Posts

When Giants of the Faith Fall: Why It Matters

“Not again!” I thought when I read that the founder and CEO of Relevant Media Group, Cameron Strang, has come under fire for creating a racially insensitive work environment.

The 43-year-old was alleged to be a toxic boss who exhibited “various levels of high-handedness, shouting fits and racially insensitive slights”.

These accusations come on the heels of a spate of news headlined by Christian influencers in respected roles who have either left the faith or fallen short of living the Christian life that they claimed to represent.

In July, author Joshua Harris denounced his faith, and a month later, Hillsong songwriter and worship leader Marty Sampson said that his faith was on shaky grounds. Earlier this month, news of Harvest Christian Fellowship Church pastor Jarrid Wilson taking his own life rattled the Christian community around the world.

And now, criticisms of Cameron’s leadership skills have emerged after former employee, Andre Henry, an African-American writer, and Relevant’s managing editor from October 2017 to July 2018, posted the following on social media about a podcast episode the publication had put out on race and the church:

Several experiences & stories from my time @RELEVANT….convince me the org is not committed at all to creating an antiracist culture internally to produce a race podcast with integrity.

Cameron has since stepped down from his role, and said he will be taking a leave of absence in order to “grow and better understand important issues, especially about race and equality”.

While I do not consider myself a Joshua Harris fan, I enjoyed reading Relevant’s articles, and had looked up to Marty Sampson. So, seeing the succession of influential Christian leaders fall like a pack of dominoes is somewhat depressing.

To add to that list, the former pastor at a church I used to attend in my home country, New Zealand, was recently charged for sexually assaulting female congregants. The offences allegedly involved three female complainants, and spanned between January 2012 and April 2019. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges, and his case is still before the courts.

While I was not close friends with the pastor, we have chatted a few times, and connected on social media. He was like any charismatic pastor—warm, friendly, and welcoming. I remember thinking how wholesome he and his wife were. I was particularly blown away at my second visit to the church, when the pastor was on stage welcoming new visitors, and mentioned how good it was to see me back at their church.

So, imagine my disappointment and sense of betrayal when I read the news about his alleged assaults. Here was a pastor who preached about Jesus and was encouraging us to live a life worthy of Christ, but was living a double life behind closed doors.

While the news didn’t leave me disillusioned with God or the gospel, I did feel jaded to read of these giants of faith failing to live up to Christ-likeness.

 

Why We Look Up to Human Leaders

We often look up to human leaders because we crave to see Christians living out their faith in the 21st century, especially in a world where Christianity is increasingly being seen as outdated and irrelevant.

This is why I love seeing or hearing young and hip Christians like Cameron and Marty dominating the world stage or standing up against cultural norms. To me, they are proof that Christians can be in this world, but not of the world (John 18:36)—leaders I can point others to as evidence that Christians can be hip, modern, and relevant.

As a result, it’s easy to gravitate towards these cool personalities and put them on a pedestal without realizing how easily it could also lead to disappointment whenever a leader or influencer fails us.

As former Relevant editorial director, Aaron Hanbury, told The Washington Post, “We evangelicals have been far, far too quick to [equate] apparent financial-organizational success and aspirational personalities with faith leadership.”

Given the string of failures that we’ve witnessed in the past few months, perhaps it’s time for us to re-evaluate who we’re following—and why.

 

Follow the Ultimate Human Leader

As I write this, it dawned on me that regardless of how cool a leader is, or how impeccable their character might seem, or even how influential they may have been in our spiritual journey (perhaps even leading us to faith), ultimately, we cannot look to a human role model because he or she is bound to fail us at some point.

Theologian Albert Mohler, in response to Joshua Harris’ divorce and deconversion from the faith, wrote that the news was “deeply humbling to American evangelicalism”, and the “heartbreaking headlines reminds us that we can place our trust in no sinful human being, but in Christ alone, the One who alone is worthy of our trust”.

While we’re looking to hip, cool Christians to lead the world stage, what we often don’t realize is that we already have the ultimate leader to follow—in the form of Jesus, who lived 2,000 years ago, and changed the system and the beliefs of the ancient world. He walked among humans, experienced fatigue, hunger, and was tempted just like the rest of us (Matthew 4:1-11), and eventually suffered the most agonizing death mankind could ever think of.

Because of this, Scripture says we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin (Hebrews 4:15). Instead of desperately searching for the next big leader to look up to, we should all be focusing on following Jesus.

Of course, it isn’t always as easy as it sounds. In fact, the Apostle Paul likens the Christian walk to running a race, and exhorts believers to “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles” (Hebrews 12:1). This verse reminds me of how easy it is for me—or for any of us, whether or not we’re in a place of influence like Marty Sampson and Cameron Strang—to go off track in my own race.

It’s so much easier for us to criticize those in the spotlight, pointing out their missteps, and shaking our heads at them. But knowing how prone all of us are to falling and occasionally going off-track should cause us to reflect on our own personal lives and examine our hearts. Just because we don’t constantly live under the scrutiny of the public eye, it doesn’t make our sins or failings any less real than theirs.

And when we do so, we’re reminded to continually fix our eyes on Jesus, who is the pioneer and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). To “fix our eyes on Jesus” is to see him as our leader, king, and inspiration, the one who has gone before us, and is calling us to follow in His footsteps.

While it can be tempting to magnify the mistakes of these faith leaders, let’s also not forget the incredible work they have done. Cameron Strang created a media space for Christian young adults, giving us a platform to read and reflect on articles relevant to our lives. In his years serving as a worship leader, I’m sure Marty Sampson has helped countless people worship God at a deeper level. In our shortsightedness, we might write them off or disqualify them from the “race”, but I have no doubt that Jesus can redeem their stories for His glory.

If you’re like me, and finding yourself a little disillusioned and jaded by the recent news of these high-profile Christian leaders, can I encourage you to look to Jesus, who is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8)—and to entrust all our failings to Him?

I Was Told I Would Be A Failure

Written By Hilary Charlet, USA

“You’ll never make it in marketing; you’re too shy and quiet,” my professor told me, “I think you should change your major.”

I have since replayed this memory many times. I had gone to my professor one evening for help with an assignment, and I can still tell you exactly where I stood outside the business building when my teacher dropped the bomb.

What she said wrecked me. I left that office defeated and questioning myself. Back in my dorm, I bawled my eyes out. I was upset for days. But I knew I wasn’t going to change what I was doing. I was in my third year of school already. There was no way I could let all the hard work and effort I’d put into my degree go down the drain because of one little comment.

I’m not sure why, but I’ve always been hard on myself. My parents never pressured my siblings and I to get good grades, but 95 per cent of the time, I found myself striving to get the highest grade possible. Each time I turned in an assignment or took an exam, I faced an unhealthy amount of stress and anxiety. Even when I knew that I had done my best, I continued pressuring myself to go above and beyond.

Even though my professor’s words crushed me, I was determined to try even harder. I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life, but I couldn’t let her be right, so I just worked harder and kept going.

It wasn’t until my final year in school that, for the first time, I completely entrusted my life and the plans for my life to the Lord. My brother’s girlfriend (now wife) moved in with me during my senior year, and her faith was something I admired. Every morning, we would get up for coffee and devotional time, and talk about Jesus. This was the first time that I had a consistent routine of quiet time with the Lord. And as I did so, I kept wanting to know Him more and more.

As I grew to understand God’s love for me and learned that His plans for us are good, I felt complete peace—instead of anxiety—about what was to come. This was a peace I hadn’t experienced before, and I knew that whatever God had in store for me was going to work out, even if I really wanted Him to work it out as soon as possible.

You see, graduation was approaching, but I was still jobless. I had turned down an earlier job offer because I felt that it wasn’t where the Lord wanted me. Though the job would bring me security and comfort, prayers for discernment and clarity led me to feel increasingly certain that this wasn’t the plan for me. Though my classmates all had their next steps planned out, I still had no idea what I wanted to do or where I wanted to be.

About a week before graduation, I finally received an email with a job offer. It was with a company who organized events raising funds for their clients. And guess what field it would be? If you guessed marketing, you’re right.

I knew that through this job, I would be accomplishing good—by raising funds to support team USA for the 2016 Olympics Games. But the job was on the American East Coast and out of my comfort zone. As I prayed about this, I felt that the Lord’s plan was going to be just that—something new in which I’d have to trust Him, even if I was afraid to be so far from home and everything familiar.

It has now been three years since graduation, and my career path has looked very different from many people my age. I haven’t had the standard “full-time job with benefits” or the kind of financial security my friends have, but each opportunity has helped me discover more of my passions.

In all this time, God has proved faithful over and over again—sometimes at the very last second. Even when I thought I knew better, it always turns out that God’s plans are so much better than anything I could have dreamed up. Through prayer, seeking counsel from close friends, and staying grounded in God’s Word, I continue to grow in clarity and confidence in following God’s plan.

That’s not to say that I don’t have moments of doubt. Sometimes I feel as if I’m not reaching my full potential in a given task, and I begin comparing my job with those of my friends. I remember how my professor told me I wouldn’t make it, and a small voice in the back of my mind would creep in: “You’re a failure. Look what you’re doing right now while everyone else is leaps and bounds ahead of you.”

This is not the voice of the Father, but of the enemy that seeks to steal, kill, and destroy. The Bible says that I am a child of God (Galatians 3:26). I am right where I am for a reason. I am valuable. I am capable.

Every time this voice tries to make me feel worthless, I repeat Colossians 3:23-24, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”

It’s not a paycheck I’m working for, but God. I am a vessel for Jesus exactly where He wants me; I am not a failure.

The more I lean into God’s Word, the more aware I become of my identity in Him, and the less I need the approval of others. Because I already know who holds the future, I no longer need to worry about what comes next. As I grow in God, I learn that His Word provides direction, peace, discernment, as well as truth about myself and His plans for me. And so, I rely less on others and more on Him.

When you know who you are—a beloved child of God—the painful remarks of others can no longer cause you to question yourself and your path. People might look at your grades or your career choice and tell you that you will be a failure, but guess what? You’re not.

Though we fail at times (and learn from each experience), we know that God loves us more than we could ever imagine, and that He makes firm the steps of those who delight in Him (Psalm 37:23). He is beside us in each and every instance and will never leave our sides. The truth is that, whatever people say, we are beloved, valuable children of God, and if we allow Him to, He will guide us every step of the way into His plans and purposes for our lives.

2017: The Year My Resolutions Failed Spectacularly

Written By Priscilla G., Singapore

I’ve had years in which I did not meet my new year resolutions, but never a year in which I failed in my resolutions as spectacularly as I did this past year.

This August marked my fifth year working as a journalist with a media company in Singapore. While I had my share of bad days at work, I loved my job. I enjoyed meeting interesting people and telling their stories. I specialized in covering social issues—issues that affect disadvantaged groups—so I felt the job was meaningful. Though my working hours were flexible at best and irregular at worst, God gave me the grace to still be able to spend time with family and church.

At the start of the year, one of my resolutions was to get a promotion and win more awards for my articles. To me, these goals were attainable. I’d won awards before. And I wanted a promotion as an affirmation of my work, not so much for the pay rise.

 

The Shocking News

Long story short, not only was I not promoted, I was told in October that I would be redeployed the following month. I was to be transferred to another department and take on a job that I did not ask for nor want.

The news came as a shock. Many of us had seen the company’s restructuring exercise coming, but I did not expect younger workers like myself (I am in my late 20s) to be affected. I knew of at least three others who were redeployed, and at least four who were retrenched.

The month before I was told of my redeployment, my supervisor had nominated me for an award. And as of 6:30 p.m. that fateful day, I still had not heard about my own redeployment—the human resource department was busy talking to the many employees who were retrenched, so I was informed about it at about 6:40 p.m.

Until that day, I had never cried so much in a day before. I cried when I spoke to my supervisor in the office canteen immediately after being told the bad news. I tried to hold back the tears when I returned to my desk. I cried during a cell group meeting later that day. I cried to God at home, until about 3:00 a.m.

I loved my job. I loved it enough to stay on for five years without a bond, and to stay on while at least seven of my peers quit before I did. But I now had to move to another job within two weeks.

During the prayer that ended at 3:00 a.m, I asked God several questions: What just happened? Why? Was I not a good steward of the gift, of this job You gave me? Did I make my job my god? What did I do wrong? If I did something wrong, why didn’t You give me some sign or warning? Usually the Holy Spirit convicts me when I sin, but this redeployment was a bolt from the blue.

 

God’s Leading and Provision

Amid all those tears, I felt God assure me that the redeployment wasn’t my fault. He reminded me that all the authority figures in my life—my parents at home, my cell leader in church, my supervisor at work—did not sound out any problems when I got busier at work.

He also helped me realize that the career move was something He wanted. I have had several signs from God, since the age of 12, that led me to believe that He wanted me to be a journalist in that company. I had the conviction that I would quit only if the signs leading me out were as clear as or clearer than the signs leading me in. To me, the redeployment was a clear sign to move out, at least for this season in my life.

I also felt assurance of His guidance. Two days after hearing the redeployment news, I listened to a sermon about following God’s signals and road map. One of the first verses mentioned was Psalm 32:8: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go. I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.” Perhaps because the verse is written in the first person, it felt like God was speaking directly to me.

Eventually, within less than a month of being told of my redeployment, I found a new job in the corporate communications team of a social service agency that serves people with disabilities.

Events moved much faster than I expected, but I do not think my career move was a rash decision. I did not just settle for any organization with a job opening; this new job met various criteria I had. For instance, the organization serves people with disabilities, and I had covered news stories on the disability sector, so the job was not totally unfamiliar territory. My salary expectations were met too.

I am also thankful that I could sign the job contract and submit my resignation letter to my previous company before leaving for a mission trip. The security of knowing what lies ahead gave me more peace of mind during the week-long trip.

By the grace of God, I will start my new job in January 2018. I am thankful for the lessons I have learned through this episode of failed resolutions.

 

 1. Turn to God

I have learned that going through disappointment with God is better than going through it without Him.

It was helpful to have advice and words of encouragement from friends, but God’s presence and words were more satisfying. They gave me comfort and healing from the bitterness towards my previous company, so I could let go of the hurt and move on. They gave me direction and wisdom when I needed to know where to move to next. They gave me courage and hope for the future. The nearness of God is a good thing (Psalm 73:28).

It is important to turn to God first to deal with the emotions within, rather than denying them and going to the extreme of being task-oriented. I find it interesting that in Philippians 4:6-7, Paul says that if people present their requests to God in prayer instead of being anxious, “the peace of God . . . will guard” their hearts and minds. He could have used the word “filled”, but “guard” suggests a defence against something. Peace can guard us from making unwise and rash decisions.

 

2. Accept reality and focus on making informed decisions

There were moments when I found myself thinking about the if-only’s and what-if’s, or dwelling on the “why me?” question. But God reminded me of a popular Christian quote: “God grant me the serenity to accept what I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

So, for the first few days after hearing the redeployment news, I focused on gathering information so I could make informed decisions. I went to find out more about the content marketing job that I was redeployed to, and what my options were if I did not want to accept it. I learned that it would still involve writing, but it was not journalism and would involve writing for a variety of clients, not necessarily the social service sector. I knew early on that this was not what I wanted, so I focused on thinking more about what other jobs I wanted. I narrowed it down to journalism and a corporate communications job in the social service sector. Eventually, it came down to the latter.

 

3. Be thankful for what God has given

Despite what I was going through and even before I found my new job in the social service sector, I could find some reasons to be thankful to God. I realized that many of the dreams I had wanted to achieve as a journalist had been fulfilled, even if I felt my time as a journalist was being cut short. I think Christians are often in the headlines for wrong reasons, so one of my dreams was to feature the good work of the body of Christ.

Over my five years as a journalist, I was able to, by God’s grace, write a story about a church’s unique calendar for needy residents in the community, a story about a pastor with cerebral palsy, and another story that had a brief mention of a Bible verse (Psalm 55:22). I also wrote a personal column which included a quote from Christian author John Piper.

 

When I start my new job next month, it may not be smooth sailing, and I probably will have to get used to many things. But I’m reminded of God’s faithfulness and provision, and I believe that having opened this door of opportunity, He will also empower me in the journey that lies ahead.

How to Fall and Fail Better

In my time writing for YMI, I’ve shared my reflections on my struggles with perfectionism, alcohol, and masturbation, among others. As this year comes to an end, I wanted to be able to proclaim that I have found complete victory over these struggles. But I haven’t. There were days when I didn’t do so well and days when I failed miserably.

Perfectionism is still something I’m grappling with. I’ve turned to drinking for self-soothing many times. Alcohol has often been a gateway to pornography for me, so I’ve sinned sexually as well. Neither am I entirely free from masturbation.

I thought for a long time about whether or not I should write this piece. If I share about my failures, would others think lesser of me? Would I let people down when they realize I am not exactly who they think I am? Am I ready to write so openly about the struggles I still feel deeply ashamed and guilty about? In my desire to be honest, am I being unwise in what I intend to share? Would it stumble others? What would be the repercussions of this piece? Is it pride or prudence that’s causing me to think twice?

But finally, I decided to go ahead and write about my recent failures and what I’ve learned through them. I personally don’t believe it’s healthy for Christians to feel like they can only share their stories when it’s a success story. I’m convinced that stories of ongoing growth—which necessarily include failures—deserve to be heard, too. I hope that I can encourage others who, like me, are still journeying through abiding struggles in their lives.

Through my failures, these are some lessons God has been teaching me this year. These are His opportunities of grace in the midst of my sins and missteps.

 

Accept God’s Forgiveness

One of my biggest struggles when I fall into sin in an area I’ve been struggling with for a long time is receiving and believing God’s forgiveness. “I can’t believe I’ve done it again,” I say to myself. “I’ve told God I won’t ever do it again, and yet, here I am again.” I’ve trouble believing how God can keep extending His forgiveness and grace to me when I’ve disappointed Him so many times.

The morning after I’d gotten drunk and turned to pornography and masturbation the night before, I felt really lousy about myself and I didn’t know how to face God after what I’d done. He spoke to me through Peter’s question to Jesus, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”, and the Lord’s reply, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:21-22), which was to say, for as many times as it’s needed.

In the midst of my self-loathing and despair, I felt God say to me that He would not tell Peter to do something He Himself was not willing to do. It was as if He asked me, “Would I not forgive you that many times as well?”

I was very moved by His kindness and His grace toward me. Though I still struggle to always deeply believe and receive His forgiveness, I’m learning to hold fast to His promise of forgiveness and cleansing once I’ve confessed my sins to Him: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9).

 

Ask for Accountability

Confessing to God is one thing: despite my insecurities, I know that He will not reject me. Confessing to others is another thing altogether for me.

When I’d sinned, especially sexually, my first instinct was to hide this from people who knew and loved me. I was already overwhelmed with how much I’d let myself down; I couldn’t bear the thought of others also seeing me as a disappointment. These are people who have walked with me, seen me do better for a while now, and yet, I’ve failed in those very areas that they’d journeyed with me.

Still, I’d lived long enough to know that as painful as it was to confess my sins to someone, the pain of not confessing was even greater. I’d hidden my sins from others before—resolving never to repeat them and hoping therefore that I wouldn’t ever need to bring them up to anyone—only for that to backfire on me. What it did was to make it easier for me to create a double life: since no one knew about my sins and I wasn’t accountable to anyone about them, I had lesser reason to think twice the next time I was tempted to sin, since even when I fell, no one would have to know or call me to account for my actions.

So I plucked up my courage and told my mentor what I’d done. He patiently listened to me, lovingly asked questions to find out more about what I was going through, and wisely shared his counsel with me. Instead of rejection and condemnation, I received unconditional love and support. His response helped to dispel my fear that people would only accept me when I did well, and if I messed up, they’d disapprove of me.

 

Admit Failure Humbly

The thought of telling others I’d sinned also felt humiliating. At first, I thought the humiliation had to do with feeling ashamed of myself for my long-standing flaws. While it did indeed involve feelings of shame, I realized that the root of the humiliation actually came from my pride—from my own false sense of superiority. I’d thought I was better than this, that I’d overcome all these weaknesses and I was much stronger. But now that there was evidence to the contrary, my prideful sense of self was utterly wrecked.

God had to humble me to make me aware that apart from Him, I can do nothing (John 15:5) and I have no good thing (Psalm 16:2). And He did this out of His love for me. As long as I held on to any illusion that it was I who achieved my own victories, I was dangerously depending on myself and my strength, rather than on Him and His power, to walk the Christian life. God was protecting me from fostering pride in my heart, which would easily lead to sins of self-reliance and rebelliousness against Him.

 

Acknowledge that Sanctification is a Messy Process

This year, I had to reckon more honestly with what the journey of sanctification looks like. Even though I’d known in my head that I wouldn’t just stop struggling with my sins overnight, I’d secretly hoped that that would somehow still happen for me.

Of course, it didn’t. I had, through repetition over a long period of time, reinforced these habits of sin, so it would also take a period of time for me to unlearn these unhealthy habits and to learn new, healthy habits.

And I’m actually glad that these changes don’t happen instantly, because it is through wrestling with these issues in the trenches that I can cultivate the skill, strength and steadfastness of developing and maintaining godly, healthy patterns in my life.

A few days after I’d shared my struggles with my mentor, he texted me this quote by Gandhi: “Strength does not come from winning. Your struggles develop your strengths. When you go through hardships and decide not to surrender, that is strength.” I understand that sanctification is a messy process which involves making the same mistakes over and over again, and that’s part of the process of developing the strength to walk out the journey better.

In his novella “Worstward Ho,” the Irish writer Samuel Beckett wrote, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” What makes the difference is what I do when I fail. Do I mope around in shame, guilt and self-condemnation, hiding and running away from God? Or do I use them as opportunities to learn how to “fail better”—to struggle better and more faithfully before God?

 

Always Fall at the Foot of the Cross

I once read in a devotional this wonderful line: “When you fall, fall at the foot of the Cross.” The author explained that when we sin, we have to make sure that it doesn’t cause us to fall away from God. Rather, when we fall, we are to draw even nearer to God, to seek His forgiveness and restoration because Jesus has made that possible for us at the Cross.

At the foot of the Cross, I’d found God’s unconditional love and acceptance, grace for my mistakes, and the removal of my guilt and shame. The Cross opened the way for me to always be able to approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that I may receive mercy and find grace to help me in my time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

And because of the Cross, God accepts me not because of what I’ve done or haven’t done, but because of what Jesus has accomplished on it. One particular evening, when I was wrestling with my fears of being disapproved and disqualified by God, I heard Him say to me, “I don’t only want you when you’re successful.”

He reminded me of something the American pastor Sy Rogers said. Rogers pointed out that God already knew all the mistakes we’d make before He saved us. And yet, He came for us anyway, because God would rather have us messy, than not have us at all.

Isn’t that the Gospel? But how easily I forget this precious truth in my moments of failure. What I’m learning this year is to go back to the basics of the Gospel, to rediscover what it means to receive and rest in God’s love and grace.

So instead of seeing my failures as occasions for self-condemnation, I’ve come to see that I can lean into them as opportunities of grace to cling more closely to God and to depend more desperately on His strength. I’m learning in a deeper way what it means to experience His forgiveness for my failures and the perfection of His power in my weaknesses (2 Corinthians 12:9).

This is the Father’s prodigal love and perfect grace for a broken but recovering, a messy but growing, child—for me, and for you, too.