My Friend Left the Church Because of Me

“I need a break from church and from y’all to think about what happened,” a good friend wrote in a text message to me one day. And with that one message, Jasmine* never returned to my church again.

It all started during a sleepover three of us had at Jasmine’s place. Jasmine, Alexis* and I were talking late into the night and I told an insensitive joke—which I can no longer remember—which deeply offended Jasmine. Alexis laughed and the both of us thought nothing about it after that.

However, that one seemingly innocent remark affected Jasmine; she stopped talking to us and distanced herself from us after that episode.

Confused, we sent her text messages and even visited her at her house with a cake to cajole her, but to no avail. Our confusion turned to frustration when she started ignoring our other friends who were not involved in the conflict.

That’s when Alexis and I decided to get together with another good friend, Adrienne*, to address the situation. But instead of trying to understand the situation from Jasmine’s perspective, we spurred each other on in our unloving thoughts and harsh judgment towards her. We even thought about how to craft the most strongly-worded passive-aggressive text messages to her. Finally, one evening, Alexis and I received that sobering text message from her.

Jasmine was so hurt by what we had said, that she left the church. Although we did not intend this to happen, I have to admit that we were partly relieved that we didn’t have to face her (or the awkward situation) again.

However, while we had seemingly won the battle against her, we had lost the war against our sinful selves.

When someone leaves the church because of a conflict, it’s easy to sweep the entire thing under the carpet and pretend nothing ever happened. After all, who wants to humble themselves to admit they were wrong and apologize?

However, God repeatedly refers to the Church as the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27, Ephesians 4:12) and gives us these instructions when it comes to relating with one another:

 

1. As the Body of Christ, we are called to be united

The church is the Body of Christ and each one of us is a member who plays a specific role in the family of God. In Ephesians 4, the apostle Paul urges us to live a life worthy of our calling by being humble, gentle, and patient. Unity does not start from a group or from others—it has to start from ourselves.

This means learning to value others’ interests above our own (Philippians 2:3-4), not being harsh when a fellow brother or sister has done wrong but showing them kindness instead, and showing patience and grace towards the faults of another.

Ultimately, it is about recognizing the other party as a brother or sister in Christ and doing our part in ministry so that we can grow together in maturity (Ephesians 4:13).

 

2. As the Body of Christ, we are called to love

The apostle Paul tells us that undergirding all these is love (Ephesians 4:2). Even though I did not harbor any malicious intent towards Jasmine when I made that comment, my lack of sensitivity towards her displayed my lack of love. And the issue escalated because my friends and I did not consider her feelings and were unloving towards her.

Through this episode, I learned that loving others is not simply a fuzzy-wuzzy feeling but a commandment and a conscious choice we have to make. If we profess to love God, we have to learn to love our neighbor as ourselves (Mark 12:31)—no matter how difficult or unlovable the person is.

When it comes to those whom I find difficult to love, I remind myself that God chose to love me even though I’m not that lovable myself. If God can choose to love someone like me, I too can choose to love my friend and channel the same undeserving love I have received to my friend (1 John 4:19).

 

3. As the Body of Christ, we are called to forgive

God showed His love for us by dying on the cross for us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8). When we understand the extent of God’s love for us, we are then able to forgive others.

Forgiveness is a deliberate act on our part. It is not something that is easy, but because Christ has forgiven us, we can forgive one another (Ephesians 4:32). We are called to forgive each other not just once or twice, but seventy times seven times (Matthew 18:21-22) and to seek reconciliation.

In my case, we didn’t do this until our youth mentor forced us to sit down and talk. He reminded us that when we are gathered, God is with us (Matthew 18:20). As we took turns to explain why we were upset with each other, God worked in my heart to apologize to and to forgive Jasmine. The session helped us to understand the situation from each other’s perspective and forgive each other.

 

Although Jasmine has left my church, I’m thankful that all of us have since forgiven each other and are reconciled. Today, she goes to another church but all of us still hang out together regularly.

Through this episode, I have come to realize that harmony and unity in the church is difficult to build when all of us are so vastly different and terribly sinful. Our relationships will never be perfect and we will always offend or hurt others. But God used this episode to reveal my ugly heart to me and remind me that harmony in the church is something that all of us have to work on and cannot take for granted.

Reconciliation and humility requires supernatural strength and effort, which we can only achieve through God’s strength. However, if we remember that we have God’s love to bind all of us together, we can be the Body of Christ God longs to see.

 *All names have been changed.

How Can I Love the Church that Hurt Me?

Written By Ruth Lawrence, UK

Seven days after I came into the world, my dad became the pastor of the church that I would grow up in. Unlike my siblings, I never knew a time when my Dad wasn’t a pastor. I quickly learned that people either hold pastor’s kids to an unreasonably high standard, or wait to see when they rebel and fall off the rails.

I didn’t like either.

If I could get away with not having to tell people what my dad’s job was, I would. I did not like being scrutinized. All I wanted was to figure out what I thought about God and church without an audience. By the time I was 20, I had reached my conclusion.

I knew the Bible was true, and I had no problem with God. But I didn’t like Christians, which was slightly problematic seeing as I was one myself.

I could understand non-Christians hurting people. I could even get my head round Christians lashing out in the heat of the moment. But Christians deliberately hurting other Christians?

There had been times as a kid in church when I was the only one who got told off for something a group of us had done. As I got older, I listened to people gossip about my family; their caring tones and concerned faces were merely a cover to finding out what they could from me. Eventually, I narrowed my world to just me and God. I let people in so far and no further. I kept hidden the things that were really important to me as much as I could.

When this kind of hurt led my dad to leave the church we were at, I decided that I had had enough of Christians. God might love me, but His people definitely didn’t.

As I found out about other things that had happened in our church over time—things that were unjust and that hurt my family—my hurt turned to anger. The more angry I felt, the less I felt I could go to God, and the more my relationship with Him deteriorated.

I was stuck in limbo. I did not want to walk away from God because I loved Him and because I knew that the Bible was true. But I did not want to associate with His church, since that was a painful place to be. It became so painful that I finally realized that I needed to do something about my attitude and how I was thinking and feeling.

Passages like Hebrews 10:25 and John 15 convicted me. They told me that the church is God’s plan. Jesus told His followers to “abide in my love” (John 15:9), which sounds great, until He explained that to abide in His love means we have to obey His commandment—to love other Christians (15:12). That part I’m not so thrilled about, because it means opening myself up to potential hurt again.

Because I’m still very much working through this, it’s not been something that I’ve talked about much with my family. But here are a couple of things I’m finding as I address my flawed thinking:

 

1. Christians hurt each other

It may seem obvious, but none of us are perfect, Christian or otherwise. So we will hurt each other; I hurt people. I can feel as defensive and hurt about my injuries as I want, but at the end of the day, I have hurt other people too. I need to be forgiven just as much as I need to forgive.

In Matthew 18, Jesus answers Peter’s question of how many times we should forgive people by telling the parable of the unmerciful servant. The story goes like this. There’s a servant who owed a massive amount of money to the King which he couldn’t pay back. The King rightly wanted to throw the man in jail, but the servant pleaded for mercy. The King, in an amazing act of grace, cancels the servant’s whole debt. The debt-free servant now bumps into a man who owes him a small amount of money and demands that the money be repaid then and there. The man can’t pay, so the debt-free servant throws the man in jail, ignoring his cries for mercy. Word gets back to the King, who is royally furious, and he metes out justice and throws the unmerciful servant in jail.

This story has in some ways haunted me since I was a kid, because I really wanted grace for myself, but I have a hard time giving it out. I was thinking about all this recently and I came to the conclusion that if I met the people who had hurt me and my family back then, I would want them to know that I didn’t hold it against them.

It’s unlikely that I will ever see them again—life has taken me a long way from them—but that doesn’t mean that I can’t forgive them. Forgiving them means not wanting bad for them but praying for their good. And for the relationships I have with Christians now, it means being quick to apologize when I get things wrong.

 

 2. There is no higher standard

Other people may have been holding me to a higher standard of behaviour because of who my dad was, but God wasn’t. God holds us all to the same high standard that none of us can meet. And just as none of us can meet that standard, all of us are offered grace because of what Jesus has done for us. Jesus’ blood paid for all of the times we mess up and hurt each other.

Every time we don’t meet that standard, there is grace to make us right with God again. So when I feel like that higher standards are being applied to me, which still happens sometimes, I can put my mind at rest by reminding myself that Jesus has paid for my sin. I don’t have to try and earn my way back in. It’s comforting to know that God isn’t waiting to catch me out, but is waiting with grace and forgiveness.

  

3. We can choose how we respond

I may not like it, but living in this world means that at some point we will get hurt. What we do with that hurt is what counts. Rather than burying how I feel and holding on to resentment, I’m trying to remember what Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:32, that I have been shown grace for the times I’ve failed.

Because of the mercy shown to me, I am slowly changing how I respond to people who have hurt me. I’m working on not being quick to judge but being quick to forgive. It’s hard because that’s not my nature, and maybe it’s not yours either. It all feels a bit backwards. But God has shown forgiveness and mercy to me, and in turn I’m trying to do the same.

 Like I said, I’m still working on this, and most of the time I don’t respond in the way I know I should. But I’m learning to take it back to God and let Him continue to work on my heart.

 

I’m a long way from those churches I grew up in, and if I could, I would still keep my Dad’s job a secret. I’m still afraid of being hurt, but I’m trying not to let that fear get in the way. Mostly I fail, but I’ve not given up and I don’t want to. The church is full of broken people who will hurt one another. But they are also God’s people, loved and forgiven by Him.

The church is God’s family, that you are welcome to be a part of. It’s a place that is meant to help us grow in our walk with Jesus, because it’s easier to keep fighting sin with others than when we try to go it alone. It’s not a perfect place, but it’s a place that is worth sticking with. No matter how bad things got or how painful they were, I didn’t want to give up entirely on the church. And I still don’t.

I’m Not Who You See on Instagram

Written By Hilary Charlet, USA

One square photo. One little box under our fingertip that we scroll through daily. That’s all it takes for us to form an opinion about someone or something.

These little squares are composed under the right light, edited with the best photo-enhancing tools and filters, and posted with witty and well-crafted captions. They tell us who’s up to what, who’s hanging out with whom, and who’s gone to the latest café in town. We look at them when we’re bored, when we’re stuck in traffic, and when we’re hanging out with our friends.

We see these and it sparks something inside of us. On some days, it’s envy, because we wish we were doing this or going there, just like our friends. Other days, it’s inadequacy, because we don’t seem as accomplished as others.

But we forget that while these photos are real instances, they do not fully reflect reality. Rather, they’re more like a highlight reel. I’d daresay that many of us *#doitforthegram more often than we’d like to admit.

So I can say it, as I’m sure many of you can: I’m not who you see on Instagram.

I think through my captions. I insert and delete words. I try to pick just the right photo to go along with what I want to say. I take time to decide what to say and how to say it.

Although my goal for my Instagram account is to inspire, encourage, and love people, I can’t say that I am happy and enthusiastic all the time. According to my Instagram feed, I may look like I have it somewhat together. I have great friends to go with on weekend adventures, new places to hike in and explore, and a great brother and sister-in-law whom I spend a lot of my time with laughing and third-wheeling on their dates. And I can strike a yoga bridge pose on a paddleboard without effort!

But if you really knew me, you’d know the truth is somewhat different. Sure, my feed is full of actual events and portrays how I strive to live daily. But it does not reflect my every waking moment.

I have my struggles and doubts. My cheerful persona online doesn’t mean there aren’t days when I grow impatient waiting and want to settle down because I can’t figure out what God wants me to do or where He wants me to be. I have my stressful days as well as days when I’m super pumped and expectant, knowing that God is working behind the scenes in my life. There are times when I question whether what I have to say is even making a difference, and times when I get to witness how what I’ve said has encouraged someone else.

Social media has a way of making it seem like everyone has their stuff together and their life is flawless. Don’t get caught in believing those lies and start comparing your lives to those of others. Just because we don’t see the bad days and struggles of these people doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

Next time you find yourself wishing your life were like so-and-so’s, remember that you are where God meant you to be. You are loved. You don’t need makeup and filters to make yourself look more appealing so someone will like you more.

Instead, embrace your natural beauty and quirkiness. Laugh at yourself. Ask people questions, be curious in a world that is more focused on communicating behind a screen. Be yourself unapologetically in a world that tries to dictate who you should be. Love the unlovable, forgive the unforgivable, take a chance and know that God has your back, and most importantly, be the person God has called you to be—fully and without fear.

The number of double taps and followers we get do not define who we are or how much we are worth. We’re so much more than a tiny square photo.

So, no, I’m not who you see on Instagram. I’m so much more, as you are. I laugh, I cry, I freak out, I get excited, I stress out about silly things. I think I have it all figured out, then I stumble, laugh, and keep chugging along when I realize God has other plans for my life.

What you see on Instagram is part of who I am, but behind every photo, behind every social media account, there’s an author with a valuable life and an incredible story. There are emotions, passions, hopes and dreams, and all that we are cannot be minimized to fit into a social media platform, for we are so much more than that.

 

 *#doitforthegram is used to refer to someone does something unique with the sole intention of taking a photo to post on Instagram.

Can I Really Make A Difference?

Written By Tay Boon Jin

 Boon Jin has been a staff with Singapore Youth for Christ for the past 15 years. She now serves in Malaysia—reaching children through the teaching of English.

“50 Inspirational Quotes On Making A Difference”
“Quotes About Making A Difference (153 quotes)”
“The Power of One”

There is no lack of websites that encourage people to make a difference. One of the most common quotes which often pops up comes from the 35th President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, who said, “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.”

Although most of these quotes are not given in context, it is not difficult to guess what they’re pointing towards. Poverty, war, crime, discrimination, and abuse of our environment are but some of the perennial issues we often read about in the news.

We sense the urgent need for a cure to the issues plaguing us. Yet, the problems our society face seem too big and complex, the resources needed to solve the problems too immense. “Can I make a difference?” becomes empty rhetoric and unachievable.

Of course, we’ve read of how some people made a huge impact individually. However, we may struggle to believe that what they achieve is actually attainable for us, too.

 

 The Root of the Problem

If we view the world from the big picture that God Himself has painted for us, we cannot but be persuaded that the root of all our problems is our sin. Thus, in some sense, there’s nothing that anyone can do that can make a real and permanent difference. The fallen state of our world makes human effort futile; the permeating effects of sins cannot be undone. In fact, each of us as a sinner contributes to the problem, in both large and small ways.

But God gave the solution to the world’s problem: the Lord Jesus Christ. He so loved the world that He sent His Son, who came in a humiliating fashion to take our punishment for us (John 3:16). If God holds the solution, perhaps the only difference we can truly make is to point someone to the solution by the word we preach and by the way we live.

When God makes us right and brings us back to Him, our perspective of the earthly life will change. A man may remain poor, but he no longer measures his worth by his wealth (or lack of it). A man may live in a war zone, but he trusts God for the peace in his heart.

 

Having the Right Motivation

That said, this does change the fact that the social problems we face are tangible and affect us at every level. Neither does it mean that Christians should avoid all form of social good and humanitarian work. But perhaps we need to re-examine our motivations.

Jesus told this lesson in Matthew 25:31-40: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

In this passage, our Lord Jesus illustrates how a follower of His ought to respond to the needs in this world—by helping out in a very practical and tangible way. But Jesus doesn’t say this because He wants His disciples to change the world. Instead, the reason He gives for us to serve others, even the “least” of all, is this: By doing so, we are serving Jesus Himself. That should and must be our motivation as we go about doing social good. We are to live Christ-centered lives so that the world will be attracted to Jesus.

As we look at great men of faith who have gone before us, we see countless servants of God who have left their homes to sow the gospel seed in foreign lands. They did not go because they thought they could change the world; they went because God called. Some did not live to see the fruit of their labor; in fact, some gave their lives that the fruit may be borne.

In my recent phase of life, God has given me opportunities to minister to a poor community in another country. My initial encounter with this community got me thinking hard about how to meet their needs. Some of the ideas that sprang to mind included ways to alleviate poverty, put all the children through school and keep them there, guide the youths to find a clear and good purpose in life, and even provide employment for the adults. These were all good goals, but I soon realized that they were beyond my means. It was discouraging to know that I could not provide the help that they needed.

It was then that I was reminded of Jesus’ words that the smallest effort to the least is by no means insignificant. I began to look at how I could help the individual: provide socks and shoes when a kid went to school in slippers, provide a month’s breakfast when a kid stopped going to school because he had no food to sustain him through the morning’s learning, provide information to unemployed parents whenever I knew of factories that had job vacancies.

As each of these recipients thanked me for relieving them of their worries and needs at those points, it gave me opportunities to testify to them that God was the one who had provided. Some of them even thanked God with me.

So let’s continue to labor on in helping others practically and spiritually. Let’s take heart that God will bring about this great work of sanctifying His people to live lives that glorify Him. And ultimately, let’s be encouraged that God will bring about perfection in the world when Christ comes again!