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If you died today, what would your life amount to?

by | 25 April 2018, 3:45 PM

“Tony* has passed on peacefully, thank you for your prayers.”

Upon receiving the WhatsApp notification of yet another passing this morning, I couldn’t bring myself to send another message of condolence. Not another one.

In the past two weeks alone, I’ve received news of the passing of four individuals in my life. These grave messages came around the same time as Avicii’s passing and four recent road accidents here which claimed the lives of Kathy Ong (19), Jasmine Lim (23) and 3 more Singaporeans – including a father and daughter pair.

It’s been such awful news to take. As I sent my condolences out, I tried to put myself in the shoes of those who were grieving, but I just couldn’t imagine the pain.

But death happens and it will continue to exist even if we’re unwilling to think about it. What we must do in its wake is to reevaluate our purpose for living – what our life will amount to.

Kathy Ong’s passing left a deep impression on me. She would have been 20 this year – the same age as me. She had passion and drive in her studies, she even planned out all the modules she would take in her 4 years of university.

Life is good until it’s not, a vapour that can vanish in the wind at any time. We have to live each day as if it’s our last – with purpose and fulfilment. I suppose we’re used to such mantras, being bombarded by constant reminders in the world.

Live the life you want to. Do what you love. Life is too short to have regrets.

Most people live for the puddle of water in their hands – when they could be living for the river!

There’s some truth to that … But the message these kind of mantras drive home is one that is very self-focused. A life spent on chasing what society dictates is worthwhile is one with shallow purpose: We spend our youth working hard to make a small pile for ourselves, so we can spend our twilight years collecting seashells – and then we die.

Is that what purpose really is? I looked to Ecclesiastes 2, where King Solomon – one the wisest men who ever lived – talks about purpose.

What has a man from all the toil and striving of heart with which he toils beneath the sun? For all his days are full of sorrow, and his work is a vexation. Even in the night his heart does not rest. This also is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 2:22)

A perennial, purposeless haze hangs over this world – have you felt it yet? Solomon writes that we ought to find joy in our labour: But it’s impossible to find joyful purpose in our work when God is removed from the picture (Ecclesiastes 2:24-25).

The passing pleasures of this world will not satisfy you. It’s a simple equation: A life spent for temporal things won’t have eternal value. We were created for a purpose greater than ourselves.

I watched a movie with my dad recently – Paul, Apostle of Christ. There was a scene where Paul was speaking with the prefect in charge of his execution. The prefect asked Paul how was he able to be so calm before his death.

Paul explained it to him using an analogy: When we scoop water from a river, it slips through our fingers regardless of whether we want it to or not. Life is like water slipping through our fingers – easily gone in a moment.

But eternity is water from the river. Most people live for the puddle of water in their hands – when they could be living for the river! That was where Paul’s peace came from: Facing death, he knew he had lived for Christ.

Life slips through our fingers easily. Be the one who lives for the river and finds his purpose in God. It’s the only path to peace: The knowledge that life’s labour isn’t in vain – but spent for eternity.


* Name has been changed for confidentiality.

/ 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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So you didn’t like the sermon

by | 16 July 2018, 8:50 PM

Have you ever criticised your church?

Recently, a good number of my brothers and sisters-in-Christ — people who are close to me — are beginning to have their doubts about their churches on a number of issues. Some weeks it’s about something the preacher said. On another, it might be about a reckless choice of song during worship.

While it’s crucial to keep standards and be sensitive to audience feedback, upon reflection I honestly find that a lot of the criticism comes from a place of pride.

We all care for our church to varying degrees, but I find myself wishing more effort was spent on ensuring there’s edification and encouragement after a disagreement rather than a pat on the back for saying something theologically clever.

Because there’s always going to be something to disagree about, we need to learn how to disagree without causing dissension.

“If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.” (1 Timothy 6:4)

Whether it’s theological differences or wrong song choices, there’s a great deal in the Church today with the potential to divide us if we let it. But there’s also a lot more common ground than we realise.

So how can we have unity without uniformity? How do we disagree within closed ranks? If we want to call ourselves a united body of believers, these are questions we must have answers to.

PRIDE AND POSTURE

Recently, I attended my church’s bi-annual camp in Malaysia. Going with a group of young people, it was actually my first time attending such a camp and I didn’t really know what to expect.

The camp turned out to be very heavily focused on family issues like marriage and fatherhood, so a lot of the singles quickly felt left out in terms of content and context.

By lunch, it had gotten to a point where I had been in multiple conversations about the sheer irrelevance of the sermons. That sort of conversation really fed into my bitterness about the camp. I worked my socks off last week to clear assignments, paid $500 and took a 9-hour coach ride to be here for this?

That attitude of mine lasted until the night service, where I repented for being so stuck up and insistent on my own way. As the speaker ambled up the stage, I told God quietly: “I know You didn’t bring me here to waste my time, and I don’t want to waste Yours. You have something here for me, and I really want to learn it. Help me to be humble as I listen.”

And everything changed after that. When I pressed in to learn humbly, something clicked. And I began to listen to what the speaker was saying — the importance of getting marriage and fatherhood right. And so I learnt.

My personal belief is that a lot of our reactions today stem from entitlement.

Marriage, fatherhood, motherhood and family are not things that singles get to ignore. In fact, until that night I was tempted to believe that holiness in the home was just something that happened once I got married.

Nothing could be further from the truth — it takes the real hard work of fathers to be the spiritual thermostat of their homes. It takes discipline and time today. As men, our spiritual disciplines and walk with God must be on point if we want to lead a godly family.

I can’t speak for my whole generation, but my personal belief is that a lot of our reactions today stem from entitlement. At least for younger Singaporeans, you want anything — you snap your fingers and there you have it. Instant gratification in just the way you desire. So I find that we tend to react poorly when we don’t get that.

We’ve gotta respond instead. When we encounter a situation we’re uncomfortable in, we need to stop complaining as the first recourse. I know how much I need to shut up for a second and ask God what He’s doing; I’m scared to think of how much wisdom I’ve missed out on just by merely dismissing it before I really hear it.

And if you know me, you’d know I have a very binary view on life, in that every decision either takes you closer to God or further away from Him. So the next time you start openly disagreeing with a sermon or song, check your posture. At the heart of it, do you just want to sound right? Do you just want people to agree with you?

Or do you really want to lovingly build up the body of believers God has put you in?

Unity is generally an easier thing when we agree. But do we want people to also end up closer to God even – especially – in our disagreements? At the bottom line, it’s all about the net kingdom profit.

HUMILITY AND HONOUR

What if you decide that unity is the highest value in your church? What would your conversations sound like? How different would the way your ministries are run be?

Conversations either honour leaders or dishonour them. Conversations about members either respect them or belittle their concerns. Regardless, if they don’t have love in them, the harsh truth is they are just words meant to make you sound smart.

But if they are spoken in the love of God, they build up the church, its leadership and members.

“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8)

We don’t do honour very well, but we desperately need it. Especially when we disagree, we need to be able to have conversations that still encourage, edify and exhort. We are so frequently doing the very opposite, that Satan might as well recline on a deck chair given how terribly efficient we can be at his work.

We need to whip out Ephesians 4 a little more, and be mature enough to have conversations about the things we disagree with without being stumbled, or worse – stumbling others. Even if we don’t like a particular sermon, speaker or song, we need to be able to talk about these things in a way that still honours the brother or sister, that still allows for mutual edification and unity.

If it’s not mutual edification or unity, then it’s disunity and dishonour. And if you’re leader, you have the added responsibility with your words. The younger ones are looking up to you, and they will either watch your weekly disdain of the speaker or follow in the culture of honour you are making.

Look to make net kingdom profit.

/ gabriel@thir.st

Gabriel isn't a hipster, but he loves his beard and coffee. In his spare time, he'd rather be on a mountain.

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What I learnt from an adulteress

by | 13 July 2018, 4:07 PM

Recently, I came across an article in which the writer chronicled her experiences of sleeping with married men.

The author wasn’t looking for a long-term relationships, and since married men have obligations to their family, she decided that they would be ideal one-night stands for her with no strings attached.

Through her hookups, the author learnt that men typically commit infidelity because their partner stopped having sex with them. And these men found it easier to get their sexual needs met elsewhere rather than to ask why. Other men confided that their wives were bedridden, but they had chosen to not leave their partners.

As I read on, it struck me that these men weren’t looking for a relationship – they already had that with their wives. They were simply looking for sex. In the author’s words: “But the other husbands I met would have preferred to be having sex with their wives. For whatever reason, that wasn’t happening.”

I was appalled when I read the article. How could a husband cheat on a wife and still claim to love her? How could anyone betray their loved ones like that? How dare they! But as angry words turned over and over in my a mind, a small voice broke through the internal rant.

Don’t you cheat on Me too?

It’s easy to point fingers and play the blame game. But it’s more productive to understand that cheating happens when we succumb to temptation.

All of us face temptations in our everyday lives. Some of us check girls out (Matthew 5:28), others watch pornography or even engage in forbidden relationships. And sometimes as singles, we may think we’re not cheating anyone when we cave in – but we are.

We’re cheating on God.

… fidelity and self-control aren’t things that just automatically start after we’ve utter our marriage vows. They start now.

Temptation is universal. I have friends who have given into temptation, I know some who were betrayed by their partners. Likewise I also face temptations, when I was single and now also as someone who’s attached. And I’m pretty sure I will continue to face temptations even after I marry.

As a married person, you choose and fight to stay committed to one person. As a single or unmarried person, you fight to remain pure. So whatever your relationship status is, fidelity and self-control aren’t things that just automatically start after we’ve utter our marriage vows.

They start now.

Temptation is that tension between the heart, mind and will.

In the heat of the moment, it’s all too tempting to simply give in. We rationalise and deceive ourselves – anything just to convince ourselves that it’s okay.

We need conviction.

A friend shared with me a passage from Jane Eyre which had helped her to overcome her struggle with physical intimacy. Jane had fallen in love with a man who she later found out was married. The man begged Jane to stay by his side, a plea which caused her great emotional turmoil. But Jane produces a remarkable response to the temptation.

“I will keep the law given by God; sanctioned by man. I will hold to the principles received by me when I was sane, and not mad — as I am now. Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation: they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be. If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth? They have a worth — so I have always believed; and if I cannot believe it now, it is because I am insane — quite insane: with my veins running fire, and my heart beating faster than I can count its throbs. Preconceived opinions, foregone determinations, are all I have at this hour to stand by: there I plant my foot.”

… if we stay where we are tempted for too long, the temptation will overtake us. So we must also flee.

Many of us already know what the right thing to do is. We just lack the determination to see it through when the test comes. But that’s human nature. So beyond deciding early what we will stand for, we need to flee when temptation comes.

We plant our foot on our convictions when trials and temptations come. But if we stay where we are tempted for too long, the temptation will overtake us. So we must also flee.

In times of peace, prepare for war. Feed yourself with the Word. Strengthen your beliefs. Pray for your spirit to grow. If you ever stumble and fall, repent and pick yourself up again. God’s mercies are new every morning.

Purity, integrity and our relationship with God – these things are priceless. So fight for them.

Put your foot down and flee!

/ siqi@thir.st

Siqi often loses her footwear in the office. She is also known for her loud sneezes, huge appetite, and weird sound effects. Happens to be a writer too.

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Thank God I struggle with same-sex attraction

by H.Y | 13 July 2018, 10:37 AM

Yes, you read that right.

It sounded ridiculous – even sadistic – to me as well, when my friend said a similar prayer years ago. But today, these seven precious words have taken on a new meaning for me.

Experiencing and resisting same-sex attraction (SSA) is probably the hardest battle I have ever fought. While I’ve had crushes on guys as well, my attraction towards females has always been much stronger. Throughout the past seven years of resisting the temptation to act on my emotions, I’ve never understood why I had to go through this.

  • Doesn’t God know how disgusted I am with myself whenever I come to Him?
  • Doesn’t He know how difficult it is for me to repeatedly turn away from my most natural attractions?
  • If God really loved me, why didn’t He just make me normal?
  • Why did He allow me to go through so much pain?

Those were some of the thoughts that used to run through my mind. Even as I grappled with these questions, God used a recent infatuation I had to show Himself to me.

SUCCUMBING TO TEMPTATION

I met her on a week-long overseas work assignment and we clicked instantly. She was kind and took special care of me. Soon, we grew closer and started to confide in each other. We often deviated from the group to spend time together and even hung out in each other’s hotel room alone. I didn’t fully recognise my emotions then and hence, set myself up for trouble.

Perhaps it was the extended amount of time that we spent exclusively or the emotional connection we had that led me to develop feelings for her. As much as I knew my feelings were contrary to what constitutes holiness and Christ-like behaviour, I couldn’t help myself. I told myself every day that I couldn’t continue indulging in my feelings, but I just kept falling helplessly into sin.

One day, God intervened and graciously used the situation for my good. At that time, I had yet to share my struggle with my mentor and friends, hence I did not have anybody to turn to. As a result, God became the only Person I could hold on to. But at the same time, I felt far too dirty and sinful for God to handle.

WE CAN ALWAYS DRAW NEAR TO GOD

But even in the midst of my struggle, I was repeatedly reminded of what the apostle James wrote about choosing God over worldly passions. He instructs us to “resist the devil” and “come near to God” (James 4:7-8). It’s a two-pronged approach that we have to take – not an either-or approach – for it is impossible for us to turn away from sin without drawing near to God.

The apostle James also encouraged us in this: When we violently reject the devil, he flees from us. But on the other hand, when we run to God, He draws near to us.

That beautiful and magnificent image of God Himself being with me kept replaying in my mind.

… when we run to God, He Himself draws near to us.

When that realisation hit me, I knew what I had to do.

I had to come to God in brutal honesty, regardless of the state I was in. Humbling myself to realise that I could not do it on my own and raising the white flag in surrender was difficult, but I knew that there was no other option for me. I had done all I could with my human strength but it still did not amount to anything. I saw my helplessness and my desperate need for God.

I remember crying out to God in frustration. I whined endlessly to God in agony. I begged Him to remove my feelings of attraction. It was in these moments of vulnerability that I realised that it is absolutely okay for me to come to our Holy God in filthy rags.

God proved to me that He provides us with the strength to obey Him, so that we can resist even the toughest temptations.

In fact, just like the father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, He welcomes and embraces us when we come to Him in repentance – regardless of the state we are in. When we become His children, we can never be too dirty, too unholy or too distant to come back to him.

Slowly, I started to feel less alone in my struggle and I knew for certain that God was fighting alongside me. Every time I turned to him, comfort and peace, which were usually elusive to me, suddenly began to fill my heart. I felt reassured that turning to God was the right thing to do.

I also noticed how my prayers shifted from asking God to remove the temptation to asking God for strength to make the right decisions. He became very real to me in those precious seven days when I struggled with that temptation.

GOD NEVER ABANDONS US

For the first time, I was truly convinced that our Father never abandons us. Even in our times of rebellion against Him, He is never too far away for us to reach out to.

God proved to me that He provides us with the strength to obey Him, so that we can resist even the toughest temptations. In Philippians 1:6, He reassures us that He is not done with us yet and that He will complete the good work that He started in us.

… my prayers shifted from asking God to remove the temptation to asking God for strength to make the right decisions.

Since I began this journey, I have found it easier to obey God. By actively distancing myself whenever I find myself developing feelings for other girls and being honest with God about what I’m feeling, I now struggle less to turn away from temptations and turn my heart towards God.

I still do not have an answer for why God allowed me to be attracted to both genders and am far from being immune to temptations, but God has opened my eyes to see how these encounters have become a way for Him to draw me back to Himself.

I’ve seen how weak and helpless I am in the face of sin, and how the Almighty God works even through that.

Now, I am able to truly thank God that I struggle with same-sex attraction, for if I didn’t, I wouldn’t see how God graciously provides us with His own presence and supernatural strength to fight these battles and to ultimately win the war in eternity.


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

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The mask he wore to church

by Oliver Kuek | 11 July 2018, 5:47 PM

You know what it’s like being attracted to the same sex as a Christian?

I certainly don’t. And for a long time I lived without knowing what that tension was like – that double-life of fear and shame our brothers and sisters go through. I remained blissfully unaware until a few years ago, when one of my mentees from cell group texted me saying that he needed someone to talk to.

That was nothing unusual. Jonathan* and I had been having regular meet-ups so I figured he just had something a bit more pressing to share that night. We agreed to meet at a park after cell.

Jon was unusually quiet during cell. Not like he was one of the louder ones, but that night he was observably unresponsive – withdrawn almost. And even more so when we sat down to talk after that. By then, his face had taken on the pale and anxious look of a person about to throw up.

So I said, “Hey man, it looks like this is something that you’re finding pretty difficult for you to say. So, take your time alright? Don’t worry about the time, you can share whenever you’re ready and when you want to.”

Even with that word of assurance, we continued to sit by the river in silence. Jon’s eyes were fixed downwards to his shoes the whole time. Some minutes later, he began tearing.

I can only imagine the pain you’ve been experiencing this whole time, not having anyone to share this with.

“Hey. What’s wrong, Jon? You can tell me,” I said. Nervous words started to stumble out as he began sobbing: “I don’t even know how to say this.”

“I’m … Attracted to the same gender.”

Bombshell. For some stupid reason I had never thought about how to respond meaningfully in such a situation. My eyebrows might have raised for a split second before I caught myself and prayed as fast and as hard as I could. God, what do I say?

Seconds later, the words came. “Jon. Thank you … Thank you for telling me.”

I remember saying something along these lines: “That was incredibly brave of you to do, and thank you for trusting me. I can only imagine the pain you’ve been experiencing this whole time, not having anyone to share this with … Your secret is safe with me.”

Jon didn’t have any more words after I spoke. He looked so alone in the dim light which seemed almost to shroud him. I hugged him as he cried hard into my shoulder.

After Jon’s “confession”, we became closer as brothers in the faith. I know he knows I don’t judge him, but I bet he knows I’m just as clueless about this whole thing as he is. I’ve never really had to think about the perpetual tension he lives in: How the heart wants a person, and yet that same heart knows deep down it isn’t the right way forward.

And how do you live as a Christian with same-sex attraction? Unless you’re out of the closet, you basically have to put on a front and lie your way through questions about your relationship status, or just be single and celibate and hope no one asks too many questions.

How tiring it must be to live with these masks. And I believe there are ways we can do better in caring for brothers and sisters like Jon.

Why have I written this? I guess I want to say to the Christian who’s struggling with same-sex attraction, that I probably understand only a fraction of what you live through on a daily basis. From the strained hope of long having asked for this cup to be taken from you, to not knowing why I was born with such attractions – I can only imagine what it’s like being in your shoes.

To see how you have not been faithless in striving towards the godliness and self-restraint God has called all of us to compels me in my own journey. And if I’ve acted out of ignorance or entitlement, forgive me. I am not better than you. We all come from the same fallenness. As such we are all offered the same grace.

How then can we offer each other this same grace as Jesus Christ offers us, whether the struggle be same-sex attraction, anger management, addiction, pride, body image, illness, grief or loving others not like ourselves?

In my view, we can always do better as a Church, one body of Jesus Christ. We are one family, and if we love the family as much as we say we do we have to stand together, with each other; nobody gets left behind.

There is a Jon in every Church – possibly even in every cell-group. I think it’s not so much about how we can change him, but how we can bring each other closer to Christ.


Names have been changed for confidentiality.

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When the whole wide world seems oh so wrong

by | 11 July 2018, 2:38 PM

What do you do with the mad that you feel
When you feel so mad you could bite?
When the whole wide world seems oh so wrong …
And nothing you do seems very right?
– What Do You Do with the Mad that You Feel, Fred Rogers

From 1968 to 2001, Fred Rogers hosted a children’s TV programme called Mister Roger’s Neighbourhood. It was important to Rogers that his young viewers (aged 2-5) were shown care, and taught that every person deserves to be loved.

Rogers’ message is one that even adults find difficult to hear. You deserve love. What happens to children who were bullied – who were never told they are loved? Well, they become adults who struggle to accept and receive love.

The absence of love leaves a lot of room for fear to grow. And perhaps it’s not said a lot, but we all have fears. Some fear the dark, some fear dying unaccomplished, some fear being alone forever.

Fear is real, but so is love – even in the midst of all the problems we face in life. Love is the great displacer of fear. How is it that love – a word so overused and underused at the same time – holds the key to so much in life? Yet it does.

“Fear was so important, because fear left untreated becomes anger, and hatred, and resentment, and all the toxic things we have,” said Morgan Neville. Neville directed Won’t You Be My Neighbour, a 2018 documentary about Fred Rogers’ legacy.

… when the tide of negative feelings rises beyond our level of control, we need to know that it’s okay to hit the “stop” button.

A child once asked Rogers, an ordained Presbyterian minister, what to do with the “mad” that he felt. We’re people, and we feel things – anger, sadness, happiness, hurt, envy, brokenness – but what do we do with it?

Rogers turned the child’s question into a song to help children know that their feelings are both “mentionable” and “manageable.”

It’s great to be able to stop
When you’ve planned a thing that’s wrong,
And be able to do something else instead

“When you grow up, you mask your feelings, hide your intentions, you become cynical and have no patience for any of that,” continued Neville.

I realise it’s counterintuitive for us to slow down to “catch” our feelings, to think of what we should do with them – these things don’t just come with age. So when the tide of negative feelings rises beyond our level of control, we need to know that it’s okay to hit the “stop” button.

So it’s not ridiculous to pause to take a few deep breaths, to examine our anger, and to displace some of those feelings with love – for yourself and for those you’re angry at.

And think this song:
I can stop when I want to
Can stop when I wish.
I can stop, stop, stop any time.
And what a good feeling to feel like this
And know that the feeling is really mine.

Mister Rogers called it “the good feeling of control.” It belongs to us. He wanted to help children to understand how to understand themselves, to give them the tools they needed to engage with the world we live in.

Who was the person you dreamt of becoming when you were younger? It’s not too late.

When the whole wide world seems oh so wrong and nothing you do seems very right, take a deep breath and hold good words to heart.



Know that there’s something deep inside
That helps us become what we can.
For a girl can be someday a woman
And a boy can be someday a man.

Who was the person you dreamt of becoming when you were younger? It’s not too late. We’re all on this journey of becoming who we can be. And we’re not all that different after all – none of us has all the answers.

Wherever we go, we can carry in our pockets a little bit more compassion, and a little bit more forgiveness – both for ourselves and for the person we’re sitting across the table from.

“And where is this voice in our culture today?” Neville asked. “Where are the grownups in our culture? He (Rogers) was the consummate grownup voice I’d been craving. There was nothing in it for him. He was empathetic, he was looking out for our long-term well-being.”

The road is long, but the road is worth taking. Make it to the glorious end. Because at the end of our lives, I hope we will be able to look back and see that we grew to become grownups who looked out for the long-term well-being of others – just like Mister Rogers.

We can make the whole wide world a little better just by caring for someone.

/ fiona@thir.st

Fiona is secretly hilarious, deeply devoted to her dogs, and loves a good chat with strangers. She believes everyone needs to know that they are worthy of love – you are!

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Article list

If you died today, what would your life amount to?

So you didn’t like the sermon

What I learnt from an adulteress

Thank God I struggle with same-sex attraction

The mask he wore to church

When the whole wide world seems oh so wrong