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What does justice even mean to you?

by | 23 January 2018, 4:50 PM

“There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.” (Deuteronomy 15:10-11)

The first question that comes to the top of our heads when we mention the word “poverty” is: Do we really have poor people in Singapore?

Sure, we have people who are constantly complaining about how poor they are – that’s inevitable. But according to MFA and Forbes, we are the third richest country in the world today, with reference to our overpowering GDP.

While we do have homeless people, elderly who cannot afford to retire and families mired in financial difficulty, Singaporeans are nowhere near the poorest of the poor.

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

Besides our financial superiority over most of the world, crime rates in our country are insignificantly minute and mostly minor. One is more likely to have more money taxed or fined than robbed. The judicial system of Singapore ensures that justice is swift and imposed so heavily that it is simply not worth it to even try to commit crimes.

So, how does the idea of justice for the poor and needy apply to us? How can Singaporeans obey and work out this command of God by executing justice where justice is due? How do we become the good Samaritan to the battered Jew (Luke 10:25-37) where there is no literal “battered Jew” in our line of sight?

What if there is a way in which all of us can participate in justice in the world today? Caring for the “poor and needy” does not need to be limited to sending hand-me-downs to Salvation Army. Generous giving to the forgotten and outcast can be more than giving back the two out of the three packets of tissues you bought for $1 from the tissue auntie.

We don’t always have to go overseas and do a humanitarian mission trip even though that is a perfectly sound idea. If we are open to the idea of justice that includes but goes beyond caring for the broken and impoverished where we can see them, realising that God’s heart is to care for every single individual in the world today, we will be able to see how our every action can lead to large repercussions, both positive and negative.

THE INHUMANITY OF HUMAN TRAFFICKING

One of the most terrible forms of inhumanity is to completely breach an individual’s human’s rights for self-gain, and the way it has dominantly prevailed in the unseen world today is through human trafficking.

If passages such as Deuteronomy 15-16 give us an idea of God’s standard of human rights, then human trafficking is the law’s nemesis – a totally opposite end of the spectrum of justice.

Let that awareness hit you. Yes, people do get paid nothing at all in the world today.

Labour trafficking comprises of a vast majority of human trafficking, together with sex trafficking, and is very literally modern-day slavery. 21 million people of the world today are victims of forced labour, made to work long hours for close to, if not nothing in return.

Victims are forced into labour with threats, fraud, violence, and many other inhuman methods to fuel the selfish gains of the industry. And regardless of how small our efforts may seem, everyone can join the fight against this revolting movement that is oppressing the last, the least and the lost.

THE PRICE OF CARELESS CONSUMERISM

The prosperity of Singapore breeds a culture of consumerism: The more we are given, the more we want.

We want more and more, but want to pay less and less for it. So when we walk into a supermarket, our eyes have been trained to find the cheapest item possible.

But one of the many factors that determines the price of an item is the labour cost. After you exclude raw material, packaging, freight and advertising costs, as well as the profit margin taken by the retailer, whatever is left is how much those involved in the manufacturing process are paid.

So consider the possibility that your cost savings may be down to the labourer being unfairly paid – exploited – for his or her labour. With this in mind, maybe we should add one more dimension to our decision-making process beyond “cheap and good: The guarantee of social justice for its employees.

Consider the possibility that your cost savings may be down to the labourer being unfairly paid – exploited – for his or her labour.

Buying from manufacturers and retailers that apply the principles of fair trade – for example, transparency, the creation of opportunities for the economically disadvantaged, and ensuring that no child or forced labour is used in the process – is us making a stand for justice, that every labour receives what he is rightly due. In 1 Timothy 5:18, the Bible plainly and clearly describes this principle: “The worker deserves his wages.”

This is just one way we can fight for justice even in our everyday decisions. The point here is that we need to consider how we make our spending decisions, beyond merely looking at the state of our bank accounts. Sometimes the price is worth paying. 

THE EXCUSE OF APATHY

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (Matthew 5:7)

The sad truth is, revelation of injustice right under our noses is usually confronted by apathy. We struggle to care about who gets what as long as we get what we want.

We have to ask ourselves, the “Israelites” of today – God’s people – how else can we be holy as God is holy (Leviticus 11:44-45)? How can we show compassion to the poor as God cares for the broken-hearted? 

In the prophetic books, two minor prophets by the names of Micah and Amos spoke out valiantly against the social injustice that was happening in the land of Judah and Israel. The anger and conviction in their writing is apparent.

If the idea of injustice does not severely convict us, our generosity will never go beyond giving to charity foundations and spare change for buskers.

The highlighted theme of both books is not merely the ignorance of the poor, but the oppression they face, even from the “people of God themselves.” The nation of Israel, who was once an oppressed nation in the land of Egypt, forgot about their past and started becoming oppressors themselves to their own people.

They accepted the lie of apathy and forsook God’s values to care for the weak and the downtrodden. That is why Micah, a book that fluctuates between judgement and hope, is summarised in Micah 6:8.

As much as God is bringing judgement to those who are exploiting the poor and needy, His reminder to them of His standards to “act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God” shows His heart of desiring their repentance, to one day become a holy example to the nations around them.

We must relate this heart of God to ourselves, the people of God today. If the idea of injustice does not severely convict us, our generosity will never go beyond giving to charity foundations and spare change for buskers.

It takes a life-changing decision to embrace justice in every ounce of our lifestyles to ensure that God’s just character is being reflected in us.

Therefore, what does it mean to live a just life?

Maybe to bring it a little closer to home, think about what a just God looks like to the foreign workers we see working at the roadside? How does He look like to your domestic helper?

We will never be able to strive for a just life if we are not convicted by the reason for it.

We can choose to live a life of apathy, or we can choose to live a life that imitates Christ. In fact, the Gospel of Luke was written to show Jesus’ ministry to the minority, His outreach to the outcast. We see Jesus specifically recorded reaching out to those whom society deemed as unworthy – women, children, tax collectors, sinners, prostitutes, Gentiles.

As imitators of God Himself (Ephesians 5:1), should we not then exemplify this compassionate trait of His?

From buying fair-trade groceries in the supermarket to impartial treatment for both countrymen and foreigners, “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16)

/ roytay@thir.st

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

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Where in the world are our young missionaries?

by Joey Lam | 21 February 2018, 10:12 PM

It’s becoming somewhat of a perennial question: How can we engage and mobilise millennials for missions, both within the Church and across cultures?

Here’s something my cell member said in one of our discussions about the millennial generation that stayed with me.

‘The highest dropout rate from church happens between the ages 17 to 19. It is the age of enlightenment for young adults. They have a new-found freedom. They realise they can do something else with their time rather than go to church.

“The church leadership keeps thinking that there is something wrong with the programmes they are running. They think their transitional initiatives aren’t good enough, or it’s just the ‘A’ Levels.

“But I have seen those who went to church through the ‘A’ Level period ultimately leave the church; and those who disappeared during the ‘A’ levels come back to church after their exams.

“So it isn’t exams, it isn’t transitions, it isn’t programmes.

“It is about the authenticity of our faith.”

I sat there chewing on his words.

I replied, “But I am heartened that the discourse within the Church body is happening. And the answers are starting to get passed around.”

I said that because I’ve seen with my own two eyes how the Holy Spirit has already started a unity movement across the larger Church in Singapore. He has been blowing us out of our silos, causing individual parts of the body of Christ to interact and work together.

During the GoForth Millennial Influencers Gathering on February 1, 2018, we had four individuals from diverse backgrounds come together to exchange and make sense of the “puzzle pieces” of insight they’d received over the years. I believe their revelations are more valuable than their titles.

In the words of panelist Claire Carter, a young lady who’s been organising mission trips to countries such as India before she was even 20: “The antidote to short-lived excitement is to get us millennials acquainted with the person of God, the exciting character of God, and His heart for His people.

“If we make missions about programmes, we will only see the power of the programmes – instead of the power of God.

“Missions are exciting because God is exciting. Young people need to see that the greatest thing they can be a part of is God’s exciting redemptive mission.”

Claire Carter, the youngest panelist and representative for her generation.

Jason Chua of Burning Hearts House of Prayer, the next youngest on the panel, had this to add: “The way we are raising leaders today is to run good programmes.

“But there is a lack of leaders today who have been raised to first know God and to seek Him. To cultivate a life with God that goes beyond just a Sunday or Saturday affair and is instead, a daily living. And the younger ones need someone older who can model that for them.

You can only reproduce who you are, and you can only reproduce something that you have.

“Because you can only reproduce who you are, and you can only reproduce something that you have. If we as their leaders don’t have that lifestyle, there is no way we can tell a young person to do it. They will never be convinced. They have to experience it with the people who are leading them.

“If we can model that, then young people will catch on the spirit of living that life. You don’t have to try to convince them or make them do missions.

“We need to create a greenhouse that emphasises values rather than methodology.”

Jason Chua of Burning Hearts House of Prayer shares his convictions.

He continued, “You want to engage millennials, you want to challenge them – but you should never lower the bar for them.

“One of the problems in churches today is that there is so much fear that the next generation is going to run away, so we lower the bar. That is dangerous.

“We have to model our faith to them, show them our faith is real. That the cause of missions is worthwhile.

“That is when they will give 10 years, 20 years or even their whole lives to missions.”

David Tan, director of Wycliffe Bible Translators (Singapore), shared a similar heart for young adults. “The key to engaging millennials is to build strong relationships with them. Then you will never have to tell them to “Go!” – instead you can say, “Let’s go!”.

David Tan, a seasoned missionary with a heart for millennials.

“It’s easier to go when there people are coming with me. We are all in this together. When you have a group of friends – the body of Christ – going with you, it’s not just easier – it’s more exciting.

Instead of telling young people to “Go!”, you should say, “Let’s go!”.

Dr Goh Wei Leong, co-founder of Healthserve and Singaporean of the Year 2018, had simple advice as well: “Sometimes the simple things are important, like coffee. Think coffee, conversations, Christ. I think with that, we build relationships first. Then we get the values in.”

Dr Goh Wei Leong, Singaporean of the Year with a simple love for coffee, conversations and Christ.

During the tea break, I went up to Jason Chua to appreciate him for his sharing. He simply replied, with a nod towards David and Dr Goh: “These are the real heroes.” I knew he was also referring to all who have walked the missions journey ahead of us younger ones.

Besides actively caring for migrant workers in Singapore through his work at Healthserve, Dr Goh also serves on the global team of advisers for Operation Mobilisation. He has been deeply involved in integral missions for years.

David Tan’s decade-long work in the mission field has included translating the Bible into a language that over 1 million people speak. And, by the way, he also has a PhD in Mathematics.

Observing this, it’s plain to see that what the Church can and must do with regards to missions in this day and age isn’t really mobilising just the younger ones – but the whole body of Christ, young and old. Everyone has valuable things to bring to the table.

After all, in Biblical terms, everyone alive during the same time was considered to be part of the same generation. And if we can figure out how to tap on the strengths of the two ends of this generation and bring them together, we will then be able to move forward powerfully.

It is not so much about not pouring new wine into old wineskins. It is about offering both old and new wine from the same cellar.


If you are interested, there will be another GoForth Millennial Influencers Gathering on March 1, 2018, at Bartley Christian Church’s café corner. Sign up here.

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Billy Graham dead at 99

by | 21 February 2018, 9:29 PM

Billy Graham – probably the most well-known and influential evangelist of the past century – has died at the age of 99, according to various news sources.

He died at his home in North Carolina, according to a family spokesman.

Estimates suggest he preached to hundreds of millions of people in his lifetime, including tens of thousands at Singapore’s old National Stadium in a multi-day rally in 1978.

Graham, known as “America’s Pastor”, was a familiar face on TV and a much-loved voice on radio broadcasts in America. He was also honoured for his part in the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s, alongside Rev Martin Luther King Jr.

/ 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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“Clean Hands, Pure Hearts and Beautiful Feet”: Bringing Good News to the next generation

by Emily Soh | 21 February 2018, 10:27 AM

When given the proposition to write short stories for a children’s book – based on true accounts of missionaries sent from Singapore as early as in the sixties – my first thought was: “But I don’t write stories.”

Sure, I considered myself a writer, but creative non-fiction for children was uncharted waters. Thankfully, the hesitation stemming from my feelings of inadequacy did not last for long. I became intrigued by the opportunity to write the stories of men and women who heeded God’s call to surrender their lives for His purposes – to do good in the world and demonstrate God’s love for all peoples.

God provided me with a two-month window to concentrate on this project. The entire process to produce the book took much longer, of course – but it was great timing.

The book is a work which resonates with Christ’s prayer for His followers “to be one” – unity – as it cuts across denominational lines. It shows us the broad scope of missionary work that has been afoot since the sixties, detailing the stories of missionaries sent from our tiny island to far-flung places and how they served.

Children’s stories have great mileage – they travel with them for the rest of their lives.

Then there was the flight of imagination required. One example was the mystical and treacherous landscapes in Papua New Guinea. When such a locale was first described to me, I found myself thinking, “How can I convey this sublime beauty that could capture the imagination of children?” And in another story, “How can I portray a wartime scene that could relate to children, yet at the same time retain its raw authenticity?”

The writing may fall short of doing justice to these people, places and experiences. But I’m praying it will allow the children to imagine the wondrous world of God, while not shying away from accurate depicting a world that is scarred by sin, injustice and cruelty.

Children’s stories have great mileage – they travel with them for the rest of their lives. That’s the power of stories which engage children intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. Powerful storytelling inspires curiosity, provokes thinking and provides children with a counterpoint for the harsh realities of the world they will encounter.

We are praying that this book will inspire children to receive the fullness of what God has prepared for them as they grow up. With clean hands, pure hearts and beautiful feet – they can be a light to the world wherever their journeys take them.

“How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” (Isaiah 52:7)


Written by Flora Man and Emily Soh, and illustrated by Jearn Ko, “Clean Hands, Pure Hearts and Beautiful Feet” is a children’s book featuring 10 inspiring stories of Singaporean missionaries serving in different parts of the world. If you are interested, you can visit their page to purchase a copy, or send them an email for further enquiries.

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The illustration used in the video was adapted from a sermon by Pastor Michael Strickland from The Cove Church


TWO NATURES

“So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.” (Galatians 5:16-17)

The Bible shows us that there are two natures: One of the Spirit and one of the flesh. But we can only have one.  If we really want to see life transformation, we need more of the Spirit because what the flesh desires is contrary to what the Spirit desires. They are in conflict with each other.

“Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” (Galatians 5:26)

As vessels of God, what we need to do is flee the evil desires of the flesh and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace. When we have more of God – there is less of ourselves. Where there is more of the Spirit – there is less of the flesh.

It’s one or the other.

SEALED AND DELIVERED

If we’ve received Jesus into our lives as our Lord and Saviour, the Bible says that we’ve received a seal of the promise of God.

“And who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.” (2 Corinthians 1:22)

But there’s another experience that God wants us to have in our Christian walk – it’s the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The Bible says that we will be filled – to the brim – with the Holy Spirit!

That’s not all there is to it. When we are filled with the Holy Spirit, though we may have changed, we are not removed from our usual environments that test our responses or reactions.

So we will react either according to our “old self” or respond through our “new self” which is being renewed in the knowledge of God. If we are not in step with the Spirit, it’s easy for us to respond in the flesh.

1. Anger
Whether you’re driving on the road or responding to your children: Are you aware of the situations and things that tend to draw anger out of you? Are you an angry person? Even though we are filled with the Holy Spirit, anger can seep into our lives through cracks and open windows of impatience and intolerance.

2. Self-righteousness
When you place white vinegar in a glass jar, it looks just like water. But vinegar stinks. We may look like water on the outside but we’re not.  We can do many Christian things yet still have a spirit of self-righteousness – trust and reliance on ourselves instead of the grace of God.

3. Jealousy
Things get nastier when you throw jealousy into the mix. Some of us get jealous when others do better than us: We write off others’ successes and we point fingers at them. We cannot stand not being the best. Don’t let jealousy make you a miserable person.

4. Other sinful desires  
Lastly, there are the darker things that we may not talk about openly – or at all. Things like adultery, pornography, stealing and backstabbing. These desires belong to our fleshly nature.

In order to keep in step with the Spirit and defeat our fleshly nature, we can’t just be filled with the Spirit one time. We need to continually be filled and continually be empowered so that God’s light won’t dull in us.

Think about the first thing you do in the morning. Do you reach for your smartphone or for the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit? Each morning, tell the Holy Spirit, “Speak and I’ll listen. Lead and I’ll follow.”

Jesus said, “Let those who are thirsty come to me and drink, and out of your belly will come out an abundant flow of the Holy Spirit.” When we are continually filled with the Holy Spirit, not only are we filled – Jesus says we will be filled until we overflow!

By the continual empowerment of the Holy Spirit – through the overflow of our revived heart – we can bring revival everywhere we go: Our homes, schools, army camps, and workplaces.


This article was adapted from a sermon first preached on Jan 14, 2018, by Senior Pastor Jeffrey Chong of Hope Church Singapore.

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How are those resolutions coming along?

by Alex Park | 19 February 2018, 9:48 AM

We’re already about two months into 2018 — how are your new year resolutions coming along?

Mine was “get busy”. Not get busy trying to fill myself with things that don’t last, or things that bring temporal fulfilment. I wanted to get busy with the things of God.

I thought of it after a conversation with a close friend who shared how working with God proved so much better than just staying at home all day watching Netflix and gaming.

Choosing to serve God … Though it seemed like it would tire me out more — it actually did the opposite. He restored me, especially after a very difficult 2017. Walking with God more intentionally this year, I’ve learnt that He will faithfully guide me through life.

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:29)

In Rhythms of Grace, Judas Smith gives us an insight to this verse: “In farming, a yoke is a wooden crosspiece that is fastened over the necks of two animals and attached to the plough or cart that they are to pull. However, in the past getting two oxen would be costly for farmers. So, farmers would get an experienced, mature ox pair it with a younger, weaker calf. This way, the younger calf would follow the pace of the older ox, not going too fast or too slow. Both of these two animals harnessed together would then begin to plough the field, doing the same amount of work two oxen would.”

I hadn’t seen it that way. Jesus is the stronger and experienced one. We are like the calf, frequently getting ahead of ourselves — sometimes too weak to even keep up. But Jesus invites us to follow His pace — the unforced rhythms of grace (Matthew 11:29 MSG).

He’s calling us to partner Him in this journey that we run. Only follow His pace, learn from the One who created you and loved you before the foundations of the earth. As you choose to follow Him — He will guide the path and walk with you.

Jesus overcomes the strongholds of sin and darkness in your life.

Everyone struggles with sin and we are all on the journey to become more like Jesus everyday. But the fight with sin seems almost impossible at times. How do you love when there is so much hate, be pure when there is so much lust, or worship Him amidst a million things fighting for your attention?

Depression, fear, anxiety, loneliness … The list is endless and the struggle is real.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

Did you catch that? It’s not about trying to be better or merely resisting temptation. It’s about being wholly surrendered — “fixing our eyes on Jesus”.

If we could overcome sin and the powers of darkness by sheer willpower or discipline, we wouldn’t need Jesus. He wouldn’t have to come down to save us at all.

During His time on earth, Jesus focused one purpose: Not to be served but to serve and give His life as a ransom to many (Matthew 20:26). In the same way, steward with great focus the ministry you have been assigned to — loving His people and pursuing Him.

Don’t be despondent at the sin or oppression in your life. There’s hope! Where light is, darkness ceases to be. Keep running because He guides you and walks with you. He overcomes the sin and darkness in your life.

If you’ve been serving and fighting for His Kingdom — don’t lose sight of Him. Wherever He has called you to be, He has gone before and He is with you in that place.

So, again, how are those resolutions coming along? There’s still time for 2018 to be the year you allowed God’s faithfulness to move in your life. The best place you can ever be is at the centre of God’s will.

I’ll leave you with Erwin Mcmanus’ words in The Last Arrow.

“It makes me wonder how many times in my own life I thought I failed, but actually the only thing that happened was that I quit. When you come to the end of your life, will you be able to say, “I gave everything I had,” or will you have a hollow feeling inside of your soul that you quit too soon, that you expected too little, that you did not strike the last arrow? Make the commitment to not stop before you are finished, because you are truly stopping before God is finished.”

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What does justice even mean to you?

Where in the world are our young missionaries?

Billy Graham dead at 99

“Clean Hands, Pure Hearts and Beautiful Feet”: Bringing Good News to the next generation

Empowered for a purpose

How are those resolutions coming along?