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I must confess: Why should someone else know my secrets?

by Adriel Yeo | 26 February 2018, 3:03 PM

After more than 20 years of growing up in church, I’ve discovered there’s an area of my faith I need to work on: The confession of sin to community.

Every week, we privately confess our sin in service and then recite a scripted communal confession. To be clear, the communal confession plays an important role in expressing our awareness of who we are before God and ensuring that we are justified by the blood of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:7).

But I didn’t think we did confession in smaller communities quite as well. You might be thinking, “What’s the big deal about confessing our sins in smaller faith communities?” That was also the question I had in mind as I read up about it. And I discovered something quite surprising.

Confessing to one another can take fellowship to the next level.

I had long felt distant from my church and community. I didn’t want others to find out about my personal life outside church. Having to hide my sin from my faith community led me to put up a front at church – a front that misrepresented who I really was.

“Well, at least I’m confessing my sins to God”, you may argue. But German martyr and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer challenges this thinking and makes an interesting observation:

“Why is it that it is often easier for us to confess our sins to God than to a brother? God is holy and sinless, He is a just judge of evil and the enemy of all disobedience. But a brother is as sinful as we are. He knows from his own experience the dark night of secret sin. Why should we not find it easier to go to a brother than to a holy God? But if we do, we must ask ourselves whether we have not often been deceiving ourselves with our confession of sin to God, whether we have not rather been confessing our sins to ourselves and also granting ourselves absolution. And is not the reason perhaps for our countless relapses and the feebleness of our Christian obedience to be found precisely in the fact that we are living on self-forgiveness and not a real forgiveness?”

Isn’t that true? I can think of many times where I muttered a haphazard confession to God before sleeping – as though His forgiveness was my right. If God is holy, should it not be of a greater concern what God thinks of our sin – rather than our Christian brothers and sisters? And yet, we often seem to be more fearful in confessing our sins to people than to God.

There may, of course, be legitimate reasons for why one would choose not to confess their sin to a particular brother – such as the fear of causing him or her to stumble in faith. But it’s also true that we often fear the judgment of people more than the judgment of God. After all, the unfortunate reality is that people are far less forgiving than God.

It is not confession that grants salvation. Jesus grants salvation, and we attain it by grace through faith

The way forward, according to Bonhoeffer, would be to understand how God works through communal confession of sin. It enables believers to journey together. Unconfessed sin isolates the individual from community precisely because it remains hidden to community

The Christian who refuses to confess his sin to community may struggle to be transparent or accept help from his community. In confessing our sins to each other, pride is eroded and we are able to stand together, bear one another’s burdens and pray for each other (James 5:16).

POTENTIAL DANGERS

That’s not to say that confession within community is without danger. There are at least two dangers I can think of. The first danger involves those who are listening to confessions. The person to whom the sin is being confessed to must always remember that true forgiveness is found in the cross of Christ alone. It is never his or her duty to bestow forgiveness.

The role of the listener is to point the confessing sinner back to Christ for forgiveness. Therein lies the power of community. Not to act as though one is God, but rather to display the love of Christ (John 13:34-35) to the confessing sinner, assuring him that Christ died on the cross precisely for what has been confessed.

The second danger would be for those who are confessing. “For the well-being of their soul they must guard against ever making their confession into a work of piety,” says Bonhoeffer. Salvation is not based on confession or an intense faith, but the blood of Jesus. To be clear: It is not confession that grants salvation. Jesus grants salvation, and we attain it by grace through faith.

Confession follows after faith. Both confession and repentance must result from a faith that is quickened by the Holy Spirit.

FINDING COMMUNITY

How do I confess in smaller faith communities? Personally, I think a good place to start is in a small group of close friends. Tan Soo Inn, founder of Graceworks, has written a few books on spiritual friendship.

He advocates a 3-2-1 model which I find helpful: The idea is for a group of three friends to meet for two hours once a month.

While I’ve never had the opportunity to use the 3-2-1 model, I do have a close friend who I meet up regularly with. With this brother, I’m able to share life and confess sins. One thing that makes our friendship so tightly-knit is the fact that I can be transparent with him, sharing about my weaknesses and the times I fall into sin.

Confessing to each other reminds us both of the need for God’s grace in our lives, and of how we are not alone in this process of sanctification.

If you’ve never experienced communal confession, trying it for the first time may be awkward or even frightening. But if we accept that the Bible calls for this discipline (James 5:16), then we must consider the idea that the lack of confession in spiritual friendships hinders growth and maturity.

Confession within friendship has led me to view my fellow brothers and sisters as fellow sinners standing under the cross of Christ, living life together.


This article was first published on YMI.today, and is republished with permission.

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What role does the Church play in their churchgoers’ love lives?

by Nicholas Quek | 22 June 2018, 1:49 PM

One of the chapters in a book I was reading recently, The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller, talked about singleness and marriage.

One of the passages he mentioned briefly was 1 Corinthians 7. Essentially, Paul was calling the Church not to be concerned with our spousal status, acknowledging the legitimacy of both marrying and staying single. He states that “the present form of this world is passing away.”

Keller then talks about widows in the Church, and the need for the Church to take care of widows so as to relieve them from the pressure to get married (marriage was often the only way a woman in those days could attain financial and social stability).

I couldn’t help but think about a study I did awhile back on 1 Timothy 5, where Paul exhorts the church to take care of those who are truly widows. I was wondering, shouldn’t the Church also then take care of younger widows so that they aren’t pressured into remarriage?

What do we do when we come to Church?

But then Paul justifies this distinction by stating in verses 11-12 that “When their passions draw them away from Christ, they desire to marry and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith.”

This reminded me again of what Paul states in 1 Corinthians 7:10, “For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” In essence, what Paul is saying is this: To those who are older and do not burn with passion, there is no need for you to marry to obtain financial or social security – the Church is your family.

To those who are young and single (widowed or otherwise), Paul says “It is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry.”

The role of the Church here is this: To relieve widows in the church of any ungodly motivation for getting married. It’s more than just taking care of people who need our help, it’s about encouraging and building each other up that we may be more like Christ, whether in singleness or marriage.

That’s the whole focus and foundation of the church, that we may encourage and build up one another in Christ.

That got me thinking: What do we do when we come to Church? Are we looking primarily to build one another up in Christ? That may at times look like fun and games, but more often than not what that looks like is painful admonishment, difficult conversations, and hopeful edification.

The Church is the Church of Christ and finds its foundation in His Word. And His Word is so clear as to what His church should look like.

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42)

“For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:9-11)

“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:18-21)

Those are but a few mentions of what the Church should look like and what the Church should do.

What do we do when we come to Church?


This article was first published on Nicholas’ blog and is republished with permission.

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The three C’s of compatibility

by | 19 June 2018, 2:55 PM

“Wait,” I found myself saying.

He was about to board the train when he stopped in his tracks and looked at me expectantly. I parted my lips to tell him what was on my heart but not a sound came out. Instead, I pointed to an empty bench and asked if we could talk for a while.

The train pulled away as we sat down. I was too nervous to look at him in the eyes so I simply stared at our reflection in the glass in front of us. Silence.

Each second felt like an eternity as I ransacked my brain for the right words. It was only when the third train came and went that I finally plucked up the courage to utter the next few words.

“I like you.”

I was only 17 when I first confessed to someone. I was also turned down by that person.

A part of me was relieved: I wouldn’t have to play guessing games with myself any longer. But the other part of me was dejected even though I had already braced myself for the possibility of rejection.

Burying all the feelings I had for him in my heart, I mourned over what could have been.

Love is more than just a feeling.

Shortly after that, I started my tertiary education. This was around the time many of my friends began getting into relationships, only to break up a few months later. And this cycle of heartbreak would repeat – only this time round it was with someone new.

The brevity of my friends’ relationships left me with a lot of questions. Why did these relationship not last? Was it because they didn’t love each other enough? Was it because it wasn’t love in the first place?

I don’t deny the affections my friends had for their partners, but I came to the conclusion that love is more than just a feeling. And anything less than love is likely just infatuation.

“When you develop an infatuation for someone you always find a reason to believe that this is exactly the person for you. It doesn’t need to be a good reason. Taking photographs of the night sky, for example. Now, in the long run, that’s just the kind of dumb, irritating habit that would cause you to split up. But in the haze of infatuation, it’s just what you’ve been searching for all these years.” (Alex Garland, The Beach)

Infatuation is the shadow of love. It becomes almost impossible to separate the two concepts when you’re emotionally involved, because you’d do anything to justify your feelings. But I’ve learnt that it’s easy to idealise the person we’re attracted to. It’s easy to make them out to be something they’re not when we let our feelings run amok.

Later on, after I became a Christian, I was introduced to the three C’s of the compatibility by my Church leaders. This model gave me a clearer picture of how I can better choose a partner – especially handy for when I’d be clouded by infatuation.

On the outer layer is chemistry. This is when you feel a connection. Maybe the both of you just get each other’s jokes – you simply click. More often than not, people stop here and think it’s love. But there’s more to a relationship than chemistry, and it’s important that we go beyond initial skin-deep attraction.

So, we also have character – the mental and moral qualities of an individual. It’s the way he treats other people, his work and values in life. Character is how one reacts in a crisis and when no one is watching.

It is important to assess one’s character before entering into a relationship because it determines how a person responds to difficult circumstances. And as a couple, there will definitely be difficult times ahead where love will be tested and patience tried.

Conflicts also tend to arise from differences in character. So wouldn’t it be great to find someone who has similar values? Not only will you have more to agree about, you’ll be able to spur each other on!

Character is how one reacts in a crisis and when no one is watching.

Last but not least: The core. This refers to the belief systems and worldviews one holds. The core frames how a person interprets and responds to his reality and shapes what a person believes and what he’s willing to believe. It shapes thoughts and actions.

Two people can have good values but very different takes on certain issues because of the worldviews they have. And this will have an impact on how a couple makes key decisions in their relationship. For example, what if an unborn baby is diagnosed with brain deformity? Do they then abort the child?

A worldview is like a roadmap for how to lead a life. Some think that life is all about having fun – a hedonistic take – while others view life as a preparation for eternity. How can a couple journey together when their definition and end destination of life is different?

These three C’s will either make or break a relationship. We need to walk into relationships with our eyes wide open.

So, looking back, I wasn’t in love with him. I didn’t really know him: His values, beliefs and life goals. And if I didn’t know him, how could I have loved him? I was just in love with the idea of him.

I liked him only because he was the first guy I met who was different from the other boys I knew from Secondary School. Older. More mature. Different.

It was just infatuation. And while infatuation can kickstart romantic interest, it will not sustain a marriage. If we want a relationship that lasts, we have to go beyond chemistry.

Let’s build our relationships on solid rock.

/ siqi@thir.st

Siqi loves to eat. Except for peas, egg yolk, cucumbers, livers, intestines. Among others. She also happens to be a writer.

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Why do I feel this anxiety?

by Jolynn Chia | 18 June 2018, 12:07 PM

I’ve been an anxious person for most of my life.

But I’ve learnt a lot about anxiety in the past year. I realised that most of my anxiety comes from a need to please man. I’m overly-sensitive to the expectations of people around of me. I feel I have to meet those expectations in order for me to be accepted and considered a good person.

Sometimes I say things just because I think they are the words that people want to hear … I don’t necessarily mean them. And I was very offended when one of my close friends pointed that out to me personally, that I tend to say what I think people want to hear.

But now I realise that was very brave and astute of her. She also said it’s impossible for people to know me if I keep hiding my real views, refusing to be known. And the longer I keep up this facade, the less I like myself because I constantly feel like a fraud – not free to be who God has made me to be.

One consequence of wearing a mask is that I find it hard to form lasting bonds with people. I always turn out to be someone else from who they thought I was, and it’s tiring to keep up the facade. I never really enjoy interactions or feel that I have any real meaningful bonds with friends.

But in the past year, I’ve been learning to dig deeper into myself. I’m learning about what I really think and feel, so I stop saying stuff I don’t even mean or believe in. Because I want authentic relationships.

A simple strategy I’ve adopted is not to say anything if I don’t have an opinion on a matter. I also pray for boldness and wisdom to say what I truly think and feel, when I believe I have words that will help a person or situation. It takes time and effort, but I believe that I have begun forging relationships that are more authentic and lasting.

I also get anxious when I compare.

I look at how others are doing in their careers, and I feel that pressure to doing something that’s considered desirable, even if I do not find it meaningful or aligned with my gifts or inclinations.

My self-worth is frequently based on how well I am doing in my career. And as I can’t really get a full-time job as I’m currently schooling, it was impossible to feel like I was worth anything this way, especially when I hear others talking about having favour in the workplace, being promoted and finding fulfilment and of course – being financially independent.

There have been many restrictions on my personal development due to my unemployment issues. It’s tough especially when I’ve applied to dozens more jobs than the average graduate. I began to believe God didn’t want to give me the job I wanted.

 

When Christ is in me, I stop finding my self-worth in external appearances and accomplishments. I find them in who He says I am – a child of God.

The past year has made me realise it might well be a humbling season.

I believe that God wants me to leave my anxiety by learning to trust Him and live knowing my identity as a child of God. And sure, it’s still hard when I see people finding purpose in their work, going on holidays and getting married. I keep comparing – stuck despite my best efforts.

But on the other side of the coin, I am learning to find peace through prayer, and reading and meditating on His Word. Likewise fellowship with brothers and sisters-in-Christ, and serving others including my family, are more uplifting than I thought they would be.

When Christ is the source of my joy – not a career, lifestyle or person – I find that I like the new me. Because when Christ is in me, I stop finding my self-worth in external appearances and accomplishments. I find them in who He says I am – a child of God.

“And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” (Matthew 6:28-30)

The lilies don’t strive and try to be something else, yet they are still beautiful and stunning. As we were made in the image of God, saved for eternity, I am sure our Heavenly Father knows and loves us far more than the flowers.

And no, while the anxiety is not yet gone, I can still surrender it to God in prayer continually. I am striving not to strive, praying for humility to trust in the Lord for the deepest provision.

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My parents don’t talk any more

by | 18 June 2018, 10:00 AM

“How are your parents?”

That was the question my friend asked me, as we sat in a ramen shop after wrapping up our worship training overseas. She had just shared with me about her family; she was raised by only her father after her mother passed away when she was young.

When that question left her lips, the noodles in my mouth started to lose their taste. I think my face must have twitched.

As she shared about her family dynamics, there were many things I resonated with. Wanting to escape from home, family tension, awkward Chinese New Year arrangements, loneliness, hopelessness for the future …

But my parents weren’t divorced or separated. They’re living together under one roof … mostly as strangers.

The last time my parents were on talking terms must’ve been in 2009.

My dad was suddenly hospitalised for a heart surgery in the middle of my O Level preliminary exams. As I clutched my social studies textbook, my family spent the night huddled in the ICU.

Some months later, I came home from school to find them in a heated argument about hospital bills and finances. In one moment of anger, some nasty words were said. My mom fled the room and slammed the door shut.

And ever since that moment, they’ve never had another conversation.

Refrain from contributing or participating in any family drama.

I became their middle man and official messenger.

Nowadays we only go for Chinese New Year visitations if I’m around. Everyone stocks up their own groceries in the pantry and prepares their own meals. It’s as though we are housemates.

It’s difficult living in such a complicated family situation. People assume that since my parents are still living together, my family must be more or less normal.

But we’re not. And my mum has become more dependent on me ever since the fallout. Her decades of being a housewife has probably cut off most – if not all of her social circle. She doesn’t like staying home alone with my dad, so I try to spend as much as time I can with her.

But my friends don’t understand.

Why you such a mummy’s girl? That was something someone in my cell group had once remarked in jest, after I said I had to leave early after service to have lunch with my mum.

Oh, you’re calling your mum again? Another comment from a friend, after I told her I had to FaceTime my mother to check in on her while we were overseas.

I also know that my dad isn’t entirely as bad as what he is described to be. He doesn’t say much to me unless needed, and he has his moments of anger. But he has worked without a break for decades, always pays the bills, and always makes sure I have enough.

Who could ever understand my family situation? I’ve always felt all alone. I turned to the Bible looking for some ray of hope, and was surprised to find messed up families just like mine in the Bible!

  • Adam and Eve: Messed up the entire world; one of their sons murdered his brother.
  • Sarah and Abraham: Got her husband to get their servant Hagar pregnant.
  • Lot: Seduced by one of his daughters to commit drunken incest.
  • Jacob: His sons conspired to kill their youngest brother Joseph, sold him into slavery.

And all the above happened in just the first book of the Bible. And as I read on, I learnt many lessons about how to live well in an imperfect family.

HONOUR THEM STILL

The Bible is clear about honouring our parents (Exodus 20:12, Deuteronomy 5:16). It is the fifth commandment, but the first that comes with a promise. It is the first commandment that governs a horizontal relationship – the only commandment that comes with a reward.

This also means that we refrain from contributing or participating in any family drama. There was one my mum was ranting to me about my dad, when I heard the Holy Spirit gently say: “Don’t dishonour your dad in the process of supporting your mum.”

My mum wanted me to agree with her about my dad’s faults. She wanted me to side with her. But I just quietly listened to her, and tried my best to explain the situation to her objectively. My dad had his faults, but if I had simply gone along with my mum emotionally, I would only be reinforcing negative ideas about him.

Honouring our parents requires us to submit to them as the parental authority God has placed over us (Ephesians 6:1). It means choosing to treat them as treasures, granting them a position of respect in our lives even when it seems like they don’t deserve it.

MANAGE YOUR EXPECTATIONS

In every relationship, it is important to keep expectations in check. Unmanaged expectations will eventually lead to disappointment and disillusionment.

I don’t expect perfection from my parents because I know they aren’t perfect. I know that they, just like me, have their own issues and struggles that they don’t speak about. I raise and lower expectations according to how I’ve known them over the years.

There is a greater purpose and deeper message behind the mess.

Another thing that is equally important is that we communicate our expectations … Telepathy isn’t a thing!

When I was in JC, I often came home late because my school was far away from home and my CCA usually ended in the evening. I never understood why my mum would get so upset about me coming home late, so I got equally upset at her apparently unreasonable behaviour.

After all, I was in school! It wasn’t like I was running around outside … Until I realised why she was so upset: She just wanted me to let her know if I was going to be back for dinner.

Uncommunicated expectations create more misunderstandings than needed.

KEEP ON PRAYING

But to be honest, even as I try my best to honour my parents and manage my expectations, it still feels really hard on many days.

It feels like something is amiss in my family, like there must be more. And many times I’m faced with a situation where I really just don’t know what to do … It’s usually at that point where this verse comforts me: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5).

And as I persevere in prayer, I know breakthroughs will happen. Situations will change. Hearts will move. None of our prayers are ever prayed in vain (Revelation 8:1-5). And if even Jesus prayed unceasingly (Hebrews 5:7), why shouldn’t we?

There is nothing else I can do but to pray and surrender my family situation to God. It is easy for us to give up on complicated family relations because humans are messy.

But the story of Jesus – a Saviour coming from a lineage of messy and dysfunctional families – is a lasting reminder that love and goodness can come out of the deepest of wounds.

There is a greater purpose and deeper message behind the mess. And the end of all of it, it points us to our need for a Saviour.

/ christina@thir.st

Christina is a designer who memorises Pantone swatches. She is an INFJ who loves matcha, 80% dark chocolate, beautiful typography and folk jazz. She also dreams of raising her own pet penguin one day.

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Article list

I must confess: Why should someone else know my secrets?

What role does the Church play in their churchgoers’ love lives?

The three C’s of compatibility

Why do I feel this anxiety?

My parents don’t talk any more

Daddy’s Home