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When You Find Out Your Friend Has A Mental Illness

Written By Karen Kwek

A lifelong scribbler, Karen enjoys the company of friends, a great cup of tea and seeing the gospel transform hearts and lives. She worked as a book editor until she and her husband traded peace and quiet for parenthood. It seemed a good idea at the time.

 

*Simone and I were college-mates at university in England many years ago. Smart and popular, with a sarcastic sense of humor, she seemed to have it all: a strong Christian faith, a close circle of friends, top grades, and a guaranteed place in a prestigious postgraduate music program. As co-chair of our college Outdoor Activities Club, she was always brimming with ambitious ideas for weekend trips to conquer this or that peak, hiking through the forest, long walks along the coast, or summer boating races.

It wasn’t until our third and final year, when Simone and I were sharing a student flat with two English girls, that I started seeing a different side to her. We had always known that she had trouble sleeping, but I usually ran into her only in the dining hall and at club meetings. I had never noticed how tired and withdrawn she could be in private.

One evening, she scared us by locking herself in the bathroom, where we could hear her crying uncontrollably. But from the next day, she seemed to get through the week just fine. It happened a few more times, but as we were all facing final exams and under a great deal of stress, I assumed that was the explanation. I often stayed up late to study with her, and we prayed together whenever she was distressed. On Sunday mornings, we attended church together. We graduated that summer, staying in touch but going separate ways to different postgraduate institutions—she in France, and I in the United States.

Perhaps you may be wondering how Simone’s story is relevant. Maybe you think, as I did then, that nothing in her experience really warranted the label of “mental illness”.

The truth is, mental health issues are far more common than we suppose. In my country (Singapore), a 2010 study revealed that one in every eight people here suffers from mental health conditions. In the United States, that number was one in six in 2016, with the highest prevalence (22.1 percent) among younger adults (aged 18–25). The World Health Organization estimated that in 2017, more than 300 million people, or 4.4 percent of the global population, were suffering from depression.

Apart from depression and anxiety—the most common forms of mental illness worldwide—many also suffer from complex mental conditions including Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and epilepsy.

I am not writing all this from the comprehensive perspective of a healthcare professional, however, but as a flawed fellow believer who has known to some extent the struggle of friends. And as one who has personally lived through periods of depression and anxiety, I can say that there is no “us” and “them”.

All of us will almost certainly face challenges to our mental health during our lifetime; the difference is only in degree. I am deliberately recounting Simone’s story in some depth because she first helped me understand this better and taught me to be a better friend and sister in Christ.

If you have a friend with mental health concerns, here are a few helpful first steps you can take:

 

1. Empathize and encourage him or her to get help if necessary.

Heart palpitations, panic, nausea, vomiting, excessive crying, extreme risk-taking behavior, violence, self-harming—these and other physical symptoms can all be triggered by stress, anxiety, and forms of mental illness.

Your friend may be going through a temporary time of adjustment to a particular loss or trauma, and if so, you being there to talk through his or her feelings may be all that’s needed.

If, however, the problem is more serious or chronic (recurring), suggest seeking help from a pastor, counselor, or doctor. Symptoms that people may be too embarrassed or disturbed to mention include hearing “voices”, hallucinating, even having paranoid, suicidal or murderous thoughts.

Your presence is crucial because there is a social stigma attached to mental illness, even in Christian circles. People fear what we don’t understand, so the mentally ill are usually cut off from the meaningful relationships that “normal” people enjoy at home, at work and in church. They are often ignored or dismissed in jokes, tolerated in embarrassed or exasperated silences, “outsourced” to the care of “experts”, and so on.

So, if your friend has been open with you about his or her mental health issues, please recognize that this is the first sign of him or her placing trust in you. He or she is very likely feeling alone and misunderstood, or has felt that way in the past.

My friend Simone coped with her condition in silence for more than 10 years before the periods of gloom became so intense that she was repeatedly hospitalized for trying to end her life. Her then-boyfriend (now husband), convinced that something was very wrong, took her to seek help. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder only in 2015. The diagnosis helps her family and friends understand a little better what she has been struggling with since adolescence.

 

2. Be informed. Resist “Bible-bashing” and making assumptions about mental conditions.

While Simone has been diagnosed and possibly labeled as a mental health patient by some, to me, she is still Simone. Just Simone, my friend. It means a lot to her that I can see past her illness.

Even though the label doesn’t define your friend, try to understand as much as you can about his or her particular mental health concern, because not all conditions are the same. Ask your friend to describe what he or she faces. Read relevant pamphlets published by institutions that support mental health.

The most destructive myths are that only weak people have mental health issues; that someone can “snap out of it”; that it is a punishment that the person deserves; that someone’s faith is not strong enough; or that truly spiritual Christians will either never suffer from mental illness or will always be cured.

The causes of mental illness are usually a complex interplay of genetic, biological, psychological and environmental factors. In many chronic cases, the triggers are unknown. Physiological symptoms can also occur randomly, as if the body simply disregards instructions from the brain and goes out of control. Be sensitive when sharing Bible verses with your friend, so as not to discourage or hurt someone by implying that he or she is being disobedient or faithless!

Simone suffers from a mood disorder caused by an imbalance of brain chemicals. When she is upbeat, her thoughts are flighty and unrealistic—“disorganized, scattered all over the place”, in her own words. More frequent than those episodes are her lapses into hopelessness. During these periods, she can recall Bible passages about rejoicing in the Lord and finding refuge in Him, but they feel hollow. She cannot feel any positive emotions or muster any prayers except to beg God to end her life because she feels utterly cut off from everything. Panic attacks can also hit her unexpectedly and for no apparent reason. Simone has experienced sudden, paralyzing fear, a racing heartbeat, breathlessness, and crying fits, even in the middle of having a good time with friends.

 

3. Offer companionship and Christian hope.

If you are anything like me, you may hesitate to get too involved in your friend’s suffering—not because you don’t care, but because you worry about messing up. Yet Simone reassures me, “You could never make it worse by showing care.”

Galatians 6:2 tells us to “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” The law of Christ is love for God and love for our neighbors, so we are being told how to love others in concrete terms. The ultimate burden-bearer, of course, is Jesus, who carries our sin and died that we might live (Galatians 2:20).

Simone has been prescribed lithium to balance her brain chemicals, and taught not to allow the negative voices in her mind to overwhelm the truths that she is loved and saved by God. Still, she finds it hard to be sociable when she is depressed, and worries about not meeting other people’s needs or not being able to share our joys.

But when she can receive and accept our company, she finds great encouragement in Christian love, care and community. While Bible-bashing is judgmental and ultimately unloving, the Word of God, shared in a caring context and studied together in Simone’s Bible study group, is her lifeline. It teaches and reminds her that she can look forward to an eternity when she will not only be healed but also made whole.

In fact, the brokenness of Simone’s mind is not so different from the brokenness of spirit common to all us sinners. When she falls into the depths of despair, the hope that sustains me also helps her; it is the certainty of an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade, as it has been won for us by Jesus (1 Peter 3:3-7). How precious is the knowledge that this gift is kept in heaven for us and that God’s power protects us through faith, even if our present grief is great! When Jesus returns, our trust in Him, proved all the stronger for having suffered, will glorify God.

 

4. Look after yourself.

If you are the only person walking this journey with your friend, try asking other trusted friends to walk alongside him or her, too. You need physical rest as well as time to strengthen your own relationship with God. Remember that because your friend’s ultimate hope is in God, your role is to reflect His care and point your friend to Him. Trying to have all the answers or making your friend unhealthily dependent on you will not help in the long run.

 

5. Pray for and pray with your friend.

Simone is sometimes too sad to pray, but she has the Holy Spirit to intercede for her at times like this. Do we pray for God to heal her bipolar disorder? Certainly! However, He has not chosen to do so yet, and we may not understand His reasons in our lifetime. Yet, knowing Christ has given Simone meaning in life, purpose and hope even as she lives with mental illness. With medication and the support of friends, she has been able to return to her job teaching music.

Life remains full of ups and downs for all of us, but ultimately, we are blessed because we can truly say, in the words of 1 Peter 1:3-7:

 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

 

 

*Not her real name. Changed for confidentiality purposes.

So You Think You Have the Best Bucket List?

Written By Karen Kwek

A lifelong scribbler, Karen enjoys the company of friends, a great cup of tea and seeing the gospel transform hearts and lives. She worked as a book editor until she and her husband traded peace and quiet for parenthood. It seemed a good idea at the time.

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Recently my sons’ school principal addressed his students with this line from Mary Oliver’s poem “The Summer Day”, recognizing that with their best years lying ahead of them, life is full of wonder and possibility.

And not just for the young. In the 2007 film that coined the “bucket list” phrase, Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson played two terminally ill men setting out to fulfil a list of things they each want to see or do before dying.

Since then, helped by social media, the bucket list has become an enduring thing. The sharing of all kinds of personal experiences, from travel and adventure to the artistic and culinary, not to mention photographs enhanced by every filter known to Instagram, makes for no lack of bucket list ideas and recommendations.

Today there are even specialized bucket lists, so that each of your must-do categories can have its own Top 10—10 Places To See; 10 Bestsellers To Read; 10 Extreme Sports To Try . . . In fact, why stop at 10? Sample the best that this world offers, and you can then die happy!

As Christians, should our bucket lists look the same as everyone else’s? At first, we might ask why not. After all, this world in its present form is passing away, and compared to eternity, our earthly lifetimes will be gone in a flash. Since Jesus has saved us for eternal life with God, what harm can it do to enjoy everything that He’s given us in the here and now? Surely these awesome experiences are all reminders of a powerful and loving God.

On my own list have long been a few special places—the lands where Jesus lived, as well as Dorset’s Jurassic Coast and Petra the Nabatean city in rock. I’d also like to watch an illusionist perform live, navigate a river in a houseboat, and hunt for truffles in Italy with friends and a trained dog!

But as I look again at these things, I realize that although enjoying creation and our God-given life is a valid expression of our relationship with God, the world’s obsession with the bucket list is based on some assumptions that may not hold up on closer examination:

 

1. Those who are not working through a bucket list are missing out.

Now, I know it’s very likely that Galilee, Dorset, Petra and Italy will not last forever. Certainly the apostle Peter writes of the destruction by fire of the earth and heavens and everything in them (2 Peter 3:10-12) when Jesus returns. We are told, however, that “we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). The earth will not stay destroyed.

Although the Bible doesn’t go into many details about what the renewed world will be like, we have every reason to believe that it, too, will be a physical, embodied world with, well, impressive topography! Dare I hope that some of earth’s amazing places will be recreated, only even better?

If this is so, no one who is saved by Christ will be missing out on any of these life’s experiences at all. Even if the new earth is nothing like the old, there will surely be even better things to do or see there! To borrow an idea from the world of software development, who goes back to the beta-version once the live release is out?

 

2. Bucket list experiences can be enjoyed only during this lifetime.

The assumption here is that life is fleeting and best spent living to the fullest before we’re six feet under and it’s all too late. Indeed, life is short, but just as the world will not stay destroyed when Jesus returns, Christians will not stay dead! The apostle Paul describes our immortal resurrection bodies as spiritual, that is, not immaterial but instead animated by the Holy Spirit, perfectly suited to the new heaven and new earth that will last forever.

This means that any mountaintop on the new earth could still be fair game for those of us who would like to climb it with imperishable legs! My husband and children also like to imagine the kind of beyond-Michelin-stars foods there might be at the great wedding dinner mentioned in Revelation 19:9!

 

3. Bucket list experiences make us into better people.

As the torchbearers of a carpe diem spirit, bucket list champions usually come across as people who are keen to try new things, challenge stereotypes, confront their fears or step outside their comfort zones. We’d probably like to think that they’re people who know what they want and can muster the determination to pursue it. We’re tempted to buy into the assumption that these not-to-be-missed experiences will be somehow life-changing and character-transforming, helping us become the kind of people we long to be.

But as Christians, it’s worth asking: What kind of people should we long to be, and how do we suppose this change happens? By grace, through faith, Jesus has already enacted a crucial change in our status before God. We who were once dead in our sin are now alive in Christ, through no merit or effort of our own (Ephesians 2:8). Consequently, the apostles urge us to live “a life worthy of the calling [we] have received” (4:1), making every effort to be found spotless, blameless, and at peace with God (2 Peter 3:11, 14). Peter reminds us that we already have in the gospel everything we need to live a godly life, because we know Jesus!

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:5-8)

Although bucket list experiences may provide us with some unique insights, it turns out that growing into the kind of people God is pleased to use won’t necessarily involve swimming with orcas or hiking to the Iguazú Falls. I’m not saying that God never chooses to test our mettle Jonah-style, but most of us will find that training in the virtues of godly living and Christian character comes from practicing God’s Word in our day-to-day relationships with our parents, siblings, spouses, children, friends, colleagues and acquaintances. It is in these contexts that qualities such as goodness, self-control, brotherly affection and love are really tested and strengthened.

 

So, is there a better bucket list?

But before you yell, “Killjoy!” and stop reading, does this mean we should delete our bucket lists and never do or see anything out of the ordinary? I don’t think so, and I am not about to prescribe a one-size-fits-all “Christian bucket list” for you.

Instead, I have been asking myself how my relationship with God redefines my bucket list and my ultimate goals in this life. What does it mean, in practical terms, to learn to “number our days” (Psalm 90:12), wisely “making the most of every opportunity” (Ephesians 5:16)? The New King James Version translates this as “redeeming the time”, and the apostle Paul goes on in later verses and Ephesians 6 to explain that this concerns understanding what God’s will is and acting rightly in relationships.

Besides His will that we work at personal godliness, God’s will for humanity is also revealed in His  holding back the end of time for us. As Christians we are reminded to live with the day of Jesus’ return in mind. This is the single event towards which all of human history is hurtling! And lest we forget just why God is not bringing it on sooner, Peter writes that God has a very different perspective of time compared to ours: He is not slow to keep His promise to return; rather, He is patient, wanting people to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). Human historical time is not random; it is purposed for the unfolding of His salvation plan! God is not simply killing time but filling it with redemptive purpose, calling His people to Him, one sinner at a time. And so, in these times where sin is present, there is redemptive work to be done in the sense that people urgently need to know Jesus.

It seems to me, then, that since God’s will in human historical time is to see as many turn to Him as possible, I can re-evaluate my bucket list in at least these two ways:

 

Time

Is my view of time aligned with God’s? How long would it take for me to achieve every single item on my bucket list, and could that time be more wisely spent on relationships that bring others to Jesus or encourage them in their Christian journey? Writer David Andrew puts it this way in Christian publication The Briefing #273: “Christians should be arguing for seeing life as a set of relationships to be brought under the authority of the gospel of Jesus Christ—the prime relationship. Sadly, however, many Christians act no differently to anyone else in their management of time—they maximize the economic rather than the relational.”

 

Other limited resources, such as energy and money

How much of my energy and income would be spent achieving every single item on my bucket list? Realistically, some of the trips and activities that people seek are terribly expensive. Am I willing to invest some (if not most) of that energy and money (or even suffer a loss in income) for the sake of relationships that bring others to Jesus or encourage them in their Christian journey? These considerations have a direct bearing on the kind of job I might choose, how I spend my leisure time, or even whether I see my time raising my children as an opportunity to make disciples for Jesus. Would I be willing to maximize the relational rather than the economic?

After all this reflecting, I’ve pared down my list, and I won’t be upset if I never get to do everything on it in this life. Those things can wait. I’ve also come to realize that on a few occasions when I tried to seek God’s Kingdom first, He graciously gave me experiences which might even be on other people’s bucket lists! (It’s true—one modest example is how my husband’s Bible college studies took us to another country for several years, somewhere we’d otherwise never have experienced as residents. Ask me more another time!) I don’t say this to boast, merely to challenge myself. I’m certainly not there yet, but wouldn’t it be amazing if redeeming the time meant improving my bucket list so drastically that my life’s passions could be Jesus’? Then, if Jesus were to return tomorrow, I wouldn’t have to change a thing about my “one wild and precious life”!

What’s on your bucket list? How could you make it better?

Do You Read Your Bible For Fun?

Photo taken by Ian Tan

Written By Karen Kwek

A lifelong scribbler, Karen enjoys the company of friends, a great cup of tea and seeing the gospel transform hearts and lives. She worked as a book editor until she and her husband traded peace and quiet for parenthood. It seemed a good idea at the time.

I spent the whole of November immersed in the countryside of Western Australia with my family. We brought no work along—no revision (for the kids), no prep, teaching or writing (for my husband and me).

At several of the Airbnb homes where we stayed, there was no phone signal, let alone Wi-Fi, only pristine beaches, forests and mountains. We were looking forward to resting from our school and work routines. And I wanted to read my Bible for fun.

What? I can hear you thinking, “Do the words ‘fun’ and ‘Bible’ even go together?”

Okay, I’ll admit that Bible reading probably isn’t Number One on most sane people’s “Fun” list. We do it, but it’s probably on a different list altogether—the “Things-That-Are-Good-For-Me-That-I-Don’t-Enjoy” list, along with cod liver oil supplements and visits to the dentist.

I’m no different, and the thought of Bible reading usually fills me with mixed feelings, ranging from mild reluctance to guilt and occasional dread.

But it strikes me that this is unfair to God. The other things on that list are understandably off-putting, involving degrees of physical discomfort in return for questionable benefits, whereas God’s Word costs me nothing and bestows infinite grace, comfort, wisdom and counsel. So, why don’t I crave it more?

Here are three reasons I can think of:

  1. I unintentionally treat the Bible as a spiritual clinic or dispensary. I search its pages when I have questions or needs, when I’m suffering, or when I want something. So, when life is fine by my standards, I lose the urge to read His Word.
  1. I treat reading God’s Word as a task. This could be in church, during Bible study prep, regular Quiet Time, or during an academic Bible course or seminar. Structure is by no means a bad thing, but if I start becoming merely dutiful, Bible reading can feel like just another task. Having ticked it off on my “to-do” list, I wouldn’t go back there just for fun, right? Not when there’s Netflix . . . which brings me to my next reason . . .
  1. There are plenty of distractions. That’s right, the instant gratification of non-urgent distractions such as my hobbies, my Spotify playlists, the Internet, and video games or other forms of entertainment, can make reading feel like hard work.

Maybe you can relate to these reasons or think of more. There are plenty of ways to counter the feelings and objects that take our time away from God, from better planning to implementing device-free hours at home, but let’s leave aside that half of the equation for now and focus on our motivation for Bible reading in the first place.

It’s probably not enough just to get rid of the obstacles to our reading. You see, on holiday I didn’t have the time pressure of duties and deadlines—I could take my time with my 12-month Bible reading plan, for instance, and not rush to prepare next Sunday’s kids’ Bible story or answer 10 questions for this Friday’s Bible study.

My usual technology-dependent distractions were also removed. But helpful as all of this was, it didn’t mean that I automatically hurried to open my Bible. After all, as in any kind of relationship, feeling bad or guilty might motivate me to read a few verses once in a while, but guilt doesn’t make for a lasting engagement. Even a neutral feeling won’t keep me returning to God’s Word. Put aside one distraction, and another rushes to take its place.

No, if I’m to enjoy God’s Word, shouldn’t I expect to find something enjoyable in it? In fact, the scriptures themselves tell us there is something wonderful about God’s Word that we can expect to see, feel and appreciate. Psalm 119 repeatedly emphasizes the psalmist’s enjoyment:

In the way of your testimonies I delight
as much as in all riches.
I will meditate on your precepts
and fix my eyes on your ways.
I will delight in your statutes;
I will not forget your word.

(Psalm 119:14-16, ESV, emphasis added)

The same sentiment can be found in verses 24, 35, 47, 70, 77, 92, 111, 143 and 174—you get the picture! This psalm was penned by a believer who recognized that the world around him was disappointing, treacherous and not as it should be, but that God’s Word was trustworthy, true and satisfying. And how much more so for us who are living after Old Testament times and can know Jesus, the fulfillment of God’s promises!

Do you remember that amazing moment recorded for us in Luke 24, when Jesus appeared to His followers after His resurrection and helped them see Him in the scriptures?

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. (Luke 24:44-47, ESV)

Jesus showed them that He is the fulfillment of God’s Word—“the Word made flesh”, as John’s Gospel tells us.

Yes, I can go to the Bible to find wisdom and answers useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training myself and others in righteousness. But even more than that, what a gift I have been given, that in the Bible’s pages, both Old Testament and New, I can see Jesus and everything He’s done for those He has saved. To borrow a phrase from pastor and author John Piper, to pick up my Bible for fun is to expect to “see the beauty of Jesus in His word”.

Happily, during my holiday, I did pick up the Bible just for fun, and not only once but several times. Beach-combing, forest-walking and rock-climbing in peaceful surroundings helped me appreciate God’s creation more so than in the fast-paced city where I live, and I wanted to read about His works.

As I reflected on the many things and people I was grateful for, I also found myself thankful for everything that God has done in Jesus in their lives and mine. Repentance for the forgiveness of sins has been proclaimed to me and to you, and we continue to proclaim it to the world—how awesome is that?

Of course, holidays don’t last forever, so as I get into stride with 2017, I’d like to manage my duties and distractions so that I continue to pick up the Bible for fun. How about you? Do you find enjoyment in God’s Word? Why not try looking past the footnotes and cross-references, and simply enjoy the greatest story ever told—that of the Savior of the world, as revealed in the precious pages of your Bible?

Letter to a Christian Misfit

Written By Karen Kwek

A lifelong scribbler, Karen enjoys the company of friends, a great cup of tea and seeing the gospel transform hearts and lives. She worked as a book editor until she and her husband traded peace and quiet for parenthood. It seemed a good idea at the time.

Hey there,

I saw you leave right after last Sunday’s service. You mumbled a polite excuse when some members invited you to stay for lunch, but I saw the tension and unease in your face.

You’ve often confided in me about how you feel worse in church than outside—more lonely, more misunderstood, more different than ever. Everyone in church already has his own group of friends, you said, or grew up there because of his parents, so they all know one another. You’re not from the same background and you feel like an outsider. They are nice to you but it feels so fake; every week, it’s the same “how-are-you” conversation—over-friendly and yet superficial. You get tired of it, and you don’t feel that anyone really knows you. You don’t feel that you belong, yet you worry that there’s something wrong with you for feeling this way.

You’re more comfortable when it’s just you and me. Why not simply drop the organized religion? you wonder. The preacher sometimes has an insightful message from the Bible, but you can just download the recording and listen to it on your own, you reason. So you’re thinking of giving church a miss from now on. After all, you’ve visited a string of different churches, but the experience is still the same. You’re just not the happy-clappy “church” type, you told me.

Would it surprise you to hear that I can relate to that? Back when I was living on your turf, my friends didn’t really understand who I was, and even the few people who shared my interests—the religious teachers and leaders—rejected me. Most of my life didn’t feel like the big Son-of-God deal it was supposed to be. So I just want you to know: I can empathize.

But what kept me going, when feelings and experiences could change day to day, was God’s unchanging plan and purpose. He made me King over everything (Ephesians 1:21). For more than 30 years I didn’t receive a king’s treatment, but that didn’t change the truth! God also assembled believers around me—that’s what church is.

Here, then, are two truths about church that I thought to share with you.

  1. I am the Head of the church; the church is my body.

The church is gathered around me, its Head. My death on the cross brings people back into a relationship with God (Colossians 1:18-22). People tend to think of a church as a building, institution or social organization to which they belong or not, by exercising their own will and choice. But the Bible describes how we fit together, using the picture of a body joined by me and to me, a single unit comprising many parts, “but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.” (1 Corinthians 12:12)

You see, believing in me automatically makes you part of my body, the church. Denying it doesn’t change the fact. “If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body.” (1 Corinthians 12:15) Can you see how there is no doubt that you fit in, even if you don’t always feel it—a fact is a fact!

Maybe you think you made a mistake, then, choosing God. But the reality is that He first chose you. Your faith is no accident. Each believer has been handpicked by God to play a unique role among His people: “in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.” (1 Corinthians 12:18)

 

  1. The church is God’s family.

The church is described as “God’s household” (Ephesians 2:19; 1 Timothy 3:15). In other words, it’s a group living together as a single domestic unit—a family! You don’t get to pick your own family members in the same way that you might pick your friends, but God in His wisdom has designed the church in this way. Otherwise we would pick only those like us or those we like.

In fact, there isn’t one specific “church”-type Christian. Sure, there are stereotypes, but look closer and you’ll see that believers come from all walks and stages of life. If you feel out of place, it’s usually because even church isn’t perfect yet, and sometimes Christians still disappoint or hurt one another.

I’ll tell you a secret: almost everyone has felt out of place in church at some time or other, even the preacher (yes, he told me). But you don’t have to be like anyone else, or conform to anything, except me. You can be yourself—the person saved by me, because I saved you for me and my family. God put the church together so that every unique member has something to offer to others.

Outside the church, the world treats each person according to worldly standards, celebrating the rich, strong, beautiful and successful, and despising the rest. But the church is the family that God gives Christians, to live by His standards instead of the world’s and to care for one another without bias. “God has put the body together . . . so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other” (1 Corinthians 12:24-25).

It’s hard to genuinely care for one another without even being there, isn’t it? You have a role to play, in getting to know others and letting them get to know you. Sure, these things take time, but you’ve got until I return, right?

Because you believe in me, you belong in my body and God’s family, and nothing is ever going to change that. So won’t you let the truth encourage you regardless of how you’ve been feeling or when others fail you? With a shared faith in me, you just might discover that you have more in common with them than might be obvious at first glance. Why not go back to church next week, and the week after, and often, and start getting to know the family I handpicked for you?

 

Your Lord, Savior and friend,

Jesus