Posts

Tim Farron Quits as Political Leader — Was it the Right Call?

Photo credit: Liberal Democrats via Foter.com / CC BY-ND

Written By Chris Wale, UK

Two days ago (14 June), Tim Farron, leader of the UK Liberal Democrats—one of the larger minority political parties in Britain—announced his decision to step down. This move, which came a week after a general election in which his party did not do particularly well, may not sound all that surprising.

But Mr Farron’s decision had nothing to do with his party’s performance.

In a hastily arranged statement, surrounded by close colleagues, Mr Farron explained, “The consequences of the focus on my faith is that I have found myself torn between living as a faithful Christian and serving as a political leader . . . A better, wiser person may have been able to deal with this more successfully, to remain faithful to Christ while leading a political party in the current environment. To be a leader, particularly of a progressive liberal party in 2017, and to live as a committed Christian and to hold faithful to the Bible’s teaching, has felt impossible for me.”

As a Christian living in the UK, the question I’m left with is this: Has he made the right decision? The general election resulted in a “hung parliament” (which basically means no one won), throwing the country into even more chaos at a very sensitive time. Surely our leaders should be stepping up to the challenge, rather than stepping down? Couldn’t Mr Farron have done more, despite the barriers and burdens he faced because of his faith, and compromises he may have had to make?

I work with people who know Mr Farron very well; they go to the same church as he does. They speak of him as a humble man who loves Jesus. I can’t think of a better description of the sort of person I’d like to be a political leader! We need more people like this guiding our nation. But he chose to step down. Was he right to?

I’m reminded of the advice the apostle Paul wrote to his young friend, who was also called Timothy. Timothy wasn’t a political leader, but he was the leader of a church. Paul told him: “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:16). Timothy clearly had responsibility for the people he led—but as Paul mentioned, Timothy’s first responsibility was his own life before God.

I think that’s what we are witnessing with Mr Farron as well. What’s most important is that God gets the glory in our lives. For Mr Farron, being a humble man who loves Jesus is more important than making political waves (as good as they may have been). If being a party leader was indeed compromising his faith and beliefs, then he absolutely did the right thing. His life before God is his first responsibility—as it is for all of us who know Jesus.

As Christians, we are all going to get “shot at” for our faith. It makes us stand out. Our responsibility is to humbly love Jesus throughout, even if that means making hard choices and walking away from important things. Mr Farron stood out for Jesus, and the media mocked and hated him for it. Yet, despite the “popular opinion” of him, he leaves behind great respect and a God-centred impact on his party.

Mr Farron left his political position before his faith was compromised. He was ridiculed and hated by much of the media (including one report that called his decision “self-obsessed”), but before God, he has clearly shown his priority. When the choice was standing firm in Jesus or pursuing his political career, he chose Jesus.

Thank God for that witness. May we all hope to leave legacies as simple and direct as that.

Janelle: Facing Pain with a Pen

Written By Jasmine Koh, Singapore

Maybe it’s the warm and ready smile that is always on Janelle’s* face. Or perhaps, it’s her kind personality that makes everyone warm up to her. It’s hard to imagine that behind the smile and gentle demeanor lies a debilitating illness.

There are no days without pain for the 23-year-old, who has been battling an auto-immune skin disease since the age of six. It began with a fever that lasted a few weeks, and slowly, itchy red and white patches appeared on her skin. A visit to the dermatologist revealed her condition. The news came as a shock to her family. Even at that tender age, Janelle was aware that pain and sleepless nights would accompany her for the rest of her life.

Ever since, the accountancy graduate’s life has revolved around steroid creams, tar products, phototherapy, and other medication.

Things hit rock bottom in October 2014. After a routine jog, she experienced sore and prolonged muscle aches in her calves for several days. A trip to the doctor confirmed her worst fears; in addition to her existing health issues, she had developed a form of arthritis in her legs, a condition that gradually destroys the joints. On average, Janelle consumes more than 180 pills of painkillers and immunosuppressant a month; when an infection strikes, she has to take even more.

Janelle recalled breaking down in disbelief at the news. The weight of it all was just too much to bear, even as the doctor advised her that her lifestyle would now revolve around the condition.

As time went by, the pain grew. There came a point where Janelle knew that she could not rely on her human emotions any longer. She had a choice: drown in self-pity or cling to God.

 

Picking up the pen

After a two-month wait for the right painkillers, Janelle’s condition improved. Her faith also began to mature as she overcame her worst fears in surrender to the Lord and discovered a new outlet: hand and brush lettering. This involves drawing letters using multiple strokes and writing the letters out in single strokes, like in calligraphy, respectively. Janelle began lettering worship lyrics and Bible verses.

The supernatural joy she received far surpassed the increasing pain of the treatment, which involved medication and regular injections.

In mid-2015, she set up The Hope Letter, a hand-lettering account on Instagram. Currently, her page has some 3,000 followers and features hand-lettered Bible verses and quotes.

Credit: @thehopeletter

“I do what I do because of God’s grace in my life which fuels me,” she says.

Janelle first realized that cards could be a means to share her faith while she was studying in secondary school. She spoke of the peace and hope she received in God’s word through cards and encouragement letters to her friends. Their affirmation spurred her to continue designing cards for school-based fund-raising projects in university.

But over time, she realized that this could be a space for her to “spread hope to others” and inspire those with similar struggles. Without explicitly stating her own condition, Janelle would share encouraging Bible verses and quotes on the topic of suffering. “Most of my favorite and well-received pieces come from the darkest of times,” she says.

It was thanks to Instagram that she got to know Heather Baker, an American woman in her 40s with stage 4 cancer, who chanced upon her posts. Intrigued by what she saw, Heather dropped Janelle a direct message on Instagram in July 2016, asking if Janelle was fighting an illness herself or merely encouraging others plagued with illnesses.

When Janelle revealed her condition, Heather volunteered to pray for her. The two built a firm friendship and started to exchange words of affirmation, thanksgiving, struggles and prayer items. And it was through this friendship that Janelle was affirmed of God’s presence.

Credit: @thehopeletter

A constant struggle

Even as Janelle expressed her faith through hand-lettering, she was starting to develop ulcers on the tongue, tonsils, and throat. Consequently, the nausea, lack of appetite and a queasy stomach made her easily lethargic.

In 2016, the inflammation spread her ribs, neck, and spine. An ultrasound scan on her knees confirmed the need to switch her treatment routine. This meant higher dosages of medicine and treatment, including self-administered injections. The doctor also alerted her to the higher possibility of damaged joints.

Her first injection was unbearable. “I struggled a lot. It was a whole new level of pain.”

One morning in September 2016, Janelle experienced a sudden loss of vision. Though she was conscious, everything appeared pitch black. She and her parents suspected it was more than just fainting spells when the spinning in her head persisted even after ample hydration and rest. She was sent to the Accident and Emergency department (A&E), where the initial diagnosis was vertigo.

A week after her discharge, her rheumatologist called. It might be more serious than just a headache, she said. They suspected that it was demyelination in the brain, a breakdown of the nervous system that impairs cognition, movement and sensation. A MRI scan was to be scheduled as soon as possible.

As she was wheeled into the scanning room four days later, she recalled a passage in Psalms that God had spoken in her quiet time, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” (Psalm 23:4)

Credit: @thehopeletter

What Janelle didn’t know at the time was that Heather had messaged a reflection on a book titled “A Shepherd Looks at Psalms 23”, hoping that Janelle would be comforted, too. The timestamp on her phone revealed that the message was sent just before her MRI scan. Janelle was amazed by how God had affirmed His faithfulness to her through Heather.

More good news was to follow. In late October, the results of the MRI scan ascertained that the condition of her brain was stable. However, the rheumatologist concluded that due to the side effects on the brain, it was too risky to continue with treatment.

 

Living day by day

Today, Janelle consumes 450mg of painkillers and has two injections every month. But while the cycle of diagnosis, inflammation, damage, treatment, and infection has become a norm in her life, so has her attitude of clinging to God. Janelle believes that she can magnify God through her inadequacies. “I understood from young that each day is precious. . . so I want to live a life that glorifies my Creator,” she says.

On her darkest days, she fights multiple enemies—herself, her emotions and her health.

But these challenges have only served to grow her confidence and trust in God. “If not for God, I would have quit school. He sustains me physically, emotionally and spiritually,” she remarks.

“If anything, this whole journey has taught me to rely on God.”

Janelle-feature-(lettering)

Photo by Blake Wisz

One of the ways she is reminded to fix her eyes on God is through the support of a close-knit group of friends. In 2016, she would send messages to six or seven friends regularly to update them about her health and seek prayer requests.

Janelle is currently taking a gap year to recuperate and seek the Lord’s will. She attends a Bible school and continues her lettering as a testimony to the faithfulness of God in her life. In her free time, she also visits craft shops for her art supplies and meets with younger sisters in Christ for cell group.

“I can’t predict my condition, so I always, always turn my eyes to Jesus,” she says. “I am believing and claiming that Jesus will heal me. But more importantly, the ultimate victory was won when He died on the cross already. . . for me.”

 

*Interviewee requested not to reveal her full name

Credit: @thehopeletter

Are You Questioning What You Believe?

In my 30 years, I’ve never really questioned my faith all that much. I’ve wondered about evolution and about the problem of evil existing in the world. But they’ve just been simple curiosities; they didn’t rock my world.

Lately, however, I’ve found myself questioning what I believe. I wouldn’t call it a crisis of faith, but I have some legitimate questions that have been shaking me up a bit. All of this started in my most recent reading of the Bible. I’m not sure if it was because I’m reading it chronologically or because I’m reading with a more critical eye. But something was different this time.

As I read through the Old Testament, I began questioning the nature of God—He seemed pretty harsh sometimes. And in the Gospels, I noticed some of the stories didn’t seem to line up. How did the disciples report Jesus sweating drops of blood when they were supposedly asleep? And why did John report the story of the woman caught in adultery since it wasn’t in some of the earlier manuscripts?

Am I worried that I’m questioning what I believe? Not really. You see, I’m convinced questions and even crises of faith aren’t a bad thing. I believe each crisis and question is an opportunity for God to show us something unique about Him. It could be one small facet of His character that we have not seen before because we have not gone through this experience. We just have to navigate our questions with wisdom and skill.

Have you found yourself questioning what you believe? Try following these three steps, which have helped me come out from a crisis of faith—even stronger than before.

 

1. Don’t let emotions dominate.

Most crises of faith are sparked by a tragedy or God doing something that catches us off guard. Those things may spark the questions, but don’t let them dominate your emotions. Don’t let a negative emotion pull you away from your faith.

When tragedy strikes, we’re often quick to ask the question, “Why?” The problem is, there’s usually never a good answer for it. Even if God gave us the answer, it wouldn’t satisfy us because the pain is too great. Our emotions will almost always argue against the logic of a situation. For instance, I know God had great plans for me in spite of that one time when I lost my job. I’ve even seen the positive results. But the sting of rejection is still there, and I still am tempted to ask, “Why?”

Instead, it’s important to proclaim the truth of God. Rely on the fact that we know God is loving; He is good. As much as we can, set the emotions aside and be open to what we have learned and experienced in the past.

 

2. Lean into people. Don’t withdraw.

A natural thing to do when we start questioning our faith is to pull away from the church. Don’t do that. Stay rooted in your community. Take the step to reach out to people and ask your questions. Your pastor and the congregation can lead you to resources and answers to some of your toughest questions. That’s what the community of believers is all about. One part of the body helps the other.

Unfortunately, this sort of approach takes humility. We have to be willing to set aside how “spiritual” we look and tell people where we’re struggling. I’ve seen way too many people who appeared to be rocks in the faith, suddenly fall away from the church because it turned out they had hidden questions that were not dealt with. They were just too ashamed to ask.

Imagine what might have happened if they had let their pride down and leaned into their group of fellow believers.

 

3. Ask God to reveal Himself.

Finally, we have to realize there are some questions even C.S. Lewis can’t answer adequately for us. If our crisis of faith is a chance for us to see a side of God that few get to see, then few will be able to answer our questions. We have to lean on God for that.

I’m convinced that the fullness of God is revealed only in the thousands of different perspectives we see within the church. Just like Moses was only allowed to see a part of God’s glory—not His face—none of us can possibly comprehend the fullness of God on our own. Our questions and crises of faith might be the chance God will use to show us a side of Him few others see. We might just get a glimpse of a lesser-seen aspect of His glory.

 

Ask God to reveal Himself to you. He might not give you all the answers to all your questions. But God has a way of giving you peace in spite of your questions. Give God a chance to defend His name to you.

You don’t have to be afraid of questioning your faith. It holds up to questioning. Just make sure you’re giving God a chance to answer them.

I’ve found that my questions only enrich my faith even more as I lean on God and my history of belief in Him. I still have questions. But just as I can’t explain how my eyes work—the process of color and depth and response—I can still choose to see through them. And I have decided to see my life through the lens of faith, even when all the answers aren’t there.

Don’t Give Up

IMG_3172

Every day I read a verse. To help me to remember what God has spoken to me on that day, I hand-letter the verses. On one of these days, 2 Timothy 4:7 came up and I was reminded not to give up in everything I’ve been dealing with, even in the little things. God is good. His unconditional love always brings me back to Him and spurs my faith on.
 
Contributed by Kath Melisa, Indonesia