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In ministry, learn to hold loosely to whatever you create

by | 8 November 2017, 4:01 PM

Having served in my church’s performing arts ministry for just over three years, the single most important lesson I’ve learnt so far can be summed up in a few words my pastor shared with me right at our very first ministry meeting:

Learn to hold loosely to whatever you create.

The principle of holding loosely in such a ministry means that while we take pride in our work and do our best, we remain humble and gentle enough not to insist on our own way when an executive decision is made. We don’t have our feelings hurt.

We have instead the overarching perspective of furthering God’s kingdom – God’s way.

HOLDING ON TO HONOUR

I’ll give you a hypothetical example: If I spent four days creating a video for a church event’s publicity and my pastor, after seeking God and sincerely chewing on the issue, decides the video just doesn’t work – that’s alright. I hold loosely. I let go.

I’m able to sacrifice my work, though it be precious to me, because I’m trusting that God’s purposes will be achieved in His way. Then I honour my leaders by submitting peaceably to the executive decisions made.

Of course, it would feel foolish and painful to make such sacrifices if the leadership is unwise or callous. While we believe the best of our leaders, we also need to be wise in managing the inevitable disappointments in our ministries.

We want a culture where we honour each other, and each other’s work.

So this culture of honour only works if it goes both ways. Those who lead have an obligation to make sure that their vision and instructions are clear, so that co-labourers in the ministry produce the right thing at the right time.

Any project will experience cuts and changes, but you never want to waste a person’s time by first being unclear or indecisive. Leaders shouldn’t treat the principle of holding loosely as a trump card to play so decisions can be made on whims and fancies. Things should only be scrapped outright as a last resort.

We want a culture where we honour each other, and each other’s work.

LETTING GO OF PRIDE

Having worked with my young adult pastor for a few years, our relationship has gone from co-labourers to friends. I can see his heart for God, and I know that his decisions are made on the basis of how best to serve the Kingdom.

That makes it very easy to trust and submit to his leadership.

For example, last year, I spent many hours making this one prop for the Good Friday play. It ended up not being used, and I was genuinely alright with that. Why? Because from the start I had the principle of holding loosely in my heart, and I have a similar baseline as my pastor.

All I care about is that it works – that the whole thing we’re doing is ultimately something of eternal value. And if it stings, I just remind myself of the principle behind Matthew 6:4-6. God rewards those who serve and seek him in secret.

“… Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:4-6)

In the times I serve God with that heart, I find that nothing is ever truly “wasted”. God sees all we do.

So hold loosely, put pride in your work, but don’t become prideful. It should never be about us or our work.

God alone knows if we are serving for fame or to further the Kingdom.

“And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:24)

/ gabriel@thir.st

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

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What I learnt from an adulteress

by | 13 July 2018, 4:07 PM

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t you cheat on Me too?

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

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

We’re cheating on God.

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

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

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

They start now.

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

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

We need conviction.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Put your foot down and flee!

/ siqi@thir.st

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

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Thank God I struggle with same-sex attraction

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

Yes, you read that right.

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

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

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

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

SUCCUMBING TO TEMPTATION

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

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

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

WE CAN ALWAYS DRAW NEAR TO GOD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GOD NEVER ABANDONS US

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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The mask he wore to church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m … Attracted to the same gender.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Names have been changed for confidentiality.

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When the whole wide world seems oh so wrong

by | 11 July 2018, 2:38 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

/ fiona@thir.st

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

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The call to come home

by Thir.st | 9 July 2018, 1:33 PM

“You Christians talk about God’s love all the time: But where is that love for people like us?”

Someone struggling with same-sex attraction once asked the person who had just started mentoring him.

For years now, there has been the quiet effort of counsellors and community groups who have rallied around the same-sex attracted to do what Church has striven to do for every person – love in action.

But the help provided is sensitive, and personal, so you may not have heard of this realm of work before. And the many stories of hope, faith and love that arise from these journeys often go unheard by those who aren’t in the know.

Truelove.is, an initiative led by 3:16 Church, simply hopes to bring these stories to light. 3:16 Church’s Senior Pastor Ian Toh believes the silent front must end if the Church is truly to be a home to everyone.

Truelove.is was created for the Church, by the Church,” said Pastor Ian. Then, referencing Matthew 5:16, “It says to let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Rather than taking a “stand”, Truelove.is is much more of a walk – walking the people God loves back home to Him.

Or, in essence: “If others don’t see our good deeds – what the Church is doing for them – how will they glorify our Father in heaven?”

If the ones we’re called to love are not getting that message, then something is not right. If the Church does not appear to be a place of belonging, acceptance and life change, something is not right.

For a faith whose face is love – the face of Jesus Christ – His body, the Church, must represent and declare the same to the watching world.

And rather than taking a “stand”, Truelove.is is much more of a walk – walking the people God loves, and that is all of us, back home to Him.

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us …” (Ephesians 5:1)

The stories of His love are already out there, said Pastor Norman Ng, Deputy Senior Pastor of 3:16 Church.

Accounts from Christians who walk the journey of faith and same-sex attraction have been slowly but steadily coming forth, some of which are featured on the Truelove.is website, and notably in the locally-produced book, Good News for Bruised Reeds – Walking with Same-Sex Attracted Friends.

“Stories of people on the same journey bring hope,” Pastor Norman said. “And the Church needs to be a place where people can find home and hope, a safe place of shelter.

Not a country club for the perfect and put-together, but a haven for every soul that longs to experience the Father’s heart. Because true love leans in; true love takes time to listen and never gives up on another.

Like every person He’s drawn unto Himself, we cannot dictate when and how God will transform a life.

We can only carry His love and make disciples of all tribes and peoples and languages (Revelation 7:9), in hopes that all who enter through our doors may find the true love they seek, and be transformed by the love lavished on them.

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Article list

In ministry, learn to hold loosely to whatever you create

What I learnt from an adulteress

Thank God I struggle with same-sex attraction

The mask he wore to church

When the whole wide world seems oh so wrong

The call to come home