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Learning to love my imperfect cell group

by Elizabeth Tan | 7 December 2017, 4:40 PM

Ah, cell group.

I didn’t attend youth cell group as a Secondary School student unlike most people who start attending one after they graduated from Sunday School. From the outside in, this is what I observed – mentorship, close-knit friendships, friends whom you relied on for almost anything.

When I started attending cell group a few years later, those elements were present, though not always to the degree I anticipated. Nonetheless, l was undeterred and reasoned these things needed time to be worked on.

More importantly, it met the intended functions of a cell group – encouraging one another, reading the Word together, praying for each other. I wasn’t exactly close to all my cell members, but our paths did cross through other church activities.

In hindsight, this routine, though imperfect, worked out comfortably for me because nothing about cell pushed me too far from my comfort zone, if at all.

But at the end of every year, my heart would tense – because the time for the inevitable cell group change was near.

Each year prior I’d escaped the dreaded shuffle relatively unscathed, with either minor changes to the group, or was reshuffled to a group whose members I was already acquainted with.

But last year, the upheaval was significant – my cell group had to split because our leaders were moving onto adult cell groups, and I was allocated to a group that didn’t seem like anything I could get used to.

As an introvert, I immediately found the new group too big for me; it had too many people I hadn’t even heard of, and they were people who were a little too outgoing for my liking. We were too different.

I remember the shock of finding out which cell group I’d been reshuffled to – what do you mean we have that many people? I only know a third of them!

I knew I needed a safe space to share about my life, but this number of people was too large a crowd. To me, it was scary … not safe!

Although I told myself to give time for adjustment to my new group, it didn’t seem to help. Even after several months, I was wondering why I bothered spending Saturday evenings with people whom I knew only vaguely about, and vice versa.

I felt this growing dissonance acutely when the friends I was closest to in cell were not around due to other commitments. They’ve pangseh-ed me, which sucks, I’d be thinking.

Nonetheless, I persevered in going for cell – in part to prove I was able to do the “right” thing even when it was difficult. l wanted to prove to anyone who would commiserate that I understood the purpose of cell group. Hebrews 10:24-25!

Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of His return is drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)

Even then, it was hard – it’s one thing to know the ideal for cell group, but the disappointment is undeniable when it appears that the people who persevere alongside are a minority. What is the point of bothering when others don’t?

l wish this struggle of mine had a happy ending, that I can say I’ve found my place in this cell group – but I haven’t. Even putting this out there scares me; I’d rather sweep this all under the carpet. But if you’ve had similar experiences, you’re not alone. Here’s what has helped me find some peace:

I’m thankful that in Singapore, I get the opportunity to read the Bible with others without fear of persecution (Acts 9:29, Acts 13:50, 2 Timothy 3:11), a privilege I cannot take for granted. While this isn’t always at the forefront of my mind, reading about these encounters in the news serves as a much needed reminder to see things from a wider perspective.

I remind myself that all I need is to be intentional about familiarising myself with one or two people each week. Between my introversion, their absence, and the number of people I’m unfamiliar with, it would be daunting if I tried to get to know everyone at the same time. While I cannot determine who will turn up, I can choose to encourage and be encouraged by those who do.

Over all, I know that I am here in this season of life as God has planned (Proverbs 19:21). In the coming year, I will trust Him to hold us as a cell group close to Him as we continue learning to grow in love for God and for each other.

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If marriage is not a game, why do we still cheat?

by Ng Yanxiang | 6 December 2017, 8:02 PM

“My daddy warned me about men like you
He said, ‘B
aby girl, he’s playing you.'”
(Beyoncé, “Daddy Lessons”)

When rumours of infidelity swirled around the power couple ever since the release of Beyoncé’s hit album Lemonade – filled with songs that hinted strongly at Jay-Z’s unfaithfulness in their marriage – it left many confused. Why would anyone cheat on a wife like Beyoncé?

But as it goes, cheating has nothing to do with how hot your wife is. And finally, in a recent interview for The New York Times’ T Magazine, Jay-Z admitted to an emotional shutdown that ultimately led to his affair.

What then is the root issue when it comes to cheating? As a guy who is currently attached, this is an important topic to consider. Cheating in a relationship doesn’t sound like something that comes naturally to anyone, but I do believe it is more prevalent an issue than most assume it to be.

Let’s start with what “cheating” even is – at least how I would define it.

Cheating seems to indicate that you do want to keep the partner you’re committed to around, but you also want the thrill of having a romantic relationship with another individual. Why not just break up first otherwise, right?

Of course, this isn’t condoning someone who hops from partner to partner, lacking the desire to stay committed to a single individual. But they’re both symptoms of a similar root problem.

This is the question I’ve always had: Why would happy couples who’ve committed themselves to their relationships spiral down to such a state?

It’s easy for people to be attracted to other people. Even people who are not their significant others.

I think oftentimes we are too idealistic and end up underestimating how fickle humans really are. When we enter a relationship with someone we love – or someone amazing like Beyoncé – we probably think there’s no way we will ever pay attention to anyone else.

But the horror of the entire matter is this: It’s easy for people to be attracted to other people. Even people who are not their significant others.

Even before we step into committed relationships, we’ve already spent most of our lifetime experiencing varying degrees of attraction towards those around us. Whether it is someone you find physically attractive or an individual you share an emotional chemistry with, I believe that in that instance of human connection, that individual would appear desirable.

And what makes you think that all magically stops once we are in relationships?

It’s not difficult to find someone else other than your partner attractive, especially when the initial attraction wanes over time. This explains why for some, cheating is about the novelty of intimacy with someone other than your current partner. That renewed feeling of excitement and mystery.

But for others, it’s also been about finding someone “better”.

I want to take a pause here and caution anyone who thinks that their current partner is the best person they can be with. I disagree. The person you’re with is not the best. There will probably be another human being, whom you’ve yet to encounter, who’s objectively better than your current partner. Better looks, better personality, better whatever you wish.

And when you meet that person, your currently partner will no longer be “the best”. This will likely increase your propensity to straying – and this is just one of the many ways you’ve set yourself up to do so!

Being able to stay committed in a relationship is not about finding the best person to be with – because if it was, Beyoncé would’ve been the last woman on earth to get cheated on.

Neither is it deciding that you’ll never be attracted to someone else – that’s really not something you can decide, and in fact, chances are, you will.

To be committed is to first and foremost be honest and conscious of our sinful selves. Then it takes a daily denial of all sinful desires, no matter how fleeting they are. It is to always be on guard against temptation.

Staying committed is a daily fight. And we have to recognise this, especially at the early stages of the relationship when all is merry and good.

If we become ignorant – maybe even arrogant – about the possibility that we will be attracted to other individuals, we will fail to protect ourselves against these feelings. And when such situations arise, they will catch us unprepared.

Another reason why people might cheat is because the relationship is no longer as fulfilling as it once used to be. People can enter a relationship for different reasons, but if their needs are not met by each other, it stands to reason that these needs will need to be filled somewhere else.

Again, I want to put a disclaimer that dissatisfaction cannot and should never be an excuse for infidelity. There truly is no excuse! Whether your relationship is on cloud nine or on the rocks, the promise to remain faithful still stands.

However, an unfulfilling relationship can lead to much frustration, and eventually a straying heart. And again I wonder, if that’s the case, why doesn’t the couple break up instead?

To me, cheating reflects that people aren’t done with the “old” relationship – somewhere in there they probably wish and still hope for it to work. But because of the drain of their unmet needs, be they emotional or physical, it’s almost too natural to look for respite elsewhere.

When both parties seek to give more than what’s “fair”, there will never be a lack in the relationship – only surplus.

I think there are two ways to prevent this from happening. First, it is important to be clear, both with yourself and your partner, why you want the relationship even before you enter it.

So many people start a relationship without careful consideration – fuelled by strong emotions instead of clear rationality – and by the time the feelings have faded and they search for a solid reason for the relationship … It’s just not there.

By then, the involved parties may be too deeply invested to even request for a break up, and thus turn to other means to resolve the situation without dissolving the relationship.

Second, if the couple is married, the pair need to realise that they each have obligations to one another. I emphasise married, because a married couple has marital duties to each other that a dating couple does not. 

“For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” (1 Corinthians 7:3-5)

The Bible is clear that marriage is a mutual surrender of ourselves to each other. Out of this is an exhortation to out-please each other. Neither party should have to demand love and its many forms – for godly love is not self-serving, all about me and my needs, but others-serving.

Someone once said: “To make any marriage last – to make it truly work – both people have to feel like it’s 75/25. Each person needs to feel as though they are giving and doing and putting in 75% of the effort. When each person feels as though they are giving 75%, both are working to make the marriage a success. When you start looking for a marriage to be 50/50, each partner will be unsatisfied with the effort put forth by the other.”

The idea is to not just meet halfway, but to strive to out-give each other. When both parties seek to give more than what’s “fair”, there will never be a lack in the relationship – only surplus.

The keyword, however, is both. Otherwise it will be a lopsided, unbalanced equation that leaves one feeling constantly shortchanged and dissatisfied.

To be honest, committing to a person for life is no easy feat. Upon hearing the requirement and standards God has for marriage, the disciples exclaimed, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.” (Matthew 19:10)

In a contemporary world of dating where people enter into relationships without too much consideration, this is a somber reminder that love isn’t a walk in the park. Love is difficult. It is to honour the other person and to honour our commitment, even when we don’t feel like it.

As Ravi Zacharias once said, “The important thing to bear in mind is that you must face your willingness to die to yourself before you choose to walk down the aisle. Is this person the one for whom you are willing to die daily? Is this person to whom you say ‘I do’ also the one for whom you are willing to say ‘no, I don’t’ to everybody else? Be assured that marriage will cost you everything.”

Surely marriage will cost us everything – but by the grace of God, let nothing ever cost us our marriage.

 

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Children of divorce, how will we win the fight?

by | 30 November 2017, 2:43 PM

“She’s okay what. Look at her. Does she not look okay?”

When my parents’ divorce was finalised and the relatives were informed, I was a topic of discussion at the lunch table.

Not fully knowing the weight I was trying to carry on my own, I smiled back in agreement with them – because I wanted to be okay too.

At that time, I don’t think anyone in the family was familiar enough with the rough terrain of divorce to help me navigate it.

It was easier for us to talk about my results, which secondary school I should go to – talk around the elephant in the room – instead of discussing how I should process my emotions or think about my new “broken” family.

I wanted to defend the decision made by my parents by proving that I was fine and that they shouldn’t be blamed. I was trying to be my own grown-up, but I was really just an anxious child trying to scare off the monsters by standing on shaky stilts, hiding in clothes too big for me.
So how bad is the effect of divorce on the children? Can young children still “turn out well” after their parents’ marriage ends? Do children of divorce fare worse academically or relationally?

For a long time I was interested in the answers to those questions too. I wanted to know if I’ll be “okay”. I can’t actually remember if my parents ever told me that I was gonna be okay. Maybe they didn’t, because they weren’t sure of it themselves too.

As a kid then, I was oddly “okay” with my parents’ divorce. And I saw it coming. I don’t recall asking them to stay together, since I was also of the view that that they shouldn’t – they weren’t happy together anyway. My young self believed wholeheartedly that it was “for the better”.

Then, I realised that all these questions and perspectives about divorce reveal a more concerning problem: Are we missing the mark on the significance of marriage? Can divorce really be “for the better” if we can be assured that the children will be fine?

The effects of divorce tend to show up in other areas – a weak sense of self, a broken view on love and divorce, an inability to trust fully.

What I didn’t know was that no matter how “okay” I was with it, the trauma will be no less significant. What I knew as home was disintegrating into fragments – the divide between my parents was a chasm opening inside of me, beyond my line of sight.

For children of divorce, the changes we experience are neither just situational nor superficial – they’re deeply real. And their effects may not show up all the time in our grades, a CT scan, or in our social functioning.

The divorce couldn’t change my biological-belonging to my parents, so I now had two separate realities that I didn’t want to have to deal with. But on the inside, I wanted a do-over – a restart, please – a different life altogether.

You see, the effects of divorce tend to show up in other areas – a weak sense of self, a broken view on love and divorce, an inability to trust fully …

At least, that was my experience.

As an only child, I wanted an older sister. It was almost purely so I wouldn’t have to go through my parents’ divorce alone, so that it didn’t feel like it was little me against the world.

I didn’t want to be defenceless; I felt attacked every time someone talked about either one of my parents – I felt lacking because I didn’t have a dad and mum who were referred to as a pair, a team – and that meant neither was I part of something whole.

I needed someone else I could turn to in the fallout of my nuclear family. I would’ve asked my older sister what was happening to us – and how do we make sense of it?

The divorce was an event set into motion by signatures on sheets of paper. But the breaking apart of something that was once joined will always entail a great shattering and pieces to be picked up.

In my own growing up by trial and error, in my fearful picking-up-of-pieces, I realised that I wanted a sibling because I was really looking for perspective, and for direction. With the permanent loss of my parents as one entity, it meant that I no longer had a safe place – and I was lost.

It was obvious what was happening on the outside – my parents no longer wanted to be together. But on the inside, there was an upheaval that couldn’t be resolved with a simple pair of signatures.

I didn’t feel the full force of my parents’ divorce in me until much later, when I went through my first major break-up.

“We are searching for a sense of home, a way to convince ourselves the lies in our abandonment and loneliness won’t have the last word.” (Paul Maxwell, To the sons and daughters of divorce)

The words of Paul Maxwell provided the language I needed to explain to myself what I’d been struggling with all these years; I was searching for a sense of home.

But my blooming identity crisis meant that I was in no position to see things clearly. I didn’t know who I was or what I even wanted.

I thought that maybe if I tried hard enough, if I looked for the “right” person, my new home – my new belonging as found in a person – would be indestructible, unlike the one I had.

But at the same time, I admittedly picked at my relationship like the big bad wolf who tried to blow the house down, because I needed to see if it would hold up.

I was in constant confusion. My destructive thoughts, feelings and actions should have been a big warning sign to stop what I was doing – “DO NOT PROCEED” – but I was so close to finally having a sense of home that I couldn’t bear it.

Eventually, the house was blown down like one made of straw.

As I picked up the pieces of my own break-up, I could strangely see myself better. Maybe I was growing into the clothes once too big for me, maybe I was getting better at seeing things from a mature standpoint, with no more need for stilts.

In the familiar wake of heartbreak, I realised that the source of my struggles came mostly from my sense of self. It might sound funny but my deepest question over the years was ,”Who am I, really?”

As a prideful child who only knew how to speak the language of “I’m okay and I’ve got it all together”, I didn’t know how to ask for help. Perhaps at several important junctures of my life, I should’ve raise my hand, the way we were taught to at zebra crossings, so that someone could see me – and all my confusion – clearly.

But that wasn’t in any school syllabus – so it took me more than a decade before I got hold of some language to help me express and process my parents’ divorce.

We don’t have to live our whole lives crippled, even if our growth was somehow stunted in our childhood.

Psychologist Erik Erikson sees the development of a person in stages, and success at each stage helps the person better take on the challenges in the next. He believes that the basic conflict in adolescence (12-18 years old) lies between identity and role confusion. If a child is confused about his identity, it leads to a “weak sense of self”.

Since the development is cumulative, a weak development (e.g. sense of self, independence, or competence) in earlier stages may mean a reduced ability to do well in further stages, when one has to build intimacy for committed relationships.

But it doesn’t mean that it cannot be made up for.

It means that we don’t have to live our whole lives crippled, even if our growth was somehow stunted in our childhood. The pain of our parents’ divorce is real, and it’s not the kind of pain you can easily heal with a just-get-over-it band-aid.

But it’s possible.

One night this year, I took out my big old reel of painful memories and played it in my mind again. It was extensive. I wondered if there was anything I could do about it, but I didn’t see how it was possible unless there was a way to undo the past. How does one fix a marriage that was supposed to last a lifetime?

This was a routine I was well-accustomed to: Holding onto my pain, keeping it in a box and opening it once in a while to remind myself of why I am the way I am. It was an equal mix of self-loathing and self-pity – downright scary.

But that night, I was asked if I was going to keep doing this for the rest of my life.

And the one with the question was none other than God, again.

Even though I’d allowed Jesus into my life somewhere in my teenage years, I hadn’t let go of my past. I was still old on the inside, while trying to be new on the outside. No wonder I kept walking down old paths of pain.

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Christ offers a new life to anyone who would believe in Him. A new life that is not weighed down by the consequences of choices – others or mine – made in the past.

How should I put it? It’s not self-help at all, it was help from God Himself, with all the power that only He brings, so that I could trade in my old life for a new one. It was Him who saw me clearly all this while, even when I didn’t know how to raise my hand.

Though I did try, there was nothing I could do to help myself other than gratefully placing my life into the safe hands of a God who loves me.

So that night, instead of telling Him all the reasons why I thought my life sucks and how it wasn’t possible that I could live any differently, I quietened down and listened to His love for me.

I still had one thing to resolve about divorce: My acceptance of it.

Many years ago, somewhere near Christmas time, a couple from the same Church as me shared their story of adultery, forgiveness and reconciliation.

Sitting in the audience, listening to their story, I thought that it was crazy. Their story did not end in divorce! And I remember thinking that I’d never be able to find enough strength in myself to forgive that way.

And it made me realise that all this while, I believed in divorce as a solution.

To me, marriage was nothing beautiful, at least not for long; marriage only meant that there was a chance for something precious to be taken away from me. So even though I searched for love, I was incredibly fearful of it.

“Why would people vow to love each other for the rest of their lives? Why would anyone think they could keep a promise like that?” 

These were just some of the questions I had towards marriage as an institution in our world. It befuddled me that despite the many failures of it, marriage is still popular, that people would still choose to enter into a contract with rising dissolution rates.

But I had to also ask myself which view of marriage I was subscribing to: Was it biblical or practical?

I had to orient myself with the biblical view of marriage – designed by God to reflect the way He loves us. 

With that in mind, the wild vows of marriage make sense to me now, because I know that God keeps those same vows toward me. In His eyes, it is not so much a contract as it is a covenant. And He keeps His covenant of love perfectly.

Sometime this year, God reminded me of that couple’s story and my response to it all those years ago.

The wild vows of marriage make sense to me now, because I know that God keeps those same vows toward me. In His eyes, it is not so much a contract as it is a covenant.

A sudden question confronted me that afternoon: Should I come face-to-face with adultery in my marriage one day, would I stay put in the marriage instead of choosing a divorce?

My response was equally sudden. My heart lunged out, almost surprising me, a yes in agreement with my mind.

Holding onto love as a covenant – the highest of all promises – that’s the kind of bewildering love that Christ first showed us and now calls us to:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13)

Impractical? Maybe. But definitely biblical. And the sort of love I’d want in on.

And that became the day the child who was “okay” with her parents’ divorce renounced divorce as an option or solution in her own life – come what may.

I knew that my answer was significant. Should I one day make a decision to attempt to love another person in marriage, I know that my future no longer rests in the history of relationships in my family.

Honestly, it doesn’t matter whether I’d eventually be married or not. The far more precious lesson I’ve learnt is that God’s love will never fail me. And that is my confidence.

/ fiona@thir.st

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

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40 and forgotten: When will I be married?

by Tricia Tan | 29 November 2017, 4:29 PM

I am a single in my 40s who is still hoping to get married.

So whenever I read a piece on singlehood by someone under 30, my heart’s always tempted to say, “Wait till you hear my story.”

I mean, I’ve been praying about marriage since my 30s. I’ve tugged at my Heavenly Father’s sleeves many times. My four siblings are already married!

I feel like time is passing me by. I am tested each and every time I see blissful pictures on Facebook of my former pupils and friends getting married.

I want to be in one of those pictures. God, have You forgotten me?

SINGLED OUT FROM THE CROWD

I was once at a conference where the main speaker, Heidi Baker, asked all the singles to stand up so she could pray for us.

Unfortunately, I happened to be seated that day with all my young friends from Bible school. When the call was given, none of them stood up – some just didn’t want to even though they were unattached.

But I did … And I still wish I hadn’t.

As I was being prayed for, I could see from the corner of my eye my young friends stealing glances at me. They were wearing strange looks on their faces, grinning to each other. I felt so humiliated.

When the prayer mercifully ended, the young girl beside me offered a sympathy vote: “You must invite me to your wedding.”

But it didn’t comfort me at all – the damage had already been done. And the next day at Bible school, those same young friends made no attempt to hold back the cheeky grin on their faces when we crossed paths, twisting the knife in my gut.

God! Have You forgotten me?

LEFT BEHIND BY THE WORLD

I was reading the Bible one day when a particular verse gripped me. 

“Yet the chief butler did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.” (Genesis 40:23) 

I don’t know why, but every word seemed to sting me.

Joseph had correctly interpreted the butler’s dream, which foretold the servant’s eventual restoration to Pharaoh’s service. Joseph had simply asked the butler to remember him then.

But the butler forgot him when Joseph needed to be remembered most. Joseph remained in prison without any idea of what lay ahead, radio silence from the friend he helped. Just one word from the butler would finally release him from the torment of the lonely jail cell – but the butler forgot him. 

I felt a bit of what Joseph might have felt in that cell. I realised how forgotten I felt in my prolonged singleness.

REMEMBERED BY GOD

For many years, I’ve been praying with my buddies about finding our life partners. Although I am thankful that God has given me these precious sisters to journey with, there are still some paths I must walk alone.

In those times, I remember that even if the world forgot him, God did not forget Joseph – and He has not forgotten me. He has promised to never leave me nor forsake me (Hebrews 13:5).

I choose to believe in the truth that faith in God is the one thing in life that doesn’t disappoint. And I still believe His delays are not denials.

For instance, He recently fulfilled a long-standing dream of mine, which greatly reminded me that He knows everything about me and delights in satisfying my heart’s desires.

I still believe God’s delays are not denials.

For 5 years after I resigned from the teaching service, I was without a regular job. God had spoken clearly to me to say no to teaching and yes to writing.

Since then, I’ve received writing assignments on occasion. But it was never an easy journey. There were months with so few projects I’d be tempted to ask again, “Have You forgotten me?

Yet God’s provision always came through; I was recently hired as a full-time writer! To my delight, God reminded me of His promise in Psalm 40:

“He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; many will see and fear and will trust in the Lord.” (Psalm 40:3)

Now I’m determined to live this undeniable goodness out – single or married – that many will see His goodness in my life and praise Him. His grace is enough for me.

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I tried to be an extrovert for years

by Yang Ming | 27 November 2017, 6:09 PM

I’ve only recently accepted that I’m introverted.

Growing up, I wasn’t entirely in the dark about my personality. I remember recognising early on that I was a little bit different from the others.

I was a quiet girl who enjoyed being alone – immersed in my own world. I often ate alone during recess, and I didn’t have many friends. I wasn’t a popular girl. I was a little bit … invisible.

So it comes as little surprise that I wasn’t very well adjusted when I became a youth leader in Church.

Most of the other youth leaders were loud, outgoing and had bubbly personalities. The chief extrovert was a fellow leader named Wendy.

I recall how effortlessly she entertained Church campers with her fun icebreakers. And I always marvelled at how she could share the Word of God with others with such gusto.

To me, she was an energiser bunny which exuded confidence and never ran out of steam. Everyone loved to be around Wendy.

But as for me? Well, I was the direct opposite of Wendy. I was neither a good orator nor charismatic.

I felt a lot of pressure to be a Wendy though I just wasn’t like her. I misguidedly figured that I had to do something about my introverted personality.

So I began to be very enthusiastic in my cell group. I tried to be talkative. I tried to be like all the other leaders who so easily connected with their youths. I surrounded myself with people almost every day in a bid to be someone I innately wasn’t.

I lived this half-life for some time before I finally burnt out.

Extrovert or introvert – there’s no “better” personality to have. We are all made in God’s image.

At the very least, I was finally able to face the fact that I was not an extrovert and that it just wasn’t working. I returned to the other side and fully embraced my introversion.

But that soon meant that retreating to my own space and keeping to myself became excuses, and all too convenient for me. As a newly “practising” introvert, it became a lot easier for me not to do Church things and meet people.

In time, I became invisible again.

It was only some time after that that I saw all the mistakes I had been making. I wrongly thought that as an introvert, it was acceptable for us not to participate in social things or be part of a community.

The truth is, we are not defined by our personalities: introvert or extrovert. We are defined by our identity in Christ. We are the children of God.

And He didn’t make any mistakes when He created each and every one of us. We are each designed according to His will, for a unique plan and purpose. So me being an introvert wasn’t a mistake.

I simply failed to recognise the strengths and weaknesses of my introversion.

Thank God I see a little better now. I may not have an outgoing personality but it doesn’t mean I can’t reach out to people.

My way of sharing the Gospel might not take place on the stage, but it does happen in smaller settings like cafés.

Extrovert or introvert – there’s no “better” personality to have. We are all made in God’s image, and following His will, we all have our own unique ways to serve the Kingdom.

“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11-13)

My heart longs to see more introverts looking less at themselves and more at God. Instead of breaking away from community, we each should all be putting roots down – finding our unique places in the Body of Christ to serve God as His beloved children.

I believe that’s what Jesus wants.


Names in this article have been changed for privacy.

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The Modern Sabbath: Separating fact from fiction

by | 22 November 2017, 12:07 PM

One of today’s marks of a good Christian is one’s attendance of Church on Sunday morning.

Stay with me on that one. Why is attendance on Sunday even a benchmark of faith? Well, because of the fourth Commandment: Honour the Sabbath and keep it holy (Deuteronomy 5:12).

That means we have to go to Church on Sundays to sing songs, listen to someone talk for a while and throw some loose change into the bag before real life resumes around lunchtime. Penance paid, duties completed. Hey, maybe God will bless me with a bonus or good grades if I keep this up.

If you’re nodding your head – I hope it’s because you like sarcasm.

But seriously speaking, to properly understand the biblical concept of the Sabbath, it’ll be helpful to first consider some of the church’s misconceptions and disagreements over it for the past two millennia.

SABBATH ≠ “WORSHIP DAY”

In Mosaic Law, the Sabbath, or shabbat, was introduced to the Israelites as a holy day on which no work was to be performed following six days of work (Deuteronomy 5, Exodus 16, 31, 35, Nehemiah 13, Jeremiah 17).

In our terms, it actually falls on a Saturday, and till this day it begins on Friday night and ends after nightfall on Saturday. Their “first day” of the week is what we know as Sunday.

There are certain instructions given for a “holy convocation” or gathering to occur on the Sabbath (Leviticus 23), with special rites being performed (Numbers 28). The Sabbath was kept as a sign of God’s sanctification of the Israelites as they journeyed in a foreign land (Exodus 31:13).

However, in this post-captive Israelite community, worship was continually performed by the tribe of Levi, who continually made sacrifices on behalf of the wider community of Israelites. This worship wasn’t just on the Sabbath.

So while the Sabbath could well be an aspect of Jewish worship, they were not entirely the same thing.

For Gentile believers, we do not live by the same covenant. In the New Testament, Christians were recorded meeting in synagogues, not to worship, but to evangelise to the Jews who were gathered there, just as Paul did in Acts 18:4.

Early Christians met often – some every day – to study the Scriptures (Acts 17:11). Unlike the Jews who met on the Sabbath, the Bible tells us these Christians met on the first day of the week (1 Corinthians 16:2, Acts 20:7), and were not bound to worship on the Sabbath day.

But even though the early Christians didn’t officially keep the Sabbath, it doesn’t necessarily mean we should follow suit. Discernment is key.

SO WHAT’S UP WITH SUNDAY SERVICE?

The Sunday worship tradition practiced by most churches today honours Christ’s resurrection, which took place on the day after the Sabbath (Matthew 28:1) – remember, the Sabbath falls on our Saturday – and was sealed in tradition by the authority of the Church over centuries.

There’s also a theory that examines the politics of the Roman Empire – some 300 years after Christ. In those days, Egyptian Mithraists set aside Sundays for their worship of the sun-god.

Sunday. Kinda makes sense, doesn’t it?

As Christianity grew and became secularised by politics, Church leaders wanted to attract some of these pagans into their ranks, and incorporated some pagan customs into Christian church ceremonies.

To differentiate themselves from Jews and win pagans over, they decided to appropriate the pagan festival of Sunday and turn it into an official Christian and civil holiday.

As Christians, we honour Christ’s resurrection by baptism – not Sunday-keeping.

Over time, the Catholic church assimilated this practice into their official doctrine, and subsequent generations of believers simply took their word for it.

“The Lord’s Day” soon replaced the concept of Sabbath entirely, reducing it to a kind of personal discipline similar to tithing or fasting. 

So traditions have nothing to do with the biblical concept of the Sabbath. Neither Christ’s death and resurrection, nor the Catholic Church’s convenient strategy should’ve made a difference to God’s original blessing (Mark 2:27).

As Christians, we honour Christ’s resurrection by baptism – not Sunday-keeping (Romans 6:3-6).

So, since I’m not Jewish, should I even bother about the Sabbath? Hold that thought – but prepare it for the gallows.

THE SABBATH IS NOT JUST A JEWISH THING

The concept of Sabbath actually predates Judaism entirely. Meaning “rest” in Hebrew, Sabbath follows a period of work, as seen from the account of Genesis.

Clues of its origins can be found in various languages worldwide, most of which are unrelated to Hebrew.

In over 100 diverse languages throughout Asia, Europe, and Africa, many unrelated to ancient Hebrew, “Sabbath” refers to Saturday, which was a designated day of rest. For example, in Ancient Babylon – which existed centuries before Abraham and the Hebrew race – the seventh day of the week was called “sa-ba-tu”.

Jesus – the Lord of the Sabbath himself – kept the Sabbath throughout his life. If His likeness is your life’s pursuit, the Sabbath is for you.

Despite the evolution of language over time, the original word for “rest” is still fairly recognisable in modern variants of these tongues.

And if you’re tempted to believe you can read the New Testament without the Old, here’s food for thought: Jesus – the Lord of the Sabbath himself (Luke 6:5) – kept the Sabbath throughout his life. 

Jesus understood the importance of the Sabbath when He customarily read Scripture in the synagogue (Luke 4:16). He even honoured the Sabbath in the grave.

If Jesus is your Lord, and His likeness is your life’s pursuit – the Sabbath is for you.

THE SABBATH IS NOT SIMPLY “ANY DAY”

In the creation story, God rested after six days of work.

Now wait a minute. Why does God even need to rest? Does that imply a certain lack of strength or ability on God’s part? Of course not – that would go against His omnipotent nature.

After seeing that His work was good (Genesis 1:31), God set aside a full day (literal or allegorical) for the purpose of rest, blessing it and calling it holy. On Day Seven, God simply basked in the enjoyment of His creation.

And He still invites us to be a part of that practice.

 The Sabbath is a gift from God for our enjoyment and welfare – not a yardstick of our personal holiness.

This seventh-day Sabbath is what the Jews were called to obey in Scripture as part of their Mosaic covenant. The Bible says it carries the special blessing of God.

Remember the hundred over ancient languages we talked about earlier? Among all the languages which used the word “Sabbath”, none of them designated a rest day apart from the seventh.

Perhaps seventh day rest extends far beyond the timeframe and locality of Jewish culture, given the plethora of cultures which point to the seventh day for rest.

THE SABBATH IS NOT AN OUTDATED RULE

In Mark 2:27, after being rebuked by Pharisees for letting his disciples “break” the Sabbath law, Jesus speaks of how their great king David was no different.

“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27)

The Pharisees had missed the point. The Sabbath is a gift from God for our enjoyment and welfare – not a yardstick of our personal holiness.

“When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.”
(Leviticus 19:9-10)

It precisely because of this law that Jesus’ disciples were able to be fed physically. If our practice of the Sabbath prevents us from exercising kindness and compassion, then we also have missed the point.

The Sabbath is intended for our ultimate redemption in the new heaven and new earth (Isaiah 66:22-23). It is part of God’s blueprint for a joyful, fulfilling and meaningful existence.

When you find yourself running on empty, losing the joy of living, or simply going through the motions of a bleak and meaningless existence – slow down.

Take a deep breath. You could use an injection of some Sabbath essence in your life.

THE SABBATH IS NOT “DOING NOTHING”

Practising the true Sabbath imbues in us a profound sense of responsibility towards ourselves, our fellow humans and the entire world we live in.

It’s more than a day each week – it’s every dayIt’s more than a Jewish thing – it’s for everybodyIt’s not an outdated way of living – it’s past, present, and future reconciled God’s way.

And it’s actually more than making God happy. It’s about trust, gratitude, and true rest expressed through the unforced rhythms of grace.

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

/ kenneth@thir.st

Kenneth is best understood through his impassioned Instagram posts, composed in the deep of night when the tumultuous world finally lies silent. He probably prefers dogs to cats.

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The Modern Sabbath: Separating fact from fiction