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Faith

Unlucky in love? Learn from Leah

by | 25 October 2016, 7:27 AM

One of the most well-known love triangles in the Bible, the story of how Jacob ends up marrying sisters Leah and Rachel in Genesis 29 has been a mystery to most women of the modern age. In a generation of female liberation, it is difficult to make sense of Leah’s painful emotional neglect by her husband, and is especially confounding when you consider the character of a loving God.

As someone who has always enjoyed a good romance tale and felt strongly for women who struggle with love and acceptance, knowing how Leah’s life turned out as opposed to her younger sister Rachel’s is pretty infuriating and discouraging all at the same time. Unlike the mean girls in dramas who typically wind up unloved and rejected, Leah has done nothing wrong besides having bad eyesight. She doesn’t actually steal her sister’s husband – her father seems to have forced her into it, possibly with the threat that she’ll never get married if nobody else as blind (blinded by love, that is) as Jacob appears.

Such seeming injustice in the presence of a loving God! The question that bubbles uncomfortably beneath the surface: What if the same thing happens to me?

FOR THOSE OF US WHO AREN’T RACHELS

Most women, I’d imagine, naturally crave the feeling and certainty of being loved and pursued by a man.

In Rachel’s case, Jacob loved her very much for her “lovely figure and beauty”. He was drawn what seems almost immediately to her outward attractiveness and, I’m sure, to her ladylike disposition. She was the ultimate definition of beauty – a flower to be loved and beheld.

On the other hand, her older sister Leah is described as a plain Jane with bad eyes. In our context, that would probably mean she wore glasses and couldn’t hold a candle to the pretty little thing Rachel was. The kind of girl boys don’t fall for at first sight.

The first time you read the story of Jacob, Leah and Rachel, you’re appalled to find out that Leah is subsequently never loved by Jacob – at least not in the same way he is in love with Rachel – even after bearing him way more children than Rachel. It’s upsetting, especially for us types who are big on justice, to think that God doesn’t grant this poor woman the fairytale ending she seems to deserve after a life of emotional hardship.

All because she wasn’t very pretty.

To make matters worse, Jacob goes on to sacrifice 14 years of his life to win Rachel’s heart. He deeply loves the 2 children she bears him, one which tragically ends her life at childbirth, the other whom he favours so much that the other children plot his death.

What happened to “God is just”? What is going to happen to all of us who just aren’t Rachels? The ones who don’t get second glances, the ones with less than perfect features and figures? Are we doomed to never be truly loved and passionately pursued (for 14 years!) by a man?

YOU ARE LOVED BY A KING

But I took some time to rethink the meaning behind Leah’s story – to go deeper into what message God had hidden in the story for women like me who would read it in the years to come.

The Leah Experience is as important as the Rachel Experience.

The Rachel Experience is beautiful to have, and it can happen to anyone regardless of how you think you look.

But the Leah Experience, as a love story directly between a woman and her God who created and loves and knows her innermost being – her thoughts, desires and emotions – can be infinitely more life-changing than any love story she will ever experience on earth through a finite man. It is an experience no woman should be afraid to go through.

The Leah Experience can be one of the most empowering and precious lessons from God to girls everywhere.

While Rachel was off on an enviable romance with Jacob the hopeless romantic, Leah must have felt pretty horrible and alone. She probably questioned her beauty, her worth and maybe even her relationship with God.

How could her Heavenly Father let her suffer like this if she was the apple of His eye? If He loved her as much as He did Rachel, playing no favourites, shouldn’t she be at least a little more desired by the man she had married? Why was she even in a marriage like this?

But time after time, God blessed her. He opened her womb, whereas Rachel was last to bear Jacob children. As unloved as Leah was by her man, God blessed her abundantly with children who would one day be her legacy. Among her six sons: Reuben, firstborn in the family; Levi, father of the priesthood; and Judah, from whose line would come David, king of Israel, and Jesus, King of kings.

He already has a legacy planned out for you that has nothing to do with whether you are loved by a man.

So what if she spent most of her life far from the heart of Jacob? She had already won the heart of God.

This is the beautiful experience Leah has passed down to generations of women around the world: Not a consolation that God will “make up” for your physical lackings, unsatisfactory attractiveness or failures in the relationship department with a legacy (of children), but the powerful message that He already has a legacy planned out for you that has nothing to do with whether you are loved by a man.

The Rachel Experience is thrilling and also given by a God of love, a God who created the mysterious attraction between man and woman to further His Kingdom on earth. But the Leah Experience is one the King offers to all of His beloved daughters – that they may come to understand that His love is truly unmatchable and perfect and enough.

The greatest blessing one can have as a woman is not to be a Rachel who is loved by Man, but a Leah who has been pursued by God.

/ 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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Faith

There is a prescribed way to love

by Pastor Lim Lip Yong, Cornerstone Community Church | 25 May 2018, 3:03 PM

Something concerning in the Church today is the attitude where one does whatever is right in his own eyes.

Taking for granted God’s love, grace and long-suffering nature – believers pursue whatever they please, expecting a loving God to condone and celebrate His children notwithstanding.

But this is far from the truth. The fact that God left us 66 books for our study indicates that He’s very meticulous about what He approves of and what He doesn’t. A key misconception that we must deal with is that we can love God however we want or choose to express that love for Him in whichever manner we desire.

Because God is very particular about how we’re to express our love for Him.

In the Old Testament, the Law would show a clear contrast between the prescribed manner of worship acceptable to the Lord and the way pagan worship was conducted. Integral to the pagan worship of those times were the offering of child sacrifices, tattooing, temple harlotry, divination and other reprehensible practices.

The Lord made it clear in Leviticus 19 that He would not accept such practices as a legitimate expression of worship and love towards Him.

We must never emphasise an aspect of God to the detriment of other equally valid virtues of the Lord.

Instead, He instituted five sacrifices in the Old Testament. One of them is the Burnt Offering.

The Burnt Offering was a voluntary offering – an expression of love from the giver of the sacrifice to the Lord. Interestingly, the way in which the Burnt Offering was to be offered was given in great detail. In other words, God is very particular about how we express our love for Him.

And we’re told in Leviticus 1, that the Burnt Offering is to be given in four parts: The head, fats, entrails and legs. My interpretation is that these represent our mind, strength, affections and our walk respectively. So the expression of our love for God has to be done through these four aspects of our lives.

Part of loving God comes from knowing Him. The more we come to know the Lord, the more we are drawn to love Him. He’s both merciful and severe. He’s full of grace and also full of truth. We must never emphasise an aspect of God to the detriment of other equally valid virtues of the Lord.

As we give our intellect to know Him and also to know that He cannot be fully understood, we direct our minds and thoughts towards Him more and more. Loving someone also requires for us to give our strength to express that love to them. So loving the Lord requires us to give ourselves to serve Him and to serve others.

One of the fundamental principles in God’s Word is that we cannot say that we love God (whom we cannot see), when we do not love the people around us (whom we can see). How much we love God can be seen by how much we love people – that’s why giving our strength to serve others is such a big part of our faith.

The third aspect has to do with our affections. This relates to our emotions and where our attention is focused on. Affections are often seen through the amount of time we spend with someone. We long to be with the person we’re in love with. Is God someone we desire to spend time with?

Finally, there’s our walk. Jesus said, “If you love me, obey my commandments” (John 14:15). Obedience is the by-product of a loving walk with God. When we love the Lord, we won’t want to displease Him. We’d instead want to find out what pleases Him and walk in the same manner that He walked.

I pray that we’ll not have some fuzzy idea about what it means to love God, but understand that He has expressly shown us a prescribed way to love Him.


This article was first published on Cornerstone’s website, and is republished with permission.

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Learning to let go

by | 25 May 2018, 1:43 PM

I’m a control freak.

I’ve always wanted things to go according to plan, and to make sure it does, I’m usually one the one who makes a conscious effort to plan meet-ups with friends. From reservations for the café to getting ideal seats – middle seats of the middle row – in the movie theatre, I made sure things were well-planned.

But in the occasion things didn’t go according to plan … I’d get really anxious and frustrated.

I’ve always believed in the importance of organisation and structure. The world would surely collapse into chaos without meticulous planning! Whatever I did, wherever I went, I made it a point to ensure there was a plan for everything.

According to the Myers Briggs personality test, about 44% of the world’s population are planners by nature. We are especially fearful of the unknown. We want to safely know what is going to happen in the future.

But I had to draw a line. Yes, it’s a good thing to have structure and plans. And it’s a good thing to have one eye on the future, but not when it causes anxiety.

When things don’t go as planned, we can take it as a timely reminder that we’re not in control of everything. But God is!

There was an occasion when I was assigned to cover a media event with my friend. She overslept and failed to answer my calls. I, on the other hand, was early and already waiting at the location. After 12 missed calls, she finally picked up and told me she would be cabbing to the location.

When I found out she was going to be changing the plan, I could feel the frustration and anger simmering within me.

We’re going to be late! This isn’t fair, I could have spent more time in bed. 

Although I was frustrated and stressed because of the uncertainty she introduced into our assignment, I decided instead to make use of the waiting time.

So instead of grumbling and lamenting like I usually do, I pulled out my unfinished assignments and worked on them. Because I realised had two choices to make.

  • Spend time fretting over the problems that might happen
  • Make use of the time to complete other tasks

Ultimately, though she was late, things actually turned out not so bad. So I was reminded of God’s sovereignty over everything that happens. When things don’t go as planned, we can take it as a timely reminder that we’re not in control of everything. But God is!

Ever done a “trust fall”? It takes faith to be able to trust that He is in control: That all that happens – happens for a reason. It takes faith and humility to believe that our finite human mind is unable to comprehend God’s greater plans. We simply have to trust in His timing and ways.

We can always choose how we will respond. When things don’t go the way we want them to, we can choose to trust in God or try to change the situation by our own ability.

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34)

God has His plans for each and every day. If you’re a planner like me, don’t be anxious about tomorrow. Learn to trust in His plans for our future.

/ helene@thir.st

After surviving the chaos of Poly life fighting the evils of sleep deprivation and academic stress, Helene now spends most of her free time repaying her three years accumulated debt of not doing household chores.

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The most important thing in the Church: Unity

by | 24 May 2018, 4:35 PM

“What is the one yardstick we can use to gauge if a mission trip is successful?”

This question was posed to us by the pastor who led a recent mission trip I was on. We offered various answers in response, mostly centred on salvations.

Instead, his answer was unity. His reasoning: “The ministry of love must first exist among us before it flows out into the nations.”

I believe it. If there’s no unity, there’s no blessing. Work not done in the bond of love and peace is mere work, not worship.

And here’s the thing: The devil is using thorns like miscommunication, misunderstanding or misconceptions to steal, kill and destroy our unity. But God can also use these thorns to shape us at the same time.

He wants to posture us. To make us unoffendable. To make us more and more like who we’re destined to be.

I believe unity must be the highest value in any church, and it should be the highest value in the Church.

As believers, we are connected to one another; we are part of the larger family of God.

“From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Ephesians 4:16)

We are the body of Christ (Romans 12:4). We can have unity without uniformity. I’ve spoken to many fellow millennial Christians who are tired of the divisions. One tells me, “We are so deep in our holy huddle, we fail to see we’re not just one church.”

What would Singapore look like if we stopped focusing on being merely right, and instead became entirely devoted to being right with God?

It’s easy to refuse to accept that many other churches can co-exist within the larger Church. And it’s easy to feel the divide because there are so many barriers to unity, like pride. It makes resolving theological differences such a challenge, especially when they are addressed in antagonistic ways.

Yes, we have many differences – but we have much common ground as well! What would Singapore look like if we stopped focusing on being merely right, and instead became entirely devoted to being right with God?

“We are often divided, because we’re not desperate enough. We’re not desperate enough because we fail to see God’s agenda for deep change and wide horizons.”

This was Pastor Edmund Chan’s encouragement to local church leaders at the LoveSingapore Prayer Summit this year. One thing he said really stuck with me:

“The Church is unstoppable when it’s under God’s hand. We have to receive the commission from God and arise as the Church of God.”

He was talking about the need for the larger Church to arise in its outreach initiatives in the years to come, and how disunity was one recurrent “challenge” faced by the Singaporean church. In my view, “challenge” is putting it mildly; we have the grave problem of disunity.

And again it makes me wonder what would the Church – or Singapore – look like if we dropped our personal agendas and picked up God’s agenda? What if we swapped boasting about our knowledge and traditions – for boasting in God alone? What if we traded pride for humility?

“Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:3-6)

Unity is not mere tolerance. Adopting a mindset of “you do your own thing, I do mine” is the surest path to a chasm. Instead we are to make every effort to do the will of God within the bond of love.

I know the God we serve is a God of peace. If we as believers are not first reconciled among each other, how can we expect to reconcile the nation to God? How great is our need to strive for unity between mainline and border Christianity, across denominations and ethnicity!

God help us strive tenaciously for peace!

Do you want to see Singapore saved? 

If so, I’d like you to mull over this one fact about the 1978 Billy Graham Crusade: Did you know that approximately 230 out of the 260 churches in Singapore at the time took part in the Crusade?

That’s an overwhelming majority – 9 in every 10 Christians – serving a single cause. They were of the same mind (Philippians 2:2), whether they sang in the choir, directed traffic as car-park marshals, or prayed over their brothers and sisters who responded to the call for salvation.

That’s the picture of unity we need to see and surpass in our generation.

May unity be our first recourse — never the last resort.

Do you want revival? Then you need to know happens when a people come together in unity for God’s agenda. It’s found in Psalm 133:3: “There the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.”

Life forevermore. If we are right with God as a Church, we can expect to see the greatest blessing – salvation – run rampant through our nation.

Let’s close ranks in the coming battle. May unity be our first recourse — never the last resort.

/ 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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The double life of a mission tripper

by | 23 May 2018, 8:05 PM

One thing about missions trips that I find beautiful is the simplicity of being.

What I mean is, life becomes simple in a holy way: All that matters each day is that we accomplish a work for God — something of eternal kingdom value. Working intentionally for God’s glory in any mission context is incredibly satisfying.

For example, on my mission trip to Thailand, even in the local culture of sabai-sabai (everything is “chill”), I still felt incredibly purposed driven. And with that God-given purpose came joy, not grumbling or questioning.

But life back home doesn’t always feel that way. I’m fortunate enough that I have a job I know I’m called to, so I don’t drag my feet to work. But there are still days where it’s a grind, and I’m tempted to lose sight of that original purpose and passion. I lose the joy and clarity that comes from a life of God-centred single-mindedness.

And in this stale context, the clock resets. You start counting down the days to the next mission trip, or the next holiday or whatever it is that will numb this second, “lesser” state of being.

Why is that?

Why the pendulum between the mission and the mundane? My conclusion is some of us might be leading two lives: The “mission” and the “grind”. Let me break it down further:

  • In my mission field, I live an intentional life centred on doing God’s “one thing”.
  • In Singapore I do a hundred things in one day, and only a few of those things are for God.

See, in the mission context, even the mundane things magically fall under the hierarchy of being done for God. For example, in the simple act of taking out the trash, it’s done intentionally so that God’s workers can keep going in a clean environment.

But in Singapore our eyes aren’t quite opened that way. If I have to take out the trash it’s a lot easier to ask, “Why do I have to do this? Why can’t someone else do it?”

And the reason for that spirit is because many of us work with a wrong hierarchy when it comes to God. We like to rank priorities. We say that God is number one, and then we rank other things below Him like family, work and relationships. It sounds good – but it falls short.

The correct mindset to have is God as number one in all things: God enthroned in my family, God enthroned in work, God enthroned over my relationships.

That’s what Jesus at the centre of it all means —”mission life” is that glimpse of a life ordered by a holy hierarchy.

What would Jesus find us doing in Singapore?

Would we still be standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side for the Gospel? What is the spirit of our life? And what are we truly striving for?

What would life look like if enjoying God, desiring God, furthering the kingdom or doing God’s work was also the overarching priority of our lives – just as it so tangibly is in the mission field?

“Only let your manner of life be worthy of the Gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the Gospel.” (Philippians 1:27)

This is Paul is writing to the church in Philippi with much thanksgiving and joy. In the same chapter this portion comes a little after the famous part of Philippians where Paul says “to live is Christ, and to die is gain”.

I know a life with Jesus at the centre will be a glorious one – and it’s there for the taking. If you’re a regular mission tripper, let’s pray that the Lord will help us to take that intentionality from missions back into “normal” daily life.

God, help us discover what a life for Christ looks like.


With an expected one billion people in Asia moving from rural to urban areas by the year 2030, the number of world city dwellers is expected to rise to 70% by 2050. There is an urgent call to the Church, especially as the majority of new urban dwellers will be young (under 25 years old) and live below the poverty line ($2 a day).

The GoForth National Missions Conference, happening June 21-23, 2018, will look at an array of diverse strategies to empower individuals and churches to reach and transform cities with the love of Christ. Visit their website to find out out more.

/ 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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In sickness and in health

by | 23 May 2018, 7:38 PM

I fell pretty sick on Labour Day.

I still remember it was a Tuesday morning, and I was furiously taking notes at Momentum 2018. I had already been feeling a little unwell – dry throat – the night before at BSF, but I figured I could just sleep it off.

But not until I could physically feel the ulcers beginning to grow in the back of my throat as I sat listening to Dr. Suzette Hattingh preach. When I got home after leaving early, the spots had already come out on my hands and feet. I was pretty sure I knew what it was — HFMD (Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease).

I suffered for the next 11 days. At one point there were close to 20 ulcers in my mouth. Though this wasn’t as bad as the time I got herpangina — a record 27 ulcers in my mouth — it still made for two very difficult weeks.

I couldn’t really talk, and eating was no fun at all. And the ulcers hurt so much they gave me headaches. I remained whiny and full of complaints for days until I took my frustration to God.

And thereafter I learnt a few things.

3 SENTIMENTS ON SICKNESS

1. Let your sickness teach you gratitude

The first few days were actually reasonably tolerable. It was Day 4 when the ulcers began to appear under my tongue. Then I really couldn’t talk properly at all. Because of how infectious HFMD is, it meant I couldn’t be around people.

After a few days of frustration, as I asked God why this had happened, I was reminded of just how much I missed my girlfriend. And longing has a way of growing affection — it made me treasure time together more.

Beyond that, being cared for by my mother, I was reminded how blessed I am by her. Though I felt horrible, it was a silver lining to know God had put a wonderful mother in my life to help get me through a difficult time. By the end of it, I appreciated her a lot more.

When Mother’s Day came around, I made sure to honour as best as I could.

2. Let your sickness remind you of stewardship

While I was resting at home, a good friend of mine messaged me to see how I was doing. And during our conversation, it dawned on me just how much I take health for granted.

I often sleep late, don’t eat well … I push my body to its limits in a negative way. But it’s only when you’re lying in bed, completely helpless apart from gobbling painkillers, that you realise you could be doing better.

I don’t want to live with a body that is kept together (just barely) by God’s grace, as far as I can be responsible for its welfare, I want it to be the temple it should be (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

It needs to be strong to lift my children. It needs to have stamina for long days. Strong knees for where ministry takes me. It needs to look and run like it’s managed by a man who honours God. My falling sick reminded me I’ve got a lot to do on that front.

3. Let your sickness inculcate compassion

For a few days, my prayers devolved into complaints and whiny lamentations about my condition. It was always: God, why? God, can you faster heal me?

Until I submitted my frustration to God, it never struck me that I throughout these prayers I did in fact have the certainty that I would make it out of my sickness. I knew I would be well — it was just a matter of time.

But other people don’t have that. Some are lying in bed and facing death. Some go through rounds and rounds of chemotherapy with hope — but no certainty they will be healed. I was ashamed to see how self-absorbed I had behaved in my suffering.

It made me consider how life must feel like for those facing giants in wards or hospices. And for people like my father, who faced down cancer and never wavered in their trust of God’s character as Healer, right up to their passing … It makes me marvel at their faith.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16)

So don’t waste your sickness. Whether it’s for a day, a week or an indefinite period, let your infirmity push you closer to God.

As I’ve learnt, we can count ourselves blessed that we can utterly rely on a Saviour who has already won the worst battle for us. Count ourselves loved that we have a constant fire in dark days; stand firm in the knowledge of God’s character.

Rest, knowing that no matter how our earthly, fragile bodies may let us down, He holds you and me in the palm of His hands.

/ 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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Article list

Unlucky in love? Learn from Leah

There is a prescribed way to love

Learning to let go

The most important thing in the Church: Unity

The double life of a mission tripper

In sickness and in health