It takes a miracle to feed a whole village – and we did
by Kaiting Teo | 11 December 2017, 4:44 PM
There’s a good chance you’ve heard of the story about how God multiplied five loaves and two fish to feed 5000 people (John 6:1-14).
If you haven’t, it goes something like this: Thousands of people had gathered to listen to Jesus and be healed from their sicknesses, and after a long day out in the hills, Jesus asks His disciples how they were going to feed them.
The question is rhetorical because He already has a plan, but the disciples respond with their own logic, telling Him there’s no way to get food out in the countryside, and even if they did it’ll cost them thousands of dollars, which they don’t have.
Jesus persists and tells them they were to feed the people anyway, and one of them brings to Him a little boy who was willing to offer Jesus His packed lunch of five barley loaves and two fish. Jesus then prayed over the bread and gave it to His disciples to distribute. They not only feed the 5000 people present, they have 12 baskets leftover after the world’s greatest picnic ends!
I wouldn’t blame you if you’re wondering if that actually happened. But today I have no doubt God’s power, because I’ve experienced that amazing scene myself.
Last year, I took part in a school trip to Cambodia. On our last day there, we had a “cultural night” where we cooked for the villagers and celebrated with them.
As the time for the big dinner drew near, everyone was busy cooking and getting the dining hall ready. Things weren’t off to a great start as it was raining very heavily and there was a chance that our programme had to be cancelled.
Anxiety built even further when twice the number of families than we’d prepared food for showed up – almost 200 families. We were certain there wouldn’t be enough to feed everyone.
However, God always makes a way out.
Serve My people and I will provide for you in abundance. I was sure I heard Him speak to my worried heart, but I wasn’t sure what He meant. Joining my team as we distributed the food to them, I felt faith arise that with the Lord, we’d have more than enough to give … somehow.
I wanted to show them God’s love, even if what I had to offer was so little.
As I gave out bowl after bowl of chicken curry, I made it a point to smile and pat their shoulder, believing even the smallest gestures of love would bless them. I wanted to show them God’s love, even if what I had to offer was so little.
You wouldn’t believe it – and we barely could either – but at the end of the night, there were so much leftover food that there was enough to feed my whole team, our lecturers and every household in that village.
The rain didn’t stop the whole evening, but as the festivities and laughter swelled in the small community hall, I sensed the presence of the Lord moving in that place, and my heart was so full. I never forgot what I learnt about the God of the so-much-more through that simple dinner.
The same God who multiplied the five loaves and two fish is still providing for us in abundance today – we simply have to place our faith in Him.
This is a submission from a participant of our Christmas Gift Exchange. From now till the end of December 2017, we are giving away a limited edition Thir.st Tumbler in exchange for every story on the Christmas themes of love, joy, peace, hope and giving. Click here to find out more.
“Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses. For whoever eats leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel.” (Exodus 12:15)
These instructions were given to the Israelites concerning the Passover – a yearly festival of remembering how God delivered the emerging nation, when the Israelites were first instructed to paint their doorways with the blood of unblemished lambs. This was done so that the Angel of the Lord would pass over the household and not kill their firstborn, which was the tenth plague in Egypt leading up to the Exodus.
Complicated and slightly strange, I know, but this whole exercise was later revealed to be symbolic of the New Covenant, the blood of the perfect lamb Jesus Christ that covers over our sin and saves us from its consequence – death – into eternal life. Did you know the Jesus was crucified on the day of the Passover?
But let’s go back to the thing about the unleavened bread that the Israelites were told to include in their Passover feast.
Leaven, or what we know as yeast, was used as a metaphor for what is unholy, impure, within a person. For those of you who aren’t bakers, yeast is put into dough to cause it to expand, rise and become fluffy as the yeast drives fermentation in the mixture.
Yeast is small – microscopic, actually – so imagine the immensity of having to clear leaven from the home every single year when the Passover comes around. People are bound to get lazy, complacent, busy, or even willing to bend some rules to evade hard work.
“One speck of yeast? If I cannot see it and you cannot see it – who does it harm?”
And over the years, one yeast cell may be missed out, or a speck of 50.
But the fact is: Yeast multiplies – impurity can grow. It never starts out outrightly obscene, no. Yeast, like sin, is sneaky. It begins with the small, “seemingly” innocuous thoughts:
“Nah, I’m too lazy to read my Bible, I’ve had a long day …” “Why do I need to pray, I mean, God can read my thoughts …” “Who are you to judge me?”
It may even be that condescending look we throw at others who seem below us, a nasty thought, the curses that brew in our minds (because “Christians cannot swear”).
It could even be the jokes told by our friends – the accidental slippage of a sneer when they gossip about that weird kid in class (I’m guilty).
Consider this: “Huge” crimes like murder, theft and rape … they all began with a small bit of yeast. Jealousy, violent thoughts … Leading to planning, mental rehearsal, and then to execution.
“A little leaven leavens the whole lump.” (Galatians 5:9)
It is very easy to hide yeast under the carpet, under the guise of “oh, that’s being too legalistic and also, I’m not a Puritan.” But yeast still grows in the hidden places (facultative anaerobe – sorry, nerd joke), and inevitably, you will find infestation and infection that comes with the allowance of impurity.
“Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me.”
(Psalm 51: 2, 7, 10)
Today, I choose to repent and seek God to help me to clear the leaven in my life – every speck has to go. Leaven shall have no place in the lives of those who follow Jesus; we are to deny ourselves, and carry the Cross daily.
This article was first published on Weiren’s blog and was republished with permission.
A few months ago, my friend told me he wanted to change Church. One of the reasons he gave was because he disagreed with how the Church was spending money.
“Why do we spend so much on building Church facilities and running extravagant programmes when we could use all that money to benefit the poor instead?”
Surprised by his question, I quickly replied, “I think it adds to the experience. A good atmosphere leaves a good impression on people, especially for those who are visiting the Church for the first time.”
But he was unconvinced, and so was I. My own reply sounded like a first world justification in contrast to his altruistic concerns. Providing for the needy seemed like the “better”, and perhaps “correct” answer.
With a huge wealth of funds on hand, it is no wonder the public and media are highly interested in how Hillsong spends their money.
Just last month, I attended my very first Hillsong Conference – the Hillsong Worship and Creative Conference. As I entered the Baulkham Hills campus – where Hillsong originally started out – I noticed a beautiful outdoor market right outside the main conference hall and let out a soft “wow”. Later on, our hosts introduced it as “The Marketplace”, where people could hang out after the conference for late night fellowship – food, live band and a barber included.
The auditorium also had me floored. There was a translucent fabric draping over the stage, acting as both a curtain and a screen. A looped video of a rainforest was projected onto it. After a while, I noticed there were crew members walking on the steel-framed platform above the auditorium scattering leaves at random intervals for a full immersive experience.
A performance during the Hillsong Worship and Creative Conference. (Photo courtesy of Hillsong Church)
And if that wasn’t crazy enough, the stage lighting was incredibly stunning during praise and worship. The visual effects came together nicely and added to the whole experience.
There were theatrics involved in most of the sermons preached – be it bringing a dog up on stage, wearing an astronaut suit or displaying treasure boxes to drive home a point. The crowd was constantly entertained; it was nothing short of amazing.
One of their designers mentioned in a co-lab session: “Just because it’s Christian, doesn’t mean it should be second best.”
They definitely weren’t kidding about that.
In 2 Samuel 7:1-2, the Bible records King David’s decision to build a temple for God. To this point, following the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt, God’s presence was resting in the ark of God – where the tablets holding the Ten Commandments were stored. The ark was kept in the Tabernacle, a huge tent that could be put up and taken down easily as the Israelites moved towards the Promised Land.
“Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.” (2 Samuel 7:1-2)
At this point of his declaration, King David had just reclaimed possession of the ark, as it had been stolen by enemies. He placed it back in a tent, but decided it wasn’t reflective of his love and reverence for God. This temple, he decided, “must be exceedingly magnificent, famous and glorious throughout all countries” (1 Chronicles 22:5).
And so King David set aside materials of gold, silver and precious stones, assigning his son, Solomon, to build the House of God. The Bible states that the Temple was so grand, its inner sanctuary was completely covered in gold.
Talk about extravagance.
In a response to the grand gesture, God reminded his people that He doesn’t need a temple – or extravagance – but He saw King David’s heart and accepted his offering as a form of worship. His only condition was that the nation be faithful to Him (2 Samuel 7:5-7, 1 Kings 9:3-9).
I understand my friend’s concern. It doesn’t seem right for Churches to look “expensive” and “extravagant”, because stewardship of moneyis important. But I think the more important question is: How does this align with God’s will?
In Luke 16:9, Jesus said, “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”
The Bible is clear that good stewardship is not about the amount we spend or save, but how that amount will impact a person’s eternity. At the end of the day, you can’t bring any money to heaven – you bring souls. Money is simply a tool, a resource, to reach that goal.
Granted, giving to the needy is one of the most direct ways of reaching out to people, but this form of giving isn’t the only way of showing Christ to the world.
I remember feeling moved and inspired as I sat through the 3-day Hillsong conference, and experienced for myself the hearts behind the extravaganza. Every single “performance” – be it the songs, stories or sermons – was geared to one obvious direction: To reveal Christ through beauty and excellence.
If spending some money brings people one step closer to Christ, it’s all worth it.
In their own words, the team was “gathering all artisans to explore our calling, respond in worship and create with beauty, to fulfil Jesus’ Great Commission.” The Great Commission to make disciples of all nations.
In her sermon, Cass Langton, Creative Director of Hillsong Church, expressed it like this: “The Church needs artists to help the world see clearly what we feel vaguely”.
You see, the performances you see in Churches aren’t just a show – they’re worship. They’re outreach.
It’s understandable why people might look at the glitz and glamour of megachurches and be skeptical of the unconventional form of impacting someone’s life. But as Paul said “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:22).
If improving facilities can attract people to Church, if performing a play can communicate the Gospel more effectively, if spending some money brings people one step closer to Christ, it’s all worth it.
“My daddy warned me about men like you
He said, ‘Baby girl, he’s playing you.'”
(Beyoncé, “Daddy Lessons”)
When rumours of infidelity swirled around the power couple ever since the release of Beyoncé’s hit album Lemonade – filled with songs that hinted strongly at Jay-Z’s unfaithfulness in their marriage – it left many confused. Why would anyone cheat on a wife like Beyoncé?
But as it goes, cheating has nothing to do with how hot your wife is. And finally, in a recent interview for The New York Times’ T Magazine, Jay-Z admitted to an emotional shutdown that ultimately led to his affair.
What then is the root issue when it comes to cheating? As a guy who is currently attached, this is an important topic to consider. Cheating in a relationship doesn’t sound like something that comes naturally to anyone, but I do believe it is more prevalent an issue than most assume it to be.
Let’s start with what “cheating” even is – at least how I would define it.
Cheating seems to indicate that you do want to keep the partner you’re committed to around, but you also want the thrill of having a romantic relationship with another individual. Why not just break up first otherwise, right?
Of course, this isn’t condoning someone who hops from partner to partner, lacking the desire to stay committed to a single individual. But they’re both symptoms of a similar root problem.
This is the question I’ve always had: Why would happy couples who’ve committed themselves to their relationships spiral down to such a state?
It’s easy for people to be attracted to other people. Even people who are not their significant others.
I think oftentimes we are too idealistic and end up underestimating how fickle humans really are. When we enter a relationship with someone we love – or someone amazing like Beyoncé – we probably think there’s no way we will ever pay attention to anyone else.
But the horror of the entire matter is this: It’s easy for people to be attracted to other people. Even people who are not their significant others.
Even before we step into committed relationships, we’ve already spent most of our lifetime experiencing varying degrees of attraction towards those around us. Whether it is someone you find physically attractive or an individual you share an emotional chemistry with, I believe that in that instance of human connection, that individual would appear desirable.
And what makes you think that all magically stops once we are in relationships?
It’s not difficult to find someone else other than your partner attractive, especially when the initial attraction wanes over time. This explains why for some, cheating is about the novelty of intimacy with someone other than your current partner. That renewed feeling of excitement and mystery.
But for others, it’s also been about finding someone “better”.
I want to take a pause here and caution anyone who thinks that their current partner is the best person they can be with. I disagree. The person you’re with is not the best. There will probably be another human being, whom you’ve yet to encounter, who’s objectively better than your current partner. Better looks, better personality, better whatever you wish.
And when you meet that person, your currently partner will no longer be “the best”. This will likely increase your propensity to straying – and this is just one of the many ways you’ve set yourself up to do so!
Being able to stay committed in a relationship is not about finding the best person to be with – because if it was, Beyoncé would’ve been the last woman on earth to get cheated on.
Neither is it deciding that you’ll never be attracted to someone else – that’s really not something you can decide, and in fact, chances are, you will.
To be committed is to first and foremost be honest and conscious of our sinful selves. Then it takes a daily denial of all sinful desires, no matter how fleeting they are. It is to always be on guard against temptation.
Staying committed is a daily fight. And we have to recognise this, especially at the early stages of the relationship when all is merry and good.
If we become ignorant – maybe even arrogant – about the possibility that we will be attracted to other individuals, we will fail to protect ourselves against these feelings. And when such situations arise, they will catch us unprepared.
Another reason why people might cheat is because the relationship is no longer as fulfilling as it once used to be. People can enter a relationship for different reasons, but if their needs are not met by each other, it stands to reason that these needs will need to be filled somewhere else.
Again, I want to put a disclaimer that dissatisfaction cannot and should never be an excuse for infidelity. There truly is no excuse! Whether your relationship is on cloud nine or on the rocks, the promise to remain faithful still stands.
However, an unfulfilling relationship can lead to much frustration, and eventually a straying heart. And again I wonder, if that’s the case, why doesn’t the couple break up instead?
To me, cheating reflects that people aren’t done with the “old” relationship – somewhere in there they probably wish and still hope for it to work. But because of the drain of their unmet needs, be they emotional or physical, it’s almost too natural to look for respite elsewhere.
When both parties seek to give more than what’s “fair”, there will never be a lack in the relationship – only surplus.
I think there are two ways to prevent this from happening. First, it is important to be clear, both with yourself and your partner, why you want the relationship even before you enter it.
So many people start a relationship without careful consideration – fuelled by strong emotions instead of clear rationality – and by the time the feelings have faded and they search for a solid reason for the relationship … It’s just not there.
By then, the involved parties may be too deeply invested to even request for a break up, and thus turn to other means to resolve the situation without dissolving the relationship.
Second, if the couple is married, the pair need to realise that they each have obligations to one another. I emphasise married, because a married couple has marital duties to each other that a dating couple does not.
“For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” (1 Corinthians 7:3-5)
The Bible is clear that marriage is a mutual surrender of ourselves to each other. Out of this is an exhortation to out-please each other. Neither party should have to demand love and its many forms – for godly love is not self-serving, all about me and my needs, but others-serving.
Someone once said: “To make any marriage last – to make it truly work – both people have to feel like it’s 75/25. Each person needs to feel as though they are giving and doing and putting in 75% of the effort. When each person feels as though they are giving 75%, both are working to make the marriage a success. When you start looking for a marriage to be 50/50, each partner will be unsatisfied with the effort put forth by the other.”
The idea is to not just meet halfway, but to strive to out-give each other. When both parties seek to give more than what’s “fair”, there will never be a lack in the relationship – only surplus.
The keyword, however, is both. Otherwise it will be a lopsided, unbalanced equation that leaves one feeling constantly shortchanged and dissatisfied.
To be honest, committing to a person for life is no easy feat. Upon hearing the requirement and standards God has for marriage, the disciples exclaimed, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.” (Matthew 19:10)
In a contemporary world of dating where people enter into relationships without too much consideration, this is a somber reminder that love isn’t a walk in the park. Love is difficult. It is to honour the other person and to honour our commitment, even when we don’t feel like it.
As Ravi Zacharias once said, “The important thing to bear in mind is that you must face your willingness to die to yourself before you choose to walk down the aisle. Is this person the one for whom you are willing to die daily? Is this person to whom you say ‘I do’ also the one for whom you are willing to say ‘no, I don’t’ to everybody else? Be assured that marriage will cost you everything.”
Surely marriage will cost us everything – but by the grace of God, let nothing ever cost us our marriage.
Whispers filled the car while the young girl glanced out the window with tears filling her eyes, pretending she didn’t hear a word spoken by her “friends”. She looked down at her rolls of fats, wondering what she had done to deserve these remarks.
Fast forward to Sunday.
She was dropped off at Sunday School by her mother. At the tender age of 8 years old, she was a pianist with a heart to serve God. Yet, she sat alone, away from the rest of the girls in her level, because she was an outcast.
This girl was always left alone, without a partner until the teacher assigned her one for the Church’s Christmas performance. Finally, she had a friend – one who’d become her best friend! They hung out, slept over at each other’s house and texted each other every day.
However, her best friend soon left her for another Church and she was back to square one.
The girl fell back into loneliness, into the hurt that was buried deep in her heart as she contemplated how she simply was not good enough for the standards of this world.
That girl was me.
Needless to say, I carried with me the wounds of many hurtful words and actions as I grew up. These words may have been uttered mindlessly, but they remained forged in my memory.
I always felt insecure and fat, and I couldn’t grasp the fact that I was beautifully created in God’s image. I mean, did God make me fat because He was fat? It didn’t make sense.
I left Church in Secondary One because of my insecurities. I hated the Church, I hated the people there and most importantly, I hated myself and the way I looked.
However, God relentlessly pursued me.
He constantly provided me with friends who would draw me back to Church, who often told me stories of this amazing Heavenly Father. They piqued my curiosity to search for this Heavenly Father that they tenderly and lovingly talked about.
Step by step, I opened the Bible, journalled down my prayers as letters to God, and – in a courageous step of trust – ultimately went back to Church.
I clearly remember the last night of youth camp in December 2013. It was the night I finally encountered how perfect and extraordinary a Father’s love can be for His beloved daughter.
I had gone up for the altar call, and the person praying for me affirmed me on my worth through Psalm 139:13-16: “For You formed my inwards parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made … In Your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”
At that moment, I was in awe that God held my entire life in His hands! Through the endless nights of crying myself to sleep about my insecurities and wishing that I could be made better or like someone else.
It’s unexplainable but for once, I felt secure. I felt safe, knowing that I was caught up in the arms of my Daddy God.
In that moment of brokenness, I realised that He was always with me through every single moment, through every insult and all the loneliness I felt. He had never forsaken nor abandoned me.
So overwhelmed, I just cried and cried and cried. Endless tears streamed down my cheeks as I felt wholeheartedly embraced by a Father who dearly loves me. How great is His love for me! How wide and how deep it truly is!
It’s unexplainable but for once, I felt secure. I felt safe, knowing that I was caught up in the arms of my Daddy God. No insult could damage or have any hold on me anymore. This is the identity He’s given me: Daughter of the Most High.
Since embarking on this healing journey with God, I’ve still faced continual ups and downs with regards to my body-image. But the way I’ve responded to these trials has changed.
After knowing my Father’s heart for me, I’ve made an intentional effort to cut off the thought of comparison or even the envy of others. I no longer compare myself to others in terms of physical beauty. Instead, I focused on cultivating my inner beauty and relationship with God.
The 8-year-old Christiana would never have imagined that she would step up as a youth leader in her Church; she wouldn’t imagine impacting the lives of other girls; neither would she have imagined herself planning a conference for young women.
In fact, I still find it surreal that God has placed me at Kallosto hone my writing skills and be part of a Christian community that affirms young women of their identity in God.
Back then, I didn’t have the privilege of reading a Kallos magazine or attending a Kallos conference, but I hope a whole generation of young women will now have the chance to be reminded of their identities as daughters of the Most High. I’m believing that something powerful will happen when like-minded sisters gather to worship their King.
The Kallos Conference for young women between 12-25 years old takes place from December 21-22, 2017, at Faith Methodist Church. Started in 2015, it arose out of a desire to restore the wonder of God’s glory in the lives of young girls, and how an awakened wonder can restore one’s body image, sexuality and love for God’s Word. Find out more or register for the Conference here.
Can I really do this? I don’t think I’ve got what it takes
by Clement Sim | 4 December 2017, 3:29 PM
“You Never Fail” was a song I wrote after I finished reading the book of Joshua.
Joshua was entering a new season of his life, taking over the leadership of Israel from Moses. Those were big shoes to fill.
I think there were times Joshua felt apprehension and fear. He might have thought: “Can I really do this? I don’t think I’ve got what it takes.” But God spoke these words to him, “Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you.” (Joshua 1:5)
That verse really struck my heart, especially since I also was going through a new season in life. I had just gotten married, and the challenges of being in a marriage were far greater than I had anticipated them to be.
So many blindspots were surfaced, and working through my brokenness was emotionally and physically tiring. At the same time, I had also just started theological education. Even though I really enjoyed what I was learning, it took a lot of time and effort to grasp all that was being taught.
And on top of that, I was still working full time in Church, dealing with all the demands of ministry. Juggling all these commitments felt like an insurmountable task, and at times I struggled, “Can I really do this? I don’t think I’ve got what it takes.”
Then I felt God saying the same thing to me, “Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you.”
It was an assurance like no other. I knew that on my own I was truly unable to make it through this new season of life. I only pulled through because of God’s presence and promise to me.
And so I decided to put that into a song. I wanted to build my own “altar” unto God, to remember how He revealed Himself to me. I also wanted to encourage the body of Christ.
As we go through new seasons in life, as we struggle with feeling inadequate, let’s be reminded of God’s promise. Like Joshua, let’s find courage and strength in God.
Joshua and Moses’ God is the same God we serve. He will always be with us. He will never fail us.
“You Never Fail” is a single from Clement’s 2017 album, Draw Near. Check it out here.
I was in school and scheduled to meet with my discipleship group leader. It was nearing finals and I was actually the only one in my group who turned up for that meeting.
As there were only two of us, my leader then suggested that we should go around campus to share the Gospel instead. At first, I was pretty hesitant as street evangelism was not something that I did often – I hardly, if ever, spoke to strangers about my faith.
Honestly, I was pretty afraid of how people in school would perceive me if I were to share the Gospel on campus. But I took up the challenge and after praying, we set off believing God would bring us to whoever He wanted us to speak to.
The first girl we came across was a Year 3 student from the School of Social Sciences. We asked if she had time to talk to us and to my surprise, she welcomed us with a friendly “Yes!”.
I found her willingness to converse with us strange, us Singaporeans would usually not be this open to talking to strangers without a negative impression from the get-go.
But before I knew it, we were sharing about our aspirations and struggles in life. In fact, she was pretty open talking about God and religion. My leader then asked how she felt about her Christian friends sharing the Gospel with her.
Her answer to this question shocked me: “Who would wanna stand around and approach different people just to share about their faith? Christians have such joy in their lives and they want others to have it too.
“It can’t be anything but pure love.”
Christians have such joy in their lives and they want others to have it too; it can’t be anything but pure love.
Wow. I had never thought non-believers ever saw us in a positive light for sharing the Gospel. I’d assumed we always came across as slightly bothersome, zealous people enforcing our ideology on others.
Although the girl was not ready to receive Jesus Christ as her Lord and Saviour, I was so encouraged by what she said, and this really changed my perception of street evangelism too.
It reminded me of how we are sharing the Gospel because we have received this love from God. We love because God first loved us and we have the responsibility to share this love with the people around us. They don’t always get saved immediately, that is their choice, but it is up to us to ensure they always get loved.
Also, I learnt that it is really a joy to share the good news of Jesus, especially in this Christmas season. Prior to this encounter, I was still wondering if I should go for discipleship group meetings as I had many things on hand and tests were all coming up.
But this really served as a reminder that even my time is not just my own, it is for others too. I’ve decided that one of the best gifts is to intentionally take time off and give my time to people who have yet to know about God and what was done for them on the Cross of Calvary.
This is a submission from a participant of our Christmas Gift Exchange. From now till the end of December 2017, we are giving away a limited edition Thir.st Tumbler in exchange for every story on the Christmas themes of love, joy, peace, hope and giving. Click here to find out more.
Not just a passer-by: Taking time for tissue paper sellers
by Lemuel Teo | 1 December 2017, 5:58 PM
Having walked the same route from the MRT station to the bus interchange countless times, I knew the drill: Avoid colliding into others, stay glued to my smartphone, flash a polite but firm smile to insurance agents.
The commute was quicker rushing this way, and it was also easier to ignore the tissue paper sellers and buskers by the wayside. I felt like they were an impediment to my journey.
Honestly … I found them annoying.
Three months ago, after a long day spent in the city, I noticed a man selling packets of tissue paper along my usual route. I’d never seen him before and thought of blessing him with a few dollars.
But weary, I was reluctant to slow down for him. Immediately, I felt the Spirit asking me, “Would you stop for him?”
“Not today, Lord,” I said in my heart as I walked past the man.
The Spirit tugged at my heart. I remembered then how I committed to not grieving Him, and how I wanted to obey His every prompting.
Turning around, I walked over to the man and asked if he’d eaten. “你好，吃饱了吗?”
I introduced myself and enquired about his well-being. He shared that he could not find a proper job because of his physical disability.
I felt compassion growing in my heart, and I told him that he is valuable in God’s eyes. Though he had seen many walk past him and ignore him, I told him God loves and cares for him. By grace, I then led him in a prayer of re-dedication to Jesus Christ and invited him to my home church.
That was the start of our unlikely friendship.
In time, I made friends with another lady who was also selling tissue paper in the same area. Despite our significant age difference, our conversations were meaningful and comfortable. We talked about everything from religion, to her family, even her health conditions.
I always felt like I was speaking to a friend.
I began to look forward to these simple conversations in the evenings as I travelled home. I knew my new friends’ personal stories and the reasons behind their livelihood. These conversations were no longer impersonal small talk – we would actually catch up on each other’s lives.
However, after two months of consistently seeking them out and chatting with them, I somehow developed compassion fatigue.
I ran out of patience and love. Previously, I wouldn’t flinch at spending $10 or even 15 minutes of my time with them. But suddenly, I was tired and unwilling to share my time and money with them.
The initial zeal of loving my neighbour gave way to weariness. I elevated my personal convenience above loving others and obeying the Spirit.
Soon, I found myself taking a detour whenever I walked between the MRT station and bus interchange, just so that I wouldn’t bump into them and need to stop for a simple conversation.
I was back to the apathy of square one.
A fortnight ago, the Spirit prompted me to read John 4. In that chapter, John records Jesus’ journey from Jerusalem towards Galilee.
Taking the most direct path would lead him through Samaria: An area occupied by the Samaritans who were despised by the Jews for their half-Jew, half-Gentile ethnicity.
They were marginalised for their mixed race and pagan religion. So Jews commonly avoided Samaria, taking a detour along the Jordan River in the east.
But Jesus “had to” (John 4:4) pass through Samaria. There, He stopped for one Samaritan woman at a well, promising her living water. Consequently, her entire town was brought to salvation (John 4:1–45).
Even in His travels, Jesus submitted to the Spirit’s leading. Though tradition meant it wasn’t necessary to pass through Samaria, Jesus was in tune with the Spirit, and knew He had to travel through a place normally avoided by others.
In the original Greek, “had to” indicates a necessity arising from a command. For Jesus, obeying the Spirit was the most important thing. Societal pressures or personal comforts were not part of His considerations.
Jesus’ compassionate commute was a stark contrast to my recent approach with the tissue paper sellers. I was deeply convicted that I had a selfish and loveless heart for others.
Jesus told His disciples, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” (John 4:34). He lived with the sole intention of accomplishing God’s purpose. To this end, Jesus was always in close fellowship with the Father (John 17:21), doing exactly what the Father showed Him.
If we are to imitate Christ, we need to first experience God’s love. We only love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19). It is only out of a loving relationship with God that we are able to love other people.
In other words, without regular and personal encounters with the love of Jesus, it is impossible to conjure up genuine love for those by the wayside.
It is only out of a loving relationship with God that we are able to love other people.
Meditating on John 4, I was moved by Jesus’ intentionality in loving the Samaritan woman. I endeavoured to emulate his pattern and told God, “Help me to love others like you would, Lord.”
In time, I started walking my normal route again – purposefully stopping for my friends.
Who is God telling you to stop for? As we go about our daily business, let’s remain mindful of those by the wayside: Tissue sellers, office colleagues or even next-door neighbours.
Your one conversation could possibly be the only godly one they have with anyone the entire day – perhaps even their whole life.
This article was first published on Selah.sg and was republished with permission.
I once heard a story of an old devil who was planning to retire. He put up for auction all the weapons which he had accumulated over the years. They ranged from envy to laziness to gossip.
One of these weapons was worn from frequent use; it was the most expensive of the lot. When a junior devil asked about the weapon, the old devil proudly introduced it: Discouragement.
“Many people have been able to resist attacks from my other weapons, but as soon as I deployed ‘discouragement’, they would fall into the trap, and it would be easy to control them,” he explained.
The old devil was probably right. At the lowest point in my life, I was trapped in feelings of discouragement. I lost all hope and joy; I was so disappointed with myself and my work and felt like a good-for-nothing.
Whenever someone assigned me a new task, I was so afraid to mess things up. I struggled to interact with others, constantly overthinking everything I said and did, and feeling stifled by the internal conflict I was facing. I thought I would lose my job and my relationships.
When night fell, I would either cry myself to sleep or mindlessly browse my social media feeds on my phone until I fell asleep. Because the former was too painful, I usually chose the latter as temporary reprieve. But on the following day, I would beat myself up for wasting time.
Also, I didn’t want to face a new day and struggled to get up every morning – often lying in bed until the last minute before rushing out to work. I couldn’t change myself no matter what I did. How could I serve God in this state? I often reasoned. For a long time, I felt aimless and lethargic about life.
Looking back, I believe that there were two root causes of my discouragement: Comparison and pride.
I often compared myself with other people and wondered why they could overcome difficult and painful seasons and even grow spiritually. I, on the other hand, seemed to be stuck in my problems. That made me feel useless and worthless.
It was only when my pastor shared with me that everybody was made unique, and there was no basis for comparison, that my perspective changed. Many times, we don’t see the full picture: Each one of us has our own weaknesses, and we all need God’s help.
That’s when I realised I had a tendency to focus on the strengths of others but my own weaknesses.
I expect a lot of myself and tend to be fixated on the nitty-gritty. However, I soon realised that the unreasonably high standards I had set for myself had come about because of my pride – not because God required them.
As I think back on some of the things that have happened, I notice that I get easily frustrated and struggle to accept it whenever my pride takes a hit, such as when I’m treated unjustly or misunderstood, or when I don’t perform up to the mark or make mistakes.
Proverbs 17:3 says, “The crucible for silver and the furnace for gold, but the Lord tests the heart.” God used this verse to teach me that through the disappointments I faced, He was molding me and teaching me to put down my pride and need for perfection.
God has also shown me 3 of growth:
1. Acknowledge your weaknesses
During that period of discouragement, I became reticent and withdrawn, and was reluctant to tell others about how I was feeling. I pretended everything was okay and kept myself busy by helping others.
But suppressing my feelings didn’t help, as my negative emotions showed up in the words I said. It took Church elders and friends to help me open up about my struggles and needs, and to acknowledge that I was on the verge of a breakdown. They also interceded on my behalf.
Through them, I began to see the truth of Ecclesiastes 4:10, “If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.”
2. Focus on others instead of myself
Interestingly, I also learned that the way to not get overwhelmed by our own circumstances is to instead, focus on the needs of others, just like what Isaiah 58:10 says, “And if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.”
When I was discouraged and wanted to distance myself from everyone and hide, God surrounded me with fellow believers, some of whom were sisters that I had ministered to in the past. Through them, God gave me the opportunity to look past my own problems and show them love and concern, just as I had in the past. The reason why I could love them was because God, the source of love, enabled me to.
3. Surrender everything in prayer
In a book I’ve read called, Kisses From Katie, author Katie Davis shares her experiences about moving from her home in USA to Uganda, where she became mother to 13 adopted children. In the beginning, she felt very helpless and frustrated when she saw all the needs around her. But when she turned to God and cried out to Him, God gave her the resources to help the children.
Her story reminded me that we cannot rely on ourselves because many things are beyond our control. At the same time, however, we should not allow ourselves to despair.
Instead, we should surrender our pains and problems to God through prayer.
When we hand the authority and control of our situation back to the all-powerful God, He will grant us faith to wait patiently for His answers in our lives.
If you were to ask me today if I am completely free from negative emotions and thoughts, my answer is found in this verse, “LORD, You alone are my portion and my cup; You make my lot secure.” (Psalm 16:5).
I have come to understand that I am in God’s hand and everything is from Him. Whenever I am afraid of losing something or lack the courage to face challenges, I know that God will strengthen me. And I firmly believe that God will not give me more than I can bear, and He will always provide a way out (1 Cor 10:13).
So let me return to the story I started with. The junior devil went on to ask the old devil what kind of person was not afraid of discouragement. The old devil replied, “Those with a grateful heart.”
Gratefulness helps us see what we have and not focus on what we don’t have. It causes us to remember God’s leading and work in our lives, and gives us confidence that He will continue to guide us in our path ahead.
So, no matter the discouragement we have faced and will face, let’s pray that God will enable us to praise Him in thanksgiving. It is my prayer that we all will learn to be grateful people.
This article was first published on YMI.today and was republished with permission.
There are many who would say that’s “trivial”, especially given that the quiz only accounted for 5% of my grade – but I still felt horrible inside.
This was what happened: I unintentionally saw my friend’s answer, which made me realise that my units were wrong. Just then, the professor announced the end of the quiz, and I found myself hastily correcting my error before I put my pen down.
Honestly, you’d be hard-pressed to find a student who’s not done something like this before. I mean, I’ve done this before and never felt guilty. But this time was different.
Somehow, I felt so convicted about this “insignificant” sin. I knew I had to confess it to God and own up to my professor.
The opportunity to own up came and went, but I didn’t do anything because I was afraid. Well-meaning friends tried to comfort me saying, “It’s alright, it’s a small thing … Just don’t do it again next time.”
On previous occasions, these words would have been a salve for my guilt, but this time the Holy Spirit never stopped nudging me about it. I couldn’t feel joy or peace with God – only a barrier.
I tried to pray. I tried to bargain. I tried to reason …
Saturday came and I went to Church.
I tried to pray and worship but I felt so restless and far from God. Just 30 seconds into worship, I found myself telling God: “Please don’t be unhappy with me.”
And God brought to my mind Matthew 5:23-24: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
I knew I needed reconciliation. I also knew that “reconcile” is an action verb, which meant there was a need to make restitution (Exodus 22:1, 3-6, 14).
So I knew that my confession to God wouldn’t cut it by itself. I prayed so hard for the Holy Spirit to give me supernatural courage to email my professor.
Immediately, I took out my phone and emailed my professor before going back to worship. Peace returned to my heart immediately, and joy too, but my insecurities and fears began to question: What if I get removed from the course? That was such a lame thing to do.
All I could do was to stand firm in the peace of God, knowing I was doing what was right.
My professor finally replied after the service. I opened it nervously and cried as I read his gracious reply.
I was so thankful for God’s grace and mercy. Beyond that, He showed me what His standards of holiness were and how much He hated sin. And how we have fallen short.
You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:16)
God’s call to that same standard of holiness and perfection is high – but it’s not a hopeless call for us if we are obedient.
His holiness requires that I confess my sins even if they seem small and lame. Holiness requires the complete weeding out of sin in partnership with the Holy Spirit.
With “the God who girds me with strength and makes my way blameless” (Psalm 18:2), I can keep myself blameless and without guilt before Him (Psalm 18).
I live diligently so as to be found by Him without spot or blemish, and at peace (2 Peter 3:14). But when I fail, I know I have a greater hope to be made holy and perfect when Christ returns again, because of His crucifixion and death.
My brand-new white shoes got dirtied within the span of just a few days. But of course, right? I know it sounds trivial – and I should have seen this coming when I bought them – but I was still really frustrated.
I really tried to keep them clean this time! But it’s as though white shoes are dirt magnets just for being white. It’s nearly impossible to keep them pristine as we walk around outside.
This got me thinking about something Jesus famously said to his disciples about their feet during the Last Supper.
On the night He was about to be betrayed, Jesus, knowing what lay ahead for Him, decided to wash His disciples’ feet. Back then, when people walked long dusty distances in sandals and had their feet covered in all sorts of dirt and animal dung, this was the job of servants.
Peter, ever the expressive one, immediately refused – how can! – to which Jesus replied, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me” (John 13:8).
Hearing this, Peter probably panicked, requesting to have his head and hands washed too. Very Singaporean. But Jesus then responded, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean.” (John 13:10-11).
He was talking about the difference between justification and sanctification.
Justification is being restored to right standing before God. As sinners, we have no right to be reconciled to Him who is holy, but because of Jesus, who died for us, we are washed clean from sin by His blood, from the inside out. We are made righteous the moment we accept Jesus as our Lord and Saviour.
“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation;he has covered me with the robe of righteousness.” (Isaiah 61:10)
But justification isn’t the end of the journey. As we walk through this world in our new white robes of righteousness, it’s really just like walking through a dusty land in white shoes. Our souls may be forever washed clean, but our soles are not!
Yes, Jesus has broken our chains and we are no longer slaves to Sin as believers (Romans 8:2) – we are justified once and for all! We don’t need to keep repeating the Sinner’s Prayer. But sinning is very much a reality in our lives because we still live in a sinful world (Romans 7:16-17).
That’s why sanctification – the daily washing of feet – needs to happen.
To be sanctified is to be continually conformed to the image of Christ. The Bible says that the Spirit lives in the children of God and testifies that they belong to Christ (Romans 8:14, 16). Galatians 5:22-23 sums up the attributes of a believer truly living in accord with the Holy Spirit.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23)
Sanctification is an ongoing process, a daily work. It’s like being curled out of our old ways and into a new way of living – the way of Jesus Christ. And just like paper that’s been curled for too long, we’re so used to the old postures of life that we’re prone to keep bouncing back even after we’ve been set free from our bondage to Sin and straightened out.
It is this part of salvation that I have to work out and live out continually, and it will only be completed when Jesus comes back for us again (Philippians 2:12; 1:6).
Like white shoes, we are dirtied to some extent every single day we spend in this world. You might have them defiled by getting stepped on by others, you might stumble into a puddle of muddy water.
Whatever it is, we have to continually work at washing the layers of grime off so that the white canvas may remain spotless.
“… as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,so that he might present the church to himself in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Ephesians 5:25-26)
Just as Peter let Jesus wash his feet, we have to be humble in coming to Him in our Quiet Time and letting Him sanctify us daily too.
Those were about the last words my mentor gave me before our season ended, and one of the deepest lessons I am still learning in life.
I find that the more we move on in age, the more we seem to face the reality that people are not forever – change is the pinnacle of constancy for us as we all traverse through the dimension of time.
And as people change, usually the ones that hurt us are the ones that walk out of our lives, and I am certain there is almost no stranger to such a grief.
Often, this never happens in an instant, it usually is a gradual numbing, until one side of a relationship just becomes a ghost of who they used to be, a faint outline dotted with memories, the sort that one needs to struggle to ascertain if they were even real.
And before you realise it, someone whom you thought would be there for life, closes the door on you.
Hurt does things to people: We shut off our world to others, we build our walls higher, we dig motes around ourselves. Yeah, we still have friends, but now everyone is suspect.
Hurt jams the mind into overdrive: What did I do wrong? Am I not good enough? Do my friends love me for real, or is this just a huge sick joke being played on me? Who is next to hurt me?
I think it is perfectly natural to feel those things, no one has the right to fault you – the hurt is real. But I would dare contest to say that wouldn’t be the best way to live life from there on out, an emotional hermit crab.
No one has the right to fault you because, honestly, no one can force you to love – or not love – someone else. They don’t live in your skin.
Likewise for the person who hurt you – this is a choice they have made on their own, and nothing you do could’ve prevented that. The wound they left deserves time to be healed, but at no point in time was it because you were not good enough. Of course, make sure you did no wrong or harm to them either.
As for you, one person’s choice to stop loving you should not implicate your choice to love others.
That is being tender-hearted: To understand that the power to love lies in your hands, and hopefully you find it within you to see that people need love.
And being strong-hearted is this: To fully accept that people change, and should they walk out on us, we remember that love is their choice, and it is ours as well – being strong means having the fortitude to continue loving others well.
“One day it’s here and then it’s gone… how are you still holding on?”
(“One Day”, Kodaline)
It is so easy to be jaded with life and relationships, but I hope that never taints the way you see people.
Dedicated to some of my dear friends who are hurting – I know your hurt, but be tender-hearted, and be strong-hearted. To love others is your choice; make the most of it.❤️
This article was first published on Weiren’s blog and was republished with permission.
Anyone who’s ever gone to a polytechnic or university would be familiar with some tricks to get better grades:
Choosing a pass/fail module
Currying favour with tutors to get hints ahead of time
Hoping for a hard paper to work the bell curve in your favour
Invoking an “S/U” (Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory) on modules that will pull down your grades
Going on exchange to freeze that semester’s GPA
There are many other similar tricks. For those who are taking ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels, they have their own hacks too. I remember a friend who gave up on Physics, skipping the paper entirely to focus on the subjects he was more confident in.
“It’s a strategy,” he told me simply.
Getting a result by hook or by crook. To be honest, isn’t life also like an exam? We go through trials to mature in faith and at the very end – having stood the test – we receive our reward (James 1:2-4, 12).
The only difference is that there are no hacks, shortcuts or roundabouts in the Christian walk. And definitely no GPA.
It’s easy to think our weaknesses of character can be made up for by our strengths. Or that the sinful areas of our lives can be levelled out by good behaviour in other “modules” of the faith.
“God, I’m not really good at being patient but I’m a pretty honest person. My overall standing should still be pretty good, right?”
“God, I’ve surrendered the major parts of my life to you already. Can we just ignore the little things that don’t hurt anybody?”
But skills – things we’re good at – and character – our heart – are two very different entities.
A wise man once told me: “When it comes to your skills, play to your strengths; but when it comes to your character, work on your weaknesses.” Yes, we celebrate the strengths God has given us, but He is always most concerned about the heart of man – the strength of character revealed in its willingness to obey and have weaknesses refined.
We see a classic example of the GPA mentality in King Saul’s life (1 Samuel 15). God had tasked Saul to wage war against the Amalekites for the harm they did to Israel while they were in exodus. His specific instruction was to leave no one – not even an animal – alive.
Saul obeyed God’s commands to fight and eventually won the battle. However, instead of killing everyone, he somehow decided to spare the enemy’s king and the best of all the livestock – probably because he found it too much of a waste to simply destroy.
God was upset when he learnt of what Saul had done. When He sent Samuel, His prophet, to confront Saul, Saul was indignant.
Saul thought partial obedience was obedience enough. But God saw it as rebellion.
“But I did obey the Lord,” he insisted. “I went on the mission the Lord assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the Lord your God at Gilgal.”
Doesn’t Saul’s reasoning sound compelling? In his words, he retained the best loot in order to present it as an offering – a sacrifice – to God! And he obeyed most of the instructions anyway! He should have gotten a high distinction. But at this, Samuel rebuked Saul.
“Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.” (1 Samuel 15:23)
Saul thought partial obedience was obedience enough. But God saw it as rebellion. As long as we are not wholly surrendered to Him, no matter how small the part we withhold from God is, we are still not in obedience.
“So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” (James 4:17)
Consider David when he was first chosen by God to be the next king of Israel. He was merely a shepherd boy! God doesn’t look at what we are – based on some Christian “grade” we’ve achieved through accumulated good behaviours – He looks at who we are! God looked past David’s qualifications and saw his character.
“God testified concerning him: “I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.” (Acts 13:22)
He will do everything I want him to do. The Bible is clear that our character is measured by our obedience to God. We can’t “S/U” stubborn sins or “freeze” areas we don’t want to grow in. How then can true sanctification take place otherwise?
We are either people with hardened hearts or obedient children of God – there’s no in-between.
The test of obedience isn’t easy, but it’s also not impossible. Abraham wasn’t able to offer Isaac to God overnight. He had to first develop his faith convictions as he experienced what it meant to trust in God’s unchanging goodness – even in a difficult instruction.
“By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son,of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.”He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.” (Hebrews 11:17-19)
But the more we choose to obey, the more we learn to trust God. It is in the process of complete surrender that we experience His faithfulness despite our doubts. Consequently, our relationship with Him deepens.
At the end of the day, it is not about obeying for the sake of obeying. We obey because we’re learning to trust; and because we learn to trust, all the more we can obey.
I admit it isn’t easy, but Abraham’s story reminds us that we all start from somewhere. While we may not be able to submit to God everything in our lives from the get-go, He still honours the heart that’s in pursuit of Him and His commandments. So let’s start with small, baby steps of obedience. Trust, and obey. Over and over.
If you feel that prompting in your heart to bless the tissue auntie? Do it. Feel the deep-seated hesitancy in your heart at entering a particular relationship? Don’t do it.
In God’s kingdom there’s no GPA. But if we have to live by one, then let’s live with this GPA instead: a God-Pursuing Attitude.
In my struggles with my faith, this is what I hold on to
by Raphael Chang | 14 November 2017, 5:59 PM
Ever faced a time when Christianity suddenly stopped making sense to you?
When the doctrines don’t work out in your head. When you can’t relate to the preaching. When the community in church just gets on your nerves.
I’ve been in such a season for quite a while. I started hanging out with friends outside of church more and drinking became a weekly affair. I even took a break from church for an extended period. Going for service is sometimes still a struggle.
I’ve learnt to try to understand the heart behind the boundaries that God and people want to place around me. These boundaries are there to keep me as far away from the edge of the cliff that leads to a fall into sin.
So why am I penning down my thoughts on my current season?
First, I hope this encourages those who are in a similar place – so you know that you’re not the only one facing such thoughts. I’m no cell leader, or ministry head; just an ordinary 20-year-old figuring out his place in this world.
Second, even if you’re not in that place, maybe you know someone who is, whether you’re his leader, mentor, or just his friend. I hope this helps you understand how he feels, so that you can relate to him at a deeper level.
WHEN YOU’RE STRUGGLING WITH THE RULES …
Some friends advised me to stay away from alcohol, because “we shouldn’t be drunk on wine, but be full of the Spirit instead” (Ephesians 5:18). In my rebellious state, I took this as a hard-line stance being imposed on me by a higher authority. I yearned to break out of a stifling environment and be free from such rules.
Having a rule imposed on you is definitely not pleasant when you have not been personally convicted to lay something down before God. But rather than stew over what I’m being told to do or not to do, I’ve learnt to try to understand the heart behind the boundaries that God and people want to place around me.
These boundaries are there to keep me as far away from the edge of the cliff that leads to a fall into sin.
WHEN YOU’RE STRUGGLING WITH THE PEOPLE …
I grew disillusioned with my community in Church. I felt pressured to be someone different. It was as if there were certain expectations that I had to meet in order to consider myself “Christian” enough to be part of the community.
The continuous “good Christian boy” image that I had to put on was tiring. I didn’t feel vulnerable enough to be myself. It seemed hypocritical to me: The Church constantly taught about love, but it all seemed artificial, just a front.
I gradually retreated into myself and turned to friends outside Church who I felt didn’t have such expectations of me.
I was blessed to have friends who were willing to hear me out, who didn’t probe too deeply when I was uncomfortable, and who didn’t judge me for having these doubts. They pulled me back when I drifted too far.
But throughout the process, I was blessed to have a handful of friends who were willing to hear me out, who didn’t probe too deeply when I was uncomfortable, and who didn’t judge me for having these doubts. They pulled me back when I drifted too far, and helped me create the environment for me to figure things out safely.
So even if you’re not feeling so hot about your church group, no matter how much you want to cut everyone off, it’s good to remain vulnerable to at least one close church friend to guide you through your storms (Hebrews 10:25).
WHEN YOU’RE STRUGGLING WITH SELF-CONDEMNATION …
During this season, I just wanted to quickly figure out all my doubts and feelings so that I could move on. But it didn’t help that people told me, “You aren’t the Raphael I knew three months ago. What happened to that zeal and fire for God?” I often beat myself up after hearing such statements, adding self-condemnation to my woes.
But I’ve learnt that we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves. It’s human to have a low moment – Moses’ moment lasted 40 years (Acts 7:30)! We all need some time to wrestle with our faith; seasons where we emerge stronger, with a greater dependence on God.
Whenever you fall into sin, know that there’s such grace and forgiveness available to you (Romans 3:23-24). Read Psalm 51, written by David after his fall into the sin of adultery, but acknowledging that God renews and restores.
To leaders and friends, I hope you see the heart behind this article. I’m not looking to promote any kind of watered-down faith, but hoping that we all learn to be brutally honest about our relationship with God and the struggles we face, so that we can address the issues plainly and honestly.
To those who are in a similar place, know that you aren’t the only one. There’s many who have had the same doubts, but just don’t talk openly about it.
Hang in there. You may have changed, or those around you may have, but Jesus never changes. He’s the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. He still loves you no matter what season you’re in. When you feel distant from your church, your religion, and your community, know that Jesus is the constant amid the storm.
One month after the passing of my mother in April 2011, I ended a year-long relationship with my boyfriend.
The relationship had already been on the rocks for months. It was adding to the existing stress I had to deal with after my mum had a cancer relapse. I couldn’t cope.
That meant that within a span of two months, I had lost two persons I loved deeply.
I didn’t know how else to move on other than diving straight back into work. That year, I started travelling alone and embarking on short-term missions.
All this was fulfilling – yet I couldn’t deny how empty I felt, deep inside. For a good six months, I didn’t smile or talk much. I used to be known for my cheeriness, but I was in a terrible state.
Those in emotional distress are often labelled as “weak”, “thinking too much”, “emotional”. Such statements invalidate people’s feelings, and can add to their distress.
Things did eventually get better and I started to get my sunshine back. But what I didn’t know was just how much of an impact the break-up had had on me. I came to view relationships more like a burden than something beautiful to be embraced.
Whenever I met someone, and told my friends about him, they made me realise that I just kept talking about my ex. It was time to move on, they gently reminded me.
Though I had no more feelings for my ex, the memories from our relationship were still haunting me and hindering me from forging new and healthy relationships. I struggled to move on.
THE STRUGGLE IS REAL
I couldn’t quite understand why, until I started to read up on the field of traumatology. The term has its roots in the Greek word “trauma” which means “injury or wound”. When we hear words like “trauma”, “injury” or “wound”, we often think of physical trauma.
Because physical wounds are obvious and visible to the eyes, they are more readily acknowledged and more appropriately treated, compared to emotional wounds. But research has shown how traumatic experiences during childhood or adulthood could cause emotional scarring and even changes in the brain, increasing your degree of vulnerability in the face of future stressors.
Trauma alters how one’s brain stores and remembers traumatic events. All this means that unless a traumatic event is properly processed, it can be very difficult to move on.
Those who have gone through traumatic experiences often continue to “live out” the memories in the present, instead of storing them away as mere historical information in the memory banks.
In the case of the ending of my relationship, I realised the whole process had been traumatic to me – enough for me to avoid being in one for years.
THE PAIN IS REAL
Many people label those who are in emotional distress as “weak”, “thinking too much”, “emotional”, etc. Usually there is no malice in these statements, and they are delivered with good intentions by loved ones in an attempt to comfort. Nonetheless, such statements invalidate people’s feelings, and can add to the distress.
Everybody is made different. We have different personalities and were raised in different circumstances, and as such possess different levels of tenacity in face of stress.
A common phrase we often hear in counselling is a client saying: “You are not me, you’ll never understand.” There is much truth in that phrase. What is a mere memory to one could be traumatic experience for another. Therefore, don’t discount the feelings of anyone articulating their emotional pain.
God knows our pain, sees every second we suffer. And He gives us what we need to move on. The strength, the support.
This is not to say that individuals should go too far down the road of victimisation, expecting people to empathise all the time. If you’re in this position, understanding the nature of emotional pain should be for the sake of helping you and your loved ones to understand your struggles in order to help you heal. It’s not meant to let you indulge in self-pity.
From my own professional experience, people start to heal and move on when they feel their deepest emotional pains are being acknowledged.
OUR GOD IS REAL
Emotional wounds – though not visible to the naked eyes – are real, just like physical wounds. If we do not denigrate people who have physical wounds or ailments and label them as weak, why do we often do it to people with emotional wounds or mental health conditions, attaching all sorts of negative connotations to their condition?
When people are unwell, they need tender, loving, care and not judgement. After all, God’s ministry is one of love and not ostracism. In the words of Mother Teresa: “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”
I think about the experience of Elijah in 1 Kings 19. Fresh from a comprehensive victory over the priests of Baal the chapter before, the prophet has no time to rest, because Queen Jezebel is out for his blood.
He ran for his life, coming to a stop under a bush in the wilderness, where he utters a cry of resignation that depressed people will find familiar.
“I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life.” (1 Kings 19:4)
Enough, God. This is too much for me.
Elijah was facing some physical trauma – he was hungry and tired – but his deep trauma was to his emotionally exhausted soul.
God met him in both places. First He gave the poor prophet food and water – enough to travel 40 days and nights on. That was some meal.
The point of the meal: To bring Elijah to Horeb, the mountain of God. The meaning of Horeb? “Dry place”. God knew Elijah’s sagging spirit was at a dry place.
And He gave him help and encouragement. Jehu to fight for him, Elisha to succeed him, and 7,000 others who were in the fight with him, refusing to bow their knees to Baal. (1 Kings 19:17-18)
God knows our pain, sees every second we suffer. And He gives us what we need to move on. The strength, the support.
For me, I’m glad that my loved ones finally understand the extent of my struggles. I’m still fighting the feelings, but I look forward to the day where I will no longer be living out my past traumatic memories of my past relationship, so I can find myself in a healthy relationship in the present.
“I need a break from church and from y’all to think about what happened,” a good friend wrote in a text message to me one day. And with that one message, Jasmine never returned to my Church again.
It all started during a sleepover three of us had at Jasmine’s place. Jasmine, Alexis and I were talking late into the night and I made an insensitive joke about Jasmine — one which I can no longer remember. Alexis laughed and the both of us thought nothing about it after that.
But that one “innocent” remark had severely affected Jasmine. Extremely offended, she stopped talking to us and distanced herself from us after that episode.
Confused, we sent her text messages and even visited her at her house with a cake to make it up to her. But nothing worked. Our confusion turned to frustration when she started ignoring our other friends who weren’t even involved in the conflict.
That’s when Alexis and I decided to get together with another good friend, Adrienne, to assess the situation. But instead of trying to understand how Jasmine saw things, we ended up saying unloving things about Jasmine and judging her harshly. We even thought about how to craft the most strongly worded, passive-aggressive text message to her.
Eventually, Alexis and I received a sobering text message from her one evening.
When someone leaves the Church because of a conflict, it’s easy to sweep the entire thing under the carpet and pretend nothing ever happened.
Jasmine was so hurt by what we said that she had decided to leave our Church. Although we never intended for this to happen, I have to admit that even then we were half-relieved that we didn’t have to face her and the awkward situation again.
Looking back, I know we had sinned.
When someone leaves the Church because of a conflict, it’s easy to sweep the entire thing under the carpet and pretend nothing ever happened. After all, who wants to humble themselves to admit they were wrong and apologise?
However, God repeatedly refers to the Church as the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27, Ephesians 4:12) and gives us these instructions when it comes to relating with one another:
1. As the Body of Christ, we are called to unite
The Church is the Body of Christ and each one of us is a member who plays a specific role in the family of God. In Ephesians 4, the apostle Paul urges us to live a life worthy of our calling by being humble, gentle, and patient. Unity starts from ourselves.
This means learning to value others’ interests above our own (Philippians 2:3-4) and not being harsh when a fellow brother or sister has done wrong. We are to show them kindness, patience and grace instead – pointing them to God’s way.
Ultimately, it is about recognising the other party as a brother or sister in Christ and doing our part in ministry so that we can grow together in maturity (Ephesians 4:13).
2. As the Body of Christ, we are called to love
The apostle Paul tells us that love undergirds all (Ephesians 4:2). Even though I did not harbour any malicious intent towards Jasmine when I made that comment, my lack of sensitivity towards her revealed my lack of love. And the issue escalated because my friends and I did not consider her feelings and were unloving towards her.
Through this episode, I learned that loving others is not simply a fuzzyfeeling but a commandment and a conscious choice we have to make. If we profess to love God, we have to love our neighbour as ourselves (Mark 12:31) — no matter how difficult or unlovable the person is.
When it comes to those who I find difficult to love, I remind myself that God chose to love me even though I’m not lovable myself.
And if God can choose to love someone like me, then I too can choose to love my friend and channel the same undeserving love I have received to my friend (1 John 4:19). I must.
3. As the Body of Christ, we are called to forgive
God showed His love for us by dying on the cross for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). When we truly understand the extent of God’s love for us, we will want and see the need to forgive others.
Forgiveness is a deliberate act on our part. It is not something that is easy, but because Christ has forgiven us, we can forgive one another (Ephesians 4:32). We are called to forgive each other not just once or twice, but seventy times seven times (Matthew 18:21-22). We are called to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9), to seek reconciliation.
In my case, we didn’t do this until our youth mentor forced us all – Jasmine included – to sit down and talk things out. He reminded us that when we are gathered, God is with us (Matthew 18:20).
So as we took turns to explain why we were upset with each other, God worked in my heart so I was able to both apologise to and forgive Jasmine. The session helped us to understand the situation from each other’s perspectives and forgive each other.
Although Jasmine has left my Church, I’m thankful that all of us have forgiven each other and are reconciled. Today, she goes to another Church but we still hang out together regularly!
Through this episode, I have come to realise that harmony and unity in the church is difficult to build when we are all so different and sinful. Our relationships will never be perfect and at certain points, we are likely to end up offending or hurting others.
But God used this episode to teach me ultimately that harmony in the church is something all of us have to work on. We cannot take unity for granted.
Reconciliation and humility require supernatural strength and effort, which we can only achieve through God’s strength. However, if we act from the belief that God’s love binds all of us together, then we can be the Body of Christ God longs to see.
This article was first published on YMI.today. It is republished here with permission.
Are you trying to navigate between showing them love and being afraid it might give them the impression you’re endorsing their behaviour? Or sharing the truth of God’s standards and being concerned it might be perceived as unloving and hateful, causing them to turn away from God?
One way of knowing whether we have a biblical lens is to ask ourselves, “Do I see as God sees?”
Our worldview forms our values, which is then seen in our behaviour. Jesus had a fully untainted biblical worldview, exemplified in the way He said and did only what He heard and saw His Father say and do (John 5:19; John 12:49).
In the same way, only when we see as God sees, can we do as God does.
SEE AS GOD SEES – AND BE HUMBLE
Ever wondered how Jesus sees those who are sinful and broken?
Paul says that all of us “have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” and we are only “justified by God’s grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith” (Romans 3:23–25).
So the question really is, “How does Jesus see us, who are also sinful and broken?” Knowing that we were once God’s enemies (Romans 5:10) but are now saved only by God’s grace (Ephesians 2:8) is a sobering and humbling place to start if we want to reach out to others in both love and truth.
This prevents us from thinking we are better than others in their sin. For unless God has drawn us and unless He draws us daily, we cannot and will not go to Him.
Jesus said, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him” (John 6:44). Therefore, there are no grounds for us to be judgemental or contemptuous of anyone struggling with sexual sin because like them, we need God’s grace and mercy desperately.
Similar to those who wrestle with sexual brokenness, we, too, grapple daily with the choice of giving in to the flesh or submitting to the Holy Spirit.
This also reminds us that by ourselves, with sin dwelling in our flesh, we are not capable of doing good (Romans 7:15–23). It is only in abiding in Jesus that we can bear good fruit; apart from Him, we can do nothing (John 15:1–11).
We don’t have to be stuck in a sexual sin to know that “the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Galatians 5:17).
Similar to those who wrestle with sexual brokenness, we, too, grapple daily with the choice of giving in to the flesh or submitting to the Holy Spirit. Realising this keeps us humble and able to empathise with people who are suffering – whether they are aware of it or not – from the inward battle with their sexual sin.
For a person who is struggling, knowing that someone understands how deep and lonely their struggle is can be a very healing thing.
DO AS GOD DOES – IN JUSTICE AND MERCY
Other than offering the valuable gift of empathy, we have to also commit to walking in personal holiness.
When we walk by the Spirit, so as not to gratify the desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:16), we go beyond making speeches but powerfully show with our lives that “the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:8).
We attract people to God and His life-giving ways by the beauty of our obedience to Him. If we do not walk the talk, our hypocrisy will push people away from God and His ways.
We attract people to God and His life-giving ways by the beauty of our obedience to Him.
With the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1–26), Jesus lovingly addressed her real needs and truthfully pointed out to her the sinful ways she used to try to meet those needs.
In so doing, He called her away from a sinful life by offering her “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14) that quenches her inner thirst once and for all.
When He encountered the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1–11), He brought to light the hypocritical condemnation of the people who wanted her stoned and showed the woman mercy by forgiving her of her sins. Then He called the woman to a life of repentance, telling her, “Go, and from now on sin no more” (John 8:11).
From Jesus’ life, we learn that we do not tell people the whole truth if we do not speak the truth in love. And we do not love people fully if we do not love them according to the truth.
TRUTH, GRACE AND HUMILITY
Jesus is the complete expression and revelation of the Father, “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Since we’re called to “walk in the same way in which He walked” (1 John 2:6), that means we are to be like Him in that regard.
When we see as God sees, it would lead us to do as He does in reaching out to the sexually broken in grace and in truth, with humility of heart:
“The Lord has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)
This article was first published on Whole Life and was republished with permission.
Here’s an honest thought: There are times I wish I was dead.
I’m not suicidal – I don’t want to kill myself – but I’m not averse to the idea of death: Wouldn’t it be nice to one day sleep and never wake up? It seems so peaceful, being detached from the pain and suffering on earth.
Life often seems like a cycle of repeated patterns: Sleep. Work. Eat. Repeat. There seems to be no end – no meaning to the things I’m doing. What’s the point of trudging through life?
A friend once told me that his purpose for living is to make the world a better place for the generations to come. He wants to leave behind a legacy like Edison or Einstein did. He wants to impact the world so that no one would forget he existed.
It’s a noble cause, but it doesn’t resonate with me. We can certainly improve people’s lives, but in the grander scheme of things, will we ever change the world?
I’m not the first to think about the meaning of life. King Solomon dedicated the entire book of Ecclesiastes to this topic alone. After spending 12 chapters lamenting the futility of life, he concludes in Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 that the only purpose behind it all is to know God and keep His commandments.
To know God and to keep His commandments.
Similar reasons for living are found in other parts of the Bible. To have a relationship with Him (1 John 3:1); to grow in Christlikeness (Romans 8:28-29), to usher others back to Him before it’s too late (Ephesians 3:8-12).
Increasingly, I’m seeing that our time on earth is simply a period of preparation for our future in eternity.
So as I seriously questioned the purpose for my existence earlier this year, I was convicted that there must be a reason why I’m alive. There must be a reason for my life. And I concluded that life – our time on earth and what we do – is only meaningful in light of eternity.
Recently I attended an event where numerous Singaporean missionaries gathered together. There, the missionaries shared personal stories of what they’d seen and experienced, travelling to some of the most dangerous parts of the world to share the Gospel. Think the Congo in Central Africa.
The weight of reality suddenly came crashing down on me as I listened to story after story of prisoners, prostitutes and broken people.
That night, I felt a bit of the Father’s heart for His suffering children. I realised how myopic I had been all this while. I was so caught up with myself I failed to recognise there were many other lives out there waiting to be touched – desperate for salvation.
I’m not just talking about building houses for the impoverished or providing the starving with food. Those are important, but beyond meeting the physical needs of this life, what difference was I making to their eternity? Where would they go when they die?
A life lived for oneself is short, but a life lived for God reaps eternal value.
I know many people who work hard for achievements. For a legacy. But I’m not one of them. I don’t see the value of that, especially when death can so easily take it all away.
Unlike my friend whose focus considers only this lifetime, I want to leave those around me with something even death cannot touch or snatch away. I want to show them the love of God (Romans 8:38-39).
Because in the end, there’s only one thing that has an eternal impact: The lives we help to save and the souls we point back to God.
Nothing else has lasting significance. A life lived for oneself is short, but a life lived for God reaps eternal value (1 Corinthians 15:58). It’s counterintuitive, but I truly believe that within this manner of living lies the meaning of life.
“How do we engage the millennials on missions?” Joseph Chean asked me.
I was sitting in a room full of executive directors from various agencies including Cru, WEC and Pioneers InAsia. I was the youngest in the room at 27, not even one year into the working world or full-time ministry, sitting in a room full of elders who’ve been in ministry and the mission field for decades.
And it was my first time joining the FOMOS monthly meeting, only made possible because my director had asked Joseph Chean, the chairman of FOMOS, if I could attend the meeting – to which he graciously said yes. Not only is Joseph Chean the chairman of FOMOS, he’s also the national director of YWAM and committee member of Love Singapore.
And now I had to answer him. Somehow, I managed to reply: “My generation is asking your generation, how are you passing the baton down to us?”
That proved to be a defining moment in my ministry journey. Up to that point, I had often wondered if my generation had already been swayed away by today’s individualistic, materialistic culture such that we have stopped seeking His kingdom.
I kept Joseph’s question in my mind, and waited for God to reveal His answer.
In the next six months, I met many millennials passionate about contemporary missional issues – social justice, relief aid, refugees and human trafficking.
I met a young lady who assembled her own team and linked up with YWAM in Taiwan. They bought their own tickets, flew over, and brought Christ’s love to the locals there.
There is no lack of millennials who want to bring social justice to those who need it – it’s just that these young people are bypassing traditional mission agencies.
I met a young man who gathered three friends, bought tickets, flew to Athens, and started working with the refugees and drug addicts there – bringing hope to the hopeless.
I have a friend who went to Thailand for two months to teach English to children in their village schools and a Buddhist monk. This friend built relationships with the locals there, helped out in orphanages and did Bible studies in Mandarin with the Thai Church.
Through these encounters, I realised there really is no lack of millennials who want to bring social justice to those who need it – it’s just that these young people are bypassing traditional mission agencies such as the Church and mission organisations.
So the question isn’t so much “How do we engage millennials”. It’s not an issue of asking where the labourers are. Rather, it’s asking if our current means of engagement are outdated for this generation.
But Joseph Chean hadn’t gotten his answer, so he called for a panel consisting of millennials including myself (Interserve), Jiamin (OM), Wayne (YWAM) and Ian (OMF). It was out of this panel that Passion 4 Missions (P4M) was born.
P4M aims to create a safe space for young people who are interested in missions to gather, build community and have some of their questions answered. We want to gather young people who are interested in mission work but whose churches currently have no structure to fan their passion for missions.
We gather on the last Wednesday of all odd-numbered months (e.g. January, March, May) for a time of worship, prayer, sharing and conversations. These are the “ingredients” we promise, but how we cook each “dish” differs from gathering to gathering.
The inaugural P4M session took place on July 26, 2017. The four of us weren’t expecting much – maybe a cosy group of 10 to 20 people, sharing stories over some simple finger food. But as the day drew nearer, the registered numbers kept rising, and we had a whooping 78 attendees that evening. Both the youths who are passionate about missions, and the experienced missionaries who had returned from the field were present.
We wanted the pilot test created a space for us to share the hindrances we face with regards to missions so we purposely dedicated a large chunk of time to sharing and listening to one another. We poured our hearts over these 3 questions:
Describe a time when you experienced a deep call/passion for missions
What do you sense is the purpose for which God has gathered your generation for world missions at this time?
What are some things that hinder you/your generation from getting actively involved in missions?
Some of our top findings from these questions are how people’s hearts are set on what is eternal and are willing to give their first fruits and prime years to the Lord. We are passionate about authentic relationships, social justice and desire to see unity in the body of Christ.
However, there were hindrances too which includes parental objection, fear of missing out in the career field, and just being too comfortable to step out.
But as we conversed and listened to each other, an amazing atmosphere was birthed that night. The experienced missionaries were encouraged by the passion of the next generation while the younger generation gleaned much wisdom from the seniors who walked before them.
The Holy Spirit kept connecting different people together for His kingdom purposes. It was a beautiful picture of different ages expressing the same heartbeat to see His kingdom come.
At the end of it, we gathered feedback and an overwhelming 100% indicated their desire for more P4M gatherings. The stories we heard from everyone at the first session helped determine the themes for the next five P4M gatherings:
27 September: Fear Factors
29 November: Relationships (Part 1) – “Parents”
31 January: Relationships (Part 2) – “Plus-ones and Friends”
28 March: Suffering on the field and comfort for personal desires
30 May: Visibility with church leadership
What started out as a curious question, that resulted in a panel discussion, then a simple project – became a runway for the GoForth Missions Conference, which takes place next year from June 21-23, 2018.
The heartbeat of P4M isn’t the number of young people who turn up for a mission-focused gathering. Our heartbeat is seeing young people getting equipped to find resources and training for themselves.
We want to see resource hubs rise up as places for spiritual covering and finding mentors to journey with them. The last thing we want to see is to see young missionaries getting burnt out on the field, or even losing their faith because of inadequate spiritual covering or training.
To me, we millennials are the most well-travelled generation. In any case, we will find ourselves on the mission field one way or another. We will be sent out to the nations, either through work, going on a holiday or even crossing the road to speak to a migrant worker.
The question for us then is, “Do I know what to do in the mission field?” In other words, do you know how to “translate” the Gospel in a way that is relevant to the worldview and culture you’re in?
The Gospel is for every nation, tribe, people and language. Christ is for every culture, worldview and background we engage. After all, every heart that does not have Jesus in it is a mission field.
Click here to sign up for the next P4M meeting. The P4M team is also contactable via email@example.com should you have any questions for them.
I am an actor, scriptwriter, director, arts educator, dancer and a musician — all in one. I do many things, with many hyphens.
God has gifted me with the talent to tell stories. To the world, writing is my career choice. But to God, being a writer is following the plans He has for me. That’s my destiny in Him. I do what I do because I want to be called faithful at the end of the day.
I’ve always known, first and foremost, that I am a child of God. That’s my identity, and my work, my position, gives me purpose.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:11-13)
But I didn’t always know my position and purpose. I was born into a traditional Chinese family and acquainted with the Arts at a young age. I remember walking past a dance studio at the age of four and telling my parents I wanted to learn ballet. That was how I began my journey with the performing arts, where my talents began to surface and take shape.
Then when I was 12, my ballet lessons were put on hold in the face of my Primary School Leaving Examinations (PSLE). I was suddenly being taken to pray to all manner of deities for favour in the examination.
But I had no peace in my heart. So the night before the first paper, I knelt beside my bed and prayed to the unknown God that I had seen Christians do on TV. I’d been watching 7th Heaven at the time.
I didn’t know it then, but I would need Him more and more in the years to come.
Right after PSLE, my life was shaken up as my dad was declared bankrupt.Our new financial status brought an end to all my dance classes, so even though I had finished my exams, I could not return to training anymore.
But I believe that my first prayer to the unknown God had set something into motion. I found myself posted to a mission school – the place where I would come to faith.
It was also where I was introduced to English literature and drama. I fell in love with these subjects and pursued them. And as I went on to Junior College, I delved even deeper.
My deep sense of satisfaction and pleasure in the Arts made me feel as if I had it all figured out: I was going to study English literature and theatre studies in NUS, and support my cell leader in the university ministry she was running.
I believe that my first prayer to the unknown God had set something into motion.
But God had another plan.
My ‘A’ level results proved to be a mixed bag. They weren’t good enough for entrance into the local universities, but they also weren’t bad enough for me to repeat my second year in Junior College. Ironically, this control freak had attained results which spelt “OCD”. And indeed, everything spiralled out of my control.
Looking back, I see that my identity then was based on grades and achievements. I was desperate, crying out to God and asking Him, “God, what now?”
I was confused, angry and so very lost.
As I wallowed in the aftermath of my ‘A’ level results, my Church entered a season where we began to focus on our performing arts ministry.
Sensing the shift and knowing the passion and talents I had, I told God: “If this is Your will, open the door and I will go through it no matter what.” After that prayer, I submitted only one application to LASALLE’s Theatre Arts programme.
I prepared for the admission audition, but it turned out to be a nightmare. The person auditioning actually asked me if I would go on stage naked, in my underwear or simply wrapped in a towel. I was taken aback and simply said, “No, because it goes against my faith.”
Then I went home and prayed again: “If this is Your will, open the door and I will go through it no matter what.”
Soon enough, I received a letter of acceptance from LASALLE, and heard that the man who had auditioned me got fired from his job.
Now the next hurdle would be how I was going to pay for my studies. My parents had refused to provide for me if I chose to enter the Arts. So I prayed again: “If this is Your will, God you provide.” I shared about my financial problems with my cell leader, and in time, it was her mother who gave me a loan to pay for my first semester in LASALLE.
Thereafter, the Lord provided. Because of my good grades, the rest of my fees were settled by bursaries and scholarships in LASALLE. Concurrently, I worked in Church part-time to pay my cell leader’s mum back. God constantly showed me He is Jehovah Jireh — the God who provides.
I graduated from LASALLE in 2006, only to meet rejection at every audition I went for. I began to question God: “I thought that You called me to do this? Why am I not getting any jobs?”
As I faced increasing disappointments and setbacks on both the career and ministry fronts — I felt absolutely knocked down. And in spite of all the providence shown to me every step of the way in school, I began to doubt and waver in my faith.
Soon, I fell.
I hit rock bottom in 2007. I was living a double life: In Church I played the good Christian leader, but outside of Church I was partying, smoking and getting drunk every other night.
One night, I was out painting the town red with some of my friends from the industry. I’d had too much to drink and was dancing my heart out when I was suddenly conscious of this stranger touching me inappropriately.
I was living a double life: In Church I played the good Christian leader, but outside of Church I was partying, smoking and getting drunk every other night.
I was being violated on the dance floor, but I was too drunk to do anything about it.
That night was the wake-up call my hellish life of hangovers needed.
I left that life behind, along with all of its people. And by God’s grace I was restored.
He led me along a path that eventually saw me teach Dramatic Arts in schools. With God’s help, I begin excelling as a drama educator. I became recognised and sought after as an educator, getting more offers than I could take on — I would even pass these jobs on to others. I was at the peak of my career. But God never lets me get comfortable.
Soon my life changed again.
Just as everything was finally going well, God said to me quietly: “Answer the call.”
It came in the form of an offer to join the Church full-time under the youth ministry.
Huh? God, I thought You called me into the Arts and Entertainment industry? I bargained and bartered with God, even telling Him I wanted to be back in the marketplace after two years, but I ultimately obeyed.
So in 2009, I answered the call and went into full-time ministry. And at the end of 2010, to my surprise, God faithfully used a former boss to bring me back to the marketplace.
In retrospect, I can see that at every step, God has been moulding me and preparing me for something greater.
We are each given different talents. But all these talents are ultimately of no use if we don’t use them for His purpose. Our job is to invest in our talents and multiply them (Matthew 25:13-30).
I was gifted with the talent to create and perform. I was gifted with the talent to teach. So with these talents multiplied, I became a good drama educator.
I was gifted with the ability to administer and arrange things. Because of my obedience to His call, my time in the Church office honed that talent.
Today I am getting more recognition as an educator, with more opportunities than I’ve ever had before to speak into the lives of the next generation in school. I am also getting more jobs as an actor on stage and on screen.
I know that these are all preparing me to move even closer towards my destiny in Him. I know that God isn’t done my telling story; He alone holds on to the pen that writes it. Because I am obediently following Him, every chapter I go through is preparation for the next.
“You have turned my mourning into dancing for me; You have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my soul may sing praise to You and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever.” (Psalm 30:11-12)
What does your attitude and approach to your personal Bible study reveal about you and what you expect of Jesus?
This was a very thought provoking question from my BSF study this season, where I constantly felt reluctant to read the Bible because I was afraid I wouldn’t “encounter God”.
These words often get thrown around in Church and among friends: Don’t just know the Word of God, know the God of the Word. That we must encounter the God of the Bible rather than only increasing in theological knowledge.
But what does it really mean to encounter God?
Should I be feeling His presence strongly whenever I read the Bible, as if He is speaking directly to me there and then? Is it some sort of internal stirring? Must I always learn something so wow that it’s gonna stick with me for the rest of my life? Will I come out of such a session feeling even more in love with Jesus?
It happened again today. I was reading Isaiah 39, a short eight verses on King Hezekiah’s foolishness and his seemingly selfish thoughts. Honestly, it was just another “Okay, so I’m reading about this guy showing off and how God sends a prophet to warn him.” Right.
Like a good Bible reader, I tried to apply it to my life. I guess it would be a warning not to be foolish and place my pride and security in earthly treasures like Hezekiah. Plus, that God was gracious enough to warn him.
But to me, it was a repeat of what I’ve been learning about God in the entire book of Isaiah. Yes, He is gracious and that’s truly great. However, it didn’t quite hit the bull’s eye of my expectations, and I ended my Quiet Time feeling slightly disappointed.
Regardless of feelings, every time I read the Word, my soul encounters the living God.
Every time this happens, I feel a bit reluctant to continue the next day. What if this happens again? Maybe it’s just the book I’m at?Maybe I have the wrong perspective when approaching the Bible. A part of the joy in me to read His Word and know Him more dies a little with these unmet expectations.
But something my aunt once taught me from John 14:26 stays with me:
“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:26)
He will teach you all things and bring to remembrance all that I have said. I may not remember or understand every word I read, nor the full details of the accounts I pore through, but everything I feed on from the Word gives the Holy Spirit fodder to bring to mind and heart whatever I need for any situation I find myself in. From my eyes to my head, to my heart.
And if I believe that 2 Timothy 3:16-17, then I can have faith that regardless of feelings – or lack thereof – every time I read the Word, my soul encounters the living God.
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
Like physical exercise, flexing our spiritual muscles don’t usually result in 180º transformations in an instant. It’s progressive, one brighter level of glory to another. And as long as we are faithful to keep showing up, we will witness for ourselves the marvellous changes God has in store for those who store up His word in their hearts.
“We can all draw close to him with the veil removed from our faces. And with no veil we all become like mirrors who brightly reflect the glory of the Lord Jesus. We are being transfigured into his very image as we move from one brighter level of glory to another. And this glorious transfiguration comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
This article was first published on Pei Yi’s blog and was republished with permission.
A friend who was struggling with the idea of God once asked me:
“If you base your whole life on what God wants and what He says, doesn’t that limit your life? Or if you use His sovereignty to comfort yourself, doesn’t it make Christianity a crutch?”
My friend, you are actually pretty correct. In some way, Christianity is a crutch. To a healthy person, a crutch is useless and only limits what you can do in life; but to a crippled person, a crutch is everything to him – the crutch enables him to live, when on his own he cannot. His life hinges on that crutch.
Well, I know my soul is crippled. What about yours?
This season of my life has been one fraught with despair. I’ve been hit by disappointment after disappointment – people I cared about let me down, studies seemed to be getting nowhere, everything I thought I had a grasp on, was suddenly not there.
It was like getting hit by a bus, and for a long time I couldn’t get up. I was crippled. Sadly, I even felt that there was no point in getting up anyway, because another bus would come and hit me again. Even my prayers seemed to reverberate in an echo-chamber of my bedroom, never reaching Heaven.
“What would really make me happy, is knowing that I am loved by You. I just need to know that I am loved.”
And it was a very dark place to be in. I did not see a point in waking up, did not see a point in going to school. I did not want to talk to people or hear what they could say to comfort me. I even looked like I did not belong in the land of the living.
I felt as though God had forgotten about me and I was left to fend for myself in the valley, but one fine day, my mouth opened to pray, and my heart to hear. And in that moment, God spoke:
“What would make you happy?”
Many things sprung to mind – good grades, better friends, being wealthy, getting healthy … But as the list continued and as I extrapolated the happiness index, I concluded those things would one day expire, and the derived happiness would inevitably cease to exist.
“God, we both know those things will not make me happy. What would really make me happy, is knowing that I am loved by You. I just need to know that I am loved.”
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalms 23:4)
Then He said, “What I want you to consider is this: If one day you were to lose everything you held dear, how would your life be like? Would you consider Me enough when everything, and perhaps everyone you treasured, is swept away like vapour?”
God didn’t need my answer. But He knew that was enough for me to hold onto while I walk through this. And while I am not fully out of the deep, I know that there are lilies in the valley.
When the mountains fall And the sea turns rough “But My Word stands strong,” says the Lord When the world gets tough Filled with broken hearts
“But my love won’t fail,” says the Lord
This article was first published on Weiren’s blog and was republished with permission.
I recently watched a stage production called Ex-Factor by Boys Town Youthreach, an organisation that serves at-risk youth.
For the performers on the stage, the play was a platform for them to share their passions and personal stories in front of an audience. While some of them had made mistakes in life, many of them were also living out the painful consequences of decisions they weren’t responsible for.
In either case, I admired their bravery. To stand forward and bare one’s life is never easy, especially when all one has known is brokenness and pain.
I was especially touched when in the play, many of the actors publicly shared their desires to step out of their challenges towards dreams and aspirations. That made me realise that while brokenness is inevitable – living in it isn’t. And in this life, we are allprodigals in need of grace.
Because of Jesus’ beautiful exchange on the cross, though we still live in a world where brokenness abounds, we now have a choice not to live in it anymore.
When sin entered the world through the first man, fallenness swept into humanity. Joy was replaced with sorrow; pleasure by pain. Peace was displaced by worry, and man began to contest with God over the lordship of their lives.
Had Christ not come to rescue us, we would be eternally lost in darkness. But because of Jesus’ beautiful exchange on the cross, though we still live in a world where brokenness abounds, we now have a choice not to live in it anymore.
Because of Jesus, the prodigals can return Home.
TWO BROTHERS, TWO BROKEN ROADS
We all are born prodigals. Sin is in our DNA, and our every inclination is evil (Genesis 6:5). Like the younger son in the popular Biblical narrative The Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), my heart is one that is prone to wander and leave the Lord I love.
“There was a man who had two sons.And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them.Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living.” (Luke 11:12-13)
Like the younger son, I’ve tried to play God and strike it out on my own. I’ve “left home” countless times in pursuit of the world. I’ve tried to find satisfaction in living a life apart from God, but I’ve found that it does not satisfy.
But like his brother, the older son, I’ve tried to find validation in doing Christian things. I read my Bible, pray, serve in the worship team, attend and lead Bible studies … I’ve tried to find satisfaction in a life driven by my good decisions and taken pride in my definition of living better than most – but neither does this “better” way satisfy.
On both roads, I’ve been brought to a point where I’ve seen who I really am, and who my Father really is.
“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing.And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant.And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’But he was angry and refused to go in.” (Luke 15:25-28)
I am a sinner wretched to the core, yetdeeply loved and pursued by my Father, the King of Heaven.
The younger son took his first step toward home when he came to his senses and saw how utterly lost and helpless he was (Luke 15:17) . The lack of control we have over our lives is grace, for it shifts our finite focus off ourselves and toward our Father.
“And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need.So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs.And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.” (Luke 11:14-16)
It also helps us to see the depravity of this world – how we would even exchange the comfort and providence of Home for a muddy and smelly pigsty.
On the road home, we step down from the throne of our lives and allow God His rightful place in our hearts. Once more we are God’s children and no longer world-pursuing rebels.
Like the younger son, my “pigsty” realisation (Luke 15:17-19) was that the world would never fully satisfy. I would only be satisfied with God’s affection. At the end of the day, I am still a prodigal daily in need of grace.
HOME RUNS TOWARDS US
Jesus was speaking about Himself as the Father when He shared The Parable of the Prodigal Son with the crowd. His relentless pursuit of undeserving sinners like us is reflected in the father’s physical act of running towards his son when he returned home.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.” (Luke 11:19-20)
God runs towards us when we return to Him.
The wayward son had brought disgrace to his family and village and according to Deuteronomy 21:18-21, he could have been stoned to death. But in running to him and embracing him – his father not just welcomed him home, but pardoned him for his rebellion.
What a beautiful picture of God’s pardoning of our sin because of Jesus’ work on the Cross. More than just salvation from eternal separation, Jesus’ death and resurrection bestowed on us once again our true identity as the Father’s sons and daughters.
“And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate.For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.” (Luke 11:21-24)
In the Father’s arms, brokenness is embraced, protected and mended by grace. The day Jesus died for us, grace and love triumphed over brokenness, and victory over sin was final. His death and resurrection paved the road for us to return home, and a celebratory homecoming is promised for anyone who returns.
The comfort and reassurance of the prodigal account lies in the fact that the father is always home.
The road home is not just a one-off trip that we take after accepting Christ. It is a daily one, because along this faith journey there will still be many times we fall away from God, whether wilfully or not.
In this daily journey of leaving and returning to the Father, we mustn’t be discouraged. Because the comfort and reassurance of the prodigal account lies not in the son’s realisation of his waywardness or his wise decision to want to return home.
It lies in in the fact that the father is always home.
There will never be a moment where our knock on His door is met with condemning silence. Instead, our faithful Father is always standing at the porch, waiting in anticipation for the return of His beloved.
My Kindergarten teacher often encouraged us to draw portraits of our families.
With squiggly lines and less-than-perfect circles, I produced masterpiece after masterpiece to the best of my 6-year-old ability. I don’t remember most of my illustrations, but I do recall one vividly.
It was a picture of my parents, my sister and I. We were on rollerskates, holding hands and looking happy. In the background, I’d placed a Christmas tree.
I have lost that piece of drawing since then, but something transferred from paper to mind and etched itself deeply in my heart.
A complete family is a happy family.
My family is a complete family.
While some of my peers were born into less than desirable circumstances, I grew up with both of my parents present. I never knew what people meant when they said, “I don’t have a dad/mum”, much less the pain and hurt that separation inflicts.
Overtime, “complete” became synonymous with “perfect”. Of course my family wasn’t without flaws – we had our fights and disputes. But we were what you would call pretty normal. Average. Okay. And as I looked at the broken world as a child, okay became good enough a standard. I had both a dad and a mum, and a sister to boot. Okay was perfect.
Until I came to know Christ. That was when I began to understand how love should truly look like.
I can’t adequately put it into words but it was as though I could finally see. Everything became crystal clear yet, at the same time, everything lost its lustre, too. Kinda like putting on a new pair of glasses – you suddenly see everything with fresh clarity, but that also means suddenly seeing every imperfection that was always there.
I recall now hugging my younger sister tightly as we recoiled in fear, angry voices punctuated by threats of divorce reverberating from the next room.
When I came to know Christ, everything became crystal clear yet, at the same time, everything lost its lustre, too. I suddenly saw everything with fresh clarity, but that also meant suddenly seeing every imperfection that was always there.
As we got older, my mom started to rake up the past whenever she got angry. She would throw in snide remarks about how my dad was unpunctual to their wedding whenever we’re running late for something.
Instead of fighting back, my dad would tune out of arguments, block out complaints, and zone out of confrontations. Taking his cue, my sister and I also detached ourselves whenever we felt a storm brewing.
I had stopped communicating with my dad years ago due to a misunderstanding that I thought had caused him to stop loving me. It didn’t help that he was a man of a few words. Our conversations never lasted for more than 10 seconds, and never deeper than a “What do you want to eat?” He was physically present in my life, but never emotionally.
My family had also stopped eating together for years as it was almost impossible to comply with everyone’s schedule. The four of us ate at different times, at different locations.
From the outside, my family seemed okay – perfect. The issues we face weren’t major enough to threaten our family structure, so we simply brushed them aside.
But when God came into my life, His love illuminated the concealed hurts and frustration that undergirded the way we related to each other.
Yes, my family was intact and worry-free.
But it was far from perfect.
I’m not unappreciative of what I have; my family loved each other in the best way we knew how. I know that I’m blessed to have grown up in a relatively functional family, and I’m thankful for that. It’s just that functional isn’t the end point for God. His is a higher standard of love.
It says in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7:
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.”
A holy discontentment started to grow in my heart. And while it’s easy to settle for what’s convenient and familiar, I decided that I had to do something, rather than hand down the imperfect love we received, learnt and passed on from generation to generation.
Changing family culture that has been set in stone for decades wasn’t easy. I had to be intentional in striking up conversations with my dad, intentional in planning family outings, intentional in speaking truth and life. All while being consistent.
I remember my parents got into a huge argument once, and my dad moved out of their room to sleep in the living room for weeks. Seeing that my dad was giving her the cold treatment, my mum began to vent her frustrations on me.
Functional isn’t the end point for God. His is a higher standard of love.
I resented it. I hated how my mom tried to use me as a pawn to get back at my dad. I hated how they just threw the burden of being a responsible parent to me, when it was not my job to begin with. I hated how I was suffering the brunt of their conflict even though I was just an innocent victim.
I refused to do anything about the situation, refused to be embroiled into their conflict. It’s their fight, not mine, I reasoned. Why should I have to do the dirty work? But I eventually caved because I knew it was the right thing to do.
I remember approaching my dad in the balcony. I asked him if he remembered his marital vows to my mum.
“Papa, you promised to take care of Mummy. I know how naggy Mummy can be, but when J (my sister) and I eventually move out, the primary responsibility lies with you to care for her.”
My dad didn’t say much – simply grunted. But he moved back into the bedroom that night, and their relationship gradually improved.
My family has come a long way since then. Nowadays, we try to be more involved in each other’s lives. We celebrate birthdays and special occasions. We still aren’t perfect, but out of love, we try.
I think back to the picture I drew as a kid – my family in the foreground, and a Christmas tree in the background.
Very much like the circles my little hand had drawn, we were complete, functional, but undeniably imperfect. I’d like to think, however, that God would have received my masterpiece with joy and stuck it on His fridge.
Without allowing Him into every area of my life and placing my family into His hands, I wouldn’t have known what true love is; wouldn’t know how to truly love.
So here I am, in camp on my bed, wrestling going on in my heart. Worry fills my thoughts as I consider my Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT for short) tomorrow. Am I ready? Can I really get that gold?
A part of me tells me that my dieting and exercise over the last 3 weeks or so have gotten me sufficiently ready to get that gold – which comes with a lovely sum of $300 by the way.
Another part of me is concerned that I’ll miss the mark, maybe by a fine margin. And that’s something I seriously would kick myself over. How agonising it must be to lose out on the top prize by just a little bit.
This makes me think of all the top sportsmen and teams just missing out on that first placing in a tournament, having to take second. Oh the disappointment.
A less prominent part of me tells me that I can always retake the test, that the opportunity for it is available. And it really is, maybe in about two months from tomorrow’s test. But why wait another two months?
In saying that worship is surrender, it’s not just about laying down all the bad things that I experience, but also the honour and glory of my achievements.
But as I mull over the push and pull of my thoughts, I am forced to recognise the core issue with me through this episode. And it is that through all these musings, it is evident I don’t find my identity in Christ. That I don’t find my worth in the finished work of Christ, but in the things that I can achieve.
Sure, the glory from the gold – or for the bigger, world class sportsmen out there, the trophies – can be reflected into God. We can thank Him for the victories, for giving us our giftings and talents. We can be good stewards of them, using them excellently. And that’s great. Yet, in my heart, I know that it is not for me in my case.
It’s easy to look down on someone who has a silver or below now, because well… I’m a gold achiever. Missing the gold would effectively cause me to be in my own eyes, well, a “loser”. For losing out on the top grade.
I know the answer, that Christ is enough. And it’s not until I lay down my pride that I can truly say that He is. In saying that worship is surrender, it’s not just about laying down all the bad things that I experience, my worries, my fears, but also the honour and glory of my achievements.
It’s recognising that whatever I do, nothing is going to gain me my salvation – which is what I ultimately need, what we all need. But it’s Christ that has accomplished it all. There’s nothing we can do to make Christ love us more, His love is perfect and whole. Lacking nothing. No worldly thing can ever take away nor add to that. (Romans 3:23-24)
I’ll still give my best for the test, and whatever the outcome … I’ll be thankful and will look to always be better. (1 Thessalonians 5:18) Not for my own glory, but so that I can be healthy to carry out the work He has called me to do… till the day He comes or till He calls me home.
This article was first published on Darius’ blog, and was republished with permission.
by Pastor Lim Lip Yong, Cornerstone Community Church | 2 November 2017, 2:22 PM
It’s amazing how often this has happened in my life, that when things go wrong, they all go wrong at the same time.
Or when demands and pressures come, they always seem to happen together. Life just doesn’t dish out problems and difficulties evenly so that we can cope better. There’s no regularity or predictability when it comes to the storms of life. They aren’t something you can schedule into your calendars.
While in the midst of one of those intense periods, here are some thoughts that I gathered:
3 THOUGHTS ON TESTING TIMES
1. Let your comfort zones be challenged
Humans all have a tendency to drift into a place of greatest comfort. Whether it’s when we’re wriggling into our little nook on our favourite sofa or finding that place of maximum efficiency at our work place; we all seek out a place of comfort.
It’s a place where we’re in control and we know how to handle the situations at hand. It’s a place of ease, a place of minimum effort and maximum return. Unfortunately, that’s also the place of greatest atrophy.
Progression is not found where we’re doing what we’ve become proficient in doing. Instead it’s in the place of resistance and struggle that health and growth find their most conducive environment. These conditions are highly uncomfortable and difficult, but place a necessary pressure to push us towards struggle.
God sends these challenges along our lives in concentrated form, because He knows the travesty of being stuck in our comfort zones, satisfied with our limited experiences, when He has so much more in store for us.
Yet, this is not a futile struggle. Instead it’s a struggle to exceed our present limitations. It helps us rise higher to see at a plane we could not previously behold. It brings us to a deeper and richer experience of the life that God has blessed us with. That’s why there are some who can fascinate over a beautiful sunset, while others walk by not noticing or pausing.
God sends these challenges along our lives in concentrated form, because He knows the travesty of being stuck in our comfort zones, satisfied with our limited experiences, when He has so much more in store for us.
It requires a willing choice to embrace the seasons of intensity in our lives and to realise the potency of what God has packed inside of them to propel us forward.
2. Master your emotions
Don’t let your emotions get the better of you. Most times, emotions are flippant, circumstantial and they exaggerate. They magnify the problems and send our minds on a wild goose chase, and if not, on a witch hunt. Time to rein them in and master them.
I’ve discovered that when you face down a problem and confront it, it’s never quite a bad as what your emotions made them out to be. In fact, problems often dissolve very quickly when we’re willing to act on them instead of just thinking about them.
Every task that remains in the inbox of our minds compounds the issues and adds to the anxiety that builds up in us.
I once heard that the reason why the military makes such a big deal about soldiers making their beds, is because it sets before the soldiers a simple task that they can complete first thing in the morning. Every task completed is an impetus to take the next step to completing the next task and that’s how a complex mission can be executed – one task at a time.
I think what this implies for inaction is equally true – that every task that remains in the inbox of our minds compounds the issues and adds to the anxiety that builds up in us.
Trust the Word of God to have a say in this,“Be anxious about nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let our requests be made known to God.”(Philippians 4:6)
3. Keep your Sabbath
As I have mentioned earlier, the storms of life cannot be scheduled. Their schedule is out of our control and their timings cannot be predicted. Yet with regard to time, there’s something predictable and scheduled that God has given to us, and that’s the Sabbath.
It’s routine. It’s scheduled. It’s cyclical. It’s God’s way of placing order in an otherwise chaotic and unpredictable life. It stands immovable and regular, and it requires something of us to obey it in order that our lives may line up with God’s ways of seeing time.
The Sabbath is a call for us to abandon our attempts to bring order into our own lives in order to embrace God’s divine order.
I think the Sabbath is the hardest to obey of the Ten Commandments, simply because we see the other nine as commandments and this one as a suggestion. I think of all the Commandments, Christians break this one the most.
Yet, it’s a call for us to abandon our attempts to bring order into our own lives in order to embrace God’s divine order through the governing of our time. The primary call on the day of Sabbath is to stop. It’s to cease and to pause for a full day. To me, it’s to take a deep, deep breath.
Time governs reality just as space does. All our experiences are confined within time and space. The Sabbath is God’s invasion of our reality in the realm of time. Our reality can be dictated by our circumstances, or we can keep His Sabbath and allow Him to dictate our reality.
This article was first published on Cornerstone Community Church website and was republished with permission.
“We need to pray for her,” my friend declared as she pulled a chair to sit next to me. It was almost time for cell group and we were waiting for the rest to arrive.
Concerned, I asked what had happened to our mutual friend.
My innocent question triggered an in-depth recount on my friend’s end. Buffeted with the occasional “No way!”, “Really?” and the likes from everyone within earshot, her dramatic storytelling drew the attention of those streaming in.
Some started chiming in with bits and pieces of information they had. Others speculated. “No wonder these days I feel that she …”
It gets tricky when – without any preconceived ill intention – an innocent prayer request steers off course.
“Okay,” my friend finally concluded after 30 minutes, “Remember to pray for her, yeah?”
We nodded and disbanded in hushed silence, each carrying a piece of the secret no one had previously known about the person. Somehow, without speaking, all of us knew our impression of her had changed.
This scenario happens more often than not in church gatherings and private chats – both online and offline. It usually starts with the best intentions, when people solicit prayers for someone, but if we aren’t careful, prayer requests can easily morph into gossip parties instead.
We all know why gossip is bad – nobody likes to be talked about behind their own backs, especially when private details are involved. Gossip is also a yeast for false rumours, a seed for sowing discord, and may even cause serious damage to someone’s reputation.
The Bible also warns us against speaking ill of others (Exodus 23:1, Proverbs 16:28, James 4:11), but it gets tricky when – without any preconceived ill intention – an innocent prayer request steers off course.
Should we, then, avoid seeking prayers and encouragement on behalf of others?
Or is there a better way of doing things?
In any prayer-turned-gossip session, I typically find that there are 3 types of characters involved: The Informants, the Ranters, and the Listeners. Each has their own role to play, and therefore has something they can do to manoeuvre the conversation back on course.
THE 3 TYPES OF GOSSIP GIRLS/GUYS
1. The Informant
ɪnˈfɔːmənt/ Noun A person who gives information to another.
The informant is, more often than not, the person who first brings up the issue. He/she has all the deets and because of this, will be the one who petitions others to pray for the person in need.
Unfortunately, there’s always this tendency to share too much in order to contextualise the prayer request for others who are unaware of this situation. “It helps them to know what they’re praying for!” is usually the reasoning.
But is there really a need to?
Consider these two ways of sharing the same prayer request:
Option A: “Please pray for Mrs Lim’s husband. He was recently fired from his job because he was caught skiving on his job. Previously, he also stole some money from his company to pay off his gambling debt. Because of this, their family is facing some financial problems now.”
Option B: “Please pray for Mrs Lim’s husband. He recently lost his job and their family is facing some financial problems now.”
As you can see, the essence of the prayer request doesn’t disappear with the omitted details. It is possible to get people to pray even with limited knowledge.
If you find yourself overstepping the boundaries of what to share, remember that the golden rule is prayer points, not prayer story. While it can be tempting to give people context for the prayers, sensitive and irrelevant details should be carefully left out.
And after all, it’s not our story to tell.
2. The Ranter
rantə/ Noun A person who rants.
An informant can sometimes double-up as a ranter – or trigger someone into ranting. Overwhelmed with information and emotions, there will be times the people involved in an issue need to unload.
However, there’s wisdom in being selective when it comes to discussing someone else’s life. It may be comforting to talk to someone you’re close to, but they may not have the capacity and maturity to handle the information properly.
For example, some may get negatively swayed in their perception of the person you’re talking about. Others may end up with a biased opinion when our words unintentionally paint inaccurate and false pictures of the person. It might even sow discord among friends and cause strife (Proverbs 6:16-19).
In such cases, I’ve always find sharing upwards (leaders, mentors), and not across (friends) to be a good guideline. The principle is to always seek a listening ear with someone mature, trusted and objective – and not just someone you enjoy talking to. As much as possible, keep irrelevant people out of the conversation too.
3. The Listener
ˈlɪs(ə)nə/ Noun A person who listens, especially someone who does so in an attentive manner.
If there are talkers, there will be listeners. Listeners play the most passive role, but it doesn’t mean their actions do not count. As someone who usually listens more than she speaks, I confess that I’ve unwittingly contributed to a gossip session by asking for more details.
“Oh, you know why or not?”
“Wah, then how?”
I think it’s very human to want to know more, but we need to be conscious of our intentions. Do we want to know because we’re concerned for the person? Or do we want to know to feed our own curiosity? Ultimately our objective is to pray, not to kaypoh.
If we’re truly concerned, it’s much more honouring to the person involved if we hear it straight from the horse’s mouth rather than through the grapevine.
I believe most gossip doesn’t start off as gossip in prayer channels. It’s only when we temporarily forget the purpose of prayer requests that we let our guards down and slip into comfortable chit-chat. And what a pity it is when a channel of blessing is turned into a channel for bashing – when our best intentions end up a disservice to the person we wish the best for.
It’d be beneficial if we remember to consciously measure our actions against our motives, especially if it involves another person. Be a little wiser, a little more cautious.
I was waiting for an answer via an email and there had been a long silence. When at last a reply came, I was told to wait a little longer. It appeared to be a small breakthrough, and it raised my hopes. Yet after that, the long silence prevailed. God seemed to be saying “no”.
And then I received my rejection call. The heart that had held onto hope for so long finally broke.
Proverbs 13:12 kept coming to me, and in different versions no less.
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.“ (Proverbs 13:12, ESV)
“When hope’s dream seems to drag on and on,the delay can be depressing. But when at last your dream comes true, life’s sweetness will satisfy your soul.“ (Proverbs 13:12, The Passion Translation)
But right after this disappointment, I received a call from a Bible school classmate. He asked if I would like to join his team as a writer. He had set up his own company and he recognised my gift for writing when we were in school.
God had dropped my name into his mind when he was having breakfast that morning. He knew nothing about my closed door and upon hearing about my recent rejection, he said bluntly, “They did the right thing to choose the other candidate over you, Tricia!”
He laughed out loud and told me God could be prompting me to let Him use my writing to touch many lives. Then he said, “God’s shut doors are His protection.”
Shut doors are God’s protection. Looking back, my heart is deeply thankful to God for cultivating in me a posture of rest in His no and yes. When the yes finally comes – as different as it may be from my expectations – I’m learning to be ever thankful for the vast opportunities that have opened wide despite the no.
“Obey God in the thing He shows you, and instantly the next thing is opened up … Even the smallest bit of obedience opens heaven, and the deepest truths of God immediately become yours. Yet God will never reveal more truth about Himself to you, until you have obeyed what you know already.” (Oswald Chambers)
And in Mrs Charles Cowman’s timeless devotional, Streams in the Desert, she exhorts us that some day we shall understand that God has a reason in every no, which He speaks “through the slow movement of life”. How often, when His people are worrying and perplexing themselves about their prayers not being answered, is He answering them in a far richer way! Somehow, He will make it up to us.
“Blessed be the LORD, who has given rest to His people Israel, according to all that He promised. There has not failed one word of all His good promise, which He promised through His servant Moses.” (1 Kings 8:56)
It all started when I joined 21project, a youth conference run by the Circuit Riders where young people like myself gathered to learn how to impact the world with our skills and talents. There were four different tracks you could sign up for – Media, Music, Missions and Messenger.
I registered for the Music track. There, I met many super talented, likeminded musicians and as part of the track we were challenge to write new songs within a span of a few days.
To write a song with people you’ve never met before was scary and intimidating. And for some of us, we had never even written a song before! After the Circuit Riders gave us some songwriting handles, the game was on. It was definitely a time of vulnerability, but fun & creativity as well.
Before we started doing anything, my songwriting group prayed. We didn’t want to write just any song, but a song that carried the inspiration and anointing of the Holy Spirit, through the lyrics and music. And that was our breakthrough. The words and the melody just flowed so smoothly afterwards.
Once you understand the Father’s heart, you will grieve when there is sin, injustice and bondage – and at the same time, there will be a deep longing for God’s righteousness and goodness to be restored.
“Kingdom” is a response to God’s goodness in our lives. Many of us had come from a place where God’s love was just knowledge, but had now transcended into a revelation that deeply embedded itself into our hearts and minds. This is why the song starts in a quiet and intimate manner – reflecting a place where the love and truth of Jesus just gives the soul so much rest.
But knowing God’s love does not just stop at a feel-good indulgence. We’ve stepped into the fullness of His presence and into the divine destiny He has for us since the beginning. That means we’ve never been so alive and free!
There is this unstoppable desire to sing and make known the goodness of God’s Kingdom to all places, and to all people. And that’s what the chorus builds up to.
The bridge of “Kingdom” is like an anthem – a declaration. Because once you understand the Father’s heart, you will grieve when there is sin, injustice and bondage – and at the same time, there will be a deep longing for God’s righteousness and goodness to be restored.
Ultimately, “Kingdom” is named for what it is – for His Kingdom to come onto earth, awakening the nations.
Almost 30 and still single: Is there something wrong with me?
by Sharon Lim | 31 October 2017, 7:59 PM
Although people are increasingly getting married later in Singapore, I’ve always wanted to get hitched before I hit 30. I’m turning 29 in a few months … But he’s still nowhere in sight.
I came to know Christ when I was just 14-years-old. But I wasn’t too committed in church back then because of the parental objection I faced coming from a family of unbelievers.
Regardless, most of my secondary school years were spent being in and out of relationships. I had issues with self-esteem and being in a relationship made me feel desired by the opposite gender.
Back in those years, I wasn’t able to see that only God could fill my heart. I wish I had known then that another person could never complete me.
Somewhere along the way my need for human love overtook my love for God.
I only stopped casually dating guys when I turned 17. I had grown in my walk with God, and I committed to serving God with my youth. In that year, I was rooted in Christ and I no longer felt the need to be needed because I realised God’s love was really enough.
Having entered the workforce, romantic relationships have gradually become a focus in my adult life – as they have for most people my age. As I do not have a large social circle, I tried expanding it with the opposite gender through dating platforms such as the Social Development Network (SDN).
But somewhere along the way my need for human love overtook my love for God. I decided to take matters into my own hand.
I got to know a guy on SDN who professed to be a Christian, though he was unchurched. Almost instantly clicking, we got along really well. He was about 4 years older than me and was doing well in his career. We met up several times and things were looking pretty good.
He must be the one. I started putting so much hope in this potential relationship and began to invest all my time, effort and energy in it. Yet as we continued to date, this guy never spoke a word to me about officially getting together.
I wondered about the mixed signals: Was he waiting for me to speak up? Was he shy? I was confused at the ambivalence between being friends and lovers, but I still hoped.
Mustering all my courage, I asked him the magic question over WhatsApp: “Do you think we’re meant to be together?”
I saw that he read my message, but it took him a very long time to reply me. My heart raced while I waited all day, anxious at the answer he would give me.
After what seemed like an eternity, he finally texted back. But the message tore my heart up with each word: “I enjoy spending time with you and we share many common interests. You are really a nice girl and whoever gets you will be a lucky man. But I’m very sorry, I don’t think we are meant to be.”
For almost a year, I had spent every single day on the phone with him! We spoke and shared deeply until we had no secrets left.
He would pick me up from the gym every weekend to go for dinner and catch a movie together. He took leave for my birthday just to give me a surprise. Every single thing I told him I would like to have, he’d make an effort to get it for me the next time we met.
So that “break-up” text came as a shock. Reading it, I felt a tangible and physical cut deep in my heart. Heartbroken, I decided that I would cut off all connection and contact with him.
From then, it would take me 2 whole years to recover from a relationship that never happened.
I kept asking myself: “Why are you crying over a relationship that never happened? We weren’t even together, it’s not even a break up – stop crying!”
I didn’t know then, but the illusion of intimacy we’d cultivated over that year had turned into an unhealthy soul tie.
But still the tears came. The pain was real because I was so emotionally attached to him. I didn’t know then, but the illusion of intimacy we’d cultivated over that year had turned into an unhealthy soul tie.
Perhaps the painful break-up was the consequence of taking matters into my own hands. If I had sought godly counsel instead of being so impulsive, perhaps I would not have had to go through such a painful lesson.
I knew God forgave me when I repented for my lack of trust, but I wasn’t spared from the consequences of my wrongdoing.
But in mercy He also led me back to Him – just as I was all ready to trade His love for earthly love. He met me where I was in my pain, and saved me from a deathly mistake.
It was easier to be single in my early 20s. It got a lot harder after 25. I grieved when I realised I was about to turn 29 and was still single. The dream of being married by 30 was dead.
And one by one, all my closest girlfriends were either getting married or already becoming parents. I would feel so bitter whenever I received wedding invites. A part of me was really happy for my friend but another part … I confess that my envy was eating me up from within.
I hated having an envious heart. I confessed it before God and asked Him, “Lord, I have great difficulty making sense of my singlehood. Is there something really wrong with me? If so, can you just tell me so I know? If there is nothing wrong, why am I not attached? Why?”
God grew a heart within me that now firmly knows He is bigger than my desire for marriage.
God didn’t reply me then. And to be honest, even today I find He is still silent about this area of my life. But I’ve come to realise He wants to deal with me before even talking about marriage, especially when I came across a reflection question in a book I was studying: “Are you willing to live the life God calls you to – even if it doesn’t include marriage?”
I wrote these words without hesitation: “YES! Because life is not just about marriage and there is definitely more to it!” I was surprised at my own answer. I read what I wrote twice. It was surprising, but it was also a heartfelt truth.
God grew a heart within me that now firmly knows He is bigger than my desire for marriage.
As I invite Him into this area of my life, God has been using my season of singlehood to do a thorough work deep within my heart. In return, I am purposefully using my singlehood to serve Him in ministry. I’m investing my time to mentor someone. I’m picking up music lessons – guitar and keyboard – with the hope of serving in my cell group and deepening my worship and quiet time with Him.
I have also spent 2.5 years completing a Master’s degree in counselling to upgrade myself as a full-time counsellor, and to better serve His people. I’m learning how to eat alone and travel alone to countries. But now I’m doing all these things – stepping out of my comfort zone – with security in the Father’s love for me.
Perhaps you don’t believe in “The One” – and that’s alright. I’d still like to share my personal conviction: Before The One comes, I need to be the right one first. And part of the process of being the right one is to let God deal with my unresolved issues first.
Only then can we enter marriage without constantly expecting our spouse to meet needs that only God Himself is able to meet.
My encouragement for anyone in a similar situation as me is to yield yourself fully to God. Let Him into your life, and He will do a new work within you.
My heart is easily overtaken by the worries of modern living. Finding it impossible to keep up with society’s demands — even little things like needing to exercise more, eat better, and be more attentive to others — it has been left panting, unable to take a breather from such expectations and platitudes.
In the past couple of months, I found myself in an irascible state due to the avalanche of things that I’ve had to do — outside of work (which was already taxing on its own), there were various projects I was involved in, and a series of responsibilities that I had committed to.
It scared me that I was not only a Martha; I had no intentions to be Mary.
My body felt lethargic as I limped out of bed each day; my head throbbed with the pressures of trying to eke out some semblance of a meaningful Christian life. An inertia to find God in the quiet had distended, causing God to feel distant. Along the way, I lost the joy of serving Christ and everything felt like a drag, as exemplified by my shambling feet.
Whilst commuting on the train one bleary morning, it dawned upon me that I had no conception of where I was headed with all these activities. A frustration soon boiled over, as I questioned the reason behind every commitment.
I knew I had to stop myself in my tracks, and re-evaluate every single thing in my life, leaving no stone unturned. It scared me that I was not only a Martha; I had no intentions to be Mary(Luke 10:38-42).
LOSING MY RELIGION
During a period of deep reflection, I uncovered that I had simply lost sight of my season, and the larger purpose of the different domains in life — from work to ministry.
What was I convicted about when I started this job two years ago? Do I know what is my service to God is built upon? Why am I even mentoring others?
I did not have the answers; I had grown accustomed to going through the motions, content with shooting arrows blindfolded.
I had started well and good, but personal ambition soon took over, kidnapping my soul in broad daylight.
We can get trapped within the suffocating cycle of mindless activity, that we fail to notice that our heart has started to shift, ever so subtly, to a point where the “vision” of our lives is nowhere to be found.
I let the true meaning of work slip through my fingers, even though they remained mired in labour; I had started well and good — being “salt” and a “light” in the marketplace — but personal ambition soon took over, kidnapping my soul in broad daylight.
My job was now centred around self-glory (the pursuit of career success) and vanity (material wealth and comfort). Everything on the outside appeared fine, but I was growing sick on the inside, narcotised by worldly temptations.
NOT GOOD ENOUGH
This was not all. I became increasingly guilt-ridden that I wasn’t doing enough in my life. My corporate job did not feel adequately impactful, especially when I read the news about wars, poverty, and sickness; yet I was doing nothing to alleviate the pain of others.
Riddled in a perpetual state of questioning my occupation, I was taunted by feelings of not doing enough for this broken world. My conscience did not know where to lay its head — it could not find rest.
This nagging and heavy disposition only found release when this passage in Mark confronted me:
“And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed. And Simon and those who were with him searched for him, and they found him and said to him, “Everyone is looking for you.” And he said to them, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons.” (Mark 1:35-39)
The Word came alive in me like heartburn, as the passages highlighted to me how razor-sharp Jesus was when His life mission was concerned. While there were many people scrambling to get close to Him, desperate for that one touch or one conversation, and people who needed healing or deliverance; Jesus remained on course and departed for the “next towns.”
Even His disciples did not understand his rationale for leaving, given the pressing needs all around.
It may seem like a simple decision, but if I were in Jesus’ shoes, I probably would have stayed put, assuming that I was pleasing the Father’s heart by ministering to the masses. The Son of God was not swayed by others and did not swoon to the tune of others’ approval — the same couldn’t be said for me. He knew full well what he was on earth for, and did not give in to the compulsions of a busy life.
Contemplating on how Jesus lived His life, in how intentional He was with every deed, it was a sobering reminder for me on the need to understand my mission full well, instead of pandering to everything that appeared in my line of sight.
Even when it comes to worthy causes and charitable deeds, the “good” thing may not necessarily be something God has called us to do. Our limitations reveal how important it is to understand our season and calling.
These past months of frenetic activity have taught me the dangers of filling my time without understanding what this very time which has been bestowed to me is for. I had allowed busyness to get the better of me, to a disconcerting extent that I neglected the things God has instructed me to do right here and now.
In order for us to live out God’s intentions for us, it is crucial that we follow Jesus’ example: Through the chaos and delirium, He prioritised prayer and communion. I believe that this provided Jesus clarity for the road ahead. It may sound simplistic, but it is such an uphill task to achieve when we are always working and feeling flustered.
If you, too, have been slaving for the hustle, I urge you to courageously jump off this train that is destined for destruction. Too often have we been pre-occupied with activity that we are no longer cognisant of where we’re headed and why we even decided to board this very vehicle.
God will surely catch you as you ricochet — He is ever waiting to remind us of the way everlasting (Psalm 139:24).
This story was first published on Selah.sg, and was republished with permission.
Why am I so easily affected by what others say about me?
by Lee Yoke Kwang | 27 October 2017, 6:15 PM
One of the precious lessons from my devotional life has to do with my sense of rights. I recall a time when my emotional well-being was affected by unfair remarks made against me over certain issues. I tried to speak in defence, but it would perpetually result in an argument.
Regrettably, I would get very upset and lose my self-control. To protect my friendships, I would choose to control myself. But this would leave me feeling very stifled and angry.
One evening, after a similar experience, I recalled something I had read in Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest. Jesus, who never sinned, never asked for His rights when false accusations were heaped upon Him. Why then should I be asking for mine, for much lesser injustices! That realisation calmed and settled me immediately. Having found peace of mind, I praised and thanked God for His timely Word.
Why did I feel entitled to my rights in the first place?
I believe it was my human inclination towards self-preservation. Indeed, our sense of well-being is often so easily shaken by what people say or do to us — whether they’re right or wrong — or by the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Our moods, feelings and emotions can so easily spin out of control.
How then can we follow Jesus’ example of denying self? Oswald Chambers points out, “Christ never spoke of His right to Himself but always maintained an inner vigilance to submit His spirit continually to His Father.”
Jesus was free from being affected by the external because He submitted Himself internally to the Father.
And how can we have such freedom? In John 8:31-32 it says, “If you abide in my Word, you are my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”. This, as Chambers said, “is the freedom that comes from being set free from myself by the Son” (John 8:36).
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20).
Being in union with Christ, in Chambers words, means we should be free indeed, free to the very core of our being – from the inside to the outside.
Freedom in its truest sense is obedience to the one we most truly love: God. The more we immerse ourselves in God’s Word and grow in intimacy and love for God, the greater our ability and freedom to act in alignment to God’s will.
Jesus was free from being affected by the external because He submitted Himself internally to the Father.
Our life’s experiences are potentially precious lessons for us to grow in Christ. Personally, I have found significant trials in my life to turn out to be God-moments. I look back and see them as pathways to freedom and peace in Christ, and my faith in an all-knowing, loving and sovereign Lord increases.
In Christ my hope I persevere, living by God’s grace.
May we continue to meditate on God’s Word as disciples, and grow in the knowledge of God’s truth which sets us free in Christ from the core of our being. May we be vigilant to submit to the Holy Spirit and be free to do the will of God in love, that we might joyfully say, “It is well with my soul!”
This article was first published on YCKC website and was republished with permission.
When I first found the knife, I thought nothing of it. But I did wonder why it wasn’t in its usual place. It had been wiped clean and was lying beside a bottle of vodka and some lighter fluid which belonged to my mentally ill older brother. I put them neatly aside, back in order.
I couldn’t have known it then, but my life was about to go spinning wildly out of control as the night progressed.
I had come home after attending the Global Day of Prayer event in my church to discover that my mother was nowhere to be found. My younger brother was looking troubled because he could not reach her by phone. The older one had locked himself up in his room.
Something began to twist within my heart, so I called my uncle to come over to talk to my older brother, who was often very unpredictable due to his schizophrenia.
After coaxing him out of his room, we questioned him about the misplaced items and my missing mother, only to hear stories from him which made no sense. It became disturbingly clear that he was lying about everything.
My younger brother then told my uncle to check under my older brother’s bed because he sensed that he was hiding something. Boxes and bags had been moved around. As my uncle stepped into the room, my older brother jumped up and followed him with a feral look in his eyes. The atmosphere had become charged with danger.
After pulling out one of the boxes below my brother’s bed, my uncle shouted in horror, “Her legs are there! What have you done?”
My heart seemed to shatter into a million pieces as I started to put together what had happened while I’d been out. The words that escaped my lips were not articulate, and I began to wail. As a desperate scuffle broke out between my uncle and brother, I ran into my room where I locked the door and repeatedly screamed as the tears fell, “I want my mother back!”
Things quickly escalated into a hostage situation when my older brother locked the front door and demanded to have everyone’s phones. My younger brother threw his phone on the floor and distracted him from reaching for another knife. My uncle tried to placate him.
My eyes darted to the landline in my room.
I know that God was surely with us that day, because we were ultimately able to contact the police three times throughout the ordeal. And as my younger brother made his escape to safety, my uncle singlehandedly restrained my older brother.
To this day, my uncle testifies that it was God who held my brother. My older brother has the strength to break a door down. When he was finally arrested that night, it had taken five policemen and my uncle to handcuff him.
As the dust settled, I turned to my uncle and asked tearfully, “Is she really gone?”
But this was the question I was really asking: “Are we orphans now?”
Grief gripped my life in the years to come. At home,I would often find myself in a pool of tears, crying out to God as I lay brokenhearted on the floor. There was no answer most times, but peace would eventually sink in and I would get up again.
In a way, I was happy that my mum was with Jesus. She would experience no more pain from all the surgeries she had and from the arthritis she was battling. She wouldn’t have to worry about how long she had to keep working, or who was going to look after my paranoid schizophrenic brother.
But little things would remind me that I had been robbed of a mother. When I watched other young women with their mums on the street, my heart would squeeze with anguish as tears flowed freely. As I walked home weeping at night, I’d hope that the darkness would mask any evidence of my pain from passersby.
My mentor and friends stood by me and sat with me as I wrestled and struggled, wondering if I could ever be who I used to be. Of what use was I to the kingdom of God? With tears in their own eyes, they listened and believed in me when I could not even believe in myself. They spoke hope over my life and truth into me.
Healing came one day as I was sobbing and praying. I saw Jesus in a vision, not in white-robed glory, but as the scarred, disfigured and crucified God-man.
In the vision, He took my hand and placed it upon His devastated body. Then He spoke these words to me: For every single person who goes through unspeakable pain, I too went through this. I know.
It wrecked me to hear. He knew. He had been with me every single time I cried. He had seen me walk home with tears streaming down from my eyes. He had seen my broken heart every time I thought about all the birthdays Mum would no longer spend with me. He heard all my regrets of not having loved her enough.
He knew. And that has been my comfort to this day.
For every single person who goes through unspeakable pain, I too went through this. I know.
I still have no answers for the horrors of that night. But I have His love and understanding. We live in a fallen, broken world where bad things happen to good people. Satan is a hell-bound enemy who loves to drag people along with him (John 10:10).
I know this is not our home. When Christ returns, He will restore things to the way they should be. There will be no more pain and no more tears, and the loved ones who are with Him will be reunited with us (Revelation 21:4).
In God, I will rise from the ashes of defeat. I have not fought this fight alone and I know that those who stood with me in the darkest times will continue to stand with me as I position myself to live on this earth as one who truly follows Jesus.
I live for the God who took unspeakable pain upon Himself so that every single person could have life, and life to the fullest.
Who would have thought she’d be the one I’d introduce to others as my best friend for the next decade of my life?
2007. “I don’t understand why Christians have to tithe. Why can’t it be like other religions where you give out of free will?” she questioned over a flurry of SMSes.
She’d never had a good experience with Christianity because of a hypocritical Christian relative. I had only recently become a believer. So I did my best to put a message together, explaining how we tithe and why we do it.
She wasn’t convinced. More questions came flooding in.
I had all but run out of words. I sighed and put the phone down.
2008. “I can’t take it anymore. Please stop telling me about him,” I begged her through a text.
She’d gotten into an ambiguous relationship with a guy from work who already had a girlfriend. We both knew he wasn’t a good guy. On multiple occasions I cautioned her against the relationship, but it was to no avail. She didn’t want to listen, and I couldn’t bear to helplessly watch the disaster unfolding before me.
As I waited for her reply, I began to regret sending that message. I had acted out of frustration. My phone vibrated.
I think that was the first time I realised just how much we had changed. She was no longer the best friend I knew in primary school, just like how I wasn’t the same rough mess. Our values, belief systems and worldviews had shifted over the years. There were but a few things we still saw eye-to-eye on. And while we remained friends, we weren’t nearly as close as before.
8 years later, we ended things on a bad note. Our friendship was marked with scars as the years passed, slowly fraying until it all fell apart. Where did it all go wrong?
3 LESSONS FROM LOSING A FRIEND
1. RELATIONSHIP REQUIRES INTENTIONALITY
Upon graduation, we went to different schools. We kept to ourselves except during birthday gatherings where we caught up with each other. But in those quick meet-ups, we always had to condense what had happened to us over the course of a few months into quick summaries.
We thought this arrangement worked fine. But the truth was we weren’t present in each other’s good and bad times. Like watching a rerun of a familiar series, we lived through each other’s lives in fast-forwarded highlights.
The less we invest in our relationships, the less both parties get out of it.
Looking back, I’ve learnt that it isn’t enough to simply “update” a treasured friend. Personal involvement is crucial too. There is a difference between being present and simply being aware of the ups and downs in a friend’s life. And sure, even if you don’t get a lot of time to spend with that person, intentionality is required in maintaining any relationship. The question is how much is it worth to you?
Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously (2 Corinthians 9:6).
Even the oldest friendships require effort to sustain them. The less we invest in our relationships, the less both parties get out of it.
2. DON’T JUST DWELL ON PAST GLORIES
When I look back, I realised a lot of our conversations revolved around thegood old times. We kept going back to our after-school shenanigans: How we would wrestle with each other, the boys we used to have crushes on… It was fun reminiscing the old times.
But it was pretty much all we ever did.
Nostalgia’s sweet, but constantly living in the past may also mean that we’re missing out on the present. So instead of building something new and meaningful, we let a friendship go stale.
I was reminded of this lesson when I watched an episode of Black Mirror titled “The Entire History Of You”. Set in an alternative reality where people can have implants installed in their bodies to record and play back everything they see and hear through their eyes, the main character obsessively rewinds footages from happier times – from before his wife left him.
Trapped in his own memories, he was miserable and unable to move on.
WARNING: Slightly disturbing scene starting from 3:20
While admittedly the show is an extreme depiction of dangerous nostalgia, it still holds a poignant truth: When you’re so stuck in the past, you let go of the present and are at risk of living in denial.
And I now realise how detrimental that was to my friendship.
For the past 10 years, we called each other “best friends” but we were close only in name. In reality, we barely knew each other.
We weren’t really best friends. We had stopped being best friends a long time ago.
3. OUR FAITH IS ALSO A FRIENDSHIP
Drifting apart in a relationship doesn’t happen overnight. It is a subtle process. How I wish I had known that earlier. I wish I didn’t have to learn this lesson through losing a friend.
But it’s the exact same with our relationship with God.
Jesus said that there will be people who claim to know Him on Judgment Day, people who He will have to dismiss because they never truly did (Matthew 7:21-23). It’s a sobering reminder that our faith is evidenced in a living, breathing, evolving relationship with Jesus – not a one-off meeting (Philippians 2:12).
“Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come. “Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’
“But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.
“Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.
“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.
“Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
“For many are invited, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:1-14)
If we think our relationship with God is rock solid and needs little attention, we need to think again. The moment where you think you’ve arrived is the moment where pride has won.
Are we in true, continual fellowship with God or are we just living lives of denial?
For those who aren’t believers yet, the invitation to the wedding banquet has been sent. All that’s left to do is to add your name to the guest list. But just as there’s a time to invite – there will also come a time when it’ll be too late to RSVP.
Before him stood two paths: One that stretched into the far distance, while the other seemed a lot more manageable. Yet due to the fog that was all around, he couldn’t make out where each of them led to.
It was a once in a lifetime opportunity that he’d been given to scale the highest mountain there was. Though, if he were to be entirely honest, he wanted to reach his goal sooner rather than later.
So he thought to himself, I might be able to see clearer once I reach higher ground.
Thus, he set out on the latter path. But after trudging uphill for some time, he realised that he still couldn’t make out what was ahead of him.
At this rate, I’ll never be able to see what’s ahead.
Just then, he felt a gentle nudging to turn back the way he came and to embark on that other path instead. Nonetheless, he shrugged it off.
It probably isn’t worth the risk, he reasoned.
Besides, this path has been challenging enough already, it must lead to the highest mountain there is.
And so he continued his ascent. After many gruelling days of scaling steep slopes in the freezing cold, the summit was at last within his reach.
This is it! All that hard work is finally going to pay off!
So as he pulled himself over the ledge, he readied himself to give his loudest shout of joy.
Only, he couldn’t.
There in the distance was another mountain that towered far above him. And such was its height that he could barely make out its peak! But by then it was too late to turn back the way he came – he no longer had the food supply or the energy left to do so. No doubt it was a great feat that he’d accomplished, yet he couldn’t bring himself to celebrate.
For he hadn’t made the best out of his one chance.
I was on my way to scale my mountain.
Put on the graduate program of one of the most prestigious firms in the world, I had every intention of making my mark before entering full-time ministry. God had granted me favour in the work of my hands and with those I worked with; I had wonderful bosses and colleagues, the culture of the firm was amazing; I was earning a good salary and even the work location was ideal – I had everything that I could have possibly asked for and more!
Except when tragedy struck.
He was one of my closest friends back in the army.
We ran together, went to the gym together and we often competed with each other during our physical fitness test. Outside of camp, we would go for workouts and we also took part in a marathon together. Even after we left the Army, we still kept in touch every now and then.
It was like any other year that I wished him for his 25th birthday on his Facebook profile last October.
But I wasn’t prepared for what happened next.
Another friend from the same camp saw my message and broke the news to me: My friend had died in a car accident two days ago.
My gym buddy, my running companion. My cherished friend.
And I wasn’t even there for his funeral the previous day.
I was absolutely distraught.
The news took a long while to sink in and I soon found myself in tears. And then a memory came to mind – I had invited him to Church a while ago, to which he replied, “I’m not even attending prayers at the temple and you’re inviting me to Church?”
Why didn’t I insist? Why didn’t I ask again?
Yet it’d happened during the peak season at my workplace when I was averaging 12-hour days, such that I had hardly any capacity left to grieve over him properly. And it was a time that I couldn’t afford to take my mind off work either.
But scarcely had I gotten over my friend’s passing when tragedy struck once again.
Just three weeks later, I received news that a former Bible School classmate of mine had succumbed to colon cancer. He was still doing fine the last we’d checked in on him, but here I was having to grieve over yet another loss.
The brevity of life rarely finds those who are expecting it.
But when it does eventually catch up with us, will we look back and say that we’ve truly lived a life that counts for eternity?
Have we made the most out of the opportunities that we’ve had? Did we make full use of the gifts that God has given us? Have we spent our time, our energy and our resources the best way we knew how?
“Five minutes inside eternity and I believe every one of us will wish that we’d sacrificed more, prayed more, loved more, sweated more, grieved more, wept more!” Leonard Ravenhill
“If you had only one month left to live, you’d be surprised at all the things that really didn’t matter anymore… Is life any less precious because we don’t know how much of it we have left?” Wayne Cordeiro, Leading on Empty
So if you already know what you should be doing, don’t wait until you feel like doing it before you act on it! His grace will hold you up as you step out in faith and even if you do make an honest mistake, He will help you get right back on track. Here is a lengthy but meaningful quote from A.W. Tozer in his book, Dangers of a Shallow Faith.
“Do not hold yourself back until you feel ready to do something. Start doing something now that you have wanted to do but put off. Learn to ride a bicycle by trial and error. Do not wait until you have learned to ride it before you buy one; get one now and practice on it. Get something done. You may make mistakes at first, of course, but do something … Christians are like farm implements. Farm machinery seldom wears out. If you keep your machinery up, you can use it summer in and summer out until it becomes obsolete. The idle machine sitting in the dampness will go to piece in one season, but that same machine used for 10 years will only make it shine. One year of sitting around sulking will do more to rust your soul than 100 years of hard work if God granted you that many years.
Do not fear wearing yourself out. The devil is a master of strategy, and when a child of God gets busy, he whispers in the ear, “Watch it, because you’re going to have a nervous breakdown.” I am positively sure that nervous breakdowns do not come from working in the easy yoke of Jesus Christ. They come from frustrations, hidden sins, stubbornness, refusing to hear God and wanting your own way; but they do not come from working.”
The brevity of life stopped me right in my tracks when I lost my two friends. It made me realise that I had a lot more I wanted to accomplish for God, and yet here I was giving my best years to a firm, the strength of my youth that will someday leave me. And due to the demands of work, I had to put my writing on hold and I was spending most of my free time recuperating for the following day’s work.
It was during that season that I was seeking the Lord one night when an unmistakable still, small voice spoke: “School of Leadership.”
It was such an incredulous thought! Yet it brought me such joy, though not without fear.
Back to Bible School? I would love to, but I’ve only just started my career! How will I provide for my family in the future? What will others think? And can I really bring myself to let my team down?
He didn’t say when exactly, but after a series of confirmations, I was settled. As high a mountain I was climbing, I knew it wasn’t the highest that God had for me to conquer.
I had a lot more I wanted to accomplish for God, and yet here I was giving my best years to a firm, the strength of my youth that will someday leave me.
So after six long months of unceasing prayer, of seeking counsel and many sleepless nights, I finally took the leap of faith.
To my surprise, the people I was afraid of disappointing turned out to be my greatest supporters! Even in the times when I doubted myself, they made me believe in the decision that I felt God had called me to make. Without the graciousness and blessings of my colleagues, my parents and mentors alike, I would not have had the courage that I needed to resign from my job.
It’s when we take the risk and step out in faith that the Lord will grant His accompanying grace.
You may have only just started, or you could be halfway up your climb already; but if you’ve always felt that God has other plans for your life, know that He will help you to make the right decision. Spend the time in prayer, in seeking His face and the counsel of the godly, and He will guide your steps. It’s certainly by no means easy to take the leap of faith, but know that His grace will be there to catch you.
He will never disappoint, and He will never fail you.
“The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”
If we have everything we need in life, we will never experience the providence of God. If we will not venture out to reach the unsaved, we will never experience the signs, miracles and wonders that followed the apostles. And if we won’t leave the safety of our comfort zone, we will never experience the abundant life that God intends for us!
The last thing we’d want is to miss out on the greatest adventure throughout all of eternity, only to realise it when we get to Heaven!
The Lord may forgive us for not stepping out in faith, but we will never be able to turn back the clock.
“The Lord will forgive you, but the clock won’t!” Leonard Ravenhill
It may be that God wants you to stay right where you are, or it could be that He’s called you to step out. But whichever it is, be sure that it is the path that God has called you to walk in!
“Calling should not be sudden impulse unattended by anxious consideration. It should be the outgrowth of our heart in its best moments, the object of our reverent aspirations, the subject of our most fervent prayers. It must continue with us when tempting offers wealth and comfort come into conflict with it, and remain as a calm, clear-headed resolve after everything has been estimated at its right figure and the cost thoroughly counted.”
This is an excerpt from the book What Heaven Does Not Have and is republished with permission. To purchase the book, click here.
“So you mean even if someone as heinous as Hitler were to believe in Jesus, he’ll get to go to Heaven?”
“And since God is all-forgiving, a murderer can continue killing people after he repents and not go to hell? Where’s the justice in that?”
Those were some questions my mother threw at my faith when I first became a Christian. I knew instinctively that those accusations had an explanation but as a baby believer, my theology was far from strong enough to defend my beliefs. I didn’t know how to answer her, and so I kept quiet in indignance.
Those questions continued to haunt me as I grew in my faith – not just because I had failed to answer my mum that very day – but also because they soon took on a very personal implication. The more I journeyed with God, the more convicted I was with my sinful nature, for there were many times I gave into temptation and did what was wrong before God.
Each time it happens I feel so undeserving of His love and grace. It seems too good to be true. How can I be forgiven knowing that I’ll sin again somehow? It just doesn’t make sense.
THE EQUILIBRIUM OF MERCY AND JUSTICE
First, we need to first understand God’s character. God is a merciful God. There are many instances throughout the Bible where God chose to forgive even though He could also have chosen not to (Genesis 18:23-33, Jeremiah 18:7-11, Exodus 32:7-14). I mean, He’s God. But being merciful is an unchanging part of His character.
But even as He is merciful, God is also – at the same time – just. Justice is important because it rights wrongs and upholds good for the sake of everyone. From Psalm 12:5 to Zechariah 7:9-10 to James 1:27, it is evident that God champions righteousness and defends the weak.
Here’s the clincher: While mercy and justice are two contrasting qualities, they aren’t conflicting. In fact, they’re complementary. I think one of the best examples how this is shown through the story of Jonah.
Jonah was a prophet commissioned by God to preach repentance to Nineveh, a diabolic nation of that time. He tried to run away from this calling, perhaps afraid of what would happen to him. I mean, would you dare march into ISIS camps and convict them of their wrongdoings? Chances are, you’ll get shot even before you finish your first sentence.
But it was soon revealed that Jonah wasn’t just afraid of risking his life. He was afraid that Nineveh would repent and be relented from their judgment. We know this because Jonah was angry to the point of death when Nineveh actually repented and God forgave them. He blamed God.
This change of plans greatly upset Jonah, and he became very angry. So he complained to the Lord about it: “Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, Lord? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people. Just kill me now, Lord! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.” (Jonah 4:1-3)
Jonah knew. He knew that God was a merciful God and couldn’t stand to think that God would pardon Nineveh.
And can anyone blame him? If God today withholds punishment from ISIS if they suddenly repent and follow Him, can we truly be happy for them? I think most of us, especially those who have been personally affected by their actions, would be balling our fists, faces red with anger.
What about the innocent lives lost? What about the families that were separated? What about the trauma that the victims are stuck with forever? Who’s gonna pay for the physical and psychological harm caused?
At the core of it, Jonah asked the question in many of our hearts: How can a holy God let go of such appalling atrocities?
In His reply to Jonah’s outcry for injustice, God gently rebukes, “These are my people whom I love. Should I not have compassion on them?” (Jonah 4:11)
At the same time, we must remember that God is a just God. He would have enacted punishment in pursuit of justice if Nineveh had refused to repent, as He had done before to Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19).
But God isn’t a sadistic God, waiting to mete out punishment regardless of response. His first instinct is never to punish but to allow for second chances for He is slow to anger and quick to forgive. In fact, He delights in showing mercy (Micah 7:18)!
Without justice, mercy is an overindulgence of compassion. But without mercy, justice will be reduced to sheer legalism.
You can’t fully appreciate one without the other.
THROWING GRACE INTO THE EQUATION
Beyond being merciful, God is also gracious. While mercy is not giving us what we deserve, grace is giving us what we do not deserve. Through mercy, we were delivered from judgment; through grace, we receive salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9).
The only condition? Repentance.
If we truly repent – truly acknowledge the severity of our sins – then what results from receiving mercy and grace is nothing but a debt of gratitude. How can someone who recognises that they’ve been given much more than what they deserve not feel indebted?
Any abuser of grace has not received forgiveness, for the moment someone thinks he deserves grace, grace ceases to be grace but morphs into something else entirely – licentiousness. Grace, by its very definition, is unmerited.
That isn’t to say Christians don’t sin. We fall all the same, and in those times we will have to grapple with our sinfulness and God’s holiness. But there is a difference between struggling with sin and indulging in sin. Our struggle is not a charge against us as much as evidence that we are sons and daughters of God (Romans 7:18-25). As Charles Spurgeon aptly puts it:
“God has so changed your nature by His grace that when you sin you shall be like a fish on dry land. You shall be out of your element and long to get into a right state again. You cannot sin, for you love God! The sinner may drink sin down as the ox drinks down water, but to you, it shall be as the brine of the sea. You may become so foolish as to try the pleasures of the world, but they shall be no pleasures to you.”
Grace isn’t an airy-fairy feel-good concept and is not meant as a license for us to sin. If anything, grace has the power to convict us of our sinful nature and pushes us to change.
The grace that does not change my life will not save my soul.
by Sherman Ng, Executive Producer, Salt Media | 23 October 2017, 9:26 AM
I believe the film market is ready and hungry for movies with good values.
I’ve looked at the sales numbers globally, and I believe the weak numbers put up by films such as Blade Runner 2049 suggest that audiences are tired of post-apocalyptic films and are looking for hope.
Then I looked at the statistics behind Dangal – a film about family, overcoming impossibility and achieving dreams – and realised it got more than half its box office revenues from China despite being a Hindi film!
I believe that films can inspire, encourage and disciple people when used in the right way. Media content can change the culture of societies.
For Christians in the media space, it is important to recognise that we are strategically placed as agents of change.
And sure, there will always be that tension between creating profitable work that appeals to audiences and staying true to the values that you espouse.
But the two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. For instance, beyond having Kingdom values in our content, we also demand a level of excellence high enough to withstand the scrutiny of the market.
When we truly understand the media’s potential for the Kingdom, we will then be motivated to take the market in the right direction.
At Salt Media, we not only produce content that is of Hollywood’s pedigree, we also import content which we assess will take the market closer towards a Kingdom direction. At this moment we already have two projects helmed by Hollywood stalwarts like Geoffrey Rush, Sofia Vergara and Joe Manganiello. These are all values-based films waiting to impact Hollywood next summer.
Likewise, we hold all the rights for distributing The Case For Christ in Singapore and Taiwan. We took a risk to bring that film in because we hoped that people would invite their friends and family to watch it. It’s a great conversation starter on the Christian faith.
Personally, it’s not just about producing values-based content. For me, I try to carry these Kingdom values into the way I do my work. The values that we stand for and want to communicate to the world must be the same ones we carry in our business’ DNA.
For example, we pay our service providers on time. We also care for the well being of our team and those who work with us. There was an occasion when we sent a talent home from an overseas shoot because of a family emergency. It cost us time and money but we valued her well being above our comfort. Ultimately, God still enabled us to complete the production below budget.
Even if you’re a Christian who doesn’t work in the media industry, you still have a role to play in shaping culture.
You can vote with your money by choosing what kind of films you’d pay to see. So when you go to the movies, look for a film with good values. Your choice impacts box office sales, which in turn tells cinemas what kind of content is being sought by consumers.
It’s so important to recognise and understand the influence that the media carries. Because when we truly understand its potential for the Kingdom, we will then be motivated to take the market in the right direction.
As a producer with years of investment and financing expertise, Sherman creates values-based content with the goal of inspiring audiences worldwide towards the Kingdom. He will be speaking at LuminoCity 2017.
LuminoCity is a 3-day forum that will bring together thought-leaders and disciples in the marketplace for conversations to shape the culture of our day. It will be held from November 3 to 5, 2017, at The Pavilion. Thir.st readers can enjoy a special discount of $50 from now till October 23, and a discount of $40 from October 24 till October 30 with the promo code “THIRSTY”.
23 April, 2011 is a day I will never forget. It was the day that marked the end of my mum’s four-year-long battle against breast cancer. She was 59 years old that year.
It was a battle that didn’t quite have a happy ending. I still don’t understand why it happened, but at the very least it allowed for Mum to receive Christ as her personal Lord and Saviour. More importantly, it is the battle that taught me what it means to live in total abandonment and obedience to the Lord’s sovereignty.
I use the word “battle”, because it aptly describes what the four years journeying with her through her cancer journey were like. Ever since she was first diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2006, I prayed every single day that the Lord would heal her completely.
From initially interceding that her condition would not be terminal before her official diagnosis, to praying against a relapse – I faithfully prayed every single day.
I grew up wondering if Jesus would save my mum, because she used to always scold Him. She used to tell me that if I ever went to church, she would disown me and never let me come home. She used to turn up the TV’s volume whenever people from church came to our house to share the gospel with her.
She finally accepted Christ in 2007 after the Lord saved her from a life-threatening viral attack during her first bout of chemotherapy. The attack was so serious it confined her 11 days at the hospital.
But God graciously saved her. She was touched by the Holy Spirit when my cousins shared the Gospel with her at the hospital. I wasn’t around, but my cousins told me that my Mum cried like a baby, and then they led her in the Sinner’s Prayer.
After she was discharged, she said she would like to go to church. It was a 180º change. On Easter 2009, she got baptised together with my Dad.
But I still feared she would relapse. Despite my anxiety, I continued to pray every single day for the Lord’s complete healing to come upon my Mum.
Unfortunately, my Mum really did fall prey to relapse. My nightmare came true on 16 October, 2010, when Mum was diagnosed with advanced stage cancer as her cancer cells had metastasised to her lungs, liver, brain and bones.
I remember it so clearly because we got the news one day before her birthday. She was so composed, but I broke down. I couldn’t stop crying as I scolded her for not taking care of herself better to prevent the relapse.
Deep inside I wasn’t angry with her, I was simply devastated by grief. Mum chided me for crying and said there is nothing to be upset about. She said that because she came to know the Lord, she had been blessed with 3 good years.
It totally put me to shame. I had been a Christian for much longer than her. Though she was suffering and dying, she still gave thanks to the Lord.
In fact, I never saw her shed a single tear after she learnt of the bad news. Sometimes I wonder if she cried herself to sleep, when no one was watching. But to my knowledge, I never saw her cry, not even at her deathbed.
My mum was admitted to the hospital just before she passed on during Easter weekend in 2011. In those three days at the hospital, she was surrounded by loved ones.
I’ve heard of people saying that Christians do not fear death, and that death can be a joyful thing. I think my mum was a great example. Not only did she bravely not cry, she even told us not to be upset. She was even cracking jokes and making all of us laugh.
The good humour was in part due to her jovial nature, and also the fact that she was no longer lucid as her body was intoxicated by her failing liver. Looking back, that was an aspect of God’s grace. It would have been so much tougher for us all if she was sobbing and weeping.
In the early morning of 23 April, when the sky was still dark, she asked if it was morning already. Mum remarked that it was “so bright” and that she could hear Somebody calling her name. I knew that was the Lord calling her Home by name. It was a Saturday.
I asked the Lord why He hadn’t brought her home on Easter Sunday itself. He led me to a specific verse that matched the date – 23/4.
“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4)
Reading this verse, it brought to mind my mum’s peace and faith, instead of fear, even to the point of death. It was His way of assuring and comforting me that she was safe with Him in Heaven.
Yet, deep inside me, I have to be honest that there was period where I resented God for taking my mum away so soon. Her passing left me in a rut as I struggled to understand and accept her death: Why didn’t divine healing happen, even though I’d prayed for it every single day?
It has been more than six years since her passing. Sometimes, all I can do is to trust and have faith that the Lord has His purpose for it all because I can’t deny His goodness and presence through it all. Many divine moments marked my mum’s faith journey, so many that I was even able to write a book on them.
But the grief resurfaced twice, first when my dad had a heart attack in 2015, and again during his surgical procedure in 2017. I was worried about him, but it was the grief I hadn’t dealt with when Mum passed that felt overwhelming.
The night before my dad’s surgery, I felt the Lord asking me: What if the worst happens to your dad, what would you do? Would you abandon your faith in Me altogether?
I told God I would certainly be upset if I lost my father. But I also said that I could never abandon Him because He has been so real to me. After all He’s done for me, I told Him I trusted Him the most.
In that moment, I found peace.
If there’s anything I’ve learnt, it is that some things are just not meant for us to fully comprehend. It’s a horrible cliché, but that really is when faith matters: To be able to trust in God’s sovereignty through it all, though you do not understand the whole of it. And maybe never will on this side of eternity.
Is it normal then to doubt and question? Yes, the Bible is filled with a lot of characters who did, even the most holy of prophets! Questioning and doubting doesn’t make you any less of a Christian – not unless you decide to walk away from your faith altogether. But does walking away really change anything?
“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
Though I have my occasional struggles with sorrow and faith, a part of me believes that the Lord is preparing me for something. These two quotes from the book The Colour of Grace really spoke to me:
“Nothing can hurt you if you can understand that whatever you are going through is your invitation to participate in the redemption of the world.” Father Thomas Keating
“If scars could sing, their songs would be of triumph.” Bethany Haley Williams
My mother’s journey remains a story to be told. Her passing has certainly enlarged my capacity to love and allowed me to journey with people who are going through similar trials of trauma and grief – something that I never thought that I’d be able to do in the past.
God sent His boats when I was stuck on the shore of my grief, disappointments and pain. I can imagine Mum smiling at me from Heaven; I know she would want me to continue living life to the fullest for Him.
These scars of mine will continue to sing with triumph, because my dear mother has found eternal life in the arms of Jesus.
“All that I am, or every hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.” Abraham Lincoln
The author’s name has been changed to protect her identity.
The greatest challenge I find in trying to do good is a lack of empathy.
The truth is I am a product of circumstances. I have my biases, blind spots and paradigms. These sometimes hinder me from being able to understand different perspectives, and climb in the skin of another and walk around in it.
It’s quite a prevalent problem. It can hinder Christians from better understanding certain justice and mercy issues, as well as people’s needs. It can prevent advocates from understanding the rationales for certain policy decisions or laws. Conversely, it can also prevent policymakers from understanding complex ground realities and relational dynamics.
We are like the Hebrew people in Babylon. We are exiles and not emperors. We are not some majoritarian force of power.
So in Singapore where there is a democratic system for law-making, every citizen must participate in law-making to help make just laws for all. Political leaders, civil servants and civic society — which includes the church — all have roles to play.
In this conversation we must remember that as Christians, we are like the Hebrew people in Babylon. We are exiles and not emperors. We are not some majoritarian force of power. We ought to live the best we can and do good. We should honour all, especially the authorities, and fear God (1 Peter 2:15-17).
Jesus remains the finest example to us all. He was like a humble servant who did not quarrel or cry aloud, who would not break a bruised reed or quench a smouldering wick (Isaiah 42:3), and yet brought justice to victory through the cross.
A LAW OF LOVE
I long to enact a law for people with disabilities (PWDs). Of course, the specifics would have to be worked out carefully in consultation with PWDs, their caregivers, and various stakeholders. It’s worth noting that Singapore has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) but does not have a specific disabilities legislation.
That is why justice was brought to victory on the cross. At the cross, everyone who repents of their sins and believes in Jesus can enter into the Kingdom of God regardless of their race, background or social-economic status (Galatians 3:28). This principle of inclusivity should first be expressed among the family of God. Then the people of God should express in relation to others in the world.
At the cross, everyone who repents of their sins and believes in Jesus can enter into the Kingdom of God regardless of their race, background or social-economic status.
PWDs have a pressing need for this inclusivity, and the Bible is very clear about this. For instance, Leviticus 19:14 is a Mosaic law prohibiting discrimination against PWDs. Furthermore, a large fraction of Jesus’ healing ministry served the PWDs. When the public silenced the blind beggar Bartimaeus, Jesus specifically called out to him and healed him, and Bartimaeus followed Jesus (Mark 10:46-51).
In Luke 14:12-14, Jesus exhorted people to host dinners not for their rich neighbours or even their friends, but for the poor and those with disabilities. King David made Mephibosheth, son of Jonathan, who was crippled in his feet, join him at his dinner table.
All through the scriptures I can see God telling us that PWDs are not to be devalued — but treated like His children!
BASED ON JUSTICE AND EQUALITY
In Singapore, PWDs make up one of the largest marginalised groups. We have certainly come a long way in supporting the establishment of many special education schools and social service organisations. But open employment continues to be a huge challenge for many PWDs.
There are still many instances of blatant prejudice against workers with physical, intellectual disabilities or those who are on the autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
There are also more subtle forms of prejudice. The greatest and most prevalent is the mindset not to consider PWDs for employment. This is something which cannot be entirely addressed by legislation or policy. The truth is, there are already numerous government grants and programmes which encourage employers to hire PWDs.
Instead we need paradigm shifts. We need far more than mere tokenism. While legislation cannot solve everything, it can help educate us as a society. A just law that we uphold can help us remember our commitment to the inclusivity of PWDs in our land.
Such an attitudinal shift cannot just be for PWDs. It calls for compassion for all. In a society where large corporations make millions of dollars of profit but still layoff employees, it challenges Christians to challenge the norms.
In the Mosaic gleaning laws, land owners were required to leave some of the harvest for those who are otherwise poor and unemployed to glean so they can provide for themselves. The principle here is that capital owners — whether wealthy individuals or businesses — must use some of their profits to provide employment for those who are otherwise economically marginalised.
Would Christian business owners heed such a law? Would Christians lead the way in living out Kingdom values in their respective spheres of influence, particularly in relation to PWDs?
God give us courage. At the end of our lives we will be judged on how we expressed justice, mercy and compassion to the least among us (Matthew 25:31-46). How would you fare?
As a Christian who is also a lawyer, Ronald JJ Wong believes in access to justice for all. Burdened for the common good of society, he advocates for the marginalised and volunteers pro bono for the less privileged. He will be speaking at LuminoCity 2017.
LuminoCity is a 3-day forum that will bring together thought-leaders and disciples in the marketplace for conversations to shape the culture of our day. It will be held from November 3 to 5, 2017, at The Pavilion. Thir.st readers can enjoy a special discount of $50 from now till October 23, and a discount of $40 from October 24 till October 30 with the promo code “THIRSTY”. Visit the LuminoCity website for ticketing information, and follow them on Facebook for updates.
When the Holy Spirit came mightily on the day of Pentecost, it was in a room where the people of God were assembled together.
“…they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, Lord, thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is: And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spoke the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:23-31)
Powerful things happen when the people of God assemble together in unity.
It has always been on my heart to write something with the songwriters in our youth ministry for God’s glory. I believe that my church is called by God to write and produce songs that glorify Him and equip the local church to worship together.
Some of us from the youth worship ministry in my church had gathered to write a fast-tempo song for our upcoming album. Having never worked together before, this was the first time we wrote a song together. As we were brainstorming, we thought of what Jesus did at the cross: He surrendered His life for us.
And just as He sacrificed His life for us, we want to give our lives back to Him as our response in joyful surrender.
We ended up writing this song more quickly than anticipated. We were pleasantly surprised at the result and fascinated by how organic the process was. It started off with just a few chords. Then as we sang melodies over it, along with a few placeholder phrases, the lyrics somehow developed and we had a full, fast tempo song which all of us fell in love with.
It eventually became one of the key songs for our church album. Today as we pray over it, we believe God can use it to bless many other young Singaporeans.
Generations Worship is the youth worship ministry of Cornerstone Community Church. Their album “Lean On” will be released on November 17. Pre-order starts October 21. A night of worship will also be open to all on November 17 at Cornerstone Community Church to celebrate the album launch. Follow their Facebook page for more updates.
Just ask my grandma. She’ll confirm that I used to be punished with the boys for being a nuisance during kindergarten. We’d face the wall as our punishment – and I would invariably be the only girl standing among a row of boys.
At home, my mom would often berate me for being chor lor (uncouth) as I liked to sit with one foot propped up on my chair. She wasn’t a fan of the habit I picked up from my Dad; it made me look like a Chinese coolie, she said.
More recently, in my university days, my female friends would laugh at my lack of empathy. Memorably, I once dozed off in front of a friend who was droning on and on about her problems.
“Aiyah, Siqi thinks and acts like a guy lah,” my friends joked. I laughed along. I really didn’t mind the label they slapped on me. I thought it was accurate.
Until I became the leader of an all-female cell group.
I became painfully aware of how different I was after I was thrown into this group of girls. Having to intentionally reach out to them on a regular basis, my stunted emotional intelligence in the realm of feminine conversation proved to be a barrier in relating to my cell girls.
I just wasn’t girly enough.
Soon, I began to question something I had never thought about, something I had never cared before: My identity as a female.
That night, I cried myself to sleep. I was afraid there was something wrong with me. I felt like a disappointment and a failure. I was even afraid of what God would think of me.
Comparing yourself to others is poisonous for the soul.
In an attempt to become more feminine, I began to imitate my other female friends. But I could never measure up; I wasn’t as gentle as this girl, as relational, as patient. I found myself constantly miserable and tired from chasing other people’s shadows.
Comparing yourself to others in this way is poisonous for the soul. I ended up feeling even more confused about my identity. I didn’t know who I was anymore.
That was when it hit me: I was worried about going against God’s design, but I was now doing it all the more.
God didn’t create me to impersonate others. I’m unique (Psalms 147:4) and crafted with a specific purpose (Ephesians 2:10). I was dead wrong thinking I could “create” my identity by trying to be like someone else.
That’s not to say we shouldn’t model ourselves after our Biblical heroes. There’s a difference between imitating people and imitating Christlike values. While I can’t express compassion the same way my friend does, I can learn from her to be more empathetic in my own way.
I’m called to imitate Christ, not to be a poor copy of somebody else. When I try to imitate others, I’m only losing out on how I was uniquely created by God and what I was designed to offer (1 Corinthians 12:18-20, 1 Peter 4:10).
CHRIST IS IDENTITY
It took me a long time to understand that my identity is only determined by my Maker.
People may say that I act like a tomboy, and some days I feel like the most unfeminine person on earth – but ultimately it’s what my Creator says that truly matters.
It took me a long time to understand that my identity is only determined by my Maker.
I’m a female because that’s what God made me (Psalm 100:3).
All I need to do is to simply abide in God, obey His Word, and I know He will lead me to become the person He created me to be (John 15:5, Romans 12:2, 2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Sure, I may not be feminine – I still sit like a coolie when I eat my meals at home – but I’m me. Fearfully and wonderfully made. Me.
I was so caught up with serving and doing things for God – good things like missions and my ministries – that I was actually wandering away from Him.
I heard myself asking: Why isn’t anyone else doing anything for Christ? Why do I feel like I’m the only one trying to make an impact for God’s kingdom?
I was filled with pride. And because of that, doubts, distraction and discouragement crept into my life, and I didn’t understand why. But the reason was simple: I had stopped looking to Jesus.
And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.”
But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:39-42)
Martha was so busy serving Jesus that she forgot to spend time with Jesus.
Although Martha had good intentions to serve Jesus, she missed out on the best thing, which is to sit at Jesus’ feet and spend time with Him before doing, you know,stuff.
The truth is that her problems might not disappear in the time spent with Jesus. But her worry would – that’s the lesson of John 16:33, where we’re told there will be trouble, but we’re exhorted not to worry about it, because … Jesus!
We will get discouraged in life. People will disappoint us. Circumstances will sometimes overwhelm us. But in such times we mustn’t respond like the world would, running away and giving in to despair.
What we need to do is rest in God, refocus and listen carefully to the assuring whispers of His grace. Once we are recharged and filled with Christ, we can go back in the world for His glory and purposes.
Being productive and getting things done – that’s all important. But praying and enjoying God’s presence must be more important that.
Work for God that is not nourished by a deep relationship with Him will eventually be contaminated by other things like ego, power and the fear of man. If we work for God with such motivations, we’ll lose sight of the main thing. Our sense of worth and validation will gradually shift from God’s unconditional love for us in Christ, to the success of our works and performance.
Are you, like I was, burnt out from the demands of ministry? Are you restless?
The lesson of Mary vs Martha is that you need to be with Christ, before doing things for Him. Only when we are topped up will we be able to pour out and invest into the lives of others effectively. We can only serve out of the overflow of our hearts.
The danger comes when we get caught up in doing so many things for Christ that we neglect spending time with Him. We risk doing “godly” things in the energy of the flesh, rather than in power of the Spirit.
Being productive and getting things done – that’s all important. We can’t be passive. But praying and enjoying God’s presence must be more important that. We need to constantly come back to Christ before we can serve and help others.
I joined the teaching profession in the year 1965. I was a passionate primary school teacher, who aspired to become a principal in time.
Four years later, in December 1969, the Ministry of Education (MOE) sent me for a 22-day Outward Bound Singapore (OBS) course in Pulau Ubin. I had to do cross-country runs, abseiling, rowing and all kinds of other strenuous physical exercises.
I really suffered. I asked myself: Why am I even here?
I soon got my answer. Just after my OBS course ended, I received an official letter from the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF). It read: “Dear Sir, we are pleased to call you up for National Service.”
They were “pleased”. But inside I wanted to die. I was 23 years old, en route to becoming a principal! Why did I have to do National Service?
I found out later that it was because the first soldiers who were recruited only spoke Hokkien. They were known as Hokkien peng, and they were unable to understand any English instruction from the course officers.
When Dr Goh Keng Swee, then Defence minister, learnt about this, he made a decision that changed my life: All male teachers 25 years and below were to be enlisted into the Army for 3 years to teach English to the Hokkien peng.
I can vividly remember my enlistment date: January 24, 1970. I was there together with all my teacher friends. A Member of the Parliament gave a speech exhorting us to die for our country. I remember thinking to myself: “Stupid man, you ask me to die for what? I want to live for my country, why should I die?”
My mom cried as the truck I was on started to drive off. I cried as well. It was like I was about to be executed!
When I finally reached Taman Jurong camp, I realised the corporals and sergeants were 18 or 19 years old. They were younger than most of the teachers. They began shouting at us. Get down from the truck, get down!
Can you imagine teachers being shouted at? Unthinkable! It was so humiliating! In school, students bow down and greet me, “Good morning, Mr Goh!”
I told myself: “Jeff, you’ve only been in the army for half a day and you’re crying like this. You got 3 years, you know? You’ll go mad!”
Then they lined us up at the football field. Good, I thought, we’re going to play football! Then they gave us razor blades. Good, I thought, free toiletries!
Then they asked us to squat – and cut the grass on the football field with the razors. One blade of grass at a time.
So here was “Mr Goh”, now in short pants and a smelly green T-shirt, cutting the grass.
I was crying in my heart. Why am I here?What have I done wrong? But I told myself: “Jeff, you’ve only been in the army for half a day and you’re crying like this. You got 3 years, you know? You’ll go mad!”
I couldn’t change my posting, so I began changing my mindset. I told myself I was very fortunate because I had gone for an OBS course before enlisting; at least I was physically ready. Sure enough, I was ahead of all other recruits in every run.
I became so positive about National Service that after 3 months, I was named the Best Recruit in my company. That changed my life once again, because Dr Goh decided that all the best recruits in the company should not simply become language instructors.
Instead, we would become combat soldiers. I almost died again.
All my friends laughed at me. While they were teaching English in air-conditioned rooms, I was running up and down a hill. “Jeffrey Goh gei kiang, act clever lah, now have to suffer!”
But later on, I was sent for Officer Cadet Training and I eventually became a Second Lieutenant. I was an officer, while all my friends were corporals. When they saw me, instead of shouting out “Eh, Jeff!”, they had to salute and say, “Morning, Sir!”
“Good morning,” I would reply. “Now who gei kiang?”
I served the nation as an officer until my 3 years were up. One week before I was to go back to school to be a teacher, I was interviewed by Colonel Winston Chew, who later became a Lieutenant-General and Singapore’s first Chief of Defence Force.
“Jeff, sit down. What are you going to do after this?”
I told him I wanted to teach. He asked me to sign on for a career with the Singapore Armed Force (SAF) instead.
I refused. I was a man of peace. I told him I would rather teach than fight.
“Jeff, here’s my proposal,” he replied. “Why don’t you serve 5 more years in combat? I promise to put you somewhere in SAF MINDEF where you can teach.”
And that was it. I transferred from MOE to MINDEF and served there 22 years until I attained the rank of Major. I never went back to teaching at MOE.
By putting on the uniform, I made sure we were all men of peace.
I began to realise how important and meaningful my job was. I defended the future that our leaders and the pioneers had fought for, for their children and the generations to come. By putting on the uniform, I made sure we were all men of peace. God gave me a sense of purpose and built resilience in me.
Now, I can say I’m proud to once have been a part of the SAF.
And because attaining the rank of a Major allows you to retire early, I retired at the age of 45. If I was a school principal, I would have retired at 62 instead. Thank God for that!