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Faith

An open letter to Despair, in the wake of 2016

by | 30 December 2016, 1:26 PM

Hello Despair, my old friend.

I’d never thought it would end up like this, but our relationship has grown remarkably over 2016. I am convinced that you now deserve a place among my inner circle of friends.

I wonder how it all happened. Like most people, I never liked you. I didn’t even choose you. But it doesn’t matter. I must’ve grown to accept the fact that you have always been there for me.

We’ve had our fun times. Together we mocked the joke of Pokemon Go, but our tastes soon evolved into darker things: Zika, Brexit, the Turkish coup, ISIS, Aleppo, refugees, climate change and Donald Trump. But it all seemed so far away. We’d analyse them from armchairs in ivory towers.

I remember that that night in my final semester of school when I stood alone in a lab. Fiddling with the array of microbial biosensors, clothes soaked in sweat and industrial wastewater all over my hands, I decided the “system” wasn’t worth my while. You agreed.

I remember the books you introduced me to, which like a pair of X-ray goggles helped me see through the layers of pretence and hypocrisy borne by 99% of the human race. Pitiful creatures, I’d think to myself. We’d toast to the futility of existence, and the twin illusions of meaning and choice.

I remember the times my faith wavered: God often felt far away, but you never left my side. Besides, what was it in humanity that could possibly warrant the necessity of salvation?

All is vanity. Silly. Pointless. Meaningless.

How generous of you, even, to suggest the easy way out – disappear, let it burn, run away. That would’ve ended my suffering once and for all.

But one day, dear Despair, it dawned upon me that you weren’t perfect. That behind that wall of rationality, you bleed, just like the pitiful humans. Humans despise you for the darkness you carry, but fail to see you for who you really are. They could use X-ray goggles too.

Look to the light.

So, regarding our relationship, I have to now choose between three options.

I could choose to reject you, Despair. I was once a happy hedonist, like most around me. But filling one’s life with busyness and pleasure does not change our course. The march of eternity is no respecter of dreams, achievement, struggle or legacy. Eventually we must confront the questions of our existence, lest our joys themselves become arbitrary. I’m not prepared to spend another day in the augmented reality of Pokemon Go.

I could choose an exclusive relationship with you. You brought me to the doorstep of nihilism, but there was no place to rest my head. You asked me to crucify the emotions, writing them off as nothing more than chemical reactions brought about by spontaneous mutation and natural selection. Naturally, we got to talking about morality. At the end of the day, I saw that a mind that presented such arguments effectively argued against its own rationality.

Or I may choose to hope. And this is my choice.

Not simply a call to black-and-white thinking, it is, rather, a call to Hope. Not the kind that sheds the X-ray goggles, but one that chooses to wonder nonetheless.

Look to the light.

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is,” goes a quote popularly misattributed to Einstein.

The first miracle, Despair, is that despite our long friendship, I am alive – that my heart beats, and blood flows through my veins.

I choose to acknowledge my place in the cosmos as a speck of dust – insignificant and imprisoned in Plato’s cave amidst shadows, tainted mirrors and the absurd. Yet, I embrace my freedom as a rational, feeling creature.

I choose to possess in my hands the power to heal this timeless world ravaged by our transient existence, to feed the hungry and pick up the crippled man. To feed just one. To embrace beauty, wonder and the most irrational artistic impulse.

I choose to believe that our unfulfilled desires point to something (or Someone) indescribably and overwhelmingly magnificent, intimate and beautiful, to be revealed in the fullness of time, on the last day before the rest of eternity begins.

That one day in retrospect, we’ll see our little time here – 2016, 2017, whenever – is the single most precious thing we have.

And that is the choice I have made.

But dear Despair, this is not the end of our friendship. I didn’t realise you and Hope are two sides of the same coin. You smother out the little lights, but Hope points me to the greatest Light of all.

The days aren’t getting easier, and I’m sure I’ll see more of both of you in 2017. With you guys, life is beauty, pain is perspective, and every moment is grace.

/ kenneth@thir.st

Kenneth is best understood through his impassioned Instagram posts, composed in the deep of night when the tumultuous world finally lies silent. He probably prefers dogs to cats.

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Don’t retreat after a retreat

by | 22 June 2018, 4:49 PM

June is the month of holidays, rest and recuperation but for the typical Singaporean Christian, it’s also the month of the highly-anticipated Church retreats!

As my camp was overseas, we enjoyed incredible fellowship as a community in a refreshing setting – as well as affordable food and shopping. Unsurprisingly, Church camps and retreats are a highlight in most calendars and many of us block out these dates in advance.

It’s always a blessed experience. There is physical and spiritual space for an extended time of prayer and worship, which means more time to linger in God’s presence. With time for ministry, we also get to witness chains breaking within individuals and rejoicing alongside them.

The hours in the afternoons between the sessions were great for rest and relaxation (my friends went to Sunway Lagoon while I napped or shopped) and the nights remained as young as we wanted them to. Indeed, retreat is a beautiful medley of encounter, fellowship and rest.

But what happens when we come home?

If you’re sentimental like me, perhaps you’ll hang up your retreat lanyard in your room like a prized possession to reminisce over fondly in the days to come, thinking that it’ll be another full year before you get to experience something similar.

But that’s not true!

Instead of looking at retreat as an extraordinary, one-off event – what if you really let it shape how your daily life looks like? Just as we made sure we left none of our belongings behind at the hotel, we must also make sure we brought home the posture and experiences we learnt at retreat.

But if I really say I belong to God, how can I let these little weeds take root in my life?

By the time you’re reading this, June will be coming to a close and it’ll likely be a few weeks since your retreat ended. The hope is that the posture of humility and anticipation we had retreat would still be present in our lives mere weeks on.

Maybe by now you’re not as persistent in prayer. Maybe you’re allowing yourself to stroll into weekend services late. Or maybe you’re not giving your best effort in your area of service. I’m not sure about you, but I am guilty of all the above.

But if I really say I belong to God, how can I let these little weeds take root in my life?

Renewal. Realignment. Refreshing. Revival. We may not realise it, but the kinds of words we use to describe retreats tend to be words which imply continuation.

When Elijah retreated to Mount Horeb, fearful of Jezebel’s death threat after he killed the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 19:1-9), the Lord met him there and assured him: “Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him” (1 Kings 19:18).

Elijah descended from the mountain, reminded of his calling as the Lord’s prophet and even anointed his successor, Elisha as well as future kings of the nations. All that Elijah did after his retreat points to a rejuvenation of his spirit by the Lord which he lived out immediately despite Jezebel’s threat still hanging over him.

Most of us don’t have the weight of death or depression hanging over us – but Elijah did. When we return from retreats, there have to be indications that we met God there, there has to be growth exemplified in our everyday actions – decisions which reflect renewed faith and hope.

Live in His freedom, love as He does and walk as His child. Don’t retreat from where retreat left off, allow it to flourish in your daily living.

/ samanthaloh@thir.st

Samantha is a creative who is inspired by the people and stories around her. She also loves striped tees and would love to pass her collection down to her future children.

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What role does the Church play in their churchgoers’ love lives?

by Nicholas Quek | 22 June 2018, 1:49 PM

One of the chapters in a book I was reading recently, The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller, talked about singleness and marriage.

One of the passages he mentioned briefly was 1 Corinthians 7. Essentially, Paul was calling the Church not to be concerned with our spousal status, acknowledging the legitimacy of both marrying and staying single. He states that “the present form of this world is passing away.”

Keller then talks about widows in the Church, and the need for the Church to take care of widows so as to relieve them from the pressure to get married (marriage was often the only way a woman in those days could attain financial and social stability).

I couldn’t help but think about a study I did awhile back on 1 Timothy 5, where Paul exhorts the church to take care of those who are truly widows. I was wondering, shouldn’t the Church also then take care of younger widows so that they aren’t pressured into remarriage?

What do we do when we come to Church?

But then Paul justifies this distinction by stating in verses 11-12 that “When their passions draw them away from Christ, they desire to marry and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith.”

This reminded me again of what Paul states in 1 Corinthians 7:10, “For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” In essence, what Paul is saying is this: To those who are older and do not burn with passion, there is no need for you to marry to obtain financial or social security – the Church is your family.

To those who are young and single (widowed or otherwise), Paul says “It is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry.”

The role of the Church here is this: To relieve widows in the church of any ungodly motivation for getting married. It’s more than just taking care of people who need our help, it’s about encouraging and building each other up that we may be more like Christ, whether in singleness or marriage.

That’s the whole focus and foundation of the church, that we may encourage and build up one another in Christ.

That got me thinking: What do we do when we come to Church? Are we looking primarily to build one another up in Christ? That may at times look like fun and games, but more often than not what that looks like is painful admonishment, difficult conversations, and hopeful edification.

The Church is the Church of Christ and finds its foundation in His Word. And His Word is so clear as to what His church should look like.

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” (Acts 2:42)

“For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 3:9-11)

“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:18-21)

Those are but a few mentions of what the Church should look like and what the Church should do.

What do we do when we come to Church?


This article was first published on Nicholas’ blog and is republished with permission.

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The manna test

by Pastor Kevin Koh, Cornerstone Community Church | 22 June 2018, 11:02 AM

I’m always fascinated by the supernatural provisions of God, especially when Israel were in the wilderness.

Feeding the entire nation of Israel of at least 2 million people, was equivalent to providing food for about half the population size of Singapore every single day!

And what about that super food called manna – which literally means “what is it?” in Hebrew (Exo 16:15, 31). It looked like coriander seeds and tasted like wafers made with honey. Equally agreeable to all palates, it sustained the whole nation for 40 years.

It came each morning and couldn’t be kept overnight, except on the sixth day where a double portion could be collected and be miraculously preserved so that there was food on the seventh day – the Sabbath.

I want to draw two lessons from what I call the “Manna Test” in Num 11:4-6 (NLT): “And the people of Israel also began to complain. ‘Oh, for some meat!’ they exclaimed. ‘We remember the fish we used to eat for free in Egypt. And we had all the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic we wanted. But now our appetites are gone. All we ever see is this manna!’

TWO LESSONS FROM THE MANNA TEST

1. Manna wasn’t the point

The purpose of the manna was to test Israel’s faith and daily dependence on God. Manna wasn’t the focal point, the focus should have been on the One who provided the manna – much like the “exit” sign above the door of a building.

Nobody walks to the “exit” sign and stops there. You’re supposed to go through the door and on to your destination. Manna was supposed to be a daily reminder of God to Israel. But instead of being grateful, they were so caught up by the lack of variety in their food menu that they complained incessantly.

And finally, Psalm 106:14-15 summed it up this way. They lusted exceedingly in the wilderness, cared only about pleasing themselves in the desert and tested and provoked God with their demands. And God gave them what they asked for, but sent leanness into their soul (spiritual decay).

Could it be that God had wanted their dissatisfaction for natural food to cause a “holy dissatisfaction” within them for more of Him instead?

At the slightest setback, they declared they would rather go back to Egypt (a type of the world) than run toward God for help. Just one chapter before, they were eyewitnesses to how God supernaturally parted the Red Sea and delivered them out of Egypt, even drowning Pharaoh and his armies (Exodus 15:19)!

Yet they somehow believed that God rescued them out of Egypt only to kill them in the wilderness! Clearly, although they were physically out of Egypt, their love for the things in Egypt wasn’t out of their hearts. Likewise, going to Church doesn’t really make you a Christian.

It’s living out and bearing the fruit of a surrendered life that makes you one.

2. Sometimes, God offends your natural appetite to reveal your spiritual appetite

We Singaporeans love our food so much that we even greet people with it. Instead of saying “how are you?” we ask: “Have you eaten?” I’m sure the Children of Israel loved their food as well, which is why they complained about the lack of variety in their food menu.

From 1 Corinthians 15:46, we know that “the natural comes first, then the spiritual.” Perhaps the Manna Test was to awaken their spiritual hunger and appetite. Could it be that God had wanted their dissatisfaction for natural food to cause a “holy dissatisfaction” within them for more of Him instead?

However, that wasn’t the case. They were satisfied with knowing and hearing God from a distance through Moses (Exodus 20:18-20). What a tragedy it’d be if Pastor Yang was the only one in Cornerstone who desires to know God intimately, while the rest of us were contented with hearing from his experiences with God and not desiring for our own.

If you had to take the Manna Test, would you pass it? Does your spiritual appetite for God match up to your natural appetite for food and material things? Are you satisfied with your 15 minute devotion, but are constantly checking out new food stalls, exploring new places or cafes to chill out at?


This article was first published on Cornerstone Community Church’s blog and is republished with permission.

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My stay in the worst room in the world

by Chris T | 20 June 2018, 9:54 PM

I recently read that someone chose to stay at the worst room in Singapore. Only to moan about it and press the eject button before the night was over.

Some news commentators wonder if it was a fair article to publish, calling the writer a “spoilt millennial”. I wasn’t surprised at all – I’ve been warning everyone of first-world problems for years.

But the whole episode prompted me to recount my own stay in a most unlikable place.

I’d been keeping tabs on the place for ages. Like that other writer I went there eyes wide open, knowing full well the horror show I’d be getting myself into.

It was full of garbage. In fact I don’t think there was a single good person there. And I had to pay a huge price to be there.

Unlike that writer, there was no way I was going to leave early. Not a chance.

It’s all about motivation. That writer “accepted the challenge” out of a “loathing of boredom”. I mean, as incentives go, it’s not much, is it?

It was different for me. I was purpose-driven. I was sent on a mission. Someone had to do it – but not just anyone. I guess you could say I was born for this.

I don’t know what was going through the writer’s head, but when you know you’re about to go on a difficult mission, you should really go prepared.

Logistics, for example. If the reviews warn you about the cleanliness of the bedsheets, just bring your own lor, no point whining about it.

Me? I just made sure to bring the cup I’d been given.

So when you find yourself in a bad situation, how do you respond? The writer said he took his mind off things by hitting social media, scanning Instagram feeds, to take his mind off things.

Again, I don’t get it. I mean, I guess I was also busy gaining followers, but really, if you’re somewhere for a reason, don’t run away from it! Just do the job you were sent to do!

And then he mentioned that at some point, he briefly fell asleep, which came to him as a blessed relief. Sleep? Bad move.

Finally, he can’t take it anymore. Before it’s time to check out, before he’s properly done his job so he can tell everyone that it is finished, he … cops out. Escapes. Quits.

Me? Never. If I left, what would have happened to this place, Earth, and all the people in it?

It’s really simple. My Father sent me to bring hope and offer eternal life. The suffering was part of the deal – the price had to be paid for the sin of all mankind. I knew that. I knew I’d have to live with the grime of life and the horrors of humanity.

You think a smelly toilet and a couple of cockroaches is bad? Remember, I come from a place where there are no tears – no death, no mourning, no crying, no pain. Relatively speaking, at least in terms of where I used to stay and where I had to spend a short period, I think I had it a bit worse than that writer.

But it had to be done.

Why? You, of course.

I did it for you.

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death — that is, the devil — and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. (Hebrews 2:14, 15, 17)

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Wounded by the Church: A letter to fellow Special Needs Christians

by Jonathan Pang | 20 June 2018, 1:41 PM

This is a response piece to The Christian stereotype: Why you should also love those who aren’t like you.


I’m sure most of us know the weight of the word when someone is branded an apostate, but what comes to our mind when we picture such a person?

Perhaps, someone who wanders between worldviews pertaining to spirituality? Or a person who actively oppresses the Church? Such individuals undoubtedly exist, but have we considered the reasons why they went down such a path?

I know of an acquaintance named Yong Woon* with special needs like myself who had burnt bridges within my Church community after nearly two decades of hardship, passing through the Children’s, Youth and Young Adults Ministry.

His difficulties with relating and socialising with others around him caused him much pain and trauma within his school, where he was physically bullied and ostracised by classmates. Yong Woon told me about his struggles in Church and how it was no better than any other place, given his frequent meltdowns and conflicts with fellow peers and ministry staff.

Home too, provided little refuge as his parents and elder sister lacked in empathy for him, even though he was officially diagnosed to have an Autism Spectrum Disorder 2 years ago at age 25, after two previous acts of self-harm.

If we genuinely love our neighbours, we must therefore make the effort to see past our divides

Although he served in the Special Needs Ministry for a time, his external commitments with Work Shadowing and performances with The Purple Symphony resulted in conflicts of interest with his fellow workers.

Ultimately, Yong Woon severed ties with the members in my Church.

He confided in me that it wasn’t the first time he has done so: He had written letters of resignation written to ministry workers from both the Youth and Young Adults congregation before to air his grievances. Those letters were frowned upon by my Church elders, who found his actions maladjusted and immature.

As a person with Asperger’s Syndrome myself, I’ve also have had my fair share of similar problems within my Church in my younger years. Ultimately, I made a painful but necessary transition to the Senior Citizen’s congregation after a bad departure from the Youth Ministry.

It is curious how such experiences leave you in a “dipolar” state, the two D’s being disdain and discouragement. When I saw how Yong Woon left the faith, I started to think about the message Jesus spoke to his disciples regarding the conflict between the world and the Church owing to the world’s rejection of Christ (John 15 :18-21).

Certainly, one who does not obey God will never fully receive and serve the community of His people. But what if it were the other way round?

Often, the interpersonal hurt caused directly to individuals within the Church is even more grievous than regular public scandals and shaming brought to light by outsiders. It is a painful thing to experience neglect or be wronged by other believers – your very own blood-bought brothers and sisters.

Favouritism and segregation are condemned (James 2:1-13).

Of the seven deadly sins, the source from which discord and strife arises among the Body of Christ is vanity. To treat others poorer in appearance/means/capacity/faith with contempt or hostility within the Church breeds discontentment and even resentment among ourselves.

It’s decried as sin in the letter of James, for what truly matters to the Bride of Christ is to conform in the character of Christ Himself. Favouritism and segregation are condemned (James 2:1-13).

No doubt, this is difficult when people are polar opposites from what we expect them to be. Yet, the Church must be beacon of hope to those suffering in the world — these sufferers are closer to us within our own community than we think.

If we genuinely love our neighbours, we must therefore make the effort to see past our divides — of colour, tongue, creed and others —to nurture and support each other as the family of our Lord (1 Corinthians 13).

On a final note, it is my hope that Yong Woon will find the courage and forgiveness to come back to the faith and reconcile with my Church eventually.

To my brethren who have been downtrodden or even actively hurt within your Church community, the aforementioned two D’s are inevitable in the sinful fallenness of creation from which the Church is not spared.

The Church is made from deformed people, and yet Christ in His great love has never abandoned it. Do seek advice from trusted peers, mentors and ministry leaders or professional counselling if necessary in your life’s circumstances, but I urge you not to cause the two D’s to end in another — divorce.

… call upon Him to heal and mend the ties in the family you’ve been called to be a part of.

A life divorced from faith will ultimately be one not worth living. We need the Church and we need fellowship; we cannot expect to stand alone when facing the perils that the flesh, the world and Satan send our way. Likewise, the Church needs us in a symbiotic relationship to use our talents and skills to raise disciples among all peoples.

Whatever the circumstance, hold on to hope. The only hope for salvation we have is in our Lord and no other. Your faith belongs to you. Like a marital covenant, it is a vow made between you and God, a divine gift that no one, not even your enemies, can steal from you — unless you let them.

You may choose to abandon the gift of salvation by running away from the Church … Or you can call upon Him to heal and mend the ties in the family you’ve been called to be a part of.

You can run the race with fervour, towards an eternity yet to come.


*Name has been changed for confidentiality.

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Article list

An open letter to Despair, in the wake of 2016

Don’t retreat after a retreat

What role does the Church play in their churchgoers’ love lives?

The manna test

My stay in the worst room in the world

Wounded by the Church: A letter to fellow Special Needs Christians