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Faith

Jesus wept – but He didn’t stop there

by | 6 June 2018, 11:53 AM

The focus in John 11, the resurrection of Lazarus, is usually on Jesus. How He waited before responding to the news of his friend’s illness. How He wept. How He told a dead man to rise and walk.

But read the chapter again and consider the supporting cast – everyone around not named Jesus or Lazarus, everyone around who was neither son of God nor dead man walking. Friends, family, disciples, rubberneckers, critics. Consider what must have been going through their mind. Consider their responses.

In  John 11, we learn that there are degrees of faith. We learn what true, strong and living faith looks like – and conversely, what faith that is not so strong looks like.

6 DEGREES OF IMPERFECT FAITH

#1 FAITH WITHOUT HOPE

The first degree of imperfect faith we see is from the disciples.

“But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?” (John 11:8)

Fear, hate, grudges, division, past hurts – the disciples allowed fear to dominate their thoughts, like a dark cloud, like a long shadow, overshadowing everything else, until they couldn’t see the people in need, the purpose of discipleship, or the power of Jesus.

Faith demands the courage to do the unthinkable, to cross over into the land of giants, to put love before life. Faith without courage means you never put yourself into that place where you see God overcoming the impossible. Where you would rather be inoffensive, and face no stones thrown, rather than learn to hold up the shield of faith to ward off all attacks.

How are you going to bless your enemies if you won’t go find them? If you’re scared they’ll throw stones?

#2 FAITH WITHOUT WISDOM

Jesus went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I am going there to wake him up.” His disciples replied, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better.” (John 11:11-12)

Let’s say you go to a doctor and tell him your symptoms. But once he gives you his diagnosis, you immediately dismiss it, telling him he’s wrong, suggesting your own diagnosis instead. If that sounds silly – that’s what the disciples did.

The great physician had given his diagnosis, that Lazarus must wake up, but they said no lah, you’re wrong, let him sleep, that’s better for him.

We don’t know better. So sometimes when God speaks, we need to shut up and listen. Failing to do is demonstrating faith without wisdom.

Wisdom is the discernment to unpack knowledge and apply it into our daily decisions. Don’t be like these unwise disciples, who literally can hear Jesus but completely miss His point. But God values wisdom. He says to gain it even if it costs you everything (Proverbs 4:7)

Are we so hungry for the wisdom of God that we prioritise it and pursue it no matter what? Are we so directed by the wisdom of God that we experience how it protects and watches over us?

#3 FAITH WITHOUT HOPE

So then he told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.” Then Thomas (also known as Didymus) said to the rest of the disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” (John 11:14-16)

Thomas is the defeated Christian.

Here in John 11 we see him a long way from acknowledging Jesus as his Lord and his God. He’s fatalistic. He follows believing they will all fail. He follows Jesus believing the story will end at the grave – both Jesus’ and his own.

The Christian life should be based on good things, not bad. Do you believe in God for love of God or fear of hell? Are you running to the loving arms of God or running from the alternative?

All of Christian life should be about running to something, not from something. That’s the lesson of Philippians 3:14: We have an upward calling. In some translations, it says, God calls us heavenwards.

Hope is the definition of that posture. Hope means I look up, not down. Hope means I look forward, towards the prize, not backward, over my shoulder, worrying about things.

Faith without hope is … sad. Without hope, what is there to be faithful about? What are you clinging on to? Faith without hope is no real faith at all. Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)

God cares enough about us that he sent Jesus as a messenger of hope. Hope not just for the afterlife but even in this lifetime. As Psalm 27:13 reminds us, I remain confident in this: Surely I will see the goodness of God in the land of the living!.

Hope! Something to look forward to! If your life is an advert, what are you selling? When people watch you, do they say, I want some of that? Or do they say, why would I want to be like you?

#4 FAITH WITHOUT APPLICATION

“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” (John 11:22-27)

This exchange is fascinating. Jesus keeps trying to gently hint to Martha what’s literally about to happen. To paraphrase the conversation:

Jesus: “Your Brother will rise again.” (Nudge nudge wink wink)
Martha: “Oh yes. In eternity.”
Jesus: “I am the resurrection and the life.” (Cough! Ahem!)
Martha: “Oh, umm, sure. Actually I really don’t know what you mean. Wait ah, I ask my Sister ah …”

The lesson here is this: God speaks clearly and plainly. But some of us are guilty of overthinking things. God says we are healed. We think ourselves into knots. Oh, healed not physically, only spiritually. Oh that only applies to salvation, not disease.

What is faith without application? It makes us hearers but not doers. Such faith is dead, the Bible tells us. Application is not just hearing what Jesus says, like Martha did, but actually believing in it, and acting on it!

#5 FAITH WITHOUT AN OPEN MIND

When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” (John 11:32)

Now, we turn from Martha to her sister Mary. You know Mary – while Martha busied herself in the kitchen, Mary was sitting at Jesus’ feet. So you know Mary is that much closer to the heart of God. But even she is found slightly wanting in this instance.

Here we have a bit of sympathy for Mary. I mean, her statement wasn’t one of a lack of faith in the power of Jesus. But somehow in her human mind, she limited the power of Jesus to only preventing death, rather than conquering death. She didn’t know yet that Jesus had a better plan.

Sometimes we need to let God work beyond this box we seem so fond of putting Him in. Maybe we haven’t seen how He can work in certain realms yet. So we say, I think this is how God works, and surely He can’t work in other ways.

And the answer to this is not to limit God, but to give him a blank canvas to work on. Instead of saying, God, do this which I ask you, try saying God, do that which you choose to.

Remember when Jesus died and rose again and came out of the grave? Who was the first person who saw Him walking out? Mary! Jesus completed her faith! He remembered her words, her spirit of wanting to believe, so He gave her that blessed honour and experience. So that she could now say, without the tears and the grieving – I believe in the resurrection!

Faith demands an open mind to the infinite power and possibilities for an infinite God.

#6 FAITH WITHOUT REVERENCE

 Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” (John 11:35-37)

These Jews are right and wrong. But it’s completely different from the case of Mary. Like Mary, they are right in their acknowledgement of Jesus’ power. Yes, He can. But unlike Mary, the spirit is all wrong. This wasn’t an acknowledgment in awe. This was an accusation.

I thought you were some great hero? I thought you were supposed to be the Saviour? Go on, prove yourself! Why didn’t you do it the way we think is better?

This is us when, instead of focusing on the good that God has done, we focus on the bad. Instead of being grateful for what we have, we are ungrateful for what we do not. Instead of revering Him, sometimes we revile Him.

No reverence. No acceptance of Jesus’ wisdom, power, love. No willingness to see things His way.

#7 A GREATER DEGREE OF FAITH

By this point we have 6 examples of faith which, in their imperfection, fall short.

No one benefits from such degrees of faith. Lazarus remains dead in the tomb. The families are still shattered, in mourning. The disciples and the Jews remain weak in the faith, fearful, sceptical.

Then Jesus shows them a better way. You saw 6 degrees of imperfect faith. But 7 is a perfect number – and Jesus says, let me show you what perfect faith can achieve.

Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” (John 11:40-44)

When your faith is fully aligned with God, blessings follow. Miracles follow.

Jesus’ love wasn’t just a fleeting feeling, not a hollow promise. You hear it so often: Someone shares a real need, and what they get is a bunch of Christians saying “I’ll pray for you” – and no more than that.

The lesson here is that a blessing cannot just stay in the head and the heart.

Jesus’ love wasn’t just a fleeting feeling, not a hollow promise. A blessing cannot just stay in the head and the heart.

The blessing is in the hands. It’s what we DO. If Jesus had just wept, and then walked away, leaving Lazarus dead in the grave, then it would literally have been faith without deeds – a dead faith, literally.

The blessing is in the mouth. It’s what we SAY. If Jesus had just kept quiet, never speaking life into dead men, then Lazarus would have stayed in his grave clothes, in his grave. Are we telling people about the Gospel? Are we speaking blessings into their lives?

We need to live out a faith where we are a blessing to others, because as we sow love, we sow hope. And between faith, love and hope, somewhere, triangulated in that holy place – maybe the dead will hear the voice of Jesus and arise.

/ edric@thir.st

Edric has spent a lifetime in mainstream and digital newsrooms, and has the waistline to prove it. He is a lapsed divemaster, a father to four and husband to one. Could use more sleep.

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My parents don’t talk any more

by | 18 June 2018, 10:00 AM

“How are your parents?”

That was the question my friend asked me, as we sat in a ramen shop after wrapping up our worship training overseas. She had just shared with me about her family; she was raised by only her father after her mother passed away when she was young.

When that question left her lips, the noodles in my mouth started to lose their taste. I think my face must have twitched.

As she shared about her family dynamics, there were many things I resonated with. Wanting to escape from home, family tension, awkward Chinese New Year arrangements, loneliness, hopelessness for the future …

But my parents weren’t divorced or separated. They’re living together under one roof … mostly as strangers.

The last time my parents were on talking terms must’ve been in 2009.

My dad was suddenly hospitalised for a heart surgery in the middle of my O Level preliminary exams. As I clutched my social studies textbook, my family spent the night huddled in the ICU.

Some months later, I came home from school to find them in a heated argument about hospital bills and finances. In one moment of anger, some nasty words were said. My mom fled the room and slammed the door shut.

And ever since that moment, they’ve never had another conversation.

Refrain from contributing or participating in any family drama.

I became their middle man and official messenger.

Nowadays we only go for Chinese New Year visitations if I’m around. Everyone stocks up their own groceries in the pantry and prepares their own meals. It’s as though we are housemates.

It’s difficult living in such a complicated family situation. People assume that since my parents are still living together, my family must be more or less normal.

But we’re not. And my mum has become more dependent on me ever since the fallout. Her decades of being a housewife has probably cut off most – if not all of her social circle. She doesn’t like staying home alone with my dad, so I try to spend as much as time I can with her.

But my friends don’t understand.

Why you such a mummy’s girl? That was something someone in my cell group had once remarked in jest, after I said I had to leave early after service to have lunch with my mum.

Oh, you’re calling your mum again? Another comment from a friend, after I told her I had to FaceTime my mother to check in on her while we were overseas.

I also know that my dad isn’t entirely as bad as what he is described to be. He doesn’t say much to me unless needed, and he has his moments of anger. But he has worked without a break for decades, always pays the bills, and always makes sure I have enough.

Who could ever understand my family situation? I’ve always felt all alone. I turned to the Bible looking for some ray of hope, and was surprised to find messed up families just like mine in the Bible!

  • Adam and Eve: Messed up the entire world; one of their sons murdered his brother.
  • Sarah and Abraham: Got her husband to get their servant Hagar pregnant.
  • Lot: Seduced by one of his daughters to commit drunken incest.
  • Jacob: His sons conspired to kill their youngest brother Joseph, sold him into slavery.

And all the above happened in just the first book of the Bible. And as I read on, I learnt many lessons about how to live well in an imperfect family.

HONOUR THEM STILL

The Bible is clear about honouring our parents (Exodus 20:12, Deuteronomy 5:16). It is the fifth commandment, but the first that comes with a promise. It is the first commandment that governs a horizontal relationship – the only commandment that comes with a reward.

This also means that we refrain from contributing or participating in any family drama. There was one my mum was ranting to me about my dad, when I heard the Holy Spirit gently say: “Don’t dishonour your dad in the process of supporting your mum.”

My mum wanted me to agree with her about my dad’s faults. She wanted me to side with her. But I just quietly listened to her, and tried my best to explain the situation to her objectively. My dad had his faults, but if I had simply gone along with my mum emotionally, I would only be reinforcing negative ideas about him.

Honouring our parents requires us to submit to them as the parental authority God has placed over us (Ephesians 6:1). It means choosing to treat them as treasures, granting them a position of respect in our lives even when it seems like they don’t deserve it.

MANAGE YOUR EXPECTATIONS

In every relationship, it is important to keep expectations in check. Unmanaged expectations will eventually lead to disappointment and disillusionment.

I don’t expect perfection from my parents because I know they aren’t perfect. I know that they, just like me, have their own issues and struggles that they don’t speak about. I raise and lower expectations according to how I’ve known them over the years.

There is a greater purpose and deeper message behind the mess.

Another thing that is equally important is that we communicate our expectations … Telepathy isn’t a thing!

When I was in JC, I often came home late because my school was far away from home and my CCA usually ended in the evening. I never understood why my mum would get so upset about me coming home late, so I got equally upset at her apparently unreasonable behaviour.

After all, I was in school! It wasn’t like I was running around outside … Until I realised why she was so upset: She just wanted me to let her know if I was going to be back for dinner.

Uncommunicated expectations create more misunderstandings than needed.

KEEP ON PRAYING

But to be honest, even as I try my best to honour my parents and manage my expectations, it still feels really hard on many days.

It feels like something is amiss in my family, like there must be more. And many times I’m faced with a situation where I really just don’t know what to do … It’s usually at that point where this verse comforts me: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” (James 1:5).

And as I persevere in prayer, I know breakthroughs will happen. Situations will change. Hearts will move. None of our prayers are ever prayed in vain (Revelation 8:1-5). And if even Jesus prayed unceasingly (Hebrews 5:7), why shouldn’t we?

There is nothing else I can do but to pray and surrender my family situation to God. It is easy for us to give up on complicated family relations because humans are messy.

But the story of Jesus – a Saviour coming from a lineage of messy and dysfunctional families – is a lasting reminder that love and goodness can come out of the deepest of wounds.

There is a greater purpose and deeper message behind the mess. And the end of all of it, it points us to our need for a Saviour.

/ christina@thir.st

Christina is a designer who memorises Pantone swatches. She is an INFJ who loves matcha, 80% dark chocolate, beautiful typography and folk jazz. She also dreams of raising her own pet penguin one day.

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God is my Father

by | 8 June 2018, 3:07 PM

Have you ever felt heart-wrenching pain?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

/ fiona@thir.st

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

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My father, the drug addict

by | 8 June 2018, 12:01 AM

James Giam (51) has been jailed 19 times over the span of three decades. And in the nine years he spent away from home, his wife and two young sons, James was all alone.

He slept in parks and in the void decks, borrowing money from the few friends who would still acknowledge him. He had almost nothing left to his name but the clothes on his back.

“The problem was with my lifestyle, my mindset, and my drug addictions. Things were no longer within my control. I tried changing but I just couldn’t find a way out – I felt trapped.”

It all began with glue-sniffing around the age of 17, which opened the door to darker paths and more dangerous drugs.

“I did think of going back, many times. But I couldn’t. ‘Face’ was one thing, but the second thing was that I had already given up. I’d given up on myself, given up on my family … I didn’t want to pick myself up again.”

So, he lived a vagrant’s life. And when it got too much to bear, he would try to get himself arrested and sent to prison – where there was at least food and shelter.

With all the time he spent in prison ­– whether for drug-related offences or for petty crimes – James saw his share of things.

James saw sons visit their fathers, fathers visit their sons – but he had also seen sons and fathers locked up in the same prison. He wondered if he would have to visit his son in prison one day, too. Or if they would end up there together.

So one morning in prison, James thought of his son. “Sean, who should have been in secondary school at that time, came to my mind. I became rebellious at that age … and I wondered if he would become rebellious too.”

James had grown up without his parents, and he saw himself then in his son. After all, Sean was only seven when his father stopped coming home one day.

He saw sons visit their fathers, fathers visit their sons – but he had also seen sons and fathers locked up in the same prison. He wondered if he would have to visit his son in prison one day – or if they would end up there together.

“I happened to read a book about prayer, so I wrote a very long [prayer for my family]. Day and night, I prayed that prayer.”

James didn’t know if God was going to answer his prayer, but it was the only thing he could do for his sons from behind bars, so he kept at it. He prayed for his family every day.

And after he was released from prison, James asked to see his sons to which their mother agreed.

“One day, my mum told me that my dad wants to come and find me. I was thinking, after so many years … Why now?”

Sean was hesitant to meet the man who was little more than a stranger to him, but agreed when his mother told him that the conditions she had set were that James wouldn’t come into the house, and it would only be for an hour.

“When he came over, the conversation didn’t turn out the way I expected. We talked about a lot of things. We talked about how he was in Church, and how I was in Church also.”

James told me he remembered thinking then, “God really answered my prayer.”

He had been praying that God would surround his son with Christian friends, that someone would bring would bring Sean to Church, so his son would know Jesus.

“He answered it completely,” said James. Both father and son discovered that they had both been attending the same Church.

“I was quite shocked,” said Sean. “It couldn’t be a coincidence. That was when I was reassured that God was pulling me back to my dad.”

But forgiveness was still something Sean had to learn.

“When I told my mentor about this situation, he encouraged me to meet my father more. I was quite hesitant. But in the end I just tried to meet him more.

“As timed passed, I learnt from my mentor to forgive. At the end of the day, when I see how I’m forgiven, I think I should learn to forgive as well.”

But a few months down the road, Sean was tested when James ended up in prison again.

“When I heard from my dad that he made a mistake again, I was quite shocked that I wasn’t angry … I didn’t condemn him and I didn’t scold him.”

 Sean took his mentor’s lessons on forgiveness to heart, and God gave him strength to help his father pick himself up again.

” … At the end of the day, when I see how I’m forgiven, I think I should learn to forgive as well.”

Sean’s forgiveness to me was a new revelation of God’s character, and a new side of my son I’d never seen,” James said. Neither father nor son thought their present outcome was possible – James freed from his bondages; Sean having a father.

But Sean wasn’t the only one who had to learn how to forgive. Having grown up without his parents, James also had to learn how to forgive them.

“Unforgiveness made my life very painful. Because without forgiving them, I also didn’t know how to forgive myself. As I prayed … I also forgave my parents. And because of that, I am able to receive God’s forgiveness, and my children’s forgiveness.”

In the end, forgiveness from God was the key that opened the door for James to walk out of darkness and back into his children’s lives.

And it was the same for Sean: Since God can forgive me for what I’ve done… I can also forgive my father.” Sean planted the seed of forgiveness in faith, not knowing what would come out of it. But three years later, his act of obedience to God – to honour his father – is reaping fruits.

“When my mother sees me accepting my father, she can also let go of the past and accept him, to the point that she’d let us go out with him and invite him back home for reunion dinner during Chinese New Year.

“Seeing my mum happy and my dad happy gives me a sense of relief.”

As we prepared for the final questions of the interview, there was still some time before filming began. So James and Sean sat shoulder-to-shoulder on a ledge, talking casually about school, camera equipment and the imminent rain.

If you didn’t already know their story, they look like any other father and son pair. As the interviews concludes, Sean emphasises this one thing repeatedly: No matter what happens, he’s got his father’s back, and he will always support his father together with his younger brother Paul.

From the look on James’s face, you could tell he knew his son meant what he said. Though Sean is only 18 this year, his choices reflect love and wisdom beyond his years. It reminds me of something Jesus said to his disciples:

“Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” (Luke 7:47)

I believe the key to Sean’s capacity to love and forgive is this: The knowledge that he too has been forgiven much by his Heavenly Father.

Forgiveness helped James and Sean to step out of darkness and brokenness into light. It looks a lot like God’s forgiveness, who first forgave us. Love is never far from where forgiveness is dispensed.

“And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with a decree of utter destruction.” (Malachi 4:6)

A Father’s heart is always turned towards His children.

/ fiona@thir.st

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

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