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The dirty, messy manger: God’s message to humanity

by Paige Lee | 22 December 2017, 2:43 PM

Singaporeans might find this hard to imagine, but there’s something about the birthplace of Jesus that speaks so loudly of the Saviour we serve.

If we teleport ourselves back to the night Jesus was about to be born, over 2000 years ago, we won’t be greeted by fairy lights and soft blankets but a dimly lit, dingy barn quite unlike any of the romanticised versions of Christmas we now know. Even a nativity scene out of a hospital would have been preferable.

It was not (at all) sterile. There was no medical crew on hand to help with the messiness of childbirth. The air probably smelled like animals and their excrement. Nobody would have even wanted to stay the night, much less bring a baby into the world there.

In Luke 2 we learn that Mary and Joseph really didn’t have much of a choice – all the inns were booked out (Luke 2:7) and nobody would take them in.

At this point, Mary is heavily pregnant, the newlywed couple is probably still feeling stigmatised from a society that might not believe her story of the Virgin Birth, and they’re far away from family as they know it – all because they’d been so-called tasked with carrying God’s Son into the world.

“… The time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.” (Luke 2:6-7)

Now they’re out in the streets having His baby, and if it had been you or me, we’d probably be wondering (and Whatsapping) where is God when we need Him most? In all caps.

It was pathetic, even if He hadn’t been the firstborn Son of the Most High God, our King of Heaven, the Prince of Peace. There He was, lying in a feeding trough for slobbering animals – this mangy manger – not in a royal cradle decked in gold (as I’d have imagined it), not even in a simple, clean cot.

 We are followers of an all-powerful but all-loving King whose mission was to identify with our pain, humiliation and suffering.

It was a common corn crib whose primary purpose was to hold dirty hay and food scraps. Mary would have chosen better, but she was exhausted from labour and as clueless as any first-time mother. Here’s the Son of God who’s never left Heaven, sent to earth on the mission trip of all mission trips, and on His first night, in His new, fragile human frame, sleeps among animals in a forsaken part of town.

So painfully heart-wrenching, for those of us looking in.

We know God didn’t abandon them to such conditions. But why would He then purposefully ordain such a setting for His Son’s divine entry into the created world?

Unexpected, unlikely and unusual – His modus operandi has never changed. Right from the start, right down to the place where He was born – Jesus was and has always been God’s message to humanity.

He did not come to be served but to serve; we are followers of an all-powerful but all-loving King whose mission was to identify with our pain, humiliation and suffering. His only crown on earth was a crown of thorns (John 19:2).

“… He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows …” (Isaiah 53:3-4)

From the minute He dwelled among us, Jesus did not lead a glamorous, comfortable, pain-free life. The manger highlights how God sent us Himself in the form of His Son, borne of flesh and blood – not just that we might be saved from the wages of our sins through His death on the Cross, but that we live knowing He empathises fully with our earthly weaknesses, griefs and sorrows (Hebrews 4:15).

Jesus was fully God and fully man; the eternal Word become mortal flesh (John 1:14).

“For he is the complete fullness of deity living in human form.” (Colossians 2:9)

When I am afflicted with trial, I recall the manger.

When I am confronted with discouragement, I recall the manger.

When I am challenged by dire circumstances, I recall the manger.

The dirty, messy, smelly manger. Jesus willingly lay there, and so will I.

The manger reminds me that God uses the unexpected, unlikely and unusual in our lives to bring forth the greatest glory. As He chooses the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, the weak things of the world to shame the strong (1 Corinthians 1:27).

As we prepare Him room in our hearts to dwell this Christmas, we remember the manger and join the heavenly host of angels in declaring: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.” (Luke 2:14)


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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Are you there God? It’s me again

by Jason Chua, Burning Hearts | 18 June 2018, 5:20 PM

Anyone who has ever spent time praying probably has had this question cross their minds: “Does God even hear my prayers?” And it gets amplified when we feel like nothing is happening in those moments of prayer.

In my early years as a young Christian, prayer meetings were a staple for me. The first meeting I attended after giving my life to Jesus was a prayer meeting that ran daily in church. And for the next 9 years, I would follow my brother to weekly 6.30am prayer meetings.

The atmosphere of these prayer meetings was so glorious, it made my prayers feel powerful. I knew that God was right there to hear me. So for a long time, I equated a successful prayer meeting with an energised, empowered feeling.

But this idea of a “successful prayer meeting” began to cripple my personal prayer life. I became demotivated to stay faithful in showing up for prayer meetings that didn’t provide that “atmosphere” – one where I would feel powerful when praying.

Of course, I totally believe in contending for the fullness of God to break in with His power and presence as we gather to pray. It is still my constant pursuit to see that reality happen in all our gatherings, especially in the place of prayer, just as God did it in the days of Acts.

And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” (Acts 4:31)

By all means, this should be our vision and hope for our prayer meetings, but it should not be an equation for what a successful prayer meeting is.

During the first few months of my stint at IHOP Kansas City, I had to spend at least six hours of prayer in their Global Prayer Room daily. And it was a struggle for me because of my definition of success in the place of prayer.

For the majority of my time there, it felt more routine than glorious. For me to stay in that room for a full six hours made me feel weak as a person. Every prayer I made felt reluctant, almost meaningless, as though it was going nowhere – yet in my heart I did want Him to hear me.

This went on until one regular day, with my Bible opened to Matthew 6:6, when God shifted my paradigm and changed up my definition of success in prayer.

And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:6)

At that moment, I felt the Lord ask me these questions:

“Do you believe in the words of My Son regardless of how you feel?”

“Do you believe that I see and hear when you pray in secret, regardless of how you feel?”

“Do you believe that I am true to who I am as a rewarder of those who diligently seek Me?”

It was at this point that I realised the success of prayer is never about how powerful I feel when I am praying, but recognising God as the powerful one we are anchoring our prayers on.

The act of praying itself is already a success because it is a demonstration of our faith in God and what He is able to do. Why else would we pray if we were in control or we didn’t think He could make the difference?

Faith is never about feeling, but an inward confidence that you have towards God. And without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6).

Now when I pray, I look beyond my feelings because I know our Father sees and hears in secret, regardless of how I feel. That it is already success to be showing up before Him.

It is my hope to experience a greater manifestation of God’s power and presence in our prayer meetings, but He alone knows the right time and season for an outpouring. It is something that only God can do; no man can fabricate it. We can only be faithful to show up for prayer.

I can imagine those 10 days in the Upper Room after the disciples witnessed Jesus ascend to heaven (Acts 1:13). All they had was a promise Jesus had made: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.”

For the 10 days before the Holy Spirit came, I can imagine how dry, weak and broken their prayer meeting must have been. Yet the apostles put their faith in the promise of the Father through the words of His Son, and they kept on showing up until that “suddenly” happened.

“Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting … All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” (Acts 2:2,4)

I want to encourage you to keep showing up in your personal time of prayer and stay faithful to the small and seemingly weak prayer meetings, because God loves weak and broken things. They are our opportunities to experience His power and grace (2 Corinthians 12:9).

My prayer for you is this, that God will give you a persevering faith that goes beyond your feelings, knowing that when you pray, your Father who sees in secret will reward you.


This article was first published on Jason Chua’s blog, and is republished with permission.

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Craving for Jesus: What I learnt from fasting

by Joey Lam | 18 June 2018, 2:37 PM

“This kind cannot come out except by fasting and prayer.” (Mark 9:29)

Before I start on where I am and what I’ve learnt on my fasting journey, let me recount how this year started, and my growing conviction for fasting and prayer.

When my cell group leader asked us which area we would like to grow spiritually in this year, I wanted to say, “To love God’s Word more.” But I knew that wasn’t a stretch for me – I already love His Word (that’s a story for another time). So I decided to commit myself to something harder: Prayer and fasting.

2018 has been called the Year of Prayer by LoveSingapore, where churches are rallied to come together and pray. My girlfriend also reminded me that Jesus sometimes referred to “fasting and prayer” in the same context (Mark 9:29), which has to mean something.

I knew it was time for me to have a more structured prayer and fasting time.

But of course, Chinese New Year arrived and feasting – not fasting – was on the agenda. Pineapple tarts, bak kwa and every other CNY snack was upon me. I guess the Lord understands. And I wasn’t prepared to start at Lent either …

Ironically enough, I decided to put my foot (or food) down and take my commitment to fast for an extended period of time only when Hari Raya Puasa rolled around.

Here were a few guidelines I gave myself: No solid food from the moment I wake until dinner time, and try not to go crazy when I break fast. After all, the point of fasting isn’t restraining yourself from good food then gorging yourself later – it is learning your dependence on God and dying to self.

5 THOUGHTS FROM THE FAST

1. Fasting is a subtle form of worship

There is nothing showy. Fasting is silent, mostly unseen faith discipline. This runs contrary to our hyper-social culture, where the world pulls a lot of attention to the self. No one wears a tag that says “I’m fasting”, much less takes a photo of an empty plate with the caption, “Fasting today”.

2. Fasting alone is tough, but you are never quite alone

Fasting for Christians is too often one man’s journey. This only means one has even more chances to give up, especially when your friends offer you your favourite food, or when your mum unwittingly tries to feed you.

But in fasting, it’s not just about integrity and willpower; it’s learning to depend on God’s sustenance.

3. We need to overcome our fear of hunger

Before I started fasting, I always ate my meals regularly even if I was full, just so I wouldn’t be hungry at night and unable to sleep. At work, I would bring food for tea break, just in case I was hungry again. But fasting made me realise I feared hunger more than I feared God.

“Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.” (Philippians 3:19)

I had to ask myself: Would I take this opportunity to die to my own hunger and cravings? Even as believers, many of us have made food our god. We enjoy food so much, we go to great lengths to find the best food and document our food journeys. But do we crave for Jesus as much – if at all?

4. You might have to say “no”, even when it makes no sense

On Labour Day, I was out with my girlfriend. Due to the rain, we went to my place and my parents cooked lunch for her. This was the second day of my fast, and there I was, watching my parents eat with my girlfriend, while I drank plain water.

Another time, I was at an event that happened to serve food. Everyone was eating and I was hungry. For a moment, I was so tempted to make an exception – the food was free! How could I let it go to waste! I also learned that when you’re hungry, any excuse is a good one. I stuck to my fast that day.

5. Man does not live by bread alone

We live on every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4). Jesus said this at the end of His 40 days of fasting. And we must remember that He was fully man as well – He must have been starving while He said that!

Should you undertake one full month of fasting, know that it doesn’t get easier by the day. But as you die to yourself meal by meal, the grip food on your life loosens with each passing day. Your appetite is less a god each time you say no to whatever you are fasting from.

What do you crave for?  What will you die for? I pray and hope our answer is Jesus.

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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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God is my Father

by | 8 June 2018, 3:07 PM

Have you ever felt heart-wrenching pain?

I remember being surprised with my first experience of heart-wrenching pain. Amidst the torment, I was surprised to find that heartbreak matched the word so well.

The experience of disappointment and pain comes to us all, at some point in life. Some of us seem to have it worse, but no one is immune to it.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10)

In a world filled with suffering and sorrow, Jesus Christ is the only hope for a people threatened by darkness. But the funny thing is, I was never a Jesus type of person growing up. When I was young I associated Churches with the brown tourist sign more than I associated it with a place where freedom is found.

I did step into a Church, eventually. But I only found freedom because Jesus Christ found me. It has little to do with a building or a programme, but much more to do with how we respond to his invitation to know God our Father, through him. 

God is our Father in heaven who we can trust in, who gave his son Jesus Christ for us (John 3:16), such that our hearts need not be troubled anymore.

There is a story about a man who left his father’s home to squander his inheritance away. He reached a point where he was so hungry he ate with pigs. Finally, he came to his senses one day: “Why I am starving to death when my father has plenty to spare at home?” So he went home.

“So he got up and went to his father. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.” (Luke 15:20-24)

Because of his mistakes, the man in the story didn’t think he was worthy to be called his father’s son anymore – but he was wrong. God is the sort of father who would run to welcome a wayward child back home. He is unthreatened by our messes; He extends forgiveness to his children.

In a world filled with suffering and sorrow, Jesus Christ is the only hope for a people threatened by darkness.

We can never fathom the vastness and greatness of God, but the kindness of God is near and available to us. It is a tangible thing.

There is life at the hand of our Father who lavishes us with love that overflows. Surely it is not because of what I’ve done that I can call God my Father, but because He first saw it fit to welcome me home as His child.

“If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)

It is His grace to me that I came to my senses one day and knew my desperate need to return to my Father. And I still need that grace every day.

Take the words of Jesus Christ to heart today, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

/ fiona@thir.st

Fiona is secretly hilarious and deeply devoted to her dogs. She is also a strange introvert who loves good chats with strangers and anyone with a story. At other times, you'll find her watching nature in wonder, wherever the sunlight touches with gold.

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Article list

The dirty, messy manger: God’s message to humanity

Are you there God? It’s me again

Craving for Jesus: What I learnt from fasting

My parents don’t talk any more

Daddy’s Home

God is my Father