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We Belong to Christ

Title: We Belong to Christ
Artwork by: McKenna McIntyre
Description: In this world, we face many pressures to fit in with the expectations of society. If we don’t, we may feel alone, unfulfilled, or out of place. At times like these, we must remember the greater purpose of our lives is not found in this world, but in Heaven—because we belong to Christ.

 

 

 

 

 

 

3 Things I Learned From Moving Abroad

The day finally came for me to grab my bags and board the flight. I had been living with my grandparents and other relatives for more than seven years, but it was now time to join my parents and undertake my university education in the new country they called home. I did not know this at the time, but the drastic cultural differences I would face in this new country meant I had a steep learning curve ahead of me.

Early on in my new city, I had arranged to meet an acquaintance for lunch. Wanting to make a good impression, I took ample time in deciding which pair of sneakers to wear. This deliberation made me miss my bus, and I was 15 minutes late to my appointment. For all my efforts to look my best, I got a lecture about the importance of respecting other’s time.

Back home, life moved at a slow, relaxed pace. But here, life seemed to be a stack of priorities that had to be met with utmost urgency. And time was only one of many cultural differences that I encountered. I struggled to adjust, and often found myself frustrated and uncomfortable. I felt like I couldn’t be myself in this new place.

But through my struggles, God showed me a few foundational truths about what it meant to truly live for Him here on earth. These helped me stay true to my purpose even as my circumstances changed.

 

1) Culture May Change, But Living for Jesus Doesn’t

The apostle Paul was familiar with cultural differences. He made multiple missionary journeys across Asia and Greece to establish churches among the nations. In 1 Corinthians 9:20, he says, “To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.”

Regardless of where God sent Paul, he acted, as far as was Christianly possible, within cultural expectations. By choosing not to demand his rights or assert his individuality, Paul sought to facilitate the advancement of the Gospel wherever he went, in whatever cultural context he found himself in. For him the most important thing was always to see people called to repentance and obedience to the Gospel.

Similarly, I realized that despite the change in culture, my purpose as a Christian stays the same: seeing the Gospel advance in whatever situation I was in. That means that I couldn’t insist on doing things the way I’d done them back home, or complain about the uptight attitude here. Instead, I needed to muster up discipline that I never previously had. I had to learn to be loving to people regardless of our differences, in the hope that I might be able find an opportunity to encourage or share the Gospel with them.

So, no more dawdling around. I needed to be respectful of people’s time and customs. I couldn’t afford to be offensive over things that didn’t ultimately matter. God showed me that I had to willingly give up some of the freedoms I’d enjoyed in my old culture, so that I could advance the Gospel in my new one.

 

2) The Church is a Global Family

Mid-semester one year, university became a hard slog meeting assignment deadlines. Little else seemed to matter. But the friends that I’d made at a Bible study continually reminded me of the truths we were learning each week.

When I found myself in a tough dilemma, they comforted me by spending time in prayer with me. I realized that these were friends who had my eternal interests at heart, which meant that we were able to share a bond much deeper than any normal friendship. We could share our struggles and encourage one another in a meaningful way.

Finding a like-minded Christian community really helped me deal with the travails of moving abroad. This brought to life the words of Jesus in Mark 10:29-30, where He promised His followers that they would be blessed with “homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and fields” for the sacrifices that they make. In other words, those who follow Jesus would be part of a large family we now know as the Church.

The idea of family here isn’t used lightly. Rather, Jesus saw the Church family as so loving and committed to each other that it could replace one’s biological family. This means that wherever I find disciples of Christ, I find a welcoming, nurturing community committed to truth and love.

Despite our cultural differences, the shared hope we have in Jesus and His Kingdom connects me with my new-found friends. I’ve discovered that it doesn’t matter that we have little in common by way of past experiences, it is confirmation enough that we are all being molded into the image of Jesus—we are family.

 

3) This is Not Our Home

One of the hardest parts about moving to a new country was going back and realizing that home didn’t quite feel like home anymore.

Though I miss the country I’d grown up in, every time I visited I realized that life there continues to move on without me. Friends grow up, graduate from university, and get married. We no longer share as many memories and experiences. It really hit me one visit, when I was hanging out with one of my best friends. Silence filled the car as we drove back home from a movie. We had nothing in common to talk about anymore.

At first, all this left me feeling a little lost. I didn’t quite fit in at my new surroundings, but the place I’d come from had lost its feeling of familiarity. I was cut adrift, with no place I could truly call home.

However, one day I heard a sermon that led me to God’s amazing promise in Isaiah 65:17-19:

See, I will create new heavens and a new earth. The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. I will rejoice over Jerusalem and take delight in my people; the sound of weeping and of crying will be heard in it no more.

This promise brought me comfort at a time when I felt homeless. God reminded me that I wasn’t meant to find home here on earth—but that my real Home was somewhere else. Instead, God was using my move and my sense of loss to cultivate in me a deep desire for His new creation, where we can finally be with Him.

With God’s promise in my heart, I am able to work harder for the Gospel. I can look forward to what God has in store for me, instead of getting distracted by my current circumstances.

Through the move, God has fundamentally changed my focus, giving me an eternal perspective on things. I no longer seek to cure my homesickness by chasing after comfort or success. Instead, I strive to see the Gospel advance, knowing that true satisfaction and fulfilment will come when I am in His new creation.

I am still living abroad right now, though I hope to one day return to the country I grew up in. But really, it doesn’t matter where I end up, because I know that wherever I am, God has a purpose, a family, and a home waiting for me.

 

Why Don’t I Feel Like I Belong in Church?

Written By Lee Ching Wann, Malaysia

I have been attending the youth service at my church for five years. This was where I planted my roots and grew spiritually.

I was brought up in a Buddhist family, but had a childhood friend who came from a Christian background. Her mom invited me to join a vacation Bible school program and from then, I started attending Sunday school on and off. Truth be told, I did not attend Sunday school to learn about God. In fact, I never took church seriously. I was just there to be with my friend.

As we grew older, we decided it was time to move on to the youth service. It was during a youth camp that I had a personal encounter with God. A lady came up to me on the last night of camp and prayed for me. As she prayed, I felt God’s presence for the first time. At that moment, I decided to accept Christ. Since then, I have become more involved in serving at church.

Over time, I have experienced much spiritual growth, but there is something I continue to struggle with—feeling like a stranger in a place which was meant to provide a sense of belonging. For years, the feeling of loneliness was something that never went away despite being surrounded by people. Often, I found myself thinking:

“Everyone seems to have a church family. Where is mine?”

As selfish as my question may sound, I am human and yearn for a sense of belonging. For reasons unknown to me, it has been difficult to get beyond surface level conversations with my friends at church. Everyone seemed to have their own groups of friends, while I just couldn’t find people to connect with. They were close to one another like a family, and eventually, I grew tired of not being able to fit in. I felt like an outsider. Aside from the weeks when I served in church, my presence seemed insignificant. As each week passed by, the feeling of discouragement to attend church grew stronger.

I was not alone in this. Both my childhood friend and another friend of mine felt the same way. Eventually, one moved to another church and the other one simply stopped coming.

It was all the more disappointing because I didn’t face such struggles in school or at work. These experiences somehow only happened to me at church—but being connected here was more important than anywhere else, because the Christian life was never meant to be a solitary one. For years I’ve been praying for a church family, but God seemed to be silent. As my discouragement set in, I started asking if I should stop attending the youth service. And I did, for a few months.

One day, however, God opened my eyes and led me to this verse:

“Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins.” (Ecclesiastes 7:20)

At that moment, I realized that the church is made up of imperfect people—including me. It is a place for equipping imperfect people like us, so that we can grow together in Christ.

God also pointed me to another verse from Ephesians 4:16, which says, “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”

The phrase “every supporting ligament” caught my eye. This emphasizes the significance of each member of the church in building up the body of Christ. I realized that—as unimportant as I felt—I am still a member of the body. 1 Corinthians 12:15 says, “Now if the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason stop being part of the body.” Though my feelings may often tell me otherwise, I know for a fact that there is no greater truth than God’s word.

After a long time of dealing with loneliness, I finally stopped blaming others and wallowing in self-pity, but instead decided to remain and serve in the church. I believe that God has chosen me to play a role in the body, thus it is my part to contribute with whatever gifts I have.

After that, I slowly began to see that God is able to use my experiences to reach out to others beyond the church. It helped me reach out to those who felt lonely in college. I could relate to them, and perhaps through the resulting relationships, I may have the opportunity to demonstrate the love of Christ by loving those around me. We are able to love, only because God first loved us (1 John 4:19).

Looking back, I realized that every instance of struggle is an opportunity for Him to work in us, which paves the way towards spiritual maturity. By God’s grace, I started opening up to share my personal experience with a few of my church mates. As a result, I found out that one of them also shared the same experience as me. For the first time, I felt understood and a little less alone.

As of now, I still have a fear of being left out. But I am learning not to allow this to get in the way of me attending and serving in church. There are times I still struggle, but I have learned to go to Him in submission and obedience.

If you are also struggling to belong in your church, the fact is, you already belong because of your identity in Christ. Being in church is not about being in your comfort zone, and sometimes disappointments with one another is inevitable. But it is also through these processes that we learn to love, forgive and build up each other, just as Christ did for us.