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What If My Closest Friends Are Not Christians?

Written By Madeline Twooney, Germany

At the moment, I find forming friendships in church quite challenging. Moving to a new city, as well as health issues, is probably part of the reason. I also have trouble connecting deeply with people at church, even though I join small groups, volunteer for service, and participate in church events.

My old friends, however, are still like family to me. Most of them are former teaching colleagues, and a few I know from my former church. Our friendships span a period of 16 years. Though our bonds have been tested through many seasons—job changes, marriage, sickness and death—we remain dear friends. When it is time to rejoice, we dance; in times of sorrow, we hold to each other and cry. We have grown up together.

None of my friends attend my current church. Most of my friends aren’t even Christians: in fact, some of them are atheists. One of them has even embraced the goth lifestyle.

Does that make it okay then, that l am closer to them than people l know in church?

 

Who Did Jesus Befriend?

Some well-meaning Christians have suggested that I give up these friendships. While I certainly put time and effort into making friends at church, I definitely do not think it is necessary to give up my friends outside of church. After all, Jesus was diverse in his interactions with people as well. He not only spent time discipling the Twelve, but He associated Himself with children, tax collectors, lepers, as well as others considered socially inferior. He sought to draw them to the kingdom of God. Why then, should we limit ourselves to being involved only with people from church?

Just like Jesus tried to draw people from various backgrounds into His kingdom, so too, we can try to bring our friends into the church family. After all, the Great Commission commands that we share the gospel with our fellow man (Matthew 28:16-20).

For example, I invite my friends to church, and they enjoy themselves when they are there. l use discernment to determine the right moment to broach Christian-related subjects. It means stepping into unfamiliar territory for all of us and exploring deep-rooted issues, but l love how open-minded my friends are. More often than not, my friends talk about God of their own accord. I’ve also discovered that I can sometimes be a more effective ambassador for Christ through the way l live my life as a Christian, rather than through using my voice.

 

God Loved Us First

I cherish my friends. Our relationships have a realness to them—the kind of grit and spit that has survived the ugliness of hardship and seen the beauty in each other when we were at our weakest. We share a love which selflessly gives, genuinely wanting to contribute to the happiness of the other. We share a love that deepens through shared experiences and the revelation of life’s lessons. It is a love that does not leave anyone behind.

Our love for each other reminds me of God’s love for us—in His unconditional love, He gave up the life of His precious son Jesus to pay the bond price for our sins on the cross of Calvary (John 3:16). This is the love that breaks chains and sets people free.

I get to love my friends—though they are not all Christian—with the love that God has showered on me. I pray for them and hope that one day, they get to know God’s love for themselves as well.

 

Friendships in Church

While I am incredibly thankful for these friendships God has blessed me with, I am also aware of how important it is to have strong friendships within the church. The depth of my relationship with my closest friends encourages me to reach out and work to build meaningful relationships at church.

Instead of simply trying to get to know everybody, however, I am now focusing on getting to know a few specific people better. I try to keep in mind that we are all imperfect and ask God to help us understand each other.

There are a few women at church with whom I share a mutual sympathy, and we have a similar perspective on faith as well. We now stay in regular contact. We pray for each other and try to get to know each other over coffee. It’s taking time, but our efforts are bearing fruit, and we are opening up more to each other.

In a letter to the church in Colossae, the apostle Paul lists his dearest friends: Jews, Gentiles, cellmates, a physician, and even a slave (Colossians 4:7-18). This extensive list encourages and inspires me to nurture Kingdom friendships with people from all walks of life, so that we might work together towards the glory of God, both within and outside the church.

 

Perhaps you have close friends outside of church as well? I thank God for the deep love you share with them. Do you pray for them? Have you ever considered inviting them to church or small group?  May you keep loving them the way God loves you and me.

Searching: How Far Will You Go For Your Loved Ones?

Screenshot taken from Official Trailer

 

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Searching, the first film from 27-year-old director Aneesh Chaganty, is a crime thriller starring John Cho who plays David, a father in a desperate search for his missing daughter.

After his daughter, Margot, goes missing, David is not allowed to take an active role in the police investigation, so the only way he can help is by combing through her digital persona in search for clues to her disappearance. Filmed from the unique perspective of smartphone and laptop screens, the movie explores the different masks that we put on to hide what is going on inside. Through the twists and turns of the investigation, David learns how little he knew of his own daughter and also what lengths he would go to find her.

Searching isn’t the first film shot from the exclusive point-of-view of a laptop screen, but it is by far the most engaging one, nearly perfectly capturing the millennial generation’s online experience. From its opening shot of booting up Windows XP, the film begins by playing on nostalgia with footages of the MSN messenger, the original YouTube interface and even the early versions of Facebook as we view memories from Margot’s childhood. I haven’t seen such an emotional first five minutes to a film since that heartbreaking opening sequence from Pixar’s Up.

The film proceeds to utilize present day communication apps like Facetime and iMessage as well as popular social media platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and even Tumblr to reveal the story of Margot’s disappearance. David even uses Google Sheets and Google Maps to help in his own private investigation. The little details from director Chaganty of the dropped frame rate during a video call or a typo while messaging or deciding to delete a 200-word rant and replace it with a short, passive aggressive sentence all added to the realism of the online experience.

Although the film-making techniques used to craft the story of Searching certainly make the movie unique, it is the emotional pull of David and Margot’s characters that makes the film a great one. Some of the buzz around Searching is that it is the first mainstream Hollywood thriller with an Asian actor as the lead. Interestingly though, John Cho being of Korean descent had very little to do with David’s character arc. The film instead focused on universal themes of complicated family dynamics, of grief and loss, and—most powerfully—of a father’s love.

This theme of a father’s love was the one that spoke to me the most when reflecting on the film. I was reminded of Jesus’ Parable of the Lost Sheep (Luke 15:1-7) where he tells us of the Shepherd who will “leave the ninety-nine” sheep and “go after the lost sheep until he finds it” (Luke 15:4).

In Searching, David discovers things about his daughter that he couldn’t have imagined were possible. He finds out how Margot has been deceiving him and doing things that he couldn’t believe she would do. At one point in the film, David laments to the lead investigator, “I did not know her. I did not know my daughter.” Despite those discoveries, David’s ultimate goal of finding his daughter never wavers.

In the same way, God’s love for us is constant and unwavering. But in contrast to David, our Heavenly Father knows His children intimately. He knows about the masks that we put on and the lies we tell people in order to fit in or seek approval. He knows about the sneaking around and our sinful behavior. He knows that we will disappoint and disobey Him and go our own way. And yet despite that, he will “leave the ninety-nine” and chase after us with an even greater fervency than David does in the film. In fact, our Heavenly Father has made the ultimate sacrifice for us, not because of anything good in us, but because of the intense love He has for His children.

Although we will hopefully never have to experience what David and Margot went through in the film, my prayer is that we all experience the love of our Heavenly Father and allow ourselves to be found in Him even if we lose our way.

Why I Stopped Trying to Earn God’s Love

It started out great. She liked me and I liked her. We hugged and held hands and spent entire Saturdays together. It was great for about a month or so. But then I said something that triggered a downward spiral.

One day, I mentioned that it had been a hard day, and that I could really use a good hug when we met up. Then I added, “Sorry, I feel a little bit like a needy middle school girl.”

She bristled at the word “needy” and said that it made her uncomfortable. I had only meant it as a joke, but she has had bad experiences with needy guys, and was watchful for any neediness I might have. I reassured her that no, of course I didn’t mean it like that. But we soon discovered that something was lurking beneath my actions.

The further my girlfriend backed away, the more I tried to earn back her affections. I drove 40 minutes to her house whenever she had a rough day. I made her gifts and brought her milkshakes (which I knew she loved). I did all sorts of nice things for her. But if I’m honest, it wasn’t necessarily because I liked her that much. It was because I wanted her to hug and hold me again, I wanted to feel loved again.

Wanting to feel loved isn’t necessarily bad. But I knew something was wrong when I realized that every time I hung out with her, I left angry. I would go out of my way to do nice things for her, but she still wasn’t giving me her affection in return.

Of course my anger made her want to give it even less. She really just wanted to hang out with me and have fun, with no obligations. This eventually broke our relationship, and in our last conversation as a couple I realized what I had been doing. I was trying to earn her love, and I resented her when she didn’t give what I felt I had earned, and it was a big part of what soured the romance.

I’m not sure where my desperate desire to be loved stems from. But I’m guessing most of us have some element of this need and insecurity in our relationships, perhaps even in our relationship with God.

 

Love First, Then Obey

When we want to feel that God loves us, we often try to behave better so that He’ll love us more, or so that we can earn something from Him. For example, I try to abstain from lust because I think that maybe God would bring me a better wife if I did. But is that really the right reason for “obedience”—doing something for God so He’d do something for me? Is that really love?

As my relationship with my girlfriend fell apart, I remembered that God said in 1 John 4:19, “We love because he first loved us.” We don’t love God so that He will love us. We love Him because He already loves us. I was relieved but also a little convicted. My attempts to obey were basically an effort to earn something from God, instead of simply loving Him.

So how can we show our love for Him? 2 John 1:6 says, “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands.” Our obedience isn’t how we earn God’s love—it is an outpouring of the love we already feel for God. So God doesn’t merely want us to obey, He wants our love. That’s pretty cool.

Like a parent, God encourages us to good actions because He knows it will bring us a better life. After God lovingly and miraculously delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, He had Moses tell them, “Be sure to keep the commands of the Lord your God and the stipulations and decrees he has given you. Do what is right and good in the Lord’s sight, so that it may go well with you. . .” (Deuteronomy 6:17-18).

God is saying, I want you to obey Me because it will make a very good life for you. We obey God not so we can earn His love, but because we know He loves us, and we trust that He gave us these commandments for a good reason. Obeying God’s commandments doesn’t mean that we will avoid all trouble or persecution, but it helps us avoid the natural consequences that irresponsible actions and sinful living can bring upon us.

In fact, a few verses earlier, we have what Jesus later cites as the greatest commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5). The commandment is simply to love God! But then you may ask, how do I make myself love something?

 

Hang Out With God

In the verses immediately following, we are given some specific instructions that seem to be placed right after the command in order to help us foster that love in our hearts. We are told to put God’s words before us and around us, and to talk about them always (Deuteronomy 6:6-9).

God just wants us to hang out with Him and enjoy Him! For me, this sometimes means reading the Bible during little breaks, putting verses up around my room, and bringing up what I’m learning in my quiet time when I talk to my friends.

It’s like what my ex-girlfriend wanted. She just wanted someone to be with her, do life with her, and hang out with her. She didn’t want to be obligated to love me just because I was trying to earn it. When we read those verses in Deuteronomy, this sounds like what God wants us to do as well. Just hang out with Him, think about His words, and talk about Him with others. Maybe this is the right way to foster our love for God, and obedience comes naturally because we love Him.

But even in a worldly relationship, we don’t always feel “in love” with someone, yet we still treat them in a loving way. And we should try to do the same for God. So even when we don’t experience the mountain-top love of God at a given moment, or when our heart doesn’t automatically motivate us to stop sinning, we must still try. Because we know that, even during those times we’re not super excited about a relationship, we still love the person—and God—and we don’t want to hurt them.

When I don’t feel that passion, I try my best to wait faithfully until it returns. It also helps when I surround myself with God’s Word and other people who love him. At the end of the day, I trust that God’s love is always waiting for me. Even if I walk away in a moment of weakness, God is always waiting for me to return and again enjoy His love.

My attempts to earn what I want from people will probably be something I struggle with throughout my life. But acknowledging that it is my struggle helps keep me aware of it, so I can intentionally focus on enjoying God’s presence and fostering my love for Him again.

 

Malaysia’s 14th General Election—How Can Christians be “Salt and Light”?

Flag image from Freepik.com

 

Written by Sharon Lee, Malaysia, originally in Simplified Chinese

Tomorrow marks Malaysia’s 14th General Election. It has undoubtedly been the topic that has occupied the attention of all Malaysians, myself included, over the past few months. Everyone has been looking forward to the possibilities that might emerge from this election.

Even from as early as late last year, I began to see many of my friends, whether those close to me or on social media, urging their fellow Malaysians to participate in the election by voting. I even saw Malaysians organizing fundraising events or donating their own money to help Malaysian students overseas who desire to come back to vote but may be lacking in funds, return home to vote. There are also Malaysians working abroad, who applied for a leave of absence from work so that they could come back and vote, even though this may affect their salary.

Everyone has been eager to do their part—for the country, for the next generation, and for all Malaysians to have a better life. I have been so moved and excited to witness these activities—moved, because I realize how deeply we all love our country; excited, because there is so much that we can actually do! Even though many of those who offered help are not Christians, I see them as examples of what it looks like to be “salt and light”.

Generally, Christians around the world have taken a conservative and low-key stance towards politics and other related issues. However, we, the younger generation of Christians, should not distance ourselves from political involvement, especially if it will help improve the wellbeing of our fellow countrymen. There are many ways through which Christians can demonstrate the love of Christ. There is much more that we can do!

Paul counseled Timothy sincerely, just as he counsels our current generation of young Christians: “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). Perhaps we are young in age, and perhaps we lack the wealth of experience and knowledge that older Christians have, but we have grown up in this time and age, and we are blessed with initiative, energy, and creativity. Since we have such wonderful gifts, then our actions should not be looked down upon by anyone. To prevent anyone from looking down on us because we are young, we must prove ourselves in the five areas Paul spoke of and only then can we convincingly lead by example, teach, and transform lives. At the same time, this will show others that God can work through anyone. It may even result in the gospel being shared!

Are our words gentle, so that others feel loved when they hear them? In our actions, do we show love to others? Are we on time for worship services? If the floor is dirty, would we think of cleaning it ourselves? Are we actively using our gifts to serve the Lord? Do we notice the needs of others, and offer timely care and help? Do we honor God in all that we do, and live out the faith we have in the Lord? Do we keep ourselves clean before God and man? Although none of this is easy, and it is hard to perfectly do all of them, it should not be an excuse for us to do as little as we can or not do anything at all. We can learn by practicing, and then we’ll become better at loving others.

Take the upcoming General Election for example. Every Christian realizes that national affairs are not solely the concern of politicians or high level leaders. It affects every one of us. And for Christians, we should not avoid participating in politics, because Christ has called us to be the salt and light of this earth (Matthew 5:13-16). Even though we may not necessarily need to take the same actions as non-Christians, can we—like them—turn our passion and love into visible actions? Can we Christians be the ones who boldly stand up for the sake of our country? Can we be that one good example, so that others will see that it is possible, and necessary, to approach elections with a good attitude? God placed us in this country as citizens, and so we should be Christ’s witnesses here on this land, serving our country well.

But we must also be cautious. Though we can participate in the political process, and contribute to our country, we should not be easily swayed by the different voices competing for our attention and lose our focus. We should also avoid getting into arguments or causing any trouble. We simply do our best in whatever way we can, and leave the results to God. And so, regardless of whether we think the political situation might change from the upcoming General Elections, we Christians should not only pray for the country and God’s sovereignty, but we can also actively participate and vote, offering what we can in real action.

I currently work in a Christian organization. A work trip happened to be scheduled during the  election date. In the end, we decided to ask for our overseas colleagues’ understanding, and shifted the date of the meeting. This allowed the Malaysian co-workers to come home and vote with minimal disturbance to our work. At the same time, we have also witnessed the love and understanding of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Although this election has nothing to do with our other colleagues, they lovingly accommodated our request, and were willing to change the date of the meeting for our sake.

God is pleased when our love is shown forth in action. Prayer is extremely important, but it will be even better if you can offer your action alongside your prayer. Often times what we lack is action that is birthed from love. After all, we do not become “salt and light” so that people might think Christians are more holy or perfect, but that they might feel our warmth, and see Christ through us.

Finally, may God bless Malaysia!