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Relationships

Are you dreading Valentine’s Day?

by Darius Leow | 8 February 2018, 11:46 AM

Valentine’s Day is coming up this week.

Social media is going to be flooded with sweet-nothings and public declarations of love and appreciation. It’s easy, if you’re single, to feel like you’re missing something.

For some I imagine it’s like a “weak” spot that’s sharply pressed on each year in February.

While thinking about love in general, I came across an article I read about weakness and lack. I learnt that great love is found in the places where grace is most needed. Our weaknesses and inadequacies – these are also areas in our lives where we might receive God’s love.

“And when God gave me my weaknesses, which are legion, his purpose wasn’t to make me ashamed and discouraged. He gave them to me so I could have the astounding privilege of humbly receiving someone else’s love as they graciously serve me in a place of my need, and then joyfully responding to them with grateful love in return.” 

Following Bloom’s logic, I see how God has loved me in my weaknesses. For instance, I’m not good with numbers and calculations, so God sent people to help me with mathematical matters. I can’t sing very well, so God sent people to sing alongside me during worship – I can still be part of a beautiful chorus of praise.

I am a passive person, so God sent friends that would challenge me to leave my comfort zones. I am prideful and stubborn at times, so God allows for circumstances and people to mould and refine my character. The list goes on, but you get it.

Think about Paul’s “thorn” in 2 Corinthians 12. We might not be able to agree on what exactly the “thorn” was, but we know Paul asked God to take it away because it was troubling him.

Yet instead of simply answering that prayer and removing the thorn, God said to him: “My Grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

What a response. Hearing God’s comforting promise, Paul declares that he will boast in his weaknesses – so that “Christ’s power may rest on [him].”

Paul knew that though his weaknesses were plenty, God’s love and grace were of greater measure. We are loved relentlessly by an infinite God!

If you’re someone who’s written off Valentine’s Day as a cultural construct, treating it like it’s something beneath you … I just want you to try and understand that there are people who struggle on days like this.

Ask the Lord to reveal what troubles you in your secret heart. It’s alright – and good even – to thrash out the things that stumble us.

So don’t laugh. There are people who feel unloved every 14th of February, and these words were meant to minister to them.

Sweet friend, lay aside the inadequacies you feel. Tell the Lord, your Friend, what burdens your heart. Then look up and be encouraged. You are not alone – You are dearly and deeply loved.

In the hour of your greatest need, Christ stood up to meet it. He first loved us.

He first loved you.

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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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They said my unborn baby is incompatible with life

by Benecia Ng | 11 May 2018, 4:04 PM

“I refuse to accept this prognosis,” I can still hear myself say. “I’m not going to terminate the pregnancy.”

I got married in June 2015, ready to have children. My husband Ernest and I decided early on that three would be a good number, if God allowed.

By December that year, we were expecting our first child, which was a miracle on its own, given that I have six fibroids in my womb – and women with just one already experience difficulty conceiving.

Delivery wasn’t easy. After a horrifying 35 hours followed by induction, coupled with a mid-delivery scare due to the baby’s irregular heartbeat and mild distress, I successfully gave birth to our daughter, Vanna, via natural delivery in August 2016.

I considered stopping at one after the trauma from this first experience, but we’d initially wanted more – so we stuck to our plan. By September the next year, we tested positive on our pregnancy test. Thinking that all would be well, we told our parents the good news shortly after.

However, this happiness was shortlived when I started bleeding one day. The gynaecologist described it as a biochemical pregnancy – in layman’s terms, a “very early pregnancy loss”. We were all heartbroken, but we thought to ourselves: Perhaps God didn’t think it was the right time for our second child.

Holding on to hope despite our grief, we discovered we were pregnant again at the end of 2017. This time, everything looked good. When it was time for my 12-week scan, I went alone as Ernest was away on a work trip, thinking it was just another routine scan.

I didn’t think it would be a scan that would change our lives forever.

After the scan, I was asked to wait in the room for a second one. Unsure of what was happening, I went along with it, until I found myself sitting with a doctor who broke the news that they were not able to see the foetus’ skull through the scan, which points to a rare congenital disorder called acrania.

Babies with acrania are born with under-developed skulls and have a long-term survival rate of zero percent.

In medical terms, my baby was “incompatible with life”.

My mind went blank; this had to be a nightmare that I needed to wake up from. “You have an option to terminate the pregnancy,” I was then told. “I refuse,” was my reply, saying I was going to get a second opinion.

The second opinion was the same. So was the third. We didn’t want to believe it, but my baby really had acrania, and he/she was unlikely survive even if I were to go through with the pregnancy.

Is this some joke from God? I’d already suffered through the miscarriage of my second child. Now I had to decide if I wanted to take an “unnecessary pregnancy risk” or terminate the pregnancy, move on and try for another child.

But when we saw our baby’s heart still beating strong and fighting the odds stacked against him/her, Ernest and I knew we would continue with the pregnancy. Even as the parents, we acknowledged that life and death is God’s domain, not ours. We don’t actually have the right to decide if our baby lives or dies.

“Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.” (Psalm 127:3-5)

And in my heart, I knew that God doesn’t make mistakes – that there had to be something good that could come from this situation, even if we couldn’t see it from where we stood.

After spending time in prayer and speaking to our pastors, we confirmed that we would see this pregnancy to delivery. One of the pieces of advice received that stayed with us was: “As children of God, we live for eternity and we make decisions of eternal value; whether you meet your baby on earth or in heaven, will you be able to honestly say that you loved him/her with your all?”

This baby might still be a foetus, but he/she is already part of our family, and we will love him/her and give our best, no matter how difficult the road ahead looks. Family doesn’t leave anyone behind.

In this waiting season as we draw closer to my expected delivery date, September 18, 2018, God has been so real to us. We are so encouraged by the sermons we hear in church and the messages of encouragement from our spiritual family. No matter what happens in the days to come, I know that when we look back upon this time, we will see hope amidst the trial.

We have been praying for a miracle, but our hope does not lie in the miracle itself – it lies in the God of the impossible. His sovereign will be done, for He is always good.

We are on a journey to witness the mighty hand and loving heart of our Good Father. This is not the end.


Benecia and Ernest are currently awaiting the birth of their child. Send them your thoughts and prayers here.

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I’m a guy and I struggle with self-image issues

by Danny Chua | 11 May 2018, 4:00 PM

I struggle a lot with this.

The unending insecurity. Looking good enough. Giving off good vibes. It’s always been there, and it’s still here. It will likely be a struggle for a while.

But as I was writing this, God helped me see that the root of this self-image struggle began in Primary School. I distinctly remember the girls in the basketball team commenting, on numerous occasions, how sickly and pale I looked.

I thought I could brush these comments off, but for some reason, their words really got to me. I really didn’t want to care but deep down I did. So from a young age, I wanted to be excellent at everything – to have everyone’s approval whether it was in sports, academics or my looks.

I distanced myself from people — even my friends — because I feared that if they got too close they would see how ugly I really was both inside and outside.

I never really dealt with the hurtful experience from Primary School. And it was easy to bury that because I attended an all-boys school and an all-boys discipleship group in Church. So I didn’t have to interact with anyone of the opposite gender … Until it was time to join Youth Fellowship in Church.

To my horror, my silent struggles came up again: “What are others going to think of me? Are there scary, judgey girls around who will say the same thing? Can I fit in?” I remember how I hated to walk through a room full of people and the inevitable feeling that I looked strange and awkward.

And as usual, I just didn’t deal with this issue.

Fast forward to Junior College: I was now playing basketball at the national level, so I began to take it more seriously.

When competition season came, a few of us went on diets: We restricted our carbohydrate intake and cut down on unhealthy food, eating only vegetables and meat. The thing was that we did it with good intentions to improve physically. And I also thought it was a cool thing — we were like the NBA guys!

But what I didn’t know was that this was really only intensifying my inner obsession with how I saw my body. It never became an eating disorder, but it was powerful enough to excite me whenever I saw how I improved my looks cutting calorie by calorie. I could shave off my ugliness with each gram of fat, and recreate a “new me” one healthy meal at a time.

It sounds good, and it sure felt good to actually feel good about myself! But while I was in better shape physically, I had actually dug a deeper hole to hide all the discomfort that was still there from being in my own skin.

I remember all the training sessions in school and with the national team when we had to play “skins versus shirts.” That meant one team was half-naked and the other had jerseys on. It was always a terrifying mental nightmare each time I was on “skins” — I hated that.

The more I know Jesus personally, the more drawn to Him I become. It’s as though my heart was made to find full satisfaction and rest in Him.

The struggle continued into National Service. I thought it was awesome because I lost a lot of weight from the training and became very lean from the running. And after going to Brunei for 9 days where I lived on 2 days’ worth of food, I lost 6 kilograms! It was something I was more than thrilled to boast about.

Around this time, a really close friend innocently commented on my physique: “Isn’t it easy for guys to have abs and look like Abercrombie models?”

That was what she said. But I heard the words as, “Why don’t you look as if you were sculpted like a Greek god? Shouldn’t you be fitter-looking?” Lost in translation, her comment threw me onto an exercise spree and dieting regime once more.

Over the next few years, I continued to oscillate between restricting my diet and giving up. The obsession was draining. I fussed over every single thing I ate and every repetition of lifting weights. I was dying living like this: Caught in a cycle of chasing unattainable perfection, never good enough.

And it got me thinking more wrong thoughts: If I could never be good enough for myself, would I ever be accepted by God?

Honestly, I still struggle with my self-image. But I thank God that He is patiently correcting my heart and renewing my mind about it. Only God is able to empower me to see myself the way He sees me.

God has been showing me that I can and must fix my eyes on Jesus. He is the captivating radiance of the glory of God (Hebrews 1:3), and all I have to do is simply gaze upon His beauty (Psalm 27:4) — then the things of the world will dim.

The more I know Jesus personally, the more drawn to Him I become. It’s as though my heart was made to find full satisfaction and rest in Him.

From this position of acceptance and rest, I naturally want to spend more time and energy doing my Father’s business. I’ve become gospel-minded, realising I just don’t have time to waste obsessing over exercise regimes or diets.

My health first comes from fixing my eyes on Jesus.

Jesus is my Bread of Life (John 6:35), broken and torn for me on the Cross.

Knowing this didn’t just change the way I saw myself — it also changed the way I related to others. Dietary choices no longer restricted me from having a meal with my friends. As silly as it sounds, if I can now eat anything anywhere, then I can fellowship and share Jesus over a meal with others so much more easily!

His daily bread is all the “staple carbs” I need each day! With Him, I don’t need to hunger for approval or affirmation anymore.

I’m on a tough journey, and it’s humbling to remember that I’m just a struggling sinner — never perfect and beautiful enough for myself. Yet ugly, weak and bad as I am — Jesus chose me for His kingdom.

I know my self-image well now: I am loved by Jesus and found in Him (Colossians 3) — I take on Jesus’ likeness whenever the Father looks at me.

This is who I am. A child of God.

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Listen to your mother’s heart

by Jonathan Cho | 10 May 2018, 6:27 PM

This is the first time I am celebrating Mother’s Day as a father. It brings a different dimension to my appreciation of motherhood because I see my wife quite literally, labouring for my daughter in ways I cannot comprehend.

It is a beautiful thing to watch – the interaction between mother and child. It is, in a profound way, a reflection of the depth of the heart of God.

He has, in various parts of Scripture, described or compared Himself to a “labouring mother” (Isaiah 42:14), a “mother hen” longing to gather her young (Matthew 23:37), even a “woman nursing her child” (Isaiah 49:15, 66:13). The long-suffering nature of motherhood is not foreign to Him.

Mothers are precious in the eyes of God. We can see even from the example of Jesus, how He cared for and thought of His mother. It seemed that even when He was on the cross, at the brink of death, Jesus’ concern was who would take care of His mother when He was gone:

“When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold your mother!” And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home.” (John 19:25-27)

We know that our mothers deserve honour, recognition, love and affirmation – but sometimes it feels like what we do for them may not be enough. Or rather, we find it hard to fully articulate or express what we mean to really tell them, beyond the usual “Happy Mother’s Day!” or “I love you Mum, thank you!”.

Communication is a big, loaded word when we think of parents and children. In fact, we often hear it in the context of things being miscommunicated.

When I was younger, there were tons of instances where things were lost in translation simply because I didn’t know how to express myself. There was so much on my heart that I wanted to share or say, but I stuttered, stumbled or became overly defensive simply because I was afraid to disappoint, to make a mistake, or “say something wrong”.

Sometimes miscommunication leaves us all with a good laugh, but mostly the experience can be painful; we misunderstand each other and this creates tension which we don’t always know how to deal with – maybe even for years.

From the point of childbirth, to feeding, carrying and caring for a child, there is a very special place for mothers in a child’s growth and their entry into this world – the way they learn to trust and to depend.

And if we should talk about communication between a mother and baby, this must surely be the toughest part, because an infant can hardly speak, and neither does a mother immediately know her “language”. There would be no meeting of minds at all.

But here’s the thing – there is such a deep connection between mother and child that goes beyond spoken word. When a child cries, her mother responds almost intuitively (something fathers seem to be a bit slower at).

A mother often knows what her little one wants or needs, just by the sound or tone of a cry. Is it milk? Sleep? Comfort?

Why then, does this pure and unadulterated “communication” seem to get harder as we grow older?

Have you watched a crying child be soothed to sleep simply by being at her mother’s side, comforted by lying on her chest? We might attribute it to the familiar “smell” or “touch”, but whatever it really is, I’ve witnessed it and it is absolutely amazing.

God designed women’s bodies to be able to feed children, to literally produce food for a newborn. And this production of milk comes in cycles too, matching a child’s need for food or specific nutrients – it runs almost like clockwork.

There is such a raw and un-understandable connection and communication between mothers and their children that goes beyond our explanation, even before they can effectively speak the same language.

Why then, does this pure and unadulterated “communication” seem to get harder as we grow older? If this is how we are made, then why has it gotten more challenging for us to express ourselves to our mothers, and for our mothers, to comfort, show concern and respond in a way that accurately addresses our needs?

It’s a rhetorical question – I have no answer. But what I do know is that the mother-child bond is real and it is strong. And whatever has happened over time to erode it, I think I know how we can start recovering this beautiful image of pure connection and communication between mother and child: Listen to one another.

I don’t mean just hear – I mean listen, really listen to what the other is saying. Give each other the benefit of doubt, and don’t always assume that the other person is out to correct, criticise or hurt you.

Sometimes our mothers nag, but what we need to learn to do instead of shut her out is listen. Listen to your mother’s heart: What is she really saying?

We may hear: “Go to bed, it’s late. Stop playing your games”, but if you lean in and listen closely, what she’s saying really is, “I don’t want to see you tired. It worries me when I see that you don’t have enough rest”.

Just think about a baby and her mother – is a mother giving a command when she says “Don’t cry”? Or is she really saying, “It’s alright, I am here with you; there’s no need to cry anymore”?

Similarly, mothers – and I say this with great respect – listen to your children. We aren’t the best at expressing ourselves; we are trying to find our words, like a babbling baby. Once before, we merely cried and you knew exactly what we were trying to say – could we ask that it not be any different now, simply because we have gotten a better grasp of spoken language?

We still struggle to tell you what we really feel, and if you listen closely, you will find somewhere in the broken words that there is a need that you can meet. There is a need that God designed you to meet.

And so, mothers, we honour you for the role that you play in our lives. God has put you in this role as a special expression of His heart for all mankind and through you, God is communicating something to all of us.

He is loving us through you, showing us the depth of His love and what He is willing to do for us through you. And like you’ve often shown us, how long-suffering He is for our sake in so many ways.

We may not always have the right words on hand, but we love you more than you could ever know.

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Article list

Are you dreading Valentine’s Day?

How could you take from me what I deserved?

Stop trivialising favouritism

They said my unborn baby is incompatible with life

I’m a guy and I struggle with self-image issues

Listen to your mother’s heart