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Faith

God is at work

by Abigail Dawes | 17 August 2017, 11:35 AM

Go to work. Get frustrated. Feel like quitting. Receive monthly salary. Don’t quit. Repeat.

As a young professional barely out of university, my existence seemed to be quickly confined to this endless loop.

What had happened to all the dreams I dreamt in university as I sat in lectures? Where was the impact I was supposed to make on the world through my job, the like-minded colleagues I was supposed to have, the patient boss who would mentor me?

The reality I was living out seemed to be the polar opposite of everything I had hoped for.

I had a dream job in mind – but I failed miserably at the interview, so I ended up instead at a firm that my idealistic college self would never have considered applying for. Beggars can’t be choosers, right?

I was relieved to be offered a permanent position, but the condition was that I’d have to accept work in an area of law that I truly despised. As the job market for lawyers was so bad, I stayed.

The reality I was living out seemed to be the polar opposite of everything I had hoped for.

It was not long before I turned these frustrations on God. Why had He placed desires for greater things in my heart? Why was the road to becoming a Joseph, Daniel or Esther – purposeful overcomers in their secular realms – smoother and faster for others?

Was I not as special to Him as His other children?

I concluded that God was not interested in my career. He cared about whether I turned up for prayer meetings, cell group and served in the worship team faithfully, but when it came to my workplace, I was on my own.

This conclusion on God’s intentions for my life meant that a line in the sand had been drawn between my spiritual life and work. God’s power was available for one but not the other.

One Sunday, I heard my pastor recount a season in his working life, before he became a full-time minister.

As a young employee, he did not have any influence over policies or directives, and was surrounded by senior officers who operated with a very different set of values from his.

They did things that were not ethical and also persecuted him for standing his ground. But as my pastor began to pray and intercede for his workplace, doing his best at his job as well as church ministry, he began to see changes.

He found favour with his bosses, saw “toxic” colleagues transferred to other departments and started to receive God’s direction for his day-to-day work, which gave him an edge over his peers.

It struck a chord in my heart. I wanted the same for my life – I needed God in my here and now. The God of the desert and the valley, the cloud by day and pillar of fire by night.

The Heavenly Father who gets right in there with you, in the muck and dreariness of life, and in His still small voice whispers hope for each new day and faith for the final prize of life (1 Corinthians 9:24).

From that day, my perspective shifted and my heart opened again.

The Heavenly Father gets right in there with you, in the muck and dreariness of life, and in His still small voice whispers hope for each new day.

I started praying for my bosses and my colleagues. I would get to work early to pray over my office space – declaring that the whole place belonged to God. I would sing over myself the call of God and His desires for my life. I found strength to serve the boss that my colleagues despised.

Was it a struggle? Sure. But I found myself able to do something that I could not even have imagined doing before.

Every piece of work that came my way, whether or not it was my cup of tea, I would undertake with the revelation that I was serving the unseen God behind my boss.

I accepted each piece of work, every interaction with a difficult colleague or superior, as a stepping stone to my destiny.

In the struggle to find meaning in my workplace, I learnt that we don’t always have to be Prime Minister Joseph to have influence (Genesis 41:37-41) – we can be Prisoner Joseph too (Genesis 39:20-23).

The Lord needs change agents in every echelon of the corporate ladder.

You don’t have to do anything super Christian to shift the atmosphere of your workplace. It’s as simple as living out our faith as Jesus taught us to, such as loving those who are difficult and unloveable (Matthew 5:43-48) or lending a hand for a project that will never be credited to you (Matthew 6:1-4).

We can be change agents of the spiritual and physical climate of our workplace. Our colleagues may never expressly say it but they most surely will feel it.

We should also be prepared for opposition wherever we’re placed – but we should only move when the Lord tells us to. Every job change should be a Spirit-led decision, not a frustration-led one.

We can’t delude ourselves into thinking that God only leads us to beds of roses. Remember Joseph’s prison cell, or Daniel’s den of lions.

Why? It’s not about the circumstances we find ourselves in. God is more interested in shaping our character. We can be used only to the extent that we have been moulded – and the marketplace is one of the best places for this to happen.

When David was anointed as the next king of Israel at the age of 16, what ensued was not a straight and easy path up the “corporate ladder”.

David had to work under and submit to an insecure King Saul, have his kindness repaid with ungratefulness, deal with “office politics”, and prove his worth in leading military missions – for us, it could be unwanted assignments our boss sends our way.

It was only 14 years later that David became King. Before he set foot in the palace of the kings, he had to be moulded in the valley of death.

The path to greatness requires endurance, perseverence, knowing the ways God can work at every step of the process.

Eventually, the work that I had once thought would get me nowhere led me to taking up a position I never dreamed would open up for me – in a government Ministry, practising the type of law that I had dreamt about in those lectures.

Am I the boss now? No. Have I been tapped as the next big thing in law? No. Am I drawing a six-figure salary? No.

But I feel and believe that I have unlocked so much more than just that. More than mere title, prestige or money.

What is the more that you’re searching for?

I am part of the committee of The Vanguard Movement Conference, a half-day conference for young adults who want to know the plan God has for them in their career.

We are just like you. We don’t profess to have it all together, but we are on the same journey, the same struggles, the same crises of identity – but most importantly, we are all sons and daughters of God.

We desire to see God move in even mightier ways in the workplace than what we have already seen.

The Vanguard Movement aims to equip every believer – to bring God into their place of assignment and sphere of influence.

To help you know God’s heart for your future, career and ministry, and shift your perspective on how to be a follower of Christ in the marketplace.

To help you move from survival mode to becoming a movement leader.

From surviving to thriving.


To sign up for The Vanguard Movement or to find out more, please visit their event details page.

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How I quit smoking after 9 years

by Hadassah Lau | 16 August 2017, 9:44 AM

I still remember my first cigarette.

My bi-sexual ex-convict then-boyfriend had broken up with me because I was a virgin and did not want to sleep with him.

I was heartbroken and devastated. I was in a club with my schoolmates who all smoked, and I said, can I have a cigarette please? I was crying, and it made me feel instantly better. I felt calmer as I took my first, deep breath of what would turn out to be 9 years of addiction.

Addiction is real. I had a stick when I woke up, on my way to work (while driving, hand on the car door window, expertly allowing the wind to blow the ash out of the car). Every other hour I had to have a cigarette or I got edgey.

Years on, I was anything but the “good” Christian Pastor’s daughter that I was “supposed” to be.

I had walked away from church out of shame. I had premarital sex, I smoked, I clubbed, I drank (a lot), I used the F-word plenty, I hated people and gossiped.

I was everything a good Christian should not have been. It was too hard to be a Christian. I couldn’t go to church because I couldn’t be rid of all my addictions – and I couldn’t face God with all my shame.

You see, even though I grew up in a church and my dad was a pastor, I did not know God. You can grow up in a Christian family, go to church every week, read the Bible everyday, yet not have a relationship with God.

But eventually, somehow, I stepped back into church, where I received fellowship and no condemnation.

I also began to join the Tuesday Group, a small gathering of real and raw people that love and want to know God. On one of my first visits, I saw someone go out to have a cigarette after worship.

I was stunned: How could she not be embarrassed? Why wasn’t she trying to hide her sin? Did anyone know she was smoking out there on the steps?

It was then that I realised that it was okay to not have everything together while seeking God. “God still loves you”, she said.

I remember laughing so hard too when my pastor, Joseph Prince, joked about it too. “Pastor, can a smoker still go to heaven?” He replied: “CAN – just faster!”

I was set free from my shame. I knew that smoking was not good for me, but knowing that God loved and accepted me anyway freed me to enter into His presence.

It was about maybe a year into my journey of learning about God’s grace and love for me, and just hungering for the things of God and knowing him, that I had decided I really wanted to quit. At this time, I was even reading the Bible and praying … as I smoked.

I knew myself: I had zero will power. In my attempts to quit, I would throw my cigarettes away the night before, only to drive out the first thing in the morning to buy some because I just could not start my morning without one.

I told God that He would have to help me quit – I couldn’t do it without Him.

I told God that I did not want to smoke anymore, but that I could not do it on my own.

I was headed to a Planet Shakers Conference in Australia with a group of friends from the Tuesday Group; I decided that would be the deadline. I would stop smoking then.

I told everyone in my church group I would quit by then. I told God that He would have to help me – I couldn’t do it without Him.

I still remember the day itself, before I boarded my plane, when I nervously smoked my last few cigarettes. I was so afraid. What if I could not quit? What if the urge is so strong – like it always is – that I cave in and buy some in Australia?

I threw my last packet away before we got onto the plane. And God was faithful.

When I stepped out of the plane, something had lifted. I no longer had the urge or the edge. The addiction had left me; I was totally fine not smoking.

I knew that I knew that I knew: It was a miracle. God had delivered me.

Some weeks after the trip, I was out drinking one night – I was still not free from all my other addictions, but God has slowly delivered me from them one by one – when I was offered a cigarette. In my “highness”, I went through half a stick.

I remember the sorrow, the remorse, the condemnation, and the guilt that I battled the next day. But even so, when I met with my group of Christian friends, they reminded me that there was no condemnation in the struggle.

Know that your sins and struggles don’t surprise Jesus at all – He saw them all on the Cross. And He died to set you free from them.

I knew shame was part of the plan to keep me from God.

From that day till now – I’ve been completely clean from cigarettes. I am free!

If you have any addictions in your life, and if you know Jesus, you need to know that those sins and struggles don’t surprise Him at all – He saw them all on the Cross.

He died so that you can be free from that shame and condemnation that chains you to all your addictions. This supernatural freedom – it glorifies the Father.

He loves you and He wants to set you free. He came that you may have life, and life abundantly.

So if you’re reading this and have been through any of the struggles I have, I pray that right now, wherever you are, God will touch you and encounter you, and fill you with His loving kindness. I pray that you will have a hunger to know Him, the one who loves you and created you, whose son died on the Cross for you.

I pray that you will know His abundant grace, that so much more abounds in your sin (Romans 5:20-21).


This article was adapted from Hadassah Lau’s blog. Hadassah is the co-founder of homegrown jewellery brand Hadasity.

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How to waste your life

by Danny Chua | 15 August 2017, 11:57 AM

“I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked.” (C S Lewis, The Screwtape Letters)

I think I spend most of my days wasting my life away with nothingness – hamster-wheeling, basically.

I think about it as I reflect on pastor-writer-preacher John Piper’s generation-defining book, Don’t Waste Your Life.

The origins of the book can be traced to a message he gave at the Passion Conference in the year 2000, where Piper exhorted a generation of young bloods who had just entered an uncertain millennia by emphatically describing what a wasted life looks like for a Christian.

“Bob and Penny took early retirement from their jobs in the North-east five years ago when he was 59 and she was 51. Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida, where they cruise on their 30-foot trawler, play softball, and collect shells.

“That’s a tragedy,” he told the crowd.

“You stand before the Creator of the universe to give an account with what you did. ‘Here it is, Lord — my shell collection. And I’ve got a good swing. And look at my boat. Look at my boat, God.

Piper is crystal-clear: Only what’s done for Jesus lasts in eternity.

“Don’t waste your life.”

I told a friend earlier this year that Don’t Waste Your Life – you can download it for free here – had a huge influence on me when I first read it at 18 years old, on the verge of young adulthood and NS, among other critical transitional life stages. It generated in me a deep Spirit-driven conviction to live for Jesus – somehow, and maybe someday with greater clarity.

That was in 2010. I’ve come to see recently that a wasted life might look a bit different for today’s youths and young adults.

An article by The Atlantic has recently been making its social media rounds: Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation. In it, the author details the seeming fatal symptoms thus far exhibited by a generation the he calls the “iGen”.

The author describes iGen as those born between 1995 and 2012, who grew up with smartphones, had an Instagram account before they start high school, and do not remember a time before the Internet. The Millennials grew up with the Web as well, but it wasn’t ever-present in their lives, at hand at all times, day and night.

iGen’s oldest members were early adolescents when the iPhone was introduced, in 2007, and high-school students when the iPad entered the scene, in 2010.

According to the author’s research, today’s teenagers are less likely to date, seek independence from their parents, or head outdoors, among other activities seemingly normal for past-generations. Essentially, their smartphone activity and obsession/addiction has comprehensively moulded every other sphere of their young lives – but they aren’t quite equipped with the maturity and perception to identify this.

I’m convinced that my smartphone usage has significantly influenced my emotional, relational, social, theological and spiritual life in every single dimension.

This phenomenon struck a chord with me because of what I read in another recent book – 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You, by Tony Reinke, who also writes for the Desiring God website.

(To be honest, I spent a bit over a month reading the book although it’s a pretty short one, because I kept getting distracted by my smartphone. The irony.)

While Reinke is “one of us” in being part of the Facebook, Twitter and the Internet age, he provides an incisive analysis of the smartphone phenomenon and how it’s revolutionised the world – and how it could cripple the future generations of humanity.

This read has encouraged me to review my own phone habits. Doing so has convinced me that my smartphone usage has significantly influenced my emotional, relational, social, theological and spiritual life in every single dimension.

Apart from the two years wasted playing a certain Marvel smartphone game (I’ve stopped!), there’s the endless allure of mindless Twitter, the meaningless scrolling through Facebook feeds, staying connected on WhatsApp chat groups even when in the presence of actual real human beings, the perennial crouching traps of sexual temptations on the internet, and much more.

But really, the biggest impact my smartphone has had on my life is this: It’s numbed me to futility.

It’s numbed me to my daily finding false meaning in nothingness and foolishly seeking illusory fulfillment in mindless Internet shenanigans. Oh, if you could walk a day in the life of my Twitter feed.

This is how much time I’ve spent on various phone applications in the past 7 days:

I’ve spent a little more than half a day (14 hours) out of the past week on my phone either reading or watching videos on Safari, and chatting on WhatsApp! Yes, my Bible app is ranked in the top 10 but only because it spent 20 minutes running unseen in the background.

I will admit with all frankness that my smartphone habits have often fractured my prayer life, or taken my heart and ears away from a conversation or friend. I’ve chosen to focus in an NBA Finals game over an ongoing sermon taking place right in front of me.

But how did I succumb to such habits? How did the central and important things in my life become sidelined, merely optional?

I think these habits were simply groomed over time by smaller choices and smaller habits being cultivated on a daily basis. I had become used to making retrospectively dumb decisions and ignored pertinent matters/persons right in front of me because I had allowed myself to get sucked into a vicious vortex of mindlessness every single day.

And as I became more acclimatised to empty nothingness and brainless scrolling on a consistent basis, the importance of the Gospel reality in my life gradually decreased over time.

Cognitively, I grew more wired to sweep aside pressing issues that required my focus in exchange for whatever greatness I was achieving on my phone. My muscle memory had now reoriented itself to dedicate my mind and heart to my phone. Nothingness: It’s a powerful master.

In his book, Reinke talks about the “nothingness” that flows endlessly out of undisciplined and unfettered smartphone usage:

“What I am coming to understand is that this impulse to pull the lever of a random slot machine of viral content is the age-old tactic of Satan. C S Lewis called it the ‘Nothing’ strategy in his Screwtape Letters.

“It is the strategy that eventually leaves a man at the end of his life looking back in lament: ‘I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked.’

“This ‘Nothing’ strategy is very strong: Strong enough to steal away a man’s best years, not in sweet sins, but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why, in the gratification of curiosities so feeble that the man is only half aware of them.

“Routines of nothingness. Habits unnecessary to our calling. A hamster wheel of what will never satisfy our souls.

“Lewis’ warning about the ‘dreary flickering’ in front of our eyes is a loud prophetic alarm to the digital age. We are always busy, but always distracted – diabolically lured away from what is truly essential and truly gratifying. Led by our unchecked digital appetites, we manage to transgress both commands that promise to bring focus to our lives.

“We fail to enjoy God. We fail to love our neighbour.”

Echoes of Piper with the same warning reverberating here: That’s a tragedy.

Don’t give in to nothingness. Persist with self-examination of how your phone is shaping you, affecting your relationship with Christ, and dictating the way you live in light of eternity. Or, as they say these days: Stay woke.

How are you wasting your life today?


This article was adapted from Danny Chua’s original blogpost

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Time to shine

by Bianca Tham | 14 August 2017, 4:52 PM

“Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation. Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky.” (Philippians 2:14-15)

For the longest time, I found it very hard to see myself as a star in the sky. I knew it in theory, but I couldn’t believe that I could really be a shining light.

My friends and I began an annual Bible reading plan this year, and we recently reached Matthew 1, the genealogy of Jesus Christ. In the long list of Jesus’ forefathers, many of us could only remember the key patriarchs: Abraham; Isaac; David.

I realised that the men and women in between whom we often forget, God remembered. He honoured them by recording the names of those who fulfilled His purposes.

Many of these people were broken and sinful people: Rahab was a prostitute; David was an adulterer and murderer … but even they could be used by God. They still became stars.

Like constellations in the night sky, some of us are called to play a role in the foreground – big stars. Some of us are called to play a role in the background – smaller stars. Even so, every star is as important as the other, and every star is called to shine.

We each have very different dreams and passions, and we all have our individual callings. But they all should collide in the house of God; all of us play a part in the bigger picture, in building God’s Kingdom on earth.

When I was young, I used to think that stars only exist at night – after all, I could only see them at night. The truth, as I have since learnt, is that they are always in the sky. They shine just as bright in the day as they do at night – but only in darkness do we appreciate them.

It deeply comforted me to know that my God is truly with me wherever I go, even when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

That’s our calling. That’s what we are supposed to do: Shine light into the darkness.

To do so, we need to first appreciate the original source of light. That would be Jesus, according to Ephesians 5:8-9: “For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true.”

We were one full with darkness.

I experienced the darkest period of my Christian journey last year: I found myself in a pit of depression, not seeing a way out at all. At one point of time, I felt and believed that the darkness had consumed me.

But God spoke to me through Exodus 20:21. “So the people stood far off, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.”

I realised that God is still there in the darknessAnd that deeply comforted me — knowing that my God is truly with me wherever I go, even when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

Will I, like Moses, draw near to Him regardless of the situation?

“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14 & 16)

We are already standing on higher ground — on the hill that is our Lord. He is our firm foundation, and when we plant ourselves in God, we will light up the world.

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Why I left Instagram

by | 10 August 2017, 1:52 PM

My Christian brethren might give me some side-eye at this confession, but I’ve never fasted.

In my church, fasting season every year stretches from July 1 to August 9. That’s 40 days leading up to National Day – 40 days, because that’s the number of days Jesus fasted for spiritual preparation in the wilderness (Matthew 4:2).

I just never wanted to do it.

After more than 20 years in church, I probably know all the best reasons for fasting, and yes, of course I agree that it’s a great spiritual discipline. But for me, it was such a hassle to skip socialising at mealtime, risk a gastric attack or just stop work to pray.

So I honoured the fasting season as much as I could without forgoing meals, such as going without meat or solid foods. I recall trying a computer fast – but only because I had to study for exams anyway.

In recent years, I focussed on the “praying” side of things, spending my morning commute in silence, reading and praying along to the 40-Day Fast & Prayer Booklet. That extra time spent in prayer did wonders for my spiritual focus and hearing God’s words in season for me.

I just thought that was good enough.

But this year, a specific challenge came to my attention from different sources: Fast from Instagram. Over and over, in the middle of various conversations, people would look at me knowingly and suggest it.

My life was all about the ‘gram. All 5,818 posts since 2010. It was my journal, my message board, my pulpit.

My newsfeed was my community. The people who shared life in short bursts and pretty pictures from their daily adventures, heartfelt ramblings and little inspirations. We were each others’ entertainment channels and motivational speakers. We were family.

Only best friends tell each other everything, right?

At the height of my frustration to restart and move on from the past, I deleted the Instagram app with trembling fingers and replaced it with the BibleGateway one.

But like an episode on Black Mirror, the dystopic hyper-reality TV series, the Instastory of my life became an idealised documentation of what I wanted to believe my life looked like.

With a vulnerable but well-angled caption, bad days could become good days. With the right amount of VSCO editing, good days could become great days. If we followed each other and liked each other’s photos, we were friends – even if we never actually spoke in person. And imagine if we left comments

After a while, as real life took a detour into the valley, I found the two worlds stretching further and further apart, like mozzarella on a pizza. I wanted to be #real about how I was feeling so that others wouldn’t feel alone in their own suffering or think I lived a perfect, pain-free life, but on an open platform like Instagram, you aren’t actually expressing as much as you’re composing.

Nothing is really that raw.

After hearing how #triggered I was getting over the constant comparison, ensuing FOMO and my unspeakable, offline struggles, my real-life best friends had had enough. “Get off Instagram for this year’s 40-Day Fast & Pray,” they told me. And when I protested, asking how I was going to document an important wedding and upcoming trip to Hong Kong: “You can always post when you get back on it.”

So after much resistance, but also at the height of my frustration to restart and move on from the past, I deleted the app with trembling fingers and replaced it with BibleGateway on July 9.

I was late to the fasting party – not quite 40 days – but this was the challenge: One month of no Instagramming, from July 9 to August 9. Game on.

So that’s where we are now, the day after National Day. It’s been 31 days since I left Instagram, and the thought of downloading and reopening the app is strangely as daunting as it was to delete it. Because in my deliberate departure, I learnt 3 big lessons that will stay with me longer than any social media footprint would.

3 LESSONS FROM MY INSTAGRAM FAST

1. SOLITUDE IS SCARY
… when you’ve forgotten how to be alone

The first night I went without Instagram, I had a meltdown. By bedtime, knowing I couldn’t write something sad but well-scripted on my Instagram, the weight of my aloneness was crushing.

Nobody will know I’m suffering!

But it was the next realisation that broke my heart: I was just as alone as I had ever been, with or without Instagram.

I’d never cried so hard, but the revelation made me all the more determined to reclaim my solitude – and my sanity.

2. SILENCE IS SURREAL
… when nobody knows where you are

On July 16, I slipped out of the country on my own, telling as few people as I could. It’d barely been a week since I’d started the fast, but I was actually excited to push my new-found aloneness to the next level. On one of the days, I made my way to Hong Kong’s Dragon’s Back Hiking Trail and trekked in silence up the stone-strewn hills.

If this had been any other trip, I probably wouldn’t have done it alone, and definitely not without Instastorying my entire journey.

But as I walked on in almost 100% unadulterated, no-longer-scary solitude, even my time with God felt different. For once, it was truly just Him and me. Not Him and me and my 661 followers. And when I stopped to survey the rolling green slopes, coastal winds billowing past me, I knew He was closer than He’d ever been to my once-distracted heart.

3. STILLNESS IS SWEET
… when your soul is at peace

As the end of my fast drew near, my cell leader asked me what filled the void left behind by Instagram. “Facebook,” I replied with a laugh. It was a joke, but I wasn’t entirely innocent. Albeit a poor one, Facebook had sometimes been a substitute for my idle time.

One night, when I could feel the sadness welling up again, I found myself reaching for my phone and proceeding to scroll through my Facebook feed mindlessly for the next hour. But when I’d put it down, tired enough to fall asleep quickly, everything I’d been feeling just came rushing back in.

That weekend, I heard a powerful message from the pulpit: “When God is doing a new thing in your life, expect birthing pains. People tend to shrink back when they feel pain, but in labour, when the pain comes, the doctor will tell you to push. So don’t let the pain you’re feeling now paralyse you. Push!”

Push. Pray Until Something Happens. The next time I felt the peace within disrupted, I reached for my Bible and stayed with God until the stillness returned.

Fasting brings to mind the story of Jacob wrestling with God (Genesis 32:22-32). Like the hip bone, there are certain things in our lives that we heavily rely upon. They are core support structures within us, and when these are displaced or broken, the way Jacob had his hip wrenched from its socket, we find ourselves in great pain and discomfort, unable to function like we used to.

But in that upheaval of what we depend on, with everything suddenly out of balance, we find ourselves clinging more tightly than ever to God – just as Jacob did.

“When God is doing a new thing in your life, expect birthing pains. People tend to shrink back when they feel pain, but in labour, when the pain comes, the doctor will tell you to push. So don’t let the pain you’re feeling now paralyse you. Push!”

In fasting, we come face to face with the “hip bones” we’ve created for ourselves, our coping mechanisms and security blankets. We could even deny ourselves of them, or of food – our greatest need – to bring us back to that place of total dependency. Hips out of sockets for 40 days, clinging to God like never before.

We’ll find that we don’t depend on them quite the same way, even when the season ends.

“Is not this the fast that I choose: To loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?” (Isaiah 58:6)

The fast has been instructive enough to make me wonder what I’ll see if I gave God the full season of 40 days to teach me what He wants to teach me. So I may have started late, but I’ll go into extra time now, till August 19.

In an age of insta-gratification, what’s another 10 days?

/ joanne@thir.st

Joanne is a bundle of creative energy commonly heard before she is seen. She believes in the triune power of good conversation, brilliant writing and bold ideas. She also likes milo.

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Rend the Heavens: My cry for my generation

by Ian Chew | 9 August 2017, 10:27 AM

I will never forget the phone call I received back in 2014 – on Christmas Day – and finding out that I was going to be part of Awaken Generation’s pioneer cohort.

On the other end of the line was Alarice Hong, who, with husband Calvin, started Awaken Generation (AG), a worship mentorship school and production house that not only grooms musicians in their craft but also in ministry and leadership. 

The AG collective serves to “unlock the sound of worship” in our nation through original and locally written worship songs.

I started leading worship in my church at a young age. I always loved to sing, so soon after receiving Christ at 16, I joined the music ministry in my church.

During my schooling years at Singapore Polytechnic, I got involved in Campus Crusade, where I strongly felt called to full-time ministry. Not knowing what exactly to do about that calling and facing parental pressure to further my studies and pursue a “normal” career path after National Service, I put that thought aside for many years.

The thought stayed dormant until one day – four years into my first job out of college – when I came across an online video of Alarice sharing about Awaken Generation, announcing that registrations for its inaugural classes were open. This meant a part-time, year-long programme that emphasised kingdom principles and character building beyond the technical.

I was sold.

One audition turned into a life-changing year, and by 2016 I found myself back in AG for a second run, this time undergoing songwriting lessons – an interest I’d previously abandoned.

Two big things happened that year: I co-wrote the song Rend the Heavens as a class assignment and left my job to join the AG team – finally fulfilling my full-time calling.

Rend the Heavens was the cry of my own heart, both for myself and our generation. Personally, I had been struggling with my corporate job for years, the desire to serve the Kingdom still burning deep inside me.

I also had a great desire to see young people reach their fullest potential as they walked into their God-given destinies. I wanted to see God’s overwhelming presence in my life and the lives of those I led and served.

Rend the Heavens derives its title from Isaiah 64:1, the cry of the prophet Isaiah for his nation. It’s about renewed hearts of flesh and no longer of stone (Ezekiel 36:26), hearts renewed by the power of God falling upon us from heaven.

The verse also reminds us that while we desire for God to rend the heavens and come down to us, we too have to rend our hearts and turn to Him. This is where revival happens.

Rend the heavens and come down
Make your glory known
Overwhelm us with your presence
Weight of heaven’s call
As we rend our hearts
Let your Kingdom come

Alarice challenged me to rewrite the song midway as a corporate prayer song – replacing “I” with “we”. She felt that it was more than just the cry of an individual heart, but a song for the whole Body of Christ – a revival song that calls for a generation to arise and welcome Heaven to Earth.

Rend the Heavens was later selected to be produced as AG’s National Day 2017 release, part of a series of singles AG is releasing throughout the year.

After my first songwriting semester, I also took up Calvin and Alarice’s offer to join AG as their head of media development and missions. It was a long-awaited affirmation of my longing to serve God in full-time ministry – my own experience of Thy Kingdom Come in my life.

He knew. Even as I waited, He was preparing a new thing to be done in my life. And in His perfect timing, He renewed my dreams and revived my heart’s desires.

So we turn our hearts to God above
And we fix our gaze on the One we love

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Why Uncle Jeff loves Singapore and you should too

by | 8 August 2017, 6:38 PM

“This year, on Aug 9, I will have celebrated National Day 52 times,” Jeffrey Goh – let’s call him Uncle Jeff – declares, waving his Singapore flag. The National Day tattoos on his face crinkle adorably, 70 years’ worth of laugh lines running beneath them.

“In the early days of National Day, we did not have a display segment with dance and all that,” he tells his son Shaun, 34, who’s a teacher.

“It was very regimented – all the soldiers marching. We also had decentralised parades instead of one big main one, so that more people could see the Parade. But it was very difficult to organise.”

Shaun has a very different view on what comes to mind when thinking of celebrating National Day. “It’s a holiday!” he replies, without missing a beat.

“When we were still in school, you got a half-day the day before, and there will be some kind of celebration where we sing National Day songs. It was a really fun time of coming together to celebrate the nation – a really united spirit.”

For Uncle Jeff, the season has also always been about personal reflection.

“Having seen the development of Singapore from the early days, we can see the change all over. Just have to look at our skyline! In one of the years when I took part in the National Day Parade and we marched in town, I looked at the bank buildings, the financial district, and a sense of pride welled up in me to see how far we’ve come.

“Singapore has progressed so much under good government and the hard work of the people.”

NATIONAL ANTHEM VS NATHAN HARTONO

But what about the younger generation, who didn’t get to witness the country’s most significant changes from third world to first world nation in 50 years?

“The younger generation is pretty indifferent towards National Day,” Shaun laments. “But beneath that exterior, we do feel something for the nation. After all, most of us grew up here and live here. Our communities, our families are here.

“Singapore will always hold that special place in our hearts.

“We may not be too hot about singing the National Anthem, or even know the lyrics or what they mean, but we still have a certain pride – whether we’re quibbling over national foods with Malaysia or celebrating when Nathan Hartono made it to the Sing! China finals. We just take pride in different things from my dad’s generation.”

But are these “things” really that different across the generations?

“We have a country where we experience freedom of worship and that is something really wonderful,” Uncle Jeff says, eyes sparkling with pride. “And I have friends of all the major races. Malay, Indian or Chinese – we work together, fight together, train together.”

PATRIOTISM ON TAP

He goes on, barely pausing to think.

“We have the cleanest water in the world. I remember one time I was in New York and they told me not to drink water from the tap. I thought to myself, this is the great United States of America and I can’t even drink water from the tap the way I do in Singapore.

“There was another country I visited in Southeast Asia and when I checked into the hotel, the receptionist told me that there would be a power failure that day. It was just something that happened every day.

“And do you know that our rubbish is collected every day of the year, even on Chinese New Year and Hari Raya? In other countries, garbage is only cleared twice a week!

“All these things we seldom pay attention to, we take either take for granted or don’t care.”

By now, we’re also realising how oblivious we are to the “things” that are so obvious to us, we don’t even feel thankful for them in the day to day. It’s not that we take pride in “different things” – we’ve just grown indifferent to many things that the pioneer generation saw firsthand as precious differences that were made over the years.

“There’s a sense of entitlement with the younger generation,” Shaun agrees. “Just by nature of being Singaporean, we think we deserve certain things. Good grades, good education, a future … But we must remember it is a privilege, not an entitlement.”

BIRTHDAY WISHES

So, what do the pair wish for Singapore in her 52nd year?

“A good group of leaders for the next 50 years. People who will put the country before themselves and uphold traditional values,” Uncle Jeff muses.

“I really want to see more heart in our leaders,” Shaun adds. “We push for economic growth and more influence and financial success, but compromise on the heart and soul of our people.

“If we can look past short-term monetary goals, I believe we can groom a generation that is prepared to invest in other people’s lives and find greater direction apart from just making money.”

His dad agrees wholeheartedly. “In our singular pursuit of competency, whether we are raising a people of character has greater implications for the future of Singapore.

“My favourite National Day song is Count On Me, Singapore – because it talks about my commitment to the nation. Count on me.”

We walk away from this chat happy to know that Singapore can count on at least one father and son pairing to stand up for the country. The generations may have very different reasons for national pride – but it’s still pride in the nation.

To all Singaporeans, Happy National Day!

/ joanne@thir.st

Joanne is a bundle of creative energy commonly heard before she is seen. She believes in the triune power of good conversation, brilliant writing and bold ideas. She also likes milo.

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Persecuted for my faith: The peace that surpasses it all

by Ashley Chan | 5 August 2017, 11:09 PM

The first time I stepped into a church was when I was 12 years old.

In worship, I heard a song that resonated in my heart. It was as if I had found something I never knew I needed:

The greatest love that anyone could ever know
That overcame the cross and grave to find my soul
And till I see You face to face
And grace amazing takes me home, I’ll trust in You
(“Till I See You”, Hillsong United)

My mind – once a battlefield of laments and desperate cries – had become peacefully silent. I shivered as the ceasefire dispelled the old, familiar anxiety that had been with me throughout my abusive childhood.

HE GAVE ME PEACE

I knew no one in the room, yet they seemed like family. I had never been to church, but it felt like Home. As I sang, it was as if someone was hugging the brokenness out of me – gently mending my many wounds.

In that hour, Jesus claimed the throne of my life and His peace settled within me – silencing every voice which had screamed at me to kill myself.

In tears, I said the Sinner’s Prayer.

I wanted to stay for as long as possible – I was afraid this profound peace would disappear once I left.

Though hours old, this new feeling felt like a familiar friend. It was gentle and reassuring – yet strong enough to hold me in the storm.

For the first time in a long time I saw life rushing through my veins, where it once would only drain away.

In His beautiful presence, I felt deeply known. I was; I am. He understood my life; He had known me from before I was born. I was profoundly loved – I somehow found joy amidst every sorrow of my life.

Who was this God who loved me so? I had to know more. So when a friend gave me a Bible, I read it through from Genesis to Revelation in one sitting. Still in awe, I read it again – I couldn’t put the book down.

Every page was life to me. As I read, I pulled up my sleeves to examine the self-inflicted scars on my body.

I held my wrist and for the first time in a long time, I saw life rushing through my veins. Life flowed where it once would only drain away.

PERSECUTED FOR CHRIST

I had never heard of Christianity until that day. My family were staunchly embedded in another religion.

So when my mother discovered I had converted, she ransacked my room and found my Christian materials. She burned my Bible and threw everything away.

“Choose now. Do you wish to honour God or me? Do you even know what you’re doing? You’re disowning the family by choosing to be Christian. You’re a disgrace to this family.”

Choosing between God and her was a simple decision – but I couldn’t have known the repercussions of my decision.

I was kicked out of the house and forced to kneel at the altar outside. Soon, I left home to stay with my grandparents, only returning home on the weekends.

My parents soon installed window grilles in my room because I used to climb out into the corridor in order to sneak off to church. And when I found a way around that, they confiscated my EZ-Link card – driving me everywhere to keep tabs on me.

Still, I would attend service by walking 2km to church every Sunday morning. I would face the rage of my parents when I returned home – my father would whip me with his belt until I bled. Often, I wouldn’t be able to walk for days.

OUT OF SUFFERING, A TESTIMONY

There were many tears early on in my faith, but God was faithful through it all. His love was real – better than anything I had ever known.

In my persecution, I never felt pressured to repress my faith. Christianity could never be a secret affair for me. I boasted in the power of the Cross no matter how many times I got slapped or beaten up badly. It could have only been God who kept me going.

He kept me alive. He was the only one strong enough to keep the suicidal thoughts at bay. He was the only one who kept me from committing suicide.

Clinging on to God, I could remain calm when my mother would accuse me of things I didn’t do – or when she attacked Jesus verbally, spitting in my face.

Clinging on to Him – I survived.

I survived because He loves me – I survived to testify.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)

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Unemployed, in debt – and learning how to trust Him

by Melody Elizabeth Goh | 1 August 2017, 4:38 PM

I grew up in a loving and pampered environment. That’s great while you’re a kid – but bad when you’re an adult.

I had to grow up, become a more mature me. But to do that, I needed to experience hardship.

After I graduated, I felt the Lord calling me to step out of the boat and walk on the water. I didn’t know what that meant, but it didn’t take me long enough to realise what it truly meant: I was about to enter into a desert season. I was about to learn what it means to have full reliance and focus on the Father.

I officially started looking for a job, armed with my Advanced Diploma in Accounting and Finance. I applied for position after position, went for multiple interviews but to no avail.

I had to grow up, become a more mature me. But to do that, I needed to experience hardship.

A friend encouraged me to become an Uber driver. It was tedious and I could not cover the rental of the car – I couldn’t work the long hours required to do so. I then decided to get relief drivers to help cover my costs, including a couple who took the car on weekdays. But that only made things worse; the couple did not use the car to work, and were unable to cover the rental cost, so the amount they owed me kept piling up.

My reserves were depleting quickly. It was getting harder for me, financially, physically, emotionally and mentally. My dad agreed to help ease my burdens a little, but I was still deeply troubled and distressed. I found myself crying every day.

In my desperation, I made a decision I would truly regret, with a heavy price to pay. I fell victim to a scam that promised me a sum of money per telephone line that I signed up for. But I got played out, leaving me with to pay the monthly subscriptions and termination fees. It was a substantial cost, especially when I was still unemployed.

Soon enough, I caved in and fell into depression.

Throughout all this, I kept asking: Where was God?

Where was the God who called me out? Surely, He would not abandon me?

No, I learnt, He wouldn’t – and He didn’t. It was in this season that God was drawing me closer to Him.

God humbled my heart and gave me a revelation – that I really am nothing without Him. Everything I can boast of, I only have by the grace and empowerment of God, and therefore He alone deserves all the glory.

So rather than be crushed by the circumstances, my faith in Him was deeply strengthened. I learnt to trust and obey, for there is no other way – not if I wanted to get out of this desert season. It was hard for me but I had to. I had to crucify my flesh.

I learnt to praise God in all circumstances. It was more of Him and less of me.

This desert season was not what I wanted, but it was what I needed – to go through a process of refining through the fire of trial, and redefining my perspective of the Father. Where He used to be a God who seemed so distant, He became to me a Father who is so loving, and who desires to walk me through every storm. I learnt what it means when He said that He will never leave me nor forsake me.

I learnt to praise God in all circumstances. It was more of Him and less of me.

What I was going through – it wasn’t because God didn’t love me, but because God does love me – enough to work on me, to refine me, to purify my heart.

The process of being refined is painful, but it is needful. It draws us closer to God, and allows Him to show His everlasting love. Adversity pushes us to rely on God, rather than our own strength.

“So that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:7)

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Numb – the cry of a generation

by Darius Lee | 22 July 2017, 12:15 AM

I’m tired of being what you want me to be
Feeling so faithless, lost under the surface
Don’t know what you’re expecting of me
Put under the pressure of walking in your shoes
Every step that I take is another mistake to you

Those are the opening lines of the popular Linkin Park song Numb (2003), a song sung from the perspective of a young person crying out against the expectations imposed by those in authority.

As he enters the chorus, Bennington’s voice turns into an angry, anguished and angsty declaration of independence and identity:

I’ve become so numb, I can’t feel you there
Become so tired, so much more aware
I’m becoming this, all I want to do
Is be more like me and be less like you

For many of my generation, the youthful-sounding voice of lead singer Chester Bennington deeply resonated with many teenagers as he put their feelings in words. It echoed what they felt in their hearts. It was raw and authentic.

Perhaps that is why many people were shocked and deeply saddened at the news of Bennington’s apparent suicide in his Los Angeles residence on July 20.

It was not just the loss of a lead singer of a popular band; it was the loss of a spokesperson for what they felt.

A TOUGH LIFE

Chester Bennington led a hard life, and he acknowledged that Linkin Park’s often dark subject matters were inspired by his own emotional turmoil.

He was sexually abused by an older friend when he was seven, beaten up and forced to do things he did not want to do, and suffered in silence for six years.

His parents divorced when he was 11.

The death of Chester Bennington was not just the loss of a lead singer of a popular band; it was the loss of a spokesperson for what a generation felt.

“It was an awful time. I hated everybody in my family,” he said in a 2008 interview with Kerrang magazine.

“I felt abandoned by my mom, my dad was not very emotionally stable then, and there was no one I could turn to – at least that’s how my young mind felt.”

Bennington turned to alcohol and drugs to cope with his pain. He carried on these addictions into adulthood, until his Linkin Park bandmates intervened in 2006.

He was married twice; his first marriage ended in divorce in 2005 because of his time spent touring with Linkin Park.

OUTCASTS AND THE CHURCH

Numb remains one of the band’s most popular and iconic songs. At the time of writing, it’s racked up more than 560 million views on YouTube.

The music video tells the story of a young girl who is a social outcast. As we look at her arms, we notice that she’s been cutting herself, with the word “numb” carved into her skin.

She spends her time drawing, apparently looking toward the transcendent as she sketches pictures of angels, Mary and the baby Jesus. She is rejected by her classmates and repeatedly told off by her mother for failing to live up to expectations.

The girl hardly utters a word in the video, but Chester Bennington’s voice speaks her mind:

Can’t you see that you’re smothering me
Holding too tightly, afraid to lose control?
‘Cos everything that you thought I would be
Has fallen apart right in front of you
Every step that I take is another mistake to you
And every second I waste is more than I can take

Though the girl knows that she might end up failing too, she knows deep within her that her mother had likewise failed to meet her parents’ expectations (“And I know/I may end up failing too/But I know/You were just like me with someone disappointed in you”).

All this time, the band are in a church, the distorted sounds of the electric guitars, rapid drumbeats, deep basslines and Bennington’s anguished voice constantly giving a voice to the girl’s inner thoughts.

Finally, numb from the pressures and expectations, and keen to be herself and apparently having heard the band, the girl runs into the church where the band was – only to find the church empty.

WILL THE CHURCH BE EMPTY?

Bennington does not appear to have been a Christian, instead, according to fellow band member Mike Shinoda, the late singer had “his own really unique views on religion”.

Neither do I know if there had been anyone close to Bennington who reached out to him in his difficult times, or who brought the love of Christ to him in his final moments.

Yet there can be little doubt that every single song, and every raw cry, was and is heard and treasured by God.

If this generation needs a sanctuary, will it find a church willing to receive them with open arms?

But this song and cry is not just the cry of Bennington or Linkin Park: It is the cry of a generation crying out in pain because of impossible expectations that no one is able to meet.

Will the church be the voice pleading on behalf of this generation to the One who has said that His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matthew 11:30)?

And, if this generation needs a sanctuary, will it find a church willing to receive them with open arms? Or will the church be empty?

One suicide is one too many. But there are so many – too many to ignore the pain that permeates a generation. If numbness is the problem, love is the solution.

Love for the church – as the source of hope – and love from the church. Because, as the life of Bennington showed us, we can’t count on people to get it right. So we need Jesus to guide our steps.

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A new heart for baby

by Rachel Tan | 21 July 2017, 4:53 PM

“There’s something wrong with your baby’s heart.”

In 2014, 22 weeks into my pregnancy, a routine ultrasound revealed severe anomalies in the baby’s heart. A rare congenital heart defect called transposition of the great arteries meant that her heart was incompatible with life.

My husband Ivan and I sought a second opinion the very same day, but the doctors all drew the same conclusions: Children born with such heart defects don’t usually live very long.

In my baby’s case, the corrective action would likely be a series of very risky, very expensive open heart surgeries, spread out over a lifetime.

“You’ll have to consider your options carefully,” the doctor said. “You can also choose to terminate the pregnancy now.”

I remember going to bed that night blanketed in grief. Something that gave us so much joy and pride was now the source of pain, anger and confusion. My husband held me and we cried and we prayed.

I was a writer by profession, and prided myself on being a wordsmith, but that night I could barely find the vocabulary to say anything to God.

I pleaded, and promised, and committed my faith, but in my heart the only words I truly had were: “God, why?”

Long after Ivan fell asleep, I lay with my face pressed into a damp pillow, crying for the child we had not yet lost.

I dreaded going to church. I was afraid of having to explain, to see pitying looks, and I was also afraid of having to pretend like my world wasn’t shattered.

In the days after that, we spoke to our parents and mentors and met our church pastors. I was brought up in a strong Christian home and I knew in my mind that abortion was wrong. But when push came to shove, I wavered. We went for the mandatory abortion counselling at the hospital to keep our options open.

The first Sunday after the diagnosis, I dreaded going to church. I was afraid of having to explain, to see pitying looks, and I was also afraid of having to pretend like my world wasn’t shattered.

Most of all, I was afraid that I would be too angry with God to worship, and that He would know.

In the midst of it all, hope broke through. This verse in Proverbs 3:5-6 was almost as if God were speaking specifically into our situation. It says: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding, in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make straight your paths”.

I always thought those people who still praised God in adversity and personal crises were so heroic, like the guy who wrote It Is Well With My Soul after his whole family died, or the Hillsong worship leader who led Desert Song after her miscarriage.

But that Sunday, when it finally came my turn, I realised that it’s not hard or heroic to turn to God when He is all the hope you have left. It’s desperation, and it leaves you broken and humbled.

I sang-sobbed my way through the words of Kari Jobe’s You Are Good, my mouth declaring the kindness and goodness and mercy of God, trusting that my heart would soon follow.

Against all odds, Johanna was born in April 2014 with a team of doctors waiting on standby in case she needed immediate intervention. But by God’s grace, some other accompanying “defects” also allowed her heart to function well enough to postpone surgery till she was bigger and the procedure less risky.

Johanna has had two heart surgeries since, and each time – when we were gripped by the fear of losing her – God reminded us to trust Him as we read His word.

“This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” (John 11:4)

“But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with HEALING in its wings.” (Malachi 4:2)

These verses gave us tremendous courage each time we had to hand our precious child over to the surgeons, and hope during the long nights we stayed up listening to the beeping of life-support machines in the ICU.

Indeed, God has been faithful in not only preserving her life, but blessing our family with life so abundant in a way we didn’t think was going to be possible when we first received her diagnosis.

Rachel, husband Ivan, and their children Johanna and Emma.

Sometimes pain has no good answers this side of eternity, but we have come to know the Good Shepherd. The one who has laid down his life, the one who leads and guides us to green pastures, stills waters and even through the darkest valleys of life.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
 (Psalms 23:1-4)

Today, Johanna is a precocious toddler and an older sister to heart-healthy 10-month-old Emma. If you didn’t see the long scar down her chest, you’d never have guessed this running, jumping, fast-talking kid had a heart “incompatible with life”.

Her doctors were so pleased with the outcome of her second corrective surgery that they took her off her daily medications – she is now completely medicine-free!

Surely goodness and mercy have followed us – even before life as we knew it began for Johanna.

 

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The God who thirsts

by Lynn Chia | 15 July 2017, 9:58 AM

After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfil the Scripture), “I thirst.” (John 19:28)

How could Jesus – the source of abundant and unending living waters – thirst?

This seems a contradiction, considering how Jesus mentioned earlier to the Samaritan woman that whoever drinks the water he gives will never be thirsty again (John 4:14).

But Jesus did thirst. To fulfil the Scripture, from Psalm 69:21, written by David: “They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst.”

His thirst was the remedy for ours. His pain was the salve for ours. His suffering was the source of healing for ours.

He needed to finish the work. He had to fully consume this cup the Father had given Him to drink.

Jesus refused any alleviation of suffering He knew was ordained by God.

As He hung on the Cross, a group of Jerusalem women in an act of piety offered Him a drink of bitter wine (Matthew 27:34; Mark 15:23). Bible scholars say this was meant to help alleviate the suffering of someone about to die.

Despite His thirst, Jesus rejected this.

He had committed himself wholly to the Father, to offer Himself as a sacrifice. He needed to finish the work. He had to fully consume this cup the Father had given Him to drink.

Jesus chose God at his crossroads. Jesus was obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Despite that thirst, He chose to see the joy that was set before him and endured the cross, despising the shame (Hebrews 12:2).

THE PAIN WAS PART OF THE PLAN

In our brokenness, we often try to find ways to distract ourselves from the pain, and sometimes finding other crutches to numb ourselves to the pain.

But sometimes there is a reason we have to go through a season of pain.

Suffering only makes sense if the focus and reason for the suffering are aligned to God’s will and plan for His greater glory.

While Death thought that it had trapped Jesus, God used Jesus to trap and overcome death forevermore, to pave the way for the outpouring of flowing, abundant grace and redemption for all of mankind.

Suffering only makes sense if the focus and reason for the suffering are aligned to God’s will and plan for His greater glory.

What did Jesus endure for the cross? What kept Him up there when He could have played the God-card to get Himself out of the pain?

For the joy set before Him. (Hebrews 12:2)

The joy of fulfilling the Scripture. It was the will of the Lord to crush him. That He would bear the sin of many, and make intercession for the sinners (Isaiah 53:10-12).

Grief for glory. 

Why did Jesus thirst? Not because the Son of God lacked anything.

He took on our thirst so we would thirst no more.

Therefore in Him, the thirst – the hunger, the longing, the needs, the void, the cries, the hurts – of our mind, body and souls will be quenched.

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I am a Pastor’s Kid: How I went from being son of my dad, to child of the Father

by David Foo | 13 July 2017, 10:05 AM

What is it like to be the Senior Pastor’s son? If I had a dollar every time someone asked me that, it would probably be a lot harder for me to enter the kingdom of God (Matthew 19:24).

I wasn’t actually born a pastor’s kid. I lived the first half of my life quietly as the eldest son of Christian parents – until I turned 14, when my father left his job to take up post as the Senior Pastor of our church. 

After which, I lived the second half of my life even more quietly as the eldest son of the Senior Pastor.

People tend to think that being the family of a pastor – or Senior Pastor, no less – makes the entire household extra holy or devout as believers. To me, it’s actually no different from growing up in a Christian household; the only difference is in how people may perceive you.

With a father in the church spotlight, it was hard to avoid the attention that extended to his family. Sometimes people assumed I was the feedback channel for the sermons my father gave, other times, people thought I was testing them when I asked a Bible related question.

After years of church conversations starting with “so what does your father have to say about … ” or “no offence, but your father …”, I seriously toyed with the idea of changing church altogether. I kept a low profile, never attending youth camps or mission trips.

Most of it was a subconscious censoring of church involvement. Besides the invisible expectations weighing upon me as long as I was in the social context to be known as “Senior Pastor’s son”, I struggled to discover the Christian faith for myself inside the walls of church.

I longed to be discipled by people who didn’t think I knew everything about God. I wanted to be myself and experience church life in a new way, outside the confines of my father’s position.

I hesitated to go for altar calls because I knew my dad would, well, be at the altar. I had questions about the faith but I knew I’d be directed back to my dad. I was assumed to be spiritually “okay” because of my regular church attendance and Bible knowledge.

Most Christians get away with leaving the “holy-holy” behaviour to pastors and church leaders, thinking that only they are special and have the ability to pray every day, read the Bible cover-to-cover once a year and serve tirelessly in church. I’m just a normal Christian. I go for service very good already – right?

Like most of us, I would have been pretty content to live the normal Christian life – but somehow when I became a pastor’s kid, I couldn’t use that excuse anymore. You mean you don’t serve in church? How can? You pastor’s kid leh.

It sounds strange, but I longed to be discipled by people who didn’t think I knew everything about God. I wanted to be myself and experience church life in a new way, outside the confines of my father’s position.

For me, the Senior Pastor wasn’t someone who had special God-given abilities to be extra fervent; he was just my dad. And if he could live the all-in Christian life, then there was no reason I couldn’t if I wanted to. I was the Senior Pastor’s son after all.

The problem was that I didn’t really want to. At least not all-in for God the way my dad was. I just wanted to be like most of my friends: A “normal” Christian.

And so I started purposefully building a life outside the church, sometimes venturing into territory considered unbecoming – by church standards – for a pastor’s kid. Inside, I knew I was not pleasing God. In fact, I knew I was living for myself, rather than for Him.

Yet, it turns out that although I may have kept my presence in our relationship at a minimum, I was actually very much still searching for His presence in my life.

What I didn’t see coming was that He would find me first.

God showed up in the form of a few Christian friends I made who showed me what it was like to follow Him. Through their lives and our conversations I discovered aspects of the faith that breathed new life into my understanding and experience of what it was like to pursue Him.

I may have tried as much as I could to avoid the church – but by the grace of God, the Church came to me. It was all around me, in the lives of the people who came alongside me when I was struggling to understand my faith beyond my father.

With their lives, they evangelised to me. Even without a pulpit, they preached the Gospel as I’d never heard it. They were my spiritual mentors, my disciplers, my pastors – just by being my friends.

It was only a matter of time before I found my way home.

I believe that there is a special grace for us pastor’s kids and missionary’s kids. A grace that pursues us relentlessly even when we run.

I never actually stopped going to church because I’d simply followed my parents Sunday after Sunday – it was easy to just show up – but as I discovered God for myself, my heart was changing. I didn’t resent the attention or expectations as much. I learnt how to cope with my own and other people’s expectations of how I should behave. 

The God in the songs I’d heard countless of times in service had reached out and touched my life.

I still have a lot of sympathy for pastor’s kids and missionary’s kids; it’s so easy to feel like we were dragged into a life we didn’t choose. The urge to rebel and escape from the identities forced upon us, to hate the ministries that took our parents away, is real.

But I also believe that there is a special grace for us. A grace that pursues us relentlessly even when we run. A grace that helps us find peace with our circumstances and to choose the God behind them for ourselves.

These are the two choices we have:

(a) Turn away from the church, forcing people to see us for the sinners we are
(b) Pursue God and slowly grow to match the impressions the church has of us

Looking back, I think I’ve done a bit of both.

“And we know that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

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Now is the time to be present

by Darius Leow | 12 July 2017, 5:53 PM

“Wherever you are, be all there.”
Jim Elliot

I listen to music that takes me back to the past. I look at photos taken way back, longing to return to what we always call the good ol’ days. I watch movies that bring me down memory lane.

I like to return to the past, hang around a little, rummaging through old boxes of memories pleasant and unpleasant, to relearn lessons only retrospection can teach.

While these might make me feel nostalgic and perhaps even euphoric at that moment, I find that dwelling too much on the past – however pleasant it might be – holds me back from the present. I don’t get to fully live in the present, because I’m distracted by the past.

God made it clear: Today’s manna is for today, not for yesterday or tomorrow. Yesterday’s manna is too stale for present needs, and today’s manna will grow stale by tomorrow.

I zoom into the future and bask in the excitement of what is to come – but in the process also find myself anxious over its lingering uncertainties.

And often I find myself being forced back to reality, because the present always knocks on the door of my heart and reminds me, You belong here.

I know it’s no point living in the past: Why dwell on what cannot be undone? The same goes with the future: Why dwell so much on something that hasn’t taken place?

But so easily we find ourselves stuck in the present; hemmed in by past memories and experiences, and uncertainty and expectations of what the future holds. Where do we go from here?

Do you, like me, find yourself being trapped in this constant loop, this “time-travelling” discontentment? It seems like a deep-seated human condition, because millennia ago, the Israelites also felt the same way. Out there in the wilderness, having witnessed God’s deliverance out of slavery, they crumbled when their enemies approached, and grumbled when their stomachs rumbled.

“The Israelites said to them, ‘If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.'” (Exodus 16:3)

It almost sounds like the Israelites were fondly reminiscing about the good ol’ days. But they’d forgotten how they hadn’t really been enjoying pots of meat then. Instead, they’d been groaning and crying out in their slavery (Exodus 2:23).

It’s easy to laugh at them, and judge them for their lack of faith and discontentment. I mean, they lived through the 10 plagues! They walked on the sea bed of the parted Red Sea!

But so many times we find ourselves just like them. We moan over our present, look to the past with false fondness, and in comparison find our present even more dissatisfying. It’s a vicious cycle; the past will never fully satisfy the present, even if we once lived through mountaintop experiences or the good ol’ days.

Present needs must be satisfied by present means.

I guess that’s why God’s manna provision plan is always in the present. In Exodus 16:19-20, the Israelites found that the manna supernaturally produced each morning would not last till the next day.

God made it clear: Today’s manna is for today, not for yesterday or tomorrow. Yesterday’s manna is too stale for present needs, and today’s manna will grow stale by tomorrow.

Essentially, you need present joy. Present peace. Present strength. Present grace. Present _______. Yesterday’s will not suffice, because God meant for us to come daily before Him for our sustenance.

A day at a time. Embrace the present one day at a time, because in the present you will find all you need. Not too much, not too little – just enough (Exodus 16:17-18).

You need present joy. Present peace. Present strength. Present grace. Present _______. Yesterday’s will not suffice, because God meant for us to come daily before Him for our sustenance.

For 40 years, every day, the Israelites ate manna. For 40 years, they learnt what it means to live in the present. We learn to trust God one day at a time, and embrace this life we have been given. Because Christ is present in every day, I will find all I need to satisfy my present needs each day.

So learn to bid seasons of life goodbye; to time travel a little bit less. Occasionally say hi to them, thanking them for the lessons they’ve taught me, and move on. The past and future are good teachers; they have bearing and implications on the present.

But after you’ve done that, come back to the present. Be fully present, because your present needs you.

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I dream of a HungerFree world. Do you?

by Shermaine Tan | 8 July 2017, 1:24 AM

Having studied Communications in college, I desired to find a job where I could strengthen my skills and use them to serve God.

So when I came across a job listing for Resource Development and Communications at World Vision Singapore, I decided to give it a try. As I had no prior experience, I didn’t really know what to expect out of working in an NGO. I was afraid of the challenges that this job would entail, a big part of it being fundraising, and I did not know if I had what it took to do it well.

However, I kept praying and asking God to show me if this was the place He wanted me to be in. Through my devotions, I could sense that He was assuring me, reminding me that He would be the One to equip and empower me for the role if I were to take it up.

But by my second interview with the CEO of World Vision Singapore, something incredible happened. On my way to the office, I had watched a video about the parable of the talents and how God desires faithfulness from those who serve Him. During the interview, my CEO started talking about the parable of the talents as she explained the work World Vision is involved in.

That was when I knew that He was calling me to be a part of it.

It wasn’t until I personally met the faces behind these projects that these stories became real to me.

Just as I had wanted to use my Communications training meaningfully, my job at World Vision entails learning about our work in other nations and the needs of the beneficiaries we support so as to share this information with the people here in Singapore.

Last December, I visited World Vision’s Street Children Transformation Project in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Street children are children without homes. They live on the streets, beg for money and sell recycled trash for a living. Many of them live from hand to mouth and are vulnerable to trafficking, drug abuse and exploitation.

I knew that World Vision had been providing these street children with food, education, health and shelter. I’d read the reports and learnt that a certain number of children were able to return to school through our interventions. Some were even taught vocational skills and able to find jobs.

But it wasn’t until I personally met the faces behind these projects that these stories became real to me.

During the trip, I met someone truly unforgettable – her name is Sreypich and she is a 17 year old girl who was a former street child and beneficiary of our Street Children project. I’d wanted to understand the Street Children project better and how it’s tangibly benefited lives, so our World Vision Cambodian staff arranged for us to meet.

No one had ever taught her the importance of going to school. She didn’t even have a birth certificate.

I remembered her being very shy when we were first introduced. As she only spoke Khmer, the national language, our World Vision Cambodian staff had to be our translator. But as the conversation went on, she began to share her story in greater detail.

Sreypich and her siblings were abandoned by their father at birth and their mother is unable to work. As the eldest child, the responsibility to take care of the family rested upon her. Before she was taken to the World Vision shelter, she had lived on the streets with her siblings.

She told me about how she had struggled to feed her family, with the police chasing children away and preventing them from begging in the streets. Sleeping on the streets exposed them to the elements and other dangers, but they had nowhere else to go. No one had ever taught her the importance of going to school. She didn’t even have a birth certificate.

Then she sang us a song from her childhood that brought me to tears. These are the lyrics to her song: “Tears, please don’t fall, because your family is suffering enough. Tears, please don’t fall, your family is hungry enough.” This was the song she’d sing to herself whenever she found it hard to stay strong for her family.

I also saw that she was just like me. She had hopes and dreams. She needed to be encouraged, cared for and protected.

When she was brought to World Vision’s shelter, the first thing they did was to officially register her birth so that she would be recognised as a citizen of the country. Our team eventually reintegrated her back to the village where she came from, taught her some basic farming and provided her with tools so that she could farm, earn an income for her family and even go to school.

More than just meeting her physical needs, Sreypich shared that World Vision helped her to recognise that her life had value. When she was at the shelter, she met other street children who had become peer educators. When she asked the teacher if she too could be a peer educator, this was her advice, “If you want to be a peer educator, you will have to be a role model and study hard”. And so she did.

Sreypich’s story really stayed with me, not just for the fact that she learnt to value her own life, but the selfless desire in her to help others in similar situations. Although she did not have much, she was motivated to change her own life and serve the people around her.

In changing mindsets from “I can’t” to “I can” and above all, “I’m worth it”, we show them what it means to have a hope and a future.

I also saw that she was just like me. She had hopes and dreams. She needed to be encouraged, cared for and protected. In meeting her, I was able to understand how important our work is and how the little things we take for granted as Singaporeans can mean so much to an individual.

Meeting Sreypich made me realise that humanitarian work is more than just occasionally providing assistance or meeting felt needs. It is about journeying with another human being to help them see that they too have purpose, destiny, significance, strength and value. In changing mindsets from “I can’t” to “I can” and above all, “I’m worth it”, we show them what it means to have a hope and a future.

Through the work that I do and the people I meet through World Vision, God has both deepened my compassion for those in need and motivated me to work harder to invite others to join our cause. Although I sometimes face challenges at work and still feel inadequate to carry out the tasks given to me, knowing that I am partnering God to change the lives of those He loves keeps me going.

He is behind me and will always enable me to do the work.

Join Project HungerFree

If the Lord has laid a burden on your heart for those suffering from poverty or a calling to serve the nations, World Vision is holding Project HungerFree, a humanitarian festival for youth and young adults who desire to effectively help impoverished communities worldwide.

Through Project HungerFree, World Vision hopes to help interested individuals gain insight into international humanitarian developments and tangible actions they can take to be an agent of change for those in need.

The half-day event will feature dialogue sessions with international field practitioners and elements of experiential learning.

We hope that through this initiative, God will work mightily to equip and raise up more young people who are passionate about working to address material and spiritual brokenness in His world.


World Vision is a Christian humanitarian organisation that aims to help vulnerable communities all over the world overcome poverty and injustice. Project HungerFree is taking place on July 15, 2017, Saturday. For more details or to register now, please visit their website.

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What really matters when you’re gone?

by Kenneth Lee | 7 July 2017, 9:07 PM

I was 27 when my life changed forever. I lost one of my best friends.

He was the most generous person I knew and a real source of strength and support to many of us. He was a Christian – “one of the best”, people would say.

But in May 2015, he was violently taken away by the sea.

Sometimes you forget about the brutal power of nature. Water is a deceptive beast. Under the seemingly calm surface may lie a raging torrent.

I still recall that day in vivid detail – for better or for worse. The crashing waves. The salt in the air.

The utter panic that ensued.

Watching as someone you love vanishes before your eyes and knowing that you cannot save him profoundly changes you. His gasps still loop in my nightmares; the grief of my helpless resignation still rings in my bones.

When you’re in your twenties, you think you are invincible. That you can do anything. The world’s your oyster. You can change the world. Et cetera.

Then life – or the loss of it – happens and nothing is ever the same.

Three of us gave eulogies at my friend’s funeral. The hall was packed with the ones he’d left behind, a sea of shared sorrow and pain. It was one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do. How do you sum up a person’s life in 5 minutes? What do you want him to be remembered for?

Professionally, he was excellent at what he did – the best in the state at one point in his career. But in the end, no one mentioned those things. We could have. Instead, we each found ourselves speaking about his generosity, selflessness, joyful spirit, loving disposition and Christlikeness.

These questions have surfaced in my heart ever since: Do career, social status and material achievements evaporate when you die? Clearly one’s legacy – what you leave behind for those after you – cannot be made up of these things.

We each found ourselves speaking about his generosity, selflessness, joyful spirit, loving disposition and Christlikeness.

Legacy. That’s a heavy word for a twentysomething. Ever wondered what people will say at your funeral? Maybe you want to be known as that investment banker who closed more than 300 deals in one calendar year, with a value north of Singapore’s GDP.

Or maybe you want to be remembered as the entrepreneur who bought his own Porsche before the age of 30. Or the guy who married a total babe from college.

I’m not yet 30, but a good part of my life has become defined by my career as a lawyer in commercial law. My team and I have fought tooth and nail for the big deals. To be honest, I’ve enjoyed the status that accompanies the job.

But when I die, will any of this matter? Does it matter when I vanish like a mist (James 4:14)?

After my friend’s passing, I took some time off work to reflect and think about the future. Sufjan Stevens’ album Carrie & Lowell had just come out. The album is about the death of Sufjan’s mother, their relationship and his grief of losing her. It became my soundtrack for that time period.

Since the day of the funeral, I knew I had to start living my life with purpose and significance. My friend’s death had to mean something more to me. What I chose to spend my days doing henceforth had to count for something more. Yes, God establishes my steps (Proverbs 16:9), but am I following His Will?

My friend was really the most generous person I knew – he always gave so much of himself to others.

So many people somehow believe that living your life to the fullest means travelling, seeing the world and enjoying life’s pleasures. But I’m starting to see that significance can be found in the simple things: Walking closely with Jesus, being in tune with His still small voice and prioritising my relationships with Him and others.

My friend was really the most generous person I knew – he always gave so much of himself to others. He wasn’t particularly well-off but always did good to everyone. And it cost him dearly – time, energy and his emotions – but he did it anyway. He was the best example of Galatians 6:10. 24/7.

Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith. (Galatians 6:10)

As followers of Jesus, we are called to be the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13). We should live and love as Christ did. We should lead others to Christ. Be pioneers and changemakers for the Kingdom.

I’m starting to see that significance can be found in the simple things: Walking closely with Jesus and being in tune with His still small voice.

But the truth is, I’m not sure that I’m doing enough of that. I still chase deals and burn the midnight oil for my job. I’m not suggesting that work isn’t God-ordained – I just feel like I could do more. I want to preserve my friend’s legacy, but at times I don’t think I do it justice with my own life.

Those words on that three-page eulogy I wrote for him – I think about them often. That’s what I should be living out. That’s what my legacy should be like.

“He has shown you, O man, what is good … to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

I want to be remembered as someone who loved God and others generously and without condition. I want to have lived a life that Christ would’ve been proud of. There is a time for everything (Ecclesiastes 3) and that time is limited. Our worldly achievements mean nothing.

Life is a series of chapters, and death is the final punctuation at the end of our last one.

In the words of an article by the Huffington Post: Are you living your eulogy or your résumé?

 


Kenneth Lee lives in Perth, Western Australia. From Mondays to Fridays, he is a mergers and acquisitions lawyer. On the weekend, he attends and volunteers as a barista at Riverview Church. He is very happily married to Stephanie, the love of his life.

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Why I changed church

by Melody Elizabeth Goh | 7 July 2017, 2:17 PM

I am someone that others might call a church-hopper. I’m only 28, but I’ve changed church four times already.

I’m writing this to tell anyone reading: Don’t make the same mistakes I did.

Growing up, I’ve had my share of impulsive and wilful decisions. I allowed the emotional part of me to dictate my choices. It was no different with the church hopping.

I was born a Christian and I attended church from a young age. Like everyone else, I had my needs – I wanted to be loved and be part of a church community where I belonged. Failing to experience that was the reason I decided to leave church for the first time at 15 years old, stepping out of the community I’d grown up.

I failed to manage my expectations of a loving church community. I failed to realise that the church was full of broken people like myself. I was chasing after unreasonable expectations, and it resulted in me getting hurt over and over again.

Changing church was my way of running away from the people who hurt me. Out of sight, out of mind. But what I didn’t realise was that I was just setting myself up for other people in other churches to hurt me, too. And this happened over and over again.

Only now – four church-hops later – have I begun to see what I was getting myself into. I realised that if I don’t learn how to manage my expectations of people, and shift my focus back to God, the cycle will just keep repeating.

I failed to realise that the church was full of broken people like myself. I was chasing after unreasonable expectations, and it resulted in me getting hurt over and over again.

If you’ve been thinking of a change of church scene, maybe the lessons I learnt will help you, too.

WHY I LEFT EACH CHURCH – AND WHY I SHOULDN’T HAVE

1. I WAS HURT.

I was not the most demure girl, not your typical girly girl. So I found myself being teased for being a boy in a girl’s body. As I was bullied by the boys in my class, I chose to stick to my female friends – to the point that rumours started to spread about my sexuality. I found myself having to explain myself to my youth leaders in my second church.

Also, I struggled with how I expressed myself, so I felt that people rejected me. When the girls in my cell group went out together, they would not call me along. This happened over a period of 5 years and I became more and more bitter.

How is this being loving? I found myself asking.

But as the saying goes: “Hurt people hurt people.” The church was, still is, and should be a place for broken and hurt people.

In my own hurt, I failed to understand that the others around me were also the products of their own hurt, their own baggage, their own journey of learning as teenagers then. They were making mistakes, too, just like I had been. I wasn’t mature enough then to forgive and work things through with them.

Still, the process taught me what it means when God instructs us to let our speech be with grace and seasoned with salt (Colossians 4:6) and to only choose words that edify and impart grace (Ephesians 4:29). Being on the receiving end, and bearing all that hurt, was not easy to bear.

2. I WAS BURNT OUT.

Looking for something to fill the void in my heart, I decided to keep myself busy. I started to serve in the worship ministry as a projectionist, and eventually increased my involvement to 5 different ministries. On top of that, I was helping out at other events in church.

It was tiring and I did not spend time with God, seeking His face, drawing strength from Him. There was output – but no input.

And so my walk with God went dry. I started serving on my own strength and I was drained out. There was no growth in my walk with God. In my joylessness, I looked for a quick fix by changing church again.

Looking back, I realised that I had lost my first love. I had forgotten the point of serving – it’s not about how we serve, but whom we serve. We serve out of gratitude to God, for what He has done in our lives. The solution shouldn’t have been to run away, but to run to Him, to shift my focus back on the original intent, and realign my heart with His.

3. I WAS TOO SELF-CONSCIOUS.

Having been in a church for more than a decade, I felt that people thought they knew all about me – my strengths and my weaknesses, what I was up to, what I was thinking. I started to become very self-conscious of their impression of me, and tried hard to reverse that impression. But the more I tried, the more tired I became. I wanted a new start.

Going to a new church and being in a new community seemed the easiest way out for me. It’s easier to start on a clean slate than to try to clean up a blot of ink.

So I changed churches, one after another, in a futile attempt to appear to be that holy Christian – to hide my flaws so that people would not have a negative impression of me. I was trying to gain acceptance from people in church.

The solution shouldn’t have been to run away, but to run to Him, to shift my focus back on the original intent, and realign my heart with His.

All of us have been through different seasons and experiences that have shape our decisions, leading to where we are today. Whatever the reason is – right or wrong, fair or unfair – the key is making sure that, having learnt our lesson, we don’t repeat the same mistakes.

We may not be able to rekindle the friendships we walked away from in previous communities. We may not be able to ask for forgiveness to those we hurt in the process, or personally seek out and forgive those who hurt us. But while we may not be able to go back to a physical space, we can always move forward to a better place of heart.

Whichever church, fellowship or faith community you’re in now is probably exactly where God intends for you to be. My mistake was that I always viewed the community in terms of what it could offer me. Four churches later, I’m starting to ask the right question: What can I offer this church?

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by | 6 July 2017, 3:01 PM

K-drama fan or not, who could forget 2016 – the year of Korean blockbuster series Descendants of the Sun?

I’ll be able to look back fondly and tell my grandchildren one day that I was right there in the midst of the real life drama that was unfolding across the world as people swooned, cried and engaged in passionate discourse over the story of Captain Yoo Shi Jin and Dr Kang Mo Yeon.

Set in a fictional war-torn country somewhere in the Mediterranean, the pair meet in Korea and become unlikely colleagues when they are sent overseas to do peacekeeping work.

There’s some bad guys, an earthquake, a deadly epidemic and a near fatal military mission – perfect for building the romantic tension between the two … and keeping us on the edge of our seats.

By the first few episodes of the show’s airing, international response had grown so strong that army fashion was globally back on-trend, coupled with those aviator shades – all heavily promoted on online megastores like Taobao and Qoo10.

Friends who had never watched a Korean drama in their lives were hooked. The guys fawned over the beautiful Song Hye Kyo, who plays Dr Kang, and the girls were enamoured by Song Joong Ki, the baby-faced but brave-hearted Captain Yoo.

Several chaste but very well choreographed kisses later, even the most cynical of viewers had to admit that the chemistry between the lead actors was undeniable and almost too real to simply be good acting.

On July 4, 2017, more than a year after he famously bent down to tie her shoelaces in the middle of a disaster zone, the celebrated Song-Song couple shocked the world once more with news of their real-life relationship and impending marriage on October 31.

According to news sources such as Dispatch and the couple’s own announcement through their agencies and social media platforms, they had started dating sometime during filming back in 2015.

Regardless of the details, it was the melodrama miracle fans could previously only wish for. Wishes, apparently, do come true.

I received the news from a friend soon after I’d woken up. “It’s going to be Descendants of the Songs!” she quipped, sending me a link for proof. “My goodness,” I replied. True enough, it was all over Facebook. Like. Like. Like.

But inside, I was struggling. Having been a K-drama enthusiast since Full House – the drama that sealed Song Hye Kyo’s Hallyu fame – I’ve gone from romantic idealist to matured realist over the course of 12 years. I know I can’t allow K-dramas to affect my expectations of guys and relationships. This is the real world. Love doesn’t play out like a K-drama in the real world – right?

Not unless you’re the Song-Song couple, that is.

And despite living 4,600km away from them, with no mutual friends or personal stake in their relationship whatsoever, I can’t help but feel a little sad.

When you’ve only ever watched relationships in your own life fall through time after time, even the ones you tried to be as mature and realistic about, it’s hard not to feel the sting of fairytales that do work out for the lucky ones. It’s just never you.

The upturn at Episode 15 never comes. The hero never returns. There is no heart-melting confession, only heart-breaking confusion. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve just been the supporting actress all along in someone else’s story. It won’t be the first time.

For me, the season finale is usually, always, literally The End.

And when Happily Ever After happens for the stars of even the most unrealistic K-drama plot – for real – I can’t help but think love really does come easy for everyone else. It’s the feeling of being left behind. Losing the lottery. Getting picked last for the team.

In the face of repeatedly crushed hope, how do I face God, who promises me great things and loves me dearly?

I’ll be honest. To contend with private heartache and disappointment within the faith and in the church has often tempted me to walk out the door for good. To be one of those still-single women in the congregation who leads younger married couples at 28 years old is a strain on the image I’d prefer to have.

You know the adulting drill: Stable career, ministry and relationship.

And in the face of repeatedly crushed hope, how do I face God, who promises me great things and loves me dearly? I trust Him, but here it’s a walk on the high ropes, blindfolded.

I have pleaded with Him like a child who wants her father to buy her a toy. You know I don’t ask for anything else, Daddy. And when The End creeps up like heartburn yet again, the despair makes it hard to say anything else when I come before Him. Nobody else seems to have it this hard, God. How could You do this to me?

How can I still believe that You are good?

But He is.

I find it as hard to hold onto as the next person who struggles with any kind of lack and a long wait – infertility, infirmity, scarcity, singleness

Why won’t He give me the good gift I want and put me out of my misery? Haven’t I waited long enough and served Him like a good daughter?

These questions plague my heart because I know deep inside, where the waves and wind can’t shake, that God is good.

A funny incident springs to mind. For Father’s Day this year, I bought my dad a french vanilla crepe cake, the same one I’d just got him for his 60th birthday last December. He’d been hinting really strongly weeks before that he’d liked it a lot and that “it would be nice to have that crepe cake again”.

Obviously, I went back to the shop to get the cake that weekend. He was elated.

The next day around lunch time, I received a rare text message from him thanking me once more. It is exactly what I wanted, he wrote.

I laughed it off, amused that he was that pleased although it’d just been a natural response to his request.

It was only hours later that the Holy Spirit stirred in me.

My daughter, God was saying. I know your heart. You always give me exactly what I want. You don’t think twice when your earthly father asks. You don’t think twice when it comes to Me either. I know.

Don’t you think I will do the same for you?

The tears flow even as I recall this.

He knows.

We all have our Captain Yoo Shi Jins – our own ideas for the perfect leading man – but at the end of the day, he was just a figment of some screenwriter’s imagination.

He knows me even better than I know myself. While I give myself definitions for what I think I want, insisting that it has to look a certain way or be a certain person – He knows what I want, what I really, really want. And He will give it to me. Obviously. Just the way I did for my father.

It will be exactly what I want, even if I only know it when I receive it.

We all have our Captain Yoo Shi Jins – our own ideas for the perfect leading man – but at the end of the day, he was just a figment of some screenwriter’s imagination. Even Song Hye Kyo admitted she wouldn’t have dated Yoo Shi Jin if he’d existed in real life.

But of Song Joong Ki, she says: “Joong Ki showed me his self, trust, and his manners for a long time. I thought to myself that it would be good to spend the future with him. That’s when I knew that he was the one.”

Love might be lost. Hearts may still break. But today I’m reminded that I wouldn’t trade my Song Joong Ki for the next man who ties my shoelaces in a disaster zone.

/ joanne@thir.st

Joanne is a bundle of creative energy commonly heard before she is seen. She believes in the triune power of good conversation, brilliant writing and bold ideas. She also likes milo.

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This is my In-dependence Day

by | 3 July 2017, 2:04 PM

A year ago today, I celebrated my own Independence Day.

I had quit the job I loved after a whirlwind journey of four years. I was 27 years old and leaving the industry I was so sure God had designed me for.

It took me a year to pick up His call – and He waited patiently – but finally I said yes. To Thir.st. To Him.

The grass is not greener where I am going, I told my bosses in my resignation letter. I cannot see, from where I am, how I will find greater happiness or creative fulfilment or love. But I have never been more certain that I can trust the One who holds the next step.

On July 4, 2016 – Independence Day – I walked into the newly-renovated Thir.st office, a fraction of the size of my old office and bearing no resemblance to the comforting creative space I was used to. This wasn’t my dream job, at least not how I dreamt it. I wasn’t exactly the most qualified person for the role either. I’d just shown up.

Not what you had in mind, He kept saying. But I know you’re going to love this.

Perhaps “celebratory” isn’t the best word to describe how I was feeling that day. But I definitely felt independent – I’d left the nest I had been so carefully protected and nurtured in since I’d graduated. I had a brand new set of wings. I was terrified.

I’d asked Him in prayer just before my first day at Thir.st: “Why did you call me, of all people, to do this work? I’m not even professionally trained for the job. How do You know I have what it takes?”

His answer was so clear the seas of my heart were immediately stilled: Because I put it in you.

With that assurance and courage burning in me, I showed up and got on the rollercoaster of full-time ministry. And as I’ve now come to witness for myself, God fulfilled His end of the bargain, just like He’d done in the Beginning. From the formless and empty sprang forth our website and a trickle of stories.

One story turned to two. Then ten. Then too many and too fast; almost 330 at last count.

Within six months of going live, our site had meandered its humble way into thousands of newsfeeds across the nation, bringing living water to thirsty travellers along life’s busy highway. In the public space, we’d achieved a reasonable feat for a small faith-based newsroom. We even produced a viral video.

I have never been more certain that I can trust the One who holds the next step.

But away from the crowd, the storms were raging.

Those who’d spent years in full-time ministry had warned me of great difficulties. It’ll still be worth it, they said, but nothing could have prepared me for what lay ahead. The battles fought at the front sometimes left me broken, battered and bleeding. On some days, it all felt too much to bear.

But that’s not what I’m feeling as I stand at the summit of my first year in Thir.st. Like hikers who finally reach the peak and look back in bittersweet awe at the epic journey they’ve just been on, I recount the days gone by with a certain lightness in my heart.

Oh, that part of the trail was a real challenge, I might say dryly, the memory already too far down the mountain and out of sight. Or, upon spotting the craggy rocks in the distance, now barely a sliver of path from where I stand: I seriously considered giving up there, I was exhausted and in so much pain, but I’m glad I kept going.

There are stories for every lesson carved into me on the way up. But this one’s specifically about the three spiritual milestones that got me to the Fourth of July 2017 and into my second year of full-time ministry. I call them my lessons of in-dependence: living in constant dependence upon God.

3 LESSONS OF IN-DEPENDENCE

1. TO SCALE THAT MOUNTAIN, YOU FIRST HAVE TO BE TRAINED

You’ve seen the giants of the faith tell their tales from the mountaintop, and you want the experience for yourself. You’ve told God, yes I’m all in, take me up that mountain! And He’ll be more than happy to. But any seasoned climber will tell you that isn’t going to happen without a lot of training.

The mountain of full-time ministry is daunting and the climb is arduous on the mind, soul and spirit. There might be strains on resources, relationships and responsibilities that threaten to cripple you along the steep slopes. As your loving and wise Coach, God has to strengthen your faith to endure the journey – even if training comes in the form of trials and obstacles.

2. TO BE REFINED, EVERYTHING MUST FIRST BE REVEALED

The main responsibility of full-time ministers is simply to stay close to the Son and reflect His light to the watching world; think of how the Moon reflects the light of the Sun. But being positioned under such strong light also means that every flaw and dark place in our lives cannot remain hidden.

Don’t be surprised to find God bringing to light areas of your life that you were quite comfortable not dealing with for a long time. Nobody might even know about them. The process of overcoming these weaknesses may be painful, but this refinement is an act of His mercy. We cannot effectively reflect the light of God if we are marred mirrors – and what mars us eventually hurts us.

3. TO SERVE OTHERS, FIRST RECOGNISE THAT THE JUG OF OIL NEVER RUNS DRY

Constantly pouring yourself out as a drink offering (Philippians 2:17) to minister to the hearts and minds of others is as draining as it sounds. And when you’re facing trials of all kinds, undergoing your own spiritual upheaval and trying to produce life-giving content every day, these words tend to surface: I’ll soon have nothing left in me to give.

It was a worry that plagued me when my season of adversity lengthened like evening shadows. I felt like the widow of Zarephath, left with only enough oil and flour to make one last loaf before she lay down to die. But one day God spoke into my heart from John 15:7, the way Elijah assured the woman: If you abide in Me, you will always have something to give. The jug of oil will never be empty

I thought the act of quitting my job would make this day my Independence Day. I was wrong – I now see it was meant to be my In-Dependence Day. I’ve never been in greater dependence on the One who held my hand from Day 1 of my Thir.st adventure.

I couldn’t see then how I could possibly find greater happiness or creative fulfilment in this role – but now, with fresh air filling my lungs after a grievous but glorious ascent, now I can.

He was right. It wasn’t what I had in mind. It wasn’t my dream job. But it was.

I wasn’t the most qualified person for the job. But I was.

God’s hiring process is a lot simpler: If you step out in faith and take the job, I’ll show you what to do, how to do it and everything you need to get it done.

When God calls you up with an assignment, He’s not a boss who doesn’t know the full extent of your capabilities or character. He’s the One who created you for the work – with all your passions and struggles and life experiences good and bad – and He’s prepared the work for you (Ephesians 2:10).

You don’t need a tried-and-tested game plan or award-winning skills. God’s hiring process is a lot simpler: If you step out in faith and take the job, I’ll show you what to do, how to do it and everything you need to get it done.

Article by article. Project by project. Over and over and over again. One story at a time.

I don’t know what my next year at Thir.st holds. But once more, here I am Lord. I’ve shown up.

Take me to the next step.

/ joanne@thir.st

Joanne is a bundle of creative energy commonly heard before she is seen. She believes in the triune power of good conversation, brilliant writing and bold ideas. She also likes milo.

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A letter to my gay best friend

by Teo Jiawen | 28 June 2017, 4:02 PM

Dear You,

I’m writing this with trepidation and excitement at the same time. I don’t know how you’ll feel upon reading it, and some of this has been brimming over for awhile. I just didn’t have the courage to tell you face to face.

I was walking over to your office the other day after a bad day at work and thought about our friendship, which has survived so many storms. I walked through those doors and in your hand was a little box from Lady M.

“Here’s cake for you, I know you had a bad day,” you said, with that signature smile.

If people didn’t know any better, they’d think we were together. But nothing could be further than the truth. Not just because we both believe that men and women can have healthy platonic friendships. Not just because we really are just friends.

But because, well. You like men, and I do, too.

*     *     *

I remember when we met, but I think what’s more striking was how we connected years later, after a church conference had concluded and I had a sudden urge to pray for your heart defect. This was before the existence of WhatsApp, and I couldn’t wait till I got home to log on to MSN Messenger. So I dropped you a text, despite being two hours ahead and 6,000km away.

Perhaps you believe that God only loves those who look or act a certain way. That couldn’t be further from the truth – when He said He loves you with an undying love, He really meant it.

We hadn’t spoken in years and all of a sudden it was like we had lots to catch up on. Whenever I made trips home from Australia we’d meet up for copious amounts of hawker food. We’d talk about God, and how life fits into the picture. We dreamed big dreams and it seemed nothing could stand in the way of them. Most of all, we ate. A lot.

I was certain that nothing could rock our friendship, but little did I know that you weren’t so sure.

 *     *     * 

Around this time four years ago you tentatively dropped me a message, asking if I’d attend Pink Dot with you. The question was moot, of course, as I was overseas at the time. But I was more curious about why you asked – and soon I felt you withdrawing from our friendship. I didn’t know how else to reassure you that nothing would change, no matter what. But I tried, and prayed.

And one day, while you were on exchange, while we were on Skype as you sat under a tree, you decided to tell me.

“I’m gay.”

“I know.”

I saw you heave a sigh of relief as you flashed that signature grin.

“You’re the first Christian friend I’ve come out to.”

I don’t think you know this, but my heart broke at that statement.

*     *     *  

It’s been nearly four years since, and I’ve seen you struggle with reconciling your faith and sexuality. We’ve made jokes, we’ve danced around the topic, we’ve cried together in prayer. I’ve seen you make truly heartbreaking choices. Each time I meet you in your place of pain, only to see you numb it in every way possible.

I understand your need to ease your suffering, but wish you could see: That price was paid 2,000 years ago. On the Cross.

I really wish you’d see that Jesus’ invitation – come as you are – was not made lightly. He really meant it – that He sees your scars, your wounds and inadequacies and longs to cover it in love and grace. That’s His job, His specialty.

Perhaps you believe that God only loves those who look or act a certain way. That couldn’t be further from the truth – when He said He loves you with an undying love, He really meant it. His love just can’t die. Won’t.

Borrowing the words of the wonderful Shauna Niequist, sometimes the happiest ending isn’t the one you keep longing for, but something you absolutely cannot see from where you are.

"Sometimes the happiest ending isn't the one you keep longing for, but something you absolutely cannot see from where you are."

He has never stopped loving you. And I never will.

It is my prayer that you will come home.

I’ll be standing there with open arms. And so will He.

Love,
Me

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Hope does not put us to shame

by Emily Lee | 21 June 2017, 3:48 PM

I have depression and no one in church knows.

Some of the adults have asked about my health, noting that I look tired, grey and wane.

But how do I come clean about my condition when anxiety is discouraged in our faith (Philippians 4:6)? When my closest friends gloss over it – ignore, actually – when I tell them I am depressed? When the Bible study group concludes that the antidote for depression is to simply to confess our sins and God as King?

The tapestry of my church’s history, or what I know of it, is full of faithful and strong Christians who served God and others tirelessly, knowing that their reward lay in heaven. My fellow church members pray unceasingly and take an active interest in each others’ lives. They don’t get depressed.

But here I am, a girl who loves God, serves Him, cares for others, prays often – and is also depressed. 

And I’m beginning to see how this is part and parcel of my personal faith journey, not a disqualification from it.

When anxiety rears its ugly head, I know that I’m still protected, still loved, still at-one with God.

In these past nine months, Christian friends have been coming my way to meet me where I’ve fallen. Their words and prayers have been a balm for my anxious soul and their stories give me hope – that it is possible to find joy even when hurting from the loss of health, a loved one or dreams for a desired future.

One of them left me with this verse: “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10).

Like the Israelites then, I need to understand deep in my heart that joy is simply knowing Jesus. That the joy of the Lord is in me – as long as He lives in my heart. He is the source of my strength regardless of my emotions or circumstances. My joy is not dependent on whether I’m happy, sad, frustrated, annoyed, thrilled, or numb. 

More importantly, I needed to understand that through it all, no matter what happens, God is good. Even if life doesn’t turn out the way I expect or hope for, God is good. And when anxiety rears its ugly head, I know that I’m still protected, still loved, still at-one with God.

Perhaps this is what Paul had in mind when he wrote this:

“Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)

Hope does not put us to shame. As the children’s song goes, “for there is therefore now no condemnation down in my heart”, perhaps it is time to be brave and come clean with the church this year.

Even if life doesn’t turn out the way I expect or hope for, God is good.

And however the church chooses to respond, I know God is still in control and will lead me where He wants me to go.

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An open letter to my depression

by Jo Ann Low | 19 June 2017, 11:12 PM

Dear Depression,

I want to thank you.

Even though you’ve taught me how to sob soundlessly into the depths of a pillow, hands clutching desperately at the sheets like a drowning man grasping a lifeline.

Even though you’ve taught me how to stifle my screams, despite seeing the blood rushing from a self-inflicted wound.

Quiet, quiet.

Even though you’ve taught me that people won’t break my heart. (I’ll do it myself, with poor decisions and hasty impulses.)

Even though you’ve taught me that pain is an inevitable affliction of the human and mortal life; as unavoidable as the passing of time.

No rest, no rest.

Even though you’ve shown me the depths of my pain; how low I can sink into the abyss of torment, how self-destructive I can really be.

Even though you’ve overwhelmed me with an all-consuming guilt – like in the Great Wave of Hokusai, I have felt like that tiny boat, precarious on the precipice of incessant doom.

Extinguished.

Still, I want to thank you.

Thank you for teaching me how strong I can be – strong enough to dry my own tears, pick myself up, and rise to face a new day bravely.

Thank you for teaching me that wounds can heal. That scars can remain to show me that though we may bleed, we don’t have to bleed forever.

Quietly, softly.

Thank you for teaching me that I can sew my heart back together again – with the thread of God’s redemption and eternal grace.

Thank you for teaching me that love is a miracle – that despite how I might feel about myself, He has always and will always love me. And so I too will learn to love again.

Rest, rest.

Thank you for showing me the scale of my hope, how high I have climbed.

Thank you for letting me look back and realise how small the waves have since shrunk, how far I have come from my days of guilt, how insignificant the troubles of this world seem – when compared to the overwhelming wave of Love and Redemption God has given to me.

Revival.

So here’s a last and final thank you, and a last and final letter to you, my companion of 10 years.

Goodbye, Depression. You will not be missed.

Sincerely,
Me

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Coming out Christian

by | 19 June 2017, 11:20 AM

I am the worst at confrontation. Don’t let the volume of my voice and weight of my words fool you. It’s probably why I enjoy giving speeches rather than engaging in debates.

Join the fight? Pick a side? Umm, why can’t we just be friends?

It’s so difficult to be a Christian these days, for people like me. Living in a generation where unbridled inclusivity is seen as holiness and #LoveWins is taken as gospel truth, choosing to stand by a faith that seems to confront just that feels like an increasingly poor PR decision.

For the person who likes being everybody’s best friend, the implications of being a church-going, Bible-believing and therefore “highly religious” individual in this day and age sometimes cuts too close to social suicide for my liking.

THE CHRISTIAN CLOSET

But it’s not what my faith is; it’s just what it looks like to the watching world. I’m not so sure they’re getting the right idea of what I even believe in. Why is it getting harder to say I’m Christian? Why does it feel like I’m in some sort of Christian closet?

The conversation surrounding the faith and every agenda it gets caught up in has become such a high voltage zone for controversy that it makes even the best of us think twice before speaking up – coming out Christian.

Contrary to popular belief, my faith isn’t a bunch of do’s and don’ts, can’s and cannot’s.

If I say I’m Christian today, others read in that statement a billboard of messages I wasn’t personally intending to broadcast, but which have become so frustratingly and intricately tied to the one I do believe in: The message of the Gospel centred around Jesus Christ.

Because, contrary to popular belief, my faith isn’t a bunch of do’s and don’ts, can’s and cannot’s.

Our faith is a Person.

It is this Person, Jesus Christ, who compels me to come out of hiding, as He did, arms outstretched on that wretched Cross for the salvation of the whole world – from the left to the right and all those in the middle. He died for all (2 Corinthians 5:15).

It is His message of truth and grace that I wear and so desperately hope the rest of the world can see. And this is how I understand it:

JESUS’ MESSAGE OF TRUTH AND GRACE

1. The Gospel of Christ is offensive, but the people of Christ shouldn’t be

I didn’t come to abolish the Law, Jesus famously said (Matthew 5:17). I have not come to abolish it but to fulfil it. It’s not party time, people. The rules still stand. The still-standing truth is that, sin – or anything that falls short of the standards of the Law – is offensive to God (Habakkuk 1:13).

Not the most PC thing to hear, I know.

But what this means is no one has the right to demand or claim holiness except for the only sinless one, Jesus Christ (John 8:7). Through Him we are saved from eternal separation from God because of our sin. Through us others have a chance of meeting the Jesus who saved the woman caught in adultery from being stoned – but also told her to “go and sin no more” (John 8:11).

2. There is no us-vs-you, Jesus came for one and all

Being committed to the Truth of God’s Word is not a badge of honour that says I’m holier than thou. Rather, it is a symbol of humility in the face of a Gospel that points out the failure of every man to reach the absolute purity – sinlessness – needed to stand before a Holy God (2 Corinthians 5:21).

I have not come to call the righteous, Jesus told those who disapproved of his mingling with the non-religious, the “sinners” of His day (Luke 5:30). I have come to call sinners to repentance. What He was really saying: That means all of you. No one can be right before God on their own know-how, without Jesus. That’s why everyone is invited: Because everyone has failed. But everyone is loved.

3. Come as you are, but don’t expect to leave as you are

It is this divine love that both comforts and confronts each one who walks into the arms of Jesus. The same love that does not discriminate is the love that cannot leave the one it holds unchanged for the better, to be more like Christ rather than our old selves (Ephesians 4:22-24).

Jesus’ love is a transformative love, refining every single one of us to be holy as God is holy (1 Peter 1:16). Max Lucado gives a brilliant analogy of this in his book, Just Like Jesus:

When my daughter was a toddler, I used to take her to a park not far from our apartment. One day as she was playing in a sandbox, an ice-cream salesman approached us. I purchased her a treat, and when I turned to give it to her, I saw her mouth was full of sand. Where I had intended to put a delicacy, she had put dirt.

Did I love her with dirt in her mouth? Absolutely. Was she any less of my daughter with dirt in her mouth? Of course not. Was I going to allow her to keep the dirt in her mouth? No way.

I loved her right where she was, but I refused to leave her there. I carried her over to the water fountain and washed out her mouth. Why? Because I love her.

God does the same for us. He holds us over the fountain. “Spit out the dirt, honey,” our Father urges. “I’ve got something better for you.”

And so he cleanses us of filth; immorality, dishonesty, prejudice, bitterness, greed. We don’t enjoy the cleansing; sometimes we even opt for the dirt over the ice cream. “I can eat dirt if I want to!” we pout and proclaim.

Which is true – we can. But if we do, the loss is ours. God has a better offer.

JESUS IS THE BETTER OFFER

For this Person, Jesus Christ, I make the daily decision to live out my Christian faith.

Every day, I choose to come out of the Christian closet, clothed in compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, patience and forgiveness (Colossians 3:12-13) – ready to tell anyone who asks why I’m living the way I do with the utmost courtesy (1 Peter 3:15).

For this Person, Jesus Christ, I make the daily decision to live out my Christian faith.

Every day, I choose to wear the love of Jesus Christ – my basic, all-purpose garment of salvation (Colossians 3:14). Because without it, I am nothing (1 Corinthians 13:2).

I choose to come out Christian – because I am all in.

/ joanne@thir.st

Joanne is a bundle of creative energy commonly heard before she is seen. She believes in the triune power of good conversation, brilliant writing and bold ideas. She also likes milo.

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THIR.ST TALKS: Our favourite dads dish the dirt on you

by | 16 June 2017, 3:42 PM

Everybody’s best friend or man of a few words, your father probably always had a good story to tell. Thir.st pulled up a chair and sat down with four of our favourite fathers – Uncle Jeffrey, 70, Uncle Yap, 82, Uncle Daniel, 63, and Uncle James, 58. Between them, they’ve got more than 130 years of fathering experience.

Smiling faces with wrinkles that tell their own stories and eyes twinkling at the mention of their children, the four dads regaled us with tales from fatherhood – from how they named their children to their fondest memories with them.

“I CHANGED ALL THEIR DIAPERS”

Uncle Yap, 82, is a proud father of 3 children.

“My children were very close to me since they were born,” Uncle Yap shared, glowing with pride. “I always helped to change their diapers, cleaned up after them, made sure they were showered … They knew I loved them very much.”

His wife chimes in from behind the camera, where she is sitting: “When our first son was born, he went straight to the nursery to fawn over him – he didn’t even visit me until much later!”

“I BOUGHT MY DAUGHTER THE BIGGEST LOLLIPOP EVER”

Uncle Jeffrey, 70, recounts his fondest fatherhood memories.

But, for others, the fathering instinct took some time to refine.

“I remember there was once, when Charmaine was young, my wife told me to take her out as she was busy with housework,” Uncle Jeff said. “So I did – and I bought her the biggest lollipop I had ever seen. It was as big as her face!”

He breaks into hearty laughter at the memory.

“You can imagine the look of horror on my wife’s face when we returned home. Charmaine took a week to finish that lollipop. Every time she licked it I got a scolding. But I thought it would make her happy, which is why I bought it.”

“I HAD TO GIVE UP GOLF FOR MY KIDS”

Uncle James, 58, shares his lessons as a dad of 28 years.

Uncle James had a similar story.

“There was one night my eldest daughter, Claudia, had a very high temperature. She was only 2 years old and was admitted to the hospital for fits. I actually had arranged a game of golf with my friends for the next day some weeks back and not wanting to cancel on them, I went for the game after visiting her in the morning.

“I didn’t realise how serious it was and my wife was fuming mad. I still regret putting my friends ahead of my daughter then.”

But the lesson was quickly learnt.

“As a dad, you’re a dad for life. I think no father stops learning,” he continued. “You learn that with kids, your own life with your friends has to take the backseat. You have to support your wife because it is also her first time being a parent.”

He smiles when we ask him what happened to the golf.

“The golf took a backseat for a while. But now that the children have grown up, the whole family plays together.”

Uncle James and his family at the golf course.

Likewise, the other fathers have found their own way of connecting with their children.

Music was Uncle Yap’s way of bonding with his three kids from an early age.

“I’ve always loved music and can play many instruments such as the flute, piano, accordion and harmonica. So when my kids were in Primary school, I bought them the instruments they asked for. If they wanted a piano, I bought a piano. If they were interested in the guitar or violin, I bought those too.”

“I PULLED ALL-NIGHTERS AT STARBUCKS FOR MY GIRLS”

Uncle Daniel, 63, is a father of 3 and grandfather of 1.

For Uncle Daniel, it was sacrificing some sleep just to be with his daughters as they studied.

“There were times when my daughters, Rachel and Caron, would spend the whole night studying at Starbucks. As much as I could, I would sit there with them, watching over them.”

He chuckles fondly. “That’s crazy, I know. I should have been in bed sleeping. But I wanted to keep them company.”

CAMPING IN THE COURTYARD

Uncle Jeff and his family in the early days.

Uncle Daniel wasn’t the only father to go the distance for his children. Uncle Jeff, who served in the Army as a Major, recalled the extra “outfield exercise” he went through as a dad.

“I actually pitched a tent in the courtyard of the condominium we were staying at and camped outside with the children. I brought home some of my army rations so they could experience cooking and eating outdoors. It was really fun and my kids still talk about it.”

Going the extra mile also meant choosing not to get angry when children made innocent mistakes.

“My second daughter Kristie was 2 years old when we moved into our new house,” Uncle James shared. “We had a new leather sofa and it was light brown in colour. When my wife and I left her alone in the living room to play, she somehow found a pen and started drawing all over it. I came back and found three-quarters of the sofa covered in ink marks.

“Of course, I was so angry and wanted to punish her.”

Uncle James with his 3 children, Claudia, Kristie and Gregory.

“But something prompted me to put myself in her shoes at that moment. It was the first time she’d held a pen and seen what it could do when you used it. To see ink coming out of a pen, it would have fascinated any child.”

“I brought myself down to the level of my child and although it took a bit of effort, my wife and I chose to have a good laugh over it and corrected her gently. And we left the sofa as it was.”

“It’s all about unconditional love – sacrificial love. As long as you have unconditional love, things will work out.”

It’s an answer that catches us by surprise. Seeing the look on our faces, Uncle James smiles slightly and admits his own surprise at himself.

“As a father, I’ve been surprised by the strength that I have. We tend to forget that fathers are also husbands, employers, employees and sons. You have to be a strong pillar and provider. You need a lot of energy. I don’t know where I get all this energy from. It must be from God.”

He pauses pensively. For a moment, we see all our fathers in him.

“But at the end of the day, I think it’s all about unconditional love – sacrificial love, whatever you want to call it. As long as you have unconditional love, things will work out.”

To all our beloved fathers out there, Thir.st wishes you a very happy Father’s Day!

/ joanne@thir.st

Joanne is a bundle of creative energy commonly heard before she is seen. She believes in the triune power of good conversation, brilliant writing and bold ideas. She also likes milo.

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What Father’s Day means without Dad

by Matthew Kwok | 15 June 2017, 1:33 PM

“What are you planning to do for your father this year?”

It’s the question I’ve dreaded answering whenever Father’s Day rolls around. I haven’t celebrated it since my dad passed away when I was 10 years old.

It’s not that I’m still distraught over the loss – this happened 11 years ago – though loss will always be loss. It’s the shades of shock and pity that colour their faces once I give away this one detail of my life. I feel like I’ve rained on their Father’s Day parade.

We had no idea, I can almost hear them thinking.

You see, my life looks pretty good from where they stand. I do relatively well in school, serve actively in church and fit well into society. In other words, I appear too normal to have grown up without the presence of a father in my home.

Global reports and statistics have shown that growing up without a father is correlated to a child’s future involvement in criminal activity, entrenchment in poverty or poor academic performance.

This caricature of the fatherless child has only been exacerbated by the media we consume – fatherlessness being a classic backstory of a criminal or wayward teenager. Even fatherhood movements unwittingly contribute to this image at times. And they aren’t entirely wrong.

In many cases, fatherless children do struggle significantly more as they grow up, and this could lead them to make poorer choices. However, I seem to have emerged from my family situation relatively unscathed. One of the greatest reasons: the care and concern shown to me by my church family during that difficult time.

But it was through a relief teacher in my primary school that I encountered the heart of my Heavenly Father in the wake of the loss of my earthly one.

When he discovered that my father passed away, this man went the extra mile to spend time with me, to care for me and to guide me. He demonstrated what it meant to love sacrificially with an authentic love that has the power to touch and change lives.

I still remember that one time he brought a few of us students out for a day of fun. I can’t remember exactly where we went, or what we did. I only know we took a few selfies because he later had these photos developed and left short written notes on the back to encourage me as I studied for my PSLE. I still have them.

Selflessly stepping into the shoes my father left behind, my teacher shaped much of how I view my relationship with God and the amazing love He has for me.

These photos remind me of the power of simple, yet thoughtful gestures that create positive ripples for a person’s lifetime. I want to be a teacher just like him one day.

God knows, God sees, and God provides. Although this man was not part of my church, he availed himself to be used by God to change my life.

He may not fully understand the significant impact that he has made in my life but I am certain that I would not even be half the man that I am today without him. Selflessly stepping into the shoes my father left behind, he shaped much of how I view my relationship with God and the amazing love He has for me.

However, I also know that there are many who experience fatherlessness to a greater degree than I have.

There is a global push for fathers to increasingly be more involved in the lives of their children. Having a close relationship with your father has been linked to greater success in life. But what about people like me, whose earthly fathers are no longer around? Or people whose fathers aren’t physically or emotionally present?

In James 1:27 it is written, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” Pure and undefiled Christianity before God is one whereby Christians go to the fatherless and the widows and to care for them in the midst of their pain.

The Church is supposed to rise up and to champion the cause of the fatherless. 

The Church is not called to wait on their laurels and serve only those who ask for help. The Church is called to go and visit those that are in distress and need help.

For all eternity, God has always been Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Jesus reveals that He was there with God the Father even before the world began (John 17:5). Therefore, even from the very beginning, God was and is a Father and He has a special place in His heart for those without fathers (Exodus 22:21-24).

As A.W. Tozer writes, “The love of God is one of the great realities of the universe, a pillar upon which the hope of the world rests. But it is a personal, intimate thing too. God does not love populations, He loves people. He loves not masses, but men.”

The Church is charged to display God’s glory through our love for one another.

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)

Before we can effectively look outwards to the communities our churches are strategically placed in, we must ensure the fatherless, the widows and the foreigners in the Body of Christ are cared for. They are our responsibility.

God works powerfully through the lives of ordinary men who know His Word and stand ready to obey it. Rather than simply remaining sorry when hearing about someone’s fatherlessness, rise up, heed the call and go to the people that are disadvantaged. In loving God, we must love people – especially those who need it the most – in the personal, intimate way that He loves us.

It is not good enough to open our mouths and pay lip service to this idea of visiting the orphans around us. We must be ready to open our hearts to let them in.

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Honouring #OurFathers with their stories

by Thir.st | 14 June 2017, 5:02 PM

This special Father’s Day video series making its rounds on social media showcases four ordinary men who have opened up on their personal fathering journeys and the struggles they have faced in life. Every story has its own pains and seemingly insurmountable odds.

But the one thing that unites them is their decision to follow the Best Father of all – God, our Heavenly Father. In receiving and reflecting the love of God, they are earthly fathers made extraordinary by God’s enabling grace.

MEET OUR FOUR FATHERS

Father #1: Edgar Soon

Husband.
Father.
Food delivery rider.
Orphaned at 13 years old.
Imprisoned for manslaughter.
Follower of Jesus.

Edgar was convicted of manslaughter and imprisoned for 13 years. Scarred by his past, Edgar never dared to imagine becoming a father. Getting married and even being able to start a family turned his life around.

Anchoring himself in a supportive church community has helped Edgar find the courage to be that responsible dad and husband his family can look up to.

Read Edgar’s full story here.

Father #2: Mark Suredhran

Husband.
Full-time Christian ministry staff.
Had different plans in life.
Became a father at 42 years old.
Follower of Jesus.

Mark was already 42 when he became a father. He initially had other ideas: he did not want to bring a child into this world of pain and suffering as he knew it to be.

Later, when his wife contracted cancer, he had to single-handedly shoulder the heavy responsibility of taking care of his family. Mark learnt what it truly means to ‘die to self’ and how to rise up as a father during difficult times.

Read Mark’s full story here.

Father #3: David Heng

Husband.
Father.
Former Engineer, now a School Counsellor.
Raised by his grandmother.
Parent to a special needs son.
Follower of Jesus.

David has always been in control of his own life until the day his son was diagnosed with cerebral palsy.

Every day was an emotional struggle; having to take care of Nicolas often left David feeling helpless and frustrated. As a father, having a special child was not a place David chose to be in, but a path he intentionally walks together with Nicolas.

Read David’s full story here.

Father #4: Jason Ong

Husband.
Stepfather.
Brain tumor survivor.
Restaurateur and Missions Advocate.
Follower of Jesus.

Jason was diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer and had only six months left to live. His family business had just took off when he was given the death sentence.

Challenged by the limits of time, Jason became determined to live a meaningful life of feeding the poor and underprivileged with his wife and stepdaughter.

Read Jason’s full story here.


#OurFathers is a Cru Singapore initiative to champion fathers in Singapore. It is supported by the local Church and other missional organisations such as YWAM Singapore, OM Singapore and East Asia School of Theology.

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CAMPUS COMBINED: What one night of prayer can do for a generation

by | 13 June 2017, 10:06 AM

Would you be willing to lay down your life for this generation?

It was a call from Heaven that shook up Ivan Tan’s world, right in the middle of his fast track to success as a financial controller of a multinational corporation. At the heart of this divine disruption: To start campus prayer groups in each of Singapore’s universities.

36 years old and leaving almost a decade’s worth of work behind, Ivan took up the challenge with faith and got down to the Father’s business. Five months in, there are now weekly prayer meetings instituted in SIT, SIM, NTU, NUS and SMU – a testament to a larger unity movement that has been sweeping across churches, organisations, institutions and Christians from every corner of Singapore.

Then came the next mission: To gather the campuses – universities, polytechnics, ITEs, secondary schools and junior colleges – for a night of combined prayer that would unite those with a heart for revival in their generation.

Again, Ivan obeyed and Campus Combined was conceived.

He didn’t know who would show up after sending out a simple message through his network but as night fell on 12 June 2017, people started streaming into Hinghwa Methodist Church in uniforms and officewear alike.

Divided into secondary schools, JCs/polytechnics and universities, with parents and other working adults scattered in various groups, over 100 students stood together in prayer for themselves, their schoolmates and campuses.

Among some of the things prayed for: that students would believe that God can use them as salt and light regardless of age; for restoration of parent-child relationships, and for those graduating to be a countercultural force amidst the life transition.

“God is raising a nameless and faceless generation that’s willing to pay the price for revival, even if it doesn’t come through them,” Matthew Yong, 30, shared during his prayer segment. He is involved with youth and young adult movements in various campuses.

“It’s non-denominational and intergenerational – we’re moving back to a time where it’s no longer about how we worship but Who we worship.”

Towards the end of the night, those under 35 were asked to step out of the pews to be prayed over by the older Christians in the room.

“We declare that young people will not be the problem but the solution,” John Ng, a chemistry teacher, said to a rousing applause. “We will be the ones on our knees. We will say here I am Lord, send me. Reserve me for Your purpose.”

And true enough, almost everyone was on their knees as we prayed in unison, both the young and old.

“When revival breaks out, let no man be able to lay claim of it. Let the glory be all Yours.”

 

View more photos from Campus Combined here.


If you’re passionate about standing in the gap for the younger generation, there is a prayer session every 4th Saturday of the month happening at Kum Yan Methodist Church, from 6:30am-8:30am.

/ joanne@thir.st

Joanne is a bundle of creative energy commonly heard before she is seen. She believes in the triune power of good conversation, brilliant writing and bold ideas. She also likes milo.

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How not to lose your joy

by Alex Park | 7 June 2017, 5:14 PM

Look around. Look at the faces of people around you. On the streets. On the MRT. In your church. You’ll see it everywhere: So many people have been robbed of their joy.

“It is a Christian duty for everyone to be as joyful as they can be,” said C S Lewis. And so, as a Christian, I took this call to reflection to heart; I began to look into my own life. Has my life so far reflected His joy? Would other non-believers want to follow Jesus after seeing the life I lead?

Too many times, we Christians, we’re fighting, driving, striving. We feel like we need to overcome this hurdle, push through that season or fight a battle. Amid all that we sometimes forget about the joys of walking with Jesus.

We all know that in the Bible, Jesus says that “my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30). But come on God, can that really be true for my life too?

Well, yes.

Has my life so far reflected His joy? Would other non-believers want to follow Jesus after seeing the life I lead?

His joy can strengthen you (Nehemiah 8:10), and it was joy that Jesus held onto to complete His mission on earth (Hebrews 12:2). This joy is meant for us, too.

Note that this joy is not the same as happiness. Happiness is dependent on our circumstances – joy is not. That’s because it’s in Jesus, and He is steadfast, unchanging, forever the same.

Because this joy is so closely tied to our walk with Jesus, because this joy is meant to be our strength to get us through the trials and tough times, we need to realise that the evil one will do everything he can to take it from us – to steal our joy. Don’t let him. Here’s some handles on how to guard your joy.

3 STEPS TO HELP YOU GUARD YOUR JOY

1. BE IN AWE

A child is always learning, always impressed, always curious and always amazed. That is what we must become: Childlike. As Jesus said, whoever takes the lowly position of a child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:4).

If you feel like you have been robbed of your joy from doing ministry, you have to fall back in love with Jesus again – to rediscover your childlike wonder in your wonderful Saviour. Go back to that first love, when you were moved and compelled by His compassion.

His love is immense, vast beyond imagination. When we grasp that, we will know that everything we do is merely a response to His love and His grace. A place where we are so in awe of Him that it is manifested in the worshipship service that is a life lived for Him.

2. BE GRATEFUL

It says in Isaiah 61:3 to put on a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair, or heaviness. Honestly, it’s easier said than done. But being grateful is fundamental to joy. Being grateful is not trying to convince/psycho yourself that you’re happy, but rather choosing to focus on what He has done in your life – be it your school, workplace, church, home, family, friends.

Jesus died for us so we “may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance” (John 10:10, Amplified version). So you don’t have to try to create/make up joy in yourself – it is there. You just have to put it on – put on the garment of praise.

3. BE REAL

As we serve God and His church, sometimes we hide the side of us that we don’t want people to see. The suffering or sin that you’re going through. The accumulation of unheard cries and lonely nights have made you numb and robbed you of your joy. Although you fight to stay faithful in serving His people, this double life may have caused you to lose your joy.

But God is a master at restoring broken lives; He craves for us to surrender our broken pieces to Him (Psalms 51:16-17). Out of the brokenness pours forth love. Vulnerability is powerful when in the hands of God.

Be in awe. Be grateful. Be real. Keep these in mind the next time the devil tries to discourage you. The enemy can’t rob you of your joy, it is yours, given by God. The evil one can only try to fool you into letting go of it.

If you have been one of the joy-bringers, thank you for what you are doing. That at the cost of your temporal “joy”, God was able to bring His eternal, matchless, abundant joy to others through you.

If you feel that you have lost your joy, you don’t have to drop everything. In the words of Joyce Meyer, “the rest of God is not a rest from work — it’s a rest in work. It’s partnering with God to do what He is calling you to do by His grace, and leaving the part you can’t do in His hands, trusting Him to do it.”

Hold on to Jesus. Hold on to your joy.

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I thought I knew love, until it almost destroyed me

by Darrell Tan | 5 June 2017, 3:29 PM

I love people. From a young age, I poured my life and heart onto others, especially the boys I was leading in church.

As their mentor and older brother, I tutored them, played sports and music with them, and hung out with them late into the night before I would head home on the last bus.

Parents would call me concerning their child at odd hours. As soon as I could, I would jump into a cab and be there to save the day. I was barely older than them but the youths were usually willing to listen. Most of the time, they responded positively to the advice I doled out.

You could say I was a hero in their eyes – and mine.

I didn’t realise it then, but this was the start of a dangerous saviour complex that would slowly cripple me in my adulthood.

When I became a secondary school teacher, I loved the students in my form class. They were an awesome bunch. Because of these kids, I found so much meaning in my work and would stay back in school till late to help them prepare for their O-levels.

Some days, after class, a few of my students would jump into my car and we would head to East Coast Park. They would relax at the beach for an hour, wash up and then study at Carl’s Junior till their parents picked them up. I adored them and felt loved in return.

Whether at church or in school, I was all in. To me, being a mentor to young people was what God called me to do – so I did it with every ounce of energy in me. That’s what youth pastors or leaders are meant to do, no?

But deep within, a dark problem was brewing. In my head I was serving God – but the truth was that God was nowhere to be found.

Because I was god.

Photo: 3:16 Church / RY

My passion for nurturing youth sounded great on the surface, where no one could see how self-serving I really was. The admiring responses of all those around me made me feel like I was living a worthy existence. Loving these youngsters made me feel loved.

And on the flip side, when I felt like I wasn’t loving someone well, I felt like life wasn’t quite worth living. Looking back, I should have seen the signs.

I found myself closely monitoring those I taught or mentored through social media, just to make sure they were doing alright. I spoke with them often to ensure that I knew everything about them and could keep them from falling into trouble.

When I felt like I wasn’t loving someone well, I felt like life wasn’t quite worth living. Looking back, I should have seen the signs.

If I found out they had kept something from me, I felt betrayed. Like I no longer had control over them. I told myself this was love. But was it?

Whenever someone I cared for went wayward or lost touch with me, my heart shattered and I found myself fending off bouts of depression.

Did I not do enough? Didn’t I love him enough? Wasn’t love supposed to make him turn out fine?

In my anguish, I busied myself with caring for other people instead; it always made me feel better. This vicious cycle went on for more than 12 years.

About two years ago, I had a falling-out with one of the youth I mentored in church. In my genuine care and concern for his life, I had become overly protective, controlling and simply overbearing.

I was the typical helicopter parent, without even being his parent.

Needless to say, he pushed me away. I instinctively tried to rectify the situation, only to make it worse. It was a disaster. Eventually, his mum took the whole family and they left church altogether.

My world fell apart.

I remember lying in my bed in the wee hours of the night, tears streaming down my face. I woke up every morning with a weight on my chest, making it hard to breathe.

I felt like a complete failure.

He comes to us when we finally desire to be loved by Him, not when we’re obsessed with trying to be loved by the world.

Suicide was a serious consideration and I felt frequent impulses to jump off my balcony or consume the sleeping pills in my side drawer. I was a wreck. And I was so angry with God.

“Didn’t You call me to reach out to him? Wasn’t it You who made our paths cross? Wasn’t I just doing Your will to care for Your sheep? Why would You do this to me?”

People struggled to understand my predicament. They couldn’t understand why I was so down over a youth. They told me not to overreact and just move on.

Their advice caused me to sink deeper into the despair of what had happened and I would drive home on the highway at dangerous speeds, enraged. In the dead of the night, to numb my pain, I turned to pornography. But it only left me feeling emptier than ever.

It was at this lowest, most broken point of my life that I encountered God in ways I had never experienced before – through people I hardly knew.

The recovery process was miraculous, though not immediate. One Sunday, I sat through a sermon on the power and destiny of names. At the altar call, the Spirit whispered a question into my soul.

“Darrell, do you know what your name means?”

The answer arose from within.

“Beloved.”

My knees buckled and I crumbled to the ground, sobbing uncontrollably. Perspiration soaked my shirt through. Completely overwhelmed by a myriad of emotions I couldn’t make sense of, the world around me came to a standstill.

All along, I was looking for love in loving others. But all along, the answer was in my name.

“Be-loved.”

As I knelt there with my head bowed low, I felt God’s love filling every corner of my being. I knew that in that moment, the dead bones in me were raised to life (Ezekiel 37:4-10). And the God-encounters didn’t stop there.

He comes to us when we finally desire to be loved by Him, not when we’re obsessed with trying to be loved by the world.

Photo: 3:16 Church / Tay Yi En

Since that day, I find myself in the school of life – a student all over again, sitting at the feet of Jesus, learning from the Holy Spirit what it means to love. I used to think I knew love, but I’ve realised that love is much more than just meaningful words or noble actions.

Love is more than you and me “being there for someone”. Perhaps sometimes, loving someone even means letting them learn important lessons on their own.

Loving is not by might, nor by power, but by the Spirit (Zechariah 4:6).

It’s almost impossible to love as Christ loves if we have no idea what it’s like to be loved by God. So perhaps that is where many of us need to start, or return to, so we can start afresh. To let ourselves be loved.

I hold a piece of advice from a dear sister close to my heart and utter this prayer whenever I spend long hours with a troubled young person:

“God, connect His heart to yours, not mine. Connect my heart to Yours, not his.”

With the redeeming love and encouragement of many, I’ve found the courage to mentor young people again and even lead a campus ministry.

I no longer find love in loving others, because I’ve found Love Himself.


Darrell currently leads the Campus Ministry at 3:16 Church and is an educational consultant who trains teachers and mentors students. He is an advocate for emotional honesty among young men.

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by Jonathan Cho | 5 June 2017, 2:39 PM

A long time ago, when I first became a Christian, I learnt that Christ died for my sins – that He had forgiven me for every wrong thing I had done against Him in the past. Christ’s love was greater than my sin.

Recently, I was brought to a point of realisation that I am a far greater sinner than I once thought I was – a lot less patient, humble, and selfless than I thought I was.

You’d think, logically speaking, that this realisation should make me feel glad, or relief even, that I had gotten a good deal in receiving the forgiveness of God. Its almost as if someone had paid for my dinner, and I found out that the meal was more expensive than I had originally thought it to be.

But the soul isn’t always logical. Instead, becoming more aware of the depth of my sinfulness has made me feel overwhelmingly less deserving of God’s forgiveness. Deep inside, I wondered if I had perhaps exceeded the “cap” on the amount of sin for which I could be forgiven.

The accuser stirred up the self-condemnation in me. I somehow started to think that the love and grace of Jesus Christ could only extend to the depth of my sin at the point when I first received His forgiveness – and that everything beyond this “initial level of sin” is unsalvageable.

Jesus died for all my sins, that He paid the price for all my iniquity, and that process is finished. Whether I believe it or not.

So instead of living in the freedom of grace, I found myself struggling with how wretched I really am.

And this thought kept digging a deeper pit for me. Why were these new, darker thoughts surfacing in my heart? Had I really been changed by the grace of God? I started to believe more and more that I was a horrible Christian who had “failed” God and was undeserving of His love.

At worship in Church, I found it hard to sing the words that spoke of God’s love for me. I felt like I had let that love down. I felt as if I had turned my back on the grace given to me, by the way I lived my life and the mistakes I’ve made, even after becoming a child of God.

Then, it hit me.

When Christ died for me, He knew all this would happen. He knew the sort of man I was and would become. He knew the deepest and most wretched parts of my heart – and yet He loved me the same and took up that Cross.

Jesus died for all my sins, that He paid the price for all my iniquity, and that process is finished. Whether I believe it or not.

The extent of God’s love is not tested again each time we sin. There is no need for us to continue asking Him, “Lord, do you still love me now that I’ve done this?” I imagine His answer would be that He has loved us at the same level from start to end; at the same intensity since the beginning of time, when He was already aware of the depths of our sinfulness – way before we were.

Grasping the full weight of grace can frighten us more than it encourages us because we suddenly seem to lose all control over our self-salvation projects.

But grace is irrational. The beauty of grace is that it makes life not fair. And so every moment of self-revelation towards the extent of my wretchedness, is accompanied by a revelation of the extent of God’s love for me.

Knowing and understanding this has also freed me. Who am I to limit God’s love and grace to me, by my limited understanding of what that grace was given to cover? God’s love is far greater than I could ever try to grasp.

As I finally start to understand what that really means, I can feel my heart being opened to the love of God again.

My problem was that I was focused on my sin. Seeing the size of my sin had caused me to guard myself against His love. But God used that to show me just how magnificent His love really is, and how abundant His grace is.

Grace is irrational. The beauty of grace is that it makes life not fair.

I don’t want to be like Adam, who went into hiding when He sinned against God. Instead, I want to be like David, who sought God and poured out His heart in a desperate and repentant cry to His King, in Psalm 51:11-12. “Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.”

What an amazing Gospel to hear; what an amazing God to fear.

“Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven — as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” (Luke 7:47)

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Ever felt like a foreigner in your own country?

by Lynn Chia | 1 June 2017, 1:05 PM

I’m sure that many of those who are reading this article now attend Singaporean churches, where everyone speaks Singlish or some variant of Standard Singaporean English.

But where I worship, language barriers often feel like the strongest obstacle against serving with a joyful heart. In my church, I’m the only Singaporean-Chinese. Everyone else is Korean.

The church was set up for Koreans in Singapore looking for a close-knit community where language wasn’t a barrier for them. Naturally, most of them slip in and out of their mother tongue during worship rehearsals, in our private group chats or even face-to-face.

But though I now understand a decent level of conversational Korean, many forget that as much as I want to assimilate, I’m not Korean.

Many of my friends ask me why I choose to serve where I often feel like a foreigner in my own country. After all, they say, this church wasn’t exactly meant to serve Singaporeans.

I didn’t choose this ministry – God chose it for me, and me for it. He placed a burden in my heart to minister to the people around me. They just happened to be Korean.

Still, the first few months here were incredibly difficult. As much as I tried to focus on the ministry at hand, it was stressful to pretend that I wasn’t bothered by everyone else speaking Korean around me. Church is often seen as a place of refuge and comfort, but mine was an isolating experience. I felt excluded in everything.

I interpreted my struggles as testing phase. Maybe God was teaching me something.

Then it dawned upon me, how I felt I was being treated by the Koreans held a mirror up to my own life. I realised that I’d been committing the same crimes of exclusion.

I speak English, Mandarin, Hokkien and Cantonese fluently, and sometimes interject my conversations with Chinese phrases. It was simply what I was used to: Effectiveness and familiarity. But I was completely unaware doing so automatically excluded the non-Chinese speakers around me.

I took majority privilege for granted, assuming this is everyone’s default mode of communication.

Having to serve as a minority – a rarity for a Singaporean Chinese in Singapore – taught me how “majority privilege” is viewed by those on the receiving end.

It wasn’t just walking in the shoes of a minority group for a day that opened my eyes. It was living, feeling, breathing and understanding the effects of exclusion first-hand, in the place of inclusion. Where I was excluded, I couldn’t experience healing, restoration and support.

One day we will literally worship Him in one tongue, one voice. Meanwhile, we are still One in Christ.

But in the turmoil of cognitive dissonance, Jesus drew my eyes to Him. In my loneliness, He revealed to me my insecurity and need for approval from people. He reminded me that instead of seeking a “home” on earth, my citizenship is in Heaven, and that should be my only focus.

The Apostle Paul had written to the church of Galatia, saying: “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).

In God’s eyes I’m sure there is no such thing as a Korean church, or an Indian church or an English church or a Chinese church – there is only His church, not bound by the tongue, cultural norms, socio-economical status or denomination.

One day we will literally worship Him in one tongue, one voice. Meanwhile we are still One in Christ: Our common denominator being our unity in our diversity. Unique and different as we are, in Him we all live, move and have our being.

It’s the difference between the Pentecostal tongues of Acts 2:6-7 and the babble of Babel in Genesis 11:6-9. Language and culture were made to reveal the beauty and glory of Jesus in diversity, not to a tool of manipulation, oppression or imperialism.

The differences are not cause for division, but reminders to be sensitive and compassionate in dealing with people different from us.


Cover image courtesy of Abigail Ng.

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I tried to save my best friend’s life; but everything fell apart

by Ashley Chan | 30 May 2017, 12:15 PM

It was the third week of January, 2015 – my first year of university.

I received a phone call. The voice said my best friend was in hospital. He’d met with a road accident and was fighting for his life. I didn’t believe it though – my friend had always joked that he’d die young. Without much thought I headed over.

When I arrived, the atmosphere was solemn. His red-eyed mum was slumped against the wall, on her knees. His dad held her, as the rest of the family stood with heads down.

I was directed into the emergency ward. The doctors had resuscitated him. He just left the operation theatre and the next 72 hours were critical.

I stared from behind the glass. His friend turned to me, smiling weakly, “It’s not a joke this time…” He looked down, and back at me. “Go in. I’m sure he would’ve wanted you here.”

I went in and was completely shaken. The motorcycle accident had disfigured his face beyond recognition. His skull was fractured and he’d suffered a stroke on the right side. Eyes barely open, the left side of his face was swollen, bruised and purple. Bandages tried in vain to contain gaping wounds.

I tried to pray, but didn’t have the words. I just cried, begged, “He isn’t a believer yet. Jesus please don’t take him. Please.”

It was painful to believe that God can take anyone, at any time.

It was painful to know that His sovereignty allows the death of the ones closest to us.

That was perhaps the longest night of my life.

The arduous 72 hours passed and his heart rate and blood pressure stabilised. Thank God!

Then the routine started: His parents came after work to check up on him while bringing food and drinks for visiting friends. His grandparents took turns to help. They knelt beside his bed, whispering prayers while tenderly wiping his face, arms and feet.

Wanting to help, I stopped attending lessons in school to become my friend’s round-the-clock caretaker.

When he came to, the effects of brain trauma grew apparent. Memory and psychomotor function were severely compromised. The right side of his body was paralysed neck-down. His memory flickered back in spurts, reminding him of the utter helplessness of his condition. His pent-up frustration was only aggravated by the concern of others.

His outbursts were, doctors said, the result of the damaged pre-frontal cortex – that was where complex cognitive behaviour, personality expression, decision making, and will to live were processed. Reparative surgery, however, was too risky. We’d have to be patient and lend him strength to recover on its own.

According to doctors, it was a miracle for him to survive the accident and regain consciousness within two weeks. Most patients remain in a vegetative, comatose state for a few months.

Wow. But I struggled to count any blessings.

I remember how athletic he was before. The exasperation must’ve been insane.

He would try to stand on his bed and fall over, “to leave the enemy camp”. His caring parents would bear the brunt of his tantrums and curses.

Lost in anger, he wouldn’t eat or sleep. He was disoriented and confused. I wonder if he even knew why he was in hospital.

His nicotine cravings came back – his parents didn’t know he smoked. The withdrawal symptoms and constant presence of others only served to magnify his frustration.

Once, after a nurse made her rounds for his ward, he grabbed my hand and whispered, “Take me to the rooftop. After I die, this will all reset. I won’t be handicapped. This is all a dream. The enemy just wants to mess with my mind. After I jump, it will return to how it was.”

He trusted me with his suicide. I knew we still shared a connection but the resolve in his eyes broke me. I couldn’t even chastise him because his reality was distorted by the head trauma.

A few feet away, his family was preparing healthy snacks for him since he detested hospital food. I could only try to distract him from these thoughts, hoping he’d forget eventually.

The season took a heavy toll on me. My exams were due in a few weeks, and I was too emotionally drained to think of anything other than my injured friend, whose life hung on the thinnest thread conceivable. I tried in vain to study. GPA was the least of my concerns. The endless concerns barricaded my mind.

I didn’t know how to comfort him. He didn’t even think I was real! Sometimes I’d be the enemy. Sometimes I’d be his confidante. But nothing I said seemed to get through. I cried out to God.

Taking care of him was like an abyssal void that resisted its own restoration. Worse still, it sucked me in. To numb the pain, I turned to smoking and drinking. I occasionally found myself woken up abruptly by choking on my vomit in my room on campus. The migraines started.

Every day, I’d casually pop a few Panadols before heading down to the hospital. It wasn’t like painkillers and cigarettes could soothe my pain, I just needed their placebo to calm down before I saw him from 7am to 11pm.

The emotional blackmail was unbearable. “No, if you’re my friend. you’d help me. Just go away if you won’t help,” he’d say.

Despite abandoning prayer by then, God pursued me. I’d been socially isolated and popping painkillers in school when some university friends contacted me. They’d noticed I hadn’t been attending any classes and were concerned.

In that moment as I spilled the truth of the matter to them, light came rushing in and shone on the dark places of my heart.

I realised that my saviour complex had revealed my distrust in God. I was selfish and impatient. In playing god to my friend, I was hindering God’s grace. I’m only human, how could I strive to be everything to my friend?

There is already One loves him more than I could ever do. Painfully, I decided to surrender the entire situation to God. Though my questions persisted, my priority became how I could align my thoughts, behaviour and attitude to loving Him.

I learnt that loving people didn’t mean suffering deeply with them despite being exhausted and completely drained of life. Instead it meant being fully present, ready to love others as I love myself. God assured me that this was only possible when I sought God first, above all things. I surrendered my heart completely to Him, in all its broken pieces.

I fixed my eyes on Him and He helped me see.

First, joy: I learnt to glory in sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope (Romans 5:3-5).

My friend completely changed. His diligence and perseverance rendered the physiotherapy highly successful. Soon enough he was back on his feet.

Jesus desires more than just our physical healing; he desires to restore us to wholeness, starting from within.

Over time, he progressed beyond the need for rehabilitative training to perform day-to-day tasks. By grace, he’s even been restored to his athletic state. Though the right side of his body remains slightly weakened, he now participates in numerous competitive sports in university. Nobody would’ve guessed what he’s been through.

Holding on to Jesus’ unwavering hope has sustained and strengthened me greatly. If you have a loved one who is suffering or in a demanding situation right now, know that the Jesus desires more than just our physical healing. He desires to restore us to wholeness, starting from within.

His death didn’t just give us life, but life abundant – through pain, struggle and death. For from Him, through Him, and for Him are all things. We find life, from now to eternity, through Him alone.

If you’ve lost all hope, look to Him and He’ll help you see.

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I am a Pastor’s Kid: The work that took my dad away

by Andreia Ko | 30 May 2017, 11:57 AM

My father pastored a family church for many years before he was made the chairman of the Singapore Centre for Global Missions (SCGM) to lead the local conversation on mission work. His ministry was mostly based in Singapore, except for the occasional mission trips he made throughout the year.

Growing up in a “holy” environment with a father like that made us the picture-perfect Christian family. Saints for parents. Angels for children. No problems, always peaceful.

But it was resentment instead of pride that grew with the constant distance between my father and I – the bitterness at the thousands of miles that separated us often expressed in tears of longing to be daddy’s girl once again. Dad was no longer a constant figure in my life as he wasn’t always there.

And when he finally was, it was as if we spoke different languages neither of us could understand. Was this man really my father? I started pushing him away and blocking him out. I saw how lonely my mother was whenever he left and decided I couldn’t quite trust him anymore.

The many “welcome back” cards I used to make for him as a child gradually decreased as his absence soon became a part of my life.

WHOSE FATHER IS THIS?

My mother became the head of the household. She was the “emergency parent to contact” since it was hard to tell if my father would be in town.

My relationship with him continued to sour into my teenage years as we struggled to relate to one another – and also as I simply stopped trying. I was angry with him for not attending my dance performances and hurt with a sense of negligence. My adolescent insecurity was further heightened in a home with a sporadically missing dad.

And then there were the financial grievances that followed a missionary’s life. I was angry with God for choosing my father to go down this road of missions, his life affecting the bulk of mine. Estranged relationship aside, there was also a part of me that experienced a sense of inadequacy.

How was I a princess of the Most High King and yet living like a pauper?

I helplessly watched the downgrading of my father’s mode of transport from a 7-seater car to a bicycle that was given to him. Knowing that his source of income came from funds raised for his company was not exactly comforting either.

It was impossible not to compare myself with friends who dressed in designer brands from top to toe, no matter how much I tried to convince myself to “live simply, so others can simply live.” Whenever my parents told me money was not a concern, I would chuckle because deep inside I believed they were lying through their teeth.

Money was always a concern for me. It caused me a painful amount of internal conflict to settle for second best while knowing it was because we couldn’t afford the best.

How was I a princess of the Most High King and yet living like a pauper? It didn’t make sense to me. How was I to live in a world telling us to chase our dreams when I was bogged down every day by worries over my parents’ financial struggles?

Yes, I admired my father and his boldness in taking that step of faith, to forsake his riches and truly live out Matthew 19:21. In following the Lord of his life, Jesus Christ, he possessed little and gave his life to those less fortunate than him.

But it broke my heart to see the sad look on his face whenever he came back from dinners with his fellow Raffles alumni; I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. He could have been a regular businessman given his education – and a successful one at that – providing for his wife and children with ease. Instead, he chose to answer the pressing call to disciple others as he was discipled in his youth.

And the cost of discipleship is never easy.

I AM MY FATHER’S CHILD

Out of curiosity, I followed my father to his mission fields one day, to the mountains of Chiang Mai and the grasslands of Inner Mongolia. To the places that stole him away from me. And as I came face to face with true poverty and the hearts of the local people through their eyes, I finally understood why he kept coming back.

Though the struggle to find peace over my dad’s work continued, things started to change within me. By chance, I got in touch with a fellow missionary’s child, Spencer. He was the son of my father’s colleague at SCGM. Spencer was brought to Nepal from Singapore at 10 months old. His younger siblings were born and raised there.

As I came face to face with true poverty and the hearts of the local people through their eyes, I finally understood why he kept coming back.

After spending 12 years in their parents’ mission field, they were brought back to Singapore, far away from the place they had called home all their lives.

The sudden geographical and cultural shift made it adversely difficult for them to adjust and adapt despite being natively Singaporean. Thrown into this daunting urban city and its equally overwhelming education system with classmates younger than themselves, Spencer and his siblings quickly found themselves lost in their own homeland.

“We struggled to fit in. We were always readjusting ourselves and it was very tiring,” he confided in me.

Suddenly, I wasn’t so alone anymore. 

I saw that being called into full-time mission work requires great sacrifice, a sacrifice that needs to be understood and supported by your loved ones and is not easily communicated.

And as a pastor’s child, I can say with conviction that though the path to answering God’s call may be shaky and slippery at times, He never fails. My family – and Spencer’s – has been blessed and provided for in the most miraculous of ways through the years. That 7-seater my dad used to drive? A blessing from a friend. God is so real.

We ask that you remember us in your prayers in hope that one day, we as missionary children will grasp the wonders of what God is doing through our parents and us – for the glory of His kingdom.

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Stirring Stale Waters: Finding joy in our baptism

by Dev Menon, Zion Bishan Bible Presbyterian Church | 26 May 2017, 7:04 PM

The church service is underway. Congregation’s waiting. The pastor calls out a bunch of names including yours. You stand up and step forward. Questions are asked. Water is poured out… Or maybe you step into a pool.

What’s on your mind?

In the years I’ve been handling my church’s ‘baptism class’, people usually have 4 different responses to the often misunderstood sacrament.

Some think they’re not good enough – they affirm the church’s theology and practices. Some even serve. But baptism would make them feel like a first-rate hypocrite.

Some wonder if their baptism really meant anything. They want round two.

Some think it unnecessary – after all, wasn’t our baptism supposed to be a spiritual one, by the Holy Spirit?

Some just don’t want people touching their babies, or think of it as a archaic, uninspired way to pass time in a church service.

The perceptions, mostly negative, are endless: A reason to hype, a lame excuse to legitimise church fellowship.

It seems the problem many young people have is baptism’s cultural disconnect from all they’re used to. To rediscover that meaning and joy of baptism, let’s trace the steps of one of our most beloved forefathers, Martin Luther.

Even Luther struggled with the meaning of baptism.

In the early church, baptism was seen as the rite of initiation into the Church (the ceremony to join the family of God), where a new believer could be forgiven of all his/her sins and have a new life.

Pre-Reformation, it was taught that baptism worked by cancelling the “original guilt” of sin by literally infusing God’s grace into your soul. Basically, once you were baptised, all your previous sins (up till that point of baptism) would be removed and thus you would be delivered from eternal judgment.

However, any further sins from the point of baptism would be absolved via other means – such as paying penance or asking for confession from a priest, or the afterlife concept of purgatory.

Martin Luther wasn’t very happy with this view – he didn’t think it aligned with Scripture. In 1519, he wrote a little treatise (article) explaining his resolution and describing baptism as a “sign”.

SIGN LANGUAGE

Signs are symbolic rituals conveying deeper truths.

Take a wedding ring for instance. It has some materialistic value, but it’s true worth is in the marriage it signifies. Now the ring itself is not the marriage (so if I lose the ring I don’t lose my marriage). Yet I wouldn’t simply discard or cash-in my wedding ring. My wife wouldn’t be too happy, but that’s not the point.

So it works the same with baptism – it is a sign. It’s not ‘magic water’ as some assume, but it’s important because of what it signifies.

In the Scriptures, baptism is connected to:

  • Repentance & forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4)
  • Deliverance from judgement & destruction (1 Peter 3:20-21)
  • Putting on Christ and putting off the ‘old man’ (Galatians 3:27)
  • Dying & being buried with Christ (Romans 6:3)
  • Becoming part of the Church (Ephesians 4:4-6)
  • Washing away of sins and regeneration (becoming new) (Titus 3:5)

Luther, in his treatise, saw baptism not as water that mysteriously transforms you, but an ‘external sign’ to mark out the people of Christ.

The sign: To be thrust into the water (in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit) and to be drawn out again.

The significance: The old sinner (with his habits and lifestyle) is drowned and a new man arises – not merely a temporary cleansing, but a sign of spiritual resurrection!

It’s our heart’s natural, immediate response to the glorious gospel!

Now that’s worth getting excited about. But let’s go deeper. Why should you care? Why the fuss? Why is it an occasion for song and dance? Why do we gather, celebrate and commemorate it?

Here’s where we bring theology into the personal sphere of your life.

BAPTISM “INTO”

Interestingly, in the New Testament, the preposition after the word “baptism” is almost always ‘into’.

Romans 6:3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death?

1 Corinthians 10:2 and all were baptised into Moses in the cloud and in the sea,

1 Corinthians 12:13a For in one Spirit we were all baptised into one body…

Galatians 3:27 For as many of you as were baptised into Christ have put on Christ.

Even the Great Commission should follow suit (“into” is often found in the footnotes):

Matthew 28:19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

It’s the sign of old being traded for new: Direction, purpose, identity. When we are baptised we leave one way of life for another.

Rejoice because the new is way better!

A SYMBOL OF ADOPTION

You’re no longer part of an old family (the family of sinful men and women that came through Adam). No, you are dead to that old family and ‘alive’ in God’s family – because of what Christ has done on the cross. You’re ‘born again’ into this new family.

Baptism doesn’t cancel all your previous sins (including original sin), but joins you to a holy (sinless) God who loves us with a perfect love that He’d send His begotten Son to take our sins upon Himself.

That means while you are still a wretched sinner, Jesus renders you simultaneously righteous. “Pure and without sin, (yet) wholly guiltless”!

The best thing about the adoption imagery is that it acknowledges the adopted child still retains the old family’s characteristics – yet he/she is legitimately and completely part of the new family, because the adoption paper has been signed.

We are one with God, no matter what.

And with this comes a wonderful promise that God will from this point onwards (baptism) agree to help you deal with the weight of your sin till the day you meet Him face to face.

Luther summarises: “Through my baptism God… has bound Himself in a covenant with me, not to count my sin against me, but to slay it and blot it out”.

Thus baptism invites God to become bound (according to His promise) to help you deal with your sin for the rest of your life, no matter what it takes. And He gladly leads you on.

It’s not just one-off, but the start of the grandest adventure of your life.

Now that, my friend, is worth rejoicing about!


This article is an edited excerpt from Dev Menon’s book, Stirring Stale Waters: How Martin Luther Helps Us Find Joy in Our Baptism. To purchase it, please drop him an email here (dev@zionbishan.org.sg). Dev currently serves as a pastor at Zion Bishan Bible-Presbyterian Church and has ministered to young adults for many years. 

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My battle with bulimia and anorexia

by Ashley Chan | 26 May 2017, 4:31 PM

Time: 3.43AM. Distance covered: 22.7km. Calories burned: 1,743kcalCurrent weight: 52.7kg.

That was how far shame took me.

At 14 years old, I was training to be a national high jumper. My fat percentage was 12.7%. My coach wanted me to get to 11%. I towered over most of my peers at 178cm and weighed 56kg pre-diet.

Each day was a battle; it was a test of surviving on as little as possible until the 24 hours was over.

I would wake up in the middle of the night to do long runs in addition to the regular training sessions I had every week. Six times a week, I was training hard.

I weighed myself after each meal, hoping that the numbers would go down.

Words from my coach rang in my mind each time: “Your advantage is your height. Your biggest disadvantage is your weight. How can you improve your performance when you’re so heavy?”

It was a slap in the face. It was the first time I was made conscious about my weight.

RUNNING FOR MY LIFE

One of those nights that followed, I changed into my jersey and laced up my running shoes despite a sleep-inducing drizzle outside.

How can I still be 53kg? I had stopped eating for 34 hours and 26 minutes! I was enraged at myself and prepared for yet another long run, tucking my cigarettes and caffeine pills into my inner pockets for extra energy along the way. Earlier, I had drunk two diet teas and taken one laxative to get the water and food – whatever was left of it – out of my body.

But this was only the beginning of my destructive journey, fuelled by an obsessive desire to control everything I had, especially food, because I couldn’t control anything else in my life. Everything seemed to be spiralling out of control.

My desire for control became extreme.

Soon, I started cutting the sides of my tummy or thighs with a penknife for each time I overate to remind myself how disgusting I was. My phone was filled with wallpapers of starving models and quotes to motivate me to get thinner.

And whenever I overate, I would force myself to gag and throw up everything. There were days only green bile came out because I had barely eaten anything. I was fighting against my body and metabolism.

There was once I was so ravenous that I waited till my family had gone to sleep before devouring everything that was in sight – fried chicken, cheesecake, yoghurt, ice-cream … whatever I could get my hands on in the kitchen.

I remember feeling so horrible about myself almost immediately that I ran to the toilet to purge those “evils”. I was so ashamed that I stopped eating for the rest of the week to make up for it.

This quest for “perfection” was far from perfect.

I was constantly having stress migraines and my throat burnt each time I threw up.

My weight plateaued at one point and couldn’t drop any lower despite fasting for three to four days with as little water as possible.

My period stopped. For four years.

I was always lethargic from the lack of food but I would lie about having eaten to my family and friends. I found it annoying every time they asked.

I wore baggy clothes to cover my body because I felt so big, even though I had lost a lot of weight.

But I am still disgusting, I would think to myself, pinching the sides of my thighs.

I saw myself as a disciplined, strong athlete, participating in nearly every sport offered. I was even scouted to be in the national team for the heptathlon and rowing because of my build and natural strength.

However, the only thing that kept me from passing out was the temporary adrenaline rush from caffeine pills, black coffee and cigarettes.

I was skin and bones and running myself into the ground.

I could see jutting cheekbones. But it wasn’t enough.

I could see prominent collarbones. But it wasn’t enough.

I could see ribs sticking out. But it wasn’t enough.

I could see my hip bones when I lay down. But it wasn’t enough.

It was never enough.

THE WEIGHT OF BROKENNESS

In junior college, after a sexual assault incident, it dawned on me that my current body wasn’t able to protect me from assaults. I was too weak, too helpless.

It was a much needed wake up call but that incident pushed me to the other extreme, where I’d spend long hours at the gym, trying to ‘bulk up’. I started eating again. Bit by bit and the weight came back. At the peak of my lifting journey, I was lifting over 120kg in deadlifts.

Then I broke the joint between my shin and ankle during a bad fall while playing volleyball. It was just 3 months to the Institute-Varsity-Polytechnic games. In my cast, I was still heading down to the gym to do rehab and workout whatever was not broken.

I looked healthier but I’d never been more broken on the inside. The worthlessness that clung to me when I was starving myself had never left.

People saw my effort as dedication. I saw it as desperation to validate myself for one last time by winning big at the IVP. I intended to stop competing to focus on work.

Since it was my final chance, I sprayed anaesthesia on my barely recovered shin before the competition. I ended up clinching 3rd place. Many of my friends were in awe of my “valiant” attempt, but I knew that it was just a horrible attempt to salvage what probably was the end of my athletic career.

I sunk into depression and stopped eating again. So what if I had gotten physically stronger? I was only strong on the outside. I looked healthier but I’d never been more broken on the inside. The worthlessness that clung to me when I was starving myself had never left.

It was so tiring, the fight to prove myself. It was a never-ending battle.

After years of battling anorexia, bulimia and depression, I finally admitted to myself that I needed help.

Letting go of the control I thought I had over my life was difficult and frustrating but I knew I had to surrender it to God. To believe that His sovereign goodness would steer me in a better direction than any of my efforts ever could.

As Jesus won our eternal victory on the Cross, we will always have hope on our side.

Now at 22, I am still trying.

Each day still feels like a struggle but it’s no longer me trying to insist on my will over His. Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, recovery usually is not a magical one-step prayer. There is no secret formula I can give those who struggle like I do. But as Jesus won our eternal victory on the Cross, we will always have hope on our side.

And thus, I hope. I hope that you – and I – will continue to press on towards full recovery. He gives us grace for every step forward. This is the race we must run.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith … (Hebrews:1-2)

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I kept walking right back to the love that was destroying me

by Ashley Chan | 19 May 2017, 6:26 PM

I am a survivor of sexual and emotional abuse in my childhood.

In my healing process, I’ve realised that while I thought I was unaffected by the repeated sexual assaults, the hurt and repeated abuse had tainted and disfigured my perception of love.

An old Chinese adage goes: “打是疼,骂是爱”. If you hit her, it means you love her. If you scold her, it means you love her. This was often used in the context of elders disciplining the younger generation. But it also contributed to my distorted understanding of intimacy, violence and the pain as the kind of “love” that I felt I deserved.

This mindset was perpetuated by several underlying toxic beliefs that I had about myself:

The belief that sexual assault isn’t a big deal.

When I was 7, I disclosed the sexual abuse to my mother, who had said she didn’t want to hear about it. I remember concluding that if something bad happens to me, it wouldn’t matter. In short, I didn’t matter. Growing up, this would destroy my self-worth.

The belief that I was dirty and utterly corrupt.

The sexual abuse I experienced in my childhood – combined with the words and actions of my parents who refused to believe me – left me with a sense that I had been born inherently filthy and morally corrupt. There were times when I was abused and I felt embarrassed and foolish for complaining about the violence.

The belief that I deserved it.

I’d often hear things like “you make me do this to you”, or “I wouldn’t do this to you if you weren’t so bad”. This perpetuated my belief that I deserved what I got, whether it was rape or assault.

The belief that love involves pain.

As I grew older, love was always associated with abuse. At 18, I was sexually abused by a close friend, who told me how special and beautiful I was to him. If I objected to the abuse, he threatened not to love me anymore.

At that time, I was so affection-starved that while I didn’t want the abuse – no one does – I wanted to be loved and I had only ever received love from destructive sources. I simply didn’t see any other options.

Because I returned to this violent relationship again and again, I was branded as “sick” and “masochistic” by psychiatrists who I told about the relationship. What many don’t understand is that such repeated trauma may lead to a debilitating ability to care and fend for yourself in a way others might think of as “common sense”.

I fantasised about alternative, more ideal forms of love. But what I believed by then was that for someone as undeserving as I was, true love was wishful thinking. I was taught that I was beyond the pale of the tender, safe, genuine love I desperately craved. If my loved ones could not love me, who else could I expect to love me?

I didn’t know what else love could look like. How can you recite a beautiful poem you’ve never learned?

It was knowing True Love that begun the restorative work in my life. It was nurturing, all-encompassing, fail-proof love that cast out all fear in my heart.

It is still a real, uphill battle for me to accept love and to love others like Jesus.

But I now know that my value lies in my Father. I know that I deserve to be safe. I know that I didn’t deserve to be raped or abused.

These scars, physical and emotional, now bear testament of His grace over my life.

If you’re reading this and you’ve been hurt by someone you love, or you’ve experienced similar destructive tendencies, know that no matter how deep the damage, you are not beyond the reach of true love. You are worth the healing process. You are worthy of love.

If heaven now owns that vacant tomb
How great is the hope that lives in You
The passion that tore through hell like a rose
The promise that rolled back death and its stone

If freedom is worth the life You raised
Oh where is my sin, where is my shame?
If love paid it all to have my heart

How wonderful, how glorious
My Saviour’s scars victorious
My chains are gone, my debt is paid
From death to life and grace to grace

Grace to Grace, Hillsong Worship (Easter Release)*

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Draw yo’ mama!

by | 12 May 2017, 4:53 PM

“I was 25 when I got married and I told Jerry I didn’t want children.”

Samantha Chia’s eyes crinkle into her trademark smile. She has the undeniable air of a mother, loving and wise – and always armed with food for the table. The first thing she does as the folks from Thir.st settle down to chat is to place two bowls in front of us, one with fruit, the other with pastries.

“And then at 29 I had Julian and I read book after book on motherhood. But now I can tell you: You can’t plan ahead. It’s a journey of adventure.”

Samantha is the mother of two boys, Julian, 29 and Jonathan, 26. Out of earshot, Jon describes him and his brother as a “difficult pair to love and care for unconditionally”, but that’s not what you hear from their mother.

“They were very easy,” she says.

Their interactions as mother and children appear to prove her right. Lighthearted banter – yet ever so gentle from the mild-mannered younger Chias – fills the air as they take turns to draw an art piece inspired by their mother, a task set before them to commemorate Mother’s Day.

Each son has his own language of love, says Samantha, fluent from years of living under one roof and weathering the ups and downs of life together.

“When Julian was in Primary School, I noticed he always stood up for the underdog. He fought for the ones rejected by the rest. He’s sensitive that way.”

“Jon was a sickly child. He had a congenital lung malformation and I had to take him to the hospital every day for an entire year for blood tests when he was younger. Julian is very protective of him till today.”

Julian is the more unassuming of the two, quietly mixing his paints and working with a steady deftness – he’s an artist, after all. Sensing his mother’s nerves as she sits beside him, painting with the canvas out of her line of sight, he chooses paints only in shades of green. It’ll be a “realistic portrait”, he teases.

The road to where the relationship between Julian and Mum is today wasn’t anything Samantha could have planned for.

“After finishing his ‘A’ Levels at Victoria Junior College, he refused to go overseas for his degree even though the university offered to keep his place while he was in the army. He suddenly announced he wanted to study Art Management. He had never been an art student!”

“I picked it up on YouTube,” Julian told me with a sheepish grin. I look at him incredulously; his artwork is far from amateur. He laughs. “I’m serious!”

According to Samantha, he had somehow assembled a winning portfolio of artwork that got him accepted into Laselle, which she and Jerry saw as the sign they had been praying for. They had hoped the door would be closed rather than open, but Samantha also knew her son would have been miserable if they had forced him out of it.

“He’s a non-conformist like his father. A very good boy but with his own mind. He told his father and I that he could honour us in every other way – but this was his calling. And he’s kept his word.”

Her husband, Jerry, who has been sitting quietly next to her, chimes in. “We could have focussed on the one thing we didn’t agree on and lost our whole son.

“He’s a really great guy.”

There’s a motherly pride in Samantha’s voice. “Both my boys would rather stay home than study abroad.”

Jon, who took a longer route through JC and polytechnic, did not want his parents to pay for a pricier college experience. He’s the wordsmith of the family and not as confident with the brushes. The picture he’s drawing is not a measure of his love for her, he tells his mother.

She tries to help him with the paints. “Don’t tell me how to draw!” He chides her jokingly. You know he’s always been – and will always be – her baby boy.

“It’s challenging convincing her I’m a grown-up now,” he shares with me, “which is tricky when I want to be independent and make my own decisions.”

“We cannot give up when it comes to understanding each other. Communicate, communicate, communicate.”

Samantha uses a metaphor which she will repeat throughout our conversation. “The journey of parenthood is like climbing a mountain.

“There were times I wasn’t sure if I had done something wrong or if it was possible to reconcile our differences. But I learnt that if you persevere to the top, the view is much nicer from there.”

“We cannot give up when it comes to understanding each other. Communicate, communicate, communicate.”

A mother will always be a mother. Jerry, 63, vouches for this as he proudly reveals his masterpiece, his own mother sitting beside him. He had drawn a set of window grills, representative of her nightly reminder to lock the house up safely.

“I do wish she would let us be adults but the mothering side of her is still very strong,” he muses. The older Mrs Chia, who only speaks Hokkien, nods in silent amusement.

When Julian and Jon reveal their respective art pieces, Samantha is surprised to see both have drawn food items – kale and a banana cake, or more accurately, a banana atop a slab of inscrutable brown cake – reflective of her love language of food. “I thought they would try to convey their experience of me. Like a naggy feeling.”

On a more reflective note, she thinks she could have cut back on the nagging years ago. “Parents my age tend to forget their children have grown up. I have to trust they know what they’re doing and deal with my own fear.”

She also has a word of wisdom for young adults on how to deal with their parents. “Don’t just assume your parents don’t need explanations or reminders. We are not always the wiser ones.”

It might be her sons’ turn to disagree on this one. After all, the last time they sat down together at the study table, his mum was helping Julian with his taxes. 😜

To all our beloved mothers out there, Happy Mother’s Day!

 

/ joanne@thir.st

Joanne is a bundle of creative energy commonly heard before she is seen. She believes in the triune power of good conversation, brilliant writing and bold ideas. She also likes milo.

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I forgive you, Mum. Will you forgive me?

by | 12 May 2017, 11:06 AM

“One look at you and anyone can tell you are your father’s daughter. But you are a tough cookie just like me. I raised tough children,” my mother likes to say with pride.

We get a lot of things from our mums.

It goes beyond the superficial things. Cooking skills. Compassion. Maybe an inexplicable love for sour plums.

But we also get the less pretty things. Her temperament. Her insecurities. The worldview she’s carried from her youth and spilled into the way she brought you up. The things she said to you, over and over again. Painful things, which leave deep wounds. They most likely came from a good, loving heart – but, when filtered through the broken beliefs built into her over the years, have come out less than perfect.

A big part of us are the sum of the things our mothers have woven into our very beings. You’ve got a gift for writing. You are such a scatterbrain. You need to slim down those thighs. You need to talk to God often and read the Bible every day.

How she continued to mother us way into our 20s. I think you’re not serious enough about marriage. Mummy just doesn’t want you to be lonely when you are older.

What I did know, as clear as day, was that my mother loved me every moment of my life.

I used to wonder if my mother ever felt weird because her daughter looked nothing like her and had a mind and voice of her own from a very young age. She admitted years later that her distance from her mother left her struggling to relate to me as I grew up, a child who did not fit the form or shape or demeanour – or purpose – she imagined a daughter would.

I think I felt the effects of this dissonance more than I could process it in earlier days. Those were hard days.

But what I did know, as clear as day, was that my mother has loved me every moment of my life. She loved me even though I may not have been her graceful princess (beyond the age of 12), her wonderful helper around the house, her successful businesswoman or mother of her grandchildren by 27.

In fact, I worked hard to rebel against these very images just to show her. I openly defied her wishes. I made her the bad guy in the narrative of my life. I was far from faultless.

But despite any trouble she was having learning to be a mother to the woman who no longer resembled her little girl, she made it clear in her hugs and words that I was her precious child and she would love and support me – quirks and failures and infuriating non-conformity – always.

Of course, this was easier said than done. It always is.

When I was going through a season of spiritual awakening and healing, a mentor asked me: Is an older woman walking you through this? She was referring to my 15-year struggle with severe body image issues, many of which had taken root from comments made by other people – my mother included – as I was growing up.

You should, the mentor went on to say as I told her there was none. You can’t walk out of this on your own.

I went home and thought about it. I didn’t know many older Christian women well enough to ask for such a big favour. But you do know one, I felt the Spirit stir within me suddenly. Why don’t you ask your mum?

My mum? The woman I consciously blamed for a bulk of the pains of my young adult years? You did this to me, I could see myself saying in teary-eyed anger. I hate myself because you could never really be happy with me the way I am.

But as I’d walked with Christ and experienced His reality in my life through the dark years, I’d earlier found an other-worldly forgiveness for the grievances locked away in my heart.

Now was the time I found this forgiveness for my mother … and myself. This was also the person who sheltered me in her own body and possessed a spiritual authority over my life like no other. She had given up her career two decades ago to take up the heavenly mantle to ensure I was well loved, nurtured and protected.

An incident from my childhood springs to mind. My parents were shopping for a computer and had left me to wander the store, occupied by a bag of McDonald’s french fries. One of the staff sees me standing near the computer display and starts berating me for soiling the keyboard even though I hadn’t touched anything. I was close to tears trying to defend my innocence.

Your mother and father probably didn’t wake up every day thinking of new ways to ruin your life. If they had known a better way to raise you, they would have done it in a heartbeat.

Suddenly, my mother stepped between me and the shop assistant and loudly declared: Don’t you dare bully my daughter for something she did not do. Pick on someone your own size.

The Holy Spirit was right. There was no one better to do the job.

My life changed the day I said these four difficult words: Pray for me, MumBecause she did. With the same motherly fearlessness I’d known as a child, my mum stood over me and interceded for her baby girl’s life.

She could have recoiled in bitterness and shame at my audacious request. She could have angrily denied any responsibility for the way things turned out.

But instead she chose to pray. And as we made our peace with each other for the wrongs of yesteryears, I’ve experienced an inner redemption that can barely be described in words.

A wise man once told me, “Your mother and father probably didn’t wake up every day thinking of new ways to ruin your life. If they had known a better way to raise you, they would have done it in a heartbeat. They chose the best out of all the options available to them.

“Acknowledge their mistakes and let it go.”

Not all of us have mothers who can pray for us, but there’s a little something we all can do. This Mother’s Day, start with a simple decision to forgive your mother for the old hurts you’ve held onto for so long. And perhaps ask for forgiveness yourself. Healing awaits on the other side.

Then take a deep breath. And let it go.

/ joanne@thir.st

Joanne is a bundle of creative energy commonly heard before she is seen. She believes in the triune power of good conversation, brilliant writing and bold ideas. She also likes milo.

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Will I ever be a mum?

by Joanne Kwok & Sara Koh | 10 May 2017, 12:37 AM

As Singaporeans, we know the drill by the time we’re in our teenage years. Get married young, enjoy your first few years as a couple, work hard at your jobs and have children when you’re more settled.

That was Lijia’s plan all along. She had a stable job when she married in her late 20s and looked forward to the first years of marriage with just her husband. She had always loved and wanted kids – when the time was right, of course. Three kids, to be precise.

So the couple started trying for their first child a few years into their marriage. No kids came. They’re into their late-30s now.

“We both got checked up and the doctors could find nothing wrong with either of us,” Lijia shares, her tone even, a picture of calm despite the difficult subject matter.

Nobody has been able to offer them a clear reason on why they have been unable to conceive. So they turned to artificial methods of conception – first the less-invasive IUI, then IVF, hormone injections and all. None worked; with each test that came back negative, there was more heartbreak, more disappointment.

You can hear the lingering frustration from years of questioning in Lijia’s voice.

“It was tough not to have thoughts that maybe we had done something wrong. Or that maybe God had plans for us not to have kids after all,” says Lijia.

“I haven’t gone to church on Mother’s Day for a while.”

SO WHAT IF I’M A PASTOR’S WIFE?

The initial years, as the new reality sank in, were the worst, she says.

“I felt very shortchanged and overlooked. I looked at other women who were getting pregnant with no trouble at all and felt like He had forgotten about me.”

She was angry and embittered. She couldn’t bring herself to talk to God or pick up her Bible. At the peak of her depression, Lijia even considered taking her own life.

Her husband was a pillar of strength at home, managing his own grief as he gently reminded her to cling to God’s promises. “Well, he is a pastor,” Lijia muses. “And all the other pastors who were praying for us kept receiving words of prophecy that we would eventually conceive.”

These were words Lijia struggled to believe, but she started to have dreams involving children. In one, she saw herself holding the hand of a small girl and telling her, Let’s go find Daddy.

“I want to believe that was my daughter.”

“I haven’t gone to church on Mother’s Day for a while.”

Added pressure came as she watched those close to her get pregnant. Unable to stem the jealousy that flooded into her already hurting heart, Lijia distanced herself from them.

“It was really bad. Sometimes I would even stop speaking to that person. I shouldn’t have done that – it wasn’t their fault at all.”

As she wrestled with her faith, she chanced upon Resurrection Year, in which author Sheridan Voysey documents he and his wife’s journey through 10 years of infertility and how they found healing in the disappointment and broken dreams.

“His words were all the words I struggled so hard to express. And I slowly started opening up to people,” Lijia says. “As my husband constantly encouraged me, it wasn’t about them being able to understand my pain, but about them being able to journey alongside with me.”

WEEPING MAY STAY FOR THE NIGHT

In their tenth year of marriage, after more futile rounds of IUI and IVF, Lijia and her husband conceived for the first time. “I wasn’t on IVF treatment anymore, so it didn’t cross my mind at first that I could be pregnant.”

Their friends and family went wild. It was the miracle everyone had been waiting for – until they went for their first ultrasound.

“The doctor couldn’t find the foetus. It was just an empty sac. We had lost the baby within 8 weeks,” she says, her eyes betraying no emotion.

“I had to undergo surgery to remove the sac. While waiting alone outside the operating theatre, I decided to send a long text out to thank everyone for their prayers.”

A tear rolls down her cheek. A full minute of silence hangs in the heavy air.

“When I sent that text out, I wanted closure. I wanted to focus on God and I’m thankful I didn’t blame him. There was this sense of peace I hadn’t felt in a long time. I knew He wasn’t responsible for all that has happened. In fact, He grieves for me. It pains Him to see me in this state of suffering.”

BUT JOY COMES IN THE MORNING

Something changed after that season of great sadness. Now, hearing from couples sharing their joy of getting pregnant doesn’t affect Lijia quite as badly anymore.

“I’m genuinely happy for them. Yes, I still want to be a mother. But motherhood cannot dictate my self-worth or my identity. Even if I never have a child of my own, that doesn’t mean God loves me any less,” she says.

“People think that a breakthrough would mean finally having a baby. But what is a breakthrough in God’s eyes? Is it about getting what you want? Or is it about pleasing Him at the end of the day?”

She even shared her painful journey with the members of the cell group that she leads, allowing them into the darkest parts of her experience.

“I was a mess when I took that first step to share. I was crying so hard. But there was definitely a shift in cell culture after that. Group sharing moved to a deeper level and you could tell people were more forthcoming about the issues on their hearts. That’s a breakthrough to me.”

“People think that a breakthrough would mean finally having a baby. But what is a breakthrough in God’s eyes? Is it about getting what you want? Or is it about pleasing Him at the end of the day?”

As we prepared to wrap up the interview, we ask Lijia if she has anything she’d like to say to people who are going through a similar struggle. She takes a while and you know she’s asking herself the same question, but finally finds the words.

“I just want to assure them that the truth is motherhood doesn’t define them. It doesn’t define their self-worth, their identity. God has given them this life and it’s supposed to be an abundant one. Even if it doesn’t feel like it now, it still is because God said so.”

“I hope that they will cling to God as their anchor in this time. To run to Him. Cry to Him. And find strength in Him alone.”

She will be returning to church this Mother’s Day.

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My mother, the ground beneath my feet

by Lynn Chia | 9 May 2017, 10:34 AM

My mother is the ground I step on.

I take her for granted. I throw tantrums. I get angry. I slam the door. I scream. Sometimes I fail to apologise for the things I’ve done wrong.

It’s not just me. My mum is often taken for granted by everyone else in her life – her selflessness and niceness are her weakness.

Some people will take advantage of her kindness. Sometimes I feel like I’m the mum, trying to stand up for her whenever other people make her the scapegoat or try to cheat her money.

Yet my mum remains unaffected. Even if I throw a tantrum, even if others scream at her, even when life is going haywire, she remains calm, composed, solid. It seems like she’s being trampled under the feet of those who cross her path – but somehow, she’s no doormat.

My mother is the ground I stand on.

She’s the hard ground beneath, sturdy and absolutely strong, weathering all sorts of ridiculous conditions. We know that should she crumble, everything else will go down with her. She’s the foundation of my family. She’s the basis on which everything else is built.

She gives life and multiplies whatever is handed to her. She is given a house and she returns a home. She is given a marriage and returns a family. She is given love and returns complete, utter devotion and dedication.

We viewed her as our everything when we were growing up, but now from the ivory tower which she had to build for us by breaking herself, in our clouded vision, we’ve failed to notice how she’s faring. We only notice her when her strong front starts to break down. Only when we start falling into potholes do we realise that it’s really just quicksand holding us up.

She is given a house and she returns a home. She is given a marriage and returns a family.

Her life has been a cycle where she is constantly, consistently broken down and rebuilt to give life – at her own expense.

She accepts and forgives the hurts inflicted on her, suppresses the cracks that time has left on her. It’s like cement concealing loose soil. When you walk, you don’t think about the ground you’re stepping on – but maybe we should.

Have you been taking for granted the ground you walk and built your life on? Have you expected it to be there rain or shine – not realising it’s been there for you though it never needed to be?

That’s what mothers do. That’s what my mum does. It’s who she is.

So I’ve learnt to protect, cherish and appreciate the ground that’s supported me, and continues to do so, and will continue to do so as long as it conceivably can. I used to think that she’d always be there – but I know nothing lasts forever.

This is what I’ve learnt from her, which will live on even when she’s gone. I’ve learnt that true love is laying down your life to serve and to give life to everyone around you.

My mother is the ground I build on.


Cover image courtesy of Abigail Ng.

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by Jonathan Cho | 5 May 2017, 9:09 PM

Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian; and he led the flock to the back or west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb or Sinai, the mountain of God. (Exodus 3:1)

Moses was doing what would seem to be his job, his occupation. He was a shepherd, and was in the midst of carrying out what shepherds do in their daily tasks.

Walking the flock – this seems like a very mundane thing to do. The modern-day equivalent would be waking up, taking the bus to school or work, and going about the trivial tasks associated with whatever it is we do. Photocopying documents.. Revising for exams. Whatever.

But that verse was not set on an ordinary day for Moses. It was a day that would change his life forever.

The Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush burned with fire, yet was not consumed. And Moses said, I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush is not burned. (Exodus 3:2-3)

From that day on, Moses went on to lead God’s people out of slavery, and came this close to bringing them into the Promised Land.

In the midst of the mundane, Moses met with God, and God with Moses, at the burning bush – out of which God called out to Moses. God has no qualms appearing to Moses in the things around him. I mean, what’s more ordinary, more boring than a bush? How many bushes do we walk past each day without even registering them?

How have we been walking past the “bushes” in our lives? Will we even be able to notice when a bush beside us is on fire? God is present in the mundane, simple activities that surround us on a daily basis.

And when the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here am I.” God said, “Do not come near; put your shoes off your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:4-5)

When we respond to God, He will call out to us, just as He did to Moses, “out of the midst of the bush”. The place we’re at and the activities that we engage in are more than just ordinary, day-to-day activities.

When we develop the habit of stopping to listen to what God is doing in our lives, and how He is moving, maybe we’ll start to notice the burning bushes all around us – and the Holy ground on which we stand.


Cover image courtesy of Deborah Quek.

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I was 18, full of ambition, full of myself. Then my heart stopped beating

by Ashley Chan | 5 May 2017, 4:24 PM

I woke up groggy and disoriented in a bed that was not my own. I looked around and realised I was in a humid hospital ward.

Beside me, an old man was wheezing violently, hands gripping onto the metal sides of the bed. The lights were spinning wildly above me.

My father was beside me, looking grim.

I tried to recollect what had happened; it came back in irregular patches.

I was 18 at the time. I’d been fasting to lower my body fat percentage for competition when I collapsed during training. I could picture my team members looming over me, some of them holding me. A car came. I saw blurry faces and lights and my father tearing up as he carried me into the car.

I’d been training for more than 6 hours every day for 8 months. I’d go to school from 8am to 3pm, then rush off for floorball and high jump training, all while juggling a part-time job. On top of that, it was my A-level year.

I slept for about 3 or 4 hours a day, only after I was done with school, training, work and exam revision.

But I didn’t have any issues with this daily routine, since I didn’t feel like my grades were affected by the hectic mess, having consistently topped my cohort in General Paper and Linguistics.

I numbed myself to my stress by working myself to the bone. Somehow, I never thought that my body would eventually fail me.

In my prayers, I thanked God for the strength He had given me and the endurance to push through the daily grind. However, my heart was corrupted by the illusion of “success”.

I was proud that I could achieve so much and push myself beyond my comfort zone. My warped training ethic had translated to my life: Never rest till you become the best.

The truth was that training was my refuge from my accumulating stress and emotions. I refused to face all of this for fear that it would slow me down in my pursuit of excellence and success. So I’d numb myself by working myself to the bone, despite the concern expressed by my teammates, friends and family.

Somehow, despite my less-than-ideal hectic lifestyle, I never thought that my body would eventually fail me.

Until I found myself in that ward, where I stayed for 5 days. For those 5 days, I felt like a complete failure.

I had justified my lifestyle by thinking that I was just giving God my best, by pushing myself in sports and in everything that I did. What did I do wrong?

I felt like I had disappointed God, and everyone around me. Most of all, I felt I’d let myself down.

Nurses would come by to make sure I finished my food. Doctors would come by to administer checks and to do heart scans via ECG. I couldn’t even walk a few steps without a nurse or someone coming up to me, chastising me. “You shouldn’t be moving around like this. What if you fall down?”

Believe it or not, the main thought going through my head was: The competition is in a month. I’m losing a few days of training. And I’m being treated like someone who’s handicapped.

It infuriated me.

I was doing so much for You, God. Why are you doing this to me? Why didn’t you sustain me till the end?

I was diagnosed with heart arrhythmia, Long QT syndrome. The doctor explained that I had collapsed during training because my heart had stopped beating at that moment.

It also meant that I could no longer participate in all competitive sports or anything that would raise my heart rate above 130.

To put that in perspective, it meant I couldn’t even get angry, or climb the stairs.

It also means that I can die anytime. Many athletes with this syndrome have suffered devastating effects, including that of sudden cardiac death (SCD). Many have died in their sleep.

I kept rereading the diagnosis letter, trying to convince myself that there must be a typo. I was a perfectly healthy person, with a meticulously crafted diet to keep my body fat percentage within competitive range.

How can this be?

I selfishly kept the diagnosis to myself, crying myself to sleep. My parents didn’t know about the diagnosis – I told them and my friends that I’d collapsed from over-exhaustion, that I would be fine after some rest.

The floorball team almost got disbanded because of me – my dad was furious at the coach and at the school. I had to call my coaches to apologise and to tell them that I could not continue with training, and quit all competitions.

I also had to wear a heartrate monitor 24/7, and I was sent to receive psychological rehabilitation therapy. I hated every moment of it. I refused to accept the fact that I was a patient in need of help. I wasn’t a patient.

School went on as usual, while I put on a façade of having my act together.

It didn’t take God long to reveal to me that I wasn’t worshipping Him. I was worshipping myself and my desires, and distorting them to somehow “fit” into God’s purpose for me.

I knew He wasn’t going to just leave me hanging, but I was too ashamed of myself to even bring myself to His feet to pray. Despite being broken down and my helplessness, my pride was still stopping me from surrendering everything to Jesus.

But eventually – seeing how hard my parents worked for the family and how I was loved, even if I didn’t believe it – I was moved to pray again.

As I prayed, He reminded me of my numerous suicide attempts a few years ago; He told me His heart had been breaking over my desire to end my life.

I saw how He has been there for me throughout this entire process, while I have been blinded by my own desires and ambitions. I saw how He had been urging me to come back to Him, to receive rest and life abundant in Jesus.

I broke down.

He directed me to this passage in the bible, where King Hezekiah’s life is extended by the grace of God despite being critically ill.

In those days Hezekiah was sick and near death. And Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz, went to him and said to him, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Set your house in order, for you shall die, and not live.'” Then he turned his face toward the wall, and prayed to the Lord, saying, “Remember now, O Lord, I pray, how I have walked before You in truth and with a loyal heart, and have done what was good in Your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly. (2 Kings 20:1-3)

At first, this confused me. How was his prayer godly? If anything, I saw how self-centred that prayer was. How can anyone boast before God of their loyal heart? What kind of prayer is that?

Then it hit me: Hezekiah’s sickness is only a part, an expression of a deeper problem. It is not just his sickness that worries Hezekiah and drives him to prayer.

At a deeper level, he is worried about what this sickness says about the faithfulness and reliability of God and his promises.

Hezekiah was a man who knew the Bible and its promises intimately; his mind and heart were filled with the Scriptures. He knew that when the Lord had set Israel apart to be a showcase for his redeeming work among the nations, God had made a promise to Israel – a promise expressed, for example, in Deuteronomy 4:39-40.

But I wasn’t like Hezekiah at all. In fact, I was angry at God because I didn’t know His promises for me.

2 Kings 20:4-6 convicted me.

And it happened, before Isaiah had gone out into the middle court, that the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “Return and tell Hezekiah the leader of My people, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father: “I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; surely I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the Lord. And I will add to your days fifteen years. I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city for My own sake, and for the sake of My servant David.”

I knelt by my bed, tears streaming down my face. I told God: How can it be that despite everything I’ve thought and said of You, that You still want to pour out grace over my life?

It was 7 months till the next cardiologist appointment; I was convicted to feed on His word and to rest in Him until then. Daily prayer and meditation of His word was life-changing.

I constantly desired to read the Bible and to draw near to Him. It brought me to a place of inner peace and complete contentment, joy beyond words and a deepening love for Jesus.

On the day of the appointment, the old me would’ve been plagued with pessimism, anxiety and fear. However, I went with peace beyond human understanding.

Regardless of the outcome, I told myself, I am going to praise and thank God.

I went into a room to take an ECG scan, then came out and sat with the cardiologist.

The old me would’ve been plagued with pessimism, anxiety and fear as I awaited my diagnosis. However, I went with peace beyond human understanding.

She squinted her eyes at the ECG and looked at me. “How can 9 ECG (Electrocardiogram) make such a mistake?”

I looked up. She looked at me and smiled. “I’m sorry to say that you do not have Long QT syndrome. It was a wrong diagnosis. I don’t know how that happened, but there’s nothing else for now. You can go.”

My eyes welled up with joy as tears kept streaming down. My therapist, who was with me, was stunned but relieved.

I say that now I’m on a lifelong internship for God. I get paid by experience – in personal growth and an immensely fruitful learning journey that will extend beyond this internship here on earth.

As A W Tozer so eloquently puts it, “We can afford to follow Him to failure. Faith dares to fail. The resurrection and the judgment will demonstrate before all worlds who won and who lost. We can wait.”

My heart is now at peace. It beats for Him.

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What a mother would give up for you

by Chene Menon | 3 May 2017, 8:04 PM

With Mother’s Day around the corner, we hear from a woman whose future looked rosy as a doctor – and get a glimpse into the heart of why someone would give that all up just to raise her children.

When I graduated from medical school in 2007, the plan at that time was to become a general practitioner. But then I became pregnant with our first child, Josiah – and I struggled with whether I should work part-time or simply quit and become (gasp) a housewife.

Where would I best serve the Lord?

After much praying, I felt He was calling me to quit medicine. And at first, I tried to reason this calling away, but the Lord impressed upon me that my husband and I should be the ones bringing our child up in the Lord. It was our primary responsibility, not to be delegated to the grandparents or maid or child-care workers.

I knew that time with children is short – once you miss the boat, you miss it forever. Whereas with work, you can always get back to it to some degree when the kids are older.

I knew that often we talk about quality time – but in reality, children don’t do quality time, they do quantity time. I knew we usually say that most things are caught not taught – but time is still needed before anyone can catch anything. I also knew that where I was not influencing my child, someone else would be influencing them, impressing upon them values and standards.

I felt to do these things well, it would be easier to quit work completely. I believed that investing myself wholly to love and care for this child is what the Lord wanted me to do.

And so I quit.

It was definitely not easy, as I discovered my identity was very much in being a doctor. I was too proud, too insecure to be a housewife. However, I realised that if I truly am a servant of Christ, then I should be willing to do anything He asks me to, no matter how poorly-paid (or, frankly, unpaid!) or unrecognised that job may be.

I have heard many comments over the years about the choice I’ve made. Some have said about my medical education, “Oh, what a waste of time and money” – but I don’t agree. In fact, I think it would be a waste if I didn’t take the opportunity to be there for the wonderful children the Lord has blessed me with.

Some have also suggested that the Lord could use me as doctor in the mission field – I agree that He could, but somehow, He didn’t seem to call me do that.

I also knew that where I was not influencing my child, someone else would be influencing them, impressing upon them values and standards.

Others have said more pointedly that I can serve the Lord better as a doctor, healing and witnessing to the sick, but I believe that caring for little ones is also a very important form of work for the Lord, with eternal implications.

As Elisabeth Elliot once said, “Because there is so much encouragement from both the world and the church for mothers to get out of the house and find something ‘fulfilling’, I have tried to lay more weight on the commands of Titus 2:3-5, believing this is to be God’s best”.

Please understand that I’m not saying that all mothers should not work, but I’m simply sharing how the Lord, in my circumstance, has called me to become a housewife – and I see that as a valid way of working for Jesus.

Being a homemaker, I have to constantly remind myself that I am really serving the Lord Christ. Most days, I don’t feel like I accomplish much: Nothing ground-breaking, nothing that would change the world.

I wake up, feed children, dress children, clean up mess, send kids to school, do laundry, answer the pre-schooler who never stops asking questions, try to fix a broken toy … such mundanity may drive some to despair, but even in these things I learn that as I serve my husband and the little ones, I am serving the Lord.

When I realise how the Lord has entrusted me with these precious souls, how much influence I have over them, and how little time I really have, I cannot help but be thankful that He’s given me this very special job.

And so I try to work with a joyful heart, trusting that even in this, the Lord can make me a better Christian, more like Jesus.

Staying at home gives me the precious opportunity to be there with the children 24/7, to teach them about Daddy in Heaven and Jesus, to try my best to be a godly example, to love them as much as I can, so that they can have a little idea of how much the Lord loves them.

All children are ultimately His, and only loaned to us for a short time before they grow up. When I realise how the Lord has entrusted me with these precious souls, how much influence I have over them, and how little time I really have, I cannot help but be thankful that He’s given me this very special job.

In case you have the weird impression that I am this perfect Christian housewife, smiling all the time, singing hymns, cooking wonderful food, ever gentle and tender towards her family … I’m not. There are many days when I’m exhausted, when I feel grumpy, when I shout at the kids, when I don’t want to be servant-hearted.

When I go to school reunions, and am in a sea of bankers, lawyers, doctors and policy-makers, I wish I didn’t have to be a housewife … it really makes me feel small.

But each time I come back to Jesus and remind myself that Jesus has died for me, that He is risen, that I am waiting for His return, that I am well loved by Him, that He is the best boss, that what I do here matters to Him, that my Father in Heaven dotes over me.

And that is what gives me the strength to keep working in this job time and time again.

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I’ll never be a mum … or so I thought

by Evelyn Peng | 3 May 2017, 8:03 PM

This year will be my last Mother’s Day as a non-mother.

My first child has been growing within me for almost 9 months now. As the big day draws near, the anticipation and excitement to finally meet this person, whom I already feel that I know and love, is building up in a way I never thought imaginable.

I’ve never been a baby person. I’ve never really loved babies or children all that much. I always found it awkward to speak and play with them in general.

I was the sort who smiled politely when you showed me pictures of your super cute nieces/nephews/children/grandchildren. But inside, I was making a mental note not to submit other people to this torture in the future.

When I first got married four years ago, I told anyone who would listen that I did not plan to ruin my life by having children – that I would be perfectly happy without any.

This way, my equally child-unfriendly husband and I would be free to do whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted, without the millstone around our necks of having tiny mouths to feed.

Every time I said this, I invariably received knowing looks from those older than me. You’ll change your mind eventually, they said.

Irritatingly, they were right.

The first lesson I learnt in my journey to motherhood is that God can change the desires of our hearts when we seek to obey Him.

Despite pastors and leaders in church constantly reminding me that it is God’s will for married couples to have children, it was a struggle for me to reconcile this with my own feelings and resistance to having a child.

Surely God would not want me to have a child if I could not love him/her in the way he/she deserves, right?

But as I submitted my heart and desires to Him, slowly and surely, I could feel God changing my heart and desires. The day I realised that I actually wanted to start a family, no one was more surprised than … me.

The next lesson I learnt is that God’s timing is always the best timing.

During the time that my husband and I were opening our minds to the idea of having a child, I had also been praying and seeking guidance regarding my career. An opportunity opened up for me to go on a sabbatical for half a year, and I took it. One week before I was due to start my leave,