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Faith

Can you bloom in adversity?

by | 2 May 2017, 2:06 PM

I used to watch Mulan every night after dinner. It was 1999, a year after Disney released the animated version of the story I’d grown up with in Chinese classes. Arguably the most well-known female warrior in Chinese folklore, Hua Mulan is a young woman who takes her ageing father’s place in war by masquerading as a man.

Not even of royal descent, she easily embodied the kind of princess I wanted to be at the tender age of 10. Her Disney father, looking at a magnolia bud that had failed to blossom along with the rest, said of his daughter: The flower that blooms in adversity is the rarest and most beautiful of all.

Almost 20 years later, I still feel like that late bloomer Mulan was. Late to the adulting party. Late to the programme I’m sure most 28-year-olds would have gotten with by now.

I find myself thinking about that quote when the curveballs of life get a bit too hard to bear.

Can I bloom in the midst of THIS adversity, I wondered as I stared out the bus window one morning after a particularly hard-hitting week. And would God even be concerned about that?

The response came almost immediately. Do you know what comes from flowers? All those Science lessons were not in vain. Buds, shoots, trees – fruits. And fruits are a big deal in the Bible as signs of spiritual growth (Galatians 5:22-23). Of faith.

Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit. (Jeremiah 17:8)

I had my answer. Of course God is concerned if I am that flower that blooms in adversity – that bears fruit in drought – trusting and depending on Him in even the fiercest trials. In fact, He sees me as the whole tree – and He is the Great Gardener. In John 15:1-5 we can observe 3 other lessons from the same metaphor:

3 BIBLICAL LESSONS ON BLOOMING IN ADVERSITY:

1. Every branch that does not bear fruit He takes away

We all have areas in our life we don’t need or no longer need. It could be an addiction. An unspoken fear. A character flaw or false belief people have been pointing out. Maybe even a relationship. These things, these branches, don’t bear good fruit (or any fruit at all) and the Holy Spirit will constantly be challenging us to let them go.

To let Him remove them so we stop supplying them with our attention and emotions and focus on feeding what is good and fruitful (Philippians 4:8).

2. Branches are pruned so that they bear more fruit

Pruning isn’t the same as cutting away. It is a thoughtful act of tender loving care with proper techniques involved in order to encourage further growth and future flowering. You could call it fine-tuning a tree, the same way God fine-tunes our whole beings so that we continuously grow in Christlikeness.

He never stops finding areas of our lives that can be nurtured for the even better, even if it may hurt for a little while to be pruned and positioned (Romans 5:3).

3. Apart from abiding in Him we cannot bear fruit

Abiding in the true vine, that is Jesus Christ, means staying close to the Source. It is a constant acknowledgment of God in all our ways and dealings in this life (Proverbs 3:6). Through prayer, we keep Him a part of every decision, thought, feeling and struggle. If we were trees, we would be planted right beside Him, for He is our living water (Psalm 1:3).

How close is His Word to your heart of hearts? Because only in His Presence and standing on His promises can we blossom whatever the season (2 Peter 1:4).

A TALE OF TWO TREES

A few months ago, I was pleased to find the tiniest banana tree in my garden sprouting a large purplish flower, which meant it was going to fruit in a while. The tree was probably the youngest of the lot, at only half the height of the others.

As they always do, the flowers open over time to reveal unformed, miniature bananas that will grow into full-sized fruit. But after a couple of weeks of looking out at the expectant tree from my kitchen window, I had my suspicions about whether the fruits were growing at all. They normally didn’t take that long.

I was right. One day I decided to inspect the flower up close, only to discover that it had shrivelled and died. A miscarriage for the poor little tree! My heart sank; symbolically the fruits had been a message of hope and new life to me. No harvest for us, I sadly informed the rest of the household.

But within the next few days, I was staring out into the backyard again when the familiar sight of a banana flower caught my eye, this time from the largest tree of the lot. This tree had constantly given us fruit for many years. True enough, as I write, it’s due for delivery soon.

Like trees, we must trust the gardener to know what’s best and do what’s right if we want to bear much good fruit for many seasons to come. It may be the removal of dead, useless parts of our lives that we’re wasting precious nutrients on, the longer we keep them around. Or the refining of our character to help us grow in capacity and competency, able to carry fruit to full term.

But if we want to bloom, in both the good times and bad, we cannot forget this one thing: Apart from Him we can do nothing, for only God makes all things grow (1 Corinthians 3:6).

/ joanne@thir.st

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

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How does discipleship work?

by Calvin Hong & Shawn Wong, Awaken Generation | 20 August 2018, 4:55 PM

Disciple.

There are multiple times in the Bible where this word is mentioned. But what is the essential meaning of the word “disciple”? Quite simply, a disciple is a disciplined follower of Christ.

In Jewish culture, where rabbis (teachers of the law) are well-respected, children begin memorising the Torah (first five books of the Bible) from around the age of 8-10. Yet being a disciple is not just about reading the Bible, but being disciplined to live the life it describes.

So what does it mean to be a disciple in our current day? Are we true followers of not just His teachings, but in how we choose to live our lives? Let’s explore this.

“Now large crowds were going along with Him; and He turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it”” (Luke 14:25-28)

… being a disciple is not just about reading the Bible, but being disciplined to live the life it describes.

A SINGLE-MINDED DECISION

At events, in the midst of “large crowds”, people tend to get excited: the atmosphere, the lights, the music! But I love how the words of Jesus always cut right through all the hype and go straight to the heart. It may be easy to say yes when everyone around you is doing so.

But when all the hype is stripped away, without the influence of crowds, how will you choose to live? Being a disciple means to single-mindedly dedicate yourself to follow Christ, without being tossed back and forth.

Luke 9:62 says: “But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”” It’s a firm decision, one that is your own to make without regret (looking back). Know that it’s no longer about you or your preferences, but about complete obedience to God.

CARRYING YOUR CROSS

It’s interesting that Jesus mentioned the cross in this passage even before His crucifixion.

He was talking about the pain, suffering, humiliation and sacrifices that may come upon giving God your “yes”. The Kingdom of God is not for the faint-hearted. To truly know Him, we have to be willing to go through hardship. Jesus made it clear for us so that there need not be any second-guessing.

If we want to follow Him, there is a cost.

Trials in this life remind us that our strength is not our own. Humanly, it’s impossible to live this life without the power of the Holy Spirit. Life’s crucibles keep us reliant on God as the source of all our strength and ability – refining and humbling us.

If we want to follow Him, there is a cost.

ACCOUNTABILITY TO SPIRITUAL AUTHORITY

Godly governance occurs in the context of family.

That’s why God implemented spiritual authority: Fathers, mothers, leaders, elders. As we grow as disciples, it’s important that we maintain accountability to those in spiritual authority over us. Their authority is not given so they can rule over us, but to help us grow in maturity and teach us to obey the commandments in the Bible.

So let’s ask ourselves: Am I willing to lay down my rights and agendas for His? Am I willing to turn away from my old lifestyle? Will our decision to follow be half-hearted or single-minded?

Our responses to these questions will determine the trajectory of our discipleship journey.


This article was first published on Awaken Generation’s website, and is republished with permission.

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What’s your anthem?

by | 20 August 2018, 1:07 PM

I am a massive fan of the German football club, Bayern Munich.

I keep up with all of FC Bayern’s matches and buy the latest jerseys. I even celebrated in public when the club won its sixth straight league title in April. I also bought the tickets to see them play at the National Stadium at the International Champions Cup last year.

Though Bayern lost 2-0 in that match, I was still awestruck by how the fans united together as we sang the anthem together. Race or background didn’t matter. Though we were losing, we continued to cheer and roar the club’s anthem loudly and proudly.

So I was struck by an anthem’s power for unity. Think of “La Marseillaise”, the anthem that spurred the French middle and lower classes on to battle in the heat of the French Revolution. Anthems unite, rallying people to a common purpose and hope under a common banner.

So, what’s your anthem? What’s your cause, passion and hope?

My life is driven by the knowledge that God is the Creator.

In Genesis 1:1, it says that God created the heavens and the earth. Just think about that. From the grandest of galaxies to the smallest of ants – everything is designed by Him. Every evening, I look at the bright orange, yellow and sometimes purple sunset, and I can’t help but be in awe of what an artist my God is.

Humans create too. But we can’t make a paper plane without paper, and we can’t make houses without bricks. Yet God made something out of nothing. We know from Genesis 1:2 that the Earth was without form, yet God simply spoke and all of creation came into existence.

That never fails to blow my mind.

From the grandest of galaxies to the smallest of ants – everything is designed by Him.

And somehow this awesome God is not a distant god: He is a loving and intimate Father.

My God is intimately personal with each and every individual on this planet. 1 John 4:10 says that before we even loved God, He first loved us. He has led me into deeper love with Him in more ways than I can count. From heartbreak to breakthrough, He’s led me on an adventure that’s been nothing short of amazing.

And day after day, I am reminded that He loves me. In spite of all my sin and darkness, He loves me to the point that He would die on the cross for me. How could it be that God Himself would take on the punishment of torture, ridicule, pain and death – punishments that I rightfully deserved?

And by nothing I could have done, He calls me His son. This love from the all-powerful God leaves me in awestruck wonder.

This is my God: The Creator of the Universe, from the immense expanse of the Milky Way to the very atoms that form the universe – the intimate Father who would in spite of all my sin and shame, take on the punishment I deserved so He could call me His child.

Those are the words in my anthem, and I would gladly give my life for the Gospel to be proclaimed till the whole world sees!


Want to know more about God and His love? Come on down for “ANTHEM: Till the whole world sees”, a worship concert by the youth ministry of Trinity Christian Centre on 2 September 2018, 7:30pm at Trinity@Paya Lebar.

DM @trinity.ignyte on Instagram for more information.

/ 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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Twenty years on

by Rev Dr Tan Soo-Inn, Graceworks | 20 August 2018, 10:42 AM

During the 2018 World Cup, my darling wife Bernice reminded me that it has been 20 years since my struggle with clinical depression.

The 1998 World Cup was in full swing then, played to the tunes of Ricky Martin’s Cup of Life. I normally enjoy watching a good game of football, but I didn’t enjoy any of the 1998 World Cup matches. Most of the day I was lying on the sofa, with no strength or will to do anything. The TV screen would be showing football matches, but I was unable to enjoy watching any of them.

One of the symptoms of depression is anhedonia. According to Healthline, “People who experience anhedonia have lost interest in activities they used to enjoy and have a decreased ability to feel pleasure. It’s a core symptom of major depressive disorder, but it can also be a symptom of other mental health disorders”.

I was a single parent then and though we had house help, I was the one doing the marketing and whatever parenting I could, which was nowhere near enough.

I was in constant emotional pain. My psychiatrist told me I would get over the worst of my depression in six months, but when you are depressed six months is a lifetime because you live your life day by day, moment by moment … and you don’t really know when the pain will end.

Looking back, I don’t know how I survived that black period of my life. I am grateful for my psychiatrist who saw me once a week in that acute phase of my depression. In my despair, I would phone him a few times in between visits and he would always take my calls, even though he was probably attending to other patients.

He prescribed an antidepressant which helped to stabilise my brain chemistry, but what was most helpful was the “talk therapy” – the healing conversations I had with this caring person.

I also had a counsellor who was based in Singapore, the late Anthony Yeo.

Once in a while, we would chat on the phone. When I was stronger, I would come down to Singapore to see him and he always made time for me. And I thank God that I had learnt to use a computer by then, so that much of my “talk therapy” with Anthony could occur over email.

Then there were the many who prayed, the many who helped out with practical stuff like ferrying the boys to various appointments, and the small group of friends who didn’t ask you to “snap out of it” or to “trust God more and you will be healed” … but just journeyed with you.

My psychiatrist was right. I did get over the worst of my depression in about six months, but it took me about two years to get back to anything near my usual strength levels, and then a longer journey to joy and confidence.

Depression is now out of sight, just beyond my peripheral vision, but whenever it threatens to reappear – I get help.

But it has been 20 years. God heals, but he takes His time and He does it His way.

I am in a good place now though some wounds and scars remain and some of them will only be fully healed in the life to come. As Frodo discovered in JRR Tolkien’s The Return of the King, some wounds cannot be healed this side of life.

“Are you in pain, Frodo?” said Gandalf quietly as he rode by Frodo’s side.

“Well, yes I am,” said Frodo. “It is my shoulder. The wound aches, and the memory of darkness is heavy on me. It was a year ago today.”

“Alas! there are some wounds that cannot be wholly cured,” said Gandalf.

“I fear it may be so with mine,” said Frodo.

And some wounds can only be healed beyond the Western Seas in Valinor, Tolkien’s version of paradise.

“And the ship went out into the High Sea and passed into the West, until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.”

Depression is now out of sight, just beyond my peripheral vision, but whenever it threatens to reappear – I get help.

We await the return of Jesus to usher in the new heavens and the new earth, where there will be no more death, or mourning or crying or pain (Revelation 21:4).

But we still need to live our lives as best we can until it is our turn to board that ship. So, though I don’t often think of it now, I am glad for the reminder that it has been 20 years since I was diagnosed with clinical depression – two decades that the Lord has carried me through and repaid much of what the locusts had eaten (Joel 2:25).

That was something my good friend Joo Chong told me God would do, on a hot afternoon in Sitiawan, at the funeral of my first wife, Hee Ling.

So, thank you Lord for your mercy. Thank you for allowing me to drink from your cup of life. Thank you for the opportunity to now point others towards that cup.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4)


This article was first published on Graceworks’ website, and is republished with permission.

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A confession: I was not the prophet I claimed I was

by Judah Koh | 16 August 2018, 5:30 PM

I’m sorry.

I was part of something that I’m now remorseful about. It took me a long time to realise the impact my words and actions had on others. Today, I lay myself bare with a humble confession and a sincere seeking of forgiveness.

I am sorry. Really.

I had been a Christian for about 3 years when began to I embrace the supernatural movement. Keen and eager to jump on the bandwagon to feed my self-serving fame and sense of importance, I quickly learnt the trick – I pretended to be a miracle worker.

In those days, treasure hunts and fire tunnels were the norm, and a vision “downloaded” from God was a given for any prayer meeting. From church to church, I wore my newly-discovered spiritual identity and boldness on my sleeves as I preached.

I never saw how the miracles I performed were under the guise of pride.

My messages generally sounded like this: “I am at the forefront of the movement, help these sceptics and dense people who could not hear, see, nor know, and are unwilling to step out. Help them! They need help!”

It was fun and I thought I was cool. Most of all, it built up my confidence – especially when I misused verses like “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” and “In the last days, old men will dream dreams and young men will see visions” to feed my ego (Philippians 4:13, Acts 2:17).

I never saw how the miracles I performed were under the guise of pride. I reasoned to myself, if a man who split the Red Sea could describe himself as humble (Numbers 12:3), why couldn’t I? I even professed myself to be one of the upcoming spiritual giants! That was the audacity of my claims back then.

I had no shame.

I eventually stopped what I was doing because I saw how my posture was not Biblical. I was twisting Scripture to justify my actions. While I still believe that miracles can happen, I knew I needed to be re-grounded back in the Word.

So I left my past behind. I thought my heart was being made right and I could just move on and things would be fine.

But they are not.

In my days of deception five years ago, I had told someone that I saw an angel while ministering to him. Recently, someone who had been there asked me if I had indeed seen an angel.

When confronted, my mind raced through how to get myself out of the sticky situation. I could lie or I could divert the attention by making up excuses. But I did not want to hide anymore, and so I came clean. I just had to.

“I did not see an angel.”

When I prophesied, I think I led myself to believe that what I was saying was true. I felt that impulsive need to say whatever that comes to mind. Isn’t this considered good stewardship? To pass on the prophecy, by faith?

But what I didn’t know then was how it left so many doubts in people’s minds when they heard what I said. Because it led them to question themselves: “Why can’t I hear God like him, or see visions like him? Doesn’t God care or does He love me less?”

It was more important that I preserved the facade of my “greatness” than to consider the needs of those I thought I was ministering to. It was all done in self-interest.

I thought things would be fine if I just stopped participating in those activities but I was wrong. I need something more.

If I have stumbled you in your faith journey, I need your forgiveness.

People have been healed not because I have a gift of healing, but because He is a Healer.

So today, I want to make that confession and make things right. I had not seen what I claimed to have seen. I did not hear what I said I did. It was exciting and fun for a moment, but I do not want to live merry and then die irresponsibly.

I hope you will forgive me, and ask that I get to make things right again.

God is a good God and I return all glory to Him for all the good that He has done.

I want to be clear that I still believe in signs and wonders. Miracles. But I’ve come to a realisation that it’s not about the miracle-working man, but the God of miracles.

People have been healed not because I have a gift of healing, but because He is a Healer and He demonstrates compassion and mercy to those whom He loves. God speaks and nudges not because I have the gift of vision or prophecy, but because He is a God who listens and answers prayers, and He will guide and be found by those who seek Him with all their hearts.

Even when things do not happen according to my prayers, God continues to be good. Like Daniel’s friends, I pledge my commitment toward the one and only God even if He doesn’t do what I want.

“If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” (Daniel 3:17-18)

This lesson has been painful yet precious to me. Painful because I came to the realisation that I have played a part in stumbling the faith of my brothers and sisters in Christ; precious because I experienced how great God’s grace is to me through the assurance of my salvation despite what I’d done (1 John 1:9).

I want to make things right today. I confess that I’d been a fluke. I do not need to perform signs and wonders to boost my ego. I want to come clean to say that God alone suffices for me.

I hope you’ll forgive me.

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by Dawn Seow | 15 August 2018, 6:13 PM

The author attended City Harvest Church’s Emerge Conference, a youth event held between July 13 and 15.


Wu Yuzhuang, the pastor who oversees Emerge, delivered an encouraging message on a virtually unknown Bible character, Shamgar.

Titling his sermon “The Man with a Wooden Stick”, Wu referred the audience to Shamgar in Judges 5:6. Shamgar came from a pagan people and he was a farmer. His only asset was an ox goad – a long piece of wood used to guide oxen.

“The ox goad is not a weapon of war,” Wu said, explaining that Shamgar was an ordinary man that God used to wipe out 600 Philistine warriors.

HOW DID SHAMGAR RECEIVE GOD’S ANOINTING?

Shamgar means to “hear and obey”. Wu inferred that Shamgar was a man given to praying and hearing the voice of God. “Prayer is like breathing to our spiritual life,” Wu elaborated, “the more you pray, the larger you become on the inside.”

When a person prays, he may see the dreams and visions God gives to him. He will begin to step out of the realm of limitations, into the realm of possibilities.

For Shamgar was also audacious. Wu imagined how Shamgar’s neighbours might have reacted when they found out that he wanted to fight the Philistines. They would have discouraged him and told him that he was just one man – that they needed a real leader like Joshua.

“You will hear that all your life,” warned Wu. “Whenever you desire to do something great for God, the cynics will say, ‘What can you do? You are only one man or woman, you are only a youth.’”

Prayer is like breathing to our spiritual life

Wu told the youths that to have faith is to have the capacity to take risks, even in the face of possible failure. He told stories of his own failures as a youth, how the first evangelistic meeting he conducted with his cell group was a flop, and how badly he prayed and preached the first time he did it in front of a crowd.

“But it takes courage to see a revival in your campus,” Wu encouraged. “Step out in faith and face your fears. If you’re not willing to take on the odds, you will never do anything great with your life.”

Another great quality Shamgar possessed was his emphasis on being anointed.

Reading 1 Samuel 10:26, Wu highlighted the fact that among these men that went with Saul, there was a group “whose hearts God has touched.”

“When a person experiences a touch of God, an ordinary man can become a mighty deliverer!” declared Wu. “A young shepherd like David can slay the mighty Goliath!”

He continued that although Saul was appointed as king of Israel, he was not anointed. On the other hand, David was anointed. Anointed by God, David did great works for Him in his lifetime.

Like David, Shamgar also went for the anointing. Wu turned his attention to the ox goad that Shamgar used as a weapon: “It was a three-meter stick, a very clumsy weapon. It was all Shamgar had, it was all that God put in his hands,” Wu said. “It doesn’t matter what is in your hands, but who is using it.”

The pastor challenged the youth, “What has God put into your hand? Are you willing to let God anoint it? Are you willing to pray until the anointing comes?”

It doesn’t matter what is in your hands, but who is using it.

God always use the hands of the willing, Wu told the congregation. Shamgar was willing to leave his home, his farm and his family to fight the Philistines.

“The opposite of willingness is stubbornness, and God can’t work through a stubborn person,” Wu said.

Wu told the youth that in his 21 years of ministry, he learned that it is difficult to find a willing Christian. Many Christians are full of excuses why they cannot serve.

Wu said, “If God can find just one willing person, He can bring a great revival in that generation.”

Shamgar also had persistence. He did not kill those 600 Philistines at one go. He did it one at a time, over weeks and months.

“For Shamgar, there was no shortcut,” the pastor pointed out. “No matter how long it took, Shamgar gave it his all. And how many of you know that persistence will always outlast persecution?”

Wu closed by encouraging the youths to be Shamgars of their generation. Even if they do not have much, he said, God can use them as long as they are willing.


This article was published on Citynews’ website, and is republished with permission.

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Article list

Can you bloom in adversity?

How does discipleship work?

What’s your anthem?

Twenty years on

A confession: I was not the prophet I claimed I was

Are you willing to be used by God?