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Who will avenge my greatest injustice?

by Charis Tan | 2 May 2018, 3:39 PM

I almost hate looking at reenactments of what Jesus went through on Calvary. It’s extremely disconcerting to consider that this was real life, that the “2000 years ago” we casually refer to was someone else’s present moment.

I’ve asked God why Jesus had to suffer so much. But inadvertently bundled up with that question is the question of why do we have to suffer so much?

As I squeamishly try to make eye contact with the grisly facts of history’s biggest injustice, I also wrestle with the millions of other injustices that occur to people – ranging from my own minute tribulations, to much larger things generations have been forced to endure.

In asking why Jesus had to experience pain, I was really asking God why we had to, too.

God’s answer was to me, strange and slightly mind-boggling, like He was taking me and turning me upside down.

I felt like He showed me a scale, tipped first to one side, and then as Jesus died, to the other. And through this I saw in a moment how Jesus bore history’s biggest injustice to bring about history’s actual biggest injustice: The mercy that a twisted, ravaged humanity now gets to experience.

Maybe we bear the biggest injustices now to also tip the scales in the opposite direction. For a chance to – as Jesus’ unfair death did – reveal the grace and compassion of God. 

Ever since Jesus bore the penalty for humanity’s evildoings, He created in all unwarranted suffering opportunities to extend grace. And it is this grace that will change the world. 

I still don’t know why Jesus had to experience so much pain in His death, but as I see that scale slowly tip in my mind’s eye, I see that the more injustice we go through, the more grace is extended – and can be extended.

Every time we cancel a debt owed to us, not only do we become a little more like Jesus, we give another person one more chance to see Jesus and become more like Him too.

Every time we are unjustly accused or attacked, we now have an opportunity to respond, a choice to make. We can avenge ourselves, or we can understand that true justice is Jesus getting what He died for: One more beating heart, one more cleaned up life, one more intimate relationship with Him – starting with our own.

Ever since Jesus bore the penalty for humanity’s evildoings, He created in all unwarranted suffering opportunities to extend grace.

In this age, everyone’s clamouring for their own form of justice. Everyone’s policing everyone else. It seems that there’s less and less room for grace and mercy. But that’s what Jesus came for, isn’t it? And that’s what we get to demonstrate every day in how we choose to respond to things that happen to us.

Love can lead us directly into pain and misunderstanding. Devotion to God led Daniel into the lion’s den. Integrity and non-compromise in the face of envy and false accusation led Joseph into slavery and prison. Passion and zeal led Paul into torture and martyrdom. Perfect obedience and selflessness led Jesus to earth, the cross, and literal hell.

I believe it’s true that the worst things happen to the ones who don’t count the cost of love and obedience to God. Jesus died for our lives to reflect Him, not to be pain-free.

Which leads me back to the brooding questions within me.

On my own microscopic level, I’ve been through my own set of misunderstandings, and I was always asking God why they had to happen and hurt so much.

I think that this is pertinent today, because I’m seeing that misunderstandings within the Church and within our communities can potentially create the biggest rifts, even – and perhaps especially – amidst all our striving towards unity.

And as I brought the pain before God, I felt like He was stretching out the borders of my vision and leading me to see everything against the backdrop of love and genuine care. 

Sometimes, misunderstanding stings so much only because someone loved you enough to try to understand – but failed.

And moving forward, as we seek to be one in the face of tribulation and offence, and as any number of things threaten again and again to pull us apart, we need to learn to frame all disagreements and friction against the backdrop of love.

To have enough largeness of heart, that even when it seems there is hardly any common ground to stand on, we can be thankful we were even close enough for iron to sharpen iron.

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The most important thing in the Church: Unity

by | 24 May 2018, 4:35 PM

“What is the one yardstick we can use to gauge if a mission trip is successful?”

This question was posed to us by the pastor who led a recent mission trip I was on. We offered various answers in response, mostly centred on salvations.

Instead, his answer was unity. His reasoning: “The ministry of love must first exist among us before it flows out into the nations.”

I believe it. If there’s no unity, there’s no blessing. Work not done in the bond of love and peace is mere work, not worship.

And here’s the thing: The devil is using thorns like miscommunication, misunderstanding or misconceptions to steal, kill and destroy our unity. But God can also use these thorns to shape us at the same time.

He wants to posture us. To make us unoffendable. To make us more and more like who we’re destined to be.

I believe unity must be the highest value in any church, and it should be the highest value in the Church.

As believers, we are connected to one another; we are part of the larger family of God.

“From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Ephesians 4:16)

We are the body of Christ (Romans 12:4). We can have unity without uniformity. I’ve spoken to many fellow millennial Christians who are tired of the divisions. One tells me, “We are so deep in our holy huddle, we fail to see we’re not just one church.”

What would Singapore look like if we stopped focusing on being merely right, and instead became entirely devoted to being right with God?

It’s easy to refuse to accept that many other churches can co-exist within the larger Church. And it’s easy to feel the divide because there are so many barriers to unity, like pride. It makes resolving theological differences such a challenge, especially when they are addressed in antagonistic ways.

Yes, we have many differences – but we have much common ground as well! What would Singapore look like if we stopped focusing on being merely right, and instead became entirely devoted to being right with God?

“We are often divided, because we’re not desperate enough. We’re not desperate enough because we fail to see God’s agenda for deep change and wide horizons.”

This was Pastor Edmund Chan’s encouragement to local church leaders at the LoveSingapore Prayer Summit this year. One thing he said really stuck with me:

“The Church is unstoppable when it’s under God’s hand. We have to receive the commission from God and arise as the Church of God.”

He was talking about the need for the larger Church to arise in its outreach initiatives in the years to come, and how disunity was one recurrent “challenge” faced by the Singaporean church. In my view, “challenge” is putting it mildly; we have the grave problem of disunity.

And again it makes me wonder what would the Church – or Singapore – look like if we dropped our personal agendas and picked up God’s agenda? What if we swapped boasting about our knowledge and traditions – for boasting in God alone? What if we traded pride for humility?

“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:3-6)

Unity is not mere tolerance. Adopting a mindset of “you do your own thing, I do mine” is the surest path to a chasm. Instead we are to make every effort to do the will of God within the bond of love.

I know the God we serve is a God of peace. If we as believers are not first reconciled among each other, how can we expect to reconcile the nation to God? How great is our need to strive for unity between mainline and border Christianity, across denominations and ethnicity!

God help us strive tenaciously for peace!

Do you want to see Singapore saved? 

If so, I’d like you to mull over this one fact about the 1978 Billy Graham Crusade: Did you know that approximately 230 out of the 260 churches in Singapore at the time took part in the Crusade?

That’s an overwhelming majority – 9 in every 10 Christians – serving a single cause. They were of the same mind (Philippians 2:2), whether they sang in the choir, directed traffic as car-park marshals, or prayed over their brothers and sisters who responded to the call for salvation.

That’s the picture of unity we need to see and surpass in our generation.

May unity be our first recourse — never the last resort.

Do you want revival? Then you need to know happens when a people come together in unity for God’s agenda. It’s found in Psalm 133:3: “There the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.”

Life forevermore. If we are right with God as a Church, we can expect to see the greatest blessing – salvation – run rampant through our nation.

Let’s close ranks in the coming battle. May unity be our first recourse — never the last resort.

/ gabriel@thir.st

Gabriel isn't a hipster, but he loves his beard and coffee. In his spare time, he'd rather be on a mountain.

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Make time for important things

by | 24 May 2018, 11:47 AM

I’ll be the first to admit that my schedule is often a wreck.

With a calendar stacked with appointment after appointment, I’m constantly out of time and in a rush. And in an average school semester I find myself falling sick at least 3 times simply because I wasn’t getting enough rest.

It makes me wonder what Jesus’ secret was. How was He able to minister so effectively even while so many clamoured for his attention? And on top of it all, He was discipling 12 men!

3 THINGS TO MAKE TIME FOR

1. Make time to rest

So many of us have a tendency to carry our office desk all the way back home. It’s hard to find the time to rest. Yet we need to remember that God created everything within a 6–day work week. He set aside a day to rest (Genesis 2:2-3) – the Sabbath!

Since God made us in His image and rested on one day of the week, we should follow Him – we weren’t made to work 24/7.

It might not be popular belief, but taking time to rest isn’t counter–productive at all. Intentional rest helps ensure that we are meeting the conditions necessary for us to perform up to design, just as the creator would have wanted.

If we want to step into our destinies as the men and women He created us to be – time with God is the most important kind of time.

2. Make time for family

Working in Singapore, it’s easy to neglect family time. This is the thing I’m most guilty of. I struggle with not being a yes-man, and overbooking my schedule so that I can have time for my family.

“Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12)

How can we honour our parents or families if we won’t make time for them? How do we even get to know them as people if we won’t put down the phone at home and have real and honest conversations?

I realise that relationships only work if you make the time to grow them. The grass isn’t greener on the other side – it’s green where you water it. So take the time to talk to your parents, take the time to play with your younger siblings. These relationships don’t grow without investment.

3. Make time for God

How much time do we give to God? The very best parts of our day or just a couple of minutes here and there? Our relationship with God works in one similar way to human ones – it also needs time to develop.

If you don’t regularly spend time alone with God, or aren’t sure how – you could start by reading a chapter from Psalms every day. Then journal what God speaks to you in that time with Him. We can be confident that if we draw near to God, He will draw near to us (James 4:8).

And if you’re on the move, spend that time in worship. It can be as simple as listening to a hymn in the train and meditating on its lyrics. If we want to step into our destinies as the men and women He created us to be – time with God is the most important kind of time.

Don’t let your work rule your life.

We need to define what is truly important in our lives. We need to know what is worth our time beyond work and meeting our deadlines. So when it’s crunch-time, don’t forget what’s important as well – what cannot be replaced.

If you’re set apart, then your clock should be set differently from the world as well.

/ junheng@thir.st

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

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Waking up on the wrong side of the heart

by Jeremy Chin | 21 May 2018, 5:46 PM

I woke up on the wrong side of the bed today. Woke up to find out that my favourite cereal had just been finished by someone else. Found out that the girl I like hadn’t replied the message I sent before I went to bed. Learnt that my investment portfolio had suffered an immense crash overnight. Read on the news that my favourite soccer team had just been kicked out of the league.

We all know that feeling. That feeling of waking up on the wrong side of bed; and the terrible feeling that comes along with it.

I’m an avid soccer fan. A supporter since the tender age of 8. And as I woke up one morning to discover that my favourite team had been knocked out of the Champions League – Europe’s Premier Tournament – I knew I had woken up on the wrong side of bed.

My heart kept sinking deeper with every stride as I headed to work, until a thought flashed across my mind.

Yes, I was disappointed, but could there be a reason why my heart was so despondent upon hearing this news? Why was I even having such an adverse reaction?

At this point, the word “idolatry” floated into my mind. I pondered over it, and as much as it was hard to admit it, I began to realise that idolatry had infiltrated my heart from something seemingly benign – like supporting a football club.

The scary thing is that anyone – not just a soccer fan such as myself – is susceptible to this infiltration. And it often comes from places where you least expect it.

DO NOT MAKE WHAT YOU WANT AN IDOL

Behind almost any sin lies the sin of idolatry, as Tim Keller astutely points out in the Gospel in Life series. It actually does makes a lot of sense. If idolatry is putting something else before God, and sin essentially stems from desiring something else more than our desire to obey God … Isn’t all sin essentially idolatry?

Because it’s easier to put God second as sinful humans; many times we seek to gratify the flesh and its natural cravings – from the physical to the emotional – even if goes against what is written in His Word.

Coincidentally, Our Daily Journey ran a thought-provoking devotional the very same day I mourned the defeat of my favourite soccer club. Entitled “Whose Story?“, it began with a melancholic monologue where the author bemoaned how he’d failed again. Looking inwardly, he lamented about how he’d “given all [he] had, and it wasn’t enough”.

Many times we seek to gratify the flesh and its natural cravings – from the physical to the emotional – even if goes against what is written in His Word.

But as he reflected upon Hebrews 12, which talks about running the race God has set upon him and the calling to fix “our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith”, he came to a newfound realisation:“Everything changes when I remember my life has been woven into the one true story of Jesus. My value doesn’t depend on the success of my efforts but on the larger story to which I belong”.

We’ve often been inculcated by a first-world society from young that it’s “all about me”. Life is all about finding personal happiness, an intrinsic meaning for self. And it’s precisely this worldview that often takes a toll on the individual when the we realise we can never find this meaning and happiness in ourselves. Disappointments abound, fears creep in.

Yet, through the Biblical narrative, it is consistent that we are not the main character in this plot. This life is simply not about ourselves. And as the writer of Our Daily Journey confesses humbly: “I self-destruct when I make my family, friends, or career about me.”

GETTING BACK ON THE RIGHT SIDE

Perhaps it’s a concept that’s difficult to grasp immediately. I still vividly remember a story of a wolf who found a frozen mount of blood in the snow. “How nice,” he thought, as he licked the blood curiously. As his appetite grew, he began to lick the blood voraciously, seeking to satisfy his hunger pangs.

However, little did the wolf realise that frozen within the blood was a sharp sword. Soon, the mount of blood stopped shrinking, and instead started growing bigger as fresh red blood dripped from his tongue onto the winter ground. Soon, the wolf lay motionless on the snow.

In this season of life, I confess a deep struggle with social insecurity, a feeling many of us are all too familiar with. It’s the feeling when your friend brushes past you to talk to someone else. Being overlooked in conversations. Getting turned away with a curt answer. It’s these small actions that can mean a big deal and make us feel unwanted.

My identity is not based on how many “good” conversations I can hold or how people view and value me, but on the very Cross where Jesus died so that I could live.

And when this feeling rises up within me, I find myself just like that wolf, my appetite stirred for others’ friendship and approval, as if my identity and worth were determined by them. And time and time again, I’ve only experienced more heartache, pierced deeper by rejection.

But as I meditate upon God’s Word, I am reminded not to place my security in friendships and the approval of others. Remembering that my identity is not based on how many “good” conversations I can hold or how people view and value me, but on the very Cross where Jesus died so that I could live.

Unlike the wolf, Jesus knowingly let himself be pierced for our transgressions. With the Cross, Jesus gently reminds us that our identity is in Him.

Surely, this profound truth is starting to make sense, that the perfect antidote to idolatry is found in Jesus, where our thirst to be fully known and loved is quenched like it was with the Samaritan woman at the well. And I’m on this journey learning that this life is not about me; it’s about the one who loved us so much that He laid down His own life.

Indeed, as the writer of “Whose story?” reminds us: “My value doesn’t depend on the success of my efforts but on the larger story to which I belong.”

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In this perilous age we live in, we too are the Avengers

by Ada Chua | 15 May 2018, 5:56 PM

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD.

IF YOU HAVEN’T WATCHED THE MOVIE, GO WATCH IT FIRST. DON’T SAY WE DIDN’T WARN YOU!

It’s the greatest war in the history of mankind. Half of humanity is at risk of being wiped out at the snap of one evil being’s fingers. No other war has been so threatening, so universal, so eternal.

It is the very nature of this war that compels the reunification of broken teams, the backing of a whole country’s army, the sacrifice of heroes. It is a war that rallies the most powerful people from a whole spectrum of contexts, cultures and callings.

What a wonderful display of strength, unity and character. Among them:

A young boy chooses to take up the great responsibility of the new power that has been given to him, at the risk of his own life.

A man puts building a family on hold and leaves the stability of his present life, knowing there is a fight to fight.

A gifted prophet looks into the future, sees how the world can be saved, then acts upon what he has seen.

A leader rallies his entire army to fight with strength and courage.

A fallen hero gives all he has in battle, despite having lost his power.

A hero asks to be killed as he knows that his death is the only way of stopping the enemy from being victorious.

You might recognise them as several of the Avengers in Infinity War: Peter Parker, Tony Stark, Stephen Strange, Black Panther, the Hulk, and Vision.

But also, respectively, King David, the Apostles, Jeremiah, Joshua, Samson, and Jesus. The Bible is full of parallel characters.

Our own world is dying. The devil is at work every day, playing with our minds, disturbing our souls, robbing us of our time, abusing his power.

This information is not new to us, yet I have – on so many occasions – chosen to keep my identity under wraps and continue with business as usual.

But a suicide bombing by a family reminds me that there are still wars being fought. But the impending end of a 50-year hostility in the far north, and the upheaval of a long-ruling government just next door to us shows that there are wars to be won.

“Be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on all of God’s armour so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” (Ephesians 6:10-20)

And as I watched Avengers: Infinity War and all its characters engaging in the battle at hand, I couldn’t help but ask myself: Which one would I be like?

I walked away from the movie inspired at the power of unity. This was not a montage of superheroes. It was the coming together of different people from different planets with different powers choosing to give everything they had in the hopes of defeating a common enemy.

Church, there is a war. Not against flesh and blood, not other human beings – but against the unseen forces of darkness that prowl this world.

If we live in our retirement, our happy places, our sources of comfort, if we refuse to work with those of different cultures, different backgrounds, different giftings, if we do not reconcile with those we’ve fallen out with – then the mind, soul, power, time, reality and space of the human race will continue to be surrendered into the hands of the mighty enemy, and we will lose the eternal war.

In the blink of an eye, more than half of humanity could be lost forever.

We are the light of this world. We have been given the command to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19). The gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it (Matthew 7:13-14). We are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that we may declare the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into His wonderful light (1 Peter 2:9).

To quote from the Infinity War trailer: “There was an idea to bring together a group of remarkable people, to see if we could become something more, so when they needed us, we could fight the battles that they never could.”

So the question is, will you be a part of God’s remarkable people, with our Great Avenger as the head of our army?

“It is mine to avenge; I will repay. In due time their foot will slip; their day of disaster is near and their doom rushes upon them.” (Deuteronomy 32:35)

We may not be called to fight physical wars, but spiritual wars are real.

The will to wake up in the early hours to intercede, the decision to uproot a family to do missions, the willingness to work with brethren from a different denomination, the perseverance to keep praying although restoration is not yet in sight.

These individual decisions may seem insignificant, but as we’ve seen from Avengers, it takes everyone to give whatever they have and all they’ve got to form an army that will – one day – win the war.

“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11-13)

I walked away from the movie encouraged with a renewed image of what Ephesians 4:7-14 looks like. I walked away with a new belief that I could do something, and an urgency that I should do something. And if we all did something – I think that we would save the world.

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This world has nothing for you

by | 15 May 2018, 12:47 PM

Ever had someone ask you what’s your five-year plan?

Or how about if you’re financially stable? Are you ready to start a family? Really, what are you striving for? What is the purpose of all the hard work you’re putting in? For the comfort of tomorrow?

Where does it all go? My friend, what if I told you this world has nothing for you?

“You do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour that appears for a little time and then vanishes away” (James 4:14).

These short years of your life are but a vapour compared to eternity. But what you decide on in this passing moment will affect your eternity, as well as the eternity of many others. The choices you make today have an everlasting influence.

If you could truly feel the weight of your decisions, how much better would you make them? Is life really just about studying, getting a good job, starting a nice family and ensuring a pleasant retirement?

I’m pleading with you, with all my heart: Don’t live a life of tragedy.

There is nothing wrong with dreams. There is nothing wrong with wanting to build a nice household and have nice things. There is nothing wrong with being an excellent worker unto God and enjoying the fruits of your labour.

Grow where you’re planted. If you’re a shoemaker, make good shoes. If you’re a businessman, do honest business. If you’re an artist, create beauty. If you’re a homemaker, build an excellent family.

But if you’re only fixated on excelling in these aspects of life for the sake of comfort in this temporary home, you will lose sight of what will happen beyond life here.

That is a tragedy. Anything that is done in vainglory — and not for God — is done in vain.

Everything in this life is meaningless unless done for things of eternal value.

Sometimes, we like to separate the Gospel from secular aspects of life such as business, family and music-making. We don’t realise that the true gospel encompasses all facets of life!

It’s not a one-way thing where Jesus dies — full-stop. Faith in Christ means your whole life is wholly dedicated to Him. Jesus died for you so you can have a new life in Him. Don’t give up your life for the temporal things of the world.

Spend it on eternal things — give it to Jesus!

Comfort in this world is a parasite that demands more and more — but true contentment lies in God (1 Tim 6:6).

This world really has nothing for you. Everything in this life is meaningless unless done for things of eternal value. Hold on to the things of this world loosely (this doesn’t mean irresponsibly) in the knowledge that they are temporal — they will fade unlike our eternal God.

“I have seen all the things done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” (Ecclesiastes 1:14)

I understand that you want what’s best for your family, especially if you have children. We have been raised in a culture which teaches that money is what makes the world go round. It may be difficult to accept the truth that there is a greater life beyond amassing worldly possessions.

But if you are able to trust God with your life and your family’s lives, He will provide wherever He calls you to. Where He leads — He feeds.

In Africa, we have this popular song called Bambelela, which literally translates to “hold on”.

Wherever you are right now in your life, hold on and hold on to Jesus. Cling tight and never let go. If He is moving, move with Him. Go wherever He is calling you to.

Many of us are called into missions — we are all called to the Great Commission — but only a few respond because we are so often tied down by the fears of this world.

Yet the greatest fulfilment you can have on earth is living the life that God has destined you for — I’ve chosen to follow God all over the world and I’ve never once regretted it.

A life for God isn’t a boring one — it’s an adventure. So don’t shortchange yourself.

/ roytay@thir.st

Roy has a peculiar appreciation for subtle wordplay, an inexplorable passion for competitive sports, and an insatiable hunger for delicious food.

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Article list

Who will avenge my greatest injustice?

The most important thing in the Church: Unity

Make time for important things

Waking up on the wrong side of the heart

In this perilous age we live in, we too are the Avengers

This world has nothing for you