encounter no pushback from parents, especially since the students are still so young.

The emotions of infatuation or falling in love are difficult enough to manage as a teenager, and parents agree that these crucial years are not helped by a sexual relationship which would impact the student’s psyche. Furthermore, there is a high chance it will impact the student’s studies negatively.

Ultimately, every student and every teacher is a valued human being created by God. His grand design was that all mankind should live in love and harmony with God and with each other.

This was marred when Adam made the choice to want to be as wise as God. That birthed a spirit of competition and comparison. This is mirrored in the world today where mankind believes in the survival of the fittest. Getting grades as good as or better than others is a symptom of this.

Yet researchers not necessarily Christian have found time and again that people can thrive, and thrive even better when they work together. This spirit of collaboration is made much of today but if the headway is not much, it is because it has been ingrained into mankind that one must look after oneself first.

Researchers have similarly found that the student who helps another student finds himself learning better. As Christians, this is what we too need to espouse – the need to build community and to care for each other. In schools, this takes the form of building a sense of belonging so that students feel they are part of a school community that gives them identity and gives them an opportunity to give back.


Belinda Charles will be speaking at LuminoCity 2017.

LuminoCity is a 3-day forum that will bring together thought-leaders and disciples in the marketplace for conversations to shape the culture of our day. It will be held from November 3 to 5, 2017, at The Pavilion. Thir.st readers can enjoy a special discount of $40 from October 24 till October 30 with the promo code “THIRSTY”. 

Visit the LuminoCity website for ticketing information, and follow them on Facebook for updates. 

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Jennifer Heng has held various leadership positions in church, from youth pastor to Senior Pastor. She was also the volunteer Director of Dayspring New Life Centre, which aims to empower women and families going through with unsupported pregnancy. Coming from a troubled past herself, she went through several unhealthy relationships and two abortions before the age of 20. 

But in a redemptive journey that she documents in her book, Walking Out Of Secret Shame, she discovered a ministry in walking alongside women who face the same difficulties as she did. Today she’s an inspirational speaker and stay-at-home-mum.

You have a beautiful story of healing and redemption, which has powerfully paved the way for building connections with women you have served throughout the years. How do you balance this story of God’s transformation in your life with the secular nature of your work?

The centrality of the gospel is in all I do – whether in Church work or otherwise. The difference is how it is communicated. My story gives me a good connection point with people. I make no apologies about sharing what God did in and for me.

I find that people are generally very respectful and open. If it’s a non-religious context, I will come from the position that I’m sharing my personal story, and I will stop there. If the listener asks questions about my faith or God, I will definitely answer and keep going with whatever track he/she is taking. Otherwise, I will remain faithful in testifying and trusting God to do the rest.

Of course, often my story is not enough. The people I have the honour of walking with in some of their most desperate situations need more than just a good story. And the way I apply help techniques, or make the right referrals needs to reflect the heart of God too – always firm but gentle.

Do you have any advice for others that may wish to help those who are suffering and vulnerable, but feel inadequate to do so due to a lack of a personal connection or shared experience?

It’s good to learn from others first. Talk to someone who is doing something that you can see yourself doing. If possible, observe, volunteer, do an internship … Sometimes we come with great intentions and think that “a good heart” is enough.

It’s ok if you don’t start with a personal connection or shared experience. Of course, it’s always good to learn more about those you want to help. Read. Attend conferences. Take a part-time course. Get equipped.

But also remember that you will never be 100% ready. So give some time to doing some preliminary learning, then learn as you go along, preferably with guidance from others who are more experienced and can offer you the protection and accountability you need.

Throughout your career, what challenges have you encountered as a female leader, and how did you overcome these?

To be honest I’ve never had major problems in what I do that’s simply related to me being a woman. It’s often a combination of things.

In the past, I’ve encountered a small handful of men over the years who struggled to work with me. I always try to handle these situations as objectively as possible, and seek to be magnanimous and humble, though this isn’t easy. At times I also had to let go of my obsession with keeping the peace, and be at peace instead.

Leading was certainly more challenging when I was younger, from my late 20s to early 30s. I often found myself in meetings where I was the youngest, and the only woman. It was very intimidating.

I remember being very self-conscious, terrified I would say something stupid. But in time I grew in confidence in the Lord. It really was a journey. I observed and learned from other leaders – male and female – on how to be a godly person and a leader.

Now that I’m a little older and secure in God, my focus now is on what He has called me to do.

Looking back, I really appreciate the older men and women around me who guided and supported me. For instance, as the Senior Pastor of a new church I had planted, I remember how all the board members were men. Men who were much older than me.

But these men were incredibly godly, honouring and supportive. I remember attending events together with my board members, and how whenever we met people, our new friends would always assume that one of the board members was the Senior Pastor.

It never got old observing the reactions of people when my board members then introduced me as the Senior Pastor – we always had a good laugh after that sort of thing.

Now that I’m a little older and secure in God, these things don’t happen quite so often anymore. But even if they do, I don’t take it too seriously.

Because my focus now is on what God has called me to do.


Jennifer will be speaking at LuminoCity 2017.

LuminoCity is a 3-day forum that will bring together thought-leaders and disciples in the marketplace for conversations to shape the culture of our day. It will be held from November 3 to 5, 2017, at The Pavilion. Thir.st readers can enjoy a special discount of $40 from October 24 till October 30 with the promo code “THIRSTY”. 

Visit the LuminoCity website for ticketing information, and follow them on Facebook for updates. 

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A man’s view on dressing modestly

by | 23 October 2017, 4:14 PM

In my circle of friends, the issue of modesty is an extremely touchy topic. No one wants to be told by someone holier-than-thou what to do or how to dress.

I fully understand that it is my responsibility to control my eyes and exercise self-control. No matter what others are wearing, as men we simply must learn to look away such that we are not easily stumbled. There are no buts to this, no cop-outs.

I’m hoping you’ll see that these words don’t stem from a prohibitory or legalistic heart fixated on raising necklines and lengthening skirts. I know that’s not my place. I’m not interested in playing the blame game between our eyes and clothes. I’m only interested in encouraging purity of heart, not exercising power over another.

A colleague shared with me that she once brought a pre-believing friend to her old church – albeit a very conservative church in a different era – and an usher went down the aisles, row by row, calling people out for their “immoral” dressing, including spaghetti-strapped tops and miniskirts. Her friend was left feeling condemned and rightfully horrified.

That’s the last thing we want when newcomers step into church!

Another friend of mine told me that one of her cell girls dresses modestly in church, but dresses skimpily at friends’ parties without any qualms. The girl’s reasoning was that since she wasn’t in church, there wasn’t any need for modesty.

We should all be moving towards a heart that prizes holiness above our preferences.

I know you shouldn’t have to look a certain way to be Christian, but with time and obedience, your heart should look more like Christ’s. We should all be moving towards a heart that prizes holiness above our preferences.

Without genuine life and heart change, we’ll just be missing the point. We’ll be practising legalistic modesty, not living out a holy modesty of the heart.

But I say this not to throw stones at that sister; God knows I’m just like her all too often in my own sinful ways. The point is that we need to be the same person wherever we are. We need to exercise self-control with our eyes in church and outside its walls. And we need to dress in a manner pleasing and acceptable to God, both in His house and when in the world outside.

What would your life look like if your chief motivation is to love God? How much holier and pleasing to God would life be if we kept asking whether our decisions translated as love for Him – with every part of our being, inside and out (Mark 12:30)?

Why shouldn’t I look at a woman lustfully, take in all her curves and beauty? Because that’s not love for God. And that’s not love for her either. That’s devaluing His creation to a mere sex object. God, give me eyes to see my neighbour as You do (Mark 12:31).

And why should I dress “modestly” for someone’s prudish rulebook? Well, love is the answer. You may certainly be blameless, but you can yet go a step further and be truly loving, to make a sacrificial choice (1 Corinthians 8:13) that brings both you and your neighbour closer to God.

So living uncorrupted, as per James 1:27, goes for both men and women. I personally struggle to get through a day where I don’t defile my eyes. And as man or woman we are either the light in the darkness, or part of the “pollution”.

How could we lay down our lives for our friends (John 15:13) if we won’t even lay down our pride and preferences?

I was getting ready to hear from God in the sermon this weekend when a girl in a bareback dress came and sat right in front of me. There and then I had a choice to indulge my senses or help myself focus on God’s Word being preached.

I told my friend beside me that I had to move so I could hear better, and quietly shifted to the front row.

I’d never tell this woman what to wear, like the usher in my friend’s old church did. I saw the issue was with me – I had to choose either the front row, intentionally keeping temptation out of my line of sight, or remain seated sinfully at the back.

How could we lay down our lives for our friends if we won’t even lay down our pride and preferences?

The reason why I won’t tell a woman what to wear is because I believe she’s ultimately responsible for what she chooses to wear. If she has taken the time to chew on it, and still feels that dress is genuinely acceptable to God, then I don’t think it’s my place to cast doubt.

My focus is on myself, because I have the agency to change things within me, especially if I’m desiring to change my life for God. I’m responsible for what I choose to see. And so I take care of that as best as I can, protecting both my eyes and the women I look at.

In an ideal world, brothers and sisters would meet each other halfway on this issue. But in a world so fraught with deafening debate, I’m choosing not to be assertive and prescriptive about this issue in the hopes you might hear my heart. I’ll leave two quiet questions for all of us instead:

  • Are our choices made – whether in terms of fashion, or food, or whatever preferences we plump for – centred around our love for God?
  • With our decisions, are we loving His people above ourselves?

/ gabriel@thir.st

Gabriel isn't a hipster, but he loves his beard and coffee. In his spare time, he'd rather be on a mountain.

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Why I don’t celebrate Halloween

by | 19 October 2017, 2:28 PM

This article was basically going to advise you against celebrating Halloween.

But as I was planning how to write that piece, I could already imagine the sort of push-back it would get: Wah, these Christians super trivial. Always want to push their laws — now even want to go horror nights also cannot? Super lame, lor.

I find writing such articles to be challenging: How do I write this so that it doesn’t sound preachy? How do I write this so that I’m not moralising but I’m sharing something true? How do I convince strangers that I do — in some unfathomable way — love them?

God help me.

Christians already have a rep for being a this-one-cannot, that-one-cannot sort of people. And I agree; that sort of comment is warranted to a large extent. But I also think there’s more to following Christ than just saying no to a bunch of things.

THE HEART BEHIND THE WORDS

I’ll be frank about where I come from when I write. I never presume to be an authority issuing decrees; that’s not my place.

I read and I write because I want to tell people about God, beyond the zone of casual Christianity, and into something far more surprising, real and wonderful.

Whenever I write, I imagine I’m writing to a friend I love and care for. With friends whose opinions I value and decisions I respect, I always make sure to leave the ball in my friend’s court. I share what’s on my heart, but can never presume to force their hand. I value them – you – too much.

So, that’s the heart behind the words. Now if I was still writing an article about Halloween, I would refer us to the following verse:

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)

This is usually the moment, when Scripture has been quoted, where a lot of people switch off. I can sort of understand the exasperation and frustration that people – both Christian and non-Christian – might feel upon hearing this sort of prescriptive message.

So I’m pausing here to urge you sincerely: Please don’t write a Christian off or stop listening the moment he pulls the Bible out. Speaking for myself, the very last intention on my heart is to bash you with it.

Instead, I’d like for you to consider that it’s genuinely the reference by which I try to live. God knows how often I fail, but I thank Him for grace. I have found what I truly believe has proven to be the better way for me, and I just want to share it.

It ultimately boils down to what you want in your life. If you’re a Christian, that is, if you truly desire Christ and holiness — you will pick up your cross and deny yourself (Matthew 16:24). In reality, that will probably look like a life of inconvenience, often involving sacrificing things we love.

But we take these passions down from their pedestals not because a book or some obscure writer tells us to. We do it because we know the Father’s heart is full of love, and see that everything He asks of us is always for our benefit.

RELATIONSHIP BRINGS REALITY

Some of us have a picture of the Christian God as an angry father who withholds many things from His children. I’m not discrediting the experiences you’ve been through that may have given you such an impression of Him.

But my personal experience of God has produced a conviction that He wants only the best things for his children – even things we might not think are good. That makes me want what God wants. I’ve come to understand that without a relationship with the Lord, there can be no reality of love.

But to the unbeliever or cynical Christian, the Christian way of life inevitably ends up looking like a everything-also-cannot, legalistic religion.

What you want is really indicative of where you are: You’re either looking at a religion, or you’re in that relationship.

So, finally, back to Halloween. Good for a laugh, maybe, but when you celebrate it, you’re dipping your toes into all kinds of spiritual expressions which really, really can’t be good for you. I think that’s the heart of Philippians 4:8 – if something clearly isn’t pure, noble or true, why not instead fill your mind to something that is?

/ gabriel@thir.st

Gabriel isn't a hipster, but he loves his beard and coffee. In his spare time, he'd rather be on a mountain.