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On death and dying: A post-mortem of life’s great equaliser

by Adrienna Tan, Burning Hearts | 4 September 2018, 12:34 AM

Four years ago today, on August 21, one of my closest friends chose to end her life by jumping out her bedroom window. The ringing of my mobile awakened me in the early hours of the morning.

The voice on the other end of the line was hardly comprehensible, mingled with wails, sobs and hyperventilation. The only thing I could make out was the voice of my friend’s mom, inconsolable and breathless.

“She’s gone, she’s gone.”

And though I had seen many dead bodies while helping out with my family’s funeral business, seeing her wheeled in behind the viewing glass of the morgue was completely different. She’d always been bubbly, vivacious, effervescent even, yet here in front of me was one whose face I recognised, but presence felt starkly different from the friend I knew all my life.

That moment will remain etched in my memory for a long time.

I never imagined a viewing glass could change my perspective that much; after all it was nothing more than a transparent shield separating the living from the dead. Yet I’d never seen death in this light, how with every passing moment, the person on the other side grew more and more unfamiliar to me. More distant. More separate.

In a few hours’ time, with the embalming completed and her body prepared in the coffin for the funeral, I found myself face to face with her again: Different viewing glass, same unfamiliarity.

Four years on, the same questions plague me in the dead of night: How did I not notice anything? Should I have seen this coming, and could I have prevented it? Was there anything I could have said or done – that I didn’t?

Ever so often, I find myself thinking back to those last few months I had with her, trying to scrutinise my memories for signs and hints of what she was planning to do. See, when death comes knocking, we’re tempted to suppress the pain and numb it with whatever we know will.

But when the dust settles and the buzz fades, the reality that we’ve lost someone remains. Can any good come out of death?

A couple of days ago, I heard that a friend of a friend attempted to take her life, and when they discovered her, she was barely breathing. In that tiny window of time, my friend’s pastors managed to make it down to the hospital in time to pray with her before she eventually passed away from the severity of her injuries.

But before she took her last breath, tears in her eyes, she whispered to my friend, “I wish I’d waited to see how He would have turned my suffering into something good.”

This left me conflicted – part of me rejoiced at the way the Lord graciously extended her life for that short frame of time, and the eventual beauty and closure that came out of it, yet my heart also questioned God, wondering why He didn’t give me that same grace period with someone I loved so much.

Whenever I hear stories like these or see such cases come through my doors in the morgue, where I spend a considerable time now as a forensic science student, I get reminded of my young friend, and those questions start filling my mind again.

Was the pain so unbearable that hope was too far gone? 

Can someone be so consumed by pain and momentarily blinded to the hope of the Gospel that he takes his own life in a temporary moment of despair? I think the sure answer to that is yes.

But between the terror that we feel for such a choice and the hopelessness felt by victims of suicide, I am waving a flag of hope that true faith can still encounter a season that dark. No matter how hard it is and how painful living has gotten, despair and loneliness never need to end in death.

“O Lord, make me to know my end, and what is the measure of my days, that I may know how frail I am. Indeed, You have made my days as handbreadths, and my age is as nothing before You; certainly every man at his best state is but vapour.” (Psalm 39:4-5)

The brevity of life intrigues me. Even more than that, the ease with which life can be taken away baffles me.

How is it that it takes so much to bring a life into existence, but so little to take it away? Oftentimes I wonder if life would be approached any differently if we understood that time is but a vapour, if we got to witness every last thought accompanying those fleeting breaths.

For in death, we’re faced with life’s greatest equaliser, and it has its way of confronting us with how our once temporal lives would have counted in the light of eternity. Death doesn’t just terrorise – it compels us to paint life on the canvas of our lives while we can.

And instead of grim pessimism, death can grow in us the resolve to live well now, with the knowing that there is an eternal destiny awaiting just beyond the grave.

So often I get asked how I cope with these daily dealings with death, with the cold, lifeless and ugly before me every single moment at work. Truth be told, it’s easy to numb myself to whatever i’m seeing, to make clear distinctions between work and life.

But with each body that I perform a post-mortem on, I can’t help but imagine what this person’s life once looked like. A tinge of sadness comes over me every time, knowing that at some point, this person too was full of life and passion.

At the same time, I constantly stand in amazement at His workmanship so evidently displayed in each body – every detail birthed out of His heart and intricately fashioned by His hands. Oh, the juxtaposition. But it’s in living in this tension that I get a glimpse into His heart as a Creator.

He who sees us in the fullness of our glory, ones crafted in His image and made to carry His light; He who knows that our frail humanity is but dust and flesh.

“A good name is better than fine perfume, and the day of death better than the day of birth. It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.” (Ecclesiastes 7:1-2)

Our society goes to incredible lengths to hide the inevitable reality of death from us, and it’s even considered intrusive or rude to have conversations about it. This may be unorthodox or slightly disconcerting for some of you, but I encourage you to think deeply about death.

New babies have their whole lives ahead of them, but what can we say about them yet? Not very much, not yet at least. But sit a little while at a funeral, and listen. What is said (or left unsaid) about the person, and what is said about their life?

Was he wise, humble, caring, and generous? Did she love the Lord? What will be said about you when it’s your turn to lie there in the coffin as your friends and family gather?

There is always something so beautiful and strangely disorienting in finding a gift where we only thought to find tragedy. But the brilliance of Ecclesiastes is the unearthing of gifts in the most bitter place of all: Death.

In the prayer room, one of the apostolic prayers we love is the prayer of Jesus in John 17. But His fervent prayers for us come with a sober implication – that to be with Him I will have to leave this world – and one day I found myself pleading with God to give me the very opposite of what Jesus wanted (John 17:24).

He is precious. And He is our gain in death.

Sometimes I wonder why I feel the reluctance to pass through the valley of death’s shadow. Could it be that we have to endure in this life what we detest and fear the most, in order to enjoy what we love and long for the most when we finally get there?

See, it isn’t death itself that is precious: It’s the Resurrection and the Life embodied in Jesus Christ, who removed the sting of death and in whose glorious presence we’ll experience unsurpassed joy for eternity. He is precious. And He is our gain in death.

I pray it is said of me at the end of my days that she did not live in vain, and she did not die without hope. That on the day I face death once again, this time my own, my anthem in the face of this pompous enemy will be, “O death, where is your victory? It’s not here, not over me.”

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

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A Christian’s take on privilege and class divides

by JH Kwek | 10 October 2018, 11:04 AM

Most of us would have no doubt seen the recent Channel News Asia video on class divides in Singapore.

For its many flaws the video is an admirable attempt at bridging the gap between social classes. The walls between the rich and the poor, the educated and uneducated – these walls should not exist in a nation that prides itself on meritocracy.

And neither should they exist in the church.

Yet as I think back to my own experiences in church, I am disappointed by my own inability to bring those walls torn down: I remember losing a football game played in the heartlands, and attributing my opponents’ success to all the time they spent playing instead of studying in school.

And I remember suggesting eating at a restaurant after cell, completely oblivious to the fact that there were brothers in my midst who simply couldn’t afford such a meal.

How I’ve failed to acknowledge my own privilege for the longest time!

We must take a look at our own churches.

How many of our cell groups contain people of a different race? How many of our cell groups are ready to accept someone of a different socio-economic status? Or someone who struggles with sexuality?

And sure, there might be other factors like geography that affect the kind of people that appear in our cell groups that have nothing to do with our own prejudices. Yet I suspect that within the church, we have divided people just as much as those outside the church do – if not more.

“But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptised into Christ has put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one on Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:25-28)

The church should be a model of unity. We have this unity because we are all in Christ Jesus and believe in the same Gospel. Jesus Himself has torn down every dividing wall of hostility between the Jew and the Gentile (Ephesians 2:14-16). In His presence, every social division must come down.

So what do we do when we see a church that is not so? I can’t help but feel hopeless when I notice that everyone around me just looks the same. I can’t help but despair when I hear racially insensitive jokes being made in cell. I can’t help but weep when I realise that my own heart is racist, classist, prejudiced in ways apart from the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

What is the hope for a religious structure so historically entrenched in divides like class?

The church should be a model of unity.

The hope is Jesus. The hope has always been Jesus.

Whenever we are confronted with sin, be it personal or systemic, the solution has never been to run away – but to run towards. We must always remember that we as the church are united around a single thing – the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Church is awkward conversations with the elderly lady you sit next to every week. Church is meeting middle-aged couples for lunch not just for advice or counselling – but to actually get to know them.

Church is welcoming people of all races into a community that is predominantly Chinese. Church is eating at a coffee shop instead of a restaurant so your friend can afford to join you.

This is the community God has grafted us into.

We must grow as a Church, not in conformance to the latest trends of inclusivity or tolerance – but in Gospel unity.

How amazing it is when an 86-year-old woman and a young teenager can sing the same worship song together and mean it together with all their heart!

And how incredible it is that someone who stays in a HDB and someone who stays in Sentosa Cove can covenant to keep each other accountable to walk in purity!

We must grow as a Church, not in conformance to the latest trends of inclusivity or tolerance – but in Gospel unity.

So how can we shape our cell groups to be places for both the poor and rich? How can we shape our conversations so as not to marginalise those of minority races? How can we better return to the Gospel?

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:1-10)

These answers lie in Jesus. We need to keep looking to Him, the founder and perfecter of our faith.

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Stricken with PTSD and depression after my mum suddenly passed away, I thought my life was over

by Jeremy Chan | 9 October 2018, 6:04 PM

Jesus, don’t you care? Where are you? Please take the pain away. 

It was Mark 4:35-41 all over again, where Jesus was asleep in a boat with his disciples when a storm hit and threatened to engulf them.

An unexpected storm blew into my life towards the end of 2013, when my mom was suddenly taken ill. What we initially thought was just a fever and flu of sorts turned into seven months of our worst nightmare.

It had taken the doctors three months to diagnose a rare and incurable bone marrow disease; by then the sickness was so severe that we soon decided to take her off medication. Putting her into palliative care was the most complicated and painful decision we had to make as a family.

Within five days of taking her off treatment, she was called home to be with the Lord on the Good Friday of 2014. I have not attended a Good Friday service since.

I didn’t know then, but the shock, guilt, grief and great disappointment with God brought about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The intense emotional pain and anguish also led me down the path of severe clinical depression over the next two and a half years.

My relationships with family, friends, ministry and work broke down as my world sank into shades of grey. Because of the mental state I was in, I had a physical condition known as post-motor retardation (PMR), which slowed down my movement, especially walking.

Despite the medication and all the sleep I was getting, I was always exhausted and uninterested in anything in life. It took 16 months before my physicians got the prescribed medication and dosage right. I was like a walking zombie, dead on the inside but somehow still alive.

And no matter how I prayed or read the Bible, nothing changed. As the days passed by, I grew angry with God. Unbelief was slowly setting in, along with suicidal thoughts. Every day I prayed: “Lord, please stop the pain.”

Even smells could trigger a welling-up of emotions that would have exploded out of me if I hadn’t fought hard to contain them.

Formally serving in the worship team, I found myself unable to even worship amidst the congregation. How was I to worship God or give thanks for anything after what had happened?

The flashbacks that came with the PTSD were unpredictable and crippling. Seemingly random places such as the mall, MRT stations or certain bus routes … Even smells could trigger a welling-up of emotions that would have exploded out of me if I hadn’t fought hard to contain them.

There was one incident where the song “Amazing Grace” caused three major flashbacks over the following week. During one such similar episode in church service I actually ran and hid in a quiet corner until it was over.

I saw a psychiatrist regularly, and it helped. On days I felt as though I’d hit rock bottom, I learnt to tell myself there would always be the next day, and I just had to get through one at a time. Breathe and sleep it off. This gave the verse “His mercies are new every morning” a whole new meaning.

I know I could have given up on hope many times. But somewhere inside me, my spirit man was clinging on and crying out to Jesus. Whatever Scripture I could remember, I held onto. God, surely you saved my soul for more than this? You are making all things work together for good, right?

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.” (2 Corinthians 1:1-5)

I believed that God could use this experience of mine to help people who were battling on the same front with depression and suicide, but the road to recovery turned out to be longer than I expected. It became so bad that I decided to stop working and enrol into Tung Ling Bible School‘s School of Ministry.

Tung Ling proved to be a place of rest and renewal, where I could experience the love of God again. During one of our ministry times, someone spoke a word over me: That Jesus was calling me as He did to Lazarus, to come out of the grave I was trapped in. Jesus was going to remove the veil of death over me and I would finally see the light.

I was greatly moved to hear this – Jesus was calling me out! This shroud of grave clothes that I had been walking in would be removed! I would rejoice again.

That was the beginning of two whole years of recovery. I remember meditating on Psalm 139 and feeling greatly comforted that all my days were written before one of them came to be, before the day I lost my mum. God was always in control. He was always looking after me.

It has been four years since the storm started. I haven’t returned to the working world for the past two years, which can be frustrating and disappointing at times. However, I remember His promises to provide for me and give me peace and rest throughout.

By His grace, I have been completely off all PTSD and depression medication since April this year. I still have intermittent flashbacks, but they are much more manageable now. I even registered to further my studies at Tung Ling Bible School and recently graduated from the School of Leadership.

In the years to come, I would like to help break the stigma of mental illness with my story. To anyone out there who might be in the midst of the storm, there is hope. Jesus is in that storm with you. Caregivers, I also appreciate all your work, prayers and support.

I believe that we, as believers, are often the only face of Jesus that the depressed and suicidal will see. We must share and give them that same hope of life that Jesus gave us. As it says in Luke 1:79, we as His children are called “to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”


Whether life feels too tough, or you just need a listening ear, there is always help available for you when you call 1800 221 4444.

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We found love at PraySingapore

by | 8 October 2018, 5:56 PM

If you were at PraySingapore over the weekend or read one of our stories, you would know that it was a powerful time of prayer and consecration in preparation for a year of revival.

Corporate prayer and unity in the body of Christ is always great, but if you asked me what really captured my heart that day, it was the moment the married couples in the stadium were asked to stand up and renew their wedding vows to each other.

TRIGGER WARNING: Warm fuzzy feelings may arise. ❤

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I mean, even as a young single person who’s never said wedding vows before, it was adorable to see couples holding hands – some more bashful than others – and praying together. Several even had their children and grandchildren seated around them.

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Most of us Asians are accustomed to restrained displays of affection between our parents. So you can imagine how my heart melted to see couples stand with their arms wrapped around each other, many with little lines etched into their faces – proof of how much of life they’d walked as one.

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It was a somber and quietly beautiful scene as couples recited their wedding vows, rededicating themselves to their spouse and their families. And as I watched the couple in front of me tightly embrace, a tear came to my own eye when I saw the husband tenderly wipe away his wife’s tears.

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This is what I hope my marriage will look like in the future, I thought to myself. A vulnerability towards my husband who receives it with godly humility. A love for each other that withstands the test of time and disagreements and quarrels – to become a testament of a greater love that holds two people together.

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I also thought of the multitudes of young people in the stadium who got to witness this powerful model of marriage. None of us have walked the long road of holy matrimony, not for more than a decade anyway, but I dare to say these couples kept it real for us. It won’t be easy, but God can renew hearts and restore broken walls of division.

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Seeing hundreds of couples praying together left me thinking: To have a marriage last a lifetime, two people must be willing to keep facing hurts and forgiving wrongs. A good marriage is made up of two good forgivers. And in humility and constant surrender through prayer, God’s love covers a multitude of sins against each other. Christ must be the centre of it all.

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I used to wonder if commitment was the only thing that kept a marriage going into its twilight years – if there would still be love after so long. But sitting amidst a sea of couples worshipping God with hands intertwined, I got my answer. This was the power of God-given, agape love. Love that always protects, trusts and perseveres.

I left PraySingapore with new hope in my heart and a new picture of love: A love that starts even before I am the lover of my (future) husband – an eternal, faithful love between my Saviour and me.

/ samanthaloh@thir.st

Samantha is a creative who is inspired by the people and stories around her. She also loves striped tees and would love to pass her collection down to her future children. Currently level 1127 on Candy Crush.

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How to be a person after God’s own heart

by Jocelyn Chen | 8 October 2018, 3:35 PM

“At this age, you should be at this job position.”
“By this organisational level, you should be earning this.”
“Shouldn’t you be married by now?”
“When are you going to have a baby?”

What are you waiting for?

Like it or not, we all have expectations. Expectations contain connotations of hopes, anticipations and ideals. More often than not, they come about because we grow up with a certain mindset and hence perceive that, perhaps, that is the order in which life should work out.

Many times we find ourselves in situations where we are caught up by men’s expectations of us. We find ourselves being so consumed by what men think of us that we forget we are children of God, and the power that that identity alone entails.

We may also project such expectations on ourselves, and on others. It could take place on an individual level: What our life should look like, looking for a job or a partner … Or on a national level: The kind of governance we ought to have, or the type of leader one should be.

In the light of all this, it is useful to compare the lenses of how men and God look at King David – an unlikely candidate in the world’s eyes, who yet remained God’s ultimate choice.

How did David remain steadfast over the long years of his career? How did he keep his eyes fixed on God? Why did God call him “a man after His own heart”?

I believe that through his example, we will find redemption from the tainted view of men’s expectations (including our own) that has prevent us from becoming the men and women God has destined for us to be.

In 1 Samuel, we read about the Israelites, and even Samuel – the greatest prophet and judge to rule Israel – having expectations of how an ideal king ruling over them should look like.

This rather fixed mindset certainly did not reflect David, the youngest “forgotten” son, the mere shepherd boy, who was ironically, God’s choice to be king over Israel. To further emphasise his insignificance in the eyes of man, David was only introduced by his father, Jesse, when Samuel enquired if the seven sons he’d seen were all the sons Jesse had.

“Jesse had seven of his sons walk in front of Samuel. But Samuel said to him, ‘The Lord hasn’t chosen any of them.’ So he asked Jesse, ‘Are these the only sons you have?’ ‘No,’ Jesse answered. ‘My youngest son is taking care of the sheep.’” (1 Samuel 16:10-11)

“Youngest … tending the sheep” – this is how David is first introduced to us. Youngest son, shepherd, fugitive, king, murderer – he was all of that by the end of his story. The nobody, the great and the worst, and yet God still gave him the honour of being called “a man after God’s own heart”.

1 Samuel 16:7 gives us a clue of what kind of person the Lord looks for: “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” So what was it about David’s heart that pleased God?

“… He raised up David to be their king, of whom He testified and said, ‘I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will.'” (Acts 13:22)

On the flip side, we note from the scriptures how quickly men based their judgment and selection on physical appearance.

While humans are limited to the externals, the “outward appearance”, God looks at the heart.

King Saul, whom David later took over the kingship from, was described as “a head taller than anyone else” and “more handsome than anyone in Israel” (1 Samuel 9:2) when he was anointed the first king of Israel.

Eliab, Jesse’s first son, also impressed Samuel with his striking appearance, and was thus very quick to assume he was the Lord’s anointed.

When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab. He thought, ‘This has to be the one the Lord wants me to anoint for him.’ But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider how handsome or tall he is. I have not chosen him.'” (1 Samuel 16:7)

Here we see the distinction between how different people and God perceive situations and reality. While humans are limited to the externals, the “outward appearance”, God looks at the heart.

What really counts in a person has more to do with the heart than with the eyes.

Despite David’s young age, we catch glimpses of what a heart yielded to God should look like. Our experiences often shape our actions and responses. Do we have such encounters with God that would propel us to act in the way David did?

“David said to Goliath, ‘You are coming to fight against me with a sword, a spear and a javelin. But I’m coming against you in the name of the Lord who rules over all … He’s the one you have dared to fight against. This day the Lord will give me the victory over you … The Lord doesn’t rescue people by using a sword or a spear … The battle belongs to the Lord. He will hand all of you over to us.’” (1 Samuel 17:45-47)

When David was in battle with the Philistines, a fight in which his own people, the Israelites, doubted him, he remained unfazed. He was focused, single-minded and only looked to God.

One lesson that we can draw from David’s responses is that he knew God so well that he could work within the logic of God. He was so convinced and confident of God’s guidance even before the victory took place.

Knowing God seemed to be central to David’s life. As seen in many of the psalms, David’s life was difficult, to say the least. Despite his deep anguish, it was always without fail that he chose to ultimately acknowledge God and His good, unchanging nature, which spurred him on and kept him going.

David also knew his position and role. He knew that he was a king in waiting, and honoured Saul as the “Lord’s anointed” when he was still king (1 Samuel 24:6). He knew that even if Saul did try to kill him many times, he was not to repay evil for evil.

Most importantly, he knew that God’s timing is perfect. He knew that God would vindicate him one day. He knew that he was a child of God and that God cared for him, and thus, he could trust for God to deliver.

In all these, we see a heart that continuously waited upon the Lord, even when it did not make sense.

“What are you waiting for?” may seem to be the question of the hour. Whether we are successfully ticking all the “correct” boxes in life, winning the rat race, building a home with a partner – there will always be an expectation on us to achieve, to do more.

But this very question creates an illusion that we are always behind time. It forgets that time is written by the same God who has written all the days of our lives.

I see the struggle of friends who have had to deal with such comments. They love God and seek to do His will. However, clouded by the expectations of society, they resort to satisfying everybody including themselves, when we are naturally insecure and prideful. Many may have achieved these societal expectations only to feel emptier than before.

If someone were to ask David “what are you waiting for?”, I believe David would have replied with this: “Do you mean, who am I waiting for?”

As the Psalms illustrate, David knew that in the midst of life’s pressures and tribulations, all that he truly desired, all that he needed, he could expect from a God who loved him. After all, David means “beloved”.

He knew God loved him, and with that knowledge, he knew that he could restfully wait on the one who had it all planned out for him. Like David, we should strive to live with a confident expectation of the one who loves us, who promises to work all things for our good (Romans 8:28), and is always on time.

It is this understanding that must govern our logic, actions and thoughts, that will compel us to live not on man’s timing, but on God’s. Then we too can be people after God’s own heart – people who will do all He wills.

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On death and dying: A post-mortem of life’s great equaliser

The Valley

A Christian’s take on privilege and class divides

Stricken with PTSD and depression after my mum suddenly passed away, I thought my life was over

We found love at PraySingapore

How to be a person after God’s own heart