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I was looking for love in all the wrong places – until love found me

by Thir.st | 22 November 2016, 11:01 AM

There is a peculiar air about Jaime Wong – speaking to her, it feels as if she does not have a care in the world, while still being deeply engaged with it.

The tennis coach is an accomplished woman, having won multiple awards in sports and school. Yet as she sits down with Thir.st to tell her story, it is clear that life hasn’t been an endless victory parade for her. She bares her scars not as trophies, but as testimonies, of God’s goodness and grace in her life.

“THE SINGAPOREAN DREAM”

Top student. Top athlete. Jaime Wong had it all. At 12, she was Singapore’s youngest national tennis champion; at 17 she received an athletic scholarship to attend the Georgia Institute of Technology.

“It almost appeared on the surface that I was living the Singaporean dream – top student, top athlete – but beneath the surface it was a very different story.”

Without her parents around to keep her in check, Jaime got addicted to pornography while in the United States, and began to embrace the notion of the freedom to love.

In 2003, upon graduation, she fell in love for the first time while on a short trip back to Singapore.

“Usually falling in love is not a bad thing. But this person was a woman, and she was a Christian. In other words, a recipe for disaster. And my mind told me: Don’t pursue this, walk on,” she said.

“But my heart was a bit more stubborn.”

In pursuit of love, Jaime gave up her life in the US – only to have her world crumble beneath her. Her friend told her: “I’m so sorry, I love you, but I love God. And I cannot walk down this path with you. I will love you as Ruth loved Naomi, as Jonathan loved David, but I just cannot be the person that you want me to be.”

This enraged Jaime.

“Just imagine the heartbreak that I felt. I gave up everything to get this in return. I could not believe this friend actually chose God over me,” she said. “I was not prepared to let go, so I thought the most logical thing for me to do was to prove to this friend of mine that there is no such thing as God, and that the Bible is nothing but a book of lies.”

HEART OVER HEAD

For two years, she was relentless in her pursuit, attempting to debunk God through the study of science, logic and history. But at the end of it, she came to believe that everything pointed to Jesus as the son of God and the Saviour of the world.

“I was prepared to accept any God except for the Christian God, but everything pointed to Jesus at the end of the day. So in 2006, I became a very unwilling Christian in 2006.”

This also meant that she could not continue pursuing the friend she fell for, the friend who shared the love of Christ with her. Jaime said she knew early on that she could not act on her same-sex attraction, but it took her seven years to completely embrace the truth.

“I hated God for suddenly becoming a high authority in my life. I was always on my own, living life without parental influence or much guidance, so I made a lot of decisions on my own. And here, suddenly, I have this book of rules telling me all these things,” she said.

Jaime made multiple attempts to stop viewing pornography, only to fall back into the habit a few days later – a vicious cycle that was eventually broken after an encounter with God.

“It was always this battle – trying to do what is right, but not being able to. And as a result of that, I fell deeper and deeper into pornography. I was angry with God, and I continued doing what I was not supposed to do,” she said.

“On the surface it looked as though I was doing the right things: Going to church, going to cell group, serving in church. But behind closed doors, everything was raging. Emotionally I was raging; physically I was not getting what I wanted. It was a really tough time.”

Her struggles drove her to contemplate suicide several times. One particularly poignant period stands out: Jaime had fasted for 40 days, thinking things would get better after that, only for her situation to continue to look despondent.

“One day, as I looked out into the ocean, I thought: ‘This is it’,” she said.

Yet before she could act on the suicidal impulse, she caught a glimpse of a message written in a book her friend had given her.

“Hang in there. One day your mess will become your message,” it read.

“I completely broke down because the timing of it was impeccable. I just said to God: ‘You know God, I give up. I don’t want this life. Take it, do what you want with it.’ And that prayer became my defining moment. It became the moment where everything just turned – the amazing transformation came.”

AMAZING GRACE

After that act of surrender, Jaime said she was miraculously healed of all her sicknesses. All mental illnesses, all physical ailments – including a diagnosis for Ulcerative Proctitis, which doctors said was incurable – were gone.

“God didn’t just stop at that. He did more for me. He set me free from this prison of sexual immorality. It’s been two and a half years now, or more, and I’ve been completely free from pornography. And I’ve turned away from same-sex desires,” she said.

“I realise that I have lost my sexual appetite for the unclean because my heart had just received that pure, perfect love of Jesus.”

That moment when God truly entered her heart turned her life around. Where she once feared public speaking, Jaime now wanted to tell the world about the transformation that could only come through God.

“I was suddenly filled with this new purpose, this new desire that God has put in my heart, and there was new ability that He gave to me to tell people about what Jesus has done for me.”

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REAL LOVE IS UNCONDITIONAL 

While it was initially difficult to open up to others on the issue of same-sex attraction, Jaime has found herself slowly being drawn into the topic during different conversations with different people.

When asked about what she would say to someone facing similar struggles, she said the answer is always to go back to the Word of God.

“It’s not about what I say to the person about this issue, but what the Word says. And so my duty to God is to love the person the way Jesus has loved me and to give them a glimpse of His love, and to share the truth and love them. At the end of the day, it’s to let the Word speak – God will speak for Himself – and to let the Holy Spirit convict them.”

In fact, it was the friend she was initially attracted to who demonstrated this love to her.

“She became a friend to me in the way that I couldn’t understand. On one hand, I felt rejection but yet on the other hand, I sensed a love that I could not comprehend – love that stood by me and stuck with me. She didn’t walk out of that friendship; she stayed there even though I put her through hell,” Jaime recalled.

She admitted to stalking and verbally abusing her friend, who chose not to walk away and to love her like Jesus did.

“For all the things that I’ve done to her, I didn’t deserve any of it, yet she gave it freely and she loved me wholly and she loved me, and she gave me a glimpse of what God’s love is like – enduring and longsuffering and waiting with hope that one day I would turn around,” Jaime said.

While it was ironic that she sensed both rejection and love at the same time, Jaime said this was how real love revealed itself to her.

“I felt loved in a way that I could not explain and I believe that is the kind of love that I want to mirror. The love that Jesus had for me – I want to mirror that and to love those who are broken,” she said.

READ MORE ON JAIME WONG: IT’S NOT ABOUT HOW MUCH MONEY WE MAKE. IT’S ABOUT HOW MANY LIVES WE IMPACT

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The kind of life I want

by Joe E | 24 May 2017, 10:09 AM

I was recently at a funeral wake of someone I’m not related to. My wife’s friend’s father. Let’s call him Uncle P.

It was obvious that Uncle P was loved by his family, friends and churchmates. This was a farewell that had that perfect mix of tears of sadness and much laughter, as loved ones reminisced about the life of Uncle P.

Attending the nightly service at the wake left a deep impression on me. It made me think about the kind of life I want to live. This was the passage the pastor conducting the service used to describe Uncle P.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day — and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing. (2 Timothy 4:7-8)

I saw the legacy he was leaving behind. Shared his daughter: “If anyone is excited about meeting Jesus in heaven, it will be my dad.”

Uncle P was, first of all, a minister. Close family friends recalled how he would drive his daughters to school faithfully for 8 years, using the time in the car to share with them the Word of God, and pray with them Every. Single. Day.

This put me to shame. Though I generally enjoy sending my children to school, there are also days when I’m tired and reluctant to send my kids to school, or when I didn’t feel like talk to them about God along the way.

Uncle P was also a missionary, participating actively in overseas missions even at the age of 60. In latter years he transversed the jungles of Thailand to reach far-flung tribes. And his devotion to God and heart for people made an impact, I heard over and over again that night.

He also faithfully led his church’s prison ministry and visited inmates every week. He compiled the many reports of lives touched by Jesus, and shared them with his church leadership.

Uncle P was also a man of humility. He took it upon himself to be the traffic warden in his church on Sundays, and greeted members and visitors at the gate with the joy of the Lord.

Another cell member recalled Uncle P not only encouraged people with his words, but put his money where his mouth was, offering up his own savings when this friend ran into financial difficulties during the Asian Financial Crisis.

At the wake, I heard that one of Uncle P’s favourite passages in Scripture is Psalm 113:2-3.

Let the name of the Lord be praised,
Both now and forevermore.
From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets,
The name of the Lord is to be praised.

That was epitomised, clearly and fully, in his life.

This is the kind of life I want to aspire towards, I thought to myself as I went home. I didn’t know Uncle P before that night. But I was inspired by the stories of his life, his legacy, and his love for God.

The troubles and worries I am going through seem so petty and small when you compare them to the size of Uncle P’s big, generous, faithful heart. Lord, help me to live a life worthy of you – that I, too, might keep the faith and finish the race of life well.

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Shout His name from the rooftops

by Carmen Low | 23 May 2017, 5:23 PM

Three years ago, when my partner Lionel and I first walked onto the rooftop carpark on the 6th floor of People’s Park Complex, it was a complete wasteland. It smelled of death/sex/drugs. It was ghetto – dirty and really filthy.

But that wasn’t what I was seeing. Instead I had a vision – given separately to Lionel and I – that that place would be a house of worship, a house of prayer. We saw, in that vision, the entire place filled with young people worshipping Jesus. Each person was represented by a lightbulb, and the entire place was filled with light.

And we heard this word: That the largest youth revival will be birthed from this land, and a huge worship festival will take place here.

So from that day we walked and we prayed. We held spontaneous worship and outreach sessions there. We saw miracles and salvations there, on that ghetto space – a place that would come to be known as Lepark, the restaurant we started there.

Two years on, I was asked to share my testimony on Selah.

You may not be able to tell from that post, but I was really down at this period. Lepark was in a bad state, and there were legal issues – thank God, those eventually fell through – facing the restaurant. I remember Lionel and I crying out to God one day, “If something’s supposed to be here, send forth your people and resources. We can’t do it without You. You know the condition of this land Lord – we can’t use it this way.”

The next day, two people, Dawn and Isaac from FOPx, read the testimony on Selah and could barely contain their excitement when they read of the rooftop space: The Lord had been speaking to them about having a worship festival on a rooftop.

They reached out. They came. They shared their vision of using the outdoor area for worship.

The four of us went into the small room at the back of the restaurant and prayed; none of us left that meeting with a dry eye.

Then came Kingdom Invasion. And this is what I heard during worship: “Carmen, there is a generation of youths across the nations that is ready to arise. But you’re not going to lead. They are going to lead you. You just follow. Don’t even try to tell them what to do.”

The next session was Lou Engle‘s session on youth revival. As soon as I walked in, my heart raced, and my entire body was on fire, and at the altar call, I spent most of the time on the floor, where I sobbed uncontrollably.

Suddenly someone shook me really hard and asked me to look at her; I composed myself and sat up. And this is what she told me.

Carmen, consecrate yourself. There’s going to be a generation of youths filled with fire and love for the Lord. It is this group of youth leaders who will bring forth the biggest revival in this land.”

The month after that, we got a clear word to start a grassroots, youth-led movement at Lepark. No agenda, no structure, no church, no labels. Nothing – just His presence.

Faithfully, we’ve started to gather every Tuesday night at Lepark, to worship the Lord and intercede for the nation and this generation. Since then I’ve seen young people on fire for Jesus at the worship sessions. Most haven’t been officially trained to lead worship, and neither have they been “groomed” to be church leaders. They are everyday lovers of Jesus; sons and daughters of the Most High God who love their Lord.

There have been so many stories and testimonies happening every week as we gather. We’ve seen strangers randomly walking into our meetings, then accepting Jesus into their heart. We’ve seen courage in the youth who step up to preach.

If this excites you, come join us every Tuesday from 8pm.

At the start of May, we hosted a group of fathers in Lepark. The youth led the worship session at our small room at the rooftop. So much happened in that 30 minutes. The youths honoured the parents, and the parents prayed and blessed the generation that followed theirs.

We see God is moving.

We’re looking forward to a huge 72-hour worship festival. Maybe this year, maybe in 2018.

We’re looking forward to revival breaking out in schools, tertiary institutions, workplaces, public spaces.

We’re looking forward to young and old – all returning to Jesus.

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I’m taking my joy back

by | 23 May 2017, 3:06 PM

The longer I sat through the Church service, the more miserable I felt.

Joy had been a stranger to me for quite awhile. I felt like I’d been robbed of it. God’s goodness was becoming a foreign concept to me. The last thing I wanted was to listen someone drone on and on about it.

The message was about the power of God that lives in us. The preacher reminded us that we hold the same power as Christ did on Earth. We need to be in sync with the Holy Spirit so that we can live life to the fullest measure God intended for us.

I was sick and tired of feeling sick and tired. I was done carrying this weight with me.

Each anecdote he gave felt like a reminder of how I was the antithesis of a good, thriving Christian. Life had been so hard up to that point. I was dealing with so much disappointment and everything seemed meaningless.

Then, right on cue, the preacher started to shout. “Your life is not that bad. Look at the things that God has given you! Whether you feel like it or not, your life IS good!”

Maybe that worked for someone in the congregation, but not for me.

CHIN UP, CHILD

I couldn’t see how life was good. All this sadness. All this loneliness. I was struggling to hold it all together. Every part of me felt vulnerable, raw, tender.

My heart was breaking. I was so uncomfortable and was dying to get out of there. But I couldn’t. I kept my head low as the tears flowed. I never liked to cry in public, or in church. I didn’t want an audience to my unravelling.

As the preacher concluded his sermon, I felt God lifting my chin. The same way a father might to a child with her head hung low in shame. Then I heard the preacher say, “Come on everyone. Declare freedom over every area of your life where you have felt robbed; over every sickness, every disease. Know who is in you.

“Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom!”

I’ve learnt that every day I have to make a choice. Every day I have to dig a fresh grave for sadness, and ask for His unspeakable joy.

I was sick and tired of feeling sick and tired. I was done carrying this weight with me. I decided: I was going to take back what had been stolen from me. I placed both my hands over my heart and asked God to restore in me the joy I had lost. I declared freedom from the cycle of sadness that had been weighing like chains around my ankles.

My heart was finally letting some light in.

JOY IS A DAILY COMMITMENT 

Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. (John 16:22-24)

While happiness rides on pleasure, joy is independent of circumstances. Joy isn’t a feeling or an emotion. It’s a conscious decision. It surpasses all understanding; it doesn’t make sense but it is secure in something bigger than myself.

I admit I don’t have it all figured out. Some days the heaviness is hard to shake off. All I know is that the moment I finally opened my heart to the One who had been knocking, I felt a door unlock within me. Out went my self-pity and in came peace.

I’ve learnt that every day I have to make a choice. Every day I have to dig a fresh grave for sadness, and ask for His unspeakable joy – for my mourning to turn into dancing (Psalm 30:11). Every day I have to die to myself; my worries, my baggage and my hurts.

Now where did I put those dancing shoes?

/ sarakohxx@gmail.com

Sara is inquisitive and a self-professed conversationalist. She wants to learn something new with every interaction she is blessed to have. Sara also happens to enjoy writing about these conversations.

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Don’t depend on the church to give you all the answers

by | 22 May 2017, 11:55 AM

Christianity is sometimes described as a metaphorical lens.

C S Lewis wrote: “I believe in Christianity as I believe the sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it, I see everything else.”

Granted, there are “shadowlands” where we don’t see quite clearly, but Lewis suggests the clarity with which we see most things – the physical world, human experience, culture, ethics – should give us confidence about what is unseen; it should be a carefully weighed decision.

Lewis here is teaching us to disciple the mind of every believer. The ramifications are huge.

Discipleship implies that intellectual wrestling is not just for evangelism, but is the sacred duty of every Christian – thinkers, scientists, artists steeped in the human condition.

In other words, it’s the duty of every mind to think. So, how exactly do we love God with our minds?

Here, many believers fall short of their responsibility: Open, inquisitive thought is seen as dangerous, and most of us rather depend on an elite bunch of theologians/pastors to join the dots and craft a legalistic creed to which we unquestionably refer.

But in our age of scepticism I cannot overemphasise how important it is to think for yourself, question and form personal faith convictions.

For Christians, this is the working out of your salvation with fear and trembling. For any earnest truth-seeker, this is the necessary path.

Jesus preached a gospel of repentance – the root word of which, metanio, suggests a mental “flip” is intentionally required. Paul was an advocate of proto-scientific methodology too (Romans 12): Be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God.

Obedience to truth is not simply loyal resistance to obvious lies. Where philosophical certitude is impossible, the challenge is to consider Christianity inductively, and discern worldviews abductively.

He effectively declared: Don’t just obediently think about the right things. Change the way you think. Test everything. Challenge yourselves to see things in a whole new light. There will be gaps, but your lens should grant you vision to take things in all their vastness, beauty and complexity – a whole new big picture of reality that, to him, revealed God’s fingerprints.

So question all you need. Search till you really see. And don’t depend on the church to give you answers for everything. Seek them yourself.

Outspoken New Atheist Richard Dawkins describes the universe having  “precisely the properties we would expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference”.

Dawkins simply begs the question and appeals to his own (misplaced) authority as a biologist. He fails to consider the lens over his eyes, that which leads him to see God in nothing, where a Christian might try to see God in everything.

Religious leaders often fall into the same trap. We build houses of cards and spend vast measures of energy defending them.

The duty of every thinker is to acknowledge their own predisposed lenses, wilfully perceive the world through other lenses and commit to that which offers the most clarity. The honest theist/atheist/agnostic must submit to this.

But while the obedience to truth should be the goal of every mind (1 Peter 1:22), that can only start with the humility to recognise ultimate truth as an ocean of infinite mystery, often beyond empiricism and logic.

This means that while I wouldn’t jump to Dawkins’ hasty conclusions, the frantic search often lands me a despair not far from his. I’m increasingly convinced the absolutely provable truths are existentially shallow. Through them we understand cause and effect, but they’re unable to compel most of us to existentially fulfilling decisions. They won’t fill the void in our souls.

The fundamental truths we look for – which guide and motivate us – are frustratingly beyond proof.

In our postmodern age, obedience to truth is not simply loyal resistance to obvious lies. Where philosophical certitude is impossible, the challenge is to consider Christianity inductively, and discern worldviews abductively.

Refuse to settle for blind faith. Dare to question, wonder or wander.

Such an approach to faith is perfectly logical and scientifically legitimate. Unfortunately with religious faith, most unrealistically demand plain, deductive proof. Such thinkers trudge through life disappointed; meaning evades them.

It doesn’t help that masses of believers live out a “God of the gaps” faith. Because God, they declare over everything they don’t understand. The problem here is that for God to remain big, one must preserve the gaps through apathy or wilful ignorance. As any intellectual adventurer would discover, the gaps become smaller. God gets “squeezed” out.

But it’s a false dichotomy, and biggest reason why the Creationism vs Evolution or religion/cosmology debates are fundamentally futile with regard to religious faith.

If our minds didn’t invest in building or endorsing houses of cards, unbelievers wouldn’t have so much fun blowing them down. If we desire to be strong testimonies and honour the minds given to us, we need to diligently and humbly build on truth.

Fellow sceptic, we have the painful but rewarding privilege of walking the well-worn path of great men and women before us. Don’t be afraid to walk in old footprints, but keep your eyes open and test everything.

Early in the journey, the vision may blur, like that of the myopic man on his way to pick a pair of spectacles at an optics shop. But refuse to settle for blind faith. Dare to question, wonder or wander.

Returning to faith after a season of doubt, G K Chesterton wrote in Orthodoxy that the he believed for the same reasons – historical, scientific, philosophical, experiential and cultural – that an earnest atheist or agnostic arrives at their conclusions.

After digging much deeper, he concluded: “I can only say my evidences of Christianity are of the same vivid but varied kind as (the average non-Christian’s) evidences against it. For when I look at these various anti-Christian truths, I simply discover that none of them are true. I discover that the true tide and force of all the facts flow the other way.”

This is why it makes sense to love the Lord our God with all our mind: He stands up to that test, too. The only way to find out is to go there.

/ kenneth@thir.st

Kenneth is best understood through his impassioned Instagram posts, composed in the deep of night when the tumultuous world finally lies silent. He probably prefers dogs to cats.

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I kept walking right back to the love that was destroying me

by Ashley Chan | 19 May 2017, 6:26 PM

I am a survivor of sexual and emotional abuse in my childhood.

In my healing process, I’ve realised that while I thought I was unaffected by the repeated sexual assaults, the hurt and repeated abuse had tainted and disfigured my perception of love.

An old Chinese adage goes: “打是疼,骂是爱”. If you hit her, it means you love her. If you scold her, it means you love her. This was often used in the context of elders disciplining the younger generation. But it also contributed to my distorted understanding of intimacy, violence and the pain as the kind of “love” that I felt I deserved.

This mindset was perpetuated by several underlying toxic beliefs that I had about myself:

The belief that sexual assault isn’t a big deal.

When I was 7, I disclosed the sexual abuse to my mother, who had said she didn’t want to hear about it. I remember concluding that if something bad happens to me, it wouldn’t matter. In short, I didn’t matter. Growing up, this would destroy my self-worth.

The belief that I was dirty and utterly corrupt.

The sexual abuse I experienced in my childhood – combined with the words and actions of my parents who refused to believe me – left me with a sense that I had been born inherently filthy and morally corrupt. There were times when I was abused and I felt embarrassed and foolish for complaining about the violence.

The belief that I deserved it.

I’d often hear things like “you make me do this to you”, or “I wouldn’t do this to you if you weren’t so bad”. This perpetuated my belief that I deserved what I got, whether it was rape or assault.

The belief that love involves pain.

As I grew older, love was always associated with abuse. At 18, I was sexually abused by a close friend, who told me how special and beautiful I was to him. If I objected to the abuse, he threatened not to love me anymore.

At that time, I was so affection-starved that while I didn’t want the abuse – no one does – I wanted to be loved and I had only ever received love from destructive sources. I simply didn’t see any other options.

Because I returned to this violent relationship again and again, I was branded as “sick” and “masochistic” by psychiatrists who I told about the relationship. What many don’t understand is that such repeated trauma may lead to a debilitating ability to care and fend for yourself in a way others might think of as “common sense”.

I fantasised about alternative, more ideal forms of love. But what I believed by then was that for someone as undeserving as I was, true love was wishful thinking. I was taught that I was beyond the pale of the tender, safe, genuine love I desperately craved. If my loved ones could not love me, who else could I expect to love me?

I didn’t know what else love could look like. How can you recite a beautiful poem you’ve never learned?

It was knowing True Love that begun the restorative work in my life. It was nurturing, all-encompassing, fail-proof love that cast out all fear in my heart.

It is still a real, uphill battle for me to accept love and to love others like Jesus.

But I now know that my value lies in my Father. I know that I deserve to be safe. I know that I didn’t deserve to be raped or abused.

These scars, physical and emotional, now bear testament of His grace over my life.

If you’re reading this and you’ve been hurt by someone you love, or you’ve experienced similar destructive tendencies, know that no matter how deep the damage, you are not beyond the reach of true love. You are worth the healing process. You are worthy of love.

If heaven now owns that vacant tomb
How great is the hope that lives in You
The passion that tore through hell like a rose
The promise that rolled back death and its stone

If freedom is worth the life You raised
Oh where is my sin, where is my shame?
If love paid it all to have my heart

How wonderful, how glorious
My Saviour’s scars victorious
My chains are gone, my debt is paid
From death to life and grace to grace

Grace to Grace, Hillsong Worship (Easter Release)*

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Article list

I was looking for love in all the wrong places – until love found me

The kind of life I want

Shout His name from the rooftops

I’m taking my joy back

Don’t depend on the church to give you all the answers

I kept walking right back to the love that was destroying me