I was recently trying to write something about Christmas so that people who aren’t Christians would be able to understand what it’s truly all about. But it only made me realise that many Christians ourselves don’t really know what Christmas is either.
We offer up all the stereotypical answers like, “Christmas is all about thanksgiving”, or,“It’s about joy!”
But what do our Christmases really look like?
Sadly, in recent weeks I’ve heard about families who bicker over simple Christmas stuff like “where to hold the party” or “who’s bringing what”.
Where’s the generosity and gratitude? There are countless families this Christmas who won’t be able to celebrate anything because of war or famine. Someone’s parents might have died in an air raid. Or drowned at sea as they fled their country in boats.
We have so much to be grateful for, and we are blessed to bless others. In any celebration, hearts of generosity and gratitude produce lasting joy.
So if Jesus were to show up at your party – and this really should be a starting guideline – what would He really find upon walking in?
Grumbling or grateful guests? Humble hosts or hedonistic indulgences? I don’t know.
It often feels like some of us obsess over planning a birthday party for our best friend to the point we actually forget to invite Him.
But I think a lot of us have missed the point: Christmas is about Jesus. It’s about sacrifice and thanksgiving – remembering what Christ did for us.
Which is why it’s so sad to see us being Marthas over Marys. Are we so caught up with making everything perfect – making sure everything’s super Christmassy – that we forget the Reason we’re celebrating in the first place?
Let’s put our pride down and humbly serve the Lord, putting together His event His way.
Because as I reflected on the nature of these Christmas events, I wonder if it’s as if some of us are planning a birthday party for a stranger. You need to know what the person likes and dislikes – what’s on the person’s heart and what he even wants.
Whatever it is you’re doing in December, just slow down and think with me for a second: What does God actually want out of our Christmas? More … stuff?
Or does He want something more like finding His child ready to sit and have a unhurried chat – quality time?
At least from what I’m seeing, it often feels like some of us obsess over planning a birthday party for our best friend to the point we actually forget to invite Him!
Each time we reach the turn of a new year, we have a tremendous opportunity to realign our vision to God’s – to recalibrate our lives for His glory and purposes.
How wonderful this season would be if our Christmas parties pointed our guests to Jesus. I know it’s going to be so refreshing, sitting by His feet in grateful celebration together.
Dear friend, there’s more than enough striving in the year. I hope you choose the better option this Christmas.
“Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things,but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42)
Ever asked someone how they’re doing – only to be given a well-rehearsed response?
It might sound something like, “Oh, I’m good. Very busy these days!” and usually comes with a forced smile and shifty eyes. If you have, you might have witnessed a chronic illness known as “manic defence” – a symptom of our deep discontent and exhaustion with life.
Us metropolitans tend to suppress our unrest with a flurry of activity. We distract ourselves from our restlessness – never finding the path to God’s rest for us.But we need to enter that rest.
Paradoxically, it requires remarkable effort (Hebrews 4:11) to enter that place of rest. We need to ask ourselves, what’s the opportunity cost of missing that rest? I wonder if we sometimes cling too tightly to Ephesians 2:10 and forget that the work – however significant – does not define us.
Our God-given ministry is not indispensable, and neither are we. Esther 4:14 reminds us that God’s purposes will come to pass, and it is our privilege to be used by Him in our time.
But this privilege must never become the idol of identity we worship through incessant striving.
Jesus’ greatest commandments are to love God, and to love your neighbour as yourself.
But how can I love my neighbour if I don’t even love myself (Ephesians 5:29)? It’s not selfish to love yourself! That’s intentionally nurturing ourselves to holistic maturity by caring for and protecting ourselves.
We also need to plug ourselves into a trustworthy community. Find one which is safe, authentic and unconditionally loving.
An authentic community isn’t simply one that teaches and instructs. It’s one that walks with you through life’s pain, disappointment and struggles. So learn not just to give love, but also to receive it from trusted brethren in humility and gratitude.
We’re all in this together.Look for rest beyond your body and heart.
Your spiritual hunger can only be satiated by God who is Spirit. Press in to know Him who knows you – who knit you together in the womb and called you out of darkness into His marvellous light.
His embrace warms the cold and deadened parts of our inner being as we begin to resonate with His rhythms of grace instead of our society’s. His breath fans the embers of our soul into flame each time we feel smothered by the world. He assures us that in the grand narrative of the cosmos, we matter, and we are loved perfectly.
Today, ask the Holy Spirit for a peace that transcends understanding. Enter into His presence where there is fullness of joy. With our Good Shepherd, we can walk through life’s darkest valleys with an overflowing cup.
BUILD YOUR ALTARS OF THANKSGIVING, PRAISE AND WORSHIP
Having fulfilled the law, Jesus has brought the temple into us. Spiritually, we are able to enter God’s presence by first walking through the temple gates, the outer and inner courts, and finally into the Holy of Holies.
“Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise.” (Psalm 100:4)
Thanksgiving brings to mind our testimony of God, and the reality of Him in our lives. Here we remember His goodness, our daily bread, our health, and every good gift that comes from Him.
Bringing a sacrifice of praise to the altar is where a divine exchange takes place – where we pin our sins to the cross and receive God’s forgiveness. Praise is the choice to give Him all glory despite the things we do not understand. But God honours the sacrifice of our hearts with His presence.
But most people stop here, and thus struggle to live the victorious life. While anybody can give God thanks, and honour (praise) – only the righteous can enter into worship. To enter the Holy of Holies, we must pass through the gates of thanksgiving, and the courts of praise. Our sin is purged at the courts as we take on the righteousness of our Saviour.
Now God desires communion, intimacy, and fellowship with His children. Here’s where you are invited to slow down and simply sit at His feet.
“Give unto the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.” (Psalm 29:2)
When we enter into worship, the Spirit of God meets us, speaks and imparts. We receive empowerment and direction, not to merely inject life into our legs for the rat race – but to run God’s race. Lives completely surrendered to God become sensitive to His lead – full partakers of His divine rest.
Although we’ve tasted and seen of His goodness in moments of worship, it rarely lasts beyond a weekend church service. More than an activity, routine or song, let’s adopt a posture of worship in all we do. What a life, to always be fully surrendered to His good, acceptable and perfect will (Romans 12:2).
As you learn to be still in Him, He promises to make your life beautiful in His time (Ecclesiastes 3:11).
My struggle with lust, masturbation and sexual fantasy
by Douglas Ong | 21 March 2018, 9:00 AM
I had to find an outlet to relieve my stress.
I needed to feel in control of my life – to feel loved and accepted. I had needs in my life which that God didn’t seem to be able to satisfy. So I turned to lust, masturbation and sexual fantasies.
Lust was a great stress reliever, a good distraction from my current problems. It gave me a sense of control. The woman on the screen? She was mine: I could make her do whatever I want, make her sound and react a certain way – all for my pleasure and delight.
Whatever my imagination could conjure up – she had to do. She made me feel wanted, no matter how I looked physically. She filled the void in me. With her, I felt like something in life was finally going my way.
Of course, I knew it was wrong.
You don’t have to go to Church for your conscience to tell you that lusting over a naked woman is wrong. But I didn’t want to stop. It felt too good, the rush of dopamine through my body and the momentary high – I was addicted.
Besides, I found the Christian life boring. Obeying a set of rules in an ancient book? Nope. Not for me. God didn’t feel real so I decided He wasn’t really worth the effort anymore. I felt that if He was real, then He would have mended the hole I thought I had in my life.
He should filled my emptiness long ago.
But the pleasure always ends once you’re past the climax.
I had to face all my problems and emotions – I had to face life again. And deep down I still felt empty. Lust and masturbation, pleasurable as they were in the spur of the moment, weren’t quick fixes at all.
Not only were they damaging, I was robbed of experiencing true lasting joy.
But the storm had long been brewing: I was living a false life, always putting on fronts in front of people.
Because I didn’t like myself. I was awkward, shy, mild and unsociable. I was prideful, selfish, short-tempered, disobedient and lustful.
And I felt pressure from everyone to meet certain marks – and I invariably fell short at all of them. That made me feel unloved, unwanted and unaccepted – like I was a complete failure. The ensuing storm of emotions – pain, doubts, anger, panic, sadness – would sometimes come all at once, leaving me feeling trapped and emotionally constipated.
I wondered where was God, and I was tired of the usual Christian advice. I didn’t really believe God was listening to my prayers at all – let alone fighting for me. I became cynical about everything. All the head knowledge of God’s faithfulness and goodness met a total disjunct with what I was feeling in my heart.
But I had to find a better way.
As indulging in physical pleasure proved to be self-destructive, I figured that there had to be a better way – one which led to lasting joy. I was looking for something to satisfy the deep longing in my soul, and that was something only God could do.
God covenantal love for me never failed no matter how many times I failed. He forgave me even when I couldn’t forgive myself. He didn’t condemn me even as I lived a life of self-condemnation.
Somehow, He tells me I am worthy to be loved even when I feel so unlovable. His is a love which pursued me even as I chased after sin and the world. It’s a crazy kind of love – it doesn’t make sense.
There wasn’t an immediate victory, but I began to learn to journey with God in my struggle. In Him, I can always find the grace to pick myself up and press on towards overcoming sin.
And God’s love isn’t just a nice concept to hold on to, it is made manifest in a Person – Jesus Christ.
I’m going to stop obsessing over finding the magic solution to lust.
I’m going to fall in love with God instead. I will explore the sheer depths and length of God’s love for me. It’s my only hope, because what I have isn’t a problem of lust or masturbation. Lust is a problem of not loving Christ enough.
Make this your prayer today: To know God’s love, to be fully known by Him – and to love Him back. With each passing day, let the lust of your eyes dim in comparison to His glory.
This is a submission from a participant of our Greater Love Giveaway. From now till the end of March 2018, we are giving away a pack of limited edition Thir.st “Greater Love” Stickers in exchange for every story. Stories must have a personal/local angle and be of 800-1000 words. Send us yours here.
Forgive the unforgiveable: Ed Silvoso at Kingdom Invasion 2018
by Thir.st | 16 March 2018, 6:42 PM
“Let me tell you the worst story I’ve ever heard,” Ed Silvoso told the thousands in attendance at Kingdom Invasion 2018.
“I met someone who had been raped by her father from the age of 2 to 17. As a result of the abuse, she became bipolar and had a split personality. Her schizophrenia resulted in episodes which almost saw her running her husband over in a car and killing her baby.”
This was a woman trapped in great suffering and pain. How could she be expected to forgive someone like her father?
Hurts that aren’t resolved go on constant replay for the rest of our lives.
The founder and president of Harvest Evangelism and the International Transformation Network followed this up with the story of a man whose wife was full of fear because she had once been robbed.
“Every night between 2am and 3am, the wife would wake up, scream and shake her husband awake, telling him there was a thief downstairs,” said Silvoso, speaking at the Singapore Expo on March 16, 2018.
“For 20 years the husband would faithfully check the house. One night, however, there actually was a thief in the house. He pointed a gun at the husband and said, ‘Give me all your money or I’ll blow your brains out.’
“I’ll give you anything and everything,” replied the husband cooly. The thief was shocked at how cooperative his victim was.
“… On one condition: You come up with me and meet my wife. She’s been waiting 20 years just to see you.”
Ed Silvoso at Kingdom Invasion.
THE DAILY PAIN OF THE PAST
Said Silvoso gravely: “Even though she was robbed only once, she was robbed every night for 20 years.”
His point was that many people still live in the pain of their past – every single day.
“Hurts that aren’t resolved go on constant replay for the rest of our lives. Especially hurts which are inflicted by people close to us. Those closer to us who hurt us; these are people we can’t simply delete from our memory.”
“We must dispose of the old things, the hurts inflicted on us — the traumas — by learning to apply God’s grace to them,” said Silvoso.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
“The grace of God is designed to forgive our sins and also enable us to forgive the sins of those who have sinned against us — even if they have not repented,” said Silvoso.
“The moment we are saved, the grace of God comes and touches every terrible thing in our lives and turns them into new things. And that’s what the devil doesn’t want us to know.
“We have a choice to look at the person who sinned against us. We can look at them in the flesh, or in Christ.”
THE STING OF DEATH
Silvoso then told another story about a girl and a father who encountered a bee. The girl was terrified of being stung by the bee, and ran behind her father. Her father caught and held the bee in his hand. In the process, he got stung.
The father showed the trembling girl the now-stingless bee, and said: “It can’t sting you anymore.”
“That’s Jesus. Christ has already taken the sting for that terrible thing done to you – or by you. When He wrapped grace around the Cross, the emblem of the curse became the symbol of blessing!”
When grace is applied to sin, God can bring good out of a bad situation. Silvoso pointed to Stephen in the Bible. As he was being stoned to death, Stephen looked up and didn’t see the angry faces of men. Instead, he saw Jesus (Acts 7:55-56).
With his last breath, Stephen said, “Father, do not hold it against them.”
Watching all this was a man named Saul. Within a few chapters of the book of Acts, this great destroyer of the early Church had became Paul, the builder of the Church.
“Look at the power when grace is applied to sin. When grace is applied to sin, God can bring goodness out of a bad situation.”
“For your city to be transformed, we need to understand the dynamite power of grace so we can be set free – totally free.”
DON’T GIVE UP
Silvoso then returned to his story of the lady who had been raped by her father. She asked Silvoso: “Pastor, why did this happen to me?”
Where was God while her father was raping her? “Fair question,” said Silvoso.
She had tried to kill herself twice in her life. The first time was at just 5 years old: She wanted to jump into the river after her mother beat her when she told her of the rape.
“Well, why didn’t you kill yourself then?” Silvoso asked her.
When the devil reminds you of your past, remind him of his future: He is going to get thrown into the lake of fire!
“Her mouth began to twitch. And she remembered that Jesus was there with her at the river, and He had put His hand on her head.”
Eventually, through clenched teeth, she managed to pray to God about her father. “Even though I hate him, I forgive him.”
Silvoso repeated: “When grace is applied to sin, God can bring good out of it.” He prayed over her and she was healed, something clicked within her spirit — fusing her split personality into wholeness.
“Sometime later, I met her again. She didn’t have a split personality, she was whole. And she had a ministry for people who were abused. Today she is a mighty restorer of the downtrodden,” said Silvoso.
CHOOSE TO FORGIVE
You can choose to forgive even if you don’t feel like it, said Silvoso.
Try this simple prayer, he suggested. “Father God, I confess that the blood of Jesus is more than sufficient to provide forgiveness for every sin, and that your grace is always read to overflow where sin abounds. I agree with the Scriptures that you will make all things work together for good — including the bad things that I now place under the blood of Jesus.”
He pleaded: “You have to choose in your heart to forgive. The grace of God has already touched everything within your soul. Now you just need to confess it with your mouth.
“We choose to forgive. We choose to forget. The pain will come back, but we must keep repeating our intention to forgive until it becomes a conviction. Don’t deny the anger — neutralise it by declaring, I am forgiven!”
Satan will keep trying to derail this process of forgiveness and healing, Silvoso added. But we have to stand firm and fight the instinct to dwell in past hurts.
“When the devil reminds you of your past, remind him of his future: He is going to get thrown into the lake of fire!”
“God wants to set us free from the fear of man, because He wants to free you to see more people saved.
“We have a fear of human opinion, of rejection, if we share the gospel, if take it into our office. So we try to live in this grey area of pleasing everybody, but end up pleasing no one. And we don’t do what God wants us to do.
“Let me tell you – if you’re walking right with God, and you’re doing His thing – if even the most powerful person in the world has a bad opinion of you, it shouldn’t mean a thing. It shouldn’t even shake a leaf off your tree.”
Ben Fitzgerald speaking at Kingdom Invasion 2018
WHAT IS YOUR SOURCE?
The 35-year-old, speaking at Kingdom Invasion 2018, said he came to this realisation after an incident where a pastor he admired walked up to where Fitzgerald had been standing, shook the hands of 6 people, approached Fitzgerald, looked him in the eye – then walked off without shaking his hand.
“I was upset. I was petrified. ‘What have I done wrong? Why does he hate me?’ All of this was in my head! Or was it?!” he recounted.
That’s when Fitzgerald starting to think about the source of his fear.
“God told me: ‘Ben, you’ve made mankind and their opinion of you an idol. You’ve made their opinion of you greater than My worth.’
“I fasted, and something told me to turn to Jeremiah 17:5. ‘This is what the LORD says: Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the LORD.’
“It floored me. I said God forgive me, I’m so sorry.”
“God told me: ‘Ben, you’ve made mankind and their opinion of you an idol. You’ve made their opinion of you greater than My worth.’
The question, Fitzgerald, comes down to: Where is your heart? Where is it planted? Where is the source it’s drawing from?
“Is it the opinion of man? You’re feeding from the wrong source – you’re trying to make a fake, false you. It’s exhausting and you lose the real you.
“By making a pseudo, false real, you end up being more rejected. God didn’t make a fake you to be loved. He made the real you to be loved.”
The age of social media doesn’t help, noted Fitzgerald.
“We’re in this generation of micro-judgments. In this age we’re living for the likes we get on Instagram and Facebook. We begin to validate themselves based on what pops up on a screen.
”If you have zero followers on Facebook and Instagram, but you have the love of God, let me tell you – you have everything.”
DO IT FOR ASIA
Speaking at the Singapore Expo on March 16, 208, Fitzgerald said that while there was much to marvel about Singapore as a nation, Christians have to keep focused on the main thing: The need to see more saved, on the island and in the region.
“Singapore and the nations of Asia must hear the Gospel. But you’ve got to be free of the fear of what everyone else thinks of you. That makes you powerless. God doesn’t want that for you,” said Fitzgerald.
“The only way the nations of Asia will truly thrive is if the Gospel is preached.
“I want better economics, better housing, all those things. But God doesn’t want a great economic system if everyone’s going to hell.
“The Gospel is not a secondary, or third-ary, need. It is the primary need.”
In his personal experience, Fitzgerald said, losing the fear of man and replacing it with the right fear of God has led to boldness in evangelism.
“When I walked out of the fear of man, and just learnt to preach the Bible as it is written, I found more souls were saved!
“God wants us to be fruitful, to see more souls saved. We need to let go of the fear so that the Spirit can lead us into fruitfulness.
“Whatever the enemy has restricted and oppressed you with, we need to break it. We need to have a death party for fear.”
The only way to do this: Ask God to break this spirit of fear. Let go, let go of human opinion. Say, I’m sorry, God, for making mankind a bigger source – of validation, of affirmation, of direction – than You. Forgive me for disobeying your voice and trusting in people more than your love.
Take authority of the spirit of the fear of man. In Jesus’ name, bind and command the spirits of fear to leave.
Then be filled with the love of God, which teaches you to be full of the love for man – and preach the Gospel.