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#THIRSTACOUSTIC: Keep Me On Fire

by | posted 17 May 2018, 5:36 PM

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Learning about election: How can we be sure?

by | 25 September 2018, 5:57 PM

For the longest time, I’ve avoided thinking too hard about the inconvenient or uncomfortable aspects of the faith.

With “predestination” for instance, I simply packed it up in a box and wrote “God is sovereign” over the lid. And that was that. When it came to “election” – the Calvinist doctrine that believers are already chosen – I didn’t even approach that can of worms.

I settled for simple definitions of the terms that had little to do with me — little to change the way I thought or lived. Because, honestly, while there was a part of me that was just lazy to delve into the theology — there was a much larger part that was simply afraid.

What if I learnt something I couldn’t deal with or reconcile? What if God didn’t elect my loved ones?

Fear was what I felt about election when I first heard of it as a teenager. The notion that God picks some people and not all to be saved was deeply offensive to me. It seemed to go against everything I had been taught in Sunday school and still believed — surely God was supposed to love and save the whole wide world! 

So I lived with the convenience of quiet confusion, even as I did all the other Christian stuff I didn’t have to think too much about.

Is God fair to save some and not all?

My blissful ignorance to the larger cosmic workings of our existence continued until just recently, when someone asked a question at Bible Study Fellowship about Romans 9 that made my head hurt.

Well, surely. But just as I was about to lock in that thought, a thought came to mind, and I remembered how my father looked as he lay ruined from cancer. I had told God then that He wasn’t being fair. Why were other Christian healed, but my father wasn’t?

Accusations of God’s unfairness or injustice most frequently rear themselves in suffering, and are symptomatic of a certain entitlement and carnality. Our demands are damning: Do we even accept that His ways are higher? Are we willing to submit? And do we submit under our definition of fairness or God’s? They aren’t the same.

The difficult truth I had learnt to accept in life is that God doesn’t owe us anything. We just feel entitled. So what would be “fair” would be for all of us to be hurled into hellfire. Because that’s what we truly deserve — death — and yet Jesus has given us life instead.

Do we even accept that His ways are higher? Are we willing to submit? And do we submit under our definition of fairness or God’s?

But I squirmed in my seat as I listened to the teaching leader speak about election.

“God is fair. No one can say God is unfair: The offer of salvation is universal and excluded to none. ‘Jacob I loved, Esau I hated’ — Why? Both were sinners, both deserved judgment — neither deserved salvation.

“God chose who would respond in faith to His promise. We are so ruined by sin, we are unable to respond by faith — unless God is first at work in us to give us the ability to respond. Salvation is God’s work. It’s not human effort.”

As he spoke on, he challenged what I quickly realised was a very incomplete understanding of election. Maybe there was some remnant pain in my life from seeing my father not having been chosen for healing. But I found it hard to reconcile the fact that God predestines some for salvation and not others.

It’s just hard to swallow. Because fundamentally, most of us believe and feel that we should be saved. The way we see it, a good God shouldn’t send anyone to hell. The human view is that a good God would snap His fingers and save the day.

To be fair, He did save the day, but I hadn’t really internalised how much of a just God He is as well.

I tried to break it down for myself by imagining God was throwing a party.

Was it the case that God would invite some people, but not the rest? A bojio by God felt unfair to me. Here I was tempted to think of people off in some unreached jungle in the world, but even they have a shot at knowing Jesus and are without excuse (Romans 1:20).

Or was the party one where God graciously invited everyone, but only a few responded and showed up?

As I read the Bible, the Lord led me to Matthew 22. In this parable, a king had sent servants to invite guests to his son’s wedding banquet, but some of these guests “paid no attention”. Worse still, other invited guests “seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city” (Matthew 22:5-7).

What really caught my attention was verse 14: “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”

I really couldn’t wrap my head around being chosen, because I had told God in the past that I firmly wanted nothing to do with Him after my father passed on. So I was one of the first invited guests.

The way I see it, if God had drawn up some cosmic list of names which said “you can enter” or “you cannot enter” based on a moment of choice and free will — I wouldn’t be writing this article. After all, I’m inherently too much of a worm to pick God (Romans 3:11-12). Instead it is solely by His sovereign grace that I have been chosen.

God stands outside of time, omniscient, and I believe He sees and can confirm the great choices of our lives. So why didn’t He harden my heart like He did with Pharaoh’s (Exodus 7:3-4)? Why instead did He soften my heart, that the Spirit would quicken faith within me again, years later as a young adult?

It can only be mercy. Mercy I will never deserve. I rejected God, and yet I am chosen, when I too should have been buried under an ocean of sin. Now I see that at the end of it all, God stands sovereign. Just as He heals who He wants to heal, He saves who He wants to save.

 “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” (Romans 9:15)

But just a chapter on in Romans 10, the Bible also teaches the parallel truth that election does not exclude the offer of the gospel! Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

Human choice is not discounted in the sight of a God with outstretched arms, waiting for us to call on Him. All are invited to the party, but only the chosen will want to repent from sin and become His friends.

In the time I’ve been chewing on this, my good friend shared something from RC Sproul which left me deeply moved.

“Another significant difference between the activity of God with respect to the elect and the reprobate concerns God’s justice. The decree and fulfilment of election provide mercy for the elect while the efficacy of reprobation provides justice for the reprobate.

God shows mercy sovereignly and unconditionally to some and gives justice to those passed over in election. That is to say, God grants the mercy of election to some and justice to others. No one is the victim of injustice.

To fail to receive mercy is not to be treated unjustly. God is under no obligation to grant mercy to all—in fact, He is under no obligation to grant mercy to any. He says, “I will have mercy upon whom I will have mercy” (Rom. 9).

The divine prerogative to grant mercy voluntarily cannot be faulted. If God is required by some cosmic law apart from Himself to be merciful to all men, then we would have to conclude that justice demands mercy. If that is so, then mercy is no longer voluntary, but required. If mercy is required, it is no longer mercy, but justice.

What God does not do is sin by visiting injustice upon the reprobate. Only by considering election and reprobation as being asymmetrical in terms of a positive-negative schema can God be exonerated from injustice.”

I see that I am the one who has been unjust. In truth, I have been unjust from conception. Yet I have wagged my finger in God’s face countless times, demanding things I will never deserve — all while He withheld wrath from me in mercy.

Honestly, it feels like the more I learn about the nature of my salvation, the less I really know of the infinite God. But what I’ve learnt about election is that He is merciful and just and I … I am just totally depraved.

But since I am totally depraved, I want to be totally humble about what I’ve learnt. Just as much as I am chosen, I am a beggar pointing other beggars to the banquet.


God I pray that even as I learn about the hows of faith, You would keep me looking at the so whats. Use me wholly, totally, sovereignly as Your humble and obedient vessel to do Your will. Let my deeds outweigh my words — make my life profit Your Kingdom. Thank You for choosing me, and for all You have done and will do. 

/ 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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Finding the star in every special need

by Gerald Png | 25 September 2018, 5:19 PM

Gerald is the founder of Soul Food Enterprise, a social enterprise which is currently housed at the Enabling Village. Soul Food’s mission is to equip, employ and empower persons with special needs so as to give them a platform to contribute to, and be included meaningfully into society. Over the past 10 years of operation, they have trained and worked with 18 young people with special needs.


My daughter Cheryl was born in 1992. Everything was good until she was about two and a half years old, when we observed that something was amiss in her development. Finding our that she had developmental delays turned our world upside down.

One question I had was: “What am I going to do now?” What could I do for her?

As I spoke to people, did my research online, and tried to process the myriad thoughts in my head, I could feel God showing me the way: I needed to focus on Cheryl’s strengths and abilities, rather than her inabilities.

When she was 11 years old, Cheryl would peek into the kitchen to see what I was doing. As I was the cook of the house, I invited her to putter around in the kitchen with me – stir soups, cut things … That was how I noticed she was interested in cooking.

Could this be a possible vocation for her?

When she was in Grace Orchard School, which caters to students who have been diagnosed with Mild Intellectual Disability (MID) and those with Mild Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), I offered to support her form teacher in her Home Economics class.

During a class, when they were making pizza, I had the opportunity to meet her classmates and observe things. I noticed some of them struggled to spread out the cheeses and the condiments on the pizza dough.

It got me thinking: If we started a café or a production kitchen, we could get different persons to do different things, and the collective effort of all could result in a delicious soup or dish.

That is where it all began. My desire to help my daughter fit into society had now expanded to her friends.

When Cheryl turned 13, she started attending Tanglin School, a school by the Association for Persons with Special Needs (APSN). I began to think more seriously about the possibilities a cooking space for young people like her.

But I had no experience running a restaurant, much less a social enterprise. I had only ever been an employee, and not even in the food and beverage sector. Still, in 2008, I had a strong sense from God to get going.

One day, during my devotions, God said to me, “What you can do for Cheryl, you can also do for her friends.” It would not just be about creating food. It would be about the souls impacted by our food, those who would eat it – but especially those who would make it.

That was the year I registered Soul Food Enterprise as a business entity.

I started very small, but along the way, God sent me much encouragement. When I was trying to find a place to house the restaurant, I received a call from the Housing Development Board. The person on the line said, “Mr Png, I heard that you are looking for a shop space for your project.”

I hadn’t spoken much to anybody about my idea, so I was surprised that news had travelled so far. After submitting a simple proposal to them at our first meeting, the surprise grew as they took out a map and asked, “So, where would you like to open your restaurant?”

I told them that we needed to find a location near a train station, as our team members with special needs will need to travel by themselves. We settled on a place at Commonwealth that was available for the next five years.

So that was how we started: A little dining area for 15 people and a very small kitchen to learn and work in.

Six months before our five-year lease was due to expire, we had some guests from the National Council of Social Services (NCSS). While they ate, they asked us about what our plans were going forward.

I told them about our expiring lease, and our need for a larger dining room and kitchen space. I was hoping to take Soul Food to the next level, where we could train more people in the kitchen and for front-of-house services.

We needed to give the kids in our employment the space and training to gain real mastery of skills, whether in preparation and cooking, or customer service – skills they could carry with them for life.

I really believe this visit was from God, because soon after we were invited to take up a space at the Enabling Village in Lengkok Bahru. We now have a dining space that seats over 50 people comfortably and a 750 square feet commercial training kitchen.

I try to be a faithful steward of this social enterprise that allows young people with different needs and abilities to punch above their weight. Soul Food has given many of them opportunities that would otherwise not have come their way.

Sometimes it feels like they climb two steps, only to fall back a step. We may think they have honed a skill because they have rehearsed it a hundred times. Then, suddenly, they seem to forget how it is done, and we have to start all over.

But I always say that is okay. We are here to scaffold them, and it requires a very different kind of patience.

Honestly, while we teach them skills, we are also learning about each of them. I may know how to wash plates or make a soup, but I also need to know enough about them to ensure they can apply the skills I teach them.

In the future, I would like to be able to say this of Soul Food: “Our success is attributed to every young person with different needs and abilities, supported by neuro-typical managers and supervisors.”

The first thing I advocate in the restaurant is inclusion. It is not about “us” or “them”, but rather how we, as a team, can be inclusive. It is about people with special needs and people who are neuro-typical working together, and how we can continue to leverage on each other’s strengths.

The crew, who have different needs, look to their neuro-typical team leaders for direction and guidance. At the same time, the team leaders look to the crew for support for operations. We aim to build up – not to tear down – each other, all the while looking for the other’s abilities and strengths.

Our motto for Soul Food is “Made by Many Hands”. I think it is most befitting as, truly, everyone has a hand in the business.

At the end of the day, this is a Food and Beverage business where things have got to be sleek and professional.

We have to mindfully address challenges concerning efficiency in customer service and food production by reviewing and tweaking our business model periodically, so as to allow our diverse team time and space to manage changes.

I have found that the best form of learning is hands-on – we model the skills so those with special needs can understand what and why they need to do things a specific way. And I believe we have been successful on the whole.

Our frontline service team members are always affirmed and praised by our diners. Moreover, I think people enjoy visiting Soul Food because they know that everything is prepared with love and authenticity.

Through this 10-year journey, I can now see God more clearly, I can now trust Him even more. To would-be employers of people with special needs, I have this to say: Keep your eyes open in order to understand them. Employ them believing that they can contribute.

Do not just offer them menial tasks such as cleaning the toilets or the tables and chairs. Instead, explore possibilities beyond what you think possible, and encourage them in their journey.

I am thankful that Soul Food is now in a position to showcase the abilities of our young persons both in the kitchen and at the front-of-house. These skills took a lot of time and effort from the whole team, but by believing and persevering, we now see the fruits of our labour.

So seek to include and understand people with special needs. Find the star in each of them.


Gerald’s story is from “Call Me By Name”, a collection of 23 stories of Singaporeans with special needs, and their families. It was curated by the Family Inclusion Network, a group of parents and volunteers with a heart to embrace persons with special needs and disabilities.

The book will be available on Gracework’s online store from September 1, 2018 onwards. 

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What does life want from me?

by | 25 September 2018, 3:06 PM

One of my favourite books is Viktor E. Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning, a memoir he wrote about surviving the Holocaust in a concentration camp.

While Frankl goes into great detail of the abuse they received as Jews within the camp, he also expounds greatly on how he could keep his spirits up despite the depressing circumstances. His having a reason to live required a change of attitude towards life itself: “It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.”

I wonder how many of us have a why to live. And I wonder how many of us know why we live. 

Our generation is big on extremes, we either live life to its fullest or we live to survive. We contend as activists or remain apathetic. Some strive to give their lives and actions some focus and meaning, others are content to drift through life without much effort because nothing gained means nothing lost.

Bearing Frankl’s earlier question in mind: do you know what life expects of you? Frankl distils life as “taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfil the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.” Based on such a worldview, regardless of your attitude towards it, life still needs to be lived.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world

And as a Christian reading the book, I immediately see how Frankl’s definition for life can be taken as a metaphor for God’s will for our lives. This might not be Frankl’s original interpretation of life, but there must be Someone who has the sovereignty to allow the presence of “problems” and “tasks” in our lives.

So without delving into the arena of apologetics, let me push the thread of questioning even further: do you know what God expects of you?

Perhaps before we discover what God expects of us, let us delve into what we can expect of God.

Romans 12:2 puts it simply for us, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will.”

The Word assures us that everything in our life is ordained by God (Proverbs 16:33). With renewed minds, we are to test and approve what God’s will is in all the events of our lives.

Now, the only way for us to know these things is to live closely with Him daily. In the shadow of His wings, we will always see that at the end of the day, He is always good.

But before we can say “it is well” to everything that happens in our lives, we must learn how to live with Him. This is where His expectations come in.

And again, we can get this direction from looking at Romans 12:2. First, we are not to yield to the pressures of the world and conform to its pattern. Second, the spirit of our minds (Ephesians 4:23) must be renewed – bent away from the world and back towards God.

This only happens through disciplined devotion to God and genuine life change wrought by the Holy Spirit.

When we have these things in place, we will be able to exercise spiritual discernment. And in today’s combative and divisive society, we will be able to speak up and represent God in love.

Why does God have such expectations of us? Frankl also says that “the salvation of man is through love and in love.” Indeed, if not for the God who is love (1 John 4:16), we would have no chance at a life that is good, pleasing and acceptable in His eyes. We’d be dead without Him.

Because of love, God expects – commands – us to wholly love and fully obey Him. Because the Lord’s expectations of us are representative of a perfect (1 John 4:18) and unconditional love, we must live out the Romans 12:2.

There is a greater life just waiting to be lived.

/ 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 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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Article list

#THIRSTACOUSTIC: Keep Me On Fire

Learning about election: How can we be sure?

Finding the star in every special need

What does life want from me?

How important are Christian friends in university?

The pursuit of sexual purity