Am I More ‘Christian’ Than Her?

Written by Jasmine Koh, Singapore

It happens pretty often. Sometimes, it’s a passing judgment; other times, it’s a passing thought that I am more “Christian” than my peers. I don’t deny that I struggle with my own sins, but I would always think that, at the very least, I am better off than someone whose sins seem more apparent, more horrendous—more sinful.

It’s terrible, isn’t it? I call myself a professing Christian, someone who believes that the Gospel is for everyone—yet I find myself stuck with selfish thoughts like these. Sometimes, I’m appalled at myself.

I once passed judgment on a close friend of mine who skipped church one Sunday. She was involved in several ministries in church—youth, worship, audio system, etc. On the Saturday I bumped into her, she told me she was feeling tired and had decided not to go to the Sunday service. The first thought that came to my mind was: I wouldn’t skip church.

I assumed I was in a position to judge because I was busy volunteering with a Christian youth organization, yet I still attended church faithfully and did my Quiet Time, no matter how tired I was.

It took some years before I began to see the ugliness of my thoughts. One day, when I was chatting with a friend of mine, she asked me, “Do you find that the more you grow in your walk with God, the more you realize how wretched a sinner you are? And how much more precious grace becomes?”

That was when it struck me: I was that wretched sinner. I was in no position to judge anyone else.

It revealed my wrong understanding of the Gospel. I equated one’s godliness with works—be it church involvement or daily devotions. To me, being “more Christian” meant doing all the right things to show that you’re real and serious about your faith.

Over the years, I had been trying to save myself by doing all the things a good Christian should do. I would fail and come humbled before God. Yet, afterwards, I would again try to be a good Christian through my own works, because I still did not understand how we are corrupt to our very core (Romans 3:12).

What my friend had pointed out was the depravity of humans and our desperate need for Christ. This knowledge of our utter sinfulness should drive us to live with a righteousness that is from God and dependent on Him—not with a righteousness that is from and dependent on ourselves. I am made righteous only through Christ (Gal 2:16, Rom 5:1). And it is only by His righteousness can broken vessels like my friend and I be used for His glory.

In God’s sight, everyone is sinful and everyone needs salvation (Romans 3:23-24). Every Christian’s struggle is different, but what is common is that there is no one perfect and we are all equally undeserving of His grace.

Though I was once quick to judge, I now realize that I am just as unworthy of God’s love. I now recognize my own sin too well to pretend that I am “more righteous” than anyone. Instead, when I struggle or when I see others struggling, I try to remember the grace and mercy God has shown us in Christ. My prayer is to constantly acknowledge my desperate need for an eternal hope.

Cassandra Kanda: Rocking Christian Music

Written by Jasmine K., Singapore

Think catchy riffs, deep bass rhythms, and synthesizer melodies, and you’re likely to associate them with “house” or club music. But a 22-year-old musician is aiming to break this stereotype and prove that Christian music can be catchy and current too. And to prove it, she’s produced an entire album all by herself.

Meet New Zealander Cassandra Kanda, who produced Genesis in her room. Just five months after the album was released in January, her music has reached some 20 countries and hit an overall stream count of one million on Spotify. Currently, her top-hit, “Sticks and Stones”, occupies 14th position on The Hot Chart, which tracks the most-played songs on the top 40 Christian radio stations across the US.

But Cassandra is quick to say that the motivation behind her music has never been the search for fame and popularity. It all started when she found it difficult to share worship songs with her non-believing friends, she said in an earlier interview with The Good Christian Music Blog. They were turned off by this genre of music as it was “all about God” or simply incomprehensible because of the liberal use of Christian jargon. Noting the lack of relatable Christian pop songs, Cassandra saw an opportunity to try and weave together biblical truths and R&B grooves. That set her on a path to co-produce the album Road to You with her church two years ago.

In an email interview with YMI, Cassandra says that she discovered her interest in music at a young age. When she was 11, she was always fiddling with the instruments in church on Sundays and pestering band members to let her try them out. “I remember they bought a new keyboard and gave me their old one, just so I could stop bothering them on a Sunday, as I was that annoying kid,” she says.

That grew her passion in music tremendously. The self-taught musician, who fully dedicated her life to the Lord at the age of 16, went on to pick up various musical instruments, including the piano, guitar, and drums. She learned music composition in high school and gained hands-on experience by producing for local artists, working on film scores for film students, and mixing and producing her own pieces in university.

But the road leading to where she is today has been a bumpy one.

Voice of God

After college, Cassandra faced her first obstacle: her family. She found herself having to plead with her parents and convince them to allow her to enroll in the New Zealand School of Music. Having moved from Zimbabwe to New Zealand, they had been searching for better opportunities abroad and couldn’t accept music as a livelihood. “The challenge was to convince my parents that this is what God has called me to do and they need not worry about the outcome,” she recounts. Thankfully, her persistence and passion paid off eventually.

Then she faced another obstacle. In her application for the Bachelor of Music course, she realized that she had not taken a certain paper in high school that was required. By God’s grace, however, the university suddenly held a sitting of this paper during the summer break before school reopened; it was the first time the module had ever been scheduled so early in the year. “The timing was uncanny,” she recalls.

This was just the first of the many times in which God continued to affirm Cassandra’s decision to go down this path. After completing her music degree, she did a worship internship in her church. This included doing the roster for worship duties, leading worship, and being the band director.

One night, while she was praying and doing her devotions, she heard God telling her, “Make an EP, make music.” It was a “weird moment”, she says, as that would mean she would not
be continuing her internship in the following year, as she had originally intended to.

But any uncertainty she had vanished just one month later. At a retreat, a woman whom she barely knew pulled her aside and told her, “God’s called you to do this.” Cassandra was blown away; she knew it had to be God nudging her.

Voice for God

Things were also rough in the lead-up to the release of her first album, Genesis. When Cassandra first started, she couldn’t afford to pay for studio recording or promotional plans. A few of her close friends and mentors, concerned about the risk she was taking by diving into an “unorthodox” genre of music, also tried to dissuade her. They were afraid that the plan would fall through and her efforts would go to waste.

On one occasion, a conversation with a colleague discouraged her greatly and made her doubt her decision. “He said, ‘Do you really think you can make music like this for God and be successful? Your voice probably isn’t what most radio stations would want to play’,” she recalls.

For a while after that, Cassandra began to avoid spending time with God. It eventually reached a point where she found herself on her knees, crying in her room. “I wanted to do right by God but at the same time, I didn’t even believe in myself,” she says.

But that’s when she felt God’s presence strongly again. “He was just speaking encouragement over me, reminding me of what He said and that He never makes mistakes and I certainly wasn’t an exception of that.”

That was enough to get her back on track. Cassandra also began to experience God’s provision. “When I had no money for food or no idea how I’d get home from the church office, someone or something would come up to bless me or provide me with what I needed.”

Touching lives

What gives Cassandra great joy in this whole journey is seeing how God has used her efforts to bless others, including her non-Christian friends. “They love it,” she tells YMI. “They listen to it all the time and message me about it, asking what it means.”

She’s also been overwhelmed and humbled by the responses she’s been getting from complete strangers. Close to a month ago, Cassandra received a message from a lady who said she had lost her brother and was struggling to see God’s healing and comfort. She was consoled by the lyrics of Cassandra’s song, Sticks and Stones. “I cried reading it because it was one of the things I’ve always been praying—that music will help those who need comfort and solace,” she says.

On another occasion, Cassandra was greatly encouraged by a message from a teenage girl who was battling depression and struggling with her final examinations. She shared how Cassandra’s album helped to tide her through those rough patches.

Future plans

Currently, Cassandra is working on a new song, “Thoughts”, for her next album. It is a reminder from 2 Corinthians 10:5 of the need to guard her thoughts as an act of obedience to the Lord.

In the near future, Cassandra plans to travel internationally to share her love for God and music. Some 10 or 20 years from now—or whenever God gives her the green light—she hopes to start a record label.

What’s Cassandra’s chief motivation for producing music? “I do what I do because I want to be obedient to what God has called me to do,” she says. “And, I know with everything God places in my hands, He usually has a greater plan and way to help and encourage other people.”

Words Can Kill—Literally

Screenshot taken from YouTube Inside Edition

Written By Jasmine Koh, Singapore 

Is telling someone to commit suicide a crime? According to the verdict of a landmark case in US, it is. For urging her boyfriend to take his own life via text messages that led to his suicide in 2014, Michelle Carter was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter this week.

In dozens of text messages and phone calls, Carter had encouraged Conrad Roy III, who had a history of depression, to kill himself. And when the 18-year-old had last-minute jitters after filling his truck with poisonous carbon monoxide gas using a generator, Carter even ordered Roy by phone to “get back in”. It was these final words, said Massachusetts judge Lawrence Moniz, that constituted “wanton and reckless conduct”.

Many legal experts had expected Carter to be cleared of the charges, and were shocked by the verdict, which sent a strong message that encouraging someone to kill himself can be considered as severe as the act of killing. Some have denounced the verdict as unconstitutional, saying it violates free speech protections.

Whatever we may think of the judge’s decision, what we can probably agree on is this: words have power. The Bible notes this too—God spoke the world into being through His words; Jesus healed many just by speaking through to them; and we are reminded of how words can build up or tear down (Proverbs 12:6). In Roy’s case, Carter’s words clearly played a part in destroying his life.

We need to consider the weight of our words and to control our tongues. James 3:6 says, “And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell” (NASB, emphasis mine) .

The comparison of the tongue to a fire is apt: it encapsulates the perverse, powerful nature of this tiny part of the body. Just as a fire that starts at one part of the body can burn up the entire being, misusing the tongue can bring about massive and dire consequences on our lives.

That’s why the apostle Paul, in Ephesians 4:29, urges believers to “not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen”.

May we learn to be mindful to speak words worthy of Christ, and to use our words to show God’s love and saving grace in our daily lives.

Would you make this your prayer? “May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)

A Letter To The Man of Few Words

Written By Jasmine Koh

Dear Dad,

It is late October. I am seven and barely 90 centimeters tall. You seem like a giant to me. I reach out to hold you and my tiny hands are engulfed by your smooth and strong palms.

It is late October and I am 17 years old. I close the door behind me while uttering a muffled goodbye, not bothering to wish you a good day as I used to before. You say a quick goodbye, too, typing away on your desktop on a Monday morning, neither of us trying to bridge the distance created in the span of 3,650 days. I leave and return to the same flat on the seventh floor every day, as if my home was a hotel. Your nagging and your silence have tired me out.

It is late October and I am 19. I have just attended the funeral of two of my peers’ fathers. I don’t know if I am thinking too much, but I am afraid of your passing, too. Someday, when you go, I don’t know how different life will be. How different I will be. They say that we only remember the presence of someone when they are no longer around.

Every now and then, I rest my eyes on your silhouette. Sometimes from behind the desktop screen, sometimes when you take a breather at the sofa. Looking at the white hairs and the spots surfacing on your skin, it dawns on me that you are ageing.

In the time I spent pestering you to bring me to the playground, catching movies after classes, starting my new part-time job, and entering university, you have gotten old. You still leave your unwashed mug on the table, shout at mum when she doesn’t turn off the switches, and nag me for coming home too late. But you are my dad—and no nagging or silence can ever change that.

It took me a long time to see you for who you are: a figure of strength, tenderness and silence all in one man. It took me many more years to realize what truly mattered to you—how meals together and taking heed of your words meant so much to you. You have worked tirelessly to raise us up. Although a man of few words, you are a man of fatherly love.

Thank you, Dad. You remind me that imperfect beings like us can still love in big and small ways. I don’t always say I love you, or Thank you, but you have truly played a big part in making me the person I am today.

Happy Father’s Day.