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Faith

Why I’m (still) a Christian

by | 11 August 2017, 5:09 PM

My first exposure to Christianity was when I attended Sunday School, age 4.

I said the sinner’s prayer at age 7 after learning that people who did not follow Jesus would be thrown into hell. Being trapped in a fire was one of my greatest fears.

Then I began to doubt.

I started questioning whether I had said the sinner’s prayer in the right way. Unsure about my salvation, I would say the sinner’s prayer periodically.

On hindsight, I had become a believer out of fear, rather than out of an understanding of God’s love for me.

The “Christian” things I did in my childhood came out of a blind obedience to what the adults in my life deemed as appropriate. Merely practising a religion, I never thought to question any of it.

I memorised Bible verses weekly in Church. I breezed through all the Scripture memory quizzes. In secondary school, I attended a mission school, with regular Chapel sessions.

One might say I was a model Christian child.

In a safe environment, I was encouraged to ask hard questions about my faith as we tested the reliability of the Scriptures.

In my teens, I was introduced to several books which aimed to prove the historicity and truth about Christianity. Despite this, I never challenged myself to investigate for myself how reliable the Christian faith was.

I was afraid of the implications if I were to discover that the Christian faith couldn’t hold water. I was just as afraid of the fire then – as I had been at seven.

So, as you can see, holding on to the faith hasn’t been the most pain-free, clear-cut process for me. Yet, in spite of these struggles, I remain a Christian today. Why?

I follow God despite having the liberty, as a fully grown adult, to choose my faith. Why?

After I had completed my A-levels, an old friend invited me to a Bible study session at her university’s Christian Fellowship group. I had no plans for that day, so I agreed to join her.

This meeting turned out to be the first of many, showing me the Bible wasn’t a collection of disparate stories, but a single story of God’s redemptive plan for mankind — told in parts across different generations.

In a safe environment, I was encouraged to ask hard questions about my faith as we tested the reliability of the Scriptures.

These meetings helped me take Christianity seriously. This turned my faith around.

As I journeyed with my Bible study group and read widely, God led me to Himself. For the very first time, I developed my personal faith convictions:

1. We are saved for good works — not by them.

At the core of other faiths is the notion that Man is saved by following a certain moral code, which earns him favour in the sight of their deities.

However, the God of the Christian faith initiated the salvation of His people, despite our fallen nature (Ephesians 2:5, Romans 5:8). While Christians are called to do good works, this is the outward expression of our faith. Good works are our response to salvation — not an attempt to merit it. (Titus 2:14, Ephesians 2:10)

When I discovered this truth, I was set free.

2. We are saved by grace through faith, into a relationship.

Christians believe that only Jesus Christ saves. No man could ever be good enough to make it to Heaven on our own merit (Romans 3:23). Instead of despondency, however, God offers hope. In His grace, He sent His Son Jesus to mend the brokenness of this fallen world and reconcile His people to Himself.

My salvation is God’s gift, by His sovereign grace and mercy. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

This is why I continue in the Christian faith. In my heart, I know that God chose me — despite my brokenness and inadequacies. I’ve been freed to live as the Lord God has called me to, a far cry from my childhood’s misguided attempts at appeasement.

I had grown up, only to be born again. But this time, I am no longer a slave to good deeds for salvation. I am a child of God.

/ eudora@thir.st

Eudora found herself writing on public platforms by chance. Apart from writing, she likes many random things, including spoken word poetry, adult colouring books, tea, stationery and fresh, clean laundry.

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Faith

Self-control isn’t easy

by | 19 February 2018, 9:39 AM

Recently, I fell victim to clickbait and watched a video titled “My dog was raped!” on Youtube.

Some Youtuber was kicking a big fuss about how her dog was “raped” by another dog in the pet hotel. She ranted about it for a whole 20 minutes. Feistier than the drama she manufactured, was the comments section where she was being slammed for making a mountain out of a molehill.

“It’s not rape!” one comment read, “Dogs can’t be raped. They don’t think like humans. They act on instinct, not logic or reason. You’re placing human behaviour on dogs!”

That inane video actually gave me cause to think. I wonder if self-control – the opposite of instinct – a human trait?

Instinct is defined as “an intuitive, typically fixed pattern of behaviour”

For example, all animals have the natural instinct to mate and procreate. It is hardwired into their system. It’s why most people aren’t up in arms whenever dogs mate in public. After all, you can pin it down to their instincts.

Now bear with me: Humans also have the instinct to mate, but it’s obviously inexcusable for us to have sex anywhere. We have labels for people who can’t control themselves when it comes to compulsions – addicts.

The ability to control oneself when needed is part of being a healthy and well-adjusted human adult.

But what exactly is self-control?

Self-control is the ability to manage your actions, feelings and emotions. It is to have mastery over our temptations and impulses. It’s when you want to binge-watch something but resist because you’ve got exams.

Self-control is also a learned behaviour. Consider babies. Cute, instinctive little people who act on their thoughts and feelings. They have virtually no self-control. When we’re done being infants, we are expected to learn how to manage our actions and feelings.

It’s almost ironic that any hope for self-control is reliant on something beyond ourselves — God!

So why is it important for us to learn self-control? Well, it’s a form of love (1 Cor 13:5). Often, there are desires we want to act on, even ones with bad consequences.

For example, I might want to hurt someone when I’m angry, or insist on my way instead of considering others’ opinions. I might even want to cheat on my partner because I’m sick of the relationship.

In such cases, it takes self-control to exercise patience, kindness and perseverance — instead of caving into our compulsions – all of which are hallmarks of true love (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).

But self-control isn’t easy. The truth is, I often act immediately on my emotions instead of finding the appropriate ways to express them. But I know I can’t change myself – only God can.

In Romans 7:19-20, Paul makes that famous declaration, “For I do not do the good I want to do. Instead, I keep on doing the evil I do not want to do. And if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.” Yet in his conclusion he says, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

It’s almost ironic that any hope for self-control is reliant on something beyond ourselves — God! Enslaved to sin, our only hope is to abide in Him. It is only when we do so that sin is overcome. Then we can see the fruits of the Spirit in our lives, one of which is self-control.

Are you in a situation where there’s no breakthrough despite your efforts and discipline? Ask the Lord for humility and let Him help you. The change might not be immediate, but He will work in us to bring us to completion (Philippians 1:6).

/ siqi@thir.st

Siqi loves to eat. Except for peas, egg yolk, cucumbers, livers, intestines. Among others. She also happens to be a writer.

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I got stood up on Valentine’s Day

by Geraldine Koh | 15 February 2018, 3:48 PM

It was Valentine’s Day. I could have gone on a date with my husband. But I had looked forward to meeting Miss L. She was a freelance sex worker from East Asia, pacing the streets of Geylang’s red-light district to eke out a living.

In her 30s, she was new to Singapore, having travelled a long way here from her hometown.

I had met her on a warm Friday night under the faint neon lights of a corridor in Geylang. I was on one of my regular walks with a group of volunteers who were committed to expressing the love of Jesus with marginalised communities working in the red-light district.

Miss L had been friendly during our first meeting. She was chatty, talking incessantly about her hometown. She was clearly missing home badly. She had no friends, never taking the initiative to mix with fellow sex workers from her home country who stood along the same glitzy street.

I met her the second time on another Friday. I braced myself to ask if she had someone to celebrate the Lunar New Year with. She looked down forlornly and shook her head in silence. I suggested having reunion dinner with her.

Her eyes lit up, and she said “Yes!” without much hesitation. Having a reunion dinner together would have made her feel at home during this festive season which can ironically be superficial, long-drawn and lonely.

I suggested having reunion dinner with her. Her eyes lit up, and she said “Yes!” without much hesitation.

She had agreed to meet me on Valentine’s Day, the same week of the Lunar New Year celebrations. I got myself ready and travelled quite a distance from my home to Geylang, looking forward to meet Miss L and bless her with a sumptuous meal.

I waited and waited. The dreaded message came. Miss L texted, I have not slept since I finished work with a client. I am very tired. I need to have a good sleep before heading back into the streets again. I cannot meet you for dinner.

I had a surge of mixed feelings. I did not feel too much disappointment. This was not my first time being “stood up”. Several other street ladies I had arranged to meet before also did not turn up, citing similar reasons as Miss L.

On the other hand, I felt immensely sorry for Miss L. She needed her sleep from working long hours in the prostitution trade. In fact, she needed more than a physical state of rest. She needed the rest only Jesus could give her.

I hope to have that reunion dinner with Miss L soon. Reunion is about families reuniting and getting together to celebrate love and kinship. For my reunion dinner with Miss L, it would be special; it would include having fellowship with a very special family guest — Abba Father — someone I know it would be worth it for Miss L to know and embrace.


Operation Mobilisation (OM) Singapore has a ministry reaching out to marginalised communities working in the red-light district of Singapore with the love of Jesus. If you and your friends are interested to pray, give and go with this ministry, please write to info.sg@om.org

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Belinda Lee: My mother’s unwavering faith

by | 15 February 2018, 3:37 PM

As she recalled her mother’s final days in her 6-year-long battle with cancer, Belinda Lee took a moment to compose herself before she continued.

The former Mediacorp actress and host spoke of moments when her mom would get up in the middle of the night, when she was in great pain, to cry out to God.

“At that time, she was already on morphine and was very weak. I don’t know where she got the energy from, but she would shout with all her strength for God to take her home.”

“She would cry out with all her might like this: ‘Jehovah, I beg you to bring me home.’

“It was then that my family knew that she was ready to go home. It was painful for us to let her go but we knew that she was ready,” Belinda said.

It was the beginning of the end of a journey which saw her mother go from being anti-Christian to embracing the love of Jesus.

Said Belinda: “My mom, who told the whole world that she would never become a Christian, received Christ when I was in Bible college, and she actually got water baptised on her own without telling the family.

“To me, that shows how true her conviction was, because she willingly did it on her own without pressure from anyone – she did it on her own accord because she truly wants to know who this amazing God is, and she welcomed Him into her life.”

(Belinda Lee’s sharing on her mother’s faith begins at 40:44 in this video)

Belinda shared that her mother, who was illiterate, would pray for God to teach her how to read the Bible.

And He did.

“A miracle happened one day. She came to me beaming with joy, sharing that God answered her prayer and she could finally read the Bible! Not every work, but she was able to at least understand the gist of what she was reading.”

Belinda found it hard to believe, but was encouraged by a neighbour, who said the same prayer had come true for her own elderly parents. “She told me that I have too little faith in God!”

And the way her mother spent her last days stood out to Belinda.

“A week before she finally took her last breath, she instructed one of my aunties to cook a scrumptious breakfast to serve her friends, the members, and the pastors of the Chinese Church she was attending – because that was what she used to do when she was still mobile.”

Belinda recalls her mom saying this to her in Hokkien: “Belinda, I wasn’t educated and I’m not good at studying, but I know how to cook. With my gift, I hope that I can serve God and His children.

“My mom was a dying women, but while on her deathbed, she wasn’t thinking about her own needs or blaming God. All she was thinking about was how she could continue serving God and His people to the very end of her life.

“Mom did not fear death because she believed with all her heart that our Abba Father was going to welcome her with open arms and personally lead her through the white gates of heaven when she meets Him one day.”

“I was told I was doomed to fail”: Belinda Lee’s journey from insecurity to purpose

/ fiona@thir.st

Fiona is secretly hilarious and one of her dogs thinks so too. She loves a good chat with strangers, store assistants, and fluffy dogs.

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Celebrating Selah: 4 years of realigning a generation

by | 15 February 2018, 1:08 PM

“Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a Relevant in Singapore?” was a question I found myself asking back in the early 2010s, sometime after I’d graduated and was wondering how to creatively contribute to the Kingdom.

It was a rhetorical question. In our own quiet spaces, we appreciated the faith-based, culturally savvy content that had made its way from the USA to our digital shores, even though there was always something slightly misaligned for the local reader. 

We didn’t always get references to US politics or their cultural landscape, and neither were their Christian young adult issues always resonant with us. A Singapore Relevant was the dream.

But it was a stalemate, of course.

We had never seen anything close to a “Singapore Relevant” on our social media radars, much less local editions of DesiringGod or The Gospel CoalitionAnd from the looks of it, we probably never would. Producing digital content at that quality and quantity was going to take a full-time job, my friends and I concurred, every time the topic was raised.

At that point, most of my peers were waist-deep into our first jobs, barely able to even enjoy a stress-free week night. If we were still serving in church, that included our weekends. And where would the money to do any of this come from? The dream would remain what it was – a dream.

Until one day in 2015, as I was scrolling through Facebook one Sunday afternoon and a post from selah.sg caught my eye. It tackled a familiar Singaporean topic, so it had to be local, but it was all polished and hipster, and the writing was on point for a young adult reader.

I don’t remember which article it was, but I will never forget how it made me feel.

Thank God someone’s finally done it.

SELAH SEES FIRST LIGHT

In 2013, a 23-year-old Joseph encountered God in the Scandinavian woods. He was on exchange in Copenhagen, Denmark, at this time, when God addressed the growing discontent he’d long felt in his heart over Singaporean Christians having only western literature to read online.

He tells me this in the most millennial way – over Skype, in a midnight conference call with two of his SELAH teammates, Lemuel and Natalie.

There’s more than 10 of them in the group, church friends who’d been super tight since their teens. From what I gather, they were the teenage version of the Acts church: Studying together, hanging out regularly, staying over at each other’s houses, even holidaying together. They prayed together. Worshipped together.

The friendship that made SELAH.

“But we all felt a dissatisfaction that there had to be more to life than just hanging out,” Joseph admitted. “We knew there could’ve been a reason why God put such a diverse group of individuals together.”

So when Marvin, one of the members from the group, dropped by Denmark for a visit and told Joseph that the rest wanted to work on a project together, it immediately clicked with the dream he’d received. So when he returned to Singapore, he pitched the idea of starting a hyper-local, faith-based website to the group.

“I remember hearing Joseph asking with raw passion: ‘Aren’t you all pining to read content that is relevant to the Singaporean culture?’” Natalie said, and the three of them laugh as she re-enacts his speech.

“Personally I couldn’t see it happening – God spoke to Jo, not me – but as I saw how everyone was getting on board with it, I started think that God could do something with this, and we would be missing out if we just let it fly by.

“It sparked something in me to believe in the vision, that if we put our hearts to it, worked hard and obeyed God, the dream could be realised. And I could commit to what it was going to be.”

One of the first concept drawings for the SELAH site.

Lemuel was one of the first few to cast a positive vote. “I’d already started a blog to write about my lessons from the Christian walk, but it was getting really hard to sustain alone. So when Joseph mooted the idea for SELAH, I thought it was perfect.”

Not every member of the group was gifted in writing, but together they were a creative dream team: Photographers, videographers, singers, communication executives … And by August 8, 2013, SELAH held their first official meeting to bring the dream to life.

DREAMING FOR A GENERATION

“We just wanted Singaporean faith stories to be told and published,” Joseph replied when I asked him about the big vision for SELAH in the beginning. “And over the years, people have told us that what we do has ‘discipled the nation’, even though we’re really not the most competent in the media publication space.”

Their mission is threefold: To glorify God in the edification of the Singaporean body of Christ, to inspire readers to pause and realign – their tagline, and also selah‘s Hebraic meaning – and to ignite Christ-inspired living.

“Christ-inspired living is a cornerstone of all SELAH does,” Lemuel added, “We referred to it often in the early months, when we were still wondering what we were doing.

“And now that we all have full-time jobs somewhere else, we also try to pause and realign ourselves first, because balancing SELAH with our other commitments can be really challenging.”

Late night SELAH meetings in the early days.

The response to SELAH since they went live in February 2015 has, however, proved the long fight worthy.

“We wanted to throw in the towel at least three times before the launch,” Joseph shared. “It was a coordination nightmare.”

Natalie interjected, “We couldn’t even agree over whether we were good enough to call ourselves a ‘magazine’!”

But the initial rate of uptake surprised and humbled the team, and keeps them doing what they do. “Comments like, ‘Wah, that was a good article, I was really blessed’ help keep us going,” Lemuel said. “Writing is an incredibly personal experience and some articles draw from places so deep within my soul, making it very difficult.”

Natalie, also one of the main writers, agrees. “Needing to bear your heart on the Internet is a struggle. I ask God, ‘Why do You have to take me through such pain in order to produce this article? What or who is it for?’

“But as God has laid it on our hearts to steward these stories well, our hearts are constantly renewed to do so.”

FOUR YEARS AND COUNTING

On February 15, 2018, SELAH celebrates their 4th anniversary. It’s also the start of a year that will see most of the team get married – including Natalie and Lemuel, respectively. Nobody can say how things will unfold from here for SELAH, Joseph said. But who knew they’d even be where they are today four years ago?

“I look back fondly on the moments of bouncing ideas off each other in the early days,” Lemuel shared with a smile. “Back then, every article posted, every interview done, every image taken was a milestone. We celebrated every little thing.”

A huge milestone for the team: SELAH’s first worship night at CHIJMES.

“We all knew Ronald would be the very first one to fall asleep during our meetings,” Natalie added in jest. “We’re more ‘business-like’ today.”

“Business-like” has even meant creating a separate work-chat for the group of friends, as not everyone was ultimately part of the current SELAH team.

And though things may continue changing as the team grows up, the work is far from over for SELAH.

“The digital space is where transformation happens in this day and age, and we have a mandate to put something out there that is relevant to a Singaporean,” said Lemuel, his tone now serious. “I love Singapore and I want the church in Singapore to be strong.”

With SELAH, we’ve always wanted to break that perception of Christian perfection; we’re all struggling, and we all need grace.

Joseph agreed. “With SELAH, we’ve always wanted to break that perception of Christian perfection. The narrative we’ve tried to write is that we’re all struggling, and we all need grace. We all need saving and help and God.”

It’s the same heart that Natalie has for their contributing writers. “I wish we could disciple our contributors more,” she shared later, in another conversation. “That I would be discerning and sensitive to what the Lord is saying to the one who’s writing the story.

“I believe God wants transformed lives over great stories.”

And over 180 of those great stories later, I can still say: Thank God someone’s finally done it.


This story was originally featured on SELAH, in collaboration for their 4th anniversary.

SELAH is an online magazine that seeks to tell Singaporean stories of Christ-inspired living. Find out more at: www.selah.sg.

/ 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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Porn and the things I’d rather love

by JH Kwek | 12 February 2018, 9:16 PM

It has been said that there are two types of men: Those who watch porn, and liars.

The truth is I belong to both categories.

My struggle with pornography began when I was 11. I was surfing the web when I stumbled onto some highly sexualised anime clips. Ever since then, this thorn, this drug, this corruption has been with me.

I’ve tried my whole life to break free, only for each attempt to end in failure. I got really good at lying about it though. Even when I confessed this sin to my cell members, I managed to phrase it in a way that made me look like the victim – like I was really trying my best and somehow that was enough.

It was like there was no real consequence to remaining in my addiction, as long as I cried and looked like I didn’t like it.

But I did.

I loved it: Every lustful moment in the toilet, every fantasy fired up by sensual Instagram posts, every filthy thought – I revelled in all of it. I knew the sinfulness of my addiction, but I didn’t really believe it. I was deluded, a man who thought nothing of eternity and only of the momentary high that came each night I gave in to my lust.

The struggle against pornography is often portrayed as a noble war, as if we’re righteous creatures born into a broken world, battling the forces of lust that seek to ruin us.

But we are not righteous creatures. We are dead creatures (Ephesians 2:1). We don’t just sin – we love to sin. We delight in it. We take pleasure in it. By ourselves we are so far from righteousness.

When God shook me out of my stupor, I finally saw how great my sin was – but I also had my eyes opened to the vastness of His grace.

The struggle against pornography is not a mere struggle to stop loving porn: It is a struggle to love Christ – and love Him more than anything else. So my problem wasn’t that I loved pornography – my problem was that I didn’t love Christ.

How then can a dead man love Christ? He can when he is brought to life.

My problem wasn’t that I loved pornography – my problem was that I didn’t love Christ.

And that was exactly what God did for me. In the quiet moment of a ministry retreat’s worship session, I read Ephesians 2 and became utterly convicted of my sin and sinful nature.

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved …” (Ephesians 2:1-5)

There and then, I repented, and asked God to bring me back to life.

And He did. He called me back to life.

That’s the power of the Holy Spirit. As the words of Ephesians 2 filled my mind, He began to convict my heart of my very real state of sin, that I was indeed dead in my trespasses and sins, carrying out the desires of my body and my mind, just like the rest of mankind.

But the same Spirit who convicted me of my sin also revealed to me so mercifully and lovingly that God, because of the great love with which He had for me, was calling me out of death in my sin to a redeemed life with Jesus Christ. It is by grace I have been saved.

There are so many of us – men and women – who struggle with an addiction to pornography. I still struggle with it. Porn is undeniably pleasurable. Speaking from experience, it is one of the strongest and most addictive pleasures I’ve ever come across.

But I can also speak from experience, that the cross of Christ brings a permanent joy and satisfaction that pornography can’t even touch. How blind I was! And how blind I still can be!

God gifted us priceless pleasure and fullest joy in His Son – yet we reject Him for worthless things. Father, forgive us!

A dead man can only love Christ when he is brought to life.

The cross of Christ brings a permanent joy and satisfaction that pornography can’t even touch.

You may seek love in pornography, relationships or achievements – after all, we were designed to receive love. But there is a better way.

It is the love that God gives to us. It’s the same love that caused Him to send His only Son into the world, so that we who were doomed to die might live through Him. All this while we did not yet love Him. Our Father loved us, and sent his Son to pay our debts (1 John 4).

I pray that God brings you back to life and opens your eyes, that His Son is no longer just words on a page to you, but the very real and tangible pleasure that surpasses all other pleasures.

A heart full of Christ has neither need nor want of porn. Help us to want and need you God – bring us back to life!

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Article list

Why I’m (still) a Christian

Self-control isn’t easy

I got stood up on Valentine’s Day

Belinda Lee: My mother’s unwavering faith

Celebrating Selah: 4 years of realigning a generation

Porn and the things I’d rather love