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I don’t understand the Bible

by | 1 February 2018, 4:45 PM

  • I don’t know where to start!
  • I don’t understand!
  • The Bible is boring!
  • How can something written 2000 years ago relate to my life?

If you can relate to some or all of these statements — then I thank God that you’re here! I am writing this article with you in mind.

I’m no authority on the Bible, but I am passionate about reading the Word and I’ve come to know that it’s anything but ordinary. By sharing a few things I’ve learnt over the years, maybe we can better figure this out together.

RELATIONSHIP BRINGS REVELATION

Search rigorously for the truth, but don’t make a god out of extracting wisdom and knowledge from the Bible. It takes meekness to submit to God who is watching over us — teaching us as we read His Word.

Incomprehension should lead to more earnest searching. But there are also spaces in the Bible where incomprehension reflects the beautiful mystery of God’s design. It takes humility to see that. It may sound like a cop-out, but I’ve learnt that there are things I don’t have to understand.

Quality time is one of God’s love languages. When you’re together with someone, you may not always learn something new about that person every time you hang out. But each time you do hang out, it strengthens the bond you share.

It’s the same with God. There will be days where you just don’t seem to get anything out of reading the Bible, but don’t lose hope: As long as you’re intentional about spending time with God, the relationship will deepen.

KNOWING ABOUT GOD ≠ KNOWING GOD

It’s not the same. Being able to teach in a Bible school is not the same as being a friend of God. Having said that, in order for one to know God — one has to know about Him.

What we need is to strike a balance. Think of a superstar: You can know his hobbies, address, favourite foods — but you will never truly know that person until you are physically present with him, hanging out and getting to know him personally.

But God isn’t far away like a superstar. No, He’s much closer than many of us know (Psalm 34:18).

If all we get from Bible-reading is mere information about God — all while never truly being intentional about enjoying the relationship — then all we’re getting is head knowledge. God wants so much more for us than that! He wants both head and heart knowledge, and to deepen our relationships with Him.

REAL AND RELEVANT

To me, the Bible is real and relevant. Though it was written 2000 years ago, we still have the privilege to draw life-giving truths from the timeless Word about God, ourselves and the world today!

When you read the Bible, think of what the passage says about these kinds of things:

  • Who God is — His nature and Character
  • The Israelites
  • The Jews
  • Humankind in general
  • The world, society and culture

Ask the right questions, and God’s revelation will show you the right way to live. Hebrews 4:12 tells us, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

We renew our minds when we take in the Word. So when you learn a spiritual principle from the Bible — apply it in your daily living. If we do, then our scripture reading is a catalyst for transformation in our hearts — and we’ll know this transformation by our fruits (Galatians 5:22-23).

The Bible is relevant. The question is whether we choose to make it relevant to our lives.

/ roytay@thir.st

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

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How could you take from me what I deserved?

by | 17 May 2018, 12:26 PM

When I was in secondary school, my number one ambition was to become a cell leader.

The thought of being able to change people’s lives was something I desperately wanted. Unfortunately, this led me to suck up to my leaders in the hopes of getting on their good side.

Around that time, I responded to a challenge by my cell leader to pray for a friend and invite him to youth camp that year. Joshua, a childhood friend, came to mind. I secretly thought: “Why not? Maybe if I integrate him into the cell, I could get more credibility from the leaders!”

To my surprise, not only did he accept the invitation to attend camp that year – he became really well integrated into the community within a short span of time. Almost too well …

When it was time to pick a new leader, within the short span of a year, they chose Joshua to step up instead of me. I felt betrayed.

How could they! After all I’ve done for the cell, all the contributions I’ve made, how could they deny me the one thing I wanted the most! I have my rights too!

Looking back on those days, I realise that I behaved like the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32).

He had seen his young brother essentially ask his father to die, run away to spend his money on parties, luxurious food and prostitutes – only to come crawling back into the house begging to be taken back as a slave.

But instead of sending him back to the depravity he had left them both for, the father welcomed the younger son home with open arms – even throwing him a big party. I knew well how the older brother felt.

Where is justice? Where is the reward I deserved? What about my rights too?

Because I felt the same: What gave Joshua the right to inherit what I believed was mine? But rereading that parable, I saw something I hadn’t seen before. Just as much as the younger son was lost – so was the older brother.

In The Prodigal God, Timothy Keller writes that both sons wanted the father’s possessions rather than the person. Both were far from their father, but while one ran away from the father’s love by being extremely bad – the other did so by being extremely good.

I, too, was undeserving of God’s grace. When all I deserved was death, He ran to me and welcomed me with grace.

The cell leader position was just a symbol. Like the fattened calf at the feast, it masked an underlying issue: My devotion to God wasn’t founded on delight in Him but on trying to curry favours out of Him.

I have done so much in Your name. You owe me. 

That was what my bitter heart was actually saying. But regardless of which son we resemble, God’s response to us is still the same. Like the father in the story, God runs to welcome wayward children back into His arms and joy. He desires his children to lay down their pride and reenter his joy.

The older son couldn’t do so because he held on to his rights – what he felt he rightfully deserved. And just like him, by clinging onto what I thought I deserved, I denied myself the joy of seeing one of his sons come home again – of witnessing a warrior of faith rise up to expand God’s kingdom.

The solution was ultimately simple but painful: I had to lay down my rights and all the things I thought I deserved to reenter God’s joy. But I couldn’t do it. I felt God had been unjust and that his mercy to one person had come at my expense.

How is it that when God is unjust I was the one to pay the price for it?

That was what I actually thought! Eventually I gave up my rights not because I had to – but because I finally realised that I had been the younger son many times as well. I’m all too guilty of running away from God and laying waste to my life.

I, too, was undeserving of God’s grace. When all I deserved was death, He ran to me and welcomed me with grace.

The one who paid the price for my redemption was Jesus. He was what an elder brother should be. My redemption came at His expense, but he never once complained. He simply and completely obeyed his Father and took on the expense so I could be restored to the family.

/ 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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Stop trivialising favouritism

by Melvin Ho | 17 May 2018, 10:13 AM

Growing up as the middle child, I always felt that my parents favoured my brothers.

I wasn’t as good as they were in both my studies and swimming, and I would feel pangs of jealousy whenever my parents praised my brothers for their achievements and gave them first pick of all the food and presents.

I also felt the injustice of being scolded the most and forgiven the least whenever we made mistakes together.

Though I may have unfairly judged my parents as a child, this perception of being unfairly treated had significant negative effects on my emotional well-being—my self-esteem took a blow and I often felt inferior to my brothers and unloved.

It was not until I became a Christian in my youth, that I gradually started to recover my self-esteem. I was convicted of the truth that regardless of how I performed, God loves me unconditionally.

Admittedly, I have also been a perpetrator of favouritism. In school and at my workplace, I have treated certain classmates and colleagues better because I liked their personalities more than others.

In doing so, I never stopped to consider what effects my actions had on those around me. When we are the ones being favoured or the ones perpetuating it, we are likely to trivialise it.

James, however, reminds us that favouritism contravenes the royal law of Christ to love our neighbour as ourselves. He even mentions favouritism in the same breath as murder and adultery, placing them side by side as violations of not just one component, but the whole law of God (James 2: 8-11).

When I look back at my past experiences, I realise that at the heart of favouritism is a glaring lack of brotherly love toward another. Isn’t that essentially at the heart of all sin? As Galatians 5:14 tells us, “the whole law can be summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’”

Let us examine our lives and turn to God in all humility.

When we show favouritism, we do not consider the feelings of the one who has been victimised and and how he has been impacted. Instead of loving them, we are hurting them.

This not only reduces that person’s self-worth – it leaves a scar on his heart. And it denies him his identity as a much-loved child of God, negatively shaping his character and future actions.

In the Bible, we read of accounts of favouritism which led to resentment and ultimately, undesirable outcomes. Sarah’s preference for Isaac and her ill-treatment of Hagar and her son Ishmael led to a break-up of Abraham’s family. Isaac’s unequal treatment of his two sons, Esau and Jacob, drove a wedge between them. And Jacob’s favouritism toward Joseph led to his older brothers resenting him and selling him off as a slave.

Are we also guilty of trivialising this sin of favouritism? Do we cast a blind eye to this hideous sin when we commit it, not realising how grave its consequences really are?

Let us examine our lives and turn to God in all humility. Let us ask Him to help us attain an understanding of His law and remove this subtle sin from our personal lives, so that we may live a life of authentic faith with the genuine love of Christ for our neighbour.


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

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

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

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why it’s important to face your doubts

by | 15 May 2018, 4:43 PM

Ever felt stupid to ask a question? Like, “I’m probably the only one who doesn’t know …”

Growing up, I’ve always been intimidated by the thought of having to raise your hand amidst 40 other students.

I was always afraid my classmates would think I’m stupid. So I preferred to stay silent rather than risk the whole class staring at me while I clarified my doubts. But this was mentality that began to cause many other problems.

My grades deteriorated because I struggled to grasp concepts. I lost sleep because more time was spent studying at home. I became a burden to my classmates because I asked them questions instead of the teachers, sometimes even during the lessons when they were also trying to listen.

It was only at the start of my Polytechnic education that I began to ask more questions in class. I had to for the sake of class participation marks. But it helped me see the importance and value of clarifying my doubts.

Doubts left unclarified lead to uncertainty.

In a human relationship, doubt that is buried eventually leads to speculation. That in turn, brings about misunderstanding — eventually causing a rift in the relationship. It’s similar when we don’t find answers to our questions about faith — or when we don’t even ask.

Doubts hinder our relationship with God and cause us to stray from him.

Jon Bloom puts it this way: “Doubt is not the complete absence of faith. It’s faith laden with weights of unbelief, which threaten to sink us.” So we sink into disbelief when we don’t deal with doubt.

When we face our doubts head-on, we will someday also be able to help fellow believers tackling the same questions.

In the Church, we’re all on a journey. As siblings in Christ, grow alongside one another. When we talk about our questions of the faith, such a discussion edifies one another and helps us build our faith on solid doctrine. The end result is that we spur each other in the pursuit of understanding and desiring God.

Let’s never make a fellow brother feel like he’s looked down on. Church should be the safest place to ask these questions.

“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,” (1 Peter 3:15)

When I studied in a media school, I was surrounded by individuals who weren’t afraid to express themselves. In particular, I had classmates who had strong opinions against Christianity and were very vocal about it.

There was one particular classmate I discussed religion with. Although we had disagreements with each other regarding the Christian faith, he was extremely knowledgeable about the Christian faith. In fact, he knew much more about the Bible than I did.

Our conversations made me determined to better understand God. They helped spur me on to be better equipped to defend my faith.

A good place to start on apologetics would be any of Ravi Zacharias’ books. In particular, I’ve also enjoyed Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis and The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. There is great literature out there that can give you insights into the Christian faith.

I know many people who are apathetic. They aren’t keen on discussing hard questions or theology. They worry about it turning into a heated debate or they just don’t have the interest.

I wish they knew how important it is to know what we believe — what we stand for. Ephesians 4:13-14 tells us about the importance of unity of the faith and knowledge in our Lord, so as not to be swayed by false doctrine.

So don’t judge those who doubt. If not you may develop a sense of superiority over the person who’s clarifying his doubt.

Let’s never make a fellow brother feel like he’s looked down on. Church should be the safest place to ask these questions. So encourage one another to raise questions, rather than sweep them aside.

Don’t run away from the doubts in your faith because when placed in God’s hands, He will use them to build up your faith.

/ helene@thir.st

After surviving the chaos of Poly life fighting the evils of sleep deprivation and academic stress, Helene now spends most of her free time repaying her three years accumulated debt of not doing household chores.

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by Tris Xavier | 15 May 2018, 12:35 PM

I find that there’s a lot of confusion and unintentional obfuscation about how we should talk to God.

But what is the issue with how we talk to the Lord anyway? Why should this topic bother you, and why is it important? My personal experience is that many times, Christians don’t pray because they feel hamstrung about how they should pray.

Sometimes the concern is external. Christians worry about the form of the prayer: The words, the place, the physical posture – whether their prayer is tonally appropriate or reverential. And sometimes it’s internal: Whether they have their heart right, whether they have enough faith, whether they are still enough before the Lord.

Prayer becomes such a complicated affair that Christians end up not praying. Yet the way God operates in this world is through the prayer of His people. James 5:16 states clearly that “the prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”

And 1 Corinthians 2:15-16 (TLB) also tells us this:

But the spiritual man has insight into everything, and that bothers and baffles the man of the world, who can’t understand him at all. How could he? For certainly he has never been one to know the Lord’s thoughts, or to discuss them with him, or to move the hands of God by prayer. But, strange as it seems, we Christians actually do have within us a portion of the very thoughts and mind of Christ. 

Christians can move the hands of God by prayer! So when Christians stop praying – things stop happening. We need to lay down the wrong notions of how we should pray so we do pray.

Let’s take a step back and go to the story of Abraham. Abraham is the father of the Jewish nation, and he also represents the relationship we as believers have with God today (Romans 4). So this sharing isn’t just something applicable for a time long past, but represents how we should walk and commune with our Lord today.

Abraham is introduced to us in Genesis 12, but the first time we have a recorded dialogue between him and God is in Genesis 15. Up to this point, we only see the Lord speaking to Abraham. These are words of goodness and grace, as the Lord promises Abraham greatness, land, posterity and blessing (Genesis 12:1-3; 12:7, 13:14-17; 14:18-20).

For many of us, this is how we start our Christian walk. As we get familiar with the Lord, we are often the ones being spoken to. We are told of God’s promises, and God blesses us as we become familiar and intimate with him.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. It’s like the beginning of a relationship where the couple begins to know each other better – what they stand for and what they see in their future. A Christian should not feel obliged to be the “mature partner” in the relationship, but instead be comfortable with being wooed over and over again by God.

So let’s see what Abraham told God, right after God promised to be a “shield” and “great reward” (Genesis 15:1) for him.

“Abram said, “God, Master, what use are your gifts as long as I’m childless and Eliezer of Damascus is going to inherit everything?” Abram continued, “See, you’ve given me no children, and now a mere house servant is going to get it all.”” (Genesis 15:2-3, MSG)

God doesn’t want us to come to Him with false reverence and complex prayers. He wants the honesty of our hearts and the candour of how we really feel – even about Him.

The first thing that comes out of Abraham’s mouth was abject disappointment. It’s not a response full of faith and thanksgiving – it didn’t sound like a “Christian” response at all.

It’s a man baring his brokenness – his heart’s desire. His brutal honesty might shock some religious types. On a human level, we might be offended by Abraham’s response. But look how God responded:

“Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”” (Genesis 15:4-5)

God didn’t chastise Abraham or call him ungrateful. Instead He reminded Abraham of His promise for him, and to take things one step further, He gave Abraham a visual reminder of the promise which was to come. Based on this, Abraham believed the Lord.

The Lord didn’t penalise Abraham for having a crisis of faith, but credited righteousness (Genesis 15:6) to him when Abraham believed again.

This wasn’t a one-off. Later on, Abraham wavered again in trusting God’s promises, and took things into his own hands by having a son Ishmael with Hagar – even though God made clear that Isaac would be born to him in a year.

Abraham even mocked God’s promises to him (Genesis 17:17-18). In spite of that, the Lord reminded Abraham of the promise and that He would bring it to pass (Genesis 17:19)

Now let’s take a look at Genesis 18 – one of the first times someone intercedes for another party in the Bible. 

“Would You also destroy the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there were fifty righteous within the city; would You also destroy the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous that were in it? Far be it from You to do such a thing as this, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous should be as the wicked; far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:23-25, NKJV)

See how bold Abraham is with the Lord? He doesn’t disguise his speech, he doesn’t restrain his passion. In essence, he’s simply telling God: “Hey, this can’t be right! That’s not fair! You’re not like that!”

And this is how God responds: The Lord lets Abraham entreat him – even though His holiness demands that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah must be dealt with. He lets Abraham negotiate, right down to finding 10 righteous people in the city, and promises that “for the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.” (Genesis 18:32)

It’s important to understand that Abraham didn’t restrain himself before the Lord, but said what was in his heart. God doesn’t want us to come to Him with false reverence and complex prayers.

He wants the honesty of our hearts and the candour of how we really feel – even about Him.

To close, let’s look at two verses. The first comes from James (Jesus’ brother) in his letter to the Jews living outside of Israel. James’ letter is primarily concerned with what a Christian life looks like. And as he closes the letter, he writes this to the believers:

“Elijah was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth for three years and six months.” (James 5:17, King James 2000)

What I want to focus on is the fact that Elijah was a man “subject to like passions.” There was nothing unique or special about Elijah that made him super holy or special before God. He was a man like you and me. And when he spoke the Word, it was considered a prayer good enough for the Lord to act on his behalf.

If this was true for a man under the Old Covenant – how much more you and I? Having been cleansed by Jesus’ blood, we have direct access to Father God in the New Covenant!

We need to lay down the wrong notions of how we should pray so we do pray.

The second verse comes from the Old Testament, where the Lord is giving instructions on the priestly garments. I’ve heard a pastor speak before about how each element of the garments reflect an aspect of our High Priest Jesus today – visual representations of what Jesus is doing for us right now in heaven.

But I want to zoom in on one element in particular: The plate of gold on the front of the priest’s turban – on the forehead of the priest. Let’s see what the Bible tells us:

“You shall make a plate of pure gold and engrave on it, like the engraving of a signet, ‘Holy to the Lord.’ And you shall fasten it on the turban by a cord of blue. It shall be on the front of the turban. It shall be on Aaron’s forehead, and Aaron shall bear any guilt from the holy things that the people of Israel consecrate as their holy gifts. It shall regularly be on his forehead, that they may be accepted before the Lord.” (Exodus 28:36-38)

The engraved declaration of “Holy to the Lord” is on Aaron’s head as he faces God. So though our thoughts may not be pure and holy, they are “cleaned up” when represented through the High Priest.

Now because Jesus is our High Priest and we are in Him, despite the selfishness and inherent flaws of our prayers and thoughts, Jesus “cleans” our prayers up and they are submitted as holy unto the Lord.

So pray as you are. Jesus our High Priest has made our thoughts perfect and clean before the Father today. Pray as you feel: Pray when the words don’t flow and the tears won’t stop.

God wants you to talk to Him as a friend. He wants you to come to Him just as you are. He loves you perfectly and has provided the way through Christ for you to do just that.

Keep on praying on. Miracles are waiting to happen in your life.


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

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I don’t understand the Bible

How could you take from me what I deserved?

Stop trivialising favouritism

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

Why it’s important to face your doubts

Pray as you are