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United Airlines: Who deserves to be on that plane?

See #UnitedAirlines trending on social media? If you haven’t heard about it, United Airlines is currently embroiled in a controversy over a shocking video of a passenger being forcefully removed from a flight after he refused to be off-loaded.

According to news reports, the flap started when passengers on Kentucky-bound Flight 3411 were offered US$800 to give up their seats to make way for four crew members. No one volunteered so the airlines randomly selected four passengers. While three of them left begrudgingly, Dr David Dao, a Vietnamese-American, resisted, saying that he was a doctor and that he needed to see patients the following day. Chicago Department of Aviation security officers then yanked the 69-year-old from his seat and dragged him off the plane.

Numerous videos captured by fellow passengers went viral and caused a storm. To make matters worse, a company e-mail was leaked revealing the airline’s CEO Oscar Munoz describing Dr Dao as “disruptive and belligerent”. He also said that he stood behind his employees.

Many are now accusing United Airlines of discrimination, saying that they treated Dr Dao so badly because he is Asian. This was not helped by a news report supposedly highlighting the doctor’s troubled past and brushes with the law.

When such things happen, it is easy—almost natural, in fact—to condemn the airline. After all, it would seem that Dr Dao should not have been subjected to the treatment he received, no matter what his past and ethnicity. Some have also condemned the news site for digging up his criminal past.

Reading these arguments has left me with a number of questions. For example: Should our ethnicity determine our worth? Should we be judged on our past? In short: Who deserves to be on Flight 3411?

As Christians, we can take comfort in the fact that in God’s eyes, the answer to the first two questions are: No. God does not see us based on our skin color nor our past. In fact, we are all equal: all of us are sinners, and all of us are in desperate need of His grace. We can do nothing to make ourselves more acceptable to Him, or to increase our worth. That’s why God does not look at our past criminal records and secret sins, nor our achievements and accolades.

In fact, if God were to judge us based on our sins, we would all suffer the same fate as Dr Dao—mercilessly dragged off the plane. We would not even have the chance to be on that plane.

Our merciful Father loves us as His children and forgives our sins. Instead of hauling us off the plane, He invites us to join Him on board.

Now, if God were willing to forgive and put aside His judgment against us, shouldn’t we, as His followers, be willing to do the same? Do we judge people or treat some as less deserving? Having received God’s love and treatment, do we view them the same way God viewed us?

Today, I would like to challenge you to remember that we are all “equal”—we are all sinners who need grace just as we do.

It’s easy to point the finger at United Airlines and others. But is it time to do the same to ourselves?

Church: A Gathering of Sinners or Saints?

Written By Jacelyn Chia, Singapore

Each week when I step into church, at least one person will ask, “How are you?” or “How have you been?” My response is often short, and almost always accompanied with a smile, “I’m good, how about you?”

On some days, that’s exactly how I feel. Other times, nothing could be further from the truth. And I know I’m not alone.

We feel the need to pretend we have got everything together, because we don’t want to be judged. We feel that these greetings are simply cordial exchanges, and that no one really bothers about what is going on in our lives. For instance, when we share a prayer request with our cell group’s WhatsApp chat, all we receive is blue ticks. We feel that sharing our problems may be burdening others.

We are uncomfortable about acknowledging or sharing about the struggles, problems, pain and negative feelings we experience. We fear the awkward pause that ensues after we bare our hearts to someone.

I admit that I too, don a mask to church, one portraying a cheerful and exuberant disposition. Everyone appears to be coping well with the demands of life and I do not want to stick out like a sore thumb. On days I cannot muster enough energy to put on that façade, I skip church. It’s usually when the past week at school has been both physically and emotionally draining.

I remember that a speaker once described the church as a “hospital for sinners”. I did not get it. Why would a church be called a hospital if most people don’t seem to be struggling with real issues? Most of the time, I feel like the church is a gathering of successful people, people who appear unaffected by the brunt of life.

But gradually, a few daring church members changed my perspective. My church practises open worship, where individuals who feel led by the Spirit can share a verse or pick a song for worship. I often feel encouraged when I hear a church member share about his or her personal struggle, and how God has personally helped him or her through that tumultuous time.

I admire their courage to be so vulnerable to the congregation, to be able to come to terms with the fact that they need God and the prayer of the congregation to get through difficult times. What I’ve observed after that was just as encouraging: individuals approach them after service to offer a listening ear or spend time with them in private prayer.

In my own life, I’ve experienced such concern. Once, my Sunday school teacher observed that I had appeared distracted in class, and had taken the time to speak to me afterwards. Seeing how she was willing to take time off to listen to me and acknowledge my struggles deeply encouraged me.

Slowly, I decided to take small steps to be more authentic, as well as to extend care and concern to others, just as I had received.

The thought of listening to someone else’s struggles and sorrows may sound like a daunting task. But perhaps that’s because we think we need to be able to solve their problems. And that paralyzes us from even offering a listening ear.

I’ve found these to be helpful ways we can respond to our brothers and sisters in Christ when they share:

  1. Acknowledge what is being said. Using words that acknowledge we have been listening assures the other person who is sharing that he or she has been heard.
  1. Rephrase what has been said. This helps us check if we have accurately understood what has been said. We can use words like, “Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m hearing . . .” I appreciate listeners who do this as I am not an eloquent speaker and sometimes may not have accurately conveyed what I intended in my sharing.
  1. Don’t interrupt. Even if you didn’t catch what was just said, do not interrupt. Allow the person to finish what he or she is saying or interject at appropriate pauses to ask him or her to repeat. The worst thing that can happen is if the other person loses his or her train of thought because we keep interrupting at wrong junctures.
  1. Thank them. It’s not easy to reveal our weaknesses and vulnerabilities to others. Let’s show our appreciation for their confidence and trust in us. Whenever I confide in someone, I feel valued and appreciated when they express gratitude for my honest and open sharing with them.

I learned through first-hand experience that when we’re willing to be vulnerable with others, others will respond the same way. Let’s work towards being honest, open, and specific about our own prayer requests as well as more concerned and intentional about caring for others. After all, isn’t that what a community of believers is all about?

Church: No Perfect People Allowed

Written By Charles Christian, Indonesia

“No perfect people allowed.”

The sign I saw hanging outside a church intrigued me. It reminded me that nobody in this world is perfect—including those who go to church. If churches were only for perfect people, they would be empty.

Many of us, however, do struggle with the fact that the church is made up of imperfect people. I have friends who have left their churches because of their disappointment with people there. One friend’s father, a deacon in their church, does not even allow her to get involved in church matters, because he has seen the “true colors” of people in the church and believes that it is full of hypocrites. Isn’t it sad?

When we are new to a church, it’s easy to think that it has only good people who love God, love others, and hate sin. But could that be because we’re viewing the church from afar? Zoom in a bit closer, and we’d realize that it’s quite different. There is no such thing as a perfect church, because the Bible says that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). The church is made up of sinners. Yes, every single one of us is a sinner.

But if that’s the case, you may be thinking, is there any difference between who are in the church and those who are not? My answer is yes—I believe the sinners in the church are different because of the following characteristics.

  1. Sinners in the church confess that they are sinners

In Luke 18:9-14, Jesus told this parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Here were two different individuals—one a respectable religious teacher, the other a despised outcast. But beyond the obvious disparity in their social status, it was the disparity in their responses that Jesus wanted to highlight. The tax collector knew and confessed that he was a sinner. The Pharisee, on the other hand, thought highly of himself. Jesus lauded the response of the tax collector, and said that he was “justified before God”.

The Pharisees’ self-righteousness had blinded them from realizing that they were “sick” and in need of a doctor (Mark 2:17 and Matthew 9:12-13). And that is a danger some of us—even in church—may fall into if we’re not careful.

Do we realize the depth of our depravity and come with a repentant heart before the Lord?

 

  1. Sinners in the church depend on God

Sinners in the church believe in God and know that they are not able to save themselves—only God alone is able to save them.

We live a life of dependence on Him, which includes being honest about our deepest and darkest struggles with Him and regularly seeking him for His provision and forgiveness.  

St. Teresa of Avila, a 16th-century Spanish nun, once prayed with great honesty: “Oh God, I don’t love you, I don’t even want to love you, but I want to want to love you!”

Do we pour out our heart to God and depend on Him daily?

 

  1. Sinners in the church fight against sin every day

We are not immune to sin. We still fall into sin, but we make continuous effort to repent and fight against it. This is not an easy battle. God reminds us to be alert, as our enemy, the devil, prowls around like a lion looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).

It is only when we depend on God and keep close to Him that we can defeat the temptations in our everyday life. And whenever we fall, we can—by God’s grace—get up again.

Do we struggle with sin daily and ask God for strength to overcome it?

 

  1. Sinners in the church love other sinners

Sinners in the church know that God loves the other sinners as much as He loves us. And because God loves the other sinners, we love them too. We don’t judge them of their wrongdoing or neglect them. Instead, we pray for them, remind them in love, and help them repent and become better persons.

Do we love others just as God loves us?

 

Writer Morton Kelsey once said: “The church is not a museum for saints but a hospital for sinners.” Isn’t that true? But let’s not stop there. Because of what Jesus did, we are not only sinners in the church, we are saved sinners in the church.

Bieber the Believer

Written By Leslie Koh, Singapore

You must know Bieber, the Canadian songwriter and singer.

Bieber, the pop star who is as well known for his controversial behavior as he is for his hits.

Bieber, the teen idol who probably has as many detractors as he has fans. (For the uninitiated, that’s “Beliebers” of the “Beebs”.)

But do you know Bieber, the believer?

Yes, you read that right. Justin Bieber is a Christian. The latest issue of Complex magazine quotes Bieber talking about his faith in God, his love for Jesus, and his keenness to share the gospel. “I, personally, love Jesus and that was my salvation,” he tells the interviewer. “I want to share what I’m going through and what I’m feeling . . . ”

Un-Beliebers, you’re probably looking really skeptical now. Bieber? You ask. The same guy who has had several run-ins with the authorities over reckless and drink driving, vandalism, and anger issues? (And let’s not even start on his music.)

Oh, yes. Whatever you may say or think about Bieber, he’s been fairly consistent about his Christian faith. As far back as 2010, he had spoken about his belief in God, saying that he prays and reads the Bible regularly. In the latest interview with Complex, he talks a little more about his belief and what it means to be a Christian.

Perhaps the hard part is for un-Beliebers to believe that Bieber is really a believer (sorry, couldn’t resist that). Some may wonder whether he is being a good role model for his millions of fans. After all, you might argue, the Beebs’ behavior and lifestyle might come across as somewhat controversial, at least to some.

Fair enough.

But here’s something to consider. We were all sinners deserving of God’s wrath, but through His grace and mercy, we were forgiven, redeemed by Christ into His kingdom, and given the hope of salvation. We are, however, still far from perfect now. Indeed, we are all works-in-progress—undergoing God’s process of sanctification, which will take up our entire lives. Whether we’re a pop star or a normal person, God is working in us to make us more like Christ, day by day.

In the meantime, our old selves—the human nature that wants to sin—is at conflict with the Holy Spirit, who is working within us to transform us into Jesus’ likeness. As Paul has lamented, this means we sometimes do the things we know we shouldn’t, and don’t do the things we know we should (Romans 7:14–25).

“If we can understand that we’re all imperfect, let’s come to God and come for his help.” You know who said that? Yes, Bieber. He’s kind of spot on, isn’t he? In a way, we’re all on the same journey of faith and sanctification.

Here’s another thought. God desires that all men come to Him and be saved. That includes you, your friends . . . and pop stars. So perhaps we should learn to see the world from God’s eyes, and see people with God’s heart. Let’s rejoice when we hear of people turning to God, and pray that they may truly continue to seek to grow in their faith and see their lives transformed.

Whether you’re a Belieber or not, let’s cultivate the heart of a true Believer.

Photo credit: NRK P3 / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA