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When I Thought the Bible Wasn’t Enough

Have you ever felt the need to cushion what the Bible says? Do you ever think that maybe if you rephrased some verses a certain way or glossed over a particular passage, your friends would find the gospel more acceptable?

I found myself caught in this dilemma recently.

A few months ago, I started reading through the Gospel of Luke together with two other young mothers, Stella and May. Stella is a confessed Christian, though still very young in the faith. May has been attending churches for a few years, but has still not put her faith in Christ. Both are very eager to be reading the Bible and learning together, which I thank God for.

We’ve been reading through two chapters of the Gospel of Luke together every week.

One day, I asked in passing how their weeks had gone, and Stella launched into a tirade against her mother-in-law. She had some harsh words to say about her husband as well. Her mother-in-law’s meddling had already brought them to the brink of divorce once, and was threatening to do so again.

“Divorce would be nice,” Stella mused. “Maybe my husband would hire someone to take care of our daughter. And I would be free to start my own career or something.”

I panicked. I knew what the Bible said about divorce, but I also didn’t want to scare Stella away on her second week. Still, I had to say something.

“You want to look at what the Bible says about marriage?” I suggested somewhat feebly.

I decided to stay away from some of the Bible’s very clear passages about divorce, and focused instead on the passages that celebrated marriage as God’s design (Genesis 2:21-24, Ephesians 5:21-33, etc). After all, I didn’t want to come across as judgmental or harsh. Surely, showing her the potential beauty of marriage was the better option, right?

Stella nodded along to a lot of what I was saying. “That’s the ideal, isn’t it?” she would agree. But I’m not sure she saw how all these beautiful pictures of God’s covenant heart applied in her own situation. By the time she left to pick up her daughter from kindergarten, I still wasn’t sure I had convinced her of anything.

 

The Bible Is Sufficient

Later that week I spoke with my mentor about this, and she suggested that my responsibility simply laid in showing Stella what the Bible said. After all, God’s Word is “alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

I should pray for God’s Word to work in Stella’s heart, but I needn’t try to be a psychiatrist, therapist or anything else that I was not. Ultimately, I was not responsible for Stella’s decisions. But I was responsible for explaining clearly what the Bible said on the topic.

With that encouragement, I knew that next time I met with Stella, I needed to go beyond simply affirming God’s design in marriage. I needed to show her the Bible’s equally clear teachings on divorce. I shouldn’t be pushy about it, but neither should I try to tone down what the Bible teaches.

As I prepared for our weekly Bible study together, I realized that the chapters we will be reading had a clear passage concerning divorce (Luke 16:18). I marveled at how God provided such a clear opportunity. I wouldn’t even need to go out of my way to introduce the topic. This further encouraged me to give Stella the full truth of what the Bible says on marriage and divorce.

During our meeting, May and Stella asked about the passage. We took the chance to also read the first part of Matthew 19, where Jesus explains further. I then simply asked Stella and May what they thought these passages meant, and asked how they thought the passages applied today.

We thought about it a bit, and Stella commented, “So Jesus was really clear about divorce. I wonder why our world accepts it so easily. We seem to be too open-minded about the topic, aren’t we?”

I blinked in surprise at the quick change of opinion, but nodded, yes. And again I marveled again at how sufficient God’s Word was. When we faithfully work through God’s Word, instead of just choosing or picking the most familiar parts, God is faithful in giving us what we needed to live a Christian life.

Of course, one Bible-reading session is not going to solve all of Stella’s struggles in marriage. But I pray that as we continue reading the Bible together, God will continue to work in our hearts and transform us day by day to be more like Him.

If you face a same situation, or struggle to share God’s truth with a friend, here are some lessons I’ve learned that may encourage you:

 

1. Trust God to persuade others of the truth

Though I have been a Christian for many years now, I am still not confident in my ability to persuade people of the truth of Christ. However, I take comfort in the fact that I don’t have to do all the explaining. Through the Bible, God has given us His full counsel. I simply have to share it with anyone willing to listen.

One of the best ways I know to do this is to simply offer to read the Bible with people. New Christians are often willing and eager to do this, and what better way to grow than to dwell in God’s Word? But even for people who might not be interested in Christianity, we can offer the Bible’s wisdom by sharing how biblical principles shape our choices and actions.

 

2. Don’t cushion or hide what the Bible actually says

When walking with others, I really need to be careful that I don’t cushion or hide anything God says in the Bible. Everything He has written—even hard teachings about divorce—is for equipping us. I betray my own lack of trust in God when I gloss over any of the teachings I find difficult. I also do people around me a disservice when I do so, depriving them of the full counsel of God.

2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” I need to trust that Scripture in its entirety is able to “thoroughly equip” us. That’s an incredibly comforting thought. Even if a truth from the Bible may hurt a friend or family member temporarily, I have to remind myself that it will benefit them in the long run.

 

3. Work through your questions and doubts together

If I’m reading the Bible with a friend and we come across questions, instead of telling my friends what I think, I try to point them to related Scripture that could shed light on the questions. This means looking at the previous chapter or next chapter for context, or sometimes looking up passages in other places in the Bible. This is often, though not always, enough to shed light on our current passage and make the main points clear.

And if I am concerned about the way a Christian friend is acting, I often start by asking questions. Why are they doing this? What do they think the Bible says about it? Have they considered this particular passage? And so on. I do this with the hope that we can honestly look at what the Scripture says together, and that God would use His Word to work through the situation.

 

4. Ask God for help to wisdom to understand and accept His Word

There have been times where Stella, May, and I would understand a passage clearly, but simply found it hard to swallow (Luke 18:29-30, for example). In that case we need to ask for God to change our hearts.

At other times, we’d really just not understand something Jesus said or did. When looking at parallel passages or context don’t clear up the confusion, we pray about it, and move on to the next passage. I trust that God gives wisdom to those who ask for it (James 1:5). So we will certainly understand more and more of God’s Word as we mature in our faith.

 

At the end of the day, I’m not the one equipping Stella or May. We are simply reading God’s Word together.

I encourage you to read and share the Bible with people around you as well. And I pray that as we faithfully continue to do so, sincerely seeking to understand what God has said for our benefit, then God’s Word will work in our hearts and minds.

Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka: When Our Heroes Fail Us

Screenshot taken from ESPN video

It was meant to be a historic match, but ended up being remembered for all the wrong reasons.

20-year-old Naomi Osaka was looking forward to a “tough, competitive match” when she walked into the women’s final of the US Open Tennis Championship on September 8. She would be playing her childhood idol, Serena Williams, a legend in the women’s tennis scene who started playing pro tennis even before Naomi was born, and had won more Grand Slam singles than any other active player. Naomi grew up admiring Serena and her achievements; she even did a school report on her hero when she was in third grade.

So Sunday was a big day for Naomi.

The match was off to a good start. Naomi played well against Serena and managed to win the first set. But as the game progressed, Serena was given three code violations at various times by the umpire. She was progressively frustrated at the umpire’s calls and disputed them hotly. At one point, Serena appealed to tournament officials, and held an angry conversation that lasted close to three minutes. She even smashed her racquet in an angry outburst. The audience was riled up, but Naomi waited patiently for the duration and held her calm as they both returned to the game.

Naomi won the match, her first Grand Slam title. But as she and Serena stood on the podium, listening to boos from the angry audience, she pulled down her visor and cried. She even apologized for how the match ended. While Serena gave her a hug and a few comforting words, this was not how the young athlete’s first Grand Slam should have gone. Regardless of whether the umpire had made unfair calls, Serena’s poor response during the match had left an ugly mark on what should have been Naomi’s finest moment as a young tennis pro.

Perhaps many of us have experienced our heroes letting us down. It seems inevitable, doesn’t it? Favorite celebrities get embroiled in scandals. Elders at church make unbiblical, hurtful decisions. Parents, even, blurt out hurtful things in the heat of the moment.

We expect the best of our heroes. Yet, they never fully live up to the expectations we have for them. Even Naomi Osaka, who conducted herself impeccably during and after this tumultuous match (saying that she will always remember Serena in a good way) will perhaps disappoint one day. Who can we look to? Is there no one that can bare the weight of our expectations?

The author of Hebrews describes Jesus Christ as “one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens” (Hebrews 7:26). Jesus doesn’t say hurtful words that He would regret. He doesn’t betray us by bad decisions. He doesn’t lose His temper on a tennis court.

Though fully God, Jesus chose to become a mere human being, humbling Himself by taking on all our limitations, and yet remaining obedient even to death on the cross (Philippians 2:6-10). Though He was tried, He did not sin once in His entire life here on earth, unlike us who sin daily. He is the hero who could never fail us.

“For this reason,” continues the author of Hebrews, “Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant” (Hebrews 9:15).

Not only is Jesus perfect—a hero who could never disappoint—but His perfection, coupled with His sacrifice, offers us a promise of perfection as well. His death on the cross sets us free from our sins. We’ve all had bad moments: emotional outbursts, taking unfair advantage of others, lies both big and small. . . Because of Christ, these no longer need to count against us. Because of Him, sin can no longer separate us from God.

Not only that, but when we put our hope in Jesus, we also put our hope in the fact that He will work in our lives and one day perfect us, so that we may receive the “promised eternal inheritance.” This “perfecting” takes a lifetime. We won’t simply stop having emotional outbursts or hurting people around us entirely. But when we turn to Christ, the process has begun. He is already working in our lives, and by His grace, each day we walk further away from our myriad sins.

Looking up to people around us is not wrong; there is so much we can learn from them. Serena Williams, for instance, still has incredible skill and experience at tennis. Teachers, parents, favorite writers, though all similarly marred by sin, still have much to offer us if we are willing to learn.

But we should not be surprised when the very people we look up to ultimately show themselves to be sinful human beings, just like us. At the end of the day, our hope does not rest in these people. Our hope rests in the perfect Christ Jesus who has conquered even death.

Knowing this, “let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.” (Hebrews 12:2).

When “I’m Praying For You” Feels Hollow

Have you ever watched a friend go through something you really can’t help them with?

I have a good friend who struggles with a slew of health problems. The best I can do is hug her and tell her that God is in control—whatever comfort that may be. She also struggles with finances. Her family does not have steady income. I have no idea how they pay the medical bills.

Now that I have moved half a world away, I can’t even hug her when she’s having a bad day. Seemingly the only thing I can do is tell her, “I’m praying for you.”

Does that ever feel hollow to you? Sometimes it does to me. I say “I’m praying for you” when there’s nothing else I can do.

But I am learning to remind myself that, praying for someone is actually the best thing I can do for them. After all, by praying I bring my needs and my friends’ needs before our all-powerful God. Seeking God’s intervention in someone’s life—surely that’s more effective than dinners or hugs!

As I practice praying for others, I increasingly realize that prayer is not the easy way out.

When Jesus prayed before His death, “his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44). When Paul wrote to the church in Rome, he asked them to “join me in my struggle by praying to God for me” (Romans 15:30, emphasis added).

Prayer can be a struggle. Our first instinct when faced with brokenness in the world is to do something about it, not spend hours in a quiet room tearfully petitioning God. Both are necessary, but it’s so easy to forget which one is more effective.

As I learn more about prayer, I am more and more convinced that praying is really the best thing we can do in any circumstance.

 

In prayer, I acknowledge my helplessness

When a friend is going through a difficult time, I want to help. I might offer to spend time with them. I might run errands or cook dinner or offer some other practical help. At the very least, I might send a short text telling them I’m thinking of them.

Sometimes I try to fix their problems—I give my friends’ the right books to read, spend hours talking about their troubles, offer all the usual platitudes. . . But while it is important to love our friends and walk with them through difficult times, I need to realize that I can’t fix my friends’ problems. On my own, I can’t help them recover from break-ups, heal from a death in the family, or be restored to health.

That’s why I pray—I need to acknowledge my utter inability to help my friends or myself. I might have good intentions, but the fact is, I am not the healer. When I pray, I acknowledge that God will heal my friends in His own time, in His own way. My responsibility is to love them and walk with them. The rest I need to leave up to God, who is much better at these things than I am.

 

In prayer, I acknowledge God’s sovereignty

God is sovereign. Nothing happens without His permission (Matthew 10:29). When bad things happen in our lives or the lives of our friends, we need to recognize that God is working. We pray and trust in God’s promise that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28). When faced with the meaninglessness of tragedy, we pray and profess our belief in the goodness of God even as our hearts are broken to pieces.

When a friend is diagnosed with a fatal illness, or when a young mother experiences a miscarriage, or when a child dies meaninglessly in a car accident. . . Honestly, is there anything we can do to make those circumstances easier to bear? We try our best by offering our presence and our shared grief. But the fact that Christ has given us hope beyond this life (1 Corinthians 15:13-14) brings purpose to our suffering.

It’s not easy to acknowledge God’s sovereignty when things do not go our way. It’s not easy to believe His goodness when our lives are falling apart. But that’s why we pray. We pray even when we cry out in doubt and pain, and we pray ourselves to a point where we trust that somehow, someway, our God will yet make something good out of our broken lives.

 

In prayer, I learn how best to help those around me

When I pray for someone, I learn to see them through God’s eyes. Prayer is not just me talking to a dark room, it is me talking to God! When I pray sincerely, I am bringing my petitions to an almighty God, and trusting that He will respond.

I often start my prayers by asking God to help me pray. You see, I don’t always know how best to pray for someone. If left to my own devices, my prayers would probably look something like a Christmas wishlist: “Recovery,” “financial provision,” “wise doctors,” etc. There is nothing specifically wrong with that, but it’s not exactly a meaningful or productive conversation with the Almighty. God has promised help for when we don’t know how to pray (Romans 8:26), so I make full use of that promise by asking for help.

Then, knowing God is not only listening, but likely guiding me in my prayers, I start petitioning Him. So often I rely on God’s love—God loves my friends and family so much more and so deeply than I could ever imagine. He knows all their needs, great and small. As I increasingly realize this, I find myself praying less for physical healing or for financial provisions, but praying more for God to give real comfort, for God to remind my friends and I that He is in control, for God to show supernatural provision in their circumstances (whatever that may look like). When I am reminded how much God loves my friends—that He laid His life down for them!—I can pray with confidence that God’s will be done.

As a result, I believe that God works through my prayers. When I open my heart in prayer, I learn how to love a fellow image bearer the way God loves them, and am more likely to respond in a godly manner when the need arises.

While I long to solve the circumstantial difficulties people around me face, I’m reminded through praying that this is the best thing I can do for them.

 

Our world is fallen. We are reminded of this every time we turn on the news. We are reminded of this every time our loved ones suffer for one reason or another. Whenever we feel overwhelmed by the brokenness of the world around us, let’s remember this: Only God can offer peace that surpasses understanding. Only He will ultimately wipe away every tear. And when we pray, we call on God’s promises—and take comfort in the knowledge that whatever the circumstance, His purposes will be accomplished in our lives (Isaiah 46:10).

“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)

Why Christians Should Not Be Afraid to Talk About Politics

Have you ever gotten into a political discussion at church? It’s not always the most comfortable topic.

“So what are you doing after church this afternoon?”

“Um. . . Going to the protest march.”

Awkward pause. “Oh. It’s so much noise and disruption. I’m not sure what the point is.”

That could be one of the more civil exchanges. Many Christians are reluctant to voice their political views among their brothers and sisters. And how often have we heard the advice to not talk politics around the dinner table?

While I have never been afraid to voice my political views, in recent years I am learning what it means to speak as a Christian. We as followers of Christ owe allegiance to no political party or power, and because of our neutrality, humility, and love, I think we have an important perspective on politics the world needs to hear.

 

1. We have a unique perspective

When entering political conversations, the first thing to remember is that we are Christians. We are not merely followers of one or another flawed human party. When lines are drawn in the sand dividing some people from others (liberal/conservative, pro-establishment/pro-democracy, etc.), these lines simply do not, and must not, apply to us.

When we offer our opinion on politics, the first and foremost opinions we have should come from the Bible. We as Christians are law-abiding citizens and submit to earthly authority (Romans 13:1-7). But we also boldly defend the dignity of the widow and orphan, and any others who are marginalized by the world (Proverbs 31:8-9).

Both of these views can be uncomfortable. On the one hand, we do not always want to submit to earthly authorities. I’ve known of missionary families who refuse to pay taxes to authoritarian governments. “Why should I help their persecution?” they ask, forgetting that Christ Himself told the Jews to “give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s” (Matthew 22:21).

On the other hand, defending the weak often comes with a price. For example, Christians who speak out against forced abortions may face harassment from the community.

But when we remember that our loyalty is not to political parties or systems—but to a coming King—we can speak out lovingly, humbly, and boldly. Such a combination is uncommon in our current political landscapes, and is more likely to encourage meaningful, constructive conversation than our often superficial views. Perhaps through those conversations, our unbelieving friends might see that we hold dear something that is not swayed by political trends, and might be inspired to reconsider their own understanding of politics.

 

2. We are united in Christ

While we agree on submission to authority and defending the weak, Christians may  disagree on how specifically to carry this out. I have dear brothers and sisters with whom I disagree vehemently when it comes time to vote. We disagree on whether or not there is anything worth protesting about and whether or not a march is a reasonable way of doing so. We disagree about the extent of authority a government should have.

So, why bother even talking about politics?

Because we know that such differences are superficial, but important. Speaking of spiritual gifts, Paul reminds the church in Corinth that “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27). We are united in Christ, but we each have different strengths and weaknesses, and different preferences. That’s a good thing. Our flawed but individual attempts to live out Christ’s teaching make for the beautiful mosaic we call the Church.

My friends Steve and John* are both sincerely seeking to live out the teachings in the Bible to the best of their abilities. However, though they have the same foundation in the Bible, they work out the political implications very differently. In effect, they support completely opposing candidates and policies.

In the early days of their friendship, they had many heated discussions and minimal respect for one another when it came to politics. But as their friendship grew, they did not ignore the differences, but learned to lovingly and humbly challenge each other’s choices, and point each other back to the Bible.

As much as Steve disagrees with John’s politics, he has learned to trust that John is actively seeking to please God. Because of that, Steve does not tire of trying to understand how John’s favored politics (which seem so un-Biblical sometimes) connect to John’s love of God. And John patiently does likewise for Steve. They ask each other questions as they seek to understand opposing viewpoints, such as, “Why do you think this?”, “Have you considered. . . ?”, “I don’t entirely follow the connection between your points.”

By recognizing their unity in Christ, Steve and John often come to a better understanding and respect of each other’s choices, even though they still disagree. And sometimes, they even come to agreement on unexpected issues.

Even though we disagree with brothers and sisters on specific issues, when we recognize our unity in Christ, we can challenge one another to love God more deeply and love man better.

 

3. We know who is king

Ultimately, we are not afraid to speak out politically because the Bible is political.

I’ve been reading Isaiah recently, and Isaiah gets really specific about the coming judgment of various nations and their wrongs. But each of these prophecies also point to a time where a king will reign on Zion and bring peace and prospering to all nations (Isaiah 25:6, for example).

A king is an inherently political title, and in claiming this title, God promises that He will return and right the wrongs of our broken political systems.

Clearly, the time where all nations kneel before God and recognize His authority has not come yet. But we as Christians live in hope of that day. We know that the evils our rulers perpetrate are, ultimately, temporary. We know that Christ the King is coming back, and when He does, He will bring a sword of judgment and right all wrongs (Revelation 19:15).

When we discuss politics with other people, perhaps the one thing we can all agree on is how imperfect and broken politics is, and how little faith we have in our politicians. Different people propose different solutions, but let’s be honest, have we ever seen a political system work the way it should?

When commiserating about current politics, perhaps we can offer the hope Christ has extended to us. That one day, the Perfect King will come and rule the earth in a perfect manner.

In submitting to imperfect human rulers and speaking out against the injustices they commit, we look forward anxiously to that day. We live in anticipation of the time when God’s will will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

And ultimately, when we discuss politics as Christians, we share the very real hope we have in Christ.

“Come, Lord Jesus.” (Revelation 22:20)

 

*Not their real names.