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Do you live by a Christian GPA?

by | 21 November 2017, 6:26 PM

Anyone who’s ever gone to a polytechnic or university would be familiar with some tricks to get better grades:

  • Choosing a pass/fail module
  • Currying favour with tutors to get hints ahead of time
  • Hoping for a hard paper to work the bell curve in your favour
  • Invoking an “S/U” (Satisfactory/Unsatisfactory) on modules that will pull down your grades
  • Going on exchange to freeze that semester’s GPA

There are many other similar tricks. For those who are taking ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels, they have their own hacks too. I remember a friend who gave up on Physics, skipping the paper entirely to focus on the subjects he was more confident in.

“It’s a strategy,” he told me simply.

Getting a result by hook or by crook. To be honest, isn’t life also like an exam? We go through trials to mature in faith and at the very end – having stood the test – we receive our reward (James 1:2-4, 12).

The only difference is that there are no hacks, shortcuts or roundabouts in the Christian walk. And definitely no GPA. 

It’s easy to think our weaknesses of character can be made up for by our strengths. Or that the sinful areas of our lives can be levelled out by good behaviour in other “modules” of the faith.

God, I’m not really good at being patient but I’m a pretty honest person. My overall standing should still be pretty good, right?”

“God, I’ve surrendered the major parts of my life to you already. Can we just ignore the little things that don’t hurt anybody?”

But skills – things we’re good at – and character – our heart – are two very different entities.

A wise man once told me: “When it comes to your skills, play to your strengths; but when it comes to your character, work on your weaknesses.” Yes, we celebrate the strengths God has given us, but He is always most concerned about the heart of man – the strength of character revealed in its willingness to obey and have weaknesses refined.

We see a classic example of the GPA mentality in King Saul’s life (1 Samuel 15). God had tasked Saul to wage war against the Amalekites for the harm they did to Israel while they were in exodus. His specific instruction was to leave no one – not even an animal – alive.

Saul obeyed God’s commands to fight and eventually won the battle. However, instead of killing everyone, he somehow decided to spare the enemy’s king and the best of all the livestock – probably because he found it too much of a waste to simply destroy.

God was upset when he learnt of what Saul had done. When He sent Samuel, His prophet, to confront Saul, Saul was indignant.

Saul thought partial obedience was obedience enough. But God saw it as rebellion.

“But I did obey the Lord,” he insisted. “I went on the mission the Lord assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the Lord your God at Gilgal.”

Doesn’t Saul’s reasoning sound compelling? In his words, he retained the best loot in order to present it as an offering – a sacrifice – to God! And he obeyed most of the instructions anyway! He should have gotten a high distinction. But at this, Samuel rebuked Saul.

“Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.” (1 Samuel 15:23)

Saul thought partial obedience was obedience enough. But God saw it as rebellion. As long as we are not wholly surrendered to Him, no matter how small the part we withhold from God is, we are still not in obedience.

“So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” (James 4:17)

Consider David when he was first chosen by God to be the next king of Israel. He was merely a shepherd boy! God doesn’t look at what we are – based on some Christian “grade” we’ve achieved through accumulated good behaviours – He looks at who we are! God looked past David’s qualifications and saw his character.

“God testified concerning him: “I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.” (Acts 13:22)

He will do everything I want him to do. The Bible is clear that our character is measured by our obedience to God. We can’t “S/U” stubborn sins or “freeze” areas we don’t want to grow in. How then can true sanctification take place otherwise?

We are either people with hardened hearts or obedient children of God – there’s no in-between.

The test of obedience isn’t easy, but it’s also not impossible. Abraham wasn’t able to offer Isaac to God overnight. He had to first develop his faith convictions as he experienced what it meant to trust in God’s unchanging goodness – even in a difficult instruction.

 “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back.” (Hebrews 11:17-19)

But the more we choose to obey, the more we learn to trust God. It is in the process of complete surrender that we experience His faithfulness despite our doubts. Consequently, our relationship with Him deepens.

At the end of the day, it is not about obeying for the sake of obeying. We obey because we’re learning to trust; and because we learn to trust, all the more we can obey.

I admit it isn’t easy, but Abraham’s story reminds us that we all start from somewhere. While we may not be able to submit to God everything in our lives from the get-go, He still honours the heart that’s in pursuit of Him and His commandments. So let’s start with small, baby steps of obedience. Trust, and obey. Over and over.

If you feel that prompting in your heart to bless the tissue auntie? Do it. Feel the deep-seated hesitancy in your heart at entering a particular relationship? Don’t do it.

In God’s kingdom there’s no GPA. But if we have to live by one, then let’s live with this GPA instead: a God-Pursuing Attitude.

/ siqi@thir.st

Siqi loves to eat. Except for peas, egg yolk, cucumbers, livers, intestines. Among others. She also happens to be a writer.

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A shot of wonder for the weary

by | 12 December 2017, 4:12 PM

Last Sunday morning, I settled into my usual seat in Church – fourth row from the front – strongly feeling the lack of an additional hour of sleep, all for this predictable 90 minutes of service.

That day was just like any other week – we didn’t have a special programme, there were no guest speakers … It was a feeling that seemed to mirror my life at present: A clear routine of places to be at and things to do, nothing out of the ordinary. The sea of my life felt neither stormy nor terribly still, at least for now.

Some days, I wished that it could be more exciting, that I could dream up more things into existence; on other days, I would’ve been happy with just more sleep. It wasn’t the Sunday service, really. Life was just sian.

My Senior Pastor, Jeff Chong, was preaching that morning. I found myself surprised by what he was saying, “Many of us in lead fast paced lives, and we can so easily go on autopilot.”

My eyes widened and I might have sat up a little straighter.

At the back of my mind, I reviewed my past weeks and even months and realised that it was true.

I WONDER, WHERE’S MY WONDER?

While I might not have entirely been on autopilot, I realised that wonder had been leaking from of my system, and leaking even faster because I’d been dealing with a bout of flu that just wouldn’t go away.

The more tired I got, the more grouchy and dissatisfied I become. The busier I became, the more I lost the bounce in my step.

And I missed my sense of wonder. I had been so well-acquainted with it just a few months ago, when I relied on it daily – it was like fuel to me.

Wonder is a feeling of amazement and admiration, caused by something beautiful, remarkable, or unfamiliar.

But as it is with all fuel, it needs to be replenished, again and again – for as long as you want to keep going. Even – especially – when things are going well, we have to watch the indicator on the tank.

There are so many things in our lives that pick at our sense of wonder – a discouraged heart cannot possibly dance and a soul bogged down by comparison is not free.

Wonder is a feeling of amazement and admiration, caused by something beautiful, remarkable, or unfamiliar.

So even if our routines are familiar or drab, it doesn’t mean we cannot find beauty in it; it doesn’t mean that it cannot be remarkable.

HAVE YOU EVER SEEN THE WONDER?

I think that the one who can find beauty in anything will never be disappointed. I believe that beauty is everywhere – in everything  – because God is everywhere.

I also think that God brings beauty everywhere because of His expertise at bringing good out of bad. But we need a trained eye to see that, especially when it is still dark.

In the dimmest of situations, God’s presence is enough to flood a soul with eternal hope, and His hope creates endless streams of amazement and admiration – wonder!

“The world is larger and more beautiful than my little struggle.” 
(Ravi Zacharias, Recapture the Wonder)

Are you in a situation that is draining the good stuff out of your system and causing you to lose hope? Perhaps your life is more stormy than still, at present. If something doesn’t look good – at home, in your health, finance-wise, or in one of your relationships  – would you consider committing it to God who is able to work good out of bad?

Ask God to come into your situation and do what only He can do.

God can see far beyond what we can, and He knows the most strategic move for us to take – even if it doesn’t make sense now.

A long time ago, Paul and Silas were thrown into prison in Philippi (where northern Greece is today). God could have kept them out of prison, but because they were in prison, their jailer got to experience the miracle of God and became a believer (Acts 16).

Before that happened, another man was thrown into an even more dire situation: Jesus Christ was about to be crucified on a cross. It was the most terrible punishment for a man to endure, yet God allowed it, because He knew that it was only by Jesus’ death on the cross that the world may be saved (Matthew 27).

God can see far beyond what we can, and He knows the most strategic move for us to take – even if it doesn’t make sense now – so that He work out good from the bad.

“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” (Genesis 50:20)

It may not be what we expect, sometimes it might even take a long time – but God is trustworthy.

Even in familiar routines, in the otherwise unspectacular humdrum, same-ness of life as we know it now – the presence of God alone makes all the difference.

When you’re in need, stoke the fire of wonder, think of what God has done and can do for you.

I see the world in light
I see the world in wonder
I see the world in life
Bursting in living colour
I see the world Your way
And I’m walking in the light
(Wonder, Hillsong United)

/ fiona@thir.st

Fiona is secretly hilarious. One of her dogs thinks so too. She loves a good chat with strangers, store assistants, and fluffy dogs.

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Who made you the judge?

by | 12 December 2017, 1:54 PM

In every court case, there’s always a hearing.

The judge, before pronouncing the defender innocent or guilty – and meting out due punishment for the guilty – has the obligation to hear both sides of the story in order to give a fair sentence.

This is typical court procedure to best uphold justice, but I find this practice unfortunately absent from our day-to-day life, when we judge people without giving them a chance to explain themselves first.

There was once when I struggled tremendously to love a particular friend of mine. He was going through some difficulties in his personal life and it was affecting his mood and behaviour. I had a brief idea of what was going on, but did not know the details.

Initially understanding, I soon got frustrated. It didn’t help that the way we processed our emotions and problems in life was so different that I couldn’t understand why he was acting the way he did. He was also easily irritable, and I bore the brunt of it. His mood swings eventually rubbed off me and my attitude towards him became defensively volatile as well.

To make things worse, he was in charge of a project we were both tasked to handle. It was difficult to work together when we were not on good terms. How could I trust his judgement when it was hard to even think good thoughts about him?

His healing process took quite some time, but he eventually got better. It was only then that he began to confide in me what he was going through and how he felt.

Listening to him softened my heart. It didn’t change the fact that he’d acted unreasonably or that he shouldn’t have done certain things, but it helped me clearly identify the struggles he was going through.

It also made me realise I could have been too harsh with my mental pronouncement of him.

INNOCENT TILL PROVEN GUILTY

Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgement ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” (Matthew 7:1)

The word itself in the English language makes it slightly more confusing. Judging, as referred to in Matthew 7 and other similar verses in the Bible (1 Corinthians 4:3-5, Romans 2:1-3), can be understood to be similar to what is done in court – the measuring or meting out of a sentence, a determination of what is deserved according to the law.

You’d recognise this sort of judgement – we’ve all done it, pronouncing sentences or even carrying them out ourselves. She deserves this for what she has done. He should be paying for that with his life. Revenge movies are always the rage.

But it’s clear as day in the Word: Don’t do it. Why? More on that later.

I want to point us to this “other” type of judging first. Judging doubles up as a synonym for discerning – which is to distinguish right from wrong, true from false. The Bible tells us to correct fellow believers in order to point them back to the right paths (1 Timothy 5:20, 2 Timothy 2:23-26, Galatians 6:1). We can’t do that without the discerning judgement, which judges the act but not the person.

However, I find that even in discernment, we also tend to jump to conclusions too easily, and too readily.

A story that surfaced on Facebook comes to my mind: In a shipwreck, a husband and wife were struggling to stay afloat in the open sea. When a plank of driftwood big enough only for one person appears, the husband clings onto it, leaving his wife to fight against the tide. Eventually, the husband survived, while the wife drowned.

Upon reaching this point in the story, many would feel enraged by the husband’s decision. How could he be so selfish?

Yet, that wasn’t the end of the story. It was later revealed that the wife had been diagnosed with an incurable disease, and her chances of surviving – even if she had made it out of the shipwreck – were low. Knowing that one of them had to live on for the sake of their child, the husband decided to save himself rather than his wife.

When we look at a situation as it is, with our human eyes and logic, we tend to react rather than respond. It’s intuitive. Psychologists term this as heuristics – mental shortcuts people use to form judgements and make decisions.

In his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, psychologists Daniel Kahneman frames it like this: “When faced with a difficult question, we often answer an easier one instead, usually without noticing the substitution.”

The confidence that individuals have in their beliefs depends mostly on the quality of the story they can tell about what they see, even if they see little.

Based on intuitive logic, it’s hard to comprehend why a husband would ever leave his wife to die, and so we substitute this with an easier question – why would anyone ever leave anyone to die? The easiest answer is: Self-preservation. And with that conclusion, we label this husband as a selfish man.

Quick judgement, or instinctive discernment, is not a bad thing. It is required in our daily lives, especially in times of danger. When we see a person acting suspiciously, we have to quickly sum that individual up as a potential threat and be prepared to act accordingly.

But we also need to be aware of our tendency to jump to conclusions. After all, it’s easy to overestimate what we know based on what is revealed to us.

As Kahneman discovers, “The confidence that individuals have in their beliefs depends mostly on the quality of the story they can tell about what they see, even if they see little.”

RESTORATIVE, NOT RETRIBUTIVE 

In the recent case of Annie Ee, many angry netizens flooded online forums and comment boxes with hateful comments, wishing the worse upon the perpetrators.

I understand the rage and the vicarious pain – even though I’m clear on what true justice is, it’s still difficult to not be furious over what has been done.

But what also saddens and scares me is seeing public sentiments – and sentences – such as “string them up”, “send them to hell” and “the couple should be eaten by dogs” proliferate.

Will cursing them help? Will these judgements rectify anything? And who are we as sinful beings ourselves, who must also be judged for our wrongdoings, to be trusted with pronouncing the right judgements on anyone? Take it from the wisdom of the Bible: Judge not. Sentence not.

“For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” (2 Corinthians 5:10)

I’m currently reading the book of Ezekiel. Prophet Ezekiel was appointed by God as a watchman to warn Israel of the impending consequences because of their wrongdoings (Ezekiel 33:7).

You can refer to Ezekiel 16 for the full list of sins that the Israelites had committed in the eyes of God, but one offence stood out to me – child sacrifices. People literally offered their babies through rings of fire in order to appease whatever gods they were serving (Ezekiel 16:21).

This is, to me, as appalling as torturing an intellectually disabled person to death. It is no wonder why God was so enraged! Page after page, Ezekiel penned down the punishment God would inflict on Israel if they remained unrepentant.

After ploughing through the depressing chapters, I came to a part where God revealed the heart behind His judgement.

Therefore you, O son of man, say to the house of Israel: ‘Thus you say, “If our transgressions and our sins lie upon us, and we pine away in them, how can we then live?” Say to them: “As I live,” says the Lord God, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?”‘ (Ezekiel 33:10)

Turn from your evil ways and live.

At the end of the day, God desired for Israel to come to repentance through their punishment more than it simply being a sentence of what they deserved. He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked – for the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23) – but He is delighted when they turn from their sinful ways.

God’s judgement was rooted in love and compassion for His sinful people, as it is for all of mankind. And knowing that no man could ever be sinless and thus worthy of a place in Heaven, He offered the free gift of eternal life for all who believe in His son Jesus Christ (Romans 6:23), who was sent to earth as a baby – the reason for Christmas – and later took on the full sentence of death for the sins of the world.

God’s judgement was rooted in love and compassion for His sinful people, as it is for all of mankind.

The heart of God’s judgement for those He loves is always to restore, not to repay.

If I’d had this same spirit with regards to my difficult-to-love friend, I would have gently pointed out his mistakes to him in order to help him grow. But I didn’t. I simply let my frustrations bubble and spill over, and sought my own restitution in my not-so-loving thoughts and remarks towards him.

Looking back, I found justification for my bitterness when I repaid his attitude with my attitude, his frustration with my frustration. It was my judgement, my punishment – my sentence on him. Better, love-driven judgement would have discerned the need to restore our relationship with a kind but firm word.

We need to be clear of our motives. What is the root of our judgement? Do we seek to restore others? Or do we simply have a thirst for vengeance?

When the teachers of the Law brought an adulteress before Jesus and demanded to know what they should do with her – the proper answer being to stone her to death, as written in Mosaic Law – Jesus’ reply was “let him who is without sin, cast the first stone” (John 8:7).

Hearing this, the crowd slowly dispersed, till only the woman and Jesus remained. Then He said to her, “Has no one condemned you? Neither do I condemn you. Go, and sin no more.”

People tried to expose the adulteress, but Jesus exposed their hypocrisy.

It’s easier to cast judgement from afar than to come close and understand a person’s plight; it’s easier to see the flaws in others than to acknowledge our own. But aren’t we all the same? People in need of compassion and mercy.

Instead of condemnation, let’s help each other to lead a changed life – to go and sin no more.

/ siqi@thir.st

Siqi loves to eat. Except for peas, egg yolk, cucumbers, livers, intestines. Among others. She also happens to be a writer.

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It’s Christmas! So what?

by | 11 December 2017, 6:40 PM

If you ask most Christians what they think Christmas is about, I’d wager the answer would sound something like “a season of thanksgiving” or a “time for joy”.

People who aren’t Christian might also say something similar about The Christmas Story – and it’s usually pretty accurate.

That famous story is quite perfectly summed up in another famous verse: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Christmas in all of 24 words.

Maybe you know the details: About 2,000 years ago, a baby boy was born. But not just any baby. This one fulfilled all of the promises God had given to the world: That He would be miraculously born to a virgin, in a little town called Bethlehem in Israel. He would be called Jesus, which means “He saves”.

This Son of God had to be born a Son of Man because only in the flesh could He be sacrificed to pay the price for the sins of all men, paving a way to reconciliation with Father God. He saves.

Christmas is the day when hopeless humanity — mired in sin and doomed to die eternally — was offered a saving solution by God the Father through His Son Jesus Christ’s birth and eventual sacrifice on the cross.

If we as Christians truly confess, believe and accept that Jesus is Lord – then our lives would change, following Christ with all our hearts. We’d grow to be more giving, gracious and full of gratitude. Honouring His love and sacrifice, the spirit of Christmas would be an everyday thing.

But the truth is, many Christians don’t look like that. And these are all qualities quite foreign to Singaporean culture itself.

You need only to look at the vitriol online these days, the self-gratifying hate at Annie Ee’s victimisers, or the thankless, quick-to-complain nature of many Singaporeans to see that as a nation, we don’t do Christmas very well.

So many of us have settled for this way of life: We criticise, we quietly dissent and we strive as the fear of losing out kills off love for our neighbour. We spend all our time buried in work, increasingly numb to the possibility of true purpose.

Whether we know it or not, our souls have an innate longing for all that is higher.

And fair warning for the few of us who’ve “made it” in this world – life is good until it’s not.

It’s harder for the comfortable because worldly pleasures can entrap and blind. Our culture of comfort dulls our hearts for the grander things of God.

Truly, whether we know it or not, our souls have an innate longing for all that is higher. But many of us are conditioned to spend our lives pursuing hollow happinesses, only to wake up one day in bed and see the desperate emptiness of things – and that’s if you’re fortunate!

So, be fair to yourself. Look deep into your heart and sincerely weigh if beyond all the stuff you’re amassing – you have a constant peace, hope and joy.

Think now about this “spirit of Christmas”. That tangible air of thanksgiving and joy you feel and anticipate annually? That excitement for something different – something almost magical?

That’s just a small taste of a life spent as God’s own child. It’s a fraction of true joy that even a dulled heart feels.

But it doesn’t have to be that way, you don’t have to wait until you’re at the end of yourself to see truth. That’s time you don’t have to waste – and you really don’t have time to waste (Psalm 144:4).

Jesus is the only way, the truth and the life (John 14:6). He offers the gift of salvation. He holds joy out in His hand, joy that doesn’t fade when hard times come. He gives peace that is better than any kind of security the world puts out.

Don’t shortchange yourself in this life – where you will spend eternity is at stake.

If you feel hopeless – perhaps even disillusioned by religion – I want to tell you that a relationship and life with Christ is the only hope for a better world (Revelations 21:4).

Don’t shortchange yourself in this life – where you will spend eternity is at stake.

This Christmas, don’t be cheated of what you could have, celebrating for just one day when there’s an eternity worth dancing over!


Here’s how you can accept Jesus Christ into your heart through a simple prayer of faith:

“Lord Jesus, for too long I’ve kept you out of my life. I know that I am a sinner and that I cannot save myself. No longer will I close the door when I hear you knocking. By faith I gratefully receive your gift of salvation. I am ready to trust you as my Lord and Saviour.

Thank you, Lord Jesus, for coming to earth. I believe you are the Son of God who died on the cross for my sins and rose from the dead on the third day. Thank you for bearing my sins and giving me the gift of eternal life. I believe your words are true. Come into my heart, Lord Jesus, and be my Saviour. Amen.”

If you’ve said this prayer and would like help getting connected to a local Church or community of believers, feel free to drop us a message at hello@thir.st!

/ 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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It takes a miracle to feed a whole village – and we did

by Kaiting Teo | 11 December 2017, 4:44 PM

There’s a good chance you’ve heard of the story about how God multiplied five loaves and two fish to feed 5000 people (John 6:1-14).

If you haven’t, it goes something like this: Thousands of people had gathered to listen to Jesus and be healed from their sicknesses, and after a long day out in the hills, Jesus asks His disciples how they were going to feed them.

The question is rhetorical because He already has a plan, but the disciples respond with their own logic, telling Him there’s no way to get food out in the countryside, and even if they did it’ll cost them thousands of dollars, which they don’t have.

Jesus persists and tells them they were to feed the people anyway, and one of them brings to Him a little boy who was willing to offer Jesus His packed lunch of five barley loaves and two fish. Jesus then prayed over the bread and gave it to His disciples to distribute. They not only feed the 5000 people present, they have 12 baskets leftover after the world’s greatest picnic ends!

I wouldn’t blame you if you’re wondering if that actually happened. But today I have no doubt God’s power, because I’ve experienced that amazing scene myself.

Last year, I took part in a school trip to Cambodia. On our last day there, we had a “cultural night” where we cooked for the villagers and celebrated with them.

As the time for the big dinner drew near, everyone was busy cooking and getting the dining hall ready. Things weren’t off to a great start as it was raining very heavily and there was a chance that our programme had to be cancelled.

Anxiety built even further when twice the number of families than we’d prepared food for showed up – almost 200 families. We were certain there wouldn’t be enough to feed everyone.

However, God always makes a way out.

Serve My people and I will provide for you in abundance. I was sure I heard Him speak to my worried heart, but I wasn’t sure what He meant. Joining my team as we distributed the food to them, I felt faith arise that with the Lord, we’d have more than enough to give … somehow.

I wanted to show them God’s love, even if what I had to offer was so little.

As I gave out bowl after bowl of chicken curry, I made it a point to smile and pat their shoulder, believing even the smallest gestures of love would bless them. I wanted to show them God’s love, even if what I had to offer was so little.

You wouldn’t believe it – and we barely could either – but at the end of the night, there were so much leftover food that there was enough to feed my whole team, our lecturers and every household in that village.

The rain didn’t stop the whole evening, but as the festivities and laughter swelled in the small community hall, I sensed the presence of the Lord moving in that place, and my heart was so full. I never forgot what I learnt about the God of the so-much-more through that simple dinner.

The same God who multiplied the five loaves and two fish is still providing for us in abundance today – we simply have to place our faith in Him.


This is a submission from a participant of our Christmas Gift Exchange. From now till the end of December 2017, we are giving away a limited edition Thir.st Tumbler in exchange for every story on the Christmas themes of love, joy, peace, hope and giving. Click here to find out more.

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An arts festival with purpose: Make room for the displaced this Christmas

by Jonathan Cho | 11 December 2017, 1:53 PM

Places are significant. Whether it be an actual physical space like our homes, a seat at the dinner table, or something less tangible like having a place in someone’s heart, we all appreciate it when people make space or hold a place for us.

“Having a place” reminds us that we belong, that we are of value. Yet the reality for some is that by circumstance, they have little or no reason to believe that they carry such inherent worth or significance.

I’m reminded of the people groups that many of us have come to expect to read about in the news – those who float about at sea in desperate hope of finding a place to take refuge, or those who get pushed about across countries/regions with no place they really belong.

Closer to home, my heart turns to the displaced and the destitute, who often find themselves outcast in society, with no place to call their own and nowhere they can really feel welcomed.

Jesus entered a world that had no place for Him, and His first sight of it was dark, dirty and definitely not welcoming.

That experience of exclusion is something that many of us can identify with on different levels and for a variety of reasons. When we experience this alienation from the community around us, that unshakeable sense of being inconsequential and non-existent – it can feel like we count for nothing at all.

In Luke 2, we read the story of a person who had every reason to feel inconsequential and non-existent, even though that could not have been further from the truth.

In the story of Jesus’ birth, we learn that when He first entered our world, there was no room at all for Him: “And [Mary] gave birth to her firstborn son [Jesus] and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7).

Jesus entered a world that had no place for Him, and His first sight of it was grim to say the least – dark, dirty and definitely not welcoming.

The darling of Heaven, the very Son of God, left His place in the heavens to enter a world which had no room for Him – the brutal reality and ordinary pain of the human condition. God the Father too, was also willing to let His only Son be born into these conditions, almost as if to tell us that He doesn’t mind the brokenness of our fallen nature and lack of room that we have for Him.

The beauty and good news of the Christmas story is that someone significant willingly gave up His heavenly place and lived as a man who had “no place to lay His head”. 

Whether it be a physical manger or the equally dark and dirty conditions of our hearts, it seems to me that all Jesus wanted was to enter into our lives and to have a relationship with us. Places are significant to Him, and however small the room or the place in our lives we’re willing to give, He will take it – because that’s what He came for.

The beauty and good news of the Christmas story is that someone significant willingly gave up His heavenly place and lived as a man who had “no place to lay His head”. Not only that – He also took our place and died for our sins, so that by this sacrifice and our belief in Him, He could give us a new place in His Father’s house.

“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” (John 14:3)

He just wants to be with us.

This Advent season, I am reminded of the sacrificial, unconditional love of my Saviour and His desire to lift up a people who often find themselves feeling insignificant. He gave us dignity and worth – He gave a place in His family, although we did not deserve it. Would we do the same for others?

I have resolved to take on His example: An example of place-making for the people around me who may feel as if they have no place in this world, whether it be the vulnerable in the community, family, friends or just anyone who needs a place to call home – anyone who feels like an inconsequential, insignificant placeholder.

The Placeholders team preparing a floor mural for the festival.

In doing so, I have found my place in a community of people working to do just that by putting together an arts festival called Placeholders, which will be held at the abandoned building over at 10 La Salle Street.

Using the convicting nature of art to explore and surface issues of displacement amongst the poor and needy in Singapore, festival goers will also discover how a simple act of making room for someone can possibly change a life.

Jesus gave his place in heaven to take our place on the Cross, so as to create a place for us in His Kingdom. By the life He lived, we are always reminded that we each have inherent value and significance in His eyes – and that we too should see those around us through His.


Placeholders is an arts festival that seeks to engage the community to reflect on what it means to make place for marginalised individuals and families alike, particularly during the Christmas season. All are welcome!

Date: 16 & 17 December 2017 (Saturday and Sunday)
Address: 4 & 10 La Salle Street
Time: 10am-9pm

For more information, please visit their Facebook page and Instagram page.

The Festival is partnership between Bethesda Frankel Estate Church and New Hope Community Services, a voluntary welfare organisation working with displaced families in Singapore. All proceeds raised from the event will go towards the Kampong Siglap Lifeskills Training & Retreat Centre, an initiative by New Hope Community Services which provides shelter for these displaced families.

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An arts festival with purpose: Make room for the displaced this Christmas