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Texas shooting: The Aftermath

On Sunday, while I was worshipping at my church, a shooting happened just a few miles away at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. It turned out to be the deadliest church shooting in US history. At least 26 died (almost half of them children) and others were injured.

As a fellow Texan, I can say that the whole community is still in the early stages of the grief process. If the five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance, we’re somewhere in between denial and anger.

Anger is obvious, because we’re mad something like this could happen.

The denial part is equally strong. To be honest, Texans have a certain pride that things like this can’t happen here. In such a small town, this seems like the most improbable thing. It’s hard for us Texans to wrap our minds around it.

That said, I feel that it’s important and necessary that we work our way through the grieving process, no matter how tough it is. And the first thing to bear in mind is this: We can grieve.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:13, Paul talked to the church about grief. “And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope.” Paul never told the Thessalonian believers not to grieve; he told them to grieve from a place of hope.

This hope, I believe, can propel us to go beyond the “acceptance” stage of the grieving process to a sixth stage that is available to believers. That stage is “worship”.

As believers, we can land somewhere greater than just accepting the negative circumstances. With faith and hope available to us, we can go beyond mere acceptance and turn it into worship towards God. We can turn it into giving to others. We can turn it into doing the hard thing out of love. We can turn it into gratitude for what God has given us.

While this tragic turn of events might seem extra heart-breaking in light of the upcoming Christmas season, I’d like to suggest that we change our perspective and see the opposite instead. Not only should the approaching Christmas season give us hope and comfort, it can teach us how to process this sixth stage of grief. And Mary’s a great example of how to do it.

When she found out she was pregnant, Scripture tells us that she accepted her fate. But she was human, just like you and me. This young girl’s expectations for her life were shattered by something God did. Surely she felt these emotions too:

  • Denial that God would do such a thing to her. How could that even happen? How could a virgin become pregnant—much less with the Son of God?
  • Anger that her expectations for her life wouldn’t be met. Why did she have to be given an abnormal pregnancy?
  • Bargaining with God to find someone else to do this. After all, she was already engaged and about to be married to Joseph. Surely God could find someone else who didn’t have so much at stake to do this.
  • Depression over the loss of a scandal-less marriage and nice, quiet honeymoon season.

Mary probably experienced a lot more mental turmoil. But Scripture focuses on what she did after the fifth stage of acceptance. Mary’s faith not only led her to acceptance, but ultimately, also to worship.

One of the most beautiful songs from Scripture was birthed out of this grief-turned-to-worship moment.

For the Mighty One is holy,
and he has done great things for me.
He shows mercy from generation to generation
to all who fear him.

—Luke 1:49-50 (NLT)

That’s what happens when we let God speak into the areas of our heart that disappointment or tragedy exposes. We have the opportunity to respond with worship. By giving to others. Praising God. Loving the unlovable. By focusing on God instead of ourselves. Appreciation pours from our hearts and turns into worship.

I’m working on letting my grief turn into worship through these circumstances. I’m trying to help my friends walk through this process too. Let’s add faith to our acceptance and see worship result from this tragedy. God can get glory through this.

The Day I Believed in Jesus and Broke My Dad’s Heart

Written By Chen Pei Fen, Singapore

“Look at what you’ve done by becoming a Christian! You’ve deserted the family tradition. Your father feels like a failure. He couldn’t keep the family together.”

My mother was upset. Her distress was obvious as she attempted to persuade me to forsake my newfound faith. My father, meanwhile, was quietly heartbroken. He hadn’t slept well for several days, because his daughter had chosen to abandon family tradition and follow a “foreign” God.

I was 15 and had just accepted Jesus Christ into my life. I had made this decision with great joy, knowing I had done something significant. But now, I found myself in a storm. It pained me to see my parents so sad and disappointed.

As my mother pressured me to change my mind, I felt like I had to choose between Jesus and my parents. If I wanted to obey my parents and avoid hurting them, then I would have to abandon my newfound faith. But could I not follow Him and still love my parents?

 

 Believing in the promise

I was born into a traditional Singaporean Chinese family. My parents are of Hakka descent, one of the main Chinese dialect groups. Like most Chinese families, we were brought up to worship Chinese deities. We also burned incense and offerings to our ancestors to provide for their needs in the afterlife.

When a person brought up in such traditions decides to become a Christian, he is seen not only as abandoning his traditional faith, but also betraying his heritage. He brings shame on his family and community by following a foreign religion and putting his loyalty in a foreign god.

But none of this seemed to matter when I was making up my mind to follow Christ. At that time, the only thing that concerned me was whether it made sense to believe in Jesus. I had been asking questions such as, “Who am I? What is my purpose in this world? Why is the world so messy, and is there a solution? What happens after I die?” Christianity seemed to have all the answers.

It all started when a Christian friend, Veronica, explained the Good News to me. She shared with me what she learnt in the Bible, invited me along to evangelistic events, and showed me verses like John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”

Although I had been asking questions about life, my own was going pretty well at the time. I had a loving family, was popular with my peers, and was doing well in both sports and studies. I didn’t feel that I needed God. While the answers that Christianity gave to my questions seemed reasonable, I didn’t see a need to make a personal commitment to follow Jesus.

But one evening, as I was lying on my bed, I just felt really empty. So I prayed, “God, if you are really God, can you please show me who you are?”

Soon after, on a Saturday afternoon, I was walking towards an ice cream store when a stranger stopped me. She asked if she could share the Good News with me. Trying to be polite, I agreed. By then, I had heard it so many times that I could even recite the verses. But something happened that day. When the woman shared John 3:16 with me, the verse cut straight to my heart.

At that moment, I believe, the Holy Spirit touched me, and the truth of John 3:16 went from my head to my heart. All of a sudden, I truly understood what the verse really meant. I saw that “the world” that God “so loved” included me. I felt the weight of sin and recognized how terrible a sinner I was, and how much I needed Jesus. I finally understood why He had to die on the cross for me and appreciated just how much God loved me.

As the truth hit me, I couldn’t stop crying. For the first time, I realized that I was a sinner. At the same time, I felt grateful for God’s offer of forgiveness. That day, I confessed my sins to Jesus and received Him as my personal Savior and Lord.

The joy I felt, however, soon gave way to a sense of trepidation. I thought about the implications of my decision, and immediately realized how my parents would feel and react. “What have I done?” I thought. “What will my parents say when they find out?”

But the woman assured me that being the first in my family to become a Christian was a significant spiritual event. She reminded me of how Paul and Silas, after being freed from prison by a miracle, reached out to the jailer (Acts 16:30–31). When he asked them, “What must I do to be saved?” they told him, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”

Of course, Paul and Silas did not mean that the jailer’s family would be saved simply because he himself believed in God. Salvation comes through a personal, individual response to God; it cannot be “passed on” or inherited. However, the gospel can gain a foothold in the lives of a family through the first person to turn to Christ. It opens the door for the rest of the family to hear and see the gospel in action.

These verses gave me hope that one day my parents and siblings would also come to know God. I had the opportunity to become the first messenger, the first witness of the gospel to my family.

 But first, I had to face their objections.

 

Facing the challenge

For the first few months, I kept silent about my newfound faith. I didn’t dare tell my parents for fear of what could happen. I also didn’t dare go to church, but was sustained spiritually through constant prayer, reading the Bible, and regular meetings with Christian friends who taught me about God after school. Every morning, I spent time praying to God and reading the Bible, but hid it after I finished so that I would not be found out. The secret, however, didn’t last long.

One day, I forgot to put the Bible away and left it on the table. My father spotted it and recognized it. Being a traditional Chinese father, however, he did not confront me directly, but asked my mum to question me about it. Soon after, she sat me down and went straight to the point: “Why is there a Bible on your table?”

There was little else I could do but admit that I had become a Christian. My mum didn’t know what to say and could only shake her head in dismay. For the next few days, nothing happened. Both she and my dad kept quiet about the matter, but I felt the tension in the air. I knew that there would be more to come.

Days later, my father personally handed me a handwritten letter and left for work without saying a word. In it, he wrote of his disappointment and sadness at me becoming a Christian. He spoke of his failure as a father to keep the family together, and of the possible consequences of my actions. “How can we have two different gods in the same household?” he pointed out.

Having pledged our loyalty to one set of deities, my family believed that we would have peace, harmony, and security—everything that my parents desired for us. But now, by turning my back on what we worshiped and choosing to follow Jesus, I would anger the deities and put my family’s well-being at risk.

That same afternoon, my mother sat me down and followed up on the letter. This time she was visibly agitated. “Your father hasn’t been sleeping well,” she told me, her voice rising. “He’s very disturbed. He feels like a failure. Look at what you’ve done! You’ve not been a filial daughter—after all that we’ve done for you, is this how you repay us?”

I didn’t try to defend myself or argue with her, but just listened in silence. Perhaps mum was hoping to change my mind there and then, but since I didn’t respond, she gave up after a while. I went back to my room to think about what she said—and to seek God’s help.

“Heavenly Father,” I prayed with a heavy heart. “I’m so sad because of how this has affected my family, but please help me to stay strong in the faith. I know you are real, but I need strength to endure. What should I do?”

I faced a dilemma. I felt as if I was being asked to choose between God and my parents, yet both were important to me. My parents wanted me to give up this “foreign” God, yet I knew I couldn’t. At the same time, I didn’t want my parents to feel as if I was deserting them.

Jesus spoke about this challenge in Luke 14:26, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple.”

Jesus wasn’t asking His disciples to hate their families in the literal sense. He was challenging them to weigh the cost of discipleship and ask themselves if they were ready to make Him the Lord of their lives. What Jesus was really asking was this: How far are you willing to go to follow me? Are you ready to put me before your family? Are you prepared to give up everything that you hold dear, including your life?

I now faced this challenge. How far was I willing to go to follow Jesus? Was I willing to face my parents’ displeasure for making Him Lord of my life? And how was I supposed to reconcile and “balance” my love for both Jesus and my parents?

 

Trusting in assurances

I was hoping to get specific instructions on how to answer my mum and dad and what to tell them. Instead, I received a simple directive from God: Be His witness.

The answer gave me great comfort. It was as if God was telling me that I had done the right thing in choosing to follow Him, and my mission now was to share my discovery with my family. I wasn’t being asked to choose between Jesus and my parents; I was being tasked to share Jesus’s love with them.

Luke 6:39 emphasizes the importance of us recognizing and understanding the truth ourselves before we seek to share it with others. Jesus said, “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?” We cannot lead others in the right direction unless we are sure that the path we are taking is the correct one.

This verse gave me great encouragement. Now that I had found the truth—that only Jesus can save us—I could lead my family to this wonderful discovery. And the best way to do this was by loving and honoring my parents. Through my words and actions, I could show them Christ, the Lord and Savior of the world.

 

This is an excerpt from Discovery Series, Keeping the Faith: The Cost of Following Christ. Read the rest of Pei Fen’s story here.

My Antidote to Panic Attacks: Worship

I’ll never forget the first time I had a panic attack. It was in my second year of university and I was doing what any normal 19-year-old American girl would do on a Thursday evening—buying a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream at the local supermarket.

It hit me as I was scanning the freezers. As a surge of adrenaline rushed throughout my body, I had to stop and catch my breath. My fingertips began to tingle. My palms and feet started to go numb. The room started to turn. “What’s happening to me?”

My heart started to beat a thousand times a minute. My legs began to feel weak, and I felt as though I would collapse at any moment. Gasping for air, I leant against a freezer door. “Deep breaths, Rachel. Breathe in and out. In and out. Just breathe.”

Next thing I knew, I was sitting on the floor of aisle 9 with my back against the freezer doors, framed by tubs of Haagen Daz ice-cream and berry-red popsicles. Hysterical, curled into a ball, and with tears streaming down my face, I must have looked a pitiful sight.

“What’s happening to me?” I cried. My knees were pushed into my chest, my head was bowed, and my shoulders rose and fell with every sob. “What is going on?”

With every second that ticked by, I could feel the adrenaline pumping through my veins, shooting up and down my arms like an electric shock. Like waves on a seashore, the first wave swept through, then drew back for a moment—giving a sheer second of relief—only to be swallowed up by another pounding wave of dread.

At that moment, I felt a tap on my shoulder. “Are you okay, dear?” The voice of an older woman broke into my whirlwind of chaos. With bloodshot eyes and mascara running down my cheeks, I looked back at a woman in her mid-50s. Holding a box of Cheerios in one hand and a bottle of Windex cleaner in the other, she was looking at me with a concerned expression on her face.  “Are you okay, dear? Can I help you?” she asked again. “No, I’m not okay.” I replied with a muffled voice, “I don’t think I’m okay.”

What I said next was one of the most important declarations I had ever made. It was the turning point. “But I haven’t told anyone that yet. I need to tell someone. I think something’s wrong. Really wrong.”

Since the age of 19, I have suffered from anxiety. I’m one of the millions of people who struggle with this mental health disorder. In college, while other 20-somethings were busy worrying about what to wear out on a Friday night, I would retreat to my dorm room googling my latest symptoms and thinking that I had some form of cancer (stage III, most likely). Otherwise, I would be frantically checking my phone every two seconds to see if my friend had replied to my message. “Of course she won’t. She’s seen the real me. And she’s decided I’m not worth it.”

Now, at 26 years old, I want so badly to declare that I have conquered all this stuff, that I have overcome all the complexities of this disorder. I wish I could say that my anxiety is a thing of the past, that it is no longer knocking on my door to wake me up in the morning or leaning over my bed to watch as I toss and turn at night. But I haven’t conquered it, and it’s not a thing of the past.

Perhaps the most discouraging thing about anxiety is dealing with it as a Christian. In many parts of evangelical America, admitting you have anxiety is kind of like admitting you have a problem with alcohol. Or drugs. Or one-night stands. Or eating a Big Mac in your dorm room at 2.a.m. It’s a sinful “habit” and it will sweep you to the margins, out of sight and out of mind of middle-class American churchgoers.

Or at least, this is how some churches have often made me feel. A deep and all-consuming guilt was all packaged, gift wrapped and hand-delivered to me each and every morning I stepped inside a church building. And while I don’t believe for a second that the church will ever be perfect, I had expected a more loving and accepting response than the ones that I had received.

Since that humiliating incident in the supermarket, I have been navigating my identity as a Christian with anxiety. I have had to embark on the painfully slow process of finding that “thing” that brings me rest and respite from the isolation and exhaustion that comes from anxiety.

Worship, I have discovered, is that special space where I open up to the Father and receive His peace—the kind of supernatural peace that Paul talks about in Philippians 4. Here’s why worship has become my antidote to moments of anxiety.

1. Worship is a peaceful state of mind

Worship is a state of mind, not just a supernatural high on Sunday mornings. Initially, I saw Sunday worship sessions as the only time I could receive God’s peace. However, I realized that worship isn’t just meant for large gatherings or small group settings. Worshipping the Father is a constant state of mind, an ever-present mindfulness of His goodness and grace in my life. Practicing a heart of worship—whether praying during my work commute or listening to a Bethel music playlist as I clean my apartment—has been an integral part of my healing journey from anxiety.

 

2. Worship is a safe space

Getting a handle on my anxiety has meant that I’ve needed to get real with God. And that means getting up close and personal, divulging all of my doubts and secrets to Him like you would to your bestie over a cup of coffee. Creating a safe space where I can speak to the Father has been an instrumental part of my road to recovery—particularly picking up my guitar and singing Scriptures over myself and my family. I believe that there is power in declaring words of life to change the mess in our lives. Worship is a powerful weapon against worry.

 

3. Worship paves a direct path to God

I love the quote by American author John Paul Jackson: “Peace is the potting soil of revelation.” I find that it is often in those moments of fear, that the channel of communication between me and God is most fuzzy. But I also know that it’s in those moments when I feel at my weakest, that worship ought to be the next bullet-point on my to-do list. Setting aside space for God to speak to us in the midst of fear is a powerful step to leaving our anxiety at the door. It is in those “thin places” where we hear from and speak to God, that faith takes authority over fear.

 

I want to be careful here, as I don’t want for a second to portray to you that I have this all figured out. Navigating anxiety can at times feel nearly impossible. More often than not, it feels like treading water in the deep end of the pool—when you have never taken a single swimming lesson in your life. And there is no one around to throw you a life jacket the minute you start to go under.

God has so much more in store for us than a daily battle with fear. I pray that as we cultivate a lifestyle of worship, we may find ourselves free from the chains of anxiety that have kept us from stepping into the thing that God has called us to do.

Does My Worship Please God?

Written by Jesse Schmidt, Canada

I am easily distracted by just about anything. In some cases, the distraction is temporary and does not really affect whatever I am doing. But then I’ve realized that this bad habit is manifesting itself when I am in the midst of the very thing I don’t want to be distracted from—when I am worshipping God during church service.

This often happens when I focus on the externals of such gatherings—say, when I am at a church that conducts a concert-style of praise (think bright lights, loud music, and a lot of flair). Although I may be singing along or even clapping to the beat, my mind tends to be filled with negative and critical feelings about the way the service is being conducted. My focus ends up not on the Lord, but on the things around me.

The more I’ve mulled over why I get so easily distracted during such times, the more I’ve started thinking about the act of worshipping itself. What, exactly, do we mean by “worship”?

Worship, according to Oxford Dictionaries, is to “show reverence and adoration for (a deity)”. We worship God with our entire lives. In John 4:23-24, Jesus explains that we ought to worship God in spirit and in truth, and that those who do so are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks.

Have I fallen short of this definition of worship—especially when I am singing songs of praise in church? What does worshipping in spirit and in truth mean in such a context? How do we know if our worship is pleasing to God?

Worship God in Spirit

Worshipping in spirit means to worship with all of our hearts. Our worship to God, whether it is in singing songs of praise or in our everyday lives, has to come out of hearts that have a genuine passion and love for Him. Without this, our actions and words will be empty.

That means that whether I’m singing by myself in a small room or if I’m in a congregation, I ought to be able to praise God all the same. When we’re focused on God, external factors—how we feel or what circumstances we’re going through in life—will not affect how we praise Him. I ought to still be able to praise Him when I’m having a bad day or when things seem to go wrong.

One good example that never fails to inspire me is that of Paul and Silas when they were praying and singing hymns in prison (Acts 16:24-25). Even in their small prison cells and in their circumstances of tribulation and persecution, the two were able to praise God with all of their hearts. They were able to do so because their hearts truly desired and loved God.

May our hearts be like that of Paul and Silas. May we be able to learn how to sing to God regardless of our circumstances and environments.

Worship God in Truth

Worshipping God in truth is to adore Him for who He is. Jesus says that “[He is] the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6). In other words, we need to understand God’s character and acknowledge who He is.

It is impossible for me to develop a strong attachment and affection for someone if I don’t know that person well. I can’t speak of how good God is (let alone sing praises and worship Him) if I don’t know Him personally and intimately. We simply can’t love and worship God if we know Him only through what others say He is like; we need to know Him for ourselves.

Praising God and singing to Him without a proper understanding of His truth and character can therefore lead to an empty expression fuelled by hype and good feelings. I can sing loudly in church and know all the songs by heart—but not have an intimate relationship with God. But that is not what God desires.

Ultimately, to worship God in spirit and in truth—to grow a heart that is passionate for God and to know His character—we need to spend time with Him. By reading the Bible regularly, setting aside time to pray and growing our relationship with Him, we will naturally also grow in our worship of Him. We have to know Him to love Him, and we have to love Him to desire to worship Him and show His worth in our lives.