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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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It’s Christmas! So what?

by | 11 December 2017, 6:40 PM

If you ask most Christians what they think Christmas is about, I’d wager the answer would sound something like “a season of thanksgiving” or a “time for joy”.

People who aren’t Christian might also say something similar about The Christmas Story – and it’s usually pretty accurate.

That famous story is quite perfectly summed up in another famous verse: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Christmas in all of 24 words.

Maybe you know the details: About 2,000 years ago, a baby boy was born. But not just any baby. This one fulfilled all of the promises God had given to the world: That He would be miraculously born to a virgin, in a little town called Bethlehem in Israel. He would be called Jesus, which means “He saves”.

This Son of God had to be born a Son of Man because only in the flesh could He be sacrificed to pay the price for the sins of all men, paving a way to reconciliation with Father God. He saves.

Christmas is the day when hopeless humanity — mired in sin and doomed to die eternally — was offered a saving solution by God the Father through His Son Jesus Christ’s birth and eventual sacrifice on the cross.

If we as Christians truly confess, believe and accept that Jesus is Lord – then our lives would change, following Christ with all our hearts. We’d grow to be more giving, gracious and full of gratitude. Honouring His love and sacrifice, the spirit of Christmas would be an everyday thing.

But the truth is, many Christians don’t look like that. And these are all qualities quite foreign to Singaporean culture itself.

You need only to look at the vitriol online these days, the self-gratifying hate at Annie Ee’s victimisers, or the thankless, quick-to-complain nature of many Singaporeans to see that as a nation, we don’t do Christmas very well.

So many of us have settled for this way of life: We criticise, we quietly dissent and we strive as the fear of losing out kills off love for our neighbour. We spend all our time buried in work, increasingly numb to the possibility of true purpose.

Whether we know it or not, our souls have an innate longing for all that is higher.

And fair warning for the few of us who’ve “made it” in this world – life is good until it’s not.

It’s harder for the comfortable because worldly pleasures can entrap and blind. Our culture of comfort dulls our hearts for the grander things of God.

Truly, whether we know it or not, our souls have an innate longing for all that is higher. But many of us are conditioned to spend our lives pursuing hollow happinesses, only to wake up one day in bed and see the desperate emptiness of things – and that’s if you’re fortunate!

So, be fair to yourself. Look deep into your heart and sincerely weigh if beyond all the stuff you’re amassing – you have a constant peace, hope and joy.

Think now about this “spirit of Christmas”. That tangible air of thanksgiving and joy you feel and anticipate annually? That excitement for something different – something almost magical?

That’s just a small taste of a life spent as God’s own child. It’s a fraction of true joy that even a dulled heart feels.

But it doesn’t have to be that way, you don’t have to wait until you’re at the end of yourself to see truth. That’s time you don’t have to waste – and you really don’t have time to waste (Psalm 144:4).

Jesus is the only way, the truth and the life (John 14:6). He offers the gift of salvation. He holds joy out in His hand, joy that doesn’t fade when hard times come. He gives peace that is better than any kind of security the world puts out.

Don’t shortchange yourself in this life – where you will spend eternity is at stake.

If you feel hopeless – perhaps even disillusioned by religion – I want to tell you that a relationship and life with Christ is the only hope for a better world (Revelations 21:4).

Don’t shortchange yourself in this life – where you will spend eternity is at stake.

This Christmas, don’t be cheated of what you could have, celebrating for just one day when there’s an eternity worth dancing over!


Here’s how you can accept Jesus Christ into your heart through a simple prayer of faith:

“Lord Jesus, for too long I’ve kept you out of my life. I know that I am a sinner and that I cannot save myself. No longer will I close the door when I hear you knocking. By faith I gratefully receive your gift of salvation. I am ready to trust you as my Lord and Saviour.

Thank you, Lord Jesus, for coming to earth. I believe you are the Son of God who died on the cross for my sins and rose from the dead on the third day. Thank you for bearing my sins and giving me the gift of eternal life. I believe your words are true. Come into my heart, Lord Jesus, and be my Saviour. Amen.”

/ 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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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.

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An arts festival with purpose: Make room for the displaced this Christmas

by Jonathan Cho | 11 December 2017, 1:53 PM

Places are significant. Whether it be an actual physical space like our homes, a seat at the dinner table, or something less tangible like having a place in someone’s heart, we all appreciate it when people make space or hold a place for us.

“Having a place” reminds us that we belong, that we are of value. Yet the reality for some is that by circumstance, they have little or no reason to believe that they carry such inherent worth or significance.

I’m reminded of the people groups that many of us have come to expect to read about in the news – those who float about at sea in desperate hope of finding a place to take refuge, or those who get pushed about across countries/regions with no place they really belong.

Closer to home, my heart turns to the displaced and the destitute, who often find themselves outcast in society, with no place to call their own and nowhere they can really feel welcomed.

Jesus entered a world that had no place for Him, and His first sight of it was dark, dirty and definitely not welcoming.

That experience of exclusion is something that many of us can identify with on different levels and for a variety of reasons. When we experience this alienation from the community around us, that unshakeable sense of being inconsequential and non-existent – it can feel like we count for nothing at all.

In Luke 2, we read the story of a person who had every reason to feel inconsequential and non-existent, even though that could not have been further from the truth.

In the story of Jesus’ birth, we learn that when He first entered our world, there was no room at all for Him: “And [Mary] gave birth to her firstborn son [Jesus] and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7).

Jesus entered a world that had no place for Him, and His first sight of it was grim to say the least – dark, dirty and definitely not welcoming.

The darling of Heaven, the very Son of God, left His place in the heavens to enter a world which had no room for Him – the brutal reality and ordinary pain of the human condition. God the Father too, was also willing to let His only Son be born into these conditions, almost as if to tell us that He doesn’t mind the brokenness of our fallen nature and lack of room that we have for Him.

The beauty and good news of the Christmas story is that someone significant willingly gave up His heavenly place and lived as a man who had “no place to lay His head”. 

Whether it be a physical manger or the equally dark and dirty conditions of our hearts, it seems to me that all Jesus wanted was to enter into our lives and to have a relationship with us. Places are significant to Him, and however small the room or the place in our lives we’re willing to give, He will take it – because that’s what He came for.

The beauty and good news of the Christmas story is that someone significant willingly gave up His heavenly place and lived as a man who had “no place to lay His head”. Not only that – He also took our place and died for our sins, so that by this sacrifice and our belief in Him, He could give us a new place in His Father’s house.

“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (John 14:3)

He just wants to be with us.

This Advent season, I am reminded of the sacrificial, unconditional love of my Saviour and His desire to lift up a people who often find themselves feeling insignificant. He gave us dignity and worth – He gave a place in His family, although we did not deserve it. Would we do the same for others?

I have resolved to take on His example: An example of place-making for the people around me who may feel as if they have no place in this world, whether it be the vulnerable in the community, family, friends or just anyone who needs a place to call home – anyone who feels like an inconsequential, insignificant placeholder.

The Placeholders team preparing a floor mural for the festival.

In doing so, I have found my place in a community of people working to do just that by putting together an arts festival called Placeholders, which will be held at the abandoned building over at 10 La Salle Street.

Using the convicting nature of art to explore and surface issues of displacement amongst the poor and needy in Singapore, festival goers will also discover how a simple act of making room for someone can possibly change a life.

Jesus gave his place in heaven to take our place on the Cross, so as to create a place for us in His Kingdom. By the life He lived, we are always reminded that we each have inherent value and significance in His eyes – and that we too should see those around us through His.


Placeholders is an arts festival that seeks to engage the community to reflect on what it means to make place for marginalised individuals and families alike, particularly during the Christmas season. All are welcome!

Date: 16 & 17 December 2017 (Saturday and Sunday)
Address: 4 & 10 La Salle Street
Time: 10am-9pm

For more information, please visit their Facebook page and Instagram page.

The Festival is partnership between Bethesda Frankel Estate Church and New Hope Community Services, a voluntary welfare organisation working with displaced families in Singapore. All proceeds raised from the event will go towards the Kampong Siglap Lifeskills Training & Retreat Centre, an initiative by New Hope Community Services which provides shelter for these displaced families.

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Hope for anyone who is suffering

by | 8 December 2017, 6:55 PM

In May, my friend’s dad met with an accident that resulted in the amputation of both his legs to save his life. As he went through such a difficult time, what hope was there for him in this situation, if any?

Christians tend to tell others that Jesus is the answer to almost every situation one can think of – which becomes annoying if overused, I admit.

And as a second-generation Christian, it’s sometimes hard to take the perspective of a non-Christian and there are some aspects I will never fully understand. Having said that, this is an attempt to offer hope in the midst of human suffering where there seems to be none – to me, hope really does find its place in Jesus.

Stay with me on that one.

HOPE IN THIS LIFE

I think part of the frustration arises from our failure to effectively communicate or understand what “hoping in Jesus” means. It doesn’t mean that problems mysteriously disappear, or suffering ceases immediately. This is not, and has never been, what the Bible promises.

Jesus doesn’t “solve” our problems by stepping in to fix the problem here and now, which is frustrating, I know – but enduring suffering is also the narrative for much of the Bible, even in the Old Testament (Psalm 12, 13, 42 – among others).

This is also true for Jesus Himself – long before His birth, the prophet Isaiah spoke forth His coming, proclaiming that He would be “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3).

Having experienced the pain of suffering Himself, Jesus is able to empathise with the needs of those who are suffering.

Hence, having experienced the full weight of suffering Himself, Jesus is able to empathise with the needs of those who are suffering – every single shred of pain ever felt. As it says in Hebrews 4:15, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses” – Jesus likewise experienced every degree suffering as a fellow human being: Loss, separation, condemnation, physical agony, grief.

In the loss of a dear friend, Lazarus (John 11:14), Jesus wept in an honest expression of sorrow at the reality of suffering and death (John 11:35). He knew that He was about to raise the poor man from the dead, but it was watching the people who didn’t, the ones He loved who suffered in the wake of death that broke His heart.

This is why Jesus is the hope in this life for those who are in distress – having entered this broken world and endured suffering, He is the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3, 4) and peace (John 14:27), who walks alongside those who are hurting.

HOPE IN THE LIFE TO COME

When tragedy strikes, one might believe that his or her suffering is meaningless, or that it results from bad luck (Ecclesiastes 4:1-3). Another common belief about suffering is that it is retribution for a person’s deeds (Job 4:7-8).

In light of eternity, however, ultimate hope in the midst of suffering is found in the gospel, without which all relief is temporary and all suffering is meaningless. This hope is one that humanity can reach out and grasp onto – the hope in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who died for all who have fallen short of God’s perfect standard of holiness (Romans 5:6).

Through this great act, not only did God Himself experience suffering, He also overcame it. All this is possible only because Jesus’ blood on the Cross satisfied God’s wrath for all the sins of humanity – hence those who trust in Him no longer have to take the punishment for their own sin.

Every sin was laid upon Him; He died for you and me. But as He was raised to life again, in Him we have new life and a new hope.

For it is Christ’s love that fuels our passion and motivates us, because we are absolutely convinced that he has given his life for all of us. This means all died with him, so that those who live should no longer live self-absorbed lives but lives that are poured out for him — the one who died for us and now lives again. (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)

Consequently, those who are suffering can take comfort that not only is God moved by their suffering, but in His mercy, he has provided an escape from it.

This is why the Gospel offers a different perspective on suffering, contrary to worldly wisdom. It doesn’t discount human suffering as meaningless and hopeless, neither does it say that it is a person’s just desserts – instead, it offers redemption for a person’s suffering. This redemption is the offer of a restored relationship with God – being reconciled back to Him.

In the future when Christ returns, He will wipe away every tear, putting an end to death, mourning, and pain.

Hence, with the Gospel, worldly suffering now contributes to a person’s joy and hope in a greater meaning in life – with the reconciliation to God also comes a future hope, where those who trust in Him can look forward for a world with no more pain.

In the future when Christ returns, He will wipe away every tear, putting an end to death, mourning, and pain (Revelation 21:4). When this happens, the curse that entered the world through human sin (Genesis 3:14-19) will be reversed – creation will be free from its brokenness (Rom 8:20-22), and God’s redemption plan for our current broken humanity will be fulfilled.

If you’re experiencing a time of suffering, it is my hope that God, in His mercy, will use it as an opportunity where you may “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8), and come to trust in Him – He delivers those who trust in Him from suffering, to await a future where suffering is no longer a reality.

/ eudora@thir.st

Eudora found herself writing on public platforms by chance. Apart from writing, she likes many random things, including spoken word poetry, adult colouring books, tea, stationery and fresh, clean laundry.

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Why do the small sins count?

by Weiren David Ong | 8 December 2017, 11:16 AM

“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.

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Article list

Can you bloom in adversity?

It’s Christmas! So what?

It takes a miracle to feed a whole village – and we did

An arts festival with purpose: Make room for the displaced this Christmas

Hope for anyone who is suffering

Why do the small sins count?