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Prayer channel or gossip channel?

by | 1 November 2017, 7:52 PM

“We need to pray for her,” my friend declared as she pulled a chair to sit next to me. It was almost time for cell group and we were waiting for the rest to arrive.

Concerned, I asked what had happened to our mutual friend.

My innocent question triggered an in-depth recount on my friend’s end. Buffeted with the occasional “No way!”, “Really?” and the likes from everyone within earshot, her dramatic storytelling drew the attention of those streaming in.

Some started chiming in with bits and pieces of information they had. Others speculated. “No wonder these days I feel that she …”

It gets tricky when – without any preconceived ill intention – an innocent prayer request steers off course.

“Okay,” my friend finally concluded after 30 minutes, “Remember to pray for her, yeah?”

We nodded and disbanded in hushed silence, each carrying a piece of the secret no one had previously known about the person. Somehow, without speaking, all of us knew our impression of her had changed.

This scenario happens more often than not in church gatherings and private chats – both online and offline. It usually starts with the best intentions, when people solicit prayers for someone, but if we aren’t careful, prayer requests can easily morph into gossip parties instead.

We all know why gossip is bad – nobody likes to be talked about behind their own backs, especially when private details are involved. Gossip is also a yeast for false rumours, a seed for sowing discord, and may even cause serious damage to someone’s reputation.

The Bible also warns us against speaking ill of others (Exodus 23:1, Proverbs 16:28, James 4:11), but it gets tricky when – without any preconceived ill intention – an innocent prayer request steers off course.

Should we, then, avoid seeking prayers and encouragement on behalf of others?

Or is there a better way of doing things?

In any prayer-turned-gossip session, I typically find that there are 3 types of characters involved: The Informants, the Ranters, and the Listeners. Each has their own role to play, and therefore has something they can do to manoeuvre the conversation back on course.

THE 3 TYPES OF GOSSIP GIRLS/GUYS

1. The Informant

ɪnˈfɔːmənt/
Noun
A person who gives information to another.

The informant is, more often than not, the person who first brings up the issue. He/she has all the deets and because of this, will be the one who petitions others to pray for the person in need.

Unfortunately, there’s always this tendency to share too much in order to contextualise the prayer request for others who are unaware of this situation. “It helps them to know what they’re praying for!” is usually the reasoning.

But is there really a need to?

Consider these two ways of sharing the same prayer request:

Option A: “Please pray for Mrs Lim’s husband. He was recently fired from his job because he was caught skiving on his job. Previously, he also stole some money from his company to pay off his gambling debt. Because of this, their family is facing some financial problems now.”

Option B: “Please pray for Mrs Lim’s husband. He recently lost his job and their family is facing some financial problems now.”

As you can see, the essence of the prayer request doesn’t disappear with the omitted details. It is possible to get people to pray even with limited knowledge.

If you find yourself overstepping the boundaries of what to share, remember that the golden rule is prayer points, not prayer story. While it can be tempting to give people context for the prayers, sensitive and irrelevant details should be carefully left out.

And after all, it’s not our story to tell.

2. The Ranter

rantə/
Noun
A person who rants.

An informant can sometimes double-up as a ranter – or trigger someone into ranting. Overwhelmed with information and emotions, there will be times the people involved in an issue need to unload.

However, there’s wisdom in being selective when it comes to discussing someone else’s life. It may be comforting to talk to someone you’re close to, but they may not have the capacity and maturity to handle the information properly.

For example, some may get negatively swayed in their perception of the person you’re talking about. Others may end up with a biased opinion when our words unintentionally paint inaccurate and false pictures of the person. It might even sow discord among friends and cause strife (Proverbs 6:16-19).

In such cases, I’ve always find sharing upwards (leaders, mentors), and not across (friends) to be a good guideline. The principle is to always seek a listening ear with someone mature, trusted and objective – and not just someone you enjoy talking to. As much as possible, keep irrelevant people out of the conversation too.

3. The Listener

ˈlɪs(ə)nə/
Noun
A person who listens, especially someone who does so in an attentive manner.

If there are talkers, there will be listeners. Listeners play the most passive role, but it doesn’t mean their actions do not count. As someone who usually listens more than she speaks, I confess that I’ve unwittingly contributed to a gossip session by asking for more details.

“What happened?”

“Oh, you know why or not?”

“Wah, then how?”

I think it’s very human to want to know more, but we need to be conscious of our intentions. Do we want to know because we’re concerned for the person? Or do we want to know to feed our own curiosity? Ultimately our objective is to pray, not to kaypoh.

If we’re truly concerned, it’s much more honouring to the person involved if we hear it straight from the horse’s mouth rather than through the grapevine.

I believe most gossip doesn’t start off as gossip in prayer channels. It’s only when we temporarily forget the purpose of prayer requests that we let our guards down and slip into comfortable chit-chat. And what a pity it is when a channel of blessing is turned into a channel for bashing – when our best intentions end up a disservice to the person we wish the best for.

It’d be beneficial if we remember to consciously measure our actions against our motives, especially if it involves another person. Be a little wiser, a little more cautious.

/ 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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Porn is killing me

by Mark Lee | 14 August 2018, 11:48 AM

I am locked in a battle for sexual purity and I am dying in it.

Time and time again, I watch pornography.

Time and time again, I diminish a female – reducing her to just her body and nothing more. Time and time again, I let my gaze linger on women. And the whole time, there’s always this quiet voice inside me that I try to silence in the moment. There are many things this quiet little voice says to me, but the one word I hear the most is “fight”.

I will not mince my words. Every encounter with porn has sliced sinews of my soul off. In this battle for sexual purity, I have become a maimed soldier.

Whenever I am tempted, this scene plays in my mind: I’m in that quiet room in my soul where I host God, and I find that Satan is leaning on the doorway, waiting. He was chatting with God, but now he turns to me.

“Oh, is this the one you were talking about?” Satan gestures lazily at me. “Yes,” comes God’s reply.

“You know, he looks really familiar. Ah!” Satan snaps his fingers as an evil glint enters his eyes. “He most definitely came to pay me and my friends a visit last night. Or was it this morning? Or 5 minutes ago? Hard to keep track really …”

“I know what he’s done,” replies God calmly.

Satan scoffs. “And still You call this one Your son..? A precious child of Yours?”

“Go now,” commands God.

Satan pushes himself off the doorframe lazily, making to move away. But before he does, he turns and smiles at God: “You’ve an even softer spot for losers than I thought!”

Then he walks, striding towards me lazily. He wraps an arm around my shoulder, pulling my ear close to his mouth: “Pathetic. Absolutely pathetic.” And then the old snake is gone.

“Mark, what Satan said about what you did is true. But what he said about who you are is not.”

Now I stumble across the doorway, my knees suddenly weak and my breath ragged.

The weight of my sins and all the wrong I’ve done have turned my soul to lead. I trip and fall face-first on to the ground, and when I pick myself up, it’s through tear-blurred eyes that I see God in front of me – His arms extended to me.

“My son,” He says, “come here.”

I shuffle closer, and then His arms encircle me. Now I cannot help but cry and cry as the weight of a thousand and one sins is lifted as God holds me close. Lead turns to gold … to light. It is a torrent now of tears and thoughts, and wails where words simply fail.

“Why?” I eventually manage, choking and sputtering the word out. “Send me away, God. I don’t deserve this love. I’m not even sure I want this love. Even if I say I do, nothing in my actions reflects that I actually do. Everything Satan said was true … I’m sorry … but he’s right.”

I hang my head. I really am pathetic.

There is sadness on God’s face for a moment, but then He smiles. “Mark, what Satan said about what you did is true. But what he said about who you are is not.”

I lift my head a little. God rests His hands on my shoulders: “You are not pathetic. You are precious to me.” As the words enter my ears and sink into my soul, deep calls to deep, and something stirs within.

That was truth. Even after all I did? And all I might still do against You? You’d still call me Your own, Your precious son?

God smiles even more fully now and nods. “Remember, even while you were still a sinner, I sent Jesus to die for you. You are loved, my dear son. And you are fully forgiven.”

Then God holds out a closed hand, clasping a scroll. “I have a mission for you today, Mark. Will you accept it?” I peer at the scroll, but I can’t see what’s written on it. Then I look to God – and I see it.

Hope.

God hopes. He believes in the good that may yet come out of me.

In spite of all the pornography, objectification, lust, lies and failures … there is hope. My hand is shaking, but I put it forward – palm up.

“Yes, God. I’ll do it. I’ll accept this mission.” He smiles and lays the scroll in my hand.

I open it up and read the words there, “I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11).

I stare at the words, and they stare back at me.

In spite of all the pornography, objectification, lust, lies and failures … there is hope.

“Mark, will you die as Jesus did, and will you believe that I can raise you from the dead?”

There is a painful lump in my throat as I try and speak, and an even greater one in my soul. Something is telling me to run – that only pain and trials await me on this path. A voice within screams at the stupid, un-fun and unnecessary decision I’m thinking of making!

The shrill voice seems to be making more and more sense. But hadn’t I just said I would accept God’s mission a few moments ago? Somehow those words of certainty seemed far far away now.

“I’m not strong enough – I want all of it!”

I manage to look God dead in the eye for a moment before it is too much, and my gaze drops back to the floor. But still my yelling continues, “What this world has, the pleasures that others so joyfully experience … I want it all. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry … I’m not strong enough.”

And then I’m running, tripping over myself, rushing to get out of that room.

Mark.

My foot was just about to cross the doorway. I turn around and God is there, holding an open hand out to me. I know.

In a firm voice, God tells me: “I know that you’re not strong enough. And I know what it is that you want.”  Then his voice drops to a gentle whisper, “But I am strong enough. Stronger than the world. And I know what it is that you truly need, my son.”

And there I stand, at the doorway of my soul, with a choice to let heaven in or to run away to hell.

I whisper my apologies pathetically as I close the door on God. The hypocrisy splashing onto my soul is acrid, bitter. I call Jesus, Lord – and yet I run from Him and deny Him? The sadness in God’s eyes when I closed that door on Him bores into me.

But before I can examine the damage to my soul, I find that I am now surrounded by the pleasures of the flesh – soothing and sedating.

There is no problem. There is no problem. There is no problem.

Or is there?

I think what Satan would want me to think is that there really isn’t a problem. But if there really isn’t a problem, then why would I write this? If I truly believed that I would never experience God’s victory in the area of sexual purity then why would I bother writing this?

I know (or at least I think I know) the risks of writing something like this, but what really is at risk? I am dying, after all.

Clarity has come upon me as to the courses of action I can take. I can live the remaining life I have left enjoying all the worldly pleasure I want. Perhaps with enough pleasure of the flesh or whatever else Satan brings my way, I will indeed find my soul inoculated from the pestering cry of that still small voice.

Fight. Suffer. Die. And after it all, be reborn in My Name.

Some bloody and bruised soldier I am, with badges upon badges of failure. Yet, God so help me: I’m choosing to stand up again.

I want to say no to the pleasures of pornography and the worldly pleasures of the flesh.

I believe they do not and cannot ever satisfy the soul. God alone is not only capable but willing to fully and truly satisfy my soul. Life and life abundantly as Jesus promised is something that can be realised.

Maybe you’re like me, and you’ve realised that you are dying too. Maybe you also know that God has won and will win in your fight for sexual purity. Maybe those are just words to you now, and not a lived experience. That’s where I am now, at least.

Some bloody and bruised soldier I am, with badges upon badges of failure. Yet, God so help me: I’m choosing to stand up again. And I will fight for Him in this battlefield of sexual purity. I’m not a saint, I’m not even a soldier at times.

But I am a son. A son of the Most High God who hasn’t given up on us yet – and never will. So far be it from us to give up on Him.

I haven’t tasted God’s victory over sexual purity yet, but I know my failures take nothing away from a God who is all-victorious – even over death itself. So yes, I’m dying. But I’m dying to self, and to a God who’s already beaten death and calls me His own!

So I have hope when I look to the times where I can really choose and trust Him to bring me into real living.

Perhaps, by His grace and mercy, this very day, this very hour, in this very internet window … I might say that indeed I die, but because of who God is, I truly live.


This article was first published on Mark’s blog, and is republished with permission.

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Should I believe in ghosts?

by | 10 August 2018, 5:19 PM

Do ghosts exist?

That was the question in the Thir.st office the other day. An intern had shared about his experiences of waking up with inexplicable scratches on his back for almost a whole year. We ruled out a number of logical explanations for the scratches and wondered if these disturbances could be spiritual in nature.

(Final answer: No, it was just faulty bedsprings.)

That got us talking about things like deliverance and spiritual open doorways. As more of us began sharing about our own experiences with the supernatural, it became clear that these encounters weren’t as rare as they seemed.

One often felt a heavy presence in a certain spot of the house at night, while another owned pets that had gone crazy and died on the same night.

Even our editor shared that the alarms would trip with the security feeds showing a dark figure passing through, upon which someone then suggested it could’ve been the ghost of a fallen Japanese soldier from WWII.

Could that really be true? Can the soul of a dead person hang around on Earth to haunt the living?

I’d wager the vast majority of us have had such experiences. I’ve personally heard rows of padlocks whirring in my army bunk at night before, and I’ve seen a ghostly white woman approach me as I rested in an abandoned room at an Air Force base.

Are experiences like these really the products of ghosts – that is, dead people?

It’s something we don’t have to avoid talking about, because the last thing we want to do in our lives is cede ground to fear, especially unfounded fears. Ideally, we want a life lived in the perfect love that casts out all fear (1 John 4:18).

So just to spare you the suspense and state it upfront: From our reading of Scripture, dead people do not come back to haunt the living. It’s a commonly-held belief, but it’s a myth that needs to be debunked.

What is real, however, is the presence of evil spirits in this world.

The best question to always start with: What does the Bible say about this?

A helpful starting point to our discussion is, “What happens to our soul when we die?” Some people believe the soul sleeps, pointing to examples like Lazarus (John 11:11), or the dead girl who Jesus raised to life (Mark 5:35). They were all “asleep” before being resurrected.

While that view of the afterlife may make for a compelling initial reading, I don’t buy it. Instead, I agree with John Piper that sleep as mentioned in the Bible is “simply a description of death by a softer picture of what it actually looks like“.

Piper picked two Scriptures that seal the deal for me. The first comes from Paul’s famous words in Philippians 1:21-23, “To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labour for me. Yet which I shall choose, I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.”

“Be with Christ.” That to me, connotes a sense of being present — of being fully conscious of where one is and with whom. Piper himself writes that Paul “calls it ‘gain’, not because he is going to go unconscious and have zero experience for another thousand years, but because he goes into the presence of Christ”.

The departed, be they kindly or evil in life, do not come and go as they please in death.

The second example Piper offers is also the story I had been thinking about: Lazarus (different from the one in the Gospel of John) and the rich man. Both men died, and were transported to their separate lots in the afterlife — fully conscious, fully present.

What really stands out to me are the great spiritual boundaries in effect. We read of “a great chasm … set in place” (Luke 16:26) which at least suggests to me that a soul’s freedom of movement is not something that happens across the afterlife to earth, or vice versa.

What I am saying is that the departed, be they kindly or evil in life, do not come and go as they please in death.

The Word says that “each of us will give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:12), which leads me to believe that upon death, we have an infinitely more important and pressing thing to do than to hang around and guilt-trip relatives or haunt army camps.

Trauma, injustice or pain are not strong enough to keep one’s soul lingering on earth after death.

So that’s strike one against the notion of lingering souls.

As I chatted with our editor about this, just for discussion’s sake, he brought up the example of Saul and the Witch of Endor (1 Samuel 28). TL;DR: Saul was in trouble, desperate and got a witch to summon the spirit of Samuel.

For some, there may be a troubling implication here in that, if folks from heaven can be summoned up, who’s to say folks from hell can’t? Was the spirit of Samuel a demon or the prophet’s ghost himself?

But given that everything the spirit of Samuel told Saul (1 Sam 28:16-19) actually came to pass, there is little reason to think the familiar was in fact a disguised demon. Here is the Benson commentary on verse 19:

“Now as no evil spirit or impostor of any kind could possibly know these particulars, which were all exactly accomplished next day, nor even Samuel himself, unless he had been divinely inspired with the knowledge of them, it is surprising that any person should imagine that this appearance of Samuel was either a human or diabolical imposture; for it is evident it could only proceed from the omniscient God.”

I believe that this episode was a one-off sanctioned by the Most High God, and had little or nothing to do with the witch’s powers. I believe only God has the ability, if He so wishes, to transport souls from the afterlife to the earth.

The example I’m thinking of here is Moses and Elijah – one long dead, the other many centuries after he’d been taken up into the heavens – appearing momentarily before Jesus to Peter, James and John before vanishing again (Matthew 17:3, 8).

As I read this chapter I wasn’t scared. Instead imagining what this holy manifestation must have been like produced a good kind of fear in me — reverential awe at an awesome God.

“As the cloud fades and vanishes, so he who goes down to Sheol does not come up; he returns no more to his house, nor does his place know him anymore.” (Job 7:9-10)

Ghosts do not exist, but evil spirits do.

The Adversary is out to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10); his fellow fallen angels have the same agenda. So I wouldn’t put it past demonic spirits to ride on ghost stories, myths or spooky traditions in order to perpetuate a culture of fear.

Nor would I discount them from impersonating people, even loved ones to wreak havoc and bring maximum fear to the lives of people. Remember, “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14).

Sounds pretty bad, right? Well, the good news is that we are not at the mercy of the demonic forces — not when we have Jesus on our side. If you believe in Jesus, you are not a helpless protagonist in a horror film. Instead we are adopted as sons and daughters of the Most High God (Galatians 3:26).

We are priests and kings (Revelations 1:6)! That means we can appropriate the Blood of Jesus and cast out that which defiles and disturbs, in the name of Jesus.

God through His Son Jesus, has given us the “authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy” (Luke 10:19). What a relief to know we have this powerful promise that nothing will harm us — one guaranteed by the Undefeated King.

Continue to exercise your authority as a king from the Kingdom in your home, in Jesus’ Name. A house that is often tidied and cleaned up is a clean house.

If you have a lot of fear in your life, it’s likely because you’ve been feeding it.

Here are some ways we feed fear: Ungodly beliefs, like being afraid of the ghosts of loved ones. Open doorways, like a passion for horror and gore films. Things like charms you’ve kept around for “good luck”. Persistent defilement through religious artefacts within your home.

These “little things” slowly widen the holes for dirty water to leak through, so that before you know it, you’re swimming in a pool of snakes.

The answer is that we need to guard what we let in through the doors of our minds and houses, and we need to strive to abide in Jesus. You fill your house with bad things, you get a bad house. You fill your house with good things, you get a good one.

Continue to exercise your authority as a king from the Kingdom in your home, in Jesus’ Name. A house that is often tidied and cleaned up, is a clean house.

The next time you ever feel fear, remember that you are a child of God – Your Father runs the universe.

Remember Paul’s counsel: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me — put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8-9).

The God of peace with us. That’s a pretty awesome promise to think about! So the next time you ever feel fear – maybe the next time you encounter some of the eerie experiences we started this story with – remember that you are a child of God. Your Father runs the universe.

“For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!'” (Romans 8:15)

You can trust in the unfailing protection and love of Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit within you will never lose to anything (1 John 4:4).

/ 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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Stay woke but keep dreaming, Singapore

by | 9 August 2018, 3:36 PM

I have a dream for Singapore. Which is funny because I live in a generation that’s so steeped in sociopolitical correctness, it’s better not to declare dreams for your nation in case some part of it comes out unwittingly offensive. Because so many things are – or have become – offensive nowadays.

I’m no expert in the arena of our world’s sociopolitical climate, but I take heart knowing that most of us actually aren’t either. Earlier this year, maverick artiste Childish Gambino released his super #woke song “This is America” that to this day has garnered 36.3 million YouTube views (I contributed about 10).

Being “woke” is a thing, I learnt a while back. This is a Singaporean’s way of understanding it: You were asleep and in the dark when it came to certain social issues such as racism and sexism, but now you’re aware of what’s really going on; you’re awake to them.

Get woke, stay woke. I couldn’t entirely follow what Childish Gambino was singing about, but I could tell that it was so politically incorrect yet sociopolitically correct, the people of today were going to love it. It was the American Dream and American “wokeness” all in one music video.

We had a dream, we know it’s a bit of a broken dream IRL now, but in pointing it out we’re really still dreaming, hoping for a better day.

And as the old order of things drips away with another National Day, it’s never been more pressing that the generation that’s rising forth gets woke, stays woke but keeps dreaming and hoping.

“What can we hand the next generation?” Pastor Lawrence Khong of Faith Community Baptist Church asked the 9,000 strong crowd at Day of His Power that took place yesterday, August 8. “Not a method, not a great rally – because that may not be the method of their generation – but a dream.

“A dream that Singapore can be one for Jesus Christ. That Singapore will be saved.”

This dream had been heart-wrenchingly broken 17 years ago, Pastor Khong shared. “In 2001, we were believing for a great harvest, people quit their jobs to become pastors, we believed that God was going to move in a way we’d never seen before … But it never happened.

“The unity we talked about was not as ‘united’ as I thought it was.”

And what about our generation of young Christians today? I couldn’t help but think. We live in the age of rampant individualism, self-absorption empowered by the Internet in our hands. Some days it’s hard to believe we’re dreaming of anything more than that next holiday or bonus, pursuing more than that next like or promotion.

Are we churchgoers or disciples of Jesus Christ? Is our service out of love or obligation? Has our evangelism gotten convenient and uncreative for the time and space we live in?

Does any of us even know what is that “method of our generation” Pastor Khong alluded to – or are we like a languishing youngest child, who knows nothing of pioneering and everything of privilege – bought for us on the backs of our church fathers?

Sometimes it gets so #woke in millennial full-time ministry, I just want to go back to sleep.

But this is also the young Singapore I’ve seen, especially in the work I do: People who aren’t afraid to collaborate and work together, regardless race, language or denomination.

People who are restless for revival, global citizens who aren’t afraid to go anywhere, anytime, to do anything for the God they love and serve. Their passion is raw, but their compassion is real.

And when Pastor Khong called for those under 30 to stand on a massive projection of the Singapore map that stretched across the floor of the National Indoor Stadium, in a prophetic act of standing up for Jesus in our neighbourhoods and the entire nation – hundreds made their way forth in seconds.

In that moment I could see why God had reinstated the broken dream in Pastor Khong’s heart all these years later. It wasn’t just Singapore’s second chance, as he put it. We, the generation that now grasps the baton of revival, are Singapore’s second chance.

And with that, this is my dream for Singapore, loosely based on a powerful manifesto written by Pete Grieg called The Vision.

I dream of an army of young people. You see sheep, strawberries and sleeping, dejected disciples? I see an army. And they are free from the 5Cs of this country.

There’s only one “C” in their mind’s eye: The Cross. They’re not afraid to die every day so they might live for a greater cause. They live simply and love richly.

They are mobile like the wind, they belong to the nations. They are free yet they are slaves of the broken and the poor. What is the vision? The vision is holiness that hurts the eyes. Jesus is the heartbeat. Love is the battlecry.

And this army is disciplined. Young people who beat their bodies into submission (1 Corinthians 9:27). Every soldier is surrendered, a life laid down. No sacrifice can be higher than dying for all humanity.

And the generation prays. They pray as if it all depends on God and live as if it all depends on them.

Whatever it takes they will give. Laughing at labels, fasting essentials. The advertisers cannot mould them. Hollywood cannot hold them. They don’t just fall in line with the crowd or blindly echo the sentiments of society.

Don’t you hear them coming? Here come the fallible but faithful with fire in their eyes. They wear the burning heart of God on their sleeves and on their newsfeeds.

And this vision will be; it will come to pass. How do I know? Because this is the longing of creation itself: That the sons and daughters of God will be revealed (Romans 8:19). This is the very dream of God.

He is why we have hope. Because this is His Singapore.

“The people who know their God shall be strong and carry out great exploits.” (Daniel 11:32).

/ 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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Even if I don’t speak English, I’m just the same as you

by Goh Cheng Tee | 8 August 2018, 4:56 PM

Last year, I watched a local play with a friend titled Grandmother Tongue.

It was about the loss of heritage – dialect specifically – among Chinese Singaporeans since independence, and the resulting intergenerational disconnect within families because of language barriers.

The most impactful scene in Grandmother Tongue was when the grandmother refused to accept her son’s invitation to a church for healing from a terminal illness. She said that Christ was a foreign deity she couldn’t come to, as a devout ancestral worshipper.

As one of the few Chinese-educated members of my family, my personal struggle with faith is similar.

I have always felt a sense of isolation within my own church and even within my Christian community at NTU as an undergraduate. For instance, I get many awkward looks and offhand remarks from people who don’t understand me whenever I use Mandarin or Teochew.

The social awkwardness was exacerbated by my affiliation with a Catholic school (my family is Protestant), as I had adopted some customs from their teachings in my teens.

Frankly, despite being Christian, I grew up somewhat agnostic owing to the social stigma placed on me and others like myself. It’s difficult to connect with a God who cannot be seen, when fellow believers around you who are visible and audible, treat you in a manner that is contrary to Scripture.

It is disappointing that most Christians I know lack cultural capital and a sensitivity to their roots.

It’s sad when faith doesn’t transcend the barriers of colour and tongue. Growing up in church communities, it is no wonder that young Christians have pigeonholed their beliefs such that they become ethnocentric and disconnected from the larger world.

So it is unsurprising that new Christians often face intolerance and disdain from their parents when they disclose their conversions, because of the perception that traditional duties go out the window with a change in belief.

It’s sad when faith doesn’t transcend the barriers of colour and tongue.

One passage of the Old Testament which always intrigues me is the curse which befell Miriam after she and Aaron had derided Moses for marrying a woman who was a native from Ethiopia. Moses’ wife would have been deemed an outsider by the Jews.

This resulted in a political showdown between themselves, though Moses remained peaceable throughout this episode. It resulted in God directly intervening in the situation to vindicate Moses of the slander. Miriam’s skin turned white from a bout of leprosy lasting for a week – an ironic twist for slighting Moses’ wife on account of being dark-skinned.

What I’ve realised from this passage is that a Christian community is meant to be a safe and nurturing place for all believers.

When Christ issued the Great Commission, the phrase “teach all nations” was not accidental. It was a declaration that no longer was the Covenant specific to the people of Israel, but the death and resurrection of Jesus meant salvation was available to all – Jew and Gentile.

Nevertheless, I continue to contribute to the church ministry I am involved in as a para-counsellor for at-risk students, and attempt to live peaceably with my neighbours at the service I worship at (which comprises largely of senior citizens).

But I am burdened (and admittedly embittered) by the extent of homogeneity from my experience in the Youth and Young Adults ministries both socially and culturally.

Perhaps one ought to understand that though Christ was born a Jew, He transcended socio-cultural barriers and graciously welcomed all who would otherwise have been considered outcasts. Similarly, in the Pauline Letters, the hospitality and charity between the churches of Macedonia and Thessalonica were commended (2 Corinthians 8, 9).

… a Christian community is meant to be a safe and nurturing place for all believers.

In light of the issues I’ve raised, what I would recommend to my peers would be to study the Word in a foreign language (or even Mother Tongue) as one means to witness to unbelievers who don’t speak English. Doing so, I’ve gleaned fresh insight from the historical contexts and linguistic nuances found in other languages, interpretations and translations.

In addition, it’s important to meet non-believers where they are in life. Firmly but lovingly, we are to help them overcome all the barriers to faith through Christ working in us.

I’d like to leave us with a hymn. What we as Christians are meant to preach and practice to the world is summed up beautifully in this one by John Oxenham.

In Christ there is no East or West,
In Him no South or North;
But one great fellowship of love
Throughout the whole wide earth.

In Him shall true hearts everywhere
Their high communion find;
His service is the golden cord,
Close binding humankind.

Join hands, then, members of the faith,
Whatever your race may be!
Who serves my Father as His child
Is surely kin to me.

In Christ now meet both East and West,
In Him meet North and South;
All Christly souls are one in Him
Throughout the whole wide earth.

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A letter to my younger self

by Loo Kee Wei | 8 August 2018, 4:02 PM

Dear Kee Wei,

You might be apprehensive about this upcoming sojourn into another Singapore educational institution.

You would think that you’ve seen it all after twelve years in the system, having gone through streaming, PSLE, and the A-levels. For all that it promised – self-realisation, meaning and fulfilment after scoring those A’s, of course— the twelve years seem to be an abject failure, resulting in a weariness that your fellow companions might be able to identify with.

You are tired of the intense competition – the constant comparisons between you and your peers in a bid to evaluate your performance in the name of meritocracy. Your disenchantment with entering university is to be expected after twelve arduous years in the system. I do not blame you. At least you are honest with yourself.

You might think that entering university is nothing special.

Perhaps it hasn’t occurred to you that not everyone gets the opportunity to enter university, and that this opportunity is a gift. To be able to spend four years attending lectures and tutorials, reading and going to labs may seem to be a boring extension of the twelve years that you’ve already endured.

But think about it. In a world that is plagued by poverty and pain, you have the privilege to spend four years studying what you like.

If you had your own way, you’d probably keep to yourself for the next upcoming four years. But I should also remind you that you’re a Christian, and Christians are more often than not called to a way that isn’t the usual path. You might insist on your own way, and there is not much I can do about it.

But the truth is being a Christian in university is going to be a herculean effort. You will need all the help you can get. This help may come in different forms: Fellow students who share your struggles, passionate professors who are excited about their classes, patient bus drivers and friendly canteen vendors.

We think that achieving the elusive “5.0” and appearing on the Dean’s List will satisfy us, but these worldly achievements often end up disappointing.

Perhaps you are still mulling over Esther’s invitation to join a student ministry on campus. All I can say to you at this point in time is that it will definitely be worth a shot. The culture at large affects us more than you think it does. The subliminal messages sent through the work ethics and priorities of your fellow students are oftentimes the most insidious ones.

We think that achieving the elusive “5.0” and appearing on the Dean’s List will satisfy us, but these worldly achievements often end up disappointing. I love how Marva Dawn puts it: “We scramble after the security of personal status and think that we will be invincible after we have climbed the corporate ladder and demanded human respect— only to discover our perpetual vulnerability.”

Perhaps you need friends who will remind you that you don’t have to do this alone.

You might be surprised at the thoughtful conversations you will have with friends like Joanne. She mentioned how her time in student ministry opened her eyes to another world she had paid little attention to previously, how she was challenged to ask questions that she would not have otherwise asked.

In our world which scoffs at anything less than perfect, a community that allows you to make mistakes as they embrace you with grace is hard to come by. I sincerely hope you will not let this golden opportunity pass you by.

Remember, your time in university is not yours to spend as you wish.

Perhaps you need mentors and peers who might help you figure out what it means to be a Christian commissioned to the university.

I know you think that being a Christian in university is primarily about excellence – exemplary conduct in classes, submitting good work, scoring well. But that’s just a small part of the exciting mandate God has for you in university. We have a much larger calling from God. This may seem daunting, but there is no need to fear, for Christ goes before us into the university.

Our call is merely to be faithful to Him.

I pray that you will use your time in university wisely. Remember, your time in university is not yours to spend as you wish. Christians are called to follow Jesus, who chose a way other than their own. You identify yourself as part of the Church, and I should remind you that the Church needs you to nurture your intellectual gifts during these four years.

You will need all the help you can get as a sojourner entering this new season. What a time to be alive!

Sincerely,

Your Older Self


This article was first published on NUS Varsity Christian Fellowship’s website, and is republished with permission.

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