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The longest day in the world

by | 13 April 2017, 1:51 PM

Death. You know this feeling according to what you’ve been through. The death of a person. The death of a dream. The death of hope. I admit I probably haven’t experienced great tragedy compared to many of you reading this, but I know the feeling of death.

In fact, as I write this, tears well in my eyes at the fresh grief it has brewed in my heart this season. Loss comes in many shapes and colours. It could be disappointment when things don’t turn out the way you expect them to – in my case, coming to terms with relationships not panning out as I’d expected. Or when something too horrible to comprehend happens to someone you love.

In the recently released movie The Shack, originally written as a Christian novel by William P Young, loss for protagonist Mackenzie Phillips – or what he calls the Great Sadness – came in the form of the latter. As the book’s synopsis describes it: Mack’s youngest daughter, Missy, is abducted during a family vacation, and evidence that she may have been brutally murdered is found in an abandoned shack deep in the Oregon wilderness.

The powerfully moving story that deals with the timeless question, “Where is God in a world so filled with unspeakable pain?”, finally made its way to Singapore on April 6 – just in time for Good Friday.

Much has been said and appreciated about Easter – from the tragedy of Good Friday to the triumph of Resurrection Sunday. But it is the day in between, what some term Silent Saturday, that usually falls out of our reflections.

Year after year, we mourn the painful journey to Gethsemane and the grave, rush through Saturday and jump for joy on the glorious Third Day. Just like periods of real grief, we are quick to want to move beyond the valley of the shadow of death – the insufferable in-between.

The very first Silent Saturday probably felt like the longest day in the world for those who’d loved Jesus. They didn’t know He was coming back to life the very next day. And if you’re in a season of grief yourself, every new day with your pain is a Silent Saturday. The longest day in the world.

To me, The Shack is a story about that day.

Even after four years, Mack is unable to move past the tragedy of his daughter’s horrific death. The day she died looms behind him at every moment, as if it was just yesterday. But The Shack is also a story about God meeting us in the centre of our pain, the pit of despair – our Silent Saturday.

Without giving away the plot, here are five things I believe God is saying to us who are grieving, based on actual quotes from the movie.

HEARING GOD IN OUR GRIEVING

1. “YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW MUCH I LOVE YOU”

These were the first few words from God to Mack when they meet. Person to person, with a delight and sincerity that brings tears to his eyes – and mine.

It was as if they were meant for my ears as well, and I knew that although I’ve long understood that the God of the universe loves me as a fact, I don’t always allow that truth to permeate the depths of my heart. Instead, I constantly find myself feeling alone in my circumstances, their resulting emotions eating me alive. I get shaken. I get scared. How could this happen, why did this happen?

But perfect love drives out all fear (1 John 4:18). When we truly know how much God loves us, we realise that He is never out to hurt us. He did not bring the pain we’re feeling. He did not cause the tragedy we face. If we who are imperfect beings know how to give good gifts to our children, the ones we love dearly, how can God do any less (Matthew 7:11)?

His Love, when fully grasped, is the answer to all our doubts and fears and grief, no matter how big they are. God later tells Mack: Because you do not know that I love you, you cannot trust Me.

2. “WHEN ALL YOU SEE IS YOUR PAIN, YOU LOSE SIGHT OF ME”

Still crippled by the loss of his daughter, Mack accuses God of not being there for him when he needed Him through his years of grief.

In the valley of Silent Saturday, the pain is somehow always fresh and ready to be revisited. It follows us into the deep of night. It greets us in the morning. We can busy ourselves with responsibilities and the noise of the daily grind, but it lurks just below the surface, squeezing our hearts like an old ache that doesn’t want to be forgotten for long.

In the valley of Silent Saturday, the pain is somehow always fresh and ready to be revisited.

You’ll find it’s a lot easier to forget God – for the pain to feel greater than His presence. And when we fix our eyes on the winds and waves, they roar their way into our inner man, beating against our spirits and threatening to capsize our faith.

But they don’t have to. Look instead to Jesus. Invite Him into your darkest moments. Your night shines as a day to Him, for the darkness is as light to Him (Psalm 139:12). In Him there is all comfort and assurance; in His eyes the storms within are calmed.

3. “I HAVE NEVER LEFT YOU”

It seems you have a bad habit of turning Your back on those you supposedly love, Mack references Matthew 27:46, in which Jesus, dying on the cross, cries out at being forsaken by His Father. You abandoned him just like you abandoned my little girl, just like you abandoned me.

We remember Martha, tearful and indignant, saying to Jesus who arrived four days too late to save her now deceased brother Lazarus: If you’d been here, my brother would not have died (John 11:21).

In the course of our suffering, questions abound. Why didn’t an all-knowing and all-powerful God stop the death that has plunged us into this state? If He had been here, if He hadn’t abandoned us, none of this would have happened.

But like Mack, we misunderstand the mystery of Free Will. God cannot violate His own law of Free Will that He gave to the first man Adam in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:16). Because we are free to choose Him – or not to – we are also each free to choose evil instead of good. If God were to step in to stop an act that hurts us, or force one beneficial to us, it would violate the same law that gives us the freedom to make our own decisions.

But one thing He promises: In that moment of great pain, I never left you (Deuteronomy 31:6). We were there together.

4. “TO YOU IT SEEMS LIKE A MESS, BUT I SEE SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL”

A huge part of grief lies not just in the loss of something loved, but also in the loss of control. Things can no longer unfold the way we previously desired them to. Our plans have gone haywire. Life’s a mess. We’re a mess.

When God takes Mack on a walk through His garden, he is shocked by its chaos of colour and “blatant disregard for certainty”. This is wild, Mack tells God, avoiding a more honest description. That isn’t the word in your head, He replies knowingly. This is a mess and this mess is your soul – wild and beautiful and perfectly in process.

A huge part of grief lies not just in the loss of something loved, but also in the loss of control. Things can no longer unfold the way we previously desired them to.

When we’re in the pit of despair, the day after our life-altering plot twist, we cannot even begin to be able to see beauty in the brokenness that surrounds us like an overgrown hedge. The broken ideals. The broken spirit. The broken heart. We know we cannot possibly fix ourselves; not this mess for sure.

But God stands high above with perfect knowledge of the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10) and sees the living fractal our lives are – “confusing, stunning and incredibly beautiful”. He is in control and He makes all things beautiful in His time (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

5. “TRUST ME TO DO WHAT’S RIGHT AND KNOW WHAT’S BEST”

The most important step towards complete healing for our souls comes in the simple yet painfully difficult act of surrender. That could mean forgiving the person responsible for the grief, yourself included, and putting down our ideas of what judgment is due. Even if you shouldn’t have to. Even if the person in question murdered your daughter in cold blood.

In The Shack, Mack gawks at God’s seemingly absurd request that he forgive the man who killed Missy. Forgive him? I want to hurt him! I want You to hurt him. Redeem him? He should burn in hell!

We may not have experienced the same tragedy as Mack, but we can all recognise the resistance to surrendering all judgment and action plans to our Heavenly Father. Inside us, we’ve already formed strategies to get us out of the black hole of our Silent Saturdays. If only this happened to that person, I can move on. If God does this for me, things will be right again.

But in surrendering, God isn’t asking us to deny the presence of pain or excuse our perpetrators for what they’ve done. We’re just getting off the judgment seat and trusting Him to have the best plan in store, no matter how bad it looks to us – because He is good. As long as we know that He is always good, we can trust Him wherever He leads, and whatever He leads us to do.

HE IS COMING BACK FOR YOU

If you’re going through a season of personal grief this Easter, take heart. Because even in the silence of that first Saturday after His bitter, defeating death, Jesus was waging war in the grave for the salvation of our souls. Even as we wait in the thick of our pain, He is working. Working for our good.

Just like Mack, you might not be able to imagine any final outcome that would justify all that has happened to you. But as God replied with a loving embrace: I’m not justifying it. I am redeeming it.

And in His ultimate triumph over death, you have already overcome.

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows(Isaiah 53:4)

/ joanne@thir.st

Joanne is a bundle of creative energy commonly heard before she is seen. She believes in the triune power of good conversation, brilliant writing and bold ideas. She also likes milo.

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Empowered for a purpose

by Senior Pastor Jeffrey Chong, Hope Church Singapore | 20 February 2018, 11:08 AM


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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Don’t follow your heart

by | 19 February 2018, 11:17 AM

Don’t follow your heart.

Sure, most hearts do a fine job of pumping blood to keep us alive. But while it sustains life – it doesn’t lead us well at all. 

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)

I’m sure you’ve felt the fickle nature of your own heart before. Right when we think we finally know what our heart wants – we’ve changed our minds by the next moment.

Our minds rationalise and soothe our easy hearts that it’s OK to run away from things we hate or fear. So we escape, and strive to find fulfilment in all manner of things.

Consider what’s frequently right at your fingertips: Instagram, Facebook, Netflix, YouTube – porn. These are so easily the well-worn holes which an escapist crawls into willingly.

But some holes are pits.

“I just wanted to disappear. Specifically, I wanted to disappear to an isolated and desolate place that reflected how I felt inside.” said Holly Baxter, who spent five weeks along the Trans-Siberian Railway in Russia to escape social media.

Has your heart ever felt like escaping? You may even have thought of doing something like Baxter. I suppose that’s one way of being in touch with ourselves – by being somewhere which encompasses our inner turmoil.

Here’s the point: What really needs to be changed is what’s happening on the inside.

If we’re restless and constantly on the run, it more than likely reflects an absence of peace within. And sure, life can be difficult – but life is difficult.

The real question is: What do you have in this difficult life that’s unshakeable (Psalm 62:6)? My gentle words are that you find it, because a day will come when what your whole life stands upon is tested.

There is just one thing in this world worth pursuing. It is Jesus Christ – only Jesus satisfies!

“Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:25-26)

We were made to walk with God, we who are so prone to walk away. I want to tell you with all my being – shout it from the rooftops – that He is enough. We have all we’ll ever need in God.

We cannot go wrong by desiring Him, so let us choose and love Him.

/ fiona@thir.st

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

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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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Belinda Lee: My mother’s unwavering faith

by | 15 February 2018, 3:37 PM

As she recalled her mother’s final days in her 6-year-long battle with cancer, Belinda Lee took a moment to compose herself before she continued.

The former Mediacorp actress and host spoke of moments when her mom would get up in the middle of the night, when she was in great pain, to cry out to God.

“At that time, she was already on morphine and was very weak. I don’t know where she got the energy from, but she would shout with all her strength for God to take her home.”

“She would cry out with all her might like this: ‘Jehovah, I beg you to bring me home.’

“It was then that my family knew that she was ready to go home. It was painful for us to let her go but we knew that she was ready,” Belinda said.

It was the beginning of the end of a journey which saw her mother go from being anti-Christian to embracing the love of Jesus.

Said Belinda: “My mom, who told the whole world that she would never become a Christian, received Christ when I was in Bible college, and she actually got water baptised on her own without telling the family.

“To me, that shows how true her conviction was, because she willingly did it on her own without pressure from anyone – she did it on her own accord because she truly wants to know who this amazing God is, and she welcomed Him into her life.”

(Belinda Lee’s sharing on her mother’s faith begins at 40:44 in this video)

Belinda shared that her mother, who was illiterate, would pray for God to teach her how to read the Bible.

And He did.

“A miracle happened one day. She came to me beaming with joy, sharing that God answered her prayer and she could finally read the Bible! Not every word, but she was able to at least understand the gist of what she was reading.”

Belinda found it hard to believe, but was encouraged by a neighbour, who said the same prayer had come true for her own elderly parents. “She told me that I have too little faith in God!”

And the way her mother spent her last days stood out to Belinda.

“A week before she finally took her last breath, she instructed one of my aunties to cook a scrumptious breakfast to serve her friends, the members, and the pastors of the Chinese Church she was attending – because that was what she used to do when she was still mobile.”

Belinda recalls her mom saying this to her in Hokkien: “Belinda, I wasn’t educated and I’m not good at studying, but I know how to cook. With my gift, I hope that I can serve God and His children.

“My mom was a dying women, but while on her deathbed, she wasn’t thinking about her own needs or blaming God. All she was thinking about was how she could continue serving God and His people to the very end of her life.

“Mom did not fear death because she believed with all her heart that our Abba Father was going to welcome her with open arms and personally lead her through the white gates of heaven when she meets Him one day.”

“I was told I was doomed to fail”: Belinda Lee’s journey from insecurity to purpose

/ fiona@thir.st

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Porn and the things I’d rather love

by JH Kwek | 12 February 2018, 9:16 PM

It has been said that there are two types of men: Those who watch porn, and liars.

The truth is I belong to both categories.

My struggle with pornography began when I was 11. I was surfing the web when I stumbled onto some highly sexualised anime clips. Ever since then, this thorn, this drug, this corruption has been with me.

I’ve tried my whole life to break free, only for each attempt to end in failure. I got really good at lying about it though. Even when I confessed this sin to my cell members, I managed to phrase it in a way that made me look like the victim – like I was really trying my best and somehow that was enough.

It was like there was no real consequence to remaining in my addiction, as long as I cried and looked like I didn’t like it.

But I did.

I loved it: Every lustful moment in the toilet, every fantasy fired up by sensual Instagram posts, every filthy thought – I revelled in all of it. I knew the sinfulness of my addiction, but I didn’t really believe it. I was deluded, a man who thought nothing of eternity and only of the momentary high that came each night I gave in to my lust.

The struggle against pornography is often portrayed as a noble war, as if we’re righteous creatures born into a broken world, battling the forces of lust that seek to ruin us.

But we are not righteous creatures. We are dead creatures (Ephesians 2:1). We don’t just sin – we love to sin. We delight in it. We take pleasure in it. By ourselves we are so far from righteousness.

When God shook me out of my stupor, I finally saw how great my sin was – but I also had my eyes opened to the vastness of His grace.

The struggle against pornography is not a mere struggle to stop loving porn: It is a struggle to love Christ – and love Him more than anything else. So my problem wasn’t that I loved pornography – my problem was that I didn’t love Christ.

How then can a dead man love Christ? He can when he is brought to life.

My problem wasn’t that I loved pornography – my problem was that I didn’t love Christ.

And that was exactly what God did for me. In the quiet moment of a ministry retreat’s worship session, I read Ephesians 2 and became utterly convicted of my sin and sinful nature.

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved …” (Ephesians 2:1-5)

There and then, I repented, and asked God to bring me back to life.

And He did. He called me back to life.

That’s the power of the Holy Spirit. As the words of Ephesians 2 filled my mind, He began to convict my heart of my very real state of sin, that I was indeed dead in my trespasses and sins, carrying out the desires of my body and my mind, just like the rest of mankind.

But the same Spirit who convicted me of my sin also revealed to me so mercifully and lovingly that God, because of the great love with which He had for me, was calling me out of death in my sin to a redeemed life with Jesus Christ. It is by grace I have been saved.

There are so many of us – men and women – who struggle with an addiction to pornography. I still struggle with it. Porn is undeniably pleasurable. Speaking from experience, it is one of the strongest and most addictive pleasures I’ve ever come across.

But I can also speak from experience, that the cross of Christ brings a permanent joy and satisfaction that pornography can’t even touch. How blind I was! And how blind I still can be!

God gifted us priceless pleasure and fullest joy in His Son – yet we reject Him for worthless things. Father, forgive us!

A dead man can only love Christ when he is brought to life.

The cross of Christ brings a permanent joy and satisfaction that pornography can’t even touch.

You may seek love in pornography, relationships or achievements – after all, we were designed to receive love. But there is a better way.

It is the love that God gives to us. It’s the same love that caused Him to send His only Son into the world, so that we who were doomed to die might live through Him. All this while we did not yet love Him. Our Father loved us, and sent his Son to pay our debts (1 John 4).

I pray that God brings you back to life and opens your eyes, that His Son is no longer just words on a page to you, but the very real and tangible pleasure that surpasses all other pleasures.

A heart full of Christ has neither need nor want of porn. Help us to want and need you God – bring us back to life!

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The longest day in the world

Empowered for a purpose

Don’t follow your heart

How are those resolutions coming along?

Belinda Lee: My mother’s unwavering faith

Porn and the things I’d rather love