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Faith

God knows we’re better together

by Jeffrey Chong, Senior Pastor, Hope Church Singapore | 11 August 2017, 4:31 PM

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)

The book of Hebrews is a letter written to a group of early believers who were experiencing mounting persecution because of their faith in Jesus Christ. In those times, being a follower of Jesus wasn’t as easy as it is today in Singapore. The easy way out for them was to revert to their old beliefs.

But the author of Hebrews exhorts believers to hold fast to their faith in the light of who Christ is. He encourages the people to stand strong together in the midst of the challenges by remembering God’s direction for their gathering.

To stay faithful and thrive, not just survive through the difficult times.

He also gives them handles on how to run the Christian race well together – handles that are equally useful today as we gather in our congregations and smaller groups. In our church, we call these smaller groups “Life Groups”, because the Christian life simply cannot be done alone. Here are 3 ways to “do life” well with fellow believers.

3 WAYS TO LIVE THE ABUNDANT LIFE AS A LIFE GROUP

1. Stay mutually accountable

The author in Hebrews urges us to consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds. “To consider” means to pay attention and focus.

This is an instruction to everyone. Instead of only focusing on ourselves, everyone has the same responsibility for the community around us.

So while we have a personal responsibility to seek our own growth in Christ – but the Bible also urges us to look at how we can grow in Christ together.

“As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17)

A lack of accountability means you avoid dealing with and confronting difficult issues. A Life Group will never be able to function in the fullness of the life of Christ if we fail to have the hard conversations – if we avoid speaking the truth in difficult situations and issues.

When there is conflict, you will find that it is very easy to talk to everyone else except the actual person involved. But mutual accountability means we must approach the person. Not to accuse, but to clarify.

Look to God for a good dosage of courage and love to confront the parties involved. More often than not, you will realise that the conflict arose from miscommunication or misunderstanding.

2. Persist in gathering

As much as we are able to, we should gather together. Availability is important. Without availability, it is very difficult to do life together.

“I am just so disappointed and discouraged. I don’t want to meet anymore,” you may say.

I’ll say that precisely because you are discouraged, all the more you should gather with your Life Group and encourage one another towards love and good deeds.

“But pastor, you don’t understand, I’m too busy to meet up.”

If you are too busy to gather for Christ, you are too busy for your own good. When you meet God, will you be able to tell Him that you have lived your life fully for Him? Or did you give your life away to pursue the world?

Life Group is more than just a 2-hour weekly meeting. It is a place where people come together to do life together.

“The meetings are all the same, it gets very mundane.”

Life Group is more than just a 2-hour weekly meeting. It is a place where people come together to do life together. A place where we love and are loved, know and are known, celebrate and are celebrated.

Jesus is the centre of the community. With Jesus as the centre, we do life together in the pursuit of bringing glory to Him.

3. Position for the finishing line

God has placed us in communities so that we can add courage to one another when we face difficulties and challenges. The Bible says to encourage one another – and all the more as the Day approaches.

This Day refers to the second coming of Christ, which will be the day of Judgement and Deliverance. Leading up to that day, it will get tougher to live a life that glorifies God; persecution will come. In such times, we will need to encourage one another.

As the end draws near, we need to persist in spreading the Gospel to all those who are far from God. When Jesus returns, all who do not know Him will march towards a Christ-less eternity.

I was once outside the community, but someone loved me enough to invite me in. They loved me, spoke my language. I finally understood what Life Group was really about.

We are better together when we live not for ourselves, but for the world out there that has yet to know Jesus.


This article was adapted from a sermon first preached on May 7, 2017, by Senior Pastor Jeffrey Chong of Hope Church Singapore

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When I didn’t make it into OCS

by Merrick Ho | 11 August 2017, 4:11 PM

When I began my NS journey in 2014, all I cared about was making it into OCS.

Officer Cadet School (OCS) is a path only some soldiers will get to take. It’s a route reserved for soldiers of exceptional performance. Only the most capable get into OCS.

I wanted to get into OCS – I saw it as validation of my abilities. Of me.

So in Basic Military Training, I did my absolute best in everything I was assigned. I thought I performed well when I was put in charge; my superiors seemed to like me, too. Many of my platoonmates told me I was OCS material.

It seemed a foregone conclusion.

I received my posting on the Friday after I finished BMT. It read: Specialist Cadet School. SCS.

My initial reaction was to refresh the Internet page repeatedly – there had to be some mistake! Why was there an “S” instead of an “O”? But no matter how many times I clicked the refresh button, it still read SCS.

I was devastated. I had let myself down. I felt lousy about myself. SCS isn’t a bad posting, but … it just wasn’t OCS. It wasn’t what I wanted.

And when I didn’t get my heart’s desire, I started blaming God for it.

I did my best in all my training, God. I did all I could – why didn’t you give me what I want? Why didn’t things turn out the way I wanted?

I realised I wanted to enter OCS as a mark of my abilities. It was about my personal pride. I yearned for my own glory.

I thought about it for days on end. Was there anything I could’ve done to change this result?

I eventually came to the conclusion that I just had to suck it up. Unlike the outside world, there’s no way to “appeal” into OCS. There was nothing else to be done.

This was the hand I was dealt.

Two months into SCS, we received our vocational postings. I was one of the few to be sent to the Air Force.

The training was more knowledge-intensive, meaning it wasn’t just about the physical training anymore.

As I studied for my vocation, I realised I had a deep interest in the realm of national defence. I decided to apply for a scholarship with the Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA).

Days and weeks passed without a reply. Frankly, I’d given up on the application.

But after three months, I received the official reply, asking me to come for an interview. I made it through all three rounds of the selection process and was awarded the scholarship.

With the scholarship, I would be able to lighten the financial burdens of my parents, who were already paying my brother’s university fees.

As I reflected in thanksgiving, I realised that what I had in mind for myself was vastly different from what God had in mind for me.

I wanted to enter OCS as a mark of my abilities. It was about my personal pride. I yearned for my own glory.

But God had a better plan – one for His glory.

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7 reasons why every church should have a ministry for NSmen

by Mandon Lee | 10 August 2017, 2:47 PM

My church has a National Service ministry, where young men are discipled to fight for the things of the Kingdom.

I joined the NS ministry, thinking that it’d be a fun place. Honestly, I fully expected to be playing LAN games and watching football matches at bars. In our first meeting however, I discovered that nothing could be further from the truth — all of us young men were completely exhausted after a week in camp.

It wasn’t all fun and games.

In time, God revealed to me that I faced an incredible opportunity in this season of hardship. The NS ministry in church wouldn’t just be a place just to come to on the weekends and whine. Here, I would able to fellowship with and disciple young men to fight also for the Kingdom.

Looking back, I now see that the NS ministry was a soldier’s shelter from the storm. Here’s why.

WHY EVERY CHURCH NEEDS AN NS MINISTRY

1. IT’S A SAFE SPACE FOR MEN TO SHARE

Most men struggle with lust. To talk about our struggles in a mixed-gender setting isn’t easy — and it’s probably not wise, too. But in a community of men, we were able to encourage and help each other up whenever we stumbled (Ecclesiastes 4:10).

The openness, accountability and vulnerability was like nothing I had experienced in a mixed-gender group. We were very counter-culture: No crude jokes, no objectification of sisters. Many of us even gained victory over sexual sin.

2. IT CAN ACCOMMODATE AN NSF’S SCHEDULE

NSFs – Full-time NSmen – are pressed for time. There are few better tests of one’s character and values than the 2 years we spend in NS. Our priorities completely change when time becomes more precious than money:

  • We have to stay in camp on the weekdays
  • Saturday/Sunday is “burnt” attending church service and small group meeting
  • We have to book in on Sunday evening

Time is scarce. We struggle to carve it out for ourselves, our families and friends, without sacrificing spiritual nourishment and fellowship.

For NSFs in groups which meet on weekdays, it’s difficult to remain plugged in — unless the group makes the effort to reach out to him through other means. But in an NS-specific ministry, that’s a scenario that isn’t a concern. We all respect the limits of 2359.

3. IT’S A SUPPORT GROUP WHICH PUSHES US TO CHOOSE GOD

When in camp, NSFs are thrust into a culture which not merely condones, but celebrates premarital sex, binge-drinking, and crass language.

In such a context, standing firm on Godly principles can sometimes be really hard. This is where a community helps and encourages us to choose God over easier, more tempting choices. There are many opportunities to either deny Him or lift his name up.

It’s easier to make the right choice when we make them together.

4. MEN TEND TO FALL AWAY FROM GOD DURING NS

Upon entering BMT, there are suddenly many reasons not to attend service or small group meetings. You could argue that these are valid reasons: Confinement, duty, family time, fatigue — all are defensible grounds. It becomes easy to place church lower in the hierarchy of priorities.

Over time, we develop more reasons not to go than to go.

But there are indeed reasons to go: In a period of great transition, an NSF needs a strong community of men who understand — as all are going through the same thing — to support him as he embarks on his NS journey with God.

In the Army, we say there are no lone-wolf soldiers. There should be no lone-wolf Christians, too.

5. WE LEARN WHAT IT MEANS TO PURSUE PEOPLE

The number of times a NSF get to use his phone while in camp each day can often be counted on one hand. When you text us, you’ll often have to wait for hours — even days — for a reply. For those of us who are leaders, we know how easy sheep are lost when it gets messy. It helps to have a community which pursues them as you do.

Though we don’t have time, NSFs still need to be plugged-in socially. We still want to know others, and be known by them. A band of Christian brothers, genuinely interested in journeying together, is likely to keep going together.

6. TOUGHENING MEN UP REQUIRES TOUGH MEN

At some point in my first few months of serving in the NS ministry, I realised I wasn’t leading youths anymore. Boys had become young men who wouldn’t take the generic answer of “because the Word says so” anymore. These were my peers.

There were difficult times when I couldn’t reach someone I was mentoring for days on end because of some Army mission he assigned to. There were weeks when only 3 of us showed up to our small group meeting.

But we persevered.

At the end of a young man’s time with the NS ministry — before moving on to the varsity ministry — there have been always exemplary soldiers of God who came out better, refined in the fire. It always brings me so much joy to see them eager to serve, lead and bless others in their next life station.

That’s when I know that God brought them through those years. Those years produce, and need tough men.

7. WE’RE RAISING FATHERS

Don’t see NSmen as merely stinky army boys. Look past the uniform and you’ll see tomorrow’s leaders. Tomorrow’s husbands. Tomorrow’s fathers.

I chose to invest my youth in them not because in a time where our faith is deemed increasingly irrelevant, we have to fight even harder to instil godly values and principles in our men.

Daniel in the Bible didn’t have the easiest time living out his faith, exiled among the Jews in Babylon. But when he did — when he went counter-culture though it was easy to go with the flow — miracles happened. Idols were brought down, and kings recognised the King of Kings.

If you’re a current NSF who doesn’t have a community of Christian NSFs, I urge you to do something about it. Start by gathering fellow brothers and meeting up regularly even though you have no time. I know of Christians in the same company who say prayers for as short as 2 minutes together — right after they are dismissed from RO.

Plug yourselves in. Stay plugged in. Make time.

NS isn’t your excuse — it’s your opportunity.

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The real reason you’re in school

by | 8 August 2017, 5:35 PM

What’s the big deal about entering university? I mean, most of us been through 12 or more years in the Singapore education system – isn’t college just an extension of the journey as a student?

So when I finally enrolled two years ago, to take my mind on the fact I was facing yet more mugging, I decided to throw myself into all the fun stuff. I took part in 3 camps before school started and tried things like kayaking and diving. I took it as my chance to try anything and everything I wanted to.

It should have been the best time of my life, but it … wasn’t.

First, I was starting a course that was my third choice. It wasn’t that I hated social science – it just wasn’t what I wanted to do, and didn’t sound very exciting to me. Second, I wanted to get out of school as quickly as I could – to go out and experience the world.

I didn’t know why God put me in SMU, much less the School of Social Science. I didn’t bother asking Him. I didn’t consider how He may have placed me here for something beyond just getting a degree.

But as the school days went by, God began to move, unexpectedly.

So now I’ve come to realise: I’m not just a student. I’m an ambassador for Christ, purposefully placed in my school.

I vividly remember one sociology lesson in which we discussed religions, and how cults are formed. As we argued about whether religion is real and how much of it is a social construct, my friend turned to me: “You’re a Christian right? What’s that like?”

My classmates were asking me to share Christ with them. In class! Some listened out of curiosity. Some later told me that they’ve been exploring various religions, and were especially interested in exploring Christianity.

I was stunned at how God could move. I wasn’t intentionally looking for a chance to proclaim the Good News, or actively looking for opportunities to bring my friends closer to Christ. But He made it happen.

You know how it says in Matthew 9:37-38 that “the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few”? I’d always doubted it. What harvest? Where? But when classmates and school friends came forward and initiated these divine conversations, I began to believe.

So now I’ve come to realise: I’m not just a student. I’m an ambassador for Christ, purposefully placed in my school. My job is to be faithful in loving people and bringing them closer to Him.

I was so focused on what school could do for me that I forgot to consider how God is working there. Missing out on what God is doing, and simply getting through by university as quickly as possible, would be my loss.

If I could turn back time to when I first started university, I’d take more time to seek God’s purpose for me in the school. I’d change my mindset – not viewing university as just another four years of school, but learning to see the campus as my mission field.

 

/ jolene@thir.st

Jolene is inquisitive about things big and small. She loves discovering new things and giving them a shot. Her greatest love: Stuffed animals.

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On the ‘gram, I get to be God

by Thir.st | 5 August 2017, 10:25 PM

Recently, it seems like more people are privatising their Instagram accounts.

I kinda get that. Most of us don’t want to be stalked by strangers – we only want to share our lives with those we know and are comfortable with.

Personally, I find it ironic to be privatising something so social. Isn’t Instagram meant to share one’s life? After everything has been flatly laid out in the open, now we’re suddenly trying to control the number of people we share it with.

Some users have even created “finstagram” or “fake Instagram” accounts on Instagram. These accounts are reserved for the more candid, #nofilter moments – the real moments – despite the ironic name. They’re more personal, not meant for the public eye, and the pictures which do not fit the look and feel of the main account get uploaded there.

Yes, we all desire to show the best sides of ourselves to the world, but I think it’s worth examining: What’s the heart behind our usage of Instagram?

For there are bound to be problems when we are given the power of building an image for ourselves – especially our own.

DO NOT MAKE FOR YOURSELF AN IMAGE

When we share snapshots of our lives on Instagram, we naturally pick from the highlights of our day and the photogenic moments. And this can make for quite a misleading picture. Because who is inclined to feature the struggles faced, the ugly disappointments that come our way?

So you’ve got a couple of double-taps. But who truly knows your heart?

In the world of social media, reality and truth come second place to “likeability” and good angles. We rarely see posts from the pit – tales from a tough time that may not make the person sharing look good but could encourage many who silently walk a similar path.

Instead, we often choose to tell the most attractive version of our journey – we curate a life worth worshipping.

But isn’t a half-truth, a lie? Nobody’s life is that pretty. Life is messy, uncontrollable and pain-full, but we live in a time where the best accounts portray lives that look the tidiest – the most put-together. Well-choreographed with great lighting, like an IKEA showroom.

We hide behind panels and pictures, a people in pain hoping to convince everyone and ourselves that everything looks better than it feels. And as human interaction is increasingly diluted into emojis and likes – we’re forgetting how to communicate what matters.

We hide behind panels and pictures, a people in pain hoping to convince everyone and ourselves that everything looks better than it feels.

So before you post that picture today, stop and ask yourself: How’s your online heart?

There’s a real difference to be made as Christians in the virtual world. But if we continue making it all about ourselves, no one will know what it is.

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.” (Deuteronomy 5:8)

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Stop being hard on yourself

by | 31 July 2017, 1:35 PM

“Give chance, leh.”

Sure, that’s easy – when it comes to giving others a chance. But it’s so difficult when it comes to giving myself a chance.

I’m 21, and I’ve been going to church all my life. From Sunday school to student ministry, I’ve learnt quite a lot on how Christians should act.

Be joyful always (1 Thessalonians 5:16), for example. That’s a command, right? So I have to be joyful. I have to suppress all my anger, hurt, bitterness and any other negative emotions.

But … I’m only human. I will get angry, hurt, bitter, and all the rest of it.

And when I do, I feel defeated. Like I’ve failed. The very fact that I could even have these feelings make me detest myself.

Get your act together, Jolene! What’s wrong with you?!

In the midst of the struggle, I forgot to love and be gracious to myself. I’d bought into the lie that I can be perfect as long as I try hard enough. But then why would I even need grace?

I suppress these feelings as much as I can – I don’t want people to know that I have such struggles. I don’t want it to show.

So when people ask if I’m alright, I say I’m fine. And in my head, I repeat the same words over and over again in an attempt to convince myself that everything is going to be fine.

But the more I try to keep these emotions in, the more they want to fight their way out. In fact, they come up even stronger than before. It’s a game of tug of war I am very evidently losing. And soon, I start to believe there is no way I could possibly emerge out of this mess. Paralysed by negativity, I let myself be convinced that I have lost the fight.

People tell me that God has won the battles for me, and I have nothing to fear because I am fighting from a position of victory. Strange – I don’t feel victorious.

I am not good enough, I tell myself – that’s why I can’t control my emotions. I should be ashamed for breaking down and stressing out. I can’t withstand the wind, let alone storms. If others can do it, why can’t I? Why am I so weak? God won’t want me as His child.

Then God speaks.

“Why are you so hard on yourself, my child? It’s alright if you can’t do it. I never expected you to do it on your own strength. Why would you hold yourself to that standard?”

In the midst of the struggle, I forgot to love and be gracious to myself. I’d bought into the lie that I can be perfect as long as I try hard enough.

But then why would I even need grace?

I’ve learnt that fighting from the position of victory doesn’t mean the fight will be an easy one. It simply means that my Father is here to fight for me, and with me.

Loving is God’s speciality. In the pursuit of holiness, I’d forgotten about that. While this doesn’t excuse us from pursuing the maximum standards in all aspects of our lives – especially holiness – we also have to fight to make room for the work grace in our lives. I am forgiven – and now my job is to learn to accept that truth.

/ jolene@thir.st

Jolene is inquisitive about things big and small. She loves discovering new things and giving them a shot. Her greatest love: Stuffed animals.

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Out of the depths of despair, a song of hope

by Sam Chua | 26 July 2017, 10:45 AM

In 2015, I heard the amazing testimony of Ivan and Rachel Tan.

Their baby, Johanna, had been diagnosed with a series of congenital heart defects that were diagnosed as life-threatening if left untreated. Treatment would involve multiple surgeries throughout the baby’s lifetime – and even then nothing was guaranteed.

It was a difficult season for the family, but as the church grieved together, I also witnessed a contagious perseverance to overcome the situation through prayer.

Families gathered, various cell groups prayed, and they were covered in prayer at prayer meetings. None of this was planned.

I wrote a song describing what I saw: How brave the family was, and how united the church grew as it came together.

Heart Warrior is a song about receiving comfort in our moment of need. While we may not have physical heart defects like Johanna, the human heart is frail.

Fear consistently seeps into our hearts. We bite our nails over the what-ifs, the uncertain future, and unbearable tragedies.

At such difficult times, we often comfort ourselves with sayings such as “shalom” or “God is with us”. But what exactly would help you to hear in such a low moment?

This song speaks of His hope, His love and His peace. We’ve all have been through times when we are at our lowest, when we are on our knees, alone in our room, crying. This song comes from a place of personal worship.

While we may not have physical heart defects like Johanna, the human heart is frail.

As I wrote the song, I imagined a scene of the Father’s arms around us when we’re all alone. He’s wiping our tears and comforting us.

I wrote Heart Warrior in the hope of comforting an individual, just like in Psalm 23:4-6. I pray that the song lifts the hearts of the people back to the heart of God, comforting and lifting their spirits in a new and fresh manner.

Jesus is here and always for us. No matter what we are going through, He will always be with us. We pray that you will hear the song and be blessed!

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The melting pot that is Singapore

by Thir.st | 21 July 2017, 6:53 PM

“Is it Masterchef today?”

Nadzirah’s eyes sparkled with excitement. It’s a quiet Saturday morning but there’s a buzz of excitement in the air. Everyone’s come armed with pots and groceries.

It’s an unlikely bunch we have in the kitchen today: Ze Qiang, an engineering student, together with exhibition designer Nadzirah and graphic designer Veneetha.

Their challenge for the day: To teach each other how to make a signature dessert from their own culture.

“I HOPE THIS WILL MAKE MY KAMPUNG PROUD”

Nadzirah starts the ball rolling by explaining her dish for the day – ondeh-ondeh. This well-loved dish only requires a few simple, common ingredients.

The trio splits the work between them efficiently. Nadzirah instructs Ze Qiang to cut the gula melaka – the ingredient crucial to the dish – into little cubes, along with the pandan leaves into very precise 4cm strips. After all, precision is key to Nadzirah’s interior design background.

“Pandan leaves are there to add flavour and for the coconut to last longer. That’s what my mum told me,” Nadzirah says confidently as she puts the grated coconut into the steamer and begins on the dough.

“Why do you use glutinous rice flour?” Ze Qiang asks.

“Err … actually I don’t know, ask my mum.” Nadzirah answers with a little laugh. This is far from the only time their mums are mentioned throughout the day, as the source of the recipes and tips.

“I hope this will make my kampung proud!”

A TRADITIONAL DISH WITH A MODERN TWIST

“I’ve actually never made gulab jamun myself before.”

Veneetha looks sheepishly at Ze Qiang and Nadzirah. Out of the snacks her Indian family makes on Deepavali, gulab jamun is the easiest to make. And it is also her personal favourite.

“It’s is a milk-solid-based ball that is deep fried and soaked in syrup. Many people think that it originated from India. But we kind of stole it from the Persians.”

Everyone laughs. The dry ingredients are poured into the mixing bowl. By now, the trio has clearly warmed up to each other in the kitchen.

“Before I saw the recipe, I didn’t know that it was mainly milk powder. I always thought that it was made of something luxurious.”

Ze Qiang asks Veneetha about the origin behind the name of the dish.

Gulab refers to rose water in Persian, so they used to use rose water-infused syrup. Jamun refers to an Indian fruit with a similar size and shape.”

“Food does bring people together!”

They split the load of forming evenly-shaped balls from the dough. No one’s made this before, so the trio decides to experiment frying just one ball first.

Nothing happens.

“I guess it is a little too calm,” Ze Qiang says, laughing. Then they realise that the stove hasn’t been switched on and everyone breaks into laughter.

“When I told my mum I was going to add honey to the syrup, she was a little doubtful. I think it’s a modern take to this dish,” Veneetha explains as she starts on the syrup. The traditional recipe uses cane sugar.

The frying continues and the sweet fragrance of milk fills the air. Nadzirah shares about her experience buying gulab jamun from a stall at Little India.

“The uncle just put that one ball and the syrup into a teh peng bag, I was just carrying it around like that!” She recalls the overwhelming sweetness from that time, but is excited to try it again today with Veneetha’s modern spin on the recipe.

For the rest of us, it is our first time ever hearing of this dessert.

AN INHERITED FAMILY RECIPE

It’s almost lunchtime as they move swiftly through the preparation of the ingredients for the final fish. Nadzirah attempts at chopping the yam into chunks. Looking at the amount of strength she is using, Ze Qiang steps in to take over.

Orh nee is served at almost any Chinese restaurant. It is usually paired with gingko nuts and pumpkin. But this recipe is passed down … It’s like a family recipe,” he says.

“My mother was quite insistent that I made this.”

They practise pronouncing the name of the dish while waiting for the yam to be ready. Veneetha and Nadzirah repeat the words after Ze Qiang slowly a few times. Singaporeans know it as orh nee, meaning yam paste in Teochew.

The sliced shallots are lowered into the hot oil. Everyone is mesmerised by the fragrance and sizzling sound of the shallots being fried. Ze Qiang motions for the girls to try the perfectly fried shallots. Everyone’s eyes widen upon tasting the shallots and Nadzirah goes back in for more.

“This will go so well with mee soto. Or briyani!”

HARMONY IN DIVERSITY

It is finally time to taste the three dishes after a hectic morning.

As they taste the dishes before them, their eyes light up in delight. Smiles appear on their faces.

“I would never have thought of having shallots in my dessert,” Veneetha casually comments.

Nadzirah is also pleasantly surprised that the gulab jamun turned out to be less sweet than she expected. Veneetha guesses that it’s due to the honey substituting the cane sugar, as well as a shorter soaking time. Traditionally, the balls are soaked in the syrup overnight.

“Well, I like it better this way!”

As they eat, laughter fills the air, along with nods of approval, relieved faces and satisfied tummies. Which is your favourite, we ask the three.

Eyes dart left and right. They say it’s hard to pick a favourite because they’re all so differently unique: The savoury yam paste, chewy ondeh-ondeh and not-so-sweet gulab jamun.

We realise that that’s the trademark of Singapore – where vibrant and diverse cultures live together in harmony.

As Ze Qiang puts it, the diversity we have is what makes Singapore unique.

“Having diversity in races adds colour to our country. For example, the different kinds of food that each race brings gives us a variety of food which allows us to experience the different flavours we would not have known otherwise. This includes the traditions and cultures too.”

Nadzirah agrees that it is important for Singaporeans to make the effort to get to know different races and understand the different cultures.

“Getting to know different races, understanding different cultures just add colours to your life. Colours are very important to me. I don’t like to lead a dull life.

“I’ve learnt that there are so many other desserts out there that we have yet to try. If we just stick to what we know, our own culture, we tend to miss out on a lot.”

RESPECTING ROOTS

The trio also acknowledged how blessed we are to live in a country where there’s an intrinsic respect for each other’s roots, and where we have a culture of openness in asking and learning.

Ze Qiang believes that being conscious and respectful towards each other’s beliefs and culture is also key to maintaining racial harmony in such a diverse society. Everyone has a part to play in this.

“I think generally Singapore is quite harmonious. However, there can be some unintentional segregation that happens naturally if we are not careful. Like how people tend to stick to their own kind. We are also bound to have conflicts over different beliefs and cultures,” he says.

“But if everyone takes the effort to understand and reach out to the other races, everyone can live in harmony.”

“Having diversity in races adds colour to our country.”

Veneetha adds that the openness to working together is key.

“Before coming into this, I thought the other recipes were going to be complicated and probably something that I will never be able to do on my own. But with some help and guidance from my friends, the recipes that were shared turned out to be surprisingly simple and I will definitely make them again.”

She also felt that finding a common interest also helps to bridge the gaps between people and their differences.

“This simple experience made me more knowledgable about the other cultures in Singapore and I think everyone should make an effort like this. Food does bring people together!”

Nadzirah recalls that as part of the preparation process prior to this shoot, everyone brought brand new utensils and crockery to ensure that halal standards are respected and adhered to.

While this made things logistically more complicated and troublesome, everyone chipped in without complaints.

“Thank you for complying to the halal standards, I really appreciate it,” she tells the other two.

Singapore: We may be made up of different ingredients and cultures, but we’re still good and sweet together.

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The house I don’t dare step into

by | 15 July 2017, 9:34 AM

God sent His one and only son, Jesus, to die on the Cross for all our sins. None of us could ever do anything to deserve such a gesture from Him. But God demonstrated His love ever so extravagantly.

Why would God do that for a small fry like me?

I know I don’t deserve any of His love. It doesn’t make sense, and I don’t think it will for as long as I live. I feel so undeserving.

And that’s when I pull away from Him.

Imagine you’re at some camp, you’re just done with the outdoor games, and you’re absolutely filthy, covered in mud, dripping with water. All you’re thinking of is finding a toilet to wash up, when suddenly a friend invites you over to his place.

It’s a posh bungalow, the most magnificent you’ve ever seen. The floor is clean white marble and the house is as grand as a castle.

Would you step in?

I wouldn’t. I’d feel too embarrassed to step into the house. With every step, I’d dirty the place and leave my filthy footprints trailing behind me. I’d rather stay outside the house and peep in. Never would I want to make anything so white and clean dirty because of me.

So that’s me. I stand outside God’s house, peeping in as I am drenched in the filth of my sins. Despite God’s invitation, I refuse to enter His house, out of fear that I’d dirty His house.

Being a Christian is not an easy affair. I’ll never be able to be as holy as Jesus. I’ll lose my temper at my parents. I’ll sin even if I don’t want to. I’ll fall short of God’s standards. I’ll tarnish God’s reputation.

I can’t enter God’s house because I don’t deserve to enter it, my mind reasons to itself. I haven’t done anything as noble as the 12 disciples, or anyone in the Bible. I’m just a lay person struggling with my insignificant matters. I am of no use to God. I will never be clean enough to enter His house.

The cycle only gets worse and worse. The more I separate myself from God, the more I think that God doesn’t care about me anymore.

And so, as God stretches out His hand, I pull back. I create a barrier between myself and Him. I distance myself from Him, meaning I deprive myself of God’s presence. What I’m not worthy of, I wouldn’t even dream of approaching.

The cycle only gets worse and worse. The more I separate myself from God, the more I think that God doesn’t care about me anymore. The more I turn away from Him, the more I believe that He isn’t there for me, that He has forsaken me. The more I shut Him out, the more I think that He doesn’t want to speak to me anymore.

The more I run from God, the more I believe that God, too, thinks I am indeed unworthy to be His child.

The truth is that none of us will ever truly be able to comprehend the full measure of God’s extravagant love. What we understand of God, we can only because He reveals Himself to us.

We will never deserve Him and all that He is doing for us. We can never match up to what God has already given, much less out-give Him – He’ll out-give us every single time.

How undeserving I am to have such a good Father!

This is the why God is the God of grace: We will never deserve the gift of God’s love. And neither is this a gift I can ever hope to repay in terms of giving something of equal worth.

The way He pursued and showed His love – that’s the greatest love story I will ever know. All I need to do is to receive Him with open arms, and let Him into my heart. When that happens, I posture myself to align my heart with His.

No more pulling away. No more allowing unworthiness to build a wall between us. He’s here and inviting me in because I am filthy rags, needing to be scrubbed clean.

/ jolene@thir.st

Jolene is inquisitive about things big and small. She loves discovering new things and giving them a shot. Her greatest love: Stuffed animals.

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God, I’m really struggling. Why are you staying silent?

by Jeffrey Chong, Senior Pastor, Hope Church Singapore | 13 July 2017, 12:51 PM

The walls of Jericho fell in seven days. Maybe you’ve been walking around walls for a lot longer. Maybe you’re wondering: I thought they’d have fallen by now.

God doesn’t always give the same specific instructions – walk around the city once for the first six days and seven times on the seventh – to bring strongholds down. Sometimes He says just one word: Go. Other times, He says a little more.

Truth be told, God doesn’t reveal everything all the time. It is not that He’s clueless; He knows what we need so much and offers us what we can handle. He works in His way and time, for our best.

However, in life, in this journey with God, there will definitely come a time where God seems silent. He does not respond like how He used to. He doesn’t feel as close. He doesn’t seem to be hearing any of the prayers.

And this is where doubt begins to creep in. Is God really there? Is He really good?

When I pray unceasingly but nothing seems to be happening, is God doing anything at all?

When my friends, who I thought were devout Christians, leave the faith, where is He? When God-loving people get diagnosed with cancer, receive bad grades, or get retrenched – why does God allow bad things happen to His children?

When God remains “silent”, the human mind tries to make sense of things.

Maybe it was because I didn’t repent fully the previous time. Perhaps there’s sin in my life that I’m not be aware of. Or He may possibly be a little too busy with other people who are more important than me. This could very well be God’s judgment and punishment for me.

When the wicked outnumber the righteous in this world, compromise seems to be the way to go: If you can’t beat them, join them, right?

But what about those among us who continue to do what is right, even when justice gets perverted? What is the point of being right with God if He does not look like He is keeping to His word of upholding the righteous?

God’s apparent inactivity frustrates Christians. It’s the human part of us reacting.

We go to God, questioning why He would allow such a thing to happen. Bad things should only happen to bad people, we cry. I’m a good person who fears God and follows His ways – why should this bad thing happen to me?

Why aren’t you doing anything, God?

The open wounds hurt, and the more we scratch at the scab of doubt, the worse it gets.

God displays His love by doing what is best for us. An answered prayer is one that is answered according to God’s will.

Initially, the anger may be directed at what’s around us – maybe the corrupt environment, or the broken social system. However, sometimes this blame shifts gradually towards God. Frustrations and complaints get dumped onto God.

(By the way, don’t think that God gets upset when we complain to Him. He is way more secure than anyone mortal you can think of.)

Before we know it, leaving the faith becomes an option, since He doesn’t seem to be around.

Even though it makes sense in the logical mind to walk away from God, the truth is: It doesn’t.

Just because I don’t see the air around me doesn’t mean that there is none. Just because I don’t see the sun in the night sky doesn’t mean it has vanished overnight. Just because I don’t hear from God doesn’t mean that He is not working.

God displays His love by doing what is best for us. His best may not necessarily be granting our every prayer, like a genie. He won’t go around killing people just because they prayed – like Elijah and Jonah did – “I’ve had enough, I want to die.”

An answered prayer is one that is answered according to God’s will.

Trust that regardless of how the situation may seem, God is at work behind the scenes. God is at work – often for the bigger picture. Our current hurts and pains may very well be used to heal many others in the future.

We need to see beyond what is directly in front of us. This calls for trust.

It is not that God only works when we pray. God already started working even before the words had rolled off our tongues. He knows our needs even before we know them ourselves.

He is never early; He is never late. He works perfectly, in His perfect timing.

“Before a word is on my tongue, You, Lord, know it completely.” (Psalm 139:4)

Oftentimes, when God remains silent, He is training us to have stronger faith in Him. It is in these moments of silence where we exercise our faith.

If faith is anchored upon the visible and all that is apparent, that isn’t faith anymore, is it?

The question is not whether God is listening. He is. The question is: In the midst of waiting for change to come, how will I choose to respond?

By God’s grace, our scars become stars. By God’s goodness, our tests become testimonies.

The question is not whether God is listening. He is. The question is: In the midst of waiting for change to come, how will I choose to respond?

The logical mind beckons me to turn and walk away, because I can’t see God in my crisis. The weak soul simply yearns to cruise by, not wanting to face this turmoil and question too much. The heart of faith teaches me that I must remain rooted, trusting His promises because He has never failed.

So do you rely on your own understanding, ignore the crisis or trust God? This is the decision you have to make. This is the decision that will reflect your heart’s true posture of faith.

God’s promises still stand. God’s word will come to pass. This is my confidence.

Trust Him.


This article was adapted from a sermon by Jeffrey Chong, Senior Pastor of Hope Church Singapore.

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Stepping out of my sibling’s shadow

by Joan Yeo | 10 July 2017, 3:29 PM

There’s the middle child syndrome, the only child stereotype and now, the younger sibling struggle.

Siblings are expected to be similar. People expect you to behave the same, maybe even look the same.

Growing up, I went to all the same schools as my older sister. Even though we are half a decade apart, I was always known as her sister. She was extremely popular among her peers and teachers; teachers’ eyes would light up immediately whenever I drew the link between us.

It doesn’t just happen in school. My sister and I serve in the dance ministry in church. She entered the ministry about 4 years before I did. When I joined her there, everyone asked me “so, you do ballet too?”

I have to admit that my sister and I are quite similar in many ways. We look alike, we’re interested in dance.

Even my parents perpetuated the feeling. I’ve always followed my sister in terms of what I do, which school I go to, and even where I take my enrichment lessons. My parents seemed to make her the test subject, the prototype, for me to follow.

Frankly, it was blissful. She took all the risks and first times, so I could have a safer journey.

But instead of following God’s plan for my life, I was following God’s plan for my sister’s life.

My sister went on to become a lawyer. My parents also came to expect me to pursue an occupation that was as prestigious as hers – meaning either law or medicine. So it was almost instinctive for me to apply for those.

But I stopped short. I realised that at this age – on the cusp of adulthood – I had a big question to ask: Whose life is this anyway?

Just like how even identical twins have different thumbprints, God made us unique individuals. Has has a special plan for every single one of us.

But instead of following God’s plan for my life, I was following God’s plan for my sister’s life.

Would I follow God’s plan for my sister or His plan for me?

Forget medicine. Forget law. When I told my parents I wanted to study business, they pushed back immediately. Where will a business degree get you in in life? It’s just a general degree – what a waste of money! You want the stability that a degree in law or medicine offers.

But in the end, I wanted to study business.

The journey of stepping out of my sister’s shadow was one filled with trepidation. I’d be lying if I were to say I wasn’t fearful.

I’d grown so comfortable with taking the safe route that I forgot to seek God about the things I was doing. My sister had gone before me and been through everything that I am facing now. I just did what she did.

I thought I had peace in my heart – but it wasn’t peace, just passivity.

In the safety of my sister’s shadow, my trust wasn’t in God, but in my sister. My assurance was in seeing my sister succeed, and thinking I could do the same. I’d always put my hope in what I could see – which was my sister, blazing a trail before me. But …

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)

So now I’ve started out on my own path. In my choice of school, then my career, and who knows where that will lead me.

Coming out of my sibling’s shadow is scary. But all is well. It felt safe there – but I know who’s leading me to a better place.

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Burnt out? More like plugged out

by | 5 July 2017, 5:58 PM

Burnout. You hear it so much these days.

Candles burn out when there is no wax left to draw from. Fires burn out when there’s no more oxygen left to fuel the flames. Engines burn out when they overheat. Employees burn out when they get too tired from working too hard. People burn out when the demands placed on them exceed the resources available to them, or in them.

Why I was burnt out? Because I was plugged out. Plugged out from God. I stood at the gates of God’s house and never took a step in.

I lost sight of the Maker. I was so focused on the things I needed to do that abiding in His presence became a lower priority. Instead of renewing the oil in my lamp on a daily basis, it became a weekly affair, then a monthly one, then …

The oil ran out. I burnt out.

In that period of burnout, I mostly felt lost. Things were just meaningless.

Dance and music were my go-tos whenever I needed a little boost or something to lift my spirits. But soon even these passions died off. I still served in the worship team, went for dance practice, practiced on my instrument at home. But it all felt so pointless.

Thoughts of self-condemnation infiltrated my mind. I found myself feeling an overwhelming sense of fatigue. No matter how much people around me tried to extend love, I dismissed it as them merely trying to fulfil their duties as a good Christian. I just felt bitterness and hatred towards everything and everyone.

I know God is everywhere, but I could not find God as I burned.

If I were to use a single word to describe that year, it would be: Abandoned.

I know God is everywhere, but I could not find God as I burned. Church – services, camp – felt empty. As I saw others raise their hands and voices to God, I stood there feeling as if my soul had left my body. I knew I would be just paying lip service if I mimicked them.

Several times in that season I cried out to God; I was angry at Him for not doing anything. I was crushed, feeling He was not there when I needed Him the most.

It felt like I was drowning. I was overwhelmed by the waves crashing over me; it took all I had just to stay afloat. The longer I tried, the more tired I became, and I know I could not keep it up for much longer.

Then I saw an outstretched hand for me to grab hold of. And as I grabbed it, I realised it had always been there. I was so distracted by the waves that I’d just chosen to ignore it.

God’s hand had been there all the time.

He was present on the many nights my tears soaked my pillow through. He sent people to walk alongside me. He made sure I never got more than I could handle. He wouldn’t let me crash and burn.

Burnout can be a big problem. It’s surprisingly common in churches, especially among those who actively serve – people are expected to be on the ball and always doing fine. When you request for a break, leaders may even try to convince you not to.

Yes, it is good to serve the church fervently. It is biblical to minister to and serve His people. But our primary duty as a child of God is to love the Father and abide in Him. God is not pleased when we serve Him solely with our hands – He wants our hearts to be yielded towards Him. God wants us to adopt the posture of Mary, not Martha.

Then I saw an outstretched hand for me to grab hold of. And as I grabbed it, I realised it had always been there.

Beyond just taking a break, more importantly, make sure you journey through this season with God. It’s tough to pull through – I felt like giving up countless times. Persevere, because He is the unchanging one.

In the time of Noah, eventually the rains had to stop, and the floods subside. In the time of Elijah, eventually the dry season had to end, and a cloud would appear, ready to burst forth with healing rains.

And so it will be for you, too.

/ jolene@thir.st

Jolene is inquisitive about things big and small. She loves discovering new things and giving them a shot. Her greatest love: Stuffed animals.

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Compassion without compromise

by Darius Lee | 29 June 2017, 6:05 PM

One of my friends came out to me. He said he was in a same-sex relationship.

I found it a highly uncomfortable experience; it shocked me because this friend was a friend in Christ. What was worse was how unhappy he was. All Christians are hypocrites, he said, talking about the harm and hurt he’d been through over other issues.

I’m Christian. It felt like those accusations were fired at me, too.

But the more I talked to him, the more I realised that all he was saying came from a position of hurt and pain. Deep down within him, he was struggling and wrestling with many different hurts in his life.

How should I respond, I wondered.

 

I thought about Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well. The Samaritan woman was sexually broken, marginalised, ostracised. She drew her water at noon, possibly to avoid people. She shunned the attention.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, she met Jesus (John 4).

We learn that the Samaritan woman had had five husbands and was carrying on with a sixth man. I’m guessing she was driven by a desire for intimacy, so she went from one man to another. She sought a man who would truly love, understand and care for her. Unfortunately, she found herself disappointed time and again.

Jesus met her at where she was, and immediately identified her thirst for intimacy.

Though she sought intimacy with men, Jesus gave her intimacy with God.

She was going from one well to another, one man to another – drawing from “wells” that did not satisfy. She was looking for love at all the wrong places.

Thought she was afraid of being alone and yearning for someone to know her, Jesus invited her into intimacy with God through worship in Spirit and Truth (John 4:23-24).

Though she sought water, Jesus gave living water.

Though she sought intimacy with men, Jesus gave her intimacy with God.

Though she sought the natural, Jesus gave the spiritual.

 

The Samaritan woman’s issue was not her sexuality, but her relationship with God. Jesus knew everything the women ever did, but neither rejected nor condemned her, instead revealing who He truly is – the Christ.

Jesus loved unconditionally.

But unconditional love does not equate to unconditional approval. Love acts as a moral compass, to discern between the good and bad, the truth and lies. Love is bringing truth to light.

As we bring out the truth, we do it with love.

 

There are two big misconceptions I see in our culture. One is that we have to compromise on our convictions in order to be compassionate. Two, if we love someone, we have to approve of their actions and beliefs as well.

However, truth and love are not inconsistent. We tell the truth about God’s design of human nature, marriage and sexuality not because we hate or fear people but precisely because we love them.

The ultimate focus should be on God and who we are in Him. We are all created in the image of God. If they are believers, their identity should be as a child of God whom Christ has died for.

We are not defined by our sexual orientations, sexual behaviour, sexual past.

The Church must be a safe space where people know they can come and share about their past and present struggles without the worry of being judged.

If anything, our backgrounds should be seen as what we did before we come to know Christ, and were sanctified and justified by the Spirit of God. Our histories should not be our identity, but our testimony.

Sexuality is broken in this sinful world, but it is not the only form of brokenness. While we must address the issue of sexuality, we must avoid addressing only this issue.

There are many other sins, apart from homosexuality. The Samaritan woman’s sexuality was not the biggest issue. Her relationship with God was of greater importance.

 

As the Church, we must be family, an authentic community for everyone, married or single, whether struggling with sexual or any other issues. The Church must be a safe space where people know they can come and share about their past and present struggles without the worry of being judged.

This is how God loves. We should love even if it makes us uncomfortable.

I recognise the rainbow as a promise from God – a promise that He will not destroy us all. A symbol of His grace and His son.

People now see the rainbow in the context of the legalisation of homosexual unions. That is presented as a victory for love – but we already know Love won 2,000 years ago on the Cross, when Jesus died and rose again.

Love won when Christ restored our relationship with God. Jesus has already given us the most perfect love. No human relationship could ever compare.

Every single one of us struggles with the issue of loneliness; the ultimate loneliness comes when we are separated from God. When we have that fellowship with God, we need not be lonely again. It is this love that we are called to share with everyone out there.

You have messed up, so have I. Go to Him – He gives us rest.

Love has won.

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Rethinking work-life balance: It’s about injecting life into your work

by | 29 June 2017, 5:18 PM

Work-life balance. That’s the dream, right?

We all want to find that balance, giving us enough time and energy for both work and everything else in our life. Not only do employees want it, employers do, too – the happy employee is more creative, relaxed, emotionally and mentally well. No one is a robot, definitely not one that simply works 24 hours a day.

Google believes in this strongly – they’ve gone so far as to experiment with having employees leave their electronic devices at work before they leave the office. Colgate-Palmolive has won plaudits for partnering with external organisations to build a supportive work environment and offer flexible work arrangements.

It’s almost like the holy grail – everyone strives to achieve work-life balance, hoping that life will be better when that is achieved.

But what if you really find that balance … only to find that life isn’t necessarily better?

 

WORK ON YOUR CHARACTER

The key to working sustainably is to have a balance between work and character.

It’s very common for us to learn to serve before we truly know who God is, and experience Him for ourselves. This is dangerous for us – and those we think we’re ministering to.

The more you minister, the more you need the stability of the Word of God and the stability of your character being transformed through Christ. This is what will sustain you, and your ministry.

Apostle Paul did not make it to the end on the basis of his works; it was his spiritual courage that brought him that far.

Jesus was not fuelled by the miracles he performed – that was the output of His constant yielding towards God. His death on the Cross was the finished work; His love for the Father was what got Him there.

 

WORK OUT OF YOUR PURPOSE

The reason why Christians are despised is because they do not compromise on their values.

Most of us aren’t called into traditional full-time ministry. Most of us are called into jobs in the secular world. How often do we see our work as a service to God? How can God possibly use my mundane skills for His kingdom?

Bring light into darkness. Stand firm in your values. It’s not just about separating yourself from the world; it’s about constantly yielding yourself to do what is right before God – learning never to compromise on anything for God.

Set your mind, set your heart: Be unwilling to compromise. Sticking by Godly principles at work glorifies God. Know why you’re there, and let that guiding light determine your path.

Bring light into darkness. Stand firm in your values. It’s not just about separating yourself from the world; it’s about constantly yielding yourself to do what is right before God.

And if you get flak, opposition or even persecution from the world for doing so, take heart. You’re on the right side of good.

Walk in victory, knowing that where there is light, there cannot be darkness.

 

WORK HARD FOR GOD

Making God pre-eminent in your life means putting God first consistently in everything you do.

Consider Daniel, who worked for King Nebuchadnezzar – the very King who sieged Jerusalem – then Belshazzar, then Darius. Daniel had every reason to despise those whom he served. Nonetheless, he pursued excellence.

It’s what got him promoted all the way to the top. It’s how we’re called to work.

This helped buy him favour with the kings, who “found none equal” (Daniel 1:19). This helped him overcome the spells where he disobeyed when ordered to worship the king.

His disobedience only came at the line where he had to choose between serving God and king, but he always responded with honour and respect. Coupled with the miracles of interpreting dreams and escaping the lions’ den unharmed, the result was: Glory to God.

“Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings,” said Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 2:47). “I issue a decree that in every part of my kingdom people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel,” said Darius (Daniel 6:26).

 

WORK NOT FOR SELF-GLORY, BUT GOD’S GLORY

Promotion is a responsibility, not merely a reward.

Living in a country that runs on meritocracy, society views promotion as a marker of one’s calibre. It’s flattering.

But never forget that our appraisal by God matters more than our appraisal by Man.

Promotions are His way of entrusting more to us. Just as we serve the church well, there needs to be more effort put into upholding the same standards in the secular workplace.

When you receive a promotion, how do you respond? Do you see it as men affirming you – or affirming God’s work in you?

When you choose to honour God, He will honour you – thus enabling you to honour Him even more.

When Daniel was entrusted with more responsibilities and power over the entire empire, he didn’t let it get to his head. Instead, he rooted himself even deeper into the ways of the Lord. In Daniel 6:10, we learn: “Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.”

When you receive a promotion, how do you respond? Do you see it as men affirming you – or affirming God’s work in you?

 

WORK AS SALT OF THE EARTH

Your mission is to add flavour to whatever realm you’re placed in.

Salt – chemically known as sodium chloride – is one of the most stable compounds around.

But interesting things happen when it comes into contact with water: Its antiseptic properties are released, which is why it stings when salt water is poured over a wound.

Similarly, we are meant to infiltrate the secular world with our single-mindedness towards Christ.

Our entire life must be lived in service unto Him. To worship Him in all aspects of our lives includes working hard in the secular world – that they may see Jesus working in us.


This article was adapted from a message delivered by Professor Freddy Boey at Bethesda (Bedok-Tampines) Church in 2016.

/ jolene@thir.st

Jolene is inquisitive about things big and small. She loves discovering new things and giving them a shot. Her greatest love: Stuffed animals.

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Where are you going?

by | 28 June 2017, 5:37 PM

Kayaking is fun. I especially love the feeling of being pushed around by the waves. You’re in control, but not fully. You’re safe, but not totally.

I took a kayaking course recently, and the most important skill I learnt was how to rudder. Ruddering is a technique of changing one’s direction without stopping the boat completely.

Basically, you stick your paddle into the waters near the rear of your kayak; change the direction of the paddle, and you change the direction you’re heading.

Only with constant corrections will we get to our destination.

Ruddering helps you to steer the boat in the right direction as you continue moving forward. It’s an easier and more effective way to change directions, compared to other strokes.

The key is focus. When you don’t pay attention, the boat veers off course. Every single time, primarily due to the current and the waves. So if you don’t do anything, your kayak will move away from its original position.

Only with constant corrections will we get to our destination.

It’s pretty common to hear people testifying about their victory in overcoming a certain sin in their life. These testimonies bring great comfort and encouragement to those who hear them. It’s good to tell, and hear, of God’s goodness and power.

But they’re all so nicely packaged.

It almost feels like once you have emerged victorious from a single struggle, that will be the last you see of that sin. It seems the message is that others can instantly see sin kicked out of their lives, and so can you! All you need to do is overcome it once and you will be invincible thereafter!

But … that wasn’t what I experienced.

My Christian journey has been littered with so many struggles and painful encounters. Some were a little easier to handle, others took more time and energy.

Some struggles have made themselves pretty comfortable in my life. They come back to visit me from time to time.

How long will I have to deal with them? Psalm 119:112 tells me: Maybe longer than I’d like.

I am determined to keep your principles, even forever, to the very end. (Psalm 119:112, NIV)
I have inclined mine heart to perform thy statutes alway, even unto the end. (Psalm 119:112, KJV)

The Psalmist uses the word “determined” to describe the posture needed to uphold Godly principles in his life. Pursuing a life that is blameless before God is not going to be effortless.

Likewise, the King James Version describes this act as the inclination of one’s heart. This illustrates how the natural position of one’s heart is not towards God or His laws. It is unnatural for one to be yielded to God. In fact, it takes a deliberate effort to do so.

The world has its currents and its waves, threatening to push us wherever its agendas lie. What we learn in this world, we often need to unlearn when we enter the Kingdom of God. What we are taught in the Bible always seems to go against what is taught in this world.

The world tells us we are here to accumulate and enjoy the material things. God tells us nothing else matters that with all we have, we are to love God and His people (Mark 22:36-39).

The world tells us you have the right to live however you choose. God tells us that those who surrender our lives to Him will gain much more (Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24, Matthew 16:25).

My big misconception: That surrendering, laying down my life, would be a once-in-a-while thing.

Then there are the grey areas – the brackish water, the intertidal zones where the currents collide and things aren’t quite so clear. For example, we know that it is good to pursue excellence at work, but that becomes dangerous when this pursuit comes at the expense of your relationship with God. Just one of many dilemmas we face trying to do things God’s way.

So many undercurrents, all trying to push us away from our goal of leading a Christ-like life. And just like on my kayak, I realised if you don’t do anything, you’ll get swept away. It requires constant effort.

I remember a day when I was frustrated with God – questioning Him why I was still struggling with the same sins I was two, three years ago. I thought the struggle with this sin wouldn’t haunt me after I surrendered it to Him. Even if it does, shouldn’t it become easier to pull through? Why do I have to constantly struggle and realign my life?

My big misconception: That surrendering, laying down my life, would be a once-in-a-while thing. That I could just point my kayak at the start and sail straight on forever, or at worst only have to readjust my boat every now and then – say at my annual church conference and camp, or perhaps at some really awesome Sunday service.

Electronic devices: Some (I’m looking at you, iPhone) need to be recharged daily. Others, like a decent bluetooth mouse, can go months without seeing a wall plug.

I thought I fell in the latter group. I never thought of it as an ongoing, constant affair. I was so wrong.

We have to realign our lives with God’s on a regular basis – daily, if need be – because if we get too casual with our walk, when we allow other things to come into our hearts, we drift. And a slight deviation can sometimes bring you to a whole other place. Once we stop moving towards God, we begin to move away. There is no such thing as being stationary – it’s not a Christian walk if you’re not moving.

There is no truly still sea. Your kayak is moving – the question is whether you’re in control or not. We are either moving away or towards God.

Which way are you going?

/ jolene@thir.st

Jolene is inquisitive about things big and small. She loves discovering new things and giving them a shot. Her greatest love: Stuffed animals.

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The scandal of a generous God

by Jeffrey Chong, Senior Pastor, Hope Church Singapore | 23 June 2017, 5:50 PM

 

Maybe you know the parable of the rich young man, in Matthew 19:16-30, who asked Jesus what he needed to do to attain eternal life, and left crestfallen, having been told to sell everything he had.

This story is not about that rich young man, but about the 12 disciples. The young man had left, but the disciples’ minds were still on the topic. Since they had left everything behind and followed Jesus, what was in it for them? How would they be blessed by God?

After all, Jesus Himself told them in Matthew 19:29:

Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.

But Jesus wasn’t done there. That was just part of the equation. He followed it straight away with the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16). Jesus wanted to the disciples to know the right attitude in following, serving and giving to God.

WHICH WAGE SCHEME ARE YOU ON?

The first half of the parable (Matthew 20:1-7) sees the landowner hiring workers based on the needs of his harvest field. Throughout the day, he goes back and forth from the marketplace to hire workers at various times of the day – 6am, 9am, 12pm, 3pm and 5pm.

Among these workers, there were two different remuneration schemes offered. Workers who were hired at 6am were “promised the normal daily wage”. However, the other workers were hired based on promise that they will be paid “whatever was right at the end of the day”.

Our God is an atrociously gracious, generous God. How often we forget this.

Note that there was no specific amount stated. The workers went to work in the fields trusting the landowner’s integrity.

Think of God as the landowner, who wants to involve us in His works. God doesn’t involve us because He needs us. Neither are we qualified to work with God either. Instead, God involves us because of His generosity and graciousness.

So if God involves us in His work because He is gracious to us, not because He needs us, likewise, we should not serve God in order to get something from Him – “Give me this, and I will serve you.”

WHO’S COUNTING?

In the second half of the parable, the landowner pays the workers (Matthew 20:8-16), starting with the workers hired at 5pm, and ending with those hired at 6am. The order is important; it shows that the landowner wanted to let the 6am workers see how much the others were paid.

All workers were paid the same day’s wage, one denarius – even those who worked for only an hour.

While the other workers were being paid, the 6am workers expected to be paid more. They were probably thinking: He got a day’s wage for an hour’s work? I worked for 12 hours – I should be paid 12 times more!

They got the same amount – 1 denarius. And they grumbled about it.

Here’s the key: The late workers, who trusted in the landowner’s generosity, were given a reward. However, the 6am workers, who trusted in their contracts with the landowners, were given their wages.

Wages are what we rightfully deserve while gifts are what we do not deserve. God gives gifts; God does not dispense wages.

Our God is an atrociously gracious, generous God. How often we forget this.

We lose sight of God’s generosity when we forget that it is only by grace that we get to work in His vineyard. There were more than enough workers, but he still wanted to involve – to reward – as many workers as he could.

THE PLANK IN OUR EYES

Serving God becomes hard work when we lose the joy and wonder of appreciating how we are able to serve God. When we lose the joy of simply serving God, that is the beginning of the end. Instead of serving God, the giver of good things, we sometimes see ourselves as workers bearing the heat of the day to receive wages.

The 6am workers lost sight of the landowner’s generosity when they got envious. Envy puts a plank in our eyes, blocking us from seeing God’s generosity.

In your service to God, in your walk of faith, which worker are you? Are you being paid wages or given gifts?

God gives gifts; God does not dispense wages.

The story is really about the remarkable character of the generous landowner. He kept going back to get more and more people to work in his vineyard even though it would not benefit him. He was willing to lose a full day’s wages to hire workers even at 5pm.

It caused him everything he had to pay in this way.

He sent His son, Jesus, to die for all our sins. That’s the price He paid, in His grace, to assure us of a place in His kingdom.

That’s the scandal of grace.


This article was adapted from a sermon first preached on March 12, 2017, by Senior Pastor Jeffrey Chong of Hope Church Singapore.

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Help, I’m the victim. Again

by | 20 June 2017, 5:24 PM

“Get your act together”, my friend said.

I was appalled. Immediately a voice started rattling in my head, with a response I’d rehearsed one too many times.

What do you think I’ve been doing? Sitting in a pool of my own tears waiting for Prince Charming to save me from my misery? If I could have packed up my emotions in a nice little box and sent it off, I would have done so a long time ago. You just don’t understand how bad this has been for me.

Over the years, I have honed the intricate craft of playing the victim. I was always pointing fingers at everyone around me for everything that went wrong in my life.

Being a victim gives you the excuse to be helpless. You readily blame others for landing you in your current state. And if someone else is always to blame, you get to do whatever you want in response without having to take any responsibility for it.

My favourite activity: throwing myself a pity party. Who doesn’t love a good pity party?

WHAT’S YOUR VICTIM STORY?

Victimising myself became an excuse I would use whenever I wanted to avoid having to deal with uncomfortable situations. I became a victim every time I faced something unpleasant. You know how the Bible teaches us to flee from temptation? I decided it meant fleeing from anything I did not like.

Unfortunately, no one can stay a victim forever. Even with my victim mentality, I could tell that my friends were getting tired of my sob stories. “Get your act together” popped up constantly during our conversations. I knew they were trying to tell me to just move on.

You see, if you’re happy with being a victim, you will not move on, heal or make progress. Yes, maybe someone truly did you wrong. But if you hold onto the hurt and indignation forever, you’re simply left running in circles.

Remaining the same reflects a lack of development and transformation. There is no glory to God in a story without an arc. 

It took me awhile to finally get tired of being the victim all the time. In my victim mentality, no matter how much God tried to reach out and call me to freedom, I refused Him. I did not reach for His hand, even when it was right in front of me.

Perhaps I didn’t think God could redeem the unfortunate experiences I had faced. Perhaps I enjoyed feeling sorry for myself.

We make prayers for God to help us to overcome our sins and challenges in our life. We ask for strength and wisdom. But are we praying with an attitude that nothing will really change, that we will still be the victim at the end of the day?

FROM VICTIM TO VICTOR

Here’s the hard but precious truth: Because of the victory Christ won for us on the Cross, no one who bears His name is a victim. Not even those who face the worst persecution for the faith. We are the head and not the tail (Deuteronomy 28:13).

Christ has won the ultimate victory (1 Corinthians 15:57). In Him, we are always victorious.

This is the place we pray from. The place we react from. The place we live from.

The next time you find yourself in a spiral of helplessness or feeling wronged, be ever so careful that it does not hold you back from looking to God. It is in our move from victim to victor that incredible breakthrough happens.

/ jolene@thir.st

Jolene is inquisitive about things big and small. She loves discovering new things and giving them a shot. Her greatest love: Stuffed animals.

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Is that you, God? I’ll call you back

by | 14 June 2017, 10:30 AM

I’ll call you back later.

You know how it is. You receive a surprise call from an insurance agent or some random salesperson, and you just want to get yourself out of it. There are more important things for me to do. I cook up excuses to put the phone down, and make a mental note of the number so I don’t pick it up again.

I’ll catch up with you soon.

When you bump into friends on the street, you always part with the words “meet up soon”. You both know that these meet-ups have a 0.00001% chance of becoming reality. Soon never really comes, because we are always busy. But really it’s a matter of priorities: I will find you when I am free, which is, like, never.

I’ll find you when I need you.

This was my relationship with God.

I was taking Him for granted. Whenever I was busy, God took a backseat. I approached God only when I need His help.

I began to view Him as my power bank. I only plugged in when I was running low. Once recharged, I disconnected, said bye, went off to do whatever I was going to do.

I was still going for church services week after week, still working my way through daily devotion. But I didn’t have a heart that was desperate for God. I simply went through the motions.

(The truth is, there is absolutely nothing that I can do without Him. Everything that I have and can do is only possible by His grace. I do not only need His divine intervention during hard times. But how the heart forgets.)

I’ll find you when I’m free.

I have 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 12 months a year, just like everyone else. How will I use that specific and finite amount of time?

I’d like to think I look for God whenever I’m free. But free never comes because I constantly fill my schedule with appointments and things to do. And even if I’m free according to my planner, my mind is often cluttered with worries, things I need to do, people I want to talk to.

These thoughts clutter God out of the picture. It really doesn’t take much.

Until …

One day, God wasn’t there when I asked for help. It wrecked me. I felt abandoned. I didn’t know what to do. I started panicking and broke down.

Then He spoke again.

In His gentle whisper, He said, “I am always here for you, but are you always here for me?”

If I say that God is my friend and that He loves me, would He say the same things about me? Considering how I had been treating Him? With my lips I may have professed that I loved God, but my life did not mirror that.

Simply put, I was not prioritising Him in my life. I was not making time for Him. Having access to God all the time made me take Him for granted.

It’s so easy to make God wait. It’s tempting to treat God like a genie in a bottle. But there is more to this relationship with Him. He longs to be more than just someone who answers occasional prayers.

Catch you soon, God. Promise.

/ jolene@thir.st

Jolene is inquisitive about things big and small. She loves discovering new things and giving them a shot. Her greatest love: Stuffed animals.

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Why be like everyone else? Just be you

by | 5 June 2017, 4:14 PM

Let’s say you’ve just entered a room. You don’t know anyone there.

So you spend a bit of time observing everyone. How they move. When they speak. Where they stop. Their facial expressions.

As you stand at the corner of that room, you begin to wonder what your next move should be. Slowly, you find yourself mimicking what the rest are doing – their actions, their mannerisms, their rhythms. Before you know it, you are one of them.

Then the next person comes into the room. And you’ve moved from the observer to the observed.

Norms. Common practices. Whether we like it or not, there’s an abundance of routines around which society functions. Some of us like to think that we “choose” to follow them, while others just do so blindly.

In the classroom, for example, no matter how tempted I am to move around the room to improve the blood circulation in my body – or just stay awake! – I never have the courage to do so. Even if I’m on the verge of falling asleep, I’ll refuse to be different. I conform to the norms of a classroom just because everyone is doing it.

In fashion, trends come and go. Some pieces of clothing will only last for a particular period of time. For example, there was a time when cut-outs were in fashion. These holes appeared at various parts of the body, some larger than others. And just like how ripped jeans costs more than un-ripped ones, these tattered clothes cost more than un-tattered ones. I have difficulty understanding why.

The problem is this: That such confirmity means our identity and worth are defined by what’s on the outside. The emphasis is all on the superficial. The badges of belonging.

But I’ll buy and wear them anyways.

As a female, I should neither sit with my legs up on the chair nor with my legs open. I am to use makeup whenever I leave the house. I should go for manicures, pedicures and facials, and never forget to groom those caterpillars above my eyes. My heart should flutter whenever a guy flirts with me. I should have a boy-crush at all times. I should keep my hair long. You’re a girl, act like one!

What if I don’t meet such expectations? Would that make me weird? Would deviating from the norm immediately put me into the oddball category?

Individuality is the quality that distinguishes a person from the masses. But when everyone is trying so hard to stand out, does it just make everyone look … kinda similar?

It’s strange: Everyone is born unique, and no two people are absolutely identical, but still we spend so much time and money trying to differentiate ourselves even further. We try to rack up more achievements, more community work. We make bolder and bolder fashion statements (only to end up looking like Uniqlones).

The problem is this: That such confirmity means our identity and worth are defined by what’s on the outside. The emphasis is all on the superficial. The badges of belonging.

But that isn’t how God – our Creator and our Judge – sees us.

“I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.” (Jeremiah 17:10)

The more we choose to let the norms of the world dictate our behaviour and action, the less we let God have a say in things. This is our loss – to our detriment – because we are choosing to step away from the good, acceptable and perfect will of God for us.

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2).

What this famous passage is telling us is that our minds and our bodies are intimately connected. The evidence of an unsurrendered mind is a body that is not sacrificed to God in every way. That may even include how we dress or act.

You were bought at a price, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:20, so honour God with your body. You were bought at a price, he adds in 1 Corinthians 7:23, so do not become a slave to human beings.

You don’t need to look like anyone else. You don’t need to act like everyone does. Don’t sell yourself so cheaply. You were made unique and special – don’t go out of your way to hide it by trying to look like everyone else.

Back to that room we started at. This is the Biblical perspective on things: It’s not about how you should look like everyone else. It’s about how everyone else should look at you – and see the mirror image of Christ. That’s what really matters.

Stand out for Jesus.

/ jolene@thir.st

Jolene is inquisitive about things big and small. She loves discovering new things and giving them a shot. Her greatest love: Stuffed animals.

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Who am I?

by | 31 May 2017, 10:12 AM

I recently wrote an essay regarding this question for a final examination in school. Who am I? I am female, Chinese and Singaporean. Beyond the boxes I tick on registration forms, I have many other identities. These include being a student, daughter and sister.

In the past, my identity was very much rooted in the way people viewed me. I was concerned with whether I pleased my friends and if my teachers were impressed with what I did. I was caught up with doing things for everyone around me because I felt that if I stopped helping out, they would not like me as much. I became a yes girl.

WHEN I SAID YES TO JESUS

Things started to change when I became a Christian. There was a term that was frequently used to identify ourselves: child of God. People used it so often that I started using it on others even before I understood the meaning behind it. But what did it really mean for me to be God’s child?

In the Bible, there are many people who were given new names after they encountered God. Saul became Paul, who dramatically went from a Christian-killing Roman to an important leader of the early church. Jacob became Israel, who went from a deceitful, self-serving young man to the Father of the Jewish nation (Genesis 35:10-11).

A new identity is birthed when one enters a relationship with God. The Gospel is transformative. In embracing our faith, the children of God turn from our old ways to a life of relying on the Him.

GROWING INTO MY NEW SKIN

It took me a while to understand what it meant to have a new identity. Breaking out of yes girl mode was tough. I remained a yes girl in my initial years in church. I agreed to do anything and everything that was asked of me.

I knew that I did not have to please my church leaders because it only mattered if God was pleased with me. Moreover, God would rather I be Mary than Martha. Nonetheless, I still could not break the habit of being a people pleaser. I found it extremely difficult to translate my head knowledge to a changed lifestyle.

I no longer follow Man. I follow God now.

I realised couldn’t make that change on my own, or I would have done so long ago. The focus of a new identity is not in the fact that I can do more things, but rather God can work in and through me now (Philippians 4:13). The God who created the heavens and earth can do all things through me.

And when I shift my eyes from my struggling self to my God of wonders, I stop looking inward at what I cannot do and focus instead on what He can. I am freed from the clutches of people pleasing. I no longer follow Man. I follow God now.

To me, being God’s child means having Him hold my hand and working in all parts of my life. There is a shift in what my heart longs for and a freedom that stems from the knowledge that He always fights for me. He has already given me Jesus. What more can I ask for? He is the epitome of Love.

/ jolene@thir.st

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by | 30 May 2017, 12:13 PM

I’m a musician. I grew up in a musical family.

As musicians, we often buy and sell our instruments. Sometimes we’ll buy an instrument with good resell value because we know we’ll sell it on eventually. Some people joke that musicians have a lack of commitment to their instruments.

And maybe there’s some truth to that; personally, I have a long list of instruments I want to get – a harp, midi controller, keyboard and various music software. I always want to upgrade to something even better.

We all want to have the best. To get there, we sell our used items and buy new ones all the time. It may not be such a bad thing – we’re boosting the economy and recycling our used items, and helping some second-hand buyer save some money on the sticker price.

Things come and go. I wonder if we view people the same way.

What makes commitment possible? What enables a person to stick by another, through the good and bad times?

I’m not just talking about romantic relationships, but also among friends. Going through good times is easy enough. But what about the mundane and tougher ones? Why will anyone bother to put up with the more boring or uglier side of life? Will anyone put up with the uglier side of me?

Good times are fun times. They’re like the period you buy a new musical instrument and they still have that smell of fresh carpentry and lacquer. They’re moments where everything goes smoothly – no potholes or traffic jams. Meet-ups are filled with more laughter, more smiles. Spirits are a little lighter.

But it’s a very different story when the not-so-good times creep in.

The new instrument has started to lose its sheen. The ride slows down. It gets tougher to get through each day.

Different people react differently. While some crawl back into their turtle shells of solitude, others need to turn to friends to share their burdens.

Going through good times is easy enough. But what about the mundane and tougher ones? Why will anyone bother to put up with the more boring or uglier side of life? Will anyone put up with the uglier side of me?

When disagreements crop up, avoiding conflicts – or avoiding the person altogether – is the easiest thing to do. Running away and sweeping issues under the carpet makes it seem like nothing is wrong. It’s so tempting to give in.

People fail each other. At the sign that something isn’t going so well, our instinct is not to stick around, but to trade each other in, like just another used instrument on Carousell.

But I think about the unchanging character of God and I see that there is a better example to follow.

God promises His presence through … anything and everything. He will see me through, He promised. He will never leave me, nor forsake me (Deuteronomy 31:6).

And I realised, if that promise gives me strength and assurance – knowing He is there for me – maybe to some smaller degree I can be that strength and assurance to someone. And not try to get rid of them the minute they’ve outlived their usefulness to me.

There is no guarantee where friendships will lead. We get into them not knowing where they will take us. Which makes our promise to stand by our friends through the good and bad times so important.

Commitment perseveres. It works out the differences, compromises, accommodates and adjusts to make a relationship work. Commitment means promising to not give up when things get tough.

Who will you stand by today?

/ jolene@thir.st

Jolene is inquisitive about things big and small. She loves discovering new things and giving them a shot. Her greatest love: Stuffed animals.

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Does God really have a say in the choices I make?

by | 29 May 2017, 6:03 PM

When I was young, I remember always having to ask my parents for permission to do anything at all. Can I go out with my friends? Can I attend this or that school programme?

Somehow this habit of getting a “yes” from others has become totally ingrained in me. It feels like I need to get the green light before I embark on anything.

I mean, it isn’t such a bad thing, if you think about. It means that before I begin doing anything, I consult others and making sure that it is indeed the right and best thing to do. Better to err on the safe side than being reckless, no?

I wasn’t asking Him which way to go. I was telling Him which way I wanted Him to approve of me going.

However, it’s slowly developed beyond just being sure. It came to a point where, whenever I was faced with a decision, I would ask God if I should do it or not. But it wasn’t about Him. It was all about me.

I wasn’t asking Him which way to go. I was telling Him which way I wanted Him to approve of me going. I made it look like I was pursuing God’s plan for my life, but the truth was that I was really pursuing God’s endorsement of my life.

I wanted God to say yes to whatever I wanted. Whenever I asked God if I should do something, His reply rarely mattered to me. I went to Him with what I wanted to hear in mind.

I was searching for validation for what I thought and desired. If God said yes, I was happy. But when He told me otherwise, the message would not be as easy to swallow. Sometimes, I would even tune out just because He was not saying what I wanted to hear. I would reject whatever He said if it did not align with my own desires. Or maybe even twist God’s words to my liking.

I’m not even sure why I was looking for Him, since it was all about what I wanted.

To be really honest, it’s really tough for me to put aside my own selfish desires and make God’s desires mine. Like a child, I want to simply have the freedom to run around to do as I wish. But this thinking does not translate into freedom at all. God created boundaries for me to experience true freedom – within His safe space, I can do what I want without worrying about how far I can fall.

And He knows it’s not always about the end-goal – it’s not about me getting what I want. When I seek Him on some decision, my goal is about making the right choice, but His goal is about making the posture of my heart right – because there, all decisions are wise ones.

I looked to God when I had to decide whether I should pursue an education and career in dance. “Why do you want to do it?”, He asked me.

I’d been telling others that I wanted to pursue dance because I wanted to use this talent to bring people to Christ, reaching out to souls through this gift. Of course, I was saying the right things to convince others – and myself.

This is for you, isn’t it?, God said.

God was right (as He always is). Beneath that noble facade, I had grown to love dancing because of the attention I got. The fame. I wanted to the compliments, the popularity, the prominence. I wanted to be seen.

God led me to look at the desires of my heart. He let me realise that I was attempting to disguise my selfish desires as His will. I was asking Him to endorse my plans, tweaking His words to fit into my plans. I was more willing to compromise God than to make any compromises myself. I came to Him with a completed drawing rather than a blank canvas.

To be really honest, it’s really tough for me to put aside my own selfish desires and make God’s desires mine.

Why did I want to do it? Not for the right reasons, I finally admitted to me/Him. I dropped the idea.

Even now that I’m aware of this tendency of mine, it still isn’t easy to place God’s will before my own in every decision I have to make. I know that if I’m not careful, I’ll revert back to my old ways – pursuing whatever I want. I have to make a conscious effort to surrender my desires to God.

Through that, I’ve learnt that when I have the right attitude before God, the right-doing flows naturally. So if you’re asking God what you should be doing, instead of looking at the right actions and behaviour, try looking deeper into your heart.

/ jolene@thir.st

Jolene is inquisitive about things big and small. She loves discovering new things and giving them a shot. Her greatest love: Stuffed animals.

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When project work isn’t working out

by | 26 May 2017, 10:40 AM

Working in groups has never been my thing, mainly because group work forces people to work together. That means a lot more reliance on one another. Time invested in communicating with fellow group members. Conflict arising due to differences in working styles or opinions.

It’s basically impending doom in an introvert‘s dictionary – or at least a bad headache.

To make matters worse, I’ve been in too many project groups that have aggravated my fear of project work. “Bad” group mates are easy to spot. They’re the ones who are always, somehow, busy. The ones who show up for meetings only when they feel like it and then fail to contribute anything at all. Subpar work? Almost a given. And the thing that really gets my goad: Promising to deliver, then failing to deliver.

WORKING THINGS OUT

Of course, I’ve had the privilege of being part of good groups that have helped redeem the project work experience for me. My group mates looked out for one another. There was a common goal of completing the project and seeking excellence meant less conflict. Feedback was welcomed with open hearts. We readily helped one another once we were done with our own parts of the work. Everyone contributed. Everyone owned the project.

Things also changed when I owned up to the fact that I wasn’t the perfect group member either. I, too, acted irresponsibly at times. There were moments I had too many things on my plate. I remember missing an internal deadline for the first draft of my group’s final report because I just couldn’t manage my workload. I was that “bad” group member.

Group work is primarily about relationship building. Communication – and forgiveness – is so important.

In times like these, I developed a newfound mercy for the “bad” project group members I held grudges against. I had to learn to admit to my group mates when I was not able to meet standards. And we figured things out from there, together. Group work is primarily about relationship building, after all. Communication – and forgiveness – is so important.

Nowadays, I’ve decided working well together isn’t actually that hard. Here are a few tips I’ve picked up along the years:

3 STEPS TO WORKING WELL TOGETHER

1. Understand one another’s situation

Be genuinely interested in what is going on in your project group mates’ lives. Do not jump to conclusions just because the person did not meet the deadline or deliver what he/she promised. Only when you take time to know the full story can you start to work around the constraints of each member and extend grace to them with a willing heart. Being group mates doesn’t mean you can’t be friends. And friends help each other out (Ecclesiastes 4:10).

2. Don’t make everything personal

Not everything that happens is about you. In groups, we offer feedback on each other’s work for the good of the project. Changes and modifications are inevitable in the process of completing a project. This might include taking out the section you worked so hard on to keep within the word count for the report. Or having to rework your segment altogether. This isn’t because your group members do not like you. And even if they didn’t like you, should that affect the quality of your work as a team player?

3. Play to each other’s strengths

In a project, there is likely to be a final report and a presentation. Some people love the details, others are gifted in creating mind-blowing presentation visuals. There are those who do the numbers with ease and those who prefer to write the report. Like any strong team, good group work involves strategically positioning each member to do what he/she does best. It also makes the work so much easier.

WE CAN MAKE IT WORK

Group projects can be fun and meaningful if we choose to see the good, rather than focussing on the bad. The next time you meet a “bad” group member, don’t be too quick to cast judgement. Consider how you’re showing up to the rest of your team as a Christian first and foremost. What would Jesus do?

For myself, I think I’ll start by putting down these stones.

When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7)

/ jolene@thir.st

Jolene is inquisitive about things big and small. She loves discovering new things and giving them a shot. Her greatest love: Stuffed animals.

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Don’t let the Bell Curve rule you

by | 23 May 2017, 10:01 AM

The Bell Curve can be a good thing. Its God-like features include graciously dispensing grades to undeserving students, just on the basis on their being a bit less worse than others. But the monster that is the Bell Curve can also devour the average and instigate battles amongst the finest.

My school is very fond of using the bell curve to “help” students. In my first year, I was stressed out by my poor grades. I barely passed midterms and didn’t fare much better for my finals either. Based on my absolute score, I would have failed that module. But I was saved by the bell (curve). I got bumped up and got a pretty decent grade. All due to the grace of the Bell Curve God.

On the flip side, it can make competition tough. Contending for the top grades often left me with bruised relationships and selfish tendencies. I kept looking at what I could do to surpass my peers. Help was rarely given, notes were nearly never shared and insights were not contributed unless it boosted one’s own grades.

There was no mercy. Whatever happened to the paramount pursuit of knowledge?

Such a system centres on relativism. How good I am as a student is determined by how good my peers are. If I am better than them, I am categorised as an elite. The good side of the curve. I may get an award, but if it’s nothing compared to the awards others gain, then I’ve slipped to the bad side of the curve.

There is no absolute standard for comparison.

We bell curve our studies. We bell curve our achievements.

Do I bell curve myself? If I were a cup, how much would I cost?

Contending for the top grades often left me with bruised relationships and selfish tendencies. I kept looking at what I could do to surpass my peers. Help was rarely given, notes were nearly never shared and insights were not contributed unless it boosted one’s own grades.

It is easy to determine one’s self-worth based on the bell curve. I am better because I have more talents and can do more things than my friends. I am better because I do more good deeds than those around me.

Shouldn’t there be a less transitory way – less of an ever-shifting needle – to determine my self-worth?

My worth is not based on how much I can bring to the table. Regardless of the number of As on my transcript, my value as a person does not fall. Even if I do not enter the best university in town, that does not mean I am any less worthy as a person.

In my education journey in Singapore, I have had some poor grades and some good ones as well. I always slipped into thinking, “How well did my friends do? Did I fare better than them?” The improvement in my grades since the last exam was not nearly as important as how many more points I had compared to my friends.

This mindset made it difficult for me to celebrate my friends’ successes, or empathise with them when they did not do as well. And because I based my worth on how much better I was, there was unhealthy competition in the friendship.

This was the product of basing my worth on the bell curve.

It’s a struggle to keep from falling in the trap of trying to determine, measure, gauge how good I am, relative to the things and people around me. I decided to break out of this cycle. And … things changed.

I found there was more freedom in the way I interacted with the people around me. Notes were shared. Study groups were more pleasant. Friends and classmates looked out for one another. If I was busy with a production and could not study in time for a test, my friends readily let me study their notes. If one of us had past exam papers to revise with or, ahem, insider information, it was never kept a secret.

This is the freedom I’ve experienced since fleeing the clutches of the Bell Curve Monster.

So the next time you get upset when you get a bad grade, or feel smug when you’re in the upper echelons of your class rankings, step aside for a bit. Breathe. Look beyond the emotions rearing their head. And think about why you may be responding that way.

Million Dollar Question: Do you bell curve yourself?

/ jolene@thir.st

Jolene is inquisitive about things big and small. She loves discovering new things and giving them a shot. Her greatest love: Stuffed animals.

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by | 19 May 2017, 10:48 AM

Friendship. That was my most hated word growing up. I was jaded on this front very early in life.

I only remember myself having three seasons of friendship. My whole life.

One. Primary 4. I became close girl pals with a wonderful girl. We were always together, even when we went to the washroom. This fantasy was short-lived when she had to go abroad to study. I lost contact with her soon after.

Two. Primary 6. I became the best of friends with a girl who was previously my worst enemy. Something shifted and we magically became best buddies. Just 2 months before PSLE, she was diagnosed with a blood disease. I visited her a couple of times. We drifted apart.

Three. Secondary 1. I met some really awesome girls. We weren’t in the same CCAs or clubs, but we gave our 100% support to one another in everything we did. But once again, one of them became really ill and had to leave school to receive treatment. The group slowly lost momentum and we parted ways.

I’m not blaming any one of these amazing friends I met along the way. They were (and are!) great people. But as time passed, I begin to lose the fervour to make new friends.

What is the point of making friends when I know they are bound to leave? To share and love so deeply – it felt like a betrayal when it ended. And so I started to shun the word friendship.

I began to distort my idea of friendship. I began to question myself. Maybe if I did a little more for my friends, they would have liked me better. Maybe if I was of a little more use to them, the friendship would have lasted longer.

I made sure I had an endless to-do list to keep me busy. I conveniently packed away all my friends into a convenient box and dumped it at the back of my mind.

I started to compare myself with my peers. When I saw people going out with their friends, I grew angry.

Friends? Ha! Who needs them?

Yet no matter how hard I tried, I could never get rid of my longing for friends. Photos of what they were doing kept floating up on Instagram. Facebook also had the cute habit of celebrating friendship anniversaries (Friendiversaries?).

I tried my best to run away from everyone. But truth be told, the passing of time had made the hole even larger.

Maybe I’m not good enough – that’s why I am a bad friend. All I do is bring misfortune to those around me. Perhaps I don’t deserve to have friends. I’m just not cut out for friendships.

I started to compare myself with my peers. When I saw people going out with their friends, I grew angry. Gradually, I isolated myself from everyone, including my family and mentors. I thought that was a safe place – so safe that no one could get to me. But that meant I couldn’t reach out to anyone if needed.

Ironically, I used extroversion as a front. A facade of self-confidence to convince others and myself that I was “alright” with being alone.

Where was God? He was there. There for me to blame for all my hurt and sadness.

If You are that mighty, take all this away from me. I thought You are all I need – so why is it that, no matter how hard I try, there is always this gaping hole in my heart?

After a good year of pointing the finger at God, I grew tired, emotionally and mentally. I got tired of being caught in this cycle. I wanted to get out of it, but didn’t know how.

God used a friend to turn things around. It a random conversation – nothing spectacular, but they were just the words I needed to hear.

She told me: No one can get you out of this cycle – only you. If you let God come in, He will definitely help you to sort out this “mess”. God is ready. But are you?

It struck me that while I had been questioning whether God was even present amid my struggles, God was seeing everything that happened, as it happened. He knew the hurts in my heart and the thoughts in my head. He’d been waiting patiently for me to be ready to listen to Him.

It broke me that I rejected and refused God. The night, I came to God on my knees and He gently said,

Come, take my hand.

I have never regretted accepting that invitation.

I won’t lie and say it’s been an easy ride. As God guided me to step out to build friendships with others, the memories of past ones – those that didn’t end so well – resurfaced. There were moments I wanted to retract back into my old shell.

Turned out that God knew the hurts in my heart and the thoughts in my head. He’d been waiting patiently for me to be ready to listen to Him.

But God was helping me to break down the walls I’d built around myself over the years. Walls built out of fear to protect myself from hurts. These walls kept me from tasting the joy of having someone to go through life’s struggles with, and the comfort of having someone to rely on.

As my heart started to heal, my focus shifted from doing what is best for myself to doing what is best for someone else. I learnt to vacate little tiny spaces in my life so others could come in. Bit by bit, God brought people into my life. I began to trust and confide in others a little more. New friendships sprung up. Some old ones were rekindled.

This courage I found to do all this was absolutely not my own, but His.

How am I now, you may ask? I have just about a gazillion friends. j/k! At least I have Jesus ^^

/ jolene@thir.st

Jolene is inquisitive about things big and small. She loves discovering new things and giving them a shot. Her greatest love: Stuffed animals.

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God knows we’re better together

When I didn’t make it into OCS

7 reasons why every church should have a ministry for NSmen

The real reason you’re in school

On the ‘gram, I get to be God

Stop being hard on yourself

Out of the depths of despair, a song of hope

The melting pot that is Singapore

The house I don’t dare step into

God, I’m really struggling. Why are you staying silent?

Stepping out of my sibling’s shadow

Burnt out? More like plugged out

Compassion without compromise

Rethinking work-life balance: It’s about injecting life into your work

Where are you going?

The scandal of a generous God

Help, I’m the victim. Again

Is that you, God? I’ll call you back

Why be like everyone else? Just be you

Who am I?

Ever tried to sell off your friends on Carousell?

Does God really have a say in the choices I make?

When project work isn’t working out

Don’t let the Bell Curve rule you

Who needs friends?