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NDP52: Pioneers vs Millennials Edition

by | posted 8 August 2017, 7:24 PM

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Nobody said it was easy

by | 22 October 2017, 1:27 AM

Pain, porridge and mashed potatoes.

If you’ve ever had braces for your teeth, you might know what I’m talking about. It’s been 7 months since I got mine, little metallic pieces glued permanently onto my teeth. 

Friends warned me of the wires and the ulcers, but I had decided that the other side of pain and suffering – straight teeth – was worth it. There are days when even speaking is hard, but I’ve never thought of quitting. Straight teeth and my impending jaw surgery to correct my underbite will be worth it!

Doesn’t that paint a picture of the hope of transformation of our Christian walk itself?

We go through pain and suffering when we realise that what’s on the other side — being made more like Christ — is worth it (2 Corinthians 3:18).

When we make that decision to get aligned with His will, we don’t have to be discouraged when the growing gets tough – and sometimes downright impossible to endureInstead, we choose to rely on God’s grace to ultimately transform us into His likeness, if we stay the course (Philippians 1:6).

It will be daily hard work not to give free rein to our sinful nature – the natural way things are. But it’s always worth letting God do His work to change our carnal habits and straighten our slanted thought patterns.

Having grown up in a cage, it feels safer to remain a slave to our sin rather than be free in the wild. Left on our own, I believe most of us would rather take the path of least resistance than to fight.

In the holding room between slavery and the Promised Land, the Israelites sought the familiarity of a full stomach (Exodus 16:3). In bondage, they could eat all the meat they wanted. And after days and weeks and months of God-given manna out in the wilderness, they suddenly found themselves craving the “comforts” of slavery over their freedom.

Sound familiar?

When we make that decision to get aligned with His will, we don’t have to be discouraged when the growing gets tough.

It was in the uncomfortable desert that the Israelites’ true nature — their preference for temporal comfort and instant gratification — was brought to light. They had cried out for years for deliverance, yet had somehow forgotten God’s divine intervention and mercy in granting them exactly what they wanted (Exodus 3:9-10).

For as long as we refuse to let God’s Word convict us of our sins (James 1:22-25) and anchor our hope in His faithfulness to have our best interests at heart always, we will remain unchanged, unrepentant and ungrateful. To yank open the curtains and let light expose the truth about us, that’s scary. But we’re doing it for the God of love (1 John 4:16).

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24)

I believe God has a bigger plan for you than to let you remain in your old ways.

Our old self is corrupted and deceitful. We must abandon it for good, putting on the new self as God’s blood-bought children.

God promised the Israelites ownership of an entire land flowing with milk and honey, yet the Israelites would rather be slaves for meat. But we are no longer slaves. When we’re inclined to grumble as the Israelites did, let’s remember that God can give us more than we can ever hope for ourselves (Ephesians 3:20) – even if we do not see it yet . 

Don’t lose your faith in the holding room. Grace began the work in us and Grace will see us through. Our inheritance is on the other side of faith and patience (Hebrews 6:11-12), and it will be worth it.

Nobody said it was going to be easy. But neither does it have to be that hard.

/ 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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Of shattered dreams and broken shins

by | 21 October 2017, 2:26 PM

I had my life all planned out. I was going return to Singapore, get into Officer Cadet School (OCS) and use that as my foot in the door to a local university.

During high school in Beijing, where I stayed because of my parents’ jobs, I had big dreams to study film in America. But due to a sudden financial situation in my family, my plans were scrapped. The next best choice was a business degree back in the nation I barely knew as home.

Since I’d studied abroad most of my life, I didn’t have any local certifications like the rest of my peers. Part of the reason why I wanted to get into OCS was because I figured the training would hone my leadership skills and put me in good standing to get into business school.

Sounded good, right? But God had a different plan.

ALMOST THERE BUT NOT QUITE

In Basic Military Training (BMT), a few others and I were put in an “enhanced leadership” batch. We were chosen because we were very fit and and had leadership qualities. During a particular field camp, I was appointed as an In-Charge (IC) for one of the days.

I found out later on that the ones who got picked as IC’s were those that the Platoon Sergeants identified as having exceptional leadership quality. Word also went around that if you were chosen, being selected for OCS was pretty much a done deal.

There was no reason for me not to get posted to OCS.

Everything seemed to be going according to plan, until a bout of Hand-Foot-and-Mouth Disease started spreading in my platoon. I caught it at the worst time possible, resulting in me missing the highly important Situational Test – the last hurdle to pass before OCS.

I thought I had lost my chance and prepared myself for the worst. But the day we got our posting, I read the words, “Your vocation is: Officer Cadet (CBT)” on my letter and everything aligned again. I had somehow gotten a second chance at realising my OCS dreams.

But things took yet another drastic turn. Within a few months of my OCS training, I started experiencing a lot of pain in my legs. It was so bad I could no longer endure it and found my way to the clinic.

The news was devastating. The doctor revealed that both my shins had actually been broken by all the stress they had been put under over the years, due to my sporting activities. I would have to leave OCS.

The feelings that welled up inside me were hard to control. I was disappointed. Shattered. And so, so angry. Why had God given me a second chance at something I didn’t even have a shot at in the first place? 

I was left with nothing! I’d already given up my American aspirations. Now even this one lay in a broken pile along with the rest.

RISING OUT OF THE ASHES

After I dropped out of OCS, I was posted to the headquarters, where it was decided that I was to join the Training Development department. My new job was to take pictures in OCS, which were to be used as documentation for official training purposes. This sounded like a fair consolation.

Photography had always been a passion of mine, but it was only when I started shooting again in camp that I realised this was something I could do for a long time. 

I’d long left my dreams of film for the practicality of business school, but in this unlikely detour I’d found my way back to the art I enjoyed. Even when I’d put my creative passions behind me, God remembered.

I was really starting to enjoy my time in the Army. But after about six months as a photographer, I was suddenly assigned to a different department. It was a secluded corner of the camp where there was no cellular signal. I couldn’t even WhatsApp my previous department mates to complain and there was no one else around other than one unfortunate Sergeant.

The solitary nature of my new posting was starting to get depressing. All I could remember was the mundanity of the work: Putting things into boxes and arranging them neatly in the storeroom. That was all we did for days on end. I felt like I was slowly losing my mind.

Why did my NS journey resemble a never-ending rollercoaster ride? I was tired of getting my hopes up, only to have them all crash down eventually.

This miserable life went on until one day, a colleague from my former department told me to meet him at the canteen as he had something important to tell me. I found out that my previous Captain had offered my current supervisor two men in exchange for my return.

I was so relieved. I went back to the Training Development department and happily served out 7 more months until I completed my NS term.

HE ORDERS OUR STEPS

Thinking back, it was as if I had to see the death of my officer dreams in order for my passion for the arts to be revived. So after I left the Army, I applied to NTU’s School of Art, Design and Media in 2012. It was my one and only application, and I got in.

Having graduated last year, I am now working as a professional filmmaker.

Man. Even if I tried my hardest, I could have never conjured up a journey like this for myself. I set out with all my plans, but God really had something else in store for me.

There were many highs and lows in those two years. Yet in His grace and perfect timing, I was shown how everything works out for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).

/ timothy@thir.st

Timothy is a filmmaker who sees the world in black and white. He loves drinking tea and taking long walks.

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A dream of justice for the disabled

by Ronald JJ Wong | 19 October 2017, 4:19 PM

The greatest challenge I find in trying to do good is a lack of empathy.

The truth is I am a product of circumstances. I have my biases, blind spots and paradigms. These sometimes hinder me from being able to understand different perspectives, and climb in the skin of another and walk around in it.

It’s quite a prevalent problem. It can hinder Christians from better understanding certain justice and mercy issues, as well as people’s needs. It can prevent advocates from understanding the rationales for certain policy decisions or laws. Conversely, it can also prevent policymakers from understanding complex ground realities and relational dynamics.

We are like the Hebrew people in Babylon. We are exiles and not emperors. We are not some majoritarian force of power.

So in Singapore where there is a democratic system for law-making, every citizen must participate in law-making to help make just laws for all. Political leaders, civil servants and civic society — which includes the church — all have roles to play.

In this conversation we must remember that as Christians, we are like the Hebrew people in Babylon. We are exiles and not emperors. We are not some majoritarian force of power. We ought to live the best we can and do good. We should honour all, especially the authorities, and fear God (1 Peter 2:15-17).

Jesus remains the finest example to us all. He was like a humble servant who did not quarrel or cry aloud, who would not break a bruised reed or quench a smouldering wick (Isaiah 42:3), and yet brought justice to victory through the cross.

A LAW OF LOVE

I long to enact a law for people with disabilities (PWDs). Of course, the specifics would have to be worked out carefully in consultation with PWDs, their caregivers, and various stakeholders. It’s worth noting that Singapore has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) but does not have a specific disabilities legislation.

Why have such a law? Well, it’s a justice issue. God calls His people to justice, mercy and faithfulness (Micah 6:8). As I wrote in my book, The Justice Demand: Social Justice & The Singapore Church, the foremost conception of God’s justice is the inclusion of every person to participate in His community.

That is why justice was brought to victory on the cross. At the cross, everyone who repents of their sins and believes in Jesus can enter into the Kingdom of God regardless of their race, background or social-economic status (Galatians 3:28). This principle of inclusivity should first be expressed among the family of God. Then the people of God should express in relation to others in the world.

At the cross, everyone who repents of their sins and believes in Jesus can enter into the Kingdom of God regardless of their race, background or social-economic status.

PWDs have a pressing need for this inclusivity, and the Bible is very clear about this. For instance, Leviticus 19:14 is a Mosaic law prohibiting discrimination against PWDs. Furthermore, a large fraction of Jesus’ healing ministry served the PWDs. When the public silenced the blind beggar Bartimaeus, Jesus specifically called out to him and healed him, and Bartimaeus followed Jesus (Mark 10:46-51).

In Luke 14:12-14, Jesus exhorted people to host dinners not for their rich neighbours or even their friends, but for the poor and those with disabilities. King David made Mephibosheth, son of Jonathan, who was crippled in his feet, join him at his dinner table.

All through the scriptures I can see God telling us that PWDs are not to be devalued — but treated like His children!

BASED ON JUSTICE AND EQUALITY

In Singapore, PWDs make up one of the largest marginalised groups. We have certainly come a long way in supporting the establishment of many special education schools and social service organisations. But open employment continues to be a huge challenge for many PWDs.

There are still many instances of blatant prejudice against workers with physical, intellectual disabilities or those who are on the autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

There are also more subtle forms of prejudice. The greatest and most prevalent is the mindset not to consider PWDs for employment. This is something which cannot be entirely addressed by legislation or policy. The truth is, there are already numerous government grants and programmes which encourage employers to hire PWDs.

Instead we need paradigm shifts. We need far more than mere tokenism. While legislation cannot solve everything, it can help educate us as a society. A just law that we uphold can help us remember our commitment to the inclusivity of PWDs in our land.

Such an attitudinal shift cannot just be for PWDs. It calls for compassion for all. In a society where large corporations make millions of dollars of profit but still layoff employees, it challenges Christians to challenge the norms.

In the Mosaic gleaning laws, land owners were required to leave some of the harvest for those who are otherwise poor and unemployed to glean so they can provide for themselves. The principle here is that capital owners — whether wealthy individuals or businesses — must use some of their profits to provide employment for those who are otherwise economically marginalised.

Would Christian business owners heed such a law? Would Christians lead the way in living out Kingdom values in their respective spheres of influence, particularly in relation to PWDs?

God give us courage. At the end of our lives we will be judged on how we expressed justice, mercy and compassion to the least among us (Matthew 25:31-46). How would you fare?


As a Christian who is also a lawyer, Ronald JJ Wong believes in access to justice for all. Burdened for the common good of society, he advocates for the marginalised and volunteers pro bono for the less privileged. He will be speaking at LuminoCity 2017.

LuminoCity is a 3-day forum that will bring together thought-leaders and disciples in the marketplace for conversations to shape the culture of our day. It will be held from November 3 to 5, 2017, at The Pavilion. Thir.st readers can enjoy a special discount of $50 from now till October 23, and a discount of $40 from October 24 till October 30 with the promo code “THIRSTY”Visit the LuminoCity website for ticketing information, and follow them on Facebook for updates. 

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Why I don’t celebrate Halloween

by | 19 October 2017, 2:28 PM

This article was basically going to advise you against celebrating Halloween.

But as I was planning how to write that piece, I could already imagine the sort of push-back it would get: Wah, these Christians super trivial. Always want to push their laws — now even want to go horror nights also cannot? Super lame, lor.

I find writing such articles to be challenging: How do I write this so that it doesn’t sound preachy? How do I write this so that I’m not moralising but I’m sharing something true? How do I convince strangers that I do — in some unfathomable way — love them?

God help me.

Christians already have a rep for being a this-one-cannot, that-one-cannot sort of people. And I agree; that sort of comment is warranted to a large extent. But I also think there’s more to following Christ than just saying no to a bunch of things.

THE HEART BEHIND THE WORDS

I’ll be frank about where I come from when I write. I never presume to be an authority issuing decrees; that’s not my place.

I read and I write because I want to tell people about God, beyond the zone of casual Christianity, and into something far more surprising, real and wonderful.

Whenever I write, I imagine I’m writing to a friend I love and care for. With friends whose opinions I value and decisions I respect, I always make sure to leave the ball in my friend’s court. I share what’s on my heart, but can never presume to force their hand. I value them – you – too much.

So, that’s the heart behind the words. Now if I was still writing an article about Halloween, I would refer us to the following verse:

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)

This is usually the moment, when Scripture has been quoted, where a lot of people switch off. I can sort of understand the exasperation and frustration that people – both Christian and non-Christian – might feel upon hearing this sort of prescriptive message.

So I’m pausing here to urge you sincerely: Please don’t write a Christian off or stop listening the moment he pulls the Bible out. Speaking for myself, the very last intention on my heart is to bash you with it.

Instead, I’d like for you to consider that it’s genuinely the reference by which I try to live. God knows how often I fail, but I thank Him for grace. I have found what I truly believe has proven to be the better way for me, and I just want to share it.

It ultimately boils down to what you want in your life. If you’re a Christian, that is, if you truly desire Christ and holiness — you will pick up your cross and deny yourself (Matthew 16:24). In reality, that will probably look like a life of inconvenience, often involving sacrificing things we love.

But we take these passions down from their pedestals not because a book or some obscure writer tells us to. We do it because we know the Father’s heart is full of love, and see that everything He asks of us is always for our benefit.

RELATIONSHIP BRINGS REALITY

Some of us have a picture of the Christian God as an angry father who withholds many things from His children. I’m not discrediting the experiences you’ve been through that may have given you such an impression of Him.

But my personal experience of God has produced a conviction that He wants only the best things for his children – even things we might not think are good. That makes me want what God wants. I’ve come to understand that without a relationship with the Lord, there can be no reality of love.

But to the unbeliever or cynical Christian, the Christian way of life inevitably ends up looking like a everything-also-cannot, legalistic religion.

What you want is really indicative of where you are: You’re either looking at a religion, or you’re in that relationship.

So, finally, back to Halloween. Good for a laugh, maybe, but when you celebrate it, you’re dipping your toes into all kinds of spiritual expressions which really, really can’t be good for you. I think that’s the heart of Philippians 4:8 – if something clearly isn’t pure, noble or true, why not instead fill your mind to something that is?

/ gabriel@thir.st

Gabriel isn't a hipster, but he loves his beard and coffee. In his spare time, he'd rather be on a mountain.

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Should I be giving to every peddler I see?

by | 18 October 2017, 1:44 AM

Most of us are used to being approached by old, hunchbacked elderly selling tissue packets, but I was once approached by a young man who asked for some money for lunch. Although I typically walk away when such people approach me, my heart was softened that day.

“Sure, shall we go to the Kopitiam?” I offered.

I accompanied the man there and bought him a plate of mixed rice. On his part, he was careful not to exceed the budget he’d asked for, carefully deliberating his choice of vegetables.

As I watched him gratefully tuck into his meal, I wondered if I would do this again. I still feel like I did the right thing that day. Why?

GENEROSITY TOWARDS THE NEEDY

The call to be generous towards the needy is found in both the Old and New Testament.

In Deuteronomy 15, Moses teaches the Israelites God’s Law on the year of the Sabbath. In view of Israel’s inability to keep the Law perfectly, Moses tells the Israelites, “there will never cease to be poor in the land”, therefore they are to open wide their hands to their brother, to the needy and to the poor in their land (Deuteronomy 15:11).

In trusting God to meet our needs, we look away from our sufficiency to God’s sufficiency.

This commandment is echoed in the New Testament in Luke 14:7, where Jesus teaches that believers are to aim to do good for the poor without expecting to eradicate poverty in this age.

As we heed this commandment, we may be questioning the value of being generous with those in need. Proverbs 19:17 makes this clear: graciously lending to the needy is akin to lending to the Lord.

As we meet the needs of others, we demonstrate reliance on God to provide for our own needs. In trusting God to meet our needs, we look away from our sufficiency to God’s sufficiency.

NEED GENEROSITY BE FINANCIAL?

Cynics will argue that peddling tissue has become a profitable income-earner, where peddlers are scamming their buyers at rip-off prices. Yet, I choose to ask myself: Would I rather be in their position, where I have to make ends meet by hook or by crook?

Of course, I cannot be certain how the money will be used – if it will be used in the way the person claims. Hence, I admit I tend to err on the side of caution as I don’t want my generosity to be taken for granted. I don’t want to risk having my money being used on feeding a harmful habit, such as the consumption of cigarettes or alcohol.

But I also remember this: In showing love to someone else, I do him no harm (Romans 13:10). So, taking this all into consideration, I’m willing to be generous in kind rather than in cash.

In showing love to someone else, I do him no harm.

In personal experience, I have had the privilege of sharing time and energy with a family who is less well-to-do, by reading with their preschool children. They have been directed to the appropriate platforms for financial assistance; nonetheless, I am repeatedly reminded not to give them money, were they to ask for it.

As I give my time and energy, I believe the family is no less blessed – my presence is an opportunity for their caregiver to take a momentary pause in caring for them. I know she appreciates my presence – in the midst of caring for young children, she treasures conversation with other adults.

Likewise, the children anticipate my visits – being read to is a treat their caregiver cannot afford time for, as her time is spent on taking care of their basic needs.

TRUE GENEROUS GIVING

As we seek to be generous both in cash and kind, it is worth remembering we are not always able to give to every person we meet. Hence, we give as we are able, bearing in mind their greatest need is not physical, but spiritual.

The New Testament speaks of spiritual hunger and thirst in the gospel of John.

When Jesus meets a Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, He offers her some water, telling her that whoever drinks of the water that Jesus will give them will never be thirsty again. The water that Jesus will give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life (John 4:14).

This water Jesus professes to give refers to the Holy Spirit dwelling within a believer (John 7:38-39).

Later, Jesus tells the crowds He is the Bread of Life (John 6:35) – which is superior to the manna provided in Moses’ day. He says this to tell the crowds He gives essential and eternal spiritual nourishment, instead of meeting only physical needs.

Hence, while we are called to give generously to the needy, we do so with discernment – in order that we don’t run the risk of doing more harm than good for the needy person. We also should be looking out for opportunities to meet their spiritual needs, not just their financial ones, as God avails.

At the end of the day, we cannot guarantee they’ll always get helped, but we can ensure they’ll always get loved.

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” (James 2:14-17)

/ 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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NDP52: Pioneers vs Millennials Edition

Nobody said it was easy

Of shattered dreams and broken shins

A dream of justice for the disabled

Why I don’t celebrate Halloween

Should I be giving to every peddler I see?