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Reflections on Skyrim: I didn’t make my lives count

by | 17 October 2017, 5:31 PM

Skyrim (2011) is a video game from the Elder Scrolls video game series that originated in the nineties. The player learns that he or she is the chosen one, prophesied to defeat Alduin the World-Eater – an ancient and massive dragon hell-bent on destroying the realm of Tamriel.

Yes, I know how nerdy that sounds.

But I certainly found it interesting. And recently, I saw that Skyrim was on sale on Steam, a gaming platform where games’ prices are periodically slashed and users are alerted to video games they might like.

It brought many memories back. I’ve owned this masterpiece of a video game for 6 years, yet I never actually finished it.

Why?

DELIVERANCE TO DISTRACTION

In Skyrim‘s grand opening sequence, you are a prisoner in shackles who is about to be executed. At the eleventh hour however, you are delivered from the chopping block when Alduin attacks, and chaos breaks out in the town.

Over the next few minutes, you successfully escape out of an underground labyrinthian network of caves. You then emerge headlong into the cold mountain air, where a magnificent vista greets you:

Lines upon lines of mighty, snow-covered fir trees stand sentry in sweeping frosty meadows. Snow-capped mountains rise defiantly in the distance, beckoning you to climb them – and you must.

For Alduin is perched atop one of these mighty mountains, scheming where to strike the world of Tamriel next. It is later revealed that the Dragon intends to destroy Tamriel’s afterlife itself – a plane of existence called Sovngarde. Which is kinda like our Heaven. So our primary goal is to save humanity by taking down the ancient dragon before Heaven is no more.

However, this great quest we are commissioned to undertake is immediately waylaid by a myriad other smaller quests. One of the common comments about Skyrim is that it’s easy to forget the main quest because there are thousands of other things to do in the world.

And these side missions have rewards so immediate – so here and now – it’s often simply a lot more appealing to do them. Walk into a cave, kill a troll, level up – profit.

The greater good isn’t as fun as doing what we want, whenever we want. So we just end up doing our own thing, chasing what pays and what gratifies.

Eventually, we’ve completely lost sight of the larger goal and our original purpose. We forget why we were spared from destruction in the first place. Sounds a lot like real life to me.

THE PROPENSITY FOR DISTRACTION

Maybe it all sounds like a bit of a stretch to you, but gaming really makes me reflect like this.

In Tamriel, I ultimately became rich and powerful. Whenever I walked into a town, people would greet me as if I were a king. I could build homes, or I could just as easily raze them to the ground.

But for all of my might, I left no impact on the world. The characters around me would still go on with their lives, oblivious to the great threat which hung above them – biding its time. They would die, and when they did there’d be no Heaven for them to go to.

Yet all the while, I could have done something. I could have “saved” them.

This isn’t an exhortation to climb up a mountain and spear Satan or something. To be clear, we don’t exactly get to save the day. Christ has already defeated death, and saved us. He has already won.

Having been delivered, our job is to now deliver that good news of salvation to others who remain mired in darkness. Our job is to make disciples and to make Him known in the world.

But what is common to open-world roleplaying games and the Christian walk, is the propensity for distraction. There are ten thousand other things to do in this life, and many of them are far more “rewarding” in the here and now.

WE ARE CHOSEN

Maybe some of us had a dream for God once. But maybe “real life” caught up, and we ended up losing sight of that vision along the way. You might say you have no particular calling – that still doesn’t absolve you.

That certainly doesn’t allow you to waste your life. We all have the same commission (Matthew 28:16-20). We all have the same main quest.

In the various classes – no, professions – that we pick, it’s worth examining: What are we really chasing with our skills and talents?

While we’re caught up with the world, humanity hinges on what we make of the sliver of time and life given to each of us.

I didn’t finish Skyrim in the end. But in this real life, I intend to focus, fight well, and run long and fast.

I’m playing to win.

/ 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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One man’s thoughts on Harvey Weinstein and sexual predators

by | 13 October 2017, 4:45 PM

More than 30 Hollywood actresses – including household names such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Cara Delevingne and Kate Beckinsale – have come forward to accuse film mogul Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment and assault spanning more than 3 decades.

Many of the accusations exhibit the same patterns of exploitation. As a immensely influential producer in Hollywood, Weinstein would single out rising female prospects and arrange for them to meet him in a private place – usually his hotel room – on the pretext of discussing film scripts or acting opportunities.

Once alone, he asked for sex favours in exchange for film roles, declaring that such was the way of Hollywood. If they didn’t agree, he would have his way anyway, according to some accounts.

And apparently we’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg. New accounts of abuse at his hands keep surfacing in increasing numbers.

Even as a man, the things that Weinstein has done just sound utterly … monstrous to me.

I can’t even begin to imagine how hearing all this feels to a woman.

I find it hard to imagine Weinstein was always this way. What birthed this monster? Wealth? Power, having risen to Hollywood’s highest echelons?

I can’t even begin to imagine how hearing all this feels to a woman.

As I reflect on Weinstein’s soulless actions, I see a heart set out to dominate others. A man who abuses others to affirm his own “superiority”. I see a twisted take on Genesis 9:2, a false masculinity which wrongly encourages entitlement and brings a man pleasure from inflicting terrible pain on others.

It weighs heavily on my heart that so many at the very top of their fields live with such blatant and cruel disregard for others.

Weinstein isn’t alone at the top of this predatory food chain.

Hollywood’s casting couch is such an entrenched notion no one even bothers refuting its existence. Bill Cosby and Fox News founder Roger Ailes are among the recent media power players to fall from grace.

It’s rife in politics too. From Weinstein to Weiner – Anthony Weiner, a politician recently sentenced to jail in a sexting scandal.

I was just as appalled last year when I first heard the recorded audio of Trump making incredulously entitled remarks about grabbing women by their privates. In his own words: “When you’re a star, they let you do it, you can do anything.”

Of course, he was just following in the footsteps of another President, Bill Clinton, except the Democrat did what he did while in the Oval Office. Literally in that office.

This is the heart I see behind the horror:

  • Self-pleasing: No empathy (Mark 12:31)
  • Severe entitlement (James 4:1-12)
  • Self-worth derived from wilful domination of others (Leviticus 25:43)
  • Scheming to derive sexual pleasure from the discomfort and pain of others (Zechariah 7:10)
  • Superiority: Pride which affirms one’s power over another by inflicting pain on them (Ezekiel 22:29)

We need to go back to the truth, where to be a man is to be like God.

I know that some of these are values that are prevalent and even celebrated in today’s world. That really saddens my heart. We’re called to be a light in the darkness, but how much light will be needed to wash out this great darkness? How can I teach my sons so they imitate Jesus – not the Hefners and Bilzerians that seem to prosper in this world?

I can only look to the Bible for hope and wisdom. The primary response I can offer to the lives of men like Harvey Weinstein is to commit to living out a holy manliness instead.

If we want to see fewer Weinsteins in the world, we must first stop playing by the world’s rules of what it means to “be a man”.

We need to go back to the truth, where to be a man is to be like God.

In a world where rough men seemingly reign, we are called counterculturally to remain meek (Matthew 5:5).

At a time where infidelity reigns rampant – where players are celebrated and clapped on the back – we are called to love our wives singularly and sacrificially (Ephesians 5:25).

When making a name for yourself seems to be all that matters, we are instead called to be humble (1 Peter 5:5).

Real masculinity doesn’t gather crowds around and say look how big I am, look at what I can do. Real masculinity points the masses to our Father God, and tells them look how big He is, look what He can do.

What would the world be like if the men who lived in it looked less like the Alpha males glorified in the headlines, and more like 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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Frightened to death: The high cost of horror films

by | 10 October 2017, 5:42 PM

As someone who loves films, I’ve always had a soft spot for the horror genre.

I especially respected the auteurs who could subtly unsettle you without having to resort to jump-scares. Despite being a huge scaredy cat, I somehow still loved the thrill of being frightened to death. I even did my honours thesis on Yeon Sang-ho‘s zombie films!

However, there came a point when this feeling of being unsettled refused to go away. That began to make me think: Is this really just a bit of innocent fun? Or am I giving time to something truly insidious?

What really goes on when we watch a horror movie? 

FIRST CONTACT

One of my first experiences with horror movies was when my former cell leader took us guys to his place to watch The Exorcism of Emily Rose. In retrospect, the movie wasn’t put together well, but I still found it terrifying as a 15-year-old teenager.

While this incident occurred many years back, I still vividly recall watching a scene where the family calls a priest to bless their home, having discovered that it’s haunted. Invariably, it all goes awry when the priest arrives at night and is himself set upon by demonic manifestations.

At the precise moment of these onscreen manifestations, something else was happening in the room where we were watching the movie.

None of my guy friends there felt it then, but I did. I remember feeling a cold and concentrated gust of wind bursting through the half-open window at the side of the room. The gale seemed to sweep through the house, until the door at the end of the corridor slammed shut. No one else was around but us.

I was shaken. Everyone wrote it off as “wind”, but I knew that something was terribly amiss about that experience.

But I’m not the only one who’s ever opened a door to the dark. My friend, Charis — who like me was also a huge horror fan — had an even more oppressive encounter:

“The worst experience I had was when I watched The Conjuring. I watched it three times with different people in my house. The attack came after the third time when I was sleeping. Nightmares were “normal” to me, but this nightmare was different. In it, I somehow knew I was awake.

So, realising this wasn’t just a dream, I tried to wake up, but I couldn’t. It was as if this terrible force was shutting my eyelids so tightly I couldn’t even open them. I knew something was wrong, and I tried to shout “Jesus!” But my throat was “stuck” — my lips were sealed.

Suddenly, a very strong force began to press straight down on my throat. I was used to blocked airways while sleeping, but again, this was different – something was attacking me. I couldn’t call for help; I was being strangled. In my mind, I prayed and rebuked the evil spirit in Jesus’ name for what felt like 10 minutes. Then my lips opened and I started praying aloud. Thereafter I was able to open my eyes, and I was back.

 In the pitch-black, staring at the ceiling, I prayed and asked God to reveal to me any doors I had opened to evil. Then, The Conjuring came to mind. I prayed for Jesus to cleanse me of all defilement by His blood, to protect me from evil, and I stopped watching horror shows for good.”

Through her experience, it dawned on me why these manifestations could happen. I was suddenly convicted that I had been doing the very opposite of what Ephesians 4:27 exhorts us to do: “Give no opportunity to the devil”.

With each horror film I watched, I was ceding ground to Satan. I was essentially saying to the spiritual realm: “I want to be terrified. That last one wasn’t scary enough. I’m inviting Fear in again for the next two hours – now do your worst”.

CLOSE ENCOUNTERS

In some sick way, I began to crave a thrill like the one I had in my cell leader’s house. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I think there’s something incredibly seductive about coming close to death. Some might get their rush through extreme sports like skydiving, but I got my high from horror.

Soon, I needed more. A year later – after my O levels – I went on an intense horror movie binge. I watched them from all over: Thailand, South Korea, Japan, Hollywood. I probably saw dozens in just a few months.

I only realised later that by watching so many gore movies, I had partaken of an “orgy” (Galatians 5:21-22) of gratuitous violence. And through the many horror films I had seen, I soon lost all power and self-control – and instead gained fear (2 Timothy 1:7).

It was all taking its toll on me. I wasn’t sleeping properly. When I woke in the middle of the night, even mere shadows seemed malicious to me. Yet these were merely caused by the cars downstairs, the headlights of which would shine through my window’s grilles to play along the walls.

Through the many horror films I had seen, I soon lost all power and self-control – and instead gained fear.

Working in Army and Air Force camps, I became highly sensitised for a time to the demonic realm. I will never forget pretending to sleep, as the padlocks’ spinning dials whirled and knocked against the lockers, though no one was standing at their lockers or awake in the middle of the night.

I also won’t forget sneaking into a secluded part of camp – an old condemned room in the gym – to take a nap. I had an out-of-the-body experience then, and I could see a ghastly white woman coming closer to where I was napping in the tiny room.

Calling on the Name of Jesus was the only thing that kept evil from ever touching me. But I foolishly came unnecessarily close.

At times, the fear grew so oppressive I couldn’t even take a bath properly. I’d be shampooing my hair and some suds would go into my eye, and I’d be certain I was about to be brutally murdered in the shower à la Psycho.

I’m half-serious on that last one, but personal experience has shown me that there’s a lot more at stake than I thought. So, unlike the final girl who unquestioningly, invariably enters the haunted house, we need to know exactly what we’re walking into.

DEADLY DOORWAYS

  • Going to Video Ezy to choose and spend money on a horror film
  • Bringing the horror film home
  • Putting the disc into the player, and pressing “Play”
  • Spending 2 hours being frightened and shocked
  • Carrying that fear with you thereafter
  • Repeating this cycle

Actions like these were my conscious decisions to open a door to fear and demonic influence in my life. Increasingly defiled by the gore and horror of what I was regularly seeing, I was ceding more and more ground to the demonic realm.

Something had to change, so I made a decision to give horror up. I told God that the only fear I wanted was a reverential one. I wanted a holy fear (Psalm 2:11) that would sanctify – not horrify.

All the manifestations stopped when I repented and told God I wanted to be cleansed of the defilement. Every oppression ceased.

When I stopped chasing death and started choosing life instead, the all-pervasive fear left and was replaced by Peace.

I told God that the only fear I wanted was a reverential one; I wanted a holy fear.

The heart behind this article isn’t punitive, prohibitive or prescriptive. To the brother or sister who still actively enjoys horror films, the last thing I want to do is to leave you feeling condemned. I write this humbly as a person who learnt that horror doesn’t profit – it costs peace and protection.

So when it comes to watching horror films – or indeed doing anything – it really isn’t a question of whether I can. The question to ask is whether it helps us to run the race better.

“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)

Are horror movies true-noble-right-pure-lovely-admirable-excellent-praise worthy? Are they beneficial (1 Cor 6:12)? I’m hard-pressed to answer how two hours of fear would be any help on my heavenward journey.

Now think about yours – what kind of fear do you have in your life?

/ 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 give in to sexual temptation again and again. What hope do I have?

by | 4 October 2017, 12:27 PM

Do we really believe Jesus can help us?

Most of us guys will probably respond with a resounding “yes”. You’re probably already flipping to Philippians 4:13 in your Bible. Yes! I can do all this stuff through Him who gives me strength.

But what about in the realm of sexual sin? How many of us really believe Jesus can help us there?

We all fail in different ways. Some of us see things we shouldn’t have seen, or end up going to places we should never have gone to. Many of us really do try, but almost inevitably fail.

I use the word inevitably because each time we fail, I think it becomes easier for us to lose ground to a growing doubt in our hearts.

I know many guys who have come to believe that after so many years of trying and failing, some sins are unbeatable.

This doubt is a heavy feeling, replete with resignation, self-condemnation and capitulation. This doubt lies and concedes that God doesn’t work in this area.

It births wrong and sinful convictions, and grows with each passing failure, cementing the false notion for us that sexual sin is inevitable — perhaps even normal.

“See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today’, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.” (Hebrews 3:12-14)

Are we just waiting to lose? I know many guys who have come to believe that after so many years of trying and failing, some sins are unbeatable. We become tempted to write it off saying, it’s normal, natural, everyone does it. But we’re wrong: We have made it the new normal: “Hardened by the deceitfulness of sin”.

The truth is we weren’t wrong in flipping to Philippians 4:13 earlier on. God does give us the strength to learn to be content in Him. When we are first satisfied by Him, we’ll stop trading eternity for the temporal. Only then will we not be distracted on this heavenward journey, derailed by something cheaper, quicker, easier.

“For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” (Hebrews 2:18)

Such a guy verse. We must have read it a thousand times by now.

And yet so many of us still fail to truly apprehend the promise which lies in this verse. Christ experienced every temptation, and yet He never faltered. He remained entirely without sin. And today, this same Champion is lending us a hand in our own fight.

What if we believed? What if we stopped being quiet quitters? What if each failure wasn’t met with resignation, but a holy grief – a grief that urges repentance and ushers in light and life?

Man, we’d better believe — we’re playing to win.

There is One who stands at the finish line, a Victor cheering you on. And at the very same time, He is right there — running beside you.

The Adversary counts on our sin and disobedience in this world, to make his case against us. Likewise, there are many enemies in the brush, just beyond this narrow path, waiting for any opportunity to disqualify you from finishing the race well.

Yet there is One who stands at the finish line, a Victor cheering you on. And at the very same time, He is right there — running beside you. He picks you up when you fall; carries you in grace when you lose sight of the finish line and are staggering off the path.

What if we really believed that?

/ 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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My experience at BSF: From reluctance to revelation

by | 28 September 2017, 5:05 PM

“Wah, very cheem ah,” a colleague said to me as she saw me doing my Bible Study Fellowship homework. As I looked up from my Bible, she told me that she’d always been interested in BSF, but shied away from it because she imagined the homework would be too difficult and the people too intellectual for her.

I could definitely relate. I’m a passive, shy and laidback person; the very first time my girlfriend told me to try BSF, I was really reluctant.

I already go to church, I attend cell, I serve – that should be enough, what?

To me, BSF just felt like something above and beyond the normal Christian walk. I thought it was for the “up there” Christian, and I was more than happy to just be a normal one. So I found every excuse to say no. My favourite one was, “I’m too busy in this season”, but secretly I was thinking: “Every Monday night? Where got time?”

So I knew how my colleague was feeling, imagining that joining BSF would be like walking into a room full of theologians, and feeling completely out of my depth, like a dummy. But that’s not actually what BSF is really like, I told her.

I recently joined BSF because I had entered a season in my life where I wanted to know the God of the Bible better. I know that sounds a little holy-moly, but it’s what it is.

The BSF centre I attend is at a cozy, quiet church in the east of Singapore. One of the first things I noticed on my first visit were the pews in which we sat. Pews. I hadn’t sat in one since I was a child, and together with the hymns we sang, it made for a very austere first glimpse at BSF.

But I don’t say that in a bad way. Over time I found the no-frills approach to learning about God very refreshing. We don’t have to mingle, we don’t play games – we just split into male and female discussion groups and get on with our discussions. Of course, there’s a time and place for fun and fellowship, but at BSF I really enjoy the singular focus on learning about God’s Word.

Each weekly BSF session is split into group discussion time, followed by a lecture delivered by the centre’s Teaching Leader. At my first session, I wasn’t really looking forward to the group discussion time, as I was worried I’d be walking into a room full of Pipers and Zacharias’. But that wasn’t what I experienced. Instead, I met a group of down-to-earth guys around my age who were simply just there to share what they had learnt from their time studying that week’s assigned chapter.

My discussions with these young men have proven to be real, raw and edifying from the get-go. It really showed me a new aspect of unity and spiritual community, because on Monday nights we all come together and are on the same page. An instinctive brotherhood, built not on carnal camaraderie, but on a common desire to know God better through His Word.

No one comes with anything other than hearts of humility which want to learn and figure things out together.

My discussions with these young men have proven to be real, raw and edifying from the get-go. It really showed me a new aspect of unity and spiritual community.

Another aspect of BSF I’ve really come to appreciate is the servant heart of the leaders. They have so much more to do than us ordinary members in attendance, yet I’ve never seen any of them talk about their service as anything but a joy and a privilege.

I go to the centre once a week – the leaders go for an additional session, usually at some unearthly hour, so they are prepared ahead of the discussions. They even do that mind-boggling homiletics exercise every week, breaking down each passage into great detail to extract the key principles for our benefit.

As they gather, I know they pray over each one of the members, usually on their knees.

My centre doesn’t have Children’s Leaders, but I hear that at other centres, volunteers take in infants as young as one month old, just to free up the mothers for two hours of uninterrupted Bible Study and discussion. That’s dedication beyond the realms of my imagination.

I’m told they’re gathered in Singapore this weekend for a regional leaders’ retreat. If you’re one of those out there reading this article: I’m so honoured to be the beneficiary of your labour and sacrifice. God bless you.

I’m not going to lie: giving up my Monday evenings is still something I find quite difficult to do. But as much of a struggle sacrificing my time has been, I’m now convicted that when you “give” to God, you get so much more in return. I’ve really learnt so much from my 2 hours there every Monday night that I wouldn’t have just being at home.

So I guess it boils down to what you want.

In this season, I wanted to know more about the God in the Bible. I wanted to see Him in a new light I’d never seen Him in before. And ever since I acted on such a desire, I’ve not once been shortchanged in any way (Jeremiah 29:13).

If you have an inclination or a desire to be spiritually fed at BSF, don’t believe everything you’ve heard about how intensive or tough the study is. Give it a shot – you can drop by at one of their intro classes (you can find a class near to you on the BSF website). Regardless of where you are in your walk, you have everything to gain from choosing to know God better on a spiritual and intellectual level.

/ 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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When my Army dream fell apart

by | 14 September 2017, 8:07 PM

Becoming an officer in the Army was something I had always wanted.

I spent a childhood loving all things military. In secondary school, I joined the National Cadet Corps and did well; the four years there left me believing that the real Army would be a good fit for me.

So when the time came to serve the nation, I pushed myself extra hard in BMT, hoping to make my officer dreams a reality. I don’t know why I didn’t just sign on there and then, despite the numerous opportunities for recruitment.

I simply put my head down and worked hard. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it into Officer Cadet School (OCS). Undeterred, I still did my best in Specialist Cadet School (SCS).

It is a known fact that the top performing SCS trainees would be offered a chance to “crossover” – to join OCS from SCS – and that was what I was working towards.

Eventually the day came where our vocational postings were released, pinned onto a cork board. My good friend was given the crossover option ahead of me.

Right after being dismissed by our officers, as other soldiers rushed to book out and celebrate having attained more senang (relaxed) postings, I told my Warrant Officer I needed to talk to him.

He invited me into the Company office, where he sat across the table from me, steely-eyed. I looked the wiry old soldier in the eye and said, “I wanted to crossover for a career. You’ve seen how hard I’ve been working for this. I needed this to happen, Encik.”

He didn’t flinch at my impassioned petition. He was a grizzly, weathered veteran who’d seen many different types of soldiers in his time. All he said was that there wasn’t much he could do, and then he dismissed me.

As the plastic fan spun noisily overhead, I sat in my bunkbed wondering what half a year’s effort had amounted to. I would spend the rest of that night mourning the death of a decade-old dream.

TALKING IN THE DARK

The next day, the Company went out on an exercise in the field. Time passed slowly until it was the early hours of the morning. A disgruntled grunt, I laid prone in my shell scrape, hunched over my firing arc – watching for the enemy.

It had been raining heavily all night. Large raindrops fell onto the ground, making shallow holes in the mud just as we had done earlier. I couldn’t hear much else beyond the loud slicks and little splashes of water occurring in my muddy, earthen bathtub.

But a moment later, I felt the force of large knuckles rapping against my head, causing the lip of the helmet to lurch over my eyes. I looked up, assuming a superior acting as an enemy combatant had taken me by surprise.

It was my Encik. I could tell from the silver-flecked hair strands which stuck out from the edge of his beret, gleaming against the moonlight. “Come,” he said, “Let’s walk.”

Our boots crunched against the wet gravel beneath us as we stepped out from the jungle into a grassy clearing. After a few minutes, he finally broke the silence.

“… I’ve been doing this job for a long time, it’s not easy … A very difficult job.”
“Encik, I know. It’s still what I want.”
“Honestly, you want the rank – or you want the job? This life might not be what you think it is.”

He then spoke some more about his life in the Army. I was standing at attention, but I wasn’t really listening anymore. I just didn’t believe him at the time.

The Army was what I had always wanted. At that point, to me, he was just part of a system that had persistently failed to recognise and reward me. He was holding me back, when I assumed there must have been something he could have done for me.

A few months later, I became a Fitness Specialist/Physical Training Instructor. They sent me to the Air Force, where I spent the rest of my National Service.

WE DON’T ALWAYS NEED WHAT WE WANT

In the years that passed, I came to realise that the Army actually wasn’t a good fit. I know now that it probably wouldn’t have worked out. In my life’s lack of discipline, I saw the regimentation of the Army as a quick-fix.

It was a foolish view of things. I never considered the possibility that such a place could utterly run me into the ground over the long haul. But God knew.

I saw the career as an iron rice-bowl, without actually really considering what such a path would mean on a day-to-day basis – much less on an eternal scale. But God did.

It took me a long time to see that I was merely attracted to the idea of an Army career. I wasn’t interested in serving the country. That was a lie I told myself to hide the truth that all I really wanted was to serve myself.

My aspirations were all about me – God didn’t have a role in the equation or a say at all. I just wanted my dream. I kept presenting God checklists and proposals, wanting Him to sign off on them. And then I’d get angry whenever He wouldn’t.

He didn’t, because they were all terrible ideas – bad girls, careers, schools. It sounds so cliched, but I really do think He knew better. He knew and He withheld – in love.

I had fought for so long with tightly-clenched fists. I would wring my hands at Him time and time again. I hadn’t understood that we what we most desperately want – often isn’t what we need.

And when our fists are clenched this tightly – how can He put in our hands a new dream? A new vision, opportunity or life?

WITH ARMS WIDE OPEN

Somedays I still feel as if I’m moping in a hole in the ground I dug myself. I imagine God coming along to rap me on the helmet, telling me to go on a walk with Him, where he reveals my selfish ambition.

God does those things. He wakes up my idea, but He is immeasurably gentler with me. I’ve learnt a few things since that night in the jungle. When I go off the path, or things don’t go my way, now I ask: What are You doing in this instance? If it’s not this path, I’m sorry for having misheard. Where then would You send me?

He guides my path. I trust Him: Whenever I trace back His hand in my life, I see that He was never wrong.

And I know now, He never will be.

/ 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 divine exchange: Lessons from my semester abroad

by | 11 September 2017, 9:45 AM

Student exchanges are school programs which allow for undergraduates to spend a semester overseas in a partner university.

Exchange is something most university students look forward to. After all, it’s a chance to finally discover the vast world beyond the confines of our tiny island.

You get to make foreign friends, travel overseas and live independently – what’s not to like?

Those were some reasons I had for going on exchange to Berlin, Germany last year. That idealism rapidly dissipated when I realised – in the middle of the night – that I was sitting in a plane hurtling over the Middle East, all the while moving further and further away from home.

It ultimately turned out that my exchange wasn’t nearly as dreamy as I had imagined, yet it was still a beneficial time where I learnt many life lessons.

A SEASON OF DEPENDENCE

Going on exchange made me utterly dependent on God.

Owing to my laziness in the months prior to departure, I applied for my German visa late, which meant my entire trip was at the mercy of the embassy officials. I didn’t get my visa approved until the very day of my flight to Berlin.

The night before my departure, I was reading the Bible and feeling a little desperate, wondering if making a fuss at the embassy would move things along quicker. God convicted me that this predicament was a result of my procrastination, but He also spoke to me as I read on:

“Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone.” (Proverbs 25:15)

So with patience I headed to the embassy the next day. And though they normally take months to process such documents, the officers listened to my gentle plea for urgency and kindly prepared my visa for me on the spot.

But my problems were far from over.

I touched down in Berlin a lot later than the time I had told my landlord, Niko, that I would arrive at the apartment. Without thinking my next step through, I took a cab to my new home before I realised what I had done.

There I was, with my massive luggage and backpack, without any data or minutes to give Niko a call or write him an email. And then there was the weather! I could have waited for hours in the cold. As I sat on my luggage at the gates of the apartment complex, I realised how alone I was.

Coming from a tiny island where I had everything I wanted and needed at my fingertips, I had never been desperate. What else could I do but pray? God, please help me. I need Your help.

I was reduced to utter dependence on God in a way that was impossible back home.

Right after I finished that prayer, a massive man emerged from the woods beside the apartment. In thick German, he called out to me, “Hello! Can I help you?”. I told him I was waiting for Niko, to which he said, “Niko isn’t coming, but I will help you.”

He then sat me down in an office and we worked through forms, payments, the building layout, the room’s rules — pretty much everything together.

Beyond instances like this, I was reduced to utter dependence on God in a way that was impossible back home: Finding friends. Finding a church. Getting a working prepaid phone card. Having working internet. Having a working heater in winter. Safety on the streets at night.

Exchange was a season where I had to rely on Him for every single thing I had ever taken for granted.

A SEASON OF INDEPENDENCE

As a deeply introverted person, I think a big part of me wondered if by going on an adventure all by myself, something about my introversion would change.

Looking back, I can tell you that was a dumb reason to go. But something did grow: I had to become more independent. I had to do banking, laundry, immigration stuff, groceries, cooking — every conceivable adulting thing that wouldn’t typically have been my portion in Singapore — I did them all.

I had to step out of my comfort zone to meet new people (in German!). I experienced a deep longing for spiritual community that seekers must feel in a new church — an experience that has since made me more empathetic and inviting to newcomers.

God used that time to show me who really was in control of life.

There were many triumphs, but there were also many days I lay in bed watching YouTube wondering why I ever came.

I know now that through exchange, God refined and moulded me to be a better person. God used that time to show me who really was in control of life. In a time of great loneliness, I drew near to God, and He drew near to me.

He became my closest friend, through a season that brought me into a lifestyle of dependence on Him.

KNOW WHY YOU GO

But that’s my story. Your exchange — if you do go on one — will be your own. Ask God what exchange can do for you that being home in Singapore won’t. It’ll be fun, but don’t let the time be fruitless or frivolous. In all your travels, ask that He would use them to mould you.

You’re sure to fall in love with certain places, but never stop being a child of God – in wide-eyed wonder at your Father who wrought this wonderful world. Go for a better reason than “I want a different life”.

Go, so that God may draw you close, far away from home.

/ 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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Where every phone call could be a matter of life and death: The Samaritans of Singapore

by | 9 September 2017, 10:19 PM

As he walked into an austere interview room at Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) over a year ago, Shawn Lai had absolutely no idea of what he was getting himself into.

“I was quite clueless in terms of the kind of work I would be doing. I was aware that SOS was a helpline but beyond that, I wasn’t sure what else I would be tasked to do,” he tells Thir.st.

As a former Youth For Christ (YFC) staff, Shawn’s expertise was in working with young people. Suicide prevention was a new realm for him.

As Shawn was soon to find out, this people group was certainly growing and in need.

According to an SOS press release from July, 429 suicides were reported in 2016, 20 more than the year before. There was an average of about 6 suicides a month among young adults aged 20 to 29 – the highest among all age groups.

SOS is playing its part keeping this number down: It gets 100 to 120 calls a day. Who knows how many lives may have been saved by that one phone call?

Today, as a counsellor with SOS’s Client Services, Shawn supervises the volunteers who man the 24-hour hotline at SOS. He also directly intervenes when high-risk cases come up.

Shawn also supports those contemplating suicide through one-to-one counselling and offers grief support to “survivors” — those who have lost loved ones to suicide. As part of his work with SOS, he also offers professional consultation to fellow social services professionals dealing with those who are suicidal.

This all sounds like a lot for a reserved man who looks deathly shy at first glance.

“I got anxious quite easily and lacked self-confidence. I really had to grapple with my own anxiety and inner struggles,” says our hero in question, speaking softly. “But where there’s discomfort, there’s growth”.

It’s a hopeful outlook in a field which wars against hopelessness. I begin to see a spark in Shawn, and understand why he’s suited for the job.

I realise I had a lot of preconceived notions about how a Samaritan would look like or behave. For some reason, I thought someone chirpy and irrepressibly joyful would man the phones. Shawn isn’t quite those two things, but he’s proving to be another two: Willing, and a good listener.

It’s the main skill Shawn has learnt on the job, he tells me: Be quick to listen, slow to speak.

“The Bible is spot on in James 1:19, about being quick to listen and slow to speak and become angry. We need to practice active listening; it helps the caller feel understood, so he is more open for you to help him,” says Shawn.

“Too many people want to talk, but not many people are patient enough to listen.”

The paucity of open and honest conversations is a big contributor to the issues many of the callers to the hotline face, says Shawn, who is mature beyond his 27 years.

“Many of the family-related cases we come across stem from a lack of open and honest communication about issues in the family. Most people find it the hardest to talk to family, where they feel most vulnerable, and many family members can be quick to criticise.

“It’s really sad to see that many people are not willing to face their family-related issues, and would rather choose to flee from them.”

Working in a profession which daily tackles despair head on, Shawn tells me he’s come to see that “true joy can only be found in knowing Christ and being satisfied in Him”.

As I hear this spoken with an unashamed conviction, somewhere in me I commend someone like Shawn, who speaks life through the phone lines — into someone whose spirit is close to death.

I find the notion heroic until I catch myself. Why do I find it heroic? Shouldn’t this be normal?

What would the world around us look like if every Christian was a Samaritan? Each of us living out Proverbs 15:4 – soothing tongues serving as trees of life – or Proverbs 18:21?

In a culture of death, we need to be a shifting force that brings life. We’re called to love. We’re called to bring life to a parched land.


If you know anyone in distress or contemplating suicide, call the SOS hotline at 1800 221 4444, or email pat@sos.org.sg. Visit their website to find out more about SOS or their campaign for World Suicide Prevention Day 2017.

You can also seek help at the following numbers:

Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800 283 7019
Institute of Mental Health’s Mobile Crisis Service: 6389 2222
Care Corner Counselling Centre (Mandarin): 1800 353 5800
Tinkle Friend: 1800 274 4788

/ 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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University students, come and Carry The Love

by Thir.st | 8 September 2017, 2:01 PM

Carry the Love 2017 (CTL) is a prayer worship tour set to be held across five universities in Singapore, organised by students from various universities, churches and fellowship groups with the same heart to see God move in the nation’s college campuses.

NTU: September 11, 7pm
SMU: September 12, 7pm
SIT: September 13, 7pm
SUTD: September 14, 7pm
NUS: September 15, 7pm

Inspired by their experience at Permission to Dream (PTD) – another cross-church, non-denominational event which took place over 3 campuses earlier this year, CTL is a worship tour organised by students from various universities, churches and fellowship groups with the same heart to see God move in our schools. This time, they are moving across 5 different campuses.

“God is doing a work”, says Xin Hui, one of CTL’s organisers. The group collectively senses a “momentum” in the spiritual atmosphere of Singapore.

The vision: To see universities transformed by God’s love. “God’s love has the power to transform. We’re claiming it for our generation,” said Xin Hui.

So, whichever university you belong to: Stand up and be counted. Come claim your school for Jesus and lift the plea to God in worship.

If you’re already a working adult, you can still come. Come and pray revival with the young. Come and be part of a generational movement.

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Are you playing the game, or is the game playing you?

by | 31 August 2017, 3:44 PM

I grew up playing video games.

I blame this lifelong passion on my Dad, really. One of my earliest memories was him teaching me to play some cowboy shooting game – you had to click on a bad guy that would appear at random across the screen.

I was hooked from that afternoon.

I’d go on in my childhood to play titles like Commander Keen, Wolfenstein 3D and Doom on our little MS-DOS computer. Dad and I would wait with anticipation for the monthly issues of PC Gamer – the magazine always came with a floppy disc with the latest demos.

Simpler times. Good times.

Later, as a teenager, I devoured series like Red Alert, Diablo 2, Warcraft 3, Counter-Strike, Halo and Guild Wars. Countless afternoons were spent sat in front of various versions of the PlayStation and the X-Box.

And I’m still playing today. (I’ve already preordered Destiny 2.)

So, you know I’m not a “casual”, ‘kay? I’ve enjoyed video games for more than 20 years. Which makes me an older person. Which means that while I know that gaming can be highly addictive, I also know that it can be a powerful tool for fellowship … when managed well.

MORE THAN JUST A GAME

Yet gaming often feels like something too trivial to talk about, almost like its another topic to be filed under the “Boys will be Boys” folder.

But when you consider how much time is sunk into this hobby, and by whom, you’ll find there’s certainly a lot at stake.

The Straits Times reported that a study by DQ Institute and NTU discovered that the typical 12-year-old in Singapore spends up to 46 hours a week – more than 6.5 hours daily – glued to a screen. Even nine-year-olds are spending more than 24 hours a week, or about 3.5 hours daily, doing the same.

When any activity takes up this much time in our lives, we need to know exactly what we’re walking into.

LIVING A HALF-LIFE

Google defines addiction as “the fact or condition of being addicted to a particular substance or activity”. I think that’s a reasonable baseline.

I wouldn’t say I’m addicted, but I’ve certainly been guilty in the past of becoming frustrated at my Mum when she told me to get off the computer. I just didn’t get why the older generation could never understand some games can’t be paused – that 4 or 5 teammates were relying on me.

At that point I didn’t understand that there were other people waiting for me too … at the dinner table.

When I finally noticed that I had been raising my voice to defend my hobby, I realised self-examination was in order. Upon reflection, I became convicted that I was playing a bit too much, and that my priorities needed realignment.

I still believe it’s perfectly fine to play video games regularly. But when do you cross the line where it’s no longer alright?

“I have the right to do anything,” you say — but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything” — but I will not be mastered by anything.” (1 Corinthians 6:12)

Paul is speaking about sexual immorality here, but the principle is still applicable: Is this game beneficial? For me, before I unwind and hit a dungeon with my friends, I ask myself if my time could be better spent somewhere else in the moment.

And sure, the holy-moly answer to that question is probably always “yes”. But we all have hobbies we love – be it baking or windsurfing – and we just need to enjoy them wisely.

I love gaming as much as the next person, but I think there’s infinitely more to life than mere pixels.

So, I check if I’ve spent time with God before logging in. I check to see if my ministry is in order.

There have been many times when I couldn’t answer “yes” to such checks. But there were also many times when I could game in peace – and these were the sessions where I had the most fun.

Gaming should not be taking up all your time. And it should certainly not be shaping how your life looks. For instance: Skipping church service so you can make it for a raid. Or missing cell group so you can work on your kill streak.

I look at the profiles of some of the people I’ve added on Steam, and it boggles me how some of them play 75 hours a week. What does that all amount to?

“God, this is the exotic weapon I spent two years grinding for.”
“Here, Lord, I finally unlocked all the achievements.”
“Father, here’s my flawless run through Dark Souls 3.”

It sounds harsh, but isn’t a life lived for anything apart from God’s purposes a waste? I love gaming as much as the next person, but I think there’s infinitely more to life than mere pixels.

We are not to be “mastered by anything”.

JOINING A PARTY

A few years ago, some of the guys in my cell group began gaming with each other. We started with a game called Guild Wars 2, and eventually the Telegram group chat was set up, the Discord channel … the works.

But what I got out of the time we spent together, wasn’t what I was used to in gaming. Gaming can be very antisocial, but here I had found a community. Each time we gathered, we could be our nerdy selves and have a hilarious time.

We now game because we are close friends wanting to spend time together — not for the game itself.

But it was more than that. While slaying orcs or exploring a new land, we would also update each other about our day or talk about how school was going. This Christian community of gamers grew to be a place where we edified each other.

Of course, it wasn’t as intentional as a cell group. We gamed together chiefly because it was fun, but also because we increasingly enjoyed each other’s company – becoming close enough to be able to speak into each others’ lives. We now game because we are close friends wanting to spend time together — not for the game itself.

I believe that we need to invite God to direct our passions — that we might enjoy our hobbies in a healthy and holy way.

/ 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 couples travel together?

by | 30 August 2017, 10:47 AM

“Yes, I would go overseas with my boyfriend or girlfriend – even if it means we would be tempted sexually.”

That’s how 36% of young adult Christians in Singapore responded in the Whole Life Inventory (2016), a survey instrument for churches to assess and find out the health and needs of their congregation.

That’s a whopping 1 in 3 of us who would have no qualms about putting themselves in situations where they might be tempted to sin.

When you go on holiday with your boyfriend or girlfriend – or maybe when you visit them while they’re overseas on exchange – the potential for “harmless” temptation is frequent and real. This is how it sounds like:

  • “I’m just sharing a room with my girlfriend to save some money.”
  • “They only had a room with a queen-sized bed. It’s okay, we’ll put pillows between us.”
  • “It’s okay cos we’re with a bunch of friends. Who are all couples. Who are all rooming with each other.”
  • “You know what, we’ll just break off from the group for a couple of days to do our own thing. We’ll see you back in Singapore.”

It’s not okay. It really isn’t.

It doesn’t matter how self-controlled or disciplined we believe we are. Once we buy the tickets and book the Airbnb as a couple, the truth is we’re wilfully locking ourselves into an extended period of temptation – when we’re told instead to flee from temptation and youthful passions (2 Timothy 2:2).

Being in a foreign land, where the chances of bumping into people we know are negligible – it’s a terribly exciting thing. And it’s more dangerous than you know.

We make our decisions out of either regard or disregard for God. There just isn’t an in-between.

I remember when my girlfriend and I travelled to JB with some of her friends, and we went off by ourselves for just 15 minutes to buy a banana cake from the main street outside the mall.

As we were walking, it suddenly dawned on me that it was just the two of us. We were truly by ourselves in a foreign land.

Now, I really wasn’t looking to do anything beyond buying that banana cake, but surprisingly, the seclusion and privacy afforded to us as a couple in that moment still made my heart race.

If we must measure temptation, it’s safer to assume that the temptation is always greater than we can know or expect.

“Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41)

GOING OVERSEAS TOGETHER? 4 QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELVES …

WHAT DOES YOUR CONSCIENCE TELL YOU?

If you’re still unclear on whether it’s acceptable to travel alone with your partner, take a look at the fruits.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23a)

So, what are some fruits you can see behind this travel plan with your partner? And what are some fruits that will come out of this trip?

Are you at peace with this decision – truly? Are you arguing with your leaders because of this trip? Are you more gentle for it, or are you now insisting on your own way?

Often, the spirit of rebellion lies behind a vehement insistence on getting what we want. In being wilful or rude while asserting our wills, our hearts have already been led by sin.

I believe self-control is the key fruit to look out for here. Could you take a trip with your girlfriend and come out of it with better self-control? Plausibly.

Will you be tempted, would you be put in a position where you are likely to fall? Absolutely. Beyond a shadow of a doubt.

So, really, what’s it saying if you insist to go despite knowing this?

If self-control truly was a fruit in your life, it would be evident in your prudent decision not to go on a trip where you would have the strong possibility of being tempted into sin.

WHAT IS YOUR ATTITUDE TOWARD HOLINESS?

John Piper’s approach to holiness offers a wonderful framework for weighing whether or not to do certain things in life:

“Don’t just ask, ‘Is it a sin?’ That is about the lowest question you can ask in life. ‘I am going to do it if it is not a sin. So tell me, is it a sin to do this?’ ‘Well, not exactly.’ ‘Okay, that is all I wanted to know. I am off to do it.'”

The question to ask instead, Piper writes, is: “Does it get in my way when I am trying to become more patient, more kind, more gentle, more loving, more holy, more pure, more self-controlled? Does it get in my way or does it help me run?”

In this age of instant gratification, it’s so easy to ask if we can, but we often fail to ask the better question of whether we should.

For Piper, the issue isn’t “How many sins can I avoid?” The spiritually mature should instead ask a far wiser question: “How many weights can I lay down so that I am fleet-footed in the race of righteousness?”

Likewise, we need to see if we are asking the right question. In this age of instant gratification, it’s so easy to ask if we can, but we often fail to ask the better question of whether we should — whether it helps us run our heavenward race better.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” (Hebrews 12:1)

WHAT WOULD YOUR MENTORS SAY TO YOU?

Travelling with your partner is a touchy topic. To an extent, any issue which involves accountability and openness will be. For leaders, it’s not about approving your request or turning you down.

It’s about boldly helping you to become more like Christ, who told us to “be holy, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is holy” (Matthew 5:48).

So, if you have good and God-fearing leaders, know that they are for you. Because they love you, they will say “no” to things that are not good for you.

Because they truly love you and want the best for you, they cannot possibly say “yes” to a romantic getaway with your boyfriend or girlfriend. They’ve already asked themselves a question which you need to ask yourself as well: Will this hinder or help you to be a pure and righteous child of God?

From this position, we make our decisions out of either regard or disregard for God. There just isn’t an in-between.

WHAT DOES TRUE LOVE LOOK LIKE?

Everything is permissible – but not everything is beneficial (1 Corinthians 10:23). Let’s earnestly consider how beneficial travelling with our partners would be for us, as we fight the good fight.

Don’t write it off, saying: “It’s okay, we love each other. We wouldn’t want to hurt each other by making a mistake.” If we really believed that, then we’d be steering clear of foreign and dangerous waters — not jumping in just for the sake of adventure.

And going in a group doesn’t offer some sort of magical protection either. The truth is, even if you go in a group, temptation will still be there. It’s even worse if you go in a group of couples.

Because at some point, it’s guaranteed you’ll break off into your pairs and do your own thing for a bit — and sometimes “a bit” is all the rope you need.

Do you want to love your partner the way the world loves, or do you seek a higher and truer love?

So, consider how you want to love your partner, who you treasure as being intricately moulded and loved by God, just like you. Do you want to love that person the way the world loves, or do you seek a higher and truer love?

The latter is difficult, but infinitely worthwhile. The former is stopping along the way for something cheaper and easier.

True love protects, and makes sacrifices. True love is patient, willing to wait for the right season.

True love knows when to say no.

/ 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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10,000 reasons for my heart to be grateful

by | 22 August 2017, 2:26 PM

As I read the Bible growing up, I often laughed at how stupid or blind Israel could be, to turn from God even after the many miracles they experienced.

I mean, they really experienced miracles! They saw God rescuing them from oppression time and time again — even witnessing the parting of a whole sea — and yet invariably they would forget and turn back to their own ways.

I always thought that if I were in their shoes, having seen the things they’d seen, I’d never forget. The whole thing just didn’t make sense to me.

God might not have dramatically parted a sea for me, but there have been miracles of provision, healing and life transformation. And boy, I am quick to forget them.

But classic Singaporean, right? Comment and criticise only. The truth is, as I grow older and look back, I see a lot of that “doesn’t make sense” in my own life.

God might not have dramatically parted a sea for me, but there have been miracles of provision, healing and life transformation. And boy, I am quick to forget them. I’m just as much of an Israelite in that regard.

FORGETFULNESS BEGETS UNFAITHFULNESS

Israel would first forget, before ultimately rebelling against God (Psalm 78:40). I believe the reason why we rebel is because we do not consider/meditate on/remember God’s wondrous and mighty works for us. It’s certainly true for me.

God does an amazing thing for me, and I walk away blessed. Life is smooth-sailing, it’s good. Not so much “God is good” — but life is good.

And without even realising it, I walk away a little more.

When we forget what God has done for us, we forget who we really are — children utterly dependent on Father God. Blessings become an entitlement; miracles are reduced in significance, or taken as logical outcomes in life. It seems an infinite God begins to shrink in our world.

The truth is: No, He hasn’t, but our view of Him has shrunk.

I bought a little book to record all the things God has done for me. God changed me through that thanksgiving journal.

But it can’t be like that. We must remember.

If we really meditate on what God has done (Psalm 8:3-4) and is capable of doing, it should humble us. Yet it will also draw us, as specks of dust, closer to an Almighty God. We desperately need this realignment, we who are so prone to pride and ingratitude.

REMEMBERING YOUR FAITHFULNESS

I didn’t want to become an ungrateful Israelite. I wanted to remember: To reflect on the Lord’s deeds and blessings for me, and, with that knowledge, thank and praise Him all the better.

So years ago, I went and got what I call a thanksgiving journal. It was really just a little book to record all the things God has done for me — things to praise Him for.

I wrote down many things, big and small. From great joys like landing a first date with my then-to-be girlfriend, to His comfort in times of great loneliness living overseas, I penned them all down faithfully. In the wintry winds of a country so alien to me, I always had a warm and familiar Friend.

God changed me through the thanksgiving journal. It made me a little smaller, and it made God great.

On the best days, the thanksgiving overflowed onto multiple pages. On days that weren’t nearly as good, there were still things to thank Him for:

Thank you that the heater works, and I’m not cold.
Thank you God, for my church. It’s not perfect, but it’s there.
Thank you that You are here with me …

On the very worst days, when I cannot even bring myself to write in the thanksgiving journal, I quietly flip through its many pages. And I am humbled by the thousands of things God had done for me.

It gives me a deeper understanding of what Matt Redman’s 10,000 Reasons really means.

It brings me joy knowing there is a God who is for me.

I know that it I were to write down every single thing God had done for me — there wouldn’t be enough ink in the world. There just wouldn’t be enough pages.

So I do my utmost to remember. Because I know that remembering breeds gratitude. And gratitude finds love.

Love — larger than life itself.

/ 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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This is me now

by | 22 August 2017, 1:31 PM

My own wretchedness has always been apparent to me. As a result, when God shifted me from doing bad to good, I found myself saying things like:

This isn’t me. I am selfish.
This isn’t me. I am lazy.
This isn’t me. I know me.

But when I really examine my heart, there were many times this wasn’t true humility — I was simply lowering myself back into the grave.

Because I was ashamed. I know me. I spent so many years in the gloomy gutter. Bathed in His light now, I felt entirely out of place.

Life lived with God didn’t match at all, the picture of darkness I had grown so accustomed to. And so I shied away from embracing the new mould God had put me in.

Looking back, I often wonder what I would say to my younger self. It might be something like this:

So, kid, you feel unworthy? Well, there’s truth in what you feel. You are completely unworthy. And yet God has redeemed you by His grace! By this miracle, you are completely forgiven.

Now, you have to go from “I know me” — to “I knew me”. Or as Paul put it in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”

So, kid, you feel unworthy? Well, there’s truth in what you feel. You are completely unworthy. And yet …

New man, you are forgiven.

Move on from the honest but unhelpful assessments of the type of man you were without God.

What matters more is who you’ve become: Loved, redeemed and resurrected. You have been made new in Christ.

This is who you are now.

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

Stop wearing the new clothes over the old ones. You’re bound to feel uncomfortable with two layers on in this country.

Take the old clothes off! Go, get washed clean. Then look to Jesus, who’s standing right beside you.

Thank Him. He’s bought you brand new clothes — ones you should wear with pride.

/ 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 is it so hard to have Quiet Time?

by | 16 August 2017, 4:49 PM

Imagine you are doing poorly at a subject in school. (Maybe some of you don’t have to work too hard to imagine this.)

Maybe you keep failing your exams. You may even be thinking of quitting school – to put you out your misery. Maybe you’re forced to attend tuition in the faint hope that something might change if you would only go through the motions.

Yet you refuse to put the quality time in. You take the textbook out of your schoolbag, and almost immediately put it back in again. The Teacher hasn’t even opened his mouth, and you’ve already upped and left the lecture theatre.

If I love God without knowing what is on His heart — without even knowing Him — then what is my faith really made of?

For so many of us, this might be the picture of our Quiet Time. How many of us can really spend unhurried time with God? I’ll be really honest: There are many days where I find it incredibly difficult to just sit still. I often can’t wait to get QT over with — can’t wait to depart to the day’s next thing.

“Desire without knowledge is not good — how much more will hasty feet miss the way!” (Proverbs 19:2)

In such times I might feel like I’m walking with God. But in truth, if I love God without knowing what is on His heart — without even knowing Him — then what is my faith really made of?

Just like we can’t build strong relationships on one-liners, rather than deep conversations, we can’t know God when we give Him just 5 minutes a day. If at all.

FAITH IS LIKE A MUSCLE

Quiet time is about discipline. You know the jargon: Faith is like a muscle — when we use it, God makes it strong.

To extend the metaphor, quiet time is like going to the gym. Some of us can’t wait to get in there — we need that hour. That time in the room strengthens us for the day; indeed, for life.

But some of us aren’t quite there yet, and I’m one of them. There are many days where opening my Bible and being still before God feels like dragging myself to the gym in the morning. There’s just such great inertia. Why? My faith-muscle feels too small to lift the weight of discipline and really seek God.

“Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God.” (Revelation 3:2)

This warning to the church in Sardis jumped out at me as I read it. There are days where my faith-muscle feels so dry and shrivelled up, you might think it’s atrophied. Dead.

How desperately I need God in my struggle against laziness and sloth.

Perhaps I look at the other facets of my faith — active service in the body-life, vibrant prayer-life — and count them to myself as righteousness. In truth, and it pains me to say this, I might often be just ticking boxes elsewhere. The Laodicean church reminded me of my own heart:

“You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realise that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” (Revelation 3:17)

I lie to myself: This is good enough. How Satan loves to lie to us, telling us that mediocrity is good enough. “Good enough” isn’t good enough. Lukewarmness isn’t good enough.

How desperately I need God in my struggle against laziness and sloth.

ALONE AND AWAY

“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 6:6)

“After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone.” (Matthew 14:23)

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place.” (Mark 1:35)

I feel like the least qualified person to talk about quiet time. Ultimately, I can’t make you spend unhurried time with Him, any more than you could make me.

But I’ve resolved to spend unhurried time alone with God. Just Him and I.

I must.

/ 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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Here I am, send … him

by | 14 August 2017, 5:05 PM

 “But Moses said, ‘Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send somebody else’.” (Exodus 4:13)

Early last year I was jogging along my usual route, to the bridge by the river. When I got there, I took my headphones off and, in the corner of my eye, I saw a migrant worker sweeping up leaves.

The first thought that came to mind was: Pray for him.

I simply began to pray. I offered up the usual words: “Lord, be real to him and let him find You. Send godly people into his life – send them his way that he may know You.”

But as I was praying, I felt a sudden weight in my heart which seemed to say: Maybe I am the one who should go. I should be that guy I’m asking God for.

I pray these prayers so often. But behind such prayers, there was a part of me that was hiding from what He’s called us – me – to do: Love one another and share the Gospel.

Please send somebody else. That’s what I’ve been praying.

HERE I AM, SEND …

I walked over to him. I greeted him, shook his hand. And we became friends: Sambak from Tamil Nadu, and Gabriel from Sengkang.

I didn’t really know what to say beyond the usual small talk, so I thanked him for keeping our country clean as he flashed a warm smile, nodding.

It was time to leave, and I said “Goodbye Sambak, see you.” He replied enthusiastically: “Tomorrow!”

Please send somebody else. That’s what I’ve been praying.

That night I wrote a letter with a verse, and put it – along with some money – into a red packet for Sambak. In the morning, I made the short drive to the bridge, praying along the way that God would help me to find Sambak.

I got out of the car and walked to the river, where Sambak was standing, at the promenade. It was just him and I at the water – a strange providence must have cleared the crowd for a conversation. We shook hands and I explained that as it was Chinese New Year, I wanted to bless him with the red packet.

He took it with both hands, with delight – but I had the distinct sense that he valued our new bond forged more than the money. I managed to pray with him, and he even introduced his friend Valaidum to me.

I see now that as I took a step of faith into Sambak’s life, God moved and blessed him through me.

MOVING WITH GOD

Later as I drove home, I listened to Evidence by Elevation Worship, which features the church band playing a musical backdrop to Pastor Steven Furtick’s exhortations. The impassioned Pastor was shouting at the top of his lungs:

“We’re not waiting on the move of God, we are the move of God! We can’t stay here, we gotta go. We’ve got a church to keep, we got a God to serve. We’ve got a Gospel to preach. We’ve got broken hearts to bind. We’ve got hurting people to heal! Move, Church!”

It made so much sense to me. We must pray constantly, but we must also move.

This isn’t strictly theologically-sound practice, but because I had met Sambak at 9:12am, I decided to look up 9-12 in Romans 12 when I got home. In it, Paul says: “Do not be slothful in zeal”.

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honour. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. (Romans 12:9-12)

I realised my prayers were just that at times – slothful in zeal. I speak of change and desire it – yet am too lazy or unwilling to do anything about it myself.

At the end of the day, what is faith without deeds? (James 2:14-26)

We must pray constantly, but we must also move.

I write this without being legalistic. Neither am I on a performance treadmill. Prayer is amazing, but our work as disciples doesn’t stop there.

I believe there are times when it isn’t enough to just pray. We also need to move for God, and actually do what He has called us to.

Let’s be that guy we’re praying for God to send.

/ 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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Singapore, the place I’ve learnt to call home

by Mark Lee | 8 August 2017, 4:48 PM

What does home mean to you?

It’s a question I’ve often asked myself. I was born in Singapore, but my family moved overseas when I was 5, so I spent many of my growing years abroad, where home at various times took the form of a taste, a familiar smell or a brand new place.

I didn’t have a singular place or idea of home — and even if there was one, Singapore definitely wasn’t it.

So you can imagine my rancour when my father moved our family back to Singapore in 2007. As I look back, however, I can see God moving in those painful years – helping me exchange my old ways of thinking for a higher mindset.

Having to return “home” to Singapore helped me realise that accepting a place as home requires a posture of investment.

My sister and I found that the first few years of being back in Singapore were extremely difficult, for so many reasons. But one big factor that was in our control, but which we failed to appreciate at the start, was that we simply weren’t looking to invest into Singapore as a place and people of our own.

Having been exposed to a plethora of cultures and perspectives in our international community, we initially wrote Singapore off as small and lame. As far as we were concerned, Singapore was a semester break and an obligation — not a home to build.

I didn’t have a singular place or idea of home — and even if there was one, Singapore definitely wasn’t it.

It took a lot of heart work before I was able to even begin to invest into the lives of those around me in Singapore. I faced regular disappointment and discouragement in my attempts to open up or to get to know the born-and-bred Singaporeans.

I had to deal with assumptions: “Huh, but you stayed in China for 8 years. Your Chinese should be better than ours what?”

Or disbelief and cynicism at my thought process: “What? Who even thinks that way?”

I consistently received a mixed message from others. They somehow knew me so well they felt they could confidently assume this or that about my identity. But at the same time, my thinking and my way of doing things were so foreign that they couldn’t possibly comprehend my side of things.

The irony was biting, and for a long time I was bitter with my “fellow” Singaporeans for failing to understand me. The last thing on my mind was investing myself into this place or its people.

Which left me with two choices:

1. I could give up, and stonewall every Singaporean who crossed paths with me, and think “this one’s just another overassuming, narrow-minded Singaporean”.

2. I could continue trying — putting myself into social situations where I would be readily identified as strange or not-really Singaporean, and keep working at integrating.

I often struggled to choose the second option, but by God’s grace, I persevered. Looking back, it was my church and cell group which really helped me to plug in. With them, though I was still the not-so-Singaporean Singaporean, I could still lay claim to one undeniable commonality:

I’m a Christian, you’re a Christian, I love God, you love God. We’re not that different, are we?

Honestly, there were some days where the awkwardness between my cell members and I was so palpable. We were just so different — at times it really felt that this professed love for God was the last and only thread which bound us together.

All I could do was just cling to this thread and pray unceasingly to God.

That the larger Singaporean society was far from welcoming — this was grudgingly acceptable in some sense. What pained me was that my God-fearing family could not, and would not, understand me.

Frustrated, I would often retreat to cry to God — plonking my tear-stained face into His embrace.

In time, He revealed the basis of my frustration and pain to me: Deep inside, there was a vast need to be understood and loved. I was hungering for identity.

I’d go as far to say I wanted to be completely understood and completely loved.

As He embraced me, I discovered the One who knows and loves me fully. Our Lord God knows us fully — down to the very hair (Luke 12:7). And He loves us fully too — nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39).

Deep inside, there was a vast need to be understood and loved. I was hungering for identity.

When my spirit felt close to death, the Word of God came to life. It has continued to be life to me on my path of being Singaporean — indeed for living on earth. I realised that if God fully knows and loves me, I don’t need to feel downcast or pressured when I’m not Singaporean enough. When I’m not understood or loved enough.

In God, I am known and loved more than enough. From this position, as I followed God — knowing my identity in Him — I could then better know and love the people He placed in my life. No longer on my terms, or for my purposes, but His.

We’re not responsible for whether or not others take care of us or understand us — unless we’re deliberately trying to make it hard for them to do so. But we are responsible for our relationship with the One who does those things best: Our Lord and our God.

For me, adapting to Singapore — or indeed any place, people or situation — has to first begin with the question, “What is God doing here? And how can I be a part of it?” 

When I started to ask such questions, God began to reveal His fingerprints in my life.

As I look back on my difficult transition years, I can say with full confidence that God knows what He’s doing. He never forces Himself upon us, but always invites us to recognisereceive, and realise His ways in our lives — and then relay those higher ways to others.

Our part is then to consistently grow in knowing our Father God intimately — that we may be true bearers of His intimacy, no matter the people or place.

This world needs a Home, and we’re bringing it down to them.

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Maybe the green pastures aren’t all that green

by | 3 August 2017, 7:04 PM

The Lord is my Shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters” (Psalm 23:1-2)

All my life I had envisioned the “green pastures” in Psalm 23 to look something like the classic Windows wallpaper, “Bliss”. You’re definitely acquainted with it: rolling hills against a pastoral landscape.

Picture-perfect peace.

In this world, however, most of us know by now that life isn’t all that simple. Perhaps instead of peace, some of us feel preyed upon in this world. For some of us, the peaceful images of the Psalms have no resonance — our “quiet waters” might look more like a raging river (Psalm 23:2).

Or the “right paths” might be roads we once knew a long time ago, but can no longer find (Psalm 23:3). Certainly, our present struggles and anxieties may feel more real to us than God. And yet in spite of them, He – our great Shepherd – is still greater.

I’m not saying this to trivialise your pain. By greater, I mean that God meets us where we are — but won’t leave us there. Greater means he leads us for His name’s sake — for His glory (Psalms 23:3). He’s got His eye on greater, higher things whether we’re in good times — or in our darkest valley (Psalms 23:4).

We must believe that God desires to guide us to life — and all we need to do is follow Him.

THE END IN MIND

I do get it. The narrow path is so difficult to find because we live in a culture that has conditioned us to put our heads down in the grind (Matthew 7:14). The Singaporean hustle really looks like a logical way to life. But do you want to finally look up when you are 50 only to realise you’ve missed God’s best for you?

The problem is that the process becomes life itself, and we forget all about the destination. We punched in “paradise” into the GPS early on — but stopped for something cheaper and easier.

In light of worldly wisdom and logic, it’s worth considering what David’s starting point was: I lack nothing.

The problem is that the process becomes life itself, and we forget all about the destination.

He wasn’t kiasu. He didn’t fear lack, like we are so prone to. He didn’t strive. Don’t forget that this was a man who had lived both as king and cave-dwelling fugitive. David understood both gain and pain.

And yet he had peace — true peace — which came only from God.

He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters” (Psalm 23:2)

What does God do for His sheep when they allow Him to lead them? I believe that in His mercy, He first makes His sheep lie down. He makes us stop in our tracks — when all we want to do is run around and do our own thing.

Then He gently whispers: Stop striving. Here is everything you will ever need. Trust me. Lie here for a bit, be still, and I will refresh you. Trust me.

WITH EYES WIDE OPEN

In David’s time, green pastures certainly weren’t like the pastoral ones on our wallpapers. They probably were more like life-sustaining, little patches of life through a desert.

In such a harsh environment, the sheep would require their Shepherd to guide them, often to places that might not look promising, like a rocky outcrop. But often, after a long climb up steep rocks, there would be life-sustaining nourishment.

For us, being good sheep doesn’t mean having blind faith. It means having faith and being obedient — counting the cost and following the Shepherd. It takes trust — trust in the Shepherd and His character — but we gain peace from doing so (Isaiah 26:3).

Instead of simply counting the cost of following the straight and narrow path — count the cost of not doing so.

We desperately need to know what it really means to follow Christ. We must never confuse the peace of following God with coasting in life. True Christianity isn’t about frolicking in worldly abundance and chilling out on nice green pastoral hills.

It’s war.

It’s a lifetime of fighting where souls are at stake. Indeed, the race and “the good fight” (1 Timothy 6:12) rage on each and every single hour of our lives on earth. With such a difficult road to travel on, it’s little wonder that many of us take detours or shortcuts through the woods.

But instead of simply counting the cost of following the straight and narrow path — count the cost of not doing so.

TRUST — CAST — REJOICE

When we consider how much is at stake and how fiercely we must fight, we may become anxious. In keeping our peace and eyes on the heavenward prize — here are some handles:

  • Trust the Lord (Proverbs 3:5-6)
  • Cast your anxieties on Him (1 Peter 5:7)
  • Rejoice in the Lord (Philippians 4:4-7)

When we align our lives to His will, we’re placing our whole lives in His hand, and now the LORD Himself is going to act (Psalm 37:3-5) on our behalves.

What an assurance it is that peace doesn’t lie in our abundant surroundings — in mere things so prone to flux and change. Instead, true peace comes from trusting and walking with an unchanging and sovereign God. Think of Jesus who rested peacefully in the boat’s stern (Mark 4:35-41) as the storm raged — Peace lies in the boat with us.

So what to the raging river. So what to the storms of this life. And so what to the sting of death.

The Lord our God is with us and for us: there’s no more need to be afraid.

/ 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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My way or a higher way?

by | 27 July 2017, 3:49 PM

The way we are in bad traffic — or in any trying situation for that matter — reveals a lot about our character. 

For instance, here’s some simple advice: if you’re thinking about marrying someone, observe him when he’s stuck in traffic. Or when she has to deal with bad Internet.

In these sort of scenarios, you’ll be able to learn if this person is kind and patient — or the sort to put down service staff at Singtel just to get a compensation voucher.

The point is, in situations such as when we’re driving, we get to choose if we react or respond to our circumstances. Each of these decisions goes some way into shaping who we become (Proverbs 1.31).

Personally, I’m still not the best Christian on the road. On my worst days, I’m entitled, I’m impatient — I’m angry. But on the better days where I responded — instead of reacting — God has done incredible things in my life.

In situations such as when we’re driving, we get to choose if we react or respond to our circumstances.

Here’s an example that stands out in my memory: in 2014, I would drive to school everyday, and there would always be an accident along some stretch of the highway. This was usually before 10am so that meant there’d be congestion — and a lot of inconvenience.

And as I drove, I’d always see an ambulance creeping up on the right at some point or another. I never thought much of it — I mean, accidents happen — normally I’d just get through the jam it caused and complain about it later to my classmates.

But one day, in the middle of another jam, it dawned on me that I could pray for the person inside who was hurting, maybe even fighting for his life. Or for that person who was desperately waiting for the ambulance to get to him.

So on that particular day, I chose to look past the inconvenience, respond well and pray.

I prayed for the wounded person’s healing and that he would come to know God in some miraculous way. I prayed again the next day, when another ambulance invariably passed me. And the next as I sped by the scene of an accident. And so on.

It wasn’t something I used to do, but I suddenly found myself praying every day.

My prayers soon began to stretch beyond the confines on my car. Eventually, I was praying for people I walked by on the streets — children, young people, old people, handicapped people. It didn’t matter.

Months passed as I prayed and prayed and prayed. A singular question began to grow in my heart: Where do all these prayers go?

I developed a faith conviction that every single word uttered in prayer to God is heard by Him.

I began to ask God if they mattered at all. Were my prayers making a difference? I didn’t want to be merely performing a ritual or going through the motion as I drove. (Short answer: they really do — see Revelations 8.3-4.)

By this point, I had been praying fervently for close to a year now. And on one of the days I was on worship team duty, an acquaintance approached me during the altar call. She said she had a word from God for me:

“God hears. He hears your cries.”

I can be pretty cynical as a person, but that was a game changer. From that moment on, there was a spark lit within me. I developed a faith conviction that every single word uttered in prayer to God is heard by Him.

My daily prayers became a lifestyle — a lifestyle developed from a single decision, made one morning in heavy traffic.

I think it’s really cool how God began to turn my life around from that one moment in the car. Things started to change. I began to care for others, and I would pray for them — try and meet their felt needs.

I began to do things I would never have done in the past — things on God’s heart that had been so unattractive to me.

I often wonder what kind of person I’d be now if I had simply chosen to complain about traffic in my head — just like all the other days before that first prayer. I’d rather not know how many ambulances God would’ve mercifully sent my way before I finally did things His way.

What I have learnt while driving is that simple decisions can have profound impacts and consequences.

*     *     *

A year after that change in me, I was driving near my place when a truck driver suddenly swerved into my lane. In all honesty, he could have so easily pinned me against the road barrier.  I was so angry for my life — he almost killed me! I was still shaken as I pulled up at the next red light.

As the car came to a stop — even in the fury of my heart — I felt a small, calm voice in my heart say:

Pray for him. He needs to be safe too. Pray for him.

I was so angry at this person. I wanted to be carnal about the whole thing. I wanted to react in the flesh: sound the horn for a good thirty seconds, get out of the car and find a way to end up on Stomp — but somehow I obeyed, and I prayed.

Father, please have mercy on him. Help him to be safe too. Let us both return safely to our families. Lord preserve his life. Thank you Father. Lord, grant us journey mercies. Lord have mercy …

As I finished the prayer, I noticed the song on the radio had changed since the near-accident. Hoobastank’s The Reason was playing, and I listened to the chorus in tears:

I’ve found a Reason for me
To change who I used to be
A reason to start over new
And the Reason is 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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Everyone deserves a moment with God: Special needs and the Church

by | 27 July 2017, 12:07 PM

Several years ago, a life group in Hope Church Singapore found itself with four unique cell members – each of whom had special needs. With no experience in caring for people with special needs, a few leaders in Hope Church decided to meet and pray over this life group’s new situation.

They then set out to serve and disciple their Friends – this is how members with special needs are addressed – through informal meetings. 

Thus was birthed SHINE, a ministry that now conducts a church service for almost 20 people, which includes both Friends and their family members.

“God goes before us – we just follow,” says Edison, one of SHINE’s founders. It’s a bold and radically different sentiment from what he once thought in private: “Can’t ‘they’ just go somewhere else?”

Edison setting up tables and chairs for the service.

Edison is the first person I meet early the morning I visit the church. He’s a large, cheerful man in his 30s, preoccupied with moving dozens of chairs and tables around the auditorium we were in.

As he offers me a firm and sweaty handshake, I notice Yingqi and Tivona – SHINE’s co-leaders – also working hard alongside him.

I realise they aren’t even setting up for their Friends yet — service would not begin until much later. SHINE’s volunteers are setting up for a session they call Heart Prep — a short thematic study of the Bible and a time of prayer for the service ahead.

There’s an air of excitement and anticipation in the air.

After Heart Prep, we proceed to the ground floor, by the busy main road. Eventually an old battered bus pulls in, filled with Friends who disembark to ebullient high-fives by Aaron, an experienced volunteer who had been waiting with a well-worn wheelchair.

The wheelchair is for Ah Wen — one of the more challenging Friends who SHINE serves. Ah Wen is in his late 20s, severely autistic and non-verbal. Ah Wen isn’t physically disabled, but he needs to be strapped to his wheelchair because he hits people when he’s moody.

Ah Wen has to be strapped to his wheelchair to prevent himself from hitting others or himself.

He also has to wear a helmet because when he can’t reach other people, he hits himself on the head, either with his hands or whatever he’s holding. Ah Wen is a very large man – he’s taller than everybody in SHINE – and he’s very strong.

That morning, Ah Wen refuses to get out of the bus. His mother looks on for a minute, before trying to pull him onto the wheelchair. But when she attempts to do so, Ah Wen resists, tugging at her blouse with surprising force.

After they finally manage to move him off the bus, Ah Wen has to be held by male volunteers as they strap him into the wheelchair, tying his hands to its armrests as gently as they can. Such physical restraint is practised with love in SHINE, with the consent of Ah Wen’s mother. It’s for his safety — as well as the volunteers’.

Once he is fully secured, we head up to the service upstairs.

With Ah Wen safely taken care of by SHINE volunteers, his mother collapses into a chair, relieved to finally have some time to herself.

As we wheel Ah Wen to the lift, we pass by a group of youths who glance over furtively. They can tell that Ah Wen has special needs, and are visibly uncomfortable with his grunting and involuntary shaking. None of them will look him in the eye.

Ah Wen is the biggest and loudest person in the church’s hallway – yet he is invisible. That breaks my heart.

As we enter the doors, Ah Wen’s mother sighs, “这两天我真的受不了了.” The last two days have been unbearable.

I can’t even begin to imagine her daily routine with Ah Wen — even just getting from the bus to the lift was an ordeal. For such caregivers, coming to Hope’s SHINE ministry must be an indescribable relief, like stepping indoors during a storm.

With Ah Wen safely taken care of by SHINE volunteers, his mother collapses into a chair, relieved to finally have some time to herself. Every morning the struggle begins anew, but for these 3 hours in SHINE — it’s like there’s a divine ceasefire. 

I’d never seen it this way till now. A mere 3-hour “sacrifice” for some of us might well be the most treasured and anticipated block of time in the lives of these Friends and their loved ones.

Edison and Yingqi with Ah Wen.

Worship begins, and strangely enough I can no longer hear Ah Wen acting up. He isn’t grunting anymore, the way he had been on the ground floor. I glance over to see Yingqi and Edison kneeling by his wheelchair.

They stay with him the whole service, praying over him, just being with him. Not once do they leave his side.

Whenever Ah Wen grows restless and starts to shake, Yingqi holds his hand and reassures him gently. She is a petite young woman, and it’s a beautiful display of kindness and boldness.

Ah Wen stomps his feet, and Edison intuitively knows that he wants a leg massage. He crouches in front of his wheelchair to ease his discomfort.

Witnessing such acts of love, I realise I’m seeing the people I first met earlier in the morning in a new light. To my mind, they’ve transformed into superheroes of the faith, all in the span of a few hours.

If God won’t turn His face from any of us, why should we look away from others in His church? How could we?

After worship, I ask Tivona if there are cases of Friends they are unable to take on. “There are no rules and no exclusions,” she says, although SHINE volunteers must exercise wisdom in the way they minister to various individuals.

Despite the caveat, I see unconditional love in her answer. 

My mind is filled with thoughts as the service ends and I head home on the train.

When we walk into a room before our Father God as His children, does He love one more than the other? Does He look at an athlete admiringly but pretend a person like Ah Wen isn’t there? 

If the answer is no – and surely it’s a resounding no – then we, too, must love all our brothers and sisters equally.

If God won’t turn His face from any of us, why should we look away from others in His church? How could we? 

Edison and the SHINE ministry volunteers.

I think back to something Edison shared during our conversation. It was about a dream he had about Ah Wen.

“It was me and Ah Wen in heaven. And Ah Wen looked at me and said, ‘Edison, thank you. Thank you for all your help to me when we were on Earth.’

“And I just cried and cried. I woke up crying.”

I see now that the need is so great. The harvest really is plentiful (Luke 10:2).

Some of us still perceive our Friends as people with broken minds, broken bodies. But we are all broken vessels – and in the spiritual realm I don’t believe they’re any more broken than we are.

So it makes perfect sense that we worship one God, under one roof, as one Church.


SHINE is a Special Needs Ministry from Hope Church Singapore. It aims to embrace people with special needs in God’s love, empowering every individual to be whom God has created them to be. It runs services every fortnight, on Saturday mornings. For more information, contact shinehopesg@gmail.com.

/ 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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When the well runs dry

by | 20 July 2017, 9:33 PM

A job hazard for a writer is the fact that I feel like I have to continually draw from the well of my soul. It makes sense as a writer – that’s where you’d think most of the great stories come from.

But if you follow that logic, a day will come when I’ll run out of stories – I could potentially exhaust my reserves of life experiences, highs and lows.

It’s not exclusive to writing as a ministry. For instance, I know cell leaders who come up with fantastic care plans for their sheep, and dream big ideas for growth and multiplication.

But when either these plans fail or they start to run out of capacity to do everything planned, they end up burning out – wringing their hands in frustration at lost sheep.

When we reach the end of ourselves, we need to honestly examine if we’ve been leaning on the vine – where God’s strength and wisdom flows – or if we’ve just been drawing from their own wells.

WE ARE NOT THE VINE WE NEED

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5)

The vine doesn’t need the branches, but the branches need the vine. Just as we need God, we need to remain in Him if we are to bear fruit – or indeed if we are to live at all.

It’s tempting to believe we are capable of bearing fruit ourselves. It’s tempting to look at the number of salvations our events have gained, or the number of followers on our Instagrams, or the pageviews on our stories, and quietly believe we are the ones making all the difference.

It’s tempting to believe we are capable of bearing fruit ourselves.

Eventually, we get to a point where we believe the good work we’ve accomplished is all because of us.

But the truth from the Bible is that apart from Jesus, we can do nothing. We simply cannot bear fruit of eternal value by ourselves. My “well” doesn’t run dry when I run out of great stories – it runs dry when I am not abiding by the vine.

I’ll tell the best stories when I’m daily sitting by the feet of He who gives me the words to write.

WARNING: STAY WITH GOD

If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.” (John 15:6)

The warning isn’t just that we won’t bear fruit. If we miss the point, and fail to abide in Jesus – if we no longer depend entirely on him for life – then we risk death eternally.

We remain in God by walking closely to Him, devoting unhurried time to His Word and communion with Him.

We remain in God by utterly depending on Him, acknowledging that we are nothing apart from Him.

In Him, our finite time on earth has infinite potential for the Kingdom.

If we do these things – walking closely with the Lord and bearing fruit for God’s glory – we can then expect to be pruned (John 15:2). The Greek verb for “prune” is kathairó, which also means “to cleanse” or “to purify”.

Pruning – painful as it can be – occurs because the Gardener loves His good branches, and desires to be glorified (John 15:8) by the fruit we bear, by our growth.

In Him, our finite time on earth has infinite potential for the Kingdom.

God may weed out certain mindsets, activities or even people in our lives – so that He can give us more of Him.

We should earnestly desire this pruning, that we might better abide in Him.

To truly abide (ménō) is to never depart. Can you imagine a life where we are ever leaning upon the Vine, pleasing the Master of the vineyard with the sweet fruits of lives – wholly and inextricably devoted to Him?

I can tell you what that would feel like, according to John 15:11 – your joy will be complete.

/ 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’m right where I should be

by | 19 July 2017, 5:36 PM

His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’” (Matthew 25:23)

This verse has stuck with me through the years. Whenever I read it, I imagine God in heaven evaluating what my life has amounted to. With this picture in mind, I constantly weigh my ministries, relationships and career prospects by their eternal value – fruit that will last (John 15:16).

I can’t waste my life.

So I keep asking: “What will this add to the Kingdom?”

Because I’m terrified I’ll wake up one day at 50, and realise I’ve wasted decades. I don’t want to be stuck in any job just going through the motions, making little to no difference for God’s Kingdom. That’s heartbreaking to me.

For those of us in the marketplace, I am by no means comparing how Job X is more “Christian” than Job Y. I know there are differences to be made for the Kingdom wherever and whoever we are.

I just know that my heart is prone to wander towards that which is profitable in the world, and a routine which is comfortable. I’m tempted by many such jobs in the marketplace.

*     *     *

Very rarely, I get a particular, special feeling in my heart. It’s a feeling which surfaces at moments I know I’m exactly right where I should be.

The first time I felt this way was when I went on a mission trip to the Philippines in 2014. It was a humid night after numerous rehearsals, and a group of us were walking back to our home for the night.

We shuffled in single file down a narrow inner street, bathed in orange light.

The whole time, we were carrying heavy things like ladders and props, getting ready for the performance the next day. In truth, none of it was really fun – it was hard work. Yet in that moment, I experienced a tangible peace in my being which said:

You are right where you should be.

These words settled in my heart, stilling it with a peace I had never experienced before; it was strange and beautiful all at once.

I knew that I could have been in Singapore – or anywhere – doing anything else. Yet here I was in this strange and foreign place, far from Singapore, carrying ladders – and I was Home.

*     *     *

Another time I felt this peace was earlier this year, while serving in my church’s performance arts ministry. I was in charge of the props team for the Good Friday production. The work was tedious and certainly not glamorous.

On the day of the performance, I was moving the props around as a stagehand. Then it was time for the altar call at the end of the show. I wanted to pray for those who responded.

I sat in the darkness offstage, hunched over by the curtains as the stage lights peeked through. I could see the faces of the many young people who had come to the altar. As I reached out my hands to pray for them, I was just hit by this wave.

I can’t put my finger on it. It was just a mixture of emotion, and raw power. In that moment, I knew in my spirit that something good was happening to all the lost and hungry souls standing an arm’s length from the curtain.

The many nights and months of preparation and sacrifice revealed their worth in that moment – as if a curtain had fallen before my eyes. I saw the eternal value. And again the peace spoke:

You are right where you should be.

*     *     *

I’ve encountered this peace whenever I was making a real difference to the Kingdom of God. I experienced this joy when every day, every hour I spent, counted for the Kingdom.

It’s certainly easy to feel that way when you’re in a place and period as intentional as a mission trip. But what if I told you it’s possible to feel this deep sense of purpose every day?

In truth, we should be feeling it every day! It’s not about the exotic locale or starting a holy-moly job.

You’re right where you should be” is a place of heart.

When we have a heart that says in complete obedience, “Lord, I’m all in”, I think something profound happens in us. There comes such deep peace, joy and excitement when we chase God. 

When we truly, truly trust Him.

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” (Isaiah 26.3)

Do we trust God? Do we trust in His plan for us against the worries of this world? Imagine a life where every moment is lived in light of eternity. Imagine if our every step followed in His destiny for us. What profound bliss awaits the faithful heart which trusts and obeys.

/ 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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You have nothing to be ashamed of

by | 19 July 2017, 12:04 PM

I’m so afraid to write for your people, God. Me? I’m not qualified!

I’ve been writing in my diary, journal and Tumblr for years. It’s always been just for me. For instance, one of my earliest pieces was a spinoff on a Captain Underpants book, because I wasn’t satisfied with the original ending. I did that for me.

The Christian rumination that goes on in my Tumblr? Preaching to myself – writing for my own soul.

Me, me, me.

But suddenly, I’m called to this place where I write for others. And so much of that writing comes from a necessary pouring out of my life – honest conversations, after all.

That has seriously made writing very scary – everything is out there! I feel like my life is laid bare – that all my flaws are being magnified. Every blemish, every pockmark – there to be seen by the world.

Have you ever had the misfortune of watching a Channel 8 drama in high definition? It’s just like that.

My carnal inclination as an introvert is typically to flee immediately. You’re putting yourself out there. Run!

EMBRACING THE PRIVILEGE

Yet after some time, I came to have this quiet gladness in my soul. I had peace about the work I was doing as a writer for Thir.st.

I realised God has led me to a place where I am able to bring my passion and calling together – writing as a ministry. For good. This is a privilege: so many spend their whole lives searching for what they can-want-should do – and never actually find it.

But I’m able to thank God that I’m right where I should be.

Secretly, all my life I’ve quietly believed in this inconvenient truth: Faith can’t stay a private thing (Luke 11:33). We’re called to share the Gospel in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20), and that involves putting our lives out there as testimonies.

Now I believe that my life is laid bare – laid down – so that God is exalted and magnified.

LEAVE YOUR NETS BEHIND

I’ve been asking friends who I know can write to contribute to Thir.st. The typical response is a non-committal shrug. “I’m shy”.

As a reserved person myself, I understand the hesitation – but there’s a distinction to be made between shyness and shame.

For instance, as I write, occasionally a little voice will tell me that I am the worst sinner in the office – a hypocrite. What a responsibility you’re taking on! YOU? Of all people?!

But greater than my temptation to believe this lie is my refusal to let shyness or shame hinder His work through me. Let me first be faithful – who knows who God will touch through my words, through the story He’s brought me through?

If I feel unworthy – fine. I should never forget that that is the glory of grace: That I truly am totally unworthy. And yet by grace, here I am writing these sentences.

The 12 Disciples’ world-transforming adventure began because they left their nets and followed Jesus. These fishermen left their shyness and their shame on the shores of the Galilee.

So, I tell that voice to go away because I know who I am in God. And I know He loves to use the lowly nobody to do His amazing work (1 Corinthians 1:26-29).

Jesus’ disciples weren’t amazing public speakers or accomplished writers – they were fishermen! They weren’t great, but they did great things for God.

And it never happened by their power or wisdom – lest they boast (1 Corinthians 1:29). Their world-transforming adventure began because “immediately they left their nets and followed Jesus” (Matthew 4:20).

They left their notions of success – and all their fears – behind. These fishermen left their shyness and their shame on the shores of the Galilee. And in simple obedience, they followed Him as disciples.

JARS OF CLAY

If you have a story that will take someone closer to Jesus, then that testimony matters. Your willingness matters – far more than your ability to write. The former gives the glory to God, for what He has done; the latter to yourself.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7)

We don’t begin as golden, gilded treasures pouring out the finest wine. We’re just … ordinary. And God wants us ordinary people.

We’re not meant to be flawless porcelain teacups, sitting unused in a display set. We’re supposed to be that scratched melamine mug that’s used the most. And it’s empty:

  • Empty of shyness and shame – to be filled with divine boldness.
  • Empty of pretension and agendas – to be filled with a higher purpose.
  • Empty to be ever topped up with living water – poured out for those who thirst.

What makes us precious is what we hold within. And what makes us useful to the Kingdom, is what we pour out to people in a parched land.

Time to let down my net.


The thing about stories is that everyone has at least one good one to tell. If you’ve been wanting to put one of yours out there and you think it would help someone — starting with yourself — don’t be shy to introduce yourself in an email to hello@thir.st!

/ 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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My fool-time dilemma

by | 11 July 2017, 4:45 PM

I just graduated. My commencement ceremony was just this week. Mortar board, gown and everything. Life awaits!

I’ve been shortlisted for a job at a government ministry. This career path offers a good starting salary, with guaranteed progression. An iron rice bowl.

But, but, but …

Somehow I find myself considering the prospect of going into full-time ministry in Thir.st. In my heart of hearts, I feel a great peace when I show up for the day’s Kingdom work. I believe that this is a job I can do. I should do this work. I want to do this.

But, by the world’s standards, I’d be a fool to take this up: A salary that just can’t compare? How will I pay off my student loans? How will I provide for my wife in the future? How will I start a family? Buy a house?

These questions came up vehemently, building around me a furnace of fear, kindled by anxiety.

I had to examine my heart to see if money had become more important than God in my life. Searching for handles, I went to the Word:

“Jesus said to him, ‘If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Matthew 19:20-22)

This was Jesus’ response to the rich young man who believed he had it all together. I don’t believe that Jesus was saying that to truly follow God, you have to sell off all your possessions, and move to some backwater slum in some foreign land to begin your ministry.

But what if that’s exactly what God wants? Could you take the plunge?

This is the heart of the matter: Money had become the young man’s god. I’m no rich man – I don’t have “great possessions” – yet the issue of money still loomed over my desire to serve the Kingdom.

Jesus knew what needed to be done on the cross; He counted the cost. Then, knowing what it would cost Him, He gave everything.

In the young man’s hesitance, Jesus didn’t cave and give him room to compromise: “You know what, okay lah, just sell your house.” “Fine, fine, you can keep all your stuff, just give me one year.”

Jesus doesn’t compromise. He didn’t just suffer for a little while, then chicken out before his crucifixion. He didn’t just heal a bunch of people over a Sabbatical year, only to go back to do his own carpentry thing after that. He knew what needed to be done; He counted the cost. Then, knowing what it would cost Him, He gave everything.

God’s all in. The same has to go for us.

We grew up climbing this mountain. From when we were young, we’ve always been chasing the next peak: PSLE, O-levels, A-levels, honours degree, a good girlfriend – the list goes on. We’ve been climbing all our lives. But what’s really at our summit? A well-paying job? Recognition in the marketplace? Financial wealth? The glory of God?

For many of us, the hope of finally landing this reward – that’s why we’ve been climbing the whole time. Coming down the mountain feels like failure, the death of a dream. It feels like I’d be abandoning everything I’ve ever trained for.

Now I am at a fork in the road. And both paths look like the Promised Land. One is the path I’ve always been on, the path the world commends, the path to that summit. But after climbing this high, it almost feels like I’m being pointed down the other path – for a life of war.

I don’t know if I’m ready.

But I know I can’t stay here. Soon, I’ll have to make a choice: Push for the summit, or go down His way.

Have you ever climbed a mountain? On volcanic mountains, the gravel gets more loose the higher you climb. So if you stand still in one spot long enough, you begin to sink downwards. In my heart, I know that if my life is not completely aligned to God’s will, then I’m standing in sinking sand.

I wrestle. It’s all about me; in truth, it’s been this way for far too long.

I argue and I reason. It’s not all about me. What about my future wife? What about my mum? Someone’s got to take care of them.

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.” (John 19:26-27)

Even as Jesus hung on the cross, He thought of his earthly mother, and made sure her future was sorted out in a very practical way. But John? He never even questioned it. He didn’t offer any ifs, buts, hesitation, conditions:

But Lord, she’s not my real mother.
Lord, give me two more years to earn more money and then I will do this.
Lord this. Lord that.

John simply obeyed. And he obeyed immediately. I believe John could do so because he’d come to know in his heart that whatever command Jesus gave him was for his own good as well as Mary’s.

Our Father God desires good for us (Romans 8:28) when He tells us to do something. This is true even when the command given seems like it doesn’t make any sense.

If we truly believe that God knows best, then all that’s left to be done is to simply … obey.

/ 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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by | 6 July 2017, 5:26 PM

What happens when we lose our faith in God? What happens when something happens that shakes our understanding of Him as sovereign and good?

I remember climbing the Great Wall of China with my father in 2009. My sisters and mother were predictably not game enough to ascend the cobbled steps, but we men were always so brave.

I led the way up steep stones and cold rock, and reached a silent, open space upon the wall that sheered off into the northern mountains. I was alone, still some distance ahead of Dad.

It was cold and beautiful, and I thought of God. I hummed a simple worship tune I had made up on the spot in response to the masterpiece which lay before me. Then I cut off the quiet song in my throat as Dad made it to where I was, flashing that familiar smile which hid his pride at making it to the top.

I took my gloves off for a picture, and put them on a parapet. The wind knocked them off the wall; Dad laughed, all at the expense of my near-frostbite. We shared some hot tea in the blustery wind, and then we came back down.

I was studying in church later that year when Mum called me on my handphone, and passed the phone to Dad. He told me the doctors said the cancer had gotten worse. We’d “fight it” together, I told him. We men were always so brave, but those words would ring hollow.

When I got home I remember giving Dad my bank book — with all of $400 in it — to help with the chemotherapy costs. I remember how he smiled with pride, and sadness.

I remember carrying Dad around the house over the next few years, by then all skin and bones. I watched him let go of his dignity and lose his grip on life, while I began to bear a growing anger with God.

I remember praying and crying at night, no longer begging God for healing. I was begging God to let me take my father’s place and pain.

I remember my rage when others told me of miracles of gold dust sprinkled on their hands after prayer – while my faithful father lay ravaged by disease, no miracle imminent. Consumed with anger, I berated God for not choosing to do anything.

I remember Dad’s last words to me — “See you, son” — as I closed the door to his hospital ward.

I remember the way Dad’s breathing began to sound like a shaking rattle later that night. And I remember the nurses and doctor who rushed over when the laboured breaths stopped coming. It was surreal how the doctor shook his head and said “I’m sorry”.

Suddenly, I was both spectator and participant to some tragic drama—caught up in a new horrific reality that could not have been happening. In my bitter heart, I saw God only as a spectator in the scene.

I remember that I had to look away. I turned to the night sky, which stretched black beyond the cold hospital window grilles, whispering “no, no, no”.

I remember crying, and wishing my tears were a warm rain that would wash this scene and bad dream away. My sisters hugged my mother, as an uncle held me by my shoulder.

I remember how on some nights after that wretched one, I’d think about joining Dad in the afterlife. See you.

But every parapet I inched towards seemed a pale reflection of that beautiful day upon the Great Wall. I knew I’d never make it to Dad if I chose to reach him that way. I had my promises to keep, family to love and take care of, and friends not to disappoint.

And somewhere, deep down, I knew God still existed even if I had denied and cursed Him.

That’s the thing: I remember all these events in my life, and I remember the way they made me feel. But faith isn’t a feeling. Even though I denied it at the time — faithless — God was faithful and with me every step of the way.

If we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself.”
(2 Timothy 2.13)

God is sovereign over our lives, which means He is present at all times – even present in our pain. I came to understand how He extended grace to me, even in my rebellion. In all the time I hated Him, God still graciously worked his kindness to me.

For instance, after my Dad passed on, my superiors in the army arranged for me to be sent to the Air Force instead. Their decision meant I could work 9-to-5, which meant I could be at home most days, as my family worked through the aftermath.

This was undeserved grace, despite my open hostility towards God.

In rebellion, as I turned to the wrong girls, the wrong places, the cigarettes and drinks, He brought me home each time. He brought my family through tragedy. He lavished abundance and grace upon us all. We never had to worry about money, and grandchildren soon came to replace grief with joy.

I am comforted by 2 Timothy 2:11-13, because God promises life after death — it is from a hope such as this that we may better endure our trials.

God could well have chosen to deny me when I denied Him. Yet each time I swore Him off, He came back for me. Grace.

As the years passed and I reflected, my heart was softened towards repentance. I see now that even though Dad had gone, I always had a Father.

When I contemplated His ongoing care and goodness in the years of my rebellion, I developed a faith conviction of God as constant and constantly good.

We worship a God who is unchanging in storms. His sovereignty — if at times devastating to experience or difficult to submit to — is simply what it is.

God is God. He was real in the worst of times, and He is real in the best of times. He just is.

“Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17)

I’ve felt in recent years that God was turning a page with my story. Indeed, after hard times in life, it’s tempting to believe that good things would begin happening to me. I felt like I was due some good.

Yet all I truly deserve is death.

And somehow, still, despite this, even while I was a sinner, God chose to give me good things in gracious abundance. But this is nothing compared to what God has done for all humanity in Romans 5.8.

Through Jesus Christ, God has given me the gift of eternal life: a promise that I will walk on Greater Walls with Dad again, someday in paradise.

/ 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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by | 3 July 2017, 10:54 AM

I recently graduated, aged 25. My bros and I are at the life stage where things like gainful employment, having found a girlfriend, and engagement are supposed to be on the cards.

Speaking as a man, there’s an undeniable pressure to have it all together.

Everything’s smooth sailing … until you hit the storm. What happens then – when suddenly we don’t get what we want? Or what we think we deserve?

Over the past few months, I journeyed with a brother who wrestled with disappointment in finding employment. After multiple rejections by various companies, he’d spent months in a promising internship; he’d pinned all his hopes onto this career prospect.

Only to be told at the end of the stint that the company didn’t have headcount for him. It left him reeling.

“I just feel like I’m at my breaking point”, he said in tears.

THIS IS SINGAPORE

The floor was pulled from under his feet. It wasn’t just about the pay; he would survive. But it was such a crushing blow because his identity and value were found in what he did – how society regarded him. His self-worth had become tied to his achievements and positions in school and the working world.

You know how it feels. This is Singapore.

This is Singapore! We’re conditioned to feel validation when we attain a scholarship, or clinch that lucrative job. Yes, I’m such a good student. Yes, I’m the man with the skills – I deserve this.

All through life, my friend had been living as a good student, a good soldier, a good undergraduate. Then the world began telling him he was no longer good enough, and he took this personal failure to heart.

He became the failure.

He was broken.

The world began telling my friend was no longer good enough, and he took this personal failure to heart. He became the failure.

But we are not our failures. And we are more than mere workers. We are infinitely more than the sum of our roles and functions. More than workers, soldiers, fathers.

We are His dearly beloved children.

This is our starting point: We are accepted and loved by God. And when we live from acceptance, we no longer have to live for it.

SILVERSMITH AT WORK

I shared words – words I believe God laid on my heart – with my brother gently: Yes, in life there will be valleys so low, and times so rough, we’ll feel like we’re at the breaking point.

But instead of viewing yourself at breaking point, try to see it as you reaching your boiling point.

Consider the case of the silversmith. Silver, in its raw form, is impure and of poor value, until it is subjected to extreme heat. At its boiling point, the silver’s impurities rise to the top. Then the material which survives at the bottom takes on a new and higher value.

Having been purified, it may now be moulded by the master into something beautiful and greatly valuable.

Life’s trials are the crucibles for our purification.

“He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver.” (Malachi 3:3)

As we face the heat of fiery flames, the Refiner is with us in the process. In due time, we are purified – ready – when the Refiner sees His own gleaming reflection in us. That’s us but in His image.

That’s Christlikeness.

He disciplines those He loves (Proverbs 3.12). He sanctifies those He loves. I believe God looks at us as we are – and meets us where we are in life. But I also believe that He has an eye on raising us to holiness, desiring to be glorified in us.

THE JOURNEY IS IMPORTANT

I believe God does not merely care about our outcomes. I believe He is more interested in the processes – in the many journeys of growth we undertake in our time on Earth, traumatic or triumphant. Sanctification.

Yes, God waits to embrace us, and celebrate with us, when we triumphantly make it to the mountain’s summit. But He is also with us in the painful trudge up the mountain.

He holds our hand, and is beside us, while we suffer in life’s deep valleys. He is right there with us, in the fiercest furnace (Daniel 3:25).

Yes, God waits to embrace us, and celebrate with us, when we triumphantly make it to the mountain’s summit. But He is also with us in the painful trudge up the mountain.

Because He loves us, God cares about the kind of people we become through them. So, as we endure trials, we persevere in the knowledge that the end-goal is not merely clinching that job, or finally getting a girlfriend.

The end-goal is holiness. For the glory of God.

Back to my friend. Months after that conversation, he returned to me with the good news that he had been offered a job with a well-known company. He’d forgotten that he’d even applied for the position, but got a call-up unexpectedly.

There are no coincidences in this life. The offer came after he was finally able to surrender his will and desires to God.

Life’s trials may bring us to our knees. But take heart: God brings us low for our good. For our refinement. Boiled to perfection.

/ 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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