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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.

Game of Thrones: The Enemy Beyond the Wall

Image credit: HBO


Written By David Samuel

It’s winter, and the enemy is coming. The wall will not protect you, because this enemy is powerful. It is not afraid of dying, because it is already dead. It is led by the king of the night, who fears nothing, not even the most powerful weapon in your arsenal. It is coming to kill everyone. Everyone. What do you do?

If you’re a sensible person who sees the danger clearly and who puts your faith, heart and mind ahead of your personal ambitions and emotions, the answer is obvious. You try to unite everyone to fight this enemy, because it is possibly more powerful than all the living combined. But if you’re a small-minded, throne-obsessed individual who can’t see beyond your personal goals and ego, why, the answer is also obvious. You continue in your petty battles behind the wall, fighting kith and kin for a pathetic seat of power, forgetting that the biggest enemy is out there, marching inexorably towards the wall.

Welcome to the Game of Church.

Thrones! Sorry, I meant Thrones!

Okay, I have to confess that I’ve been watching HBO’s widely-watched TV series, which has run into Season 7, the finale of which was aired this week. The adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s fantasy novel series, A Song of Ice and Fire, is a long-running fantasy saga about several dynastic families fighting for power, land, dominance, and independence. First aired in 2011, the HBO production has shattered viewership records in many of the 170 countries it reaches.

The success of GoT, as its fans call it, has been credited to the perennial popularity of fantasy themes, the amazing sets, skillful direction and cinematography, and ensemble cast. Oh, and the copious amounts of sex, nudity, and extreme violence.

That’s why I said “confess”. The series has raised as many controversies as it has won awards (38 Emmys and counting), for its brutal depictions of incest, rape, and torture, among other things. Not surprisingly, this has prompted many pastors, church elders, and Christian commentators to appeal to believers not to watch the Game of Thrones. I can see where they’re coming from, so I’m not suggesting it’s okay to start watching it. Neither will I agree or disagree with those who see nothing wrong with watching GoT. If you’re in this camp, you’d probably point out that there’s no point avoiding the topics of rape, incest, murder, and brutality—why, that’s hardly anything compared to the real world!

(Good thing is, most of the cast have been beheaded, sliced up, stabbed, burnt, crushed, shot with arrows, and eaten up by wolves by now, so there have been a lot less sex and violence in this season.)

So I’m not going to go into whether or not you should watch the Game of Thrones. If you have been watching it, however, I’d like to suggest that there is at least one lesson in the series that is worth thinking about. And it’s about unity—not just in the world, but also in the church.

There is an enemy out there. He’s the ruler of the darkness (the even scarier version of GoT’s Night King), and he’s got an army of the dead (in-joke alert: that’s what they’re referred to in the show) marching towards us. And what do many of us do? We squabble among ourselves, fighting over petty things like who should sit on the church council and how much we should spend on a church camp. We take brothers and sisters in Christ to court over what they say. We exchange complaints about elders and submit petitions on why one leader should be kept and another should be sacked. It’s hard not to wonder if the Night King is already among us . . .

It’s no wonder, then, that unity among believers is mentioned so many times in the Bible. In Jesus’ parting prayer for His disciples, one of His concerns was for them to stay united in the face of persecution and attack. “Protect them by the power of your name so that they will be united just as we are . . .  May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me,” he prays (John 17:11, 23).

That Jesus would compare the unity between believers to the unity among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit shows how critical it is—and not just to church growth. Our unity reflects the Trinity’s glory; disunity will only bring dishonor to God.

Paul, too, repeatedly stresses the need for unity in his letters to the Corinthians, the Ephesians, the Colossians, Romans and Philippians (eg. 1 Cor 1:10, Eph 4:11-13, Col 3:13-14), as do Peter and John.

In this season of the Game of Thrones, Jon Snow, one of the protagonists, spends much time going around trying to convince the others of the danger behind the wall. Stop your fighting, he pleads, because we will all die if we don’t unite to fight the real enemy. But it seems that few believe him, and even fewer want to give up their pursuit of the Iron Throne.

Will Jon Snow succeed in Season 8, which wraps up the saga? With the show’s tendency to kill off even the most popular characters, it’s really hard to guess. Perhaps the more important question is: Will the next season of the Game of Church go the same way?