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And Singapore’s favourite verse of 2017 is …

by | 15 December 2017, 12:24 AM

It’s official. Singapore’s favourite verse of 2017 is … Jeremiah 29:11.

YouVersion released their year-end review recently, which said we may be living amid the most Bible-engaged generation ever. The summary also shows the top verses around the world – the ones that were shared, bookmarked and highlighted most often by the global Bible App community in 2017.

The verse of the year was Joshua 1:9.

I wonder if Singapore’s top verse of 2017 should raise more concerns than hope.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Growing up in the youth ministry, this verse was widely and commonly quoted. We used it when exams were drawing close, when we had to submit our choices for our school applications. Then we grew older, and this verse was still used when we were job hunting, when we went for job interviews, when our parents went for health screenings …

For the average Singaporean, this verse seems to give some hope and assurance in this fast-paced, cut-throat society. It has all the right words in it: We love planning ahead. We are always so concerned about our future. We want quick solutions.

But while Jeremiah 29:11 is one of our most beloved verses, it’s possibly one of the most misunderstood ones.

We love anything that promises us prosperity. Huat ah! Prosperity in the form of straight A’s. A degree from a prestigious university. Or a high-flying career. Or a #goals kind of relationship.

But while Jeremiah 29:11 is one of our most beloved verses, it’s possibly one of the most misunderstood ones. I’m definitely guilty of having quoted it frequently and written it on many well-wishing cards over the years.

But do we really know what the verse means?

Jeremiah 29:11 was part of a letter written by the prophet Jeremiah for the exiles in Babylon, who were discouraged and disillusioned. They had suffered terribly. They had lost their land, their throne, their temple.

And when they read that line, they probably would have felt … a strange mix of distant hope amid tremendous disappointment.

Because this letter was a reminder to the people of Judah that they would not be returning home anytime soon. Not for 70 years, to be precise, according to Jeremiah 29:10.

The Israelites were exiled due to their own sins. But God had shown incredible mercy and called them to repentance. The exile was a consequence of their actions, meaning their immediate future looked bleak. But in His grace, He promised them prosperity instead of harm, and a hope and a future.

It was in such a state of despair that this letter was written, as an encouragement to the exiles in a foreign land.

Now, you might ask, so what? Even if the verse is taken out of context, it’s still true to some extent, right? God does know the plans for each of us, so it’s applicable for those seeking God’s plan for their life, right? Well, yes and no.

Consider the context in which these promises were made. In Jeremiah 28, another prophet named Hananiah makes a bold declaration: God will restore Israel in two years. The tens of thousands of people living in exile will be going home soon. Hang in there!

It is far too easy to take Jeremiah 29 out of context and instead hear in it the promises we want to receive.

Whatever Hananiah said sounded good. It was what people wanted to hear. But … it wasn’t true. God had no plans to make everything better in just two years. Hananiah persuaded the nation to trust in his lies (Jeremiah 28:15), and they believed him easily because it was a semblance of the release from their situation that they were so desperate for.

He had preached rebellion (Jeremiah 28:16): Drawing hope not according to the Word of God, but the wants of man.

All along I’d read Jeremiah 29 like I was listening to Hananiah. I believed that God would work out everything for my benefit soon, and in ways that made sense to me. It is far too easy to take Jeremiah 29 out of context and instead hear in it the promises we want to receive.

We fall so easily into the trap of self-deception.

But this isn’t a dismissal of the love of the verse, because at the heart of it lies an eternal truth: That God really does know what’s in store for you, and His heart is always for the good of those who love Him.

No, the plans that God has for you may not be the plans you want for yourself. But that doesn’t mean His plans aren’t better plans.

We need to be careful of our natural human tendencies to twist God’s promises and plans into caricatures of what they really mean. Here are some ways to help us keep that tendency in check.

HOW CAN WE CORRECTLY HANDLE THE WORD OF GOD?

1. DIG DEEPER

When you know the Word better, you are able to discern what is true and untrue (Hebrews 5:12-14). Discipline yourself; set aside time daily to read the Bible. Take your time to read and understand. Read with a greater sensitivity to context. It’s always quality more than quantity.

2. DISCUSS WITH OTHERS

None of us has a monopoly on truth or insight. Join a cell group to study and discuss the Bible together. Or maybe your church has regular Bible Study meetings. Or consider Bible Study Fellowship, which works across church and denominational lines. As iron sharpens iron, let your community help you to grow. Be open to hearing new perspectives that you otherwise wouldn’t have thought of yourself.

3. DIE TO YOURSELF

The key, I feel, is to commit ourselves to seeking God first and only. By laying down all our pride and desires, we turn our eyes on Him to help us realise that we live within a story much bigger than our own. A story in which God resolves the disappointments of life in ways we can never even imagine.

A story of hope and a future.

/ christina@thir.st

Christina is a designer who memorises Pantone swatches. Her standard bubble tea order – oolong milk tea with 25% sugar, less bubbles and no ice. She also dreams of raising her own pet penguin one day.

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Speak up: You don’t have to be charismatic or extraordinary

by Ada Chua | 20 September 2018, 4:01 PM

The Old Testament has 17 books that are named after prophets whom God chose to speak through, instead of speaking directly to His people. Yet some of us don’t believe that God could use us as His chosen vessels.

We often say the same words that Moses says, “God, I am not eloquent, I am slow of speech, I am tongue-tied, my words get tangled. Please send someone else.” (Exodus 4:10) But God didn’t send anyone else. Instead He said to him, “I will give you the words to speak, and I will instruct you on what to say.” (Exodus 4:12)

It is not the easiest thing to speak on a public platform. Yet so many times, God has chosen us human beings to speak through. The Bible in itself, is a record of God breathing the Word and men recording it down.

The end of the world is recorded by John, who wrote on a scroll whatever God revealed to him. Jesus’ life and teachings were not recorded by Jesus Himself. Instead, they were recorded by four ordinary men, two of whom weren’t even Jesus’ 12 Apostles.

There was one day in the Bible where a crowd was astonished because the disciples, who were Galileans, were speaking the peoples’ languages. (Acts 2:4) And these were people of different nations and different tongues.

They were wondering, “How is this possible that these disciples are speaking to me in a language I can understand?” (Acts 2:6-7) It was the day of Pentecost, where the Holy Spirit empowered all the disciples to speak in different tongues.

In the same way, the Holy Spirit empowers us to speak to people of entirely different backgrounds, whose stories we have never understood – yet He gives us the right moments and the right words to speak directly into their hearts.

Peter and John were preaching one day of the good news of Jesus. And people were shocked. In fact, some of they remarked, “How is it that ordinary, unschooled men can speak with such words?” The Bible records that they took note that these were men of Jesus. (Acts 4:13)

These people managed to speak so powerfully not because of who they were. They were unschooled, they were ordinary, they were like you and me – struggling, not charismatic either. And the only reason why they could speak like that, why they could convict people of the Good News of Jesus Christ, was because the Holy Spirit empowered them, because God gave them the words to say.

And that is exactly what He wants to do with us.

When Jesus said that we are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14), He didn’t mean that we would have to shine with our own brightness. Instead, we would be fuelled by the Holy Spirit to be able to shine to the people around us.

That is the joy of preaching the Good News with Jesus – that you’re not alone, it’s not a task that you embark on by yourself. It’s something you partner with God to do together.

Peter and John were subsequently confronted by one of the Jewish priests, who told them, “Maybe it’s better if you don’t preach about the name of Jesus anymore.” But Peter and John just said, “we can’t help it! We can’t help but share what we have seen and heard!” (Acts 4:17-20)

There are many times where I have struggled over whether I should censor my story just so that my sharing can be more secular. But nowadays, I’m realising that as long as I rely on the Holy Spirit to give me the right words at the right time, I can preach the Good News to anybody.This is what God promises you as well!

I want to encourage you with Luke 12:8-12: “I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God. But whoever disowns me before others will be disowned before the angels of God … When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”

I pray that as you embark on your journey to share the goodness of God in your life with somebody, you will enjoy being empowered by the Holy Spirit. He will give you the right moments and the right words to speak, so that the people who hear the Good News spoken to them will receive it in their hearts with gladness.

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Standing up for the love I believe in

by Zachary Wong | 20 September 2018, 2:51 PM

This is how I feel about the ongoing public debate about Section 377A:

I feel like a student who had to study real hard for an examination, only to find that the paper had only one question. There is no model answer, and there is not one but thousands of graders – each relying on different marking criteria.

Yet on the basis of my answer to that one question, all that I am as a student is judged.

It’s just a feeling. But debates on a single public square issue can have such an effect. It’s more than just the technicality or legality of the matter under discussion, but also what is signalled in the response.

And it is not just the government, or activists, but the “silent majority” that is watching how the Church responds.

I feel torn, placed in a forced choice situation. If I go one way, I may signal that I am standing with the marginalised, but get marginalised myself by others. If I go the other way, I may be applauded for standing by my faith, but get simultaneously branded as a bigot and a hypocrite, and alienate people from coming to know Jesus for themselves.

It doesn’t have to be so. But why am I led to feel this way?

A friend of mine once remarked that the Church has been known very much for what it stands against, but not for what it stands for. And in being unable to stand for something that is so deeply entangled with our faith, we are easily accused of being unloving – or worse, intolerant.

But I believe that our love is less demonstrated in a signature than it is in an interaction; love should be most evident in what an individual experiences when he or she steps into a church, or meets a Christian.

This raises the bar for the Church, which I think is the nub of the problem.

It isn’t so much about what we choose to preserve by the basis of our faith. It’s how we’ve been perceived to be so lacking in doing much else for the LGBT community.

These are a few of those perceptions: No acts of mercy or care. No sense of welcome in the church community. No safety for someone with same-sex attraction to come out and share about his or her struggles without feeling condemned. No one who will journey with the ones who struggle.

We say that we want to be like Jesus. He’s the guy who the tax collectors and sinners happily hung out with, but also said to the woman caught in adultery, “Go and sin no more.” But at times we look more like the Pharisees, whom He constantly chastised for placing “heavy burdens on people’s backs (i.e. expectations) without lifting a finger to help them” (Matthew 23:4).

Borrowing a phrase from Ed Shaw, we have a “plausibility problem”. Our witness for the Gospel lacks credibility. Only standing up for what we’re against is like playing only one line from an orchestral score real loud. But because the other musicians are not doing their part, the music sounds awful.

Now I should clarify that amidst the aforementioned perceptions, there has been good work on the ground.

Most churches remain committed to proclaiming Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life (John 14:6). We must never lose sight of that, as He is the best gift God offers to a broken, sin-sick world.

Besides that, God offers the body and bride of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27, Revelation 19:7), the Church, and some good things are being done by her.

Only standing up for what we’re against is like playing only one line from an orchestral score real loud.

I know of people who are out there ministering to individuals with same-sex attraction in amazing and sacrificial ways. And there are others who are teaching the Church how to think through the issues Christianly and express ourselves winsomely in the public square.

And it is often in the nature of good work to stay hidden, not seeking the limelight.

There are churches too that have been actively reforming themselves to be safe and secure communities. Christians have been trying to reconcile faith with the social issues of our day, as seen in this locally produced book, “Good News for Bruised Reeds: Walking with Same-Sex Attracted Friends”.

I am also really glad for the launch of Truelove.is earlier this year. It is a platform that provides stories of Christians who experience same-sex attraction, and offers resources to equip fellow Christians to better minister to them.

Truelove.is has helped to shift the conversation in the Church. It supplements, but should not substitute, what Christians can do to better love and serve their neighbours. Of course, it will take some more years before the full benefit of Truelove.is will be reaped.

I believe more can be done. Much more. And all this can be achieved without compromising what we believe in. It’s not a win-lose situation.

In fact, I believe that if we spent the majority of our time living out the love we proclaim to have – what we stand for, the witness of the Church will look more like good news. Because the Church will look more like Jesus.

The music from the orchestra will sound more symphonic. Even at the times when we have to agree to disagree.

It calls for hard work, impossible except by the Spirit’s help.

So, after the dust from the present kerfuffle has settled, what are we going to do?

“In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.” (Titus 2:7-8)


The author’s name has been changed for confidentiality.

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Are you serving for affirmation?

by Nicholas Quek | 18 September 2018, 3:49 PM

I suspect that many of you reading this article are serving in churches, or are at least in some position of responsibility or authority.

You might be a ministry head, cell leader, mentor. Or you might be the guy who stacks chairs after service. Whatever role we play, most of us participate in this church structure not merely as members, but as people who lead, serve and hold positions – whose roles play an important part in the weekly running of a church service.

Thing is, I believe that across many churches, it has become ingrained into the culture that one should “step up” into service and leadership as quickly as possible.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with leading and serving in church. Indeed, my very act of writing at present is a conscious act of service unto the larger church body. Paul exhorts us in 1 Corinthians 14:12 to “strive to excel in building up the church”, so we must exercise our gifts and discharge our duties in service.

I suspect that for many of us, affirmation has become the main reason why we lead and serve in church.

But here’s the potential problem: the addiction to affirmation in the course of serving and ministry.

  • “Wow, thank you so much for serving.”
  • “That was a really great point you made.”
  • “Great job today, I really enjoyed worship.”

Ever heard these before? To be clear, there’s also nothing wrong with affirmation. It’s a good thing to honour and encourage one another. But I suspect that for many of us, affirmation has become the main reason why we lead and serve in church.

Isn’t it addictive? To hear how great your Bible study session was? How amazing your voice was in worship, or how much the church appreciates your sacrifice?

And how easy it is to play by the rules! Many of us who have grown up in church are so familiar with the structures and scaffoldings of church life, that we’ve crafted for ourselves ideal ways to receive affirmation.

There are many reasons why someone might attend a church.

Curiosity, anger, romance – the people that flow in and out of a church’s doors are diverse both in appearance and purpose.

Yet I venture that this variation in purpose might well exist within the church. I say this with confidence because this same devious purpose – to receive affirmation – was what kept me in church for 12 years.

And so when I failed in my ministry tasks, or messed up during a worship set – my joy was robbed from me. My very purpose in church was taken away, and I was left with nothing but emptiness where once was the affirmation of those around me.

What robs us of our joy? Are we filled with despair when we fail at a task in church? Or when we offend those we respect? When we are not commended for what we have done?

These are important questions to ask ourselves, not just because they pertain to church participation, but because they pertain to our very salvation.

The main reason for gathering together as a church isn’t to say nice things to each other or make each other feel good – it is to glorify Christ!

Ephesians 2 clearly spells out that we gather together with Christ Jesus as the Cornerstone, in whom we all grow together into a holy temple unto the Lord.

Any affirmation must come out from sincere faith in Christ Jesus, which leads us to love and care for one another. Indeed, sincere faith in Christ Jesus might also lead us to do things that seemingly run contrary to affirmation. In Galatians 2 Paul recounts how he called Peter out on his sin – how his conduct was not in step with the truth of the Gospel.

That is what sincere faith in Jesus Christ looks like: while we affirm, we also correct. We do this not to destroy, but to restore each other to walking in step with the Gospel.

Does that bring us joy? Do we see correction and discipline as a necessary and good part of church life? To come to church for affirmation is to completely miss the purpose of gathering together as a church.

Ask God to reveal the true foundation of your life: is it about yourself or the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

“For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:20)

It took me 12 years to fully realise that my participation in church life didn’t come out of a sincere faith in Jesus and commitment to His body – I was simply hungry for affirmation.

I didn’t have any real faith in Jesus Christ. Instead, I harboured the desire to see myself worshipped and adored.

It is my prayer and hope that we do not deceive ourselves into thinking we are worshipping Jesus when we are really just worshipping ourselves! Far better that we know now, and know rightly, than to discover too late the corrupted foundations we had built our whole lives upon.

So what gives us joy? Let the answer be Christ, and Christ alone!

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by | 18 September 2018, 2:59 PM

In the spirit of all that has been going on, I feel that we have to get one misconception out of the way quickly and early: God does not need us to defend Him — we only represent Him.

By that, I mean the motivation behind any advocacy must be love. Which translates to the manner in which we advocate for our beliefs being loving. Without these two things in place, it doesn’t matter whether you think you’re right or wrong — you are not pleasing or glorifying God.

Now, representing God necessitates advocating who He is and what He’s all about. In that vein, there is no such thing as a silent Christian — silence is not love.

But you don’t have to look far to find vitriol and hate in online and everyday discussions from Christians. I don’t often see good and accurate representations of God and Christlikeness when it comes to contending on the sociopolitical issues of our day.

Instead it often looks like roughhousing — worldly wrestling of an antagonistic nature.

Consider this: Anger is the quickest way to prove the person you’re debating with right. It confirms what he already believes about you. And for Christians, what’s even more severe is the fact that your reaction may confirm what he believes about God.

Close-minded. Angry. Hateful. Bigoted. Now we may not necessarily be such people, but the way we react may certainly look like that.

What is in the heart dictates what comes out of the mouth (Luke 6:45), so if love motivates our advocacy, the words we persuade others with will be coated with care and delivered in deep affection.

If we truly see our brothers and sisters the way God sees them, we will necessarily shift away from an “us-versus-them” mentality.

When we have caught the heart of God on the many issues we face, words that were once arrows will bend and break.

Instead, discourse and conversations will be about who God is and what He is about, and thus why we want to uphold laws that reflect His character. To that end, how many of us have actually sat down, spent time with Father God, and heard His heart on the issue?

Many of us must repent for making many things – not just the hot topic of 377A – our own thing, and for bringing our own agenda and prejudices onto the table. It cannot be like that if we are to persuade people that we follow a God of love — who is love.

When we have caught the heart of God on the many issues we face, words that were once arrows will bend and break — becoming the very balm a divided and wounded world so desperately needs.

That’s something only God within us can do.

“… if truth is not undergirded by love, it makes the possessor of that truth obnoxious and the truth repulsive.” (Ravi Zecharias)

So how do we speak in love? I think the first and easiest step is to assume that we haven’t, or at least could be doing better.

We can start by repenting for not having represented God well, and acknowledge that we don’t have it within ourselves the ability to dispense true grace and love to another person in our words and actions.

If we are humble, we will increasingly see that we need more of God’s grace and love, not just for ourselves, but for others as well — especially those who have never tasted it.

Vexed by the 377A issue and reflecting on how to respond to it, I was reading a devotion earlier this week by Oswald Chambers, who wrote: “Every theory or thought that raises itself up as a fortified barrier ‘against the knowledge of God’ is to be determinedly demolished by drawing on God’s power, not through human effort or by compromise”.

Before I speak another word on this issue to the world, I want to listen to the voice of God — I want to draw on His power.

Have you previously gone on the warpath in some conversations? Many of us defend the faith (1 Peter 3:15), but forget the “gentleness and respect” Paul did it with.

If you are convicted to apologise to someone, ask God for the humility and grace to do just that. You can redeem the conversation with discernment and grace from God.

We’ve often heard the cheesy adage that people don’t care what you know, until they know that you care — but it remains especially true in our interactions with one another on contentious issues.

Whenever you leave a comment, remember first there’s a real person behind the Facebook profile or the username you’re replying to. Remember that God loves him just as He loves you, and because of that, you love him too.

Remember the God you represent.

377A is an issue that hangs over the entire nation’s mind-space, and isn’t likely to go away soon. But that’s not a bad thing.

Everyone is watching: the Government is looking for “public opinion”, Singaporeans are taking clear looks at what both camps stand for, and perhaps more obscured are the eyes of the foreign world peering in to what happens here on our sunny shores.

We have an opportunity. If you really believe we are the Antioch of Asia, then it’s time to act like it. What if we redeemed every petition, debate and conversation and used them to show the world who Jesus Christ is?

If the Great Commission is central to one’s life — shouldn’t it also be central in our advocacy? As we contend to uphold godly laws and values, let’s not forget the most important thing.

Let’s lift the name of God high and excellently through our response, that no fault can be found in us.

“… But in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect …” (1 Peter 3:15)

/ 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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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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And Singapore’s favourite verse of 2017 is …

Speak up: You don’t have to be charismatic or extraordinary

Standing up for the love I believe in

Are you serving for affirmation?

Advocacy means nothing without love

My love affair with pornography