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How could you take from me what I deserved?

by | 17 May 2018, 12:26 PM

When I was in secondary school, my number one ambition was to become a cell leader.

The thought of being able to change people’s lives was something I desperately wanted. Unfortunately, this led me to suck up to my leaders in the hopes of getting on their good side.

Around that time, I responded to a challenge by my cell leader to pray for a friend and invite him to youth camp that year. Joshua, a childhood friend, came to mind. I secretly thought: “Why not? Maybe if I integrate him into the cell, I could get more credibility from the leaders!”

To my surprise, not only did he accept the invitation to attend camp that year – he became really well integrated into the community within a short span of time. Almost too well …

When it was time to pick a new leader, within the short span of a year, they chose Joshua to step up instead of me. I felt betrayed.

How could they! After all I’ve done for the cell, all the contributions I’ve made, how could they deny me the one thing I wanted the most! I have my rights too!

Looking back on those days, I realise that I behaved like the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32).

He had seen his young brother essentially ask his father to die, run away to spend his money on parties, luxurious food and prostitutes – only to come crawling back into the house begging to be taken back as a slave.

But instead of sending him back to the depravity he had left them both for, the father welcomed the younger son home with open arms – even throwing him a big party. I knew well how the older brother felt.

Where is justice? Where is the reward I deserved? What about my rights too?

Because I felt the same: What gave Joshua the right to inherit what I believed was mine? But rereading that parable, I saw something I hadn’t seen before. Just as much as the younger son was lost – so was the older brother.

In The Prodigal God, Timothy Keller writes that both sons wanted the father’s possessions rather than the person. Both were far from their father, but while one ran away from the father’s love by being extremely bad – the other did so by being extremely good.

I, too, was undeserving of God’s grace. When all I deserved was death, He ran to me and welcomed me with grace.

The cell leader position was just a symbol. Like the fattened calf at the feast, it masked an underlying issue: My devotion to God wasn’t founded on delight in Him but on trying to curry favours out of Him.

I have done so much in Your name. You owe me. 

That was what my bitter heart was actually saying. But regardless of which son we resemble, God’s response to us is still the same. Like the father in the story, God runs to welcome wayward children back into His arms and joy. He desires his children to lay down their pride and reenter his joy.

The older son couldn’t do so because he held on to his rights – what he felt he rightfully deserved. And just like him, by clinging onto what I thought I deserved, I denied myself the joy of seeing one of his sons come home again – of witnessing a warrior of faith rise up to expand God’s kingdom.

The solution was ultimately simple but painful: I had to lay down my rights and all the things I thought I deserved to reenter God’s joy. But I couldn’t do it. I felt God had been unjust and that his mercy to one person had come at my expense.

How is it that when God is unjust I was the one to pay the price for it?

That was what I actually thought! Eventually I gave up my rights not because I had to – but because I finally realised that I had been the younger son many times as well. I’m all too guilty of running away from God and laying waste to my life.

I, too, was undeserving of God’s grace. When all I deserved was death, He ran to me and welcomed me with grace.

The one who paid the price for my redemption was Jesus. He was what an elder brother should be. My redemption came at His expense, but he never once complained. He simply and completely obeyed his Father and took on the expense so I could be restored to the family.

/ junheng@thir.st

JunHeng is a 100% extrovert who loves caffeine – lots of caffeine. He also likes HTHTs, jamming and eating good food. Did he mention he loves caffeine?

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by | 30 April 2018, 11:03 AM

I attended a recent performance which left my friend distraught.

It was put up by a cell group mate in a liberal arts college, who was one of the performers in a display which really pushed us to our limits in terms of our morals and faith.

By the end of the show, my friend was left emotionally distraught. Though she chose to perform a part of the piece which didn’t force her to denounce her faith and values – she was still shaken. She felt complicit in something that had mocked and scorned her faith from every angle.

I can certainly empathise with how she felt: As a film major, I often have to work with films that don’t necessarily agree with my faith. The films may push a value set entirely contrary to my own. So how do we respond when art challenges faith? Here are two handles that might help.

TWO PRINCIPLES TO APPRECIATE ART WITH DISCERNMENT

1. At the end of the day, art is just art

It’s just art. Whatever you’re experiencing is just part of a piece by an artist expressing his thoughts and purposes creatively. His thoughts don’t have to become our own. As the viewer, we get to decide if those thoughts expressed by the piece hold any weight.

Art is specifically designed to evoke emotions and ideas, but we have full agency in deciding whether such thoughts are worth the mindspace (Philippians 4:8). Think about Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:21, who encouraged the Church to “test everything; hold fast what is good.”

So if we must sit through a challenging performance – hold fast to the truth of God. We will come out unshaken.

2. Stay cautious – close to the Truth

Like money, art is not evil in and of itself. It can be something that tempts us away from the truth – but it can also be used for good. So if you’re still thinking about that art piece you saw, you just need to weigh whether those thoughts are worth thinking at all – or if they throw doubt on the Word of God.

Ask God for discernment and a deeper understanding of His Word. Then we will we be able to tell what is true and what isn’t.

“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1)

Christians are not called to gullibility or blind faith. If an art piece challenges your faith – that’s a good thing. It is vital to know what you stand for and why. Let challenging art strengthen your faith.

If viewing a certain art piece is unavoidable (and you know it’s not good – like horror-gore bad) ask God to help get you through it untainted. This comes up quite a bit as a film major, especially when I have to watch films that vilify biblical truth.

Such scenarios force me to lean on God and declare that my idea of truth is found only in the Word of God – not the mere opinions of man. Then I test every idea presented to me against the Bible. If the idea stands against God and His Word – no matter how appealing the artist has made it – I obey. I conform to the truth presented in the Bible.

It might sound close-minded, but it keeps me collected on solid ground (Psalm 40:2). Cautiously consuming art, we remain on the right side of truth and are not stumbled to the point of no return.

With the right perspective of art in mind, let it challenge you fairly. Then be God’s champion to engage art armed with His Word – so that others might see Him through you.

/ junheng@thir.st

JunHeng is a 100% extrovert who loves caffeine – lots of caffeine. He also likes HTHTs, jamming and eating good food. Did he mention he loves caffeine?

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Help! My best friend wants to be a full-time missionary

by Justine Hong | 24 April 2018, 11:40 AM

Though Annie and I had only met a year ago, we became best friends in no time.

Not only were we in the same group of friends in the same CCA – we also attended the same church and cell. We pretended we were like family, calling each other by our sibling titles. Whenever either of us were confronted with tough issues, we would be there for each other.

But one day she shared that God’s will for her was to do full-time missions in another country.

I didn’t want her to go. I struggled with the fact that God had called her out to the field.

How could you, God? I treasure our friendship. Why would you ask her to go when you knew I would be so unhappy?

As I reflected and asked God for wisdom, He began to show me certain truths which helped me to wrestle with and accept Annie’s calling.

3 TRUTHS I LEARNT IN ACCEPTING GOD’S CALLING FOR ANNIE

1. I must lay down my preferences

In accepting God’s calling – whether for ourselves or another person – we need to lay down our preferences. To help Annie accept God’s call for her life, I needed to lay down my preference to have her in the same nation as me.

I should have given her my fullest blessings to go and make an impact for the nations – but I was too self-absorbed. I couldn’t bring myself to do it.

The cost in my mind was too tough for me to bear. Just when I was about to give up – the second truth came.

2. I need God’s strength

God gives us the strength needed to obey Him when we choose to have faith and trust in his plan. I can only imagine Abraham’s anguish in Genesis 22, when God called him to sacrifice Isaac – his promised son. But on that journey up the mountain, Abraham depended on God’s strength for the obedience he needed to sacrifice Isaac.

If we truly acknowledge Jesus’ sacrifice for us – it shows up in our living and decisions. No sacrifice becomes too great for us to bear.

We struggle with accepting God’s calling because we don’t like the idea of giving up the things we want – even if it’s for a greater purpose. But God’s strength empowers us to obey. Encountering His beauty and holiness makes it so that the things of this world – the things we want the most – fade in comparison to His purposes and glory.

As I began to earnestly seek God’s strength to be obedient and release Annie to her mission for Him – He opened my eyes to the final truth.

3. I must remember Jesus sacrificed Himself for us

It’s human nature to look at one’s own problems and consider them bigger than everyone else’s. I was so self-centred that I even considered my “sacrifice” greater than Annie’s!

But if we need to think about sacrifice, we should first think about Jesus. Shortly before His death in Matthew 27:46, Jesus cried out with a loud voice: “Eli Eli, lema sabachthani!” [My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?]

Jesus had made the greatest sacrifice of all time on that cross: The fellowship of the Trinity was broken for the first and only time when Jesus was separated from the Father, bearing the weight of every sin.

That is true sacrifice.

If we truly acknowledge Jesus’ sacrifice for us – it shows up in our living. It shows up in our decisions. No sacrifice becomes too great for us to bear.

Knowing God initiated the greatest sacrifice was a great help to me as I prepared to let Annie go. In the light of Jesus’ sacrifice, there was no way to hold on to the false belief that letting my best friend follow God’s calling was too costly!

What are you struggling to sacrifice for God? If you find it difficult to release a friend to his or her calling for God, I want you to think about how Paul left his beloved Church in Ephesians (Acts 20).

In this farewell, the elders knew Paul would face “prisons and hardships” (23). And Paul knew they would never “see [him] again” (25). How did both parties respond to such a grave commission?

Paul considered his “life worth nothing,” only aiming to “finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus [had given him]—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace” (24). And the elders didn’t hold him back. They wept – but they embraced and kissed him (37) as they released him to the higher work God had called him to.

That’s sacrifice. And that’s laying preferences down – from both the one who goes and the one who stays.

Lord, let our farewell glorify You as I surrender Annie into Your hands. There isn’t a pair of hands more secure than Yours.

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A culture of blessing

by | 20 April 2018, 4:55 PM

I was scrolling through Facebook recently when I saw a remarkable video.

The video was about what it means to honour others. It made me think of our culture, and how we can do a lot more to bless those around us.

Jesus had quite a lot to say about loving people. In Luke 10:25-37, He talks about the two greatest commandments. The first is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” The second is to “Love your neighbour as yourself.”

And when asked who’s the “neighbour” in question, Jesus replies with a story about an injured Jewish man who was lying on the road. A priest walked by, but instead of helping him, he walked away. Another Jewish man did the same. But when a Samaritan (an enemy of the Jews) saw this injured man, he picked him up and cared for him. And when the Samaritan had to leave, he paid someone to care for the injured man.

THE GOOD SAMARITAN: 3 PRINCIPLES ABOUT BLESSING

1. Be a blessing to those who the world ignores

When was the last time we thanked the cleaner aunties and uncles for maintaining the cleanliness of the streets in our community? When was the last time we complimented the hawkers for the food we ate?

There are groups of people like CEOs, celebrities and even pastors who we deem to be worthy of honour. We have no problems blessing them. But then there are those aren’t quite worth the time: Cleaners, hawkers, construction workers … What if we were blessings to them as well?

The Samaritan could have just walked on as culture instructed – but he chose to love the injured man by helping him. The pastor could have just taken the pizza and gave her a standard tip – but he chose to bless the woman by giving her an amount that went above and beyond.

It’s not about the money. We can bless people in small ways for an incredible impact too. A quick thank you, prayer or lunch treat goes a far longer way than we might think.

2. Acts of blessing are infectious

Watch the video above. Did you see how 77 men and women came up to bless the delivery driver when only 10 were called?

When we bless and help the least of our brothers and sisters, others will notice and be encouraged to follow suit.

“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)

You are a blessing catalyst. One way to encourage others to do good works is by doing good works ourselves. Taking the first step to bless others, we create a butterfly effect and ultimately a culture of honour and blessing within our families, communities and nation.

Even simply clearing your trays after a meal encourages your friends at the table to do the same. It blesses and honours the elderly auntie who will have an easier job to do, and also encourages those around you to perpetuate this culture of blessing.

3. Blessings go further than we think

That pizza-delivering single mother would never have guessed that she would be blessed so richly, delivering to the Church that morning. Likewise the injured Jewish man couldn’t have imagined a Samaritan would be the one to come to his rescue in his most desperate hour.

By blessing those who society neglects, we might well be the answer to the prayer they’ve been desperately making. We might be the love they need in that hour. We have an opportunity to demonstrate the love of Christ in a tangible way.

So why not bless someone today? It doesn’t have to be a big thing like giving hundreds of dollars to a pizza delivery driver – you can also start small.

Let’s be the change we want to see, and create a culture of blessing in Singapore.

/ junheng@thir.st

JunHeng is a 100% extrovert who loves caffeine – lots of caffeine. He also likes HTHTs, jamming and eating good food. Did he mention he loves caffeine?

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You’re never too far gone

by | 18 April 2018, 5:20 PM

Some time ago, I sat in a conflict resolution meeting with some of my cell members.

Simply put, the conflict was caused by mistakes I had made. There was a lot of unease going into that meeting as I didn’t know how would my cellmates react: Would I be rebuked for my incompetence? Were they going to tell me that they were right all along?

As I sat in that meeting, I was instead surprised by how quickly my cell members forgave me and take me back into the cell. It happened in a blur – undeserved but freely given.

What did I do to merit such favour? By all accounts, it was me who messed up – why were they so gracious?

I realised my quick reinstatement resembled the prodigal son’s homecoming (Luke 15:11-32). You know the story: The prodigal son runs away from home and lives as if his father was dead. He then squanders his inheritance on every vice imaginable.

Sin tries hard to take us as far from God as it possibly can. It makes us grieve God. And yet our God is like that father who endures the heartbreak of watching his child waste his life – living for the next high.

Deep in trouble, the son thinks of home – he misses being in his father’s house and love – and makes a plan to ask his father to take him back as a slave. Speech prepared, he picks himself and trudges on home.

In the moments before our meeting, I could empathise with the prodigal son’s pain. He had made a complete wreck of his life and his only option was to return to his father he had rejected. What kept him going past the shame of failure was the memory of his father’s house and love. It was similar for me: I remember doing nothing but praying the entire journey there.

The grace God gives to us surpasses all logic and rational thought.

It’s just like how we are when we come back to God after yet another sinful escapade. In the mess and muck, upon remembering His love and providence, we realise the best course of action is to return to our Father.

The younger son thinks he’s finally crossed the line – he’s too far gone. But as he walks home, instead of being yelled and jeered at by a man on the horizon, the Father runs toward him and embraces him. Remarkably, the Father cuts the son off midway through his apology speech. He can’t wait to get a feast started. He can’t wait to celebrate his son’s return!

That’s our God. He never forsakes us – even when we forsake Him. He doesn’t just wait for us with open arms – He runs to us when we come home. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.

The grace God gives to us surpasses all logic and rational thought.

My friends demonstrated God’s love to me when their forgiveness and grace sprinted to meet me. The grace extended to me that day wasn’t something I could ever earn. But they looked past my mistakes and welcomed me home.

Have you run away from such a love? Maybe you feel your life’s an empty shell, like you’re too far gone. Well, you’re not. God’s love is waiting to wash over you the moment you turn around and come home.

So come back, brother. Dad is home and dinner’s ready.

/ junheng@thir.st

JunHeng is a 100% extrovert who loves caffeine – lots of caffeine. He also likes HTHTs, jamming and eating good food. Did he mention he loves caffeine?

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Two steps to get over feeling inadequate

by | 2 April 2018, 10:56 AM

My academic life can be summed up in 2 words: “Over-expectation” and “underachievement.”

I always aimed high only to get a result that was average. This pattern created a lot of inadequacy in me. Why can’t I do as good as that person? Why can’t I be like him? Why can’t I produce work as good as her? These are questions I still struggle with today.

But I’m not alone. Dealing with inadequacy is a common struggle in our society. My personal breakthrough came when I realised this one simple truth: It’s alright to be inadequate.

Let me explain. When I was wallowing in self–pity, I read Hebrews 4:15: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” The first part of the verse made something inside me click – God understands!

He knows how we feel when we fall short of the expectations. He knows what goes on in our head when it seems we can’t do anything right. When the world doesn’t seem to understand, it’s comforting to know that one person does – And He walks with you still.

Nice to know … But the inadequacy remained. So how? I went to my best friends and had a long discussion with them about my struggle with feeling inadequate. They offered me a two-step solution to feeling inadequate. There are two parts to it: The first may be painful, but the other brings relief.

1. Be honest with yourself

Take a piece of paper and a pen. Draw a straight line down the middle of your paper. Now, read on.

Be honest. If you believe you can’t accomplish a task because you don’t have the skill required for it – acknowledge it and then go and develop your skillset. Humbly acknowledge your shortfalls and ask God to help you. If we aren’t honest, but keep telling ourselves “I can do it”, we are pressuring and setting ourselves up for a crushing failure.

“I felt like the dumbest student in school”

That was me in the lead up to my O Levels. I was insistent that I was going to meet the impossibly high standards I had set for myself at the preliminary examinations. I worked my hardest in the spirit of self–help and self–motivation. But most of my results went “underwater” – that is going below the “C” level.

The proud facade of self-help had shattered. I hadn’t merely failed to meet my expectations; I had proven to myself that every empty encouragement I held onto was a lie.

Back to the paper. On the left side of it, I want you to complete the sentence: “I am inadequate because … ”

2. Stop looking at yourself – Look to God!

It’s so easy to keep looking at ourselves and our abilities. But we often forget that our “secret weapon” when dealing with struggles like inadequacy lies infinitely beyond ourselves. We forget that we have a God who not only walks with us but also grants us heavenly resources to fulfill His purposes and destiny for us.

When we align our wills to His, there is strength, wisdom, courage and provision to overcome any obstacle. We will never be able to do it by ourselves, but we can when we let God carry us. It takes humility.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

If we stop looking at ourselves and start looking upwards to our Heavenly Father, we would be empowered to do the things we should!

Humbly acknowledge your shortfalls and ask God to help you. If we aren’t honest, but keep telling ourselves “I can do it”, we are pressuring and setting ourselves up for a crushing failure. 

Look at the paper again. On the other half, complete the sentence: “But He is able because … ” List out as many attributes of God’s character as you can. If He has done a powerful work in your life before, write it down, trusting that if He has done it before – He can do it again. Find verses which speak life into your inadequacies and write them down as well.

Once you have filled your paper, talk to God. Admit your inadequacy. Be honest about your inability to do anything apart from Him. But declare that God is able, and ask Jehovah Jireh to provide you with everything you need to overcome what you must.

Ask according to His will, and He will come through for you.

/ junheng@thir.st

JunHeng is a 100% extrovert who loves caffeine – lots of caffeine. He also likes HTHTs, jamming and eating good food. Did he mention he loves caffeine?

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I CAN ONLY IMAGINE: The untold story of the song that inspired millions

by | 14 March 2018, 5:51 PM

If you’ve been going to church for some time, you probably have sung MercyMe’s hit Gospel song, “I Can Only Imagine”, in a worship service. But you probably have never heard of the story behind it, as filmmakers of “I Can Only Imagine” – the movie – will tell you.

On March 6, 2018, I had the rare opportunity of catching an early screening of the amazing testimony that inspired the song. Indeed – you can only imagine!

The film revolves around Bart Millard (J. Michael Finley), the lead singer of MercyMe. Coming off an abusive childhood at the hands of his father, Arthur Millard (Dennis Quaid), Bart spends years struggling to forgive him. Out of this pain, he is inspired to write “I Can Only Imagine”.

Watching Bart’s story unfold on screen brought new life to one of my favourite songs, and I found myself in tears when it made its appearance in the show.

The central theme of the show is transformation, and how true transformation is like metamorphosis – a radical changing from the inside out.

When God transforms us, he isn’t just transforming us but also the people around us.

God is fully in the business of transforming people from the inside out. This is how he always has been, he transformed a barren old man into a father of many nations. He transformed a shepherd boy into Israel’s greatest King. He transformed 11 fumbling men into apostles of the faith. He even transformed a persecutor of the Gospel to one of its greatest teachers.

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God.” (Ezekiel 36:26-28)

This transformation is not one that is from the outside in. We can never be transformed by that way because of the hard truth that sin is not just a hard, logical issue but a deep heart issue. If we are not first transformed in our hearts, the transformation we bear is simply a mask that we wear.

God needs to totally replace our heart so that our actions may flow from that new heart.

This was the same inside-out transformation Arthur, the father, goes through. And as Bart chooses to forgive Arthur, he witnessed his relationships, including that with God Himself being radically changed.

When God transforms us, he isn’t just transforming us but also the people around us. Transformation is contagious, as we live radically transformed lives for Christ, we see ourselves being used by God to transform another life.

Without spoiling any more of the movie, I leave you with a quote that stayed in my mind: “(His transformation) set me on this warpath for the Gospel, because if the Gospel can change that dude, the Gospel can change anybody.”

When we decide to let God change us, we are going to see a transformation we can only imagine.


Join our exclusive ticket giveaway from now till March 22, 2018. Just head over to Facebook or Instagram, like our page/account and tell us what you think heaven will be like. The 5 replies with the most likes will win a pair of tickets to the preview screening of “I Can Only Imagine” at Shaw Theatres, Lido. 

I Can Only Imagine” will premiere on March 24, 2018, at the NEX Shaw Theatre in support of Come Celebrate Christmas in Singapore 2018. If you would like more information or are interested in bulk ticket booking (40 pax and above), please drop a message to +65 81185165.

/ junheng@thir.st

JunHeng is a 100% extrovert who loves caffeine – lots of caffeine. He also likes HTHTs, jamming and eating good food. Did he mention he loves caffeine?

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Article list

How could you take from me what I deserved?

The art to straddling church and culture

Help! My best friend wants to be a full-time missionary

A culture of blessing

You’re never too far gone

Two steps to get over feeling inadequate

I CAN ONLY IMAGINE: The untold story of the song that inspired millions