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Live fast, die young

by Jonathan Cho | 19 January 2018, 4:10 PM

Is there more to life than this?

A big question, which most of us have probably asked at some point. But in this age of hyper-connectivity, it’s almost impossible to create space to find the silence and solitude we need to wrestle with life’s big questions.

“Out of office” is a lie, because omnipresent wifi, mobile data and push notifications mean the office is wherever we are. The drudgery of the routine of life is hitting us harder than ever before. The endless cycle forces up questions of meaning, purpose, and fulfilment, but we try to cover up the seeming emptiness of these endless pursuits by filling our time – ironically with more and more such endless pursuits.

We don’t have the time to stop and think. Even if we manage to momentarily drown out the question by loading ourselves with more activity, the cry of our heart remains the same: Is there more to life than this?

I wrote the song, Strive (Live Fast, Die Young) out of that place of tension, where the desire to slow down, reflect and recalibrate my life had to be reconciled with the unapologetic fact that the world will never stop for me to do so.

I had a choice to make, as do all of us. Do we dare to hit the Pause button, and lose our lives as we know it, in order to find out what we are really living for?

More often than not, making the decision to slow our lives down means we’ll have to sacrifice something.

For some, it may involve finances: Dare I give up a life of stability? Would I give up my income and a comfortable life in order to take the time to understand what I am really living for? 

But for many of us, it is an issue of insecurity – the insecurity of not being in control and not being certain of who we are apart from what we do. It is a fear of losing grip over an image that has become so central to how we identify ourselves and our identity in this World. Maybe we fear losing our reputation – we’re worried on what people might think of us calling for a “time-out”.

I remember the day I started work in the CBD. I felt as if I had been thrust onto a moving treadmill; there was no warm-up, no gradual increase of pace. From Day 1 I felt as if I was playing catch-up. Anyone who works in the city might be able to identify; there’s an established rhythm in the area, a certain atmosphere about it. Things move like clockwork.

My peers and I were simply trying to survive and keep our heads above water. “Such is life,” we were told. “You just have to get used to it.”

So I did.

Over time, I caught on to this rhythm and assimilated myself into the working force. I developed an ability to move from activity to activity, task to task, person to person. Truth be told, I was mostly driven by an adrenaline-rush – it was absolutely thrilling. I felt effective, like I was a part of something bigger, and thought that my life actually had meaning. Telling people that I was busy felt almost like a badge of honour.

But in retrospect, I think the only meaning I had, was to live for busyness. There was a part of me which believed that if I was busy, I was useful. And if I was useful, then surely I was of value – significant.

I was so busy that even in my downtime, I found myself restless and unable to be still, checking my emails or social media for incoming messages/news/information. Most days, I felt like I was drowning in people’s demands and often unrealistic expectations. My boat was taking on more water than it could hold – from work, from Christian service, from people, family, and friends – and I didn’t even know it.

I was striving for so much and moving so fast that I had no capacity to even consider how I could be thriving instead, because I spent most of my energy just trying to survive.

All this came to a jarring halt one day, as I looked out the window at my workplace to give my eyes a break from the computer.

Looking down from the seventh floor, I noticed in the middle of the open area at Raffles Place a man sitting in a wheelchair, holding out tissue-packets for sale. It wasn’t an uncommon sight in the CBD, but that day my heart writhed with a sharp pain: Almost everyone walked past him, each one on their mobile phone, too busy to stop to give him a moment’s attention.

It wasn’t about the money; most would easily have been able to afford to give a dollar or more. It was their time that seemed far too expensive to give away.

In that moment, I felt as if my heart had caught a glimpse of what my daily life looked like – as seen from above. In the busyness of each day, had I lost sight of the true business of life?

When our lives move too fast, that comes with a cost. It may be the inability to notice and care for the people around us. It may be how we find ourselves restless in quiet moments. It breeds a deep sense of striving – there always seem to be things we need to do, goals we have to attain, people we need to be, respect we need to earn.

We build our fortunes and our reputation through all this striving, but to what end? What kind of life are we building beyond that, and what legacy do we leave behind?

Jesus was highlighting something critical to/for us when He posed the question: “What good would it gain a man to gain the World but forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36)

The thing about living fast is that by the time we realise it, most of life might have passed us by. I carry this song in my heart as a prayer for each one of us, that we would not live lives where the only meaning is to stay busy, and that we would recognise the urgency of learning how to slow our lives down, because fast-paced living comes with a cost – the cost of living fast, but dying young.

“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12)

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Freely my father gave, even after he lost his job

by Jeremy Lim | 15 December 2017, 3:07 PM

From a young age, giving was always inculcated in our family. My dad would give my siblings and I a $1 coin each to put into the offering bag at Sunday school in Church. Every time we went to a hawker center or coffee shop and saw someone selling tissue paper, he would pass us the biggest note in his wallet and ask us to bless the person with it.

I never really understood why my father was so generous and thought that he was giving because he had a lot of money; that whatever little sum of money he gave away was nothing to him.

I remember one afternoon, I was having lunch with him along Thomson Road. While we were eating, we saw a frail old lady with a trolley full of fruits, sitting just a few feet away from us. She had set up a makeshift “shop” along the pathway, right outside a tuition centre, and was trying to sell her goods to those who walked by.

How unfilial her children must be! I was thinking. Was there no one to take care of her?

God has never held back from providing, so why are we not giving?

Just then, my father got up and walked over to her. After a brief exchange, I saw him purchase some fruits from her before coming back to where we were seated. I couldn’t believe it! What in the world was he doing? Hadn’t our household just bought fruits yesterday? These fruits didn’t even look fresh!

I immediately asked my dad why he had bought more fruits when we already had so much at home. This was his reply: “God has never held back from providing, so why are we not giving?”

I didn’t question him further, although I still thought the money could have been better spent on getting a new phone or other more useful things. I still felt that he was wasting his wealth by treating it so lightly.

And then out of nowhere, things took a turn for the worse. My father was retrenched from his job.

My mother was left as the only sole breadwinner of our 6-member family. On top of that, my grandfather’s frequent medical check-ups were very taxing too. We were in financial difficulty, so my parents decided to start drawing out money from their bank accounts only every two months.

In that period of time, I was sure my father would not give like before. But I was wrong. He continued giving! Even when the Church needed funds for the new building, he pledged to contribute a regular sum of money every month – and it was no small sum.

I couldn’t help but think to myself, what was my dad doing? Here we were in a financial crisis, and there he was giving away what was ours. He never cut short on giving to others.

When we give back, we are doing just a small portion of what God has done for us.

Over breakfast one day, I finally asked him, “Dad, how is it that even though you’ve been retrenched, you cut back on things like travelling at the end of the year, but never giving? Almost everyone I know would do otherwise.”

Again, his answer was simple: “Of course I could’ve not given money to the Church or to people in need, saying I’ve got financial problems. I could even pray that God would give us more. But will I be happy with that?

“It is through giving that you see how fortunate you are, and through it you will find true joy. When we give back, we are doing just a small portion of what God has done for us. He has never shortchanged me when I’ve given.

“I know that as long as I faithfully give to Him and the people he loves, He will look at my cheerful heart and bless me greatly. That is why I give no matter what I am going through.”

I never ever forgot those words he said. We give because He first gave to us – holding back not even His only Son. And if God has never shortchanged us, who are we to shortchange in giving freely?


This is a submission from a participant of our Christmas Gift Exchange. From now till the end of December 2017, we are giving away a limited edition Thir.st Tumbler in exchange for every story on the Christmas themes of love, joy, peace, hope and giving. Click here to find out more.

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Megachurches and their extravagance: How much is too much?

by | 7 December 2017, 6:07 PM

A few months ago, my friend told me he wanted to change Church. One of the reasons he gave was because he disagreed with how the Church was spending money.

“Why do we spend so much on building Church facilities and running extravagant programmes when we could use all that money to benefit the poor instead?”

Surprised by his question, I quickly replied, “I think it adds to the experience. A good atmosphere leaves a good impression on people, especially for those who are visiting the Church for the first time.”

But he was unconvinced, and so was I. My own reply sounded like a first world justification in contrast to his altruistic concerns.  Providing for the needy seemed like the “better”, and perhaps “correct” answer. 

Hillsong is one of the most well-known megachurches internationally. Hailed by the media as a “successful global brand”, it ushers in hundreds of thousands of service attendees worldwide every weekend, regularly produces chart-topping albums and conducts sellout conferences. A recent article also states that Hillsong has a $100 million annual revenue. Tax free to boot!

With a huge wealth of funds on hand, it is no wonder the public and media are highly interested in how Hillsong spends their money.

Just last month, I attended my very first Hillsong Conference – the Hillsong Worship and Creative Conference. As I entered the Baulkham Hills campus – where Hillsong originally started out – I noticed a beautiful outdoor market right outside the main conference hall and let out a soft “wow”. Later on, our hosts introduced it as “The Marketplace”, where people could hang out after the conference for late night fellowship – food, live band and a barber included.

The auditorium also had me floored. There was a translucent fabric draping over the stage, acting as both a curtain and a screen. A looped video of a rainforest was projected onto it. After a while, I noticed there were crew members walking on the steel-framed platform above the auditorium scattering leaves at random intervals for a full immersive experience.

A performance during the Hillsong Worship and Creative Conference. (Photo courtesy of Hillsong Church)

And if that wasn’t crazy enough, the stage lighting was incredibly stunning during praise and worship. The visual effects came together nicely and added to the whole experience.

There were theatrics involved in most of the sermons preached – be it bringing a dog up on stage, wearing an astronaut suit or displaying treasure boxes to drive home a point. The crowd was constantly entertained; it was nothing short of amazing.

One of their designers mentioned in a co-lab session: “Just because it’s Christian, doesn’t mean it should be second best.”

They definitely weren’t kidding about that.

In 2 Samuel 7:1-2, the Bible records King David’s decision to build a temple for God. To this point, following the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt, God’s presence was resting in the ark of God – where the tablets holding the Ten Commandments were stored. The ark was kept in the Tabernacle, a huge tent that could be put up and taken down easily as the Israelites moved towards the Promised Land.

“Here I am, living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.” (2 Samuel 7:1-2)

At this point of his declaration, King David had just reclaimed possession of the ark, as it had been stolen by enemies. He placed it back in a tent, but decided it wasn’t reflective of his love and reverence for God. This temple, he decided, “must be exceedingly magnificent, famous and glorious throughout all countries” (1 Chronicles 22:5).

And so King David set aside materials of gold, silver and precious stones, assigning his son, Solomon, to build the House of God. The Bible states that the Temple was so grand, its inner sanctuary was completely covered in gold.

Talk about extravagance.

In a response to the grand gesture, God reminded his people that He doesn’t need a temple – or extravagance – but He saw King David’s heart and accepted his offering as a form of worship. His only condition was that the nation be faithful to Him (2 Samuel 7:5-7, 1 Kings 9:3-9).

I understand my friend’s concern. It doesn’t seem right for Churches to look “expensive” and “extravagant”, because stewardship of money is important. But I think the more important question is: How does this align with God’s will?

In Luke 16:9, Jesus said, “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”

The Bible is clear that good stewardship is not about the amount we spend or save, but how that amount will impact a person’s eternity. At the end of the day, you can’t bring any money to heaven – you bring souls. Money is simply a tool, a resource, to reach that goal.

Granted, giving to the needy is one of the most direct ways of reaching out to people, but this form of giving isn’t the only way of showing Christ to the world.

I remember feeling moved and inspired as I sat through the 3-day Hillsong conference, and experienced for myself the hearts behind the extravaganza. Every single “performance” – be it the songs, stories or sermons – was geared to one obvious direction: To reveal Christ through beauty and excellence.

If spending some money brings people one step closer to Christ, it’s all worth it.

In their own words, the team was “gathering all artisans to explore our calling, respond in worship and create with beauty, to fulfil Jesus’ Great Commission.” The Great Commission to make disciples of all nations.

In her sermon, Cass Langton, Creative Director of Hillsong Church, expressed it like this: “The Church needs artists to help the world see clearly what we feel vaguely”.

You see, the performances you see in Churches aren’t just a show – they’re worship. They’re outreach.

It’s understandable why people might look at the glitz and glamour of megachurches and be skeptical of the unconventional form of impacting someone’s life. But as Paul said “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:22).

If improving facilities can attract people to Church, if performing a play can communicate the Gospel more effectively, if spending some money brings people one step closer to Christ, it’s all worth it.

After all, people are always worth it.

/ 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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What does wise financial spending look like?

by | 2 November 2017, 5:05 PM

I found myself first thinking about this issue when I was running late for work. I’d been trying in vain to book a GrabHitch – there had been a promo code which would have halved my ride fare.

Although I considered other options, including ride variations on both Grab and Uber, it wouldn’t have been financially prudent to take a ride at those prices – I couldn’t bear to spend the $15, with prices jacked up due to peak-hour traffic. I ended up trudging to the bus stop, knowing I would be late – nonetheless, in my mind, financial prudence took priority over punctuality that day.

Another time, I was having lunch with friends. While I knew my budget constraints, I agreed to the lunch gathering, telling myself that fellowship with community would take precedence. Yet, I was acutely aware of my financial circumstances – and my relative financial lack in contrast to my lunch buddies.

AN EYE ON OUR EXPENDITURE

Since I started my internship, I don’t earn as much as I used to, as per a full-time job. My allowance, while enough for daily living, does not provide much extra for extravagant spending – this allowance goes to my transport expenditure, phone bills, and other ad-hoc necessities like dental appointments.

While I get other paid freelance opportunities on occasion, internship allowance remains my main consistent source of finances for this season of life.

One could argue that I have the option of borrowing money or having my parents give me a small allowance in this time as a temporary measure. While I doubt my parents would object to this, I do. I believe I have the ability to manage my own finances, however much or little it might be. I treasure my financial independence!

Despite the benefits of financial security, wealth cannot provide ultimate security – those who trust in their riches will fall.

This season of my life has made me more concerned about my finances than I used to be, and I am sometimes discouraged when I find myself asking for subsidies – such as for the costs of a young adults’ Bible retreat. Part of me feels a certain shame, as though I shouldn’t be taking such “handouts”.

Yet, the Bible provides wisdom on the issue of money management, to my relief. King Solomon acknowledges in Proverbs 10:15, the harmful effects of poverty – hence, wealth provides protection against financial difficulty.

However, Proverbs also warns that despite the benefits of financial security, wealth cannot provide ultimate security – those who trust in their riches will fall (Proverbs 11:28).

MORE THAN FINANCIAL FREEDOM

Though financial provision holds practical importance for daily living, many other virtues are of higher value than the pursuit of financial wealth.

For instance, King Solomon observes that the pursuit of wisdom is more valuable than precious material riches (Proverbs 8:10, 11), because it brings enduring wealth and righteousness (Proverbs 8:18) – wisdom, and the fruit it brings, represents favour from the Lord (Proverbs 8:35).

This is perhaps why Agur, the son of Jakeh, prays in Proverbs 30 that God would feed him with “the food that is needful”, in order that he may be given “neither poverty nor riches”.

He makes these requests in acknowledgement that in poverty he might steal and thus profane the name of God. On the contrary, he recognises that wealth might lead him to be self-sufficient and deny his need for God (Proverbs 30:8, 9).

Hence, while wealth is more desirable in meeting practical needs, it is not a matter of paramount importance – fearing God and obeying Him, however, is.

WE GIVE BECAUSE HE FIRST GAVE

In response to our fear of Him, we obey God by stewarding our finances (1 Timothy 6:7) in a Gospel-centred manner, by using our finances for the extension of His kingdom (Matthew 6:19, 20).

Consequently, we give of our finances to support the needs of Gospel workers – this is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 9:14, where the Lord has ordered that Gospel workers should be supported by those who benefit from their ministry.

1 Timothy 5 affirms this, as it calls the church to provide financially (1 Timothy 5:18) for their elders as a form of showing honour.

Hence, we give generously (1 Timothy 6:18) as we are able – in 2 Corinthians, Paul appealed to the Corinthians to contribute financially to help the poor. However, this was not at the expense of being burdened – instead, it was an appeal to the church to do their fair share of giving in order to provide for those in need (2 Corinthians 8:13, 14).

The greatest generosity we can show is to share with others the gift of the salvation, knowing that any material wealth we acquire is futile for those who face spiritual death.

While the New Testament does not tell us the proportion of our finances to give to Gospel work, this is an amount that we have decided in our hearts to give, cheerfully and without compulsion (2 Corinthians 9:7).

In the midst of giving towards Gospel work, however, we also recognise the basis for which we are able to be cheerful and generous givers – God has already provided all we need in giving us His only Son (Romans 8:32).

Yet, in light of this, we ought to recognise that the greatest generosity we can show is to share with others the gift of the Good News of salvation, knowing that any material wealth we acquire is futile for those who face spiritual death and separation from God (Matthew 16:26).

Since God has held no good thing back from us by giving us His only Son, should we not then likewise be generous in sharing with others His gift to us?

/ 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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When you work freelance, you either grow in fear or faith

by Melody Elizabeth Goh | 2 October 2017, 10:31 AM

Maybe the thought of working freelance appeals to some of you. No constraints, no fixed hours. Not me though – given a choice, I’d rather be tied down to full-time commitment. But my life hasn’t panned out that way.

I’ve been searching for a full-time job since I graduated from Bible school last April. I had been praying, sending out my resume and going for interviews. None worked out; I didn’t last more than 2 weeks in any position as I had to either quit because the job scopes were too overwhelming or because I had things that needed to be settled.

I was desperate, because I was 28. At this age, I thought I ought to already have a full-time job and a stable income, but here I was still depending on my parents for financial support. I felt like my world was crumbling on me, and I dove deeper into depression as self-condemnation sucked me into a bottomless pit of self-pity.

It was a tough season for me. I began to doubt the goodness of God.

In my desperation, I asked a friend who was always posting freelance jobs on Facebook if she had an opening. She got me a freelance position as an assistant media trainer in photography. This increased my exposure to photography and I learnt so much just from assisting the lead trainer.

I loved the job because I knew I wanted to work in the media industry. But the downside was that I was earning peanuts. My company was not doing very well and their projects were drying up as their last sales staff had left the company.

I was worried. For freelancers like me, who live from hand to mouth, regular projects are very important. Sure enough, my project ended and I had no more assignments.

It was another period of unemployment for me. I had no pending interviews and no openings at that time.

I went back to wrestling with God. Did He really want me to live with the vagaries and uncertainty of the freelance life?

One night I had a dream. In my dream, God spoke to me and told me to hang in there for another 2 weeks. I did not know what that meant but I trusted God.

Sure enough, 2 weeks later I was scheduled to have 4 interviews in a week, 3 of which were freelance jobs and 1 of which was a full-time job.

When I had reached the venue for the interview for the full-time position, the interviewer told me she’d forgotten about our interview and she had stepped out of the office. Very literally, a closed door.

I went back to wrestling with God. Did He really want me to live with the vagaries and uncertainty of the freelance life? But God gently reminded me that we are in this world not to be stable and comfortable, but to have faith and to learn to depend on Him.

This was driven home by a prayer someone prayed over me soon after. Part of the prayer went: “Thank you, God, for opening so many doors of opportunities for Melody, and thank you for the flexibility in timing that allows her to meet people and to reach out to the lost souls and play a role in revival.”

That prayer opened my eyes. That was the answer I was searching for. Working freelance gave me the flexibility I was looking for. God knew what was suitable for me even better than I thought I did.

I’ve seen and experienced how God assured me and how He’s made a way for me. I need to trust that He will keep doing so.

I’m still on the journey of trusting God to provide projects for me. I know it will be a constant journey of having the faith that God will provide every school term. For example, my work schedule is slowing down as it’s the examinations period, and it will be the school holidays soon, which could mean I may be out of work till the new academic year begins.

But even so, I have at least one class almost every weekday to help keep food on my table.

I’ve seen and experienced how God assured me and how He’s made a way for me. I need to trust that He will keep doing so.

Has it been easy? No. It’s been a season of trials and testing. But importantly, it’s been a season that has forced me to fix my eyes on God. He never fails and I know He has a perfect plan for me – even if my human mind cannot see how that might pan out.

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Weighing the cost of an iPhone X

by | 14 September 2017, 5:08 PM

I remember my first.

It didn’t resemble a brick. Instead, it was yellow and black, like a bumblebee; the first mobile phone I remember ever seeing was an Ericsson. This was in 1997.

My mum’s new gadget – it wasn’t smart, but by no means was it dumb – was all the rage in my family. Everyone wanted to try the flip cover and type on the number pad. So satisfyingly analogue.

I got my first mobile phone (I think it was a Nokia 6100) a few years later. It didn’t matter that I didn’t have anyone else other than my parents to send text messages to – I had my own phone and I could do this:

That was the era of dial-up internet access, GPRS and ASCII christmas trees (before emojis 🎄).

In 2007, Steve Jobs gave us the first iPhone – the original iPhone. I got my first iPhone the following year, but I didn’t have a 3G phone plan, so it was practically useless without a WiFi connection.

I brought my new gadget everywhere anyway – because that’s what you do when you had an iPhone.

It was as much a status symbol as it is today. And it has always been priced as a premium product – the 32GB version of the iPhone 4 saw the crossing of the thousand-dollar threshold in Singapore.

Fast forward a decade, and the most expensive iPhone ever was launched on Tuesday (September 13).

But consumers aren’t so sure about jumping straight in this time round, because the iPhone X – Apple’s top-of-the-line 10th-anniversary iPhone – sells upwards of S$1,648 (without a phone contract!) in Singapore.

William Jevons, an English economist, wrote in 1871 that the value of a product depends on how much a person desired it. Consumers create value, not the producer.

The iPhone is a premium product and its value was never intended to be a function of the cost of the product.

How much you pay is a measure of what you truly value.

MY PALACE VS HIS TEMPLE

Maybe you, like me, sometimes struggle when it comes to holding back on spending in this age of conspicuous consumption.

Think about our readiness to spend on good things for ourselves, and compare that to our desire to spend on God. Giving to build His church, sowing into His kingdom, tithing.

There’s an equivalent comparison in the Bible. King Solomon built a splendorous temple for God (1 Kings 6:2), according to the specifications that God had given Him. You’d think that would be a good thing, right?

But the very next chapter (1 Kings 7:1-2) details the palace he built for himself. It took 13 years to complete, almost double the 7 years it took to build the temple.

According to the dimensions stated, the temple was 36,000 cubic cubits large (a cubit was a measurement based on the length of a forearm). But Solomon’s own palace measured 150,000 cubic cubits – more than four times larger than the temple he had built for God.

What about you? Do you spend more time and money building your own palace than His temple? Would you be willing to build a temple unto God that is bigger than your own palace?

Or even if we don’t spend much money on ourselves, are we actually using our resources to do what God has called us to do? We could be avoiding doing all the “wrong” things like spending on big-ticket, luxury items, yet never actually invest in the things that matter to God – putting our money where our mouth is.

Do you spend more time and money building your own palace than His temple? Would you be willing to build a temple unto God that is bigger than your own palace?

King Solomon may have gotten carried away with the scale of his palace, but there was one thing he did right: He built God’s temple first. It’s the principle from Haggai 1:4, which asks of the people: “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your panelled houses, while this house (the Temple of God) remains a ruin?”

When we put God first in how we use our money, time and all our other resources, it reflects who the King of our heart is.

This isn’t a call to false, legalistic modesty. I’m not saying to hold off a purchase just so you can say you did. Depravation for depravation’s sake is meaningless. All I’m saying is, whether or not you’re getting one of the new iPhones – or any other big-ticket item – it’s good to use the occasion to check yourself: How willing and ready am I to spend that same amount of money for God’s purposes?

Our honest answer will show us the condition of our heart, and how much room it has for Him. When it comes to the things of God, just like with the iPhone X, you’re looking for more capacity –you want to be the 256GB heart, not the 64GB one.

 

/ 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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Article list

Live fast, die young

Freely my father gave, even after he lost his job

Megachurches and their extravagance: How much is too much?

What does wise financial spending look like?

When you work freelance, you either grow in fear or faith

Weighing the cost of an iPhone X