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Does What I Believe in Really Make A Difference?

Written By Savannah Janssen, Liechtenstein

A few years back, I was leading a group of students through weekly Bible studies, when one of the girls openly asked, “Do you guys really believe what we are reading? And if so, does it truly make a visible difference in our lives?“

At first, everyone was a little taken aback. But then two or three others piped up, confessing that they have struggled with similar questions in their walks of faith. These questions are real. And they are important. Asking honest questions and experiencing doubt is not futile, but can lead us to new perspectives of and knowledge about God. Have you ever wondered:

Does my religion really make a difference in the life I’m living?

Does being a Christian make me a “better person”?

Do people see that my life is genuinely different because I believe in God? 

I have come to know wonderfully kind and honest individuals who were not Christians. Sadly, I have also had many non-believers tell me, “I know people who are not religious, and they are lovelier than all the Christians I know.” Let me tell you, that hurts to hear . . . but they have a point.

The underlying assumption is obvious: Christians ought to be different because of what we believe in. The Bible calls us to be a city on a hill, and the salt and light of this earth (Matthew 5:13-16). So yes, our lives are intended to make a profound and lasting difference. But how? Scripture shows us a couple of ways our lives could look different:

 

1. How we treat ourselves

Have you ever let the expectations of others drive who you are? Several times in my life, I have allowed false expectations to push me to pretend to be someone I am not. In those instances, I had forgotten that the One who created us gets to define who we really are, not others.

God calls us to a higher standard, a better version of ourselves: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9)

Though we mess up, though we have failed again and again, because of the sacrifice of Christ, God welcomes us unconditionally when we’re willing to turn to Him. He calls us chosen, holy, and special. This is the foundation we ground our identity in. Moreover, our relationship with God encourages us to transform into the person He has created us to be.

I don’t know about you, but I crave a new start from time to time. The fact is, God offers this every single day. God sees us with eyes of perfect love, and He does not hold our past against us. Because of His Son, we can have absolute freedom from condemnation (Romans 8:1-2). God pursues us with unconditional love. With that knowledge, we can face each day with confidence and grace for ourselves as we strive to be Christ-like.

 

2. How we treat others

We love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19). We were created out of love and for love. Have you ever loved someone so much that, out of your love for them, you begin to enjoy what they enjoy? When we love someone, we naturally grow to care for what they care for. It’s the same when it comes to God.

When we remain close to God’s heart, our hearts beat for the same things that His heart beats for. We begin to notice when there is need around us. We begin to see the world through God’s eyes, and start living out God’s love for all His children. This is not an option, but a sincere command by the creator of love Himself.

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:34-35)

Since we have so freely received God’s love, our faith should make a difference in the way we extend our love to others as the world watches on.

One characteristic of God’s love is His lavishing generosity (Matthew 7:11; Luke 15:22-24). We should imitate this generosity in our own lives. For example, we can be generous with our time. In our fast-paced society, it can be hard to slow down and share our limited time with others. But we know that everything we have comes from God, so let us generously invest our time when someone asks for that extra hour of help or consolation. Generously sharing what is most valuable to us, will mark the love which we live by.

 

Our relationship with God should make a visible difference in our lives, because it causes us to live in a way that is counter-cultural and other-worldly. While the world calls us to hate, God calls us to love (Matthew 5:39-43). Where there is despair, we are called to hope (Hebrews 6:19). It is the poor, the meek, the mourning, the pure of heart, and the persecuted who shall inherit the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3-10). The pattern that emerges might seem paradoxical to this world, but then, so was the sacrifice of Christ.

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45)

In sum, a life of faith can and should make a difference. Why? Because our lives are reflections of profound hope, everlasting truth, incomparable peace, steadfast joy, and unconditional love. When people look at our lives, they should see that how we treat ourselves and others is indeed making a difference, not for our own sake, but for God’s purpose.

Oh Dear, Am I Ashamed of the Gospel?

It’s that season of the year again. My church calls it the “evangelism season”.

My Pastor tells us to rise up in evangelistic fervor, saying that it’s the best time to invite friends and family to church. I scroll through the list of contacts in my phone. Who could I possibly invite to church this time? They all know the Easter story. I mean, almost all my friends attended the same Methodist school for a decade, what else could I possibly tell them?

I feel even worse during youth group. They tell us we can use social media to spread the gospel to our friends. Hand-written verses backed by lovely photography. Post titles like “Have you ever felt lost and alone?” Quotes by popular Christian authors saying “Don’t waste your life.” I shrink deeper into my seat. I’ve heard friends complain about people’s lives not living up to their inspirational social media feed. It’s not authentic, they say. I certainly didn’t want others saying the same of me.

When I share my reservations with my group leader, she quickly concludes, “You are ashamed of the gospel.”

How did she come to that conclusion?

I think back on my own conversion. It had nothing to do with the above-mentioned methods. While I had attended dozens of Holy Week services and came across hundreds of Christianese social media posts, such inspirational portrayals of the Gospel were not what convinced me of the truth.

On the contrary, it was the very real flaws of Bible characters and Christians around me that convicted me of the reality of the gospel message. If God could declare a liar like Abraham to be righteous, and an adulterer like David to be a man after His own heart. If God could bring salvation to that once vulgar and obnoxious senior in high school, or bring that ex-drug dealer to tears at His altar. If God would bother with sinners like these, then perhaps He wanted me as well. I wanted in.

Don’t get me wrong. I certainly do not want to undermine special church services or social media outreach methods. I’ve seen people greatly encouraged by the message shared through these methods. But they didn’t work for me. And maybe they don’t work for you. What I’m saying is, we are not any less of a Christian for not using these methods.

So how do I evangelize?

I don’t. At least not in the way my church seems to want me to. Instead, I have people over to our home for meals every now and then. I keep close and regular contact with my non-Christian friends. Like everyone else, I attend their weddings, parent’s funerals, and kid’s birthday parties. I let them share their struggles, and they hear mine. And when they ask me how I get by difficult times, I tell them honestly that I draw strength from my hope in Christ. When they have to go for scary operations or their children fall sick, and ask me if I can pray to my God on their behalf, I do it gladly, but on the condition that they allow me to pray with them.

Several of my friends have come to Christ, and at least two families have come to attend my own church as well. Not only that, but God has used my attempts at openness and graciousness to soften the hearts of people who had been openly hostile to Christianity, and He has allowed me to build meaningful, growing relationships with people who believe differently than I do, so that the gospel may be shared, and perhaps one day accepted.

 The power of the gospel goes beyond pretty Bible verses or famous quotes. Its reach is far greater than any charismatic preacher and marketing gimmick. The power of God is magnified through our weaknesses and vulnerabilities, and I am certainly not ashamed to boast about them.

In sharing my life with those around me, I share my fears of being a mother or my struggles with youth ministry. In the reality and flaws of my life, may others see the glorious work of God.

Your Gay Neighbor is Closer than You Think

Written By Gregory Coles, USA

The year is 2002, and I’m in middle school. The girls seem freakishly tall and wear a lot of eyeshadow. The boys are mostly obsessed with video games.

In youth group, they split us up sometimes. The eyeshadow-wearing girls go off into one room, and the video-game-playing boys go off into another. I’m never quite sure what the girls are hearing in these sessions. (Although one time, when we reconvened at the end of the night, they were all carrying white roses.) Most of the time, the boys hear some variation of the following:

“You want to look at naked women and have sex with them. Don’t do it. God loves you, and He designed you to want to look at a naked woman and have sex with her, but you’ve got to wait until marriage.”

I have no desire to look at naked women. I pretend I do, just to fit in. I nod my head at all the correct moments and look appropriately penitent. But the truth—the truth I don’t even have words for yet—is that I want to look at naked men instead. Maybe I’m in the wrong room. Maybe I’m in the wrong building.

I’m gay, and I’m terrified.

A lot of things will happen in the 15 years between 2002 and 2017. I’m going to do a lot of praying that God makes me straight. (And God, in His love, will do a lot of saying “no.”) I’m going to try (and going to fail) at dating one of my closest female friends. I’m going to revisit the Bible, asking God if He’ll allow me to interpret it in such a way that I can pursue a monogamous relationship with another guy. (And God, in His love, will keep on saying “no.”)

I’m going to decide to be celibate. I’m going to discover what a heartbreaking and beautiful thing it is to love a 2000-year-old Jewish guy who also happens to be the Savior of the world.

I’m going to start telling people my story. I’m going to learn that being loved and being honest don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

I’m going to be okay.

But there are so many people—so many living, breathing, bleeding LGBTQ people like me—who won’t be okay.

There are people who will be kicked out of their families, people who will be homeless, people who will be driven to suicide. There are people who will be told by their churches that simply experiencing attraction for the same sex—simply “being gay” apart from any decision or sexual action—is a ticket straight to hell. There are people who will be told that Jesus only receives the righteous, the cleaned-up-and-polished, that they must conform before they can belong.

In 2002, I don’t know which of those stories will be mine. I don’t know if my sexuality or my theology will change. I don’t know how my family and my church community will respond to me.

With every beat of my 12-year-old heart, I wish I could be sure that when Christians talked about loving their neighbors, they were including me. No matter what.

I wish that people who shared pews with me in church talked about gay people the way they talked about diplomats and florists and concierges, as if we were just people. I wish they didn’t see us as the enemy camp of a protracted culture war. I wish they were more interested in my pursuit of Jesus than in who I was tempted to have sex with.

I wish that Christians saw gay people not following Jesus and straight people not following Jesus as all equally in need of Jesus. I wish we spent more time talking about the gospel and less time talking about what the gospel would mean for certain people’s sex lives.

I wish that when the boys and girls split up in youth group, someone had said, “Maybe the people you’re attracted to are other guys. That can happen too. There’s still a way for you to follow Jesus, and it’s still absolutely worth it.”

I wish you could see me—all of me. I wish you knew that the fears I face, the temptations I battle, and the future hope I cling to might look different from yours. I wish you could see our differences without seeing me any differently.

I wish I weren’t so afraid for you to see me.

Your gay neighbor is closer than you think. He’s the shy seventh grader in your youth group, the one who’s terrible at video games and nods silently through every sex talk. She’s the college student who throws herself into Bible studies and talks about Jesus with a glint of desperation in her eyes. We’re not special cases. We’re not the rejects God has given up on. We’re just ordinary people, in need of the same ordinary, extraordinary grace as everyone else.

I’m your gay neighbor, and I’ll be leading worship from the piano this Sunday. Will you love me enough to chase Jesus with me?

 

This article was originally published on Off The Page. Republished with permission. 

How to Move Forward in 2018

Written by Jes Nuylan, Philippines

“Look to the future with the past in mind.”

 I came across this phrase last year when I went on vacation in Baguio City, one of the tourist towns in Benguet Province of the Philippines. Benguet is a place of lush trees and green mountains, where you can hear the chirping of birds and the rustle of leaves. It’s the perfect place to do some serious thinking, reminiscing, and soul-searching. So, far from my busy schedule and constant challenges at work, I had time to relax, reflect about my life, and remind myself to be thankful for all the blessings around me that I sometimes fail to see.

During those moments, I found myself thinking, where did the time go? It’s as if time had run on ahead of me and I didn’t notice till it had already gone. And what did I do with that time? Was it spent in a worth-while manner? Reflecting on those questions, I had a few regrets.

I earned a living, but did not spend enough quality time with family. I travelled and explored the world, but did not do much to advance God’s kingdom. I especially regretted the lost opportunities at work. Though I was generally a good example to my colleagues and friends at the work place, I did not take those opportunities to share God’s word.

During that vacation, I also visited the Philippine Military Academy—a training school for the officers of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Inside, I not only got to glimpse the trainees doing drills, but I was also able to explore the grounds and see vintage tanks, helicopters, other historical military weapons, as well as memorials to the American and Korean wars. These relics reminded me of the sacrifices of the past, but could not actually bring me back to those times.

It’s the same with my own past. I can always look back on it: events that shaped who I am, people dear to my heart who have come and gone in my life, achievements I am proud of, mistakes I regret . . . I might cringe at a bad memory or smile at some small noble deed, but I can never go back to those times. Instead, I need to ask what I can do with the present.

The present is not always easy. Tragedies happen. Relationships fail. Pets die. But I am convinced that as long as we listen to and follow God’s voice and will in our lives, we can always count on what was declared in Romans 8:28: “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

When I look at the financial problems and family difficulties I have to face, I can find it hard to get through the day. But this verse reminds me to follow Christ and serve the Lord, and eventually, He will put all things in order.

 

Looking to the future

After my vacation, the real world threw cold water on me as I returned to the city and my job. I had spent my vacation remembering the past, and I thought that reliving good times and knowing what mistakes to avoid repeating were going to be good enough. But as I returned to the battlefield of life, tons of tasks awaiting me, piles of bills accumulated, and loved ones continued to depend on me.

I realized that there are times for processing the past, but getting stuck there makes us forget what lies ahead. My current goals in life are to provide for my family’s house, as well as prepare for my future family. The time has come to write down my list of New Year’s resolutions, which should help me meet my goals.

Yet whatever my personal plans, it terrifies me that ultimately I am not in control over the uncertainties of the future. This thought always brings me back to my true purpose here on earth: to share God’s love through my life and win souls for Him. This should always be my first priority, above any of my personal plans. As it says in Matthew 6:33, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

In 2018, I will focus my eyes on Jesus, not on my mistakes, trials, or even people around me, but on Jesus alone. I have to admit that in 2017 I did not fully contribute to my purpose here on earth. But instead of complaining about my trials or wishing for a different life, I will instead be thankful for God’s unconditional love, abounding grace, and all the blessings He has bestowed upon me. I will try harder to live out what I am reading in the Bible and learning in my devotions.

More importantly, I will do more to share God’s goodness and bring souls to Him. This year, God has led me to a new company and helped me gain more friends whom I can share His good news with.

With all that has happened this year, be it good or bad, the new year brings another chance. Learning from past mistakes and lost opportunities, I am able to run this race while looking to the future: the life that God has prepared for me in eternity after this life on earth.

 

Hebrews 12:1-2 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.