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My complete, imperfect family

by Pauline Wong | 3 November 2017, 3:58 PM

My Kindergarten teacher often encouraged us to draw portraits of our families.

With squiggly lines and less-than-perfect circles, I produced masterpiece after masterpiece to the best of my 6-year-old ability. I don’t remember most of my illustrations, but I do recall one vividly.

It was a picture of my parents, my sister and I. We were on rollerskates, holding hands and looking happy. In the background, I’d placed a Christmas tree.

I have lost that piece of drawing since then, but something transferred from paper to mind and etched itself deeply in my heart.

A complete family is a happy family.

My family is a complete family.

While some of my peers were born into less than desirable circumstances, I grew up with both of my parents present. I never knew what people meant when they said, “I don’t have a dad/mum”, much less the pain and hurt that separation inflicts.

Overtime, “complete” became synonymous with “perfect”. Of course my family wasn’t without flaws – we had our fights and disputes. But we were what you would call pretty normal. Average. Okay. And as I looked at the broken world as a child, okay became good enough a standard. I had both a dad and a mum, and a sister to boot. Okay was perfect.

Until I came to know Christ. That was when I began to understand how love should truly look like.

I can’t adequately put it into words but it was as though I could finally see. Everything became crystal clear yet, at the same time, everything lost its lustre, too. Kinda like putting on a new pair of glasses – you suddenly see everything with fresh clarity, but that also means suddenly seeing every imperfection that was always there.

I recall now hugging my younger sister tightly as we recoiled in fear, angry voices punctuated by threats of divorce reverberating from the next room.

When I came to know Christ, everything became crystal clear yet, at the same time, everything lost its lustre, too. I suddenly saw everything with fresh clarity, but that also meant suddenly seeing every imperfection that was always there.

As we got older, my mom started to rake up the past whenever she got angry. She would throw in snide remarks about how my dad was unpunctual to their wedding whenever we’re running late for something.

Instead of fighting back, my dad would tune out of arguments, block out complaints, and zone out of confrontations. Taking his cue, my sister and I also detached ourselves whenever we felt a storm brewing.

I had stopped communicating with my dad years ago due to a misunderstanding that I thought had caused him to stop loving me. It didn’t help that he was a man of a few words. Our conversations never lasted for more than 10 seconds, and never deeper than a “What do you want to eat?” He was physically present in my life, but never emotionally.

My family had also stopped eating together for years as it was almost impossible to comply with everyone’s schedule. The four of us ate at different times, at different locations.

From the outside, my family seemed okay – perfect. The issues we face weren’t major enough to threaten our family structure, so we simply brushed them aside.

But when God came into my life, His love illuminated the concealed hurts and frustration that undergirded the way we related to each other.

Yes, my family was intact and worry-free.

But it was far from perfect.

I’m not unappreciative of what I have; my family loved each other in the best way we knew how. I know that I’m blessed to have grown up in a relatively functional family, and I’m thankful for that. It’s just that functional isn’t the end point for God. His is a higher standard of love.

It says in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails.”

A holy discontentment started to grow in my heart. And while it’s easy to settle for what’s convenient and familiar, I decided that I had to do something, rather than hand down the imperfect love we received, learnt and passed on from generation to generation.

Changing family culture that has been set in stone for decades wasn’t easy. I had to be intentional in striking up conversations with my dad, intentional in planning family outings, intentional in speaking truth and life. All while being consistent.

I remember my parents got into a huge argument once, and my dad moved out of their room to sleep in the living room for weeks. Seeing that my dad was giving her the cold treatment, my mum began to vent her frustrations on me.

Functional isn’t the end point for God. His is a higher standard of love.

I resented it. I hated how my mom tried to use me as a pawn to get back at my dad. I hated how they just threw the burden of being a responsible parent to me, when it was not my job to begin with. I hated how I was suffering the brunt of their conflict even though I was just an innocent victim.

I refused to do anything about the situation, refused to be embroiled into their conflict. It’s their fight, not mine, I reasoned. Why should I have to do the dirty work? But I eventually caved because I knew it was the right thing to do.

I remember approaching my dad in the balcony. I asked him if he remembered his marital vows to my mum.

“Papa, you promised to take care of Mummy. I know how naggy Mummy can be, but when J (my sister) and I eventually move out, the primary responsibility lies with you to care for her.”

My dad didn’t say much – simply grunted. But he moved back into the bedroom that night, and their relationship gradually improved.

My family has come a long way since then. Nowadays, we try to be more involved in each other’s lives. We celebrate birthdays and special occasions. We still aren’t perfect, but out of love, we try.

I think back to the picture I drew as a kid – my family in the foreground, and a Christmas tree in the background.

Very much like the circles my little hand had drawn, we were complete, functional, but undeniably imperfect. I’d like to think, however, that God would have received my masterpiece with joy and stuck it on His fridge.

Without allowing Him into every area of my life and placing my family into His hands, I wouldn’t have known what true love is; wouldn’t know how to truly love.

For He is love’s definition through and through.

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How important are Christian friends in university?

by Abigail Wee | 25 September 2018, 2:49 PM

A friend I met in university (who is now working overseas) shared that living the immigrant life means you’re forever questioning who you are and where you belong.

While spending four years in the UK as a university student might not necessarily be “living the immigrant life”, I could certainly relate to the struggles she mentioned. While studying overseas was very much my own choice, this did not mean that I was free from the worries and insecurities that came with leaving the comforts of Singapore and having to adjust to life overseas.

As with starting any new chapter in life – studying at a new school, working in a new place, living in a different city – the first few weeks were mostly spent making introductions to different people. Given my character, I naturally enjoy meeting new people and making new friends.

However, I felt like I was still searching for something. It was only after attending a Christian Fellowship (CF) with a Singaporean senior that I knew what I was looking for. So what made this group of people different from the other student communities I found in my university?

I believe the difference was the fact that we all shared a love for God and His Word, as well as a desire to serve and submit to Him.

In other words, this group of people – most of whom were also fellow international students – not only empathised with my emotional and mental needs, but understood my spiritual needs as well. While I have close university friends from various races, cultures, religions and backgrounds, studying abroad made me understand the importance of Christian friends in university.

In my prayers for finding a Christian community, God impressed upon my heart that I should not just find one – but root myself in one. I soon came to understand that this process of rooting myself was something that did not happen overnight but required much initiative on my part.

… these friends reminded and encouraged me that what I needed most was actually a who – God Himself.

Rooting myself in my Christian fellowship meant regular attendance and availing myself to serve.

In the midst of assignment deadlines and exams, it was tempting to just give up everything and go and study, but seeing my friends serving together and encouraging each other even while handling their own workloads inspired and pushed me on to do the same.

Their fellowship reminded again and again that God is my anchor. The familiar comforts of home that being overseas could not afford – I learned to find in Him. And when it was difficult to do so, these friends reminded and encouraged me that what I needed most was actually a who – God Himself.

Being plugged into a CF also gave me friends whom I could be kept accountable to. Living in a country very far away from home, I had the freedom to represent myself and live my life any way I wanted to. I could have made choices that everyone back home would not know of.

My friends pointed me heavenward time and time again.

So while it was important to be accountable to people about my life in the UK, it was more important that I found people to keep me accountable for my walk with God.

  • Am I glorifying Him with the opportunities I have been given to study and live in UK?
  • Would He be pleased with how I have spent my four years here?

Learning to constantly ask myself questions like these was a result of walking with like-minded friends who kept pushing me on to grow in my intimacy with the Father. Their physical presence in my life overseas also made it harder to hide or run away from being real. So, over time, it became easier to be open and vulnerable with them.

If you ask me, the main reason why Christian friends are important in our lives is because they are a means through which God draws us closer to Himself. Through the challenges of university life overseas, the godly friendships I have forged have been clear reflections of His generous love, His mercy and His far-reaching grace.

While plugging oneself into a Christian fellowship or community can be intimidating, do not let the fear of putting yourself out there prevent you from establishing godly friendships. Indeed, “Christian friendship is a treasure because it helps us cling to our greatest Treasure.”

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The pursuit of sexual purity

by Stella Lee | 25 September 2018, 2:01 PM

One of the struggles many dating Christians face is sexual intimacy.

Our first encounter with our sexuality is probably when we hit puberty. That’s when our hormones start to fluctuate – leading visibly to our bodily appearances changing. It’s normal to start experiencing sexual desires, even in early adulthood, which led me to ponder:

  • Why would God create humans to experience sexual desires in the teenage years, which may lead to premarital sex, yet He continues to say there should not be any sexual immorality amongst us (Ephesians 5:3-4)? 
  • Why does the Bible say no to premarital sex (Hebrews 13:4), when there is almost a 10 to 20 year gap from the initial sexual desire to actually being able to marry?

But before we go any further, let’s begin by thinking why we should even seek to be pure in the first place. Firstly, the Bible says to “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5).

1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 also tells us that “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honourable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God”.

In those verses, God calls us to live as people made alive in Christ — who live to please Him. “For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.” (1 Thessalonians 4:7).

Purity is about more than just giving the most treasured gifts to one’s partner, such as virginity — it is obedience to God’s Word.

Sex is not dirty: it is a gift by God to a man and woman united in holy matrimony.

And sex is not a selfish thing for fulfilling one’s own desires. Since everything in creation was pleasing to God (Genesis 1:31), there is moral and spiritual goodness to be found in sex that honours God.

In the context of a marriage, the sexual intimacy (Proverbs 5:19) God wants us to enjoy must come with servanthood and love. Because I love my partner, I want to fulfil his desires — and he wants to fulfil mine.

God gave us this amazing gift to enjoy together with our partner, because sex was never designed for the self.

The idolatry of sex and obsessive guilt over sex accomplish the same thing – they keep the focus on self, whether it is our of enjoyment or despair.

In his book, Sacred MarriageGary Thomas writes, “the idolatry of sex and obsessive guilt over sex accomplish the same thing – they keep the focus on self, whether it is our of enjoyment or despair. Gratitude, on the other hand, turns our hearts towards God.”

I’m not here to condemn anyone who’s struggling in the area of premarital sex, but to share on why I feel that sexual intimacy outside of marriage has its problems.

Many people find it hard to restore their state of mind, after breakups of relationships that were sexual in nature. Ask the scientist or psychologist, they can tell you that sex rewires your brain.

I won’t dive into this, but my point is that sex has immense effects on our mind and heart. There’s definitely a reason why God put the confines of marriage around it.

The pursuit of sexual purity - apple breaker

In the pursuit of sexual purity, we must set healthy boundaries.

Now is there a hard and fast rule for an acceptable level of intimacy in a relationship? Some find kissing to be acceptable outside of marriage while some don’t. I’m leaning to the latter view because I feel sexual intimacy does encompass kissing.

In Gary Thomas’ Sacred Search, kissing is part of sexual intimacy. To take something like kissing out for personal enjoyment is missing out on the “whole package” of sexual intimacy that God has gifted to us.

In setting such boundaries, we must consider the Gospel. It is written in Titus 2:12-13, “It teaches us to say ‘no’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ.”

Our lives must be good testimonies in every area, seen or unseen.

Left to our fallen nature, we are not inclined to make decisions that honour God or align with His will.

And even as we do our best to be “perfect” Christians (Matthew 5:48), we can never truly be like God.

But there is hope in knowing that God is with us. He gave His word to guide us in our lives. And the very Spirit of God dwells in each of us (Romans 8:9) — there is help from on high!

Commit to walking in the Spirit every day (Galatians 5:25). We walk in the Spirit when the desires of the Spirit are stronger than the flesh, when we no longer seek to gratify the desires of the flesh.

Whatever mistakes we’ve made along the way, let it compel us to live in fear of the Lord. And while we acknowledge our sinfulness and utter need of God, we must also know that no sin is too great for Jesus to bear! God has forgiven us and only He can sanctify us each day.

“The believer who conducts his marriage as in the Lord will seek to make his marriage transcend mere sexuality by emphasising his fellowship with God.” (Otto Piper)

Strive to build a God-centred relationship. Spur each other on to walk in the Spirit and don’t lose hope! Build each other up in love and focus on your relationship with God. Lovers of God will grasp the beauty of His commandments, and that will bear spiritual fruit in the relationship.

And in time, you will also teach your children to seek purity and godly love.


This was originally posted on Stella’s blog, and has been republished with permission.

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The sting of rejection

by Kate Ng | 25 September 2018, 10:59 AM

“I’m so sorry, but I just don’t see you in that way…”

The camera cuts to a wide shot of two individuals at a 45º angle, then pans between one pensive face and another (devastated) one. An instrumental piece plays sorrowfully in the background. Rain is not necessary but creates good atmosphere.

Ah, to think that rejection can also be romanticised, especially by the Korean entertainment wave that has permeated our culture so deeply today. Truth be told, apologies are not always exchanged in real life, which only makes the experience of rejection even harder.

Realising that the friend who rejected me through mutual friends would not even bother to apologise cut deeper. Even if we could not be together, surely our many years of friendship would warrant a face-to-face apology – or explanation – at the very least.

Rejection, in all its forms, often stings in the deepest and darkest areas of our life that we often strive to keep hidden – our insecurities. Am I really not good enough for that person/school/job? Will I, then, ever find the right person/place/career?

It will take a while for me to recover. It is, after all, my first rejection after having guarded and protected my heart for much of my youth, for the man that I know the Lord has kept for me.

And in the midst of my recovery, I am thankfully, reminded of the greatest rejection of all, one that is described in heart-wrenching detail in the Gospel of Luke, even before Jesus was nailed onto the Cross.

When Pilate the Roman governor was examining Jesus, he found no wrong in Him (Luke 23: 14). Yet while Jesus was blameless, Pilate still announced that he would punish Him before releasing Him to appease the people who were accusing Him (His own people, the Jews).

Biblical commentaries inform us that the punishment dealt out to criminals by the Romans included whipping. David Guzik tells us that the whip the Romans used was gruesome;

“The victim of a Roman scourging was tied against a post, and struck with a whip that had bits of glass, sharp rock, and metal tied to the end of leather cords. The whip would be struck at the top and dragged down the back, until the victim’s entire back was a bloody, open wound. Many people died just from this scourging.”

A bloody, open wound. And I can only imagine the deafening mob of Jews mocking Jesus as He was scourged – these could have been the same people who shouted “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (John 12: 13)

I would like to believe that the physical hurt Jesus endured from the whipping, one that should have already killed Him, paled in comparison to the hurt He felt from being rejected by the very group of people He had been come down to rescue.

Not to mention, being outrightly denied by those whom He had loved, healed and taught throughout His years of ministry (Luke 22: 61).

And we all know what came after – this rejection was superseded by abandonment from His own Father when He hung on the Cross.

“From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lemasabachthani?’ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’).” (Matthew 27:45-46)

And unlike me, Jesus didn’t expect an apology from them, even till today. The sting of my rejection is no match for the stripes on His back and the holes in His hands, feet and side. (John 20: 27)

Understanding the intensity of the rejection that Jesus experienced altered my perspective on how to face my rejection. It also reminded me of how I must be after I step out of this season of recovery, even in receiving that very brother who rejected me.

The Lord’s reconciliation with His people despite the heartbreaking rejection, including reinstating Peter (John 21: 19) and each of us every day as His children, also challenges me to look towards the path of reconciliation now.

First, a reconciliation between myself and the Lord. Although the Lord isn’t responsible for my rejection, He allowed it, just as He allowed His Son to be rejected that night.

As disappointed as I am, Jesus already modelled the perfect response for me, “Father, if You are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but Yours be done.” (Luke 22: 42)

And it is in submitting to His will this season that I will relearn how to surrender my insecurities surrounding romantic relationships. This includes what it means to guard my heart so that no one can take His position at the centre of it all. After all, my heart is the safest in the hands of it’s Maker.

If the Lord could restore Peter, I will take His response as a benchmark for my own response.

Second, a reconciliation between my brother in Christ and I. I know that this will be tougher – not because of the hurt – but because of the disappointment I feel towards his careless actions and words.

Yet, if the Lord could restore Peter, I will take His response as a benchmark for my own response. Even if our friendship may never be the same, I choose to respond to this man with grace and gentleness.

Rejection will always sting. But by the stripes He got from our rejection of Him, we can hold fast to the promise that our wounds will always heal.

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My love affair with pornography

by Mark Yeow | 18 September 2018, 2:39 PM

I am intimately familiar with sin.

I was around 12 when I had my first experience of pornography, one which started a love affair that lasted more than a decade. Porn seemed to satisfy this deep and dissolute hunger within me. I craved seeing women naked, doing things that aroused me.

Yet, each time after I was spent, I felt this cloak of shame fall around my head and heart. Heavy thoughts would weigh on me: You are worthless … You are pathetic.

Even after I gave over my life to Christ, I continued to watch porn.

I would try to resist the temptation, succeed for weeks or even months, then slip back into the embrace of my favourite performers – often just after a relationship breakdown, or an unexpected malady, or some other happening that laid me low.

And porn isn’t the only lust affair I’ve had – just the longest. I lost my virginity in the last years of high school and the sex that followed – however great it was – smashed my soul into little pieces which took years to put back together.

I went after women for how their physical beauty and sensuality made me feel, and when two of them broke my heart, I broke three more in return.

… only God’s redeeming touch was able to pull me out of this pit of lust some four months ago.

The toll of my lust has been enormous.

Constant fatigue, clinginess to female friends, shouting matches with my parents – not to mention the countless hours of masturbation both physical and emotional.

I think I might’ve written a novel, or even a trilogy, with that time alone. And “time alone” is apt, because the only word I can summarise all those years with is “lonely”.

Walking in the wilderness, only God’s redeeming touch was able to pull me out of this pit of lust some four months ago.

But the battle is by no means over.

Writing about this dark part of my past, I still feel a strange mix of shame and desire. On this side of eternity, there will always be a treacherous part of my heart that seeks earthly pleasure and rebels against the word of God.

But as a child of God, it’s my duty to whack that part as hard as I can until it runs squealing back to the cell it escaped from.

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)

Don’t lose hope: the battle against pornography and for purity can be won. We overcome solely by the Spirit, in the community of the saints.

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In grief and hatred, I wanted to change my surname

by Jennifer Tan | 17 September 2018, 2:23 PM

I hit rock-bottom when I was 17.

That was when I stood in front of my father’s niche, silently ranting at him for not being around to protect me and my mother in the legal mess his extended family had gotten us into. I didn’t even know the man: He passed away when I was only 18 months old, but I knew right at that moment, in that dreadful season of my life which I felt no agency over, I hated him.

I hated the fact that he was absent. I hated the life I had to lead for the last 17 years because of his absence. I hated the blood that ran through my veins. Most of all, I hated the reality of living the rest of my life as a fatherless child with no family support whatsoever.

In that moment, a rash thought popped into my head as I stood in front of the niche. Why don’t I change my surname?

I thought that if I could just drop this one syllable that was causing me so much pain and tears, life would be easier.

Ultimately, I didn’t follow through on the rash impulse to change my surname. Instead, when I cried out to my earthly father that day – it was my Heavenly Father who responded.

We are all probably familiar with the 5 stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. 17-year-old me had mistakenly thought that I had meandered my way through all the stages and was finally at the stage of numb acceptance.

But as I stood in front of my father’s niche, the Lord opened my eyes to see that I had simply been floundering within the pool of denial and anger. Wanting to change my surname only reflected my desire to escape. I was still grieving immensely for my father, and I was on the verge of dishonouring him in my grief.

Thus began a long and painful season of understanding and accepting God’s claim of daughtership over me (2 Corinthians 6: 18). It was a season of vulnerability, one that left me no choice but to confront the open and deep wounds of my past.

Most importantly, it was time to let my Father heal them.

That season was painful but necessary, and I emerged from it convicted that the Lord is my Father and Provider.

Yet that didn’t mean I was no longer grieving. In fact, the grieving intensified because I was now struggling to reconcile the truth and reality of my life. The truth was that I could always turn to my Heavenly Father for the fatherly love I desired, the reality was that the circumstances of my life still reflected the consequences of fatherlessness.

While I no longer had the desire to change my surname, I still faced a lot of family issues. The lies and schemes my extended family surrounded me with could rival that of a Hong Kong drama – but I still needed to waddle through all of it justly, lovingly, mercifully and humbly (Micah 6:8).

The light at the end of the proverbial tunnel still seemed as far away.

Things with my extended family were eventually settled about a year ago.

I’m not proud of how I reacted towards them in many situations, but I’m certain that the Lord had enabled me to do my best. I know He was at work making my paths straight (Proverbs 3:5-6).

The Lord also guided me through all 5 stages of grief in the last few years gently. And lately, I have been sensing Him impressing a new stage upon my heart – reconciliation. I also feel these words upon my heart: “Jen, this chapter of your life has not ended.”

That leaves me quaking in my shoes for a lot of reasons, the largest one being that I am unwilling. After all, why would I willingly turn back towards the people who hurt me so deeply – when my scars still feel so raw?

But every time I think like this, the image of His nail-pierced hands enter my mind immediately – Jesus died for us to be reconciled to God even while we hated Him.

So while I don’t yet understand why I was chosen to bear this surname, because I know God’s Name, I can trust Him in all that He’s leading me to.

He will never forsake those who seek Him (Psalm 9:10).


The author’s name has been changed for confidentiality. 

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Article list

My complete, imperfect family

How important are Christian friends in university?

The pursuit of sexual purity

The sting of rejection

My love affair with pornography

In grief and hatred, I wanted to change my surname