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When Someone Goes Astray

Day 30 | Today’s passage: James 5:19-20 | Historical context of James

19 My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

The first time I met my friend, she told me that she had accepted Jesus as her Lord and Savior when she was six. But when I encouraged her to come to church regularly, she shifted with embarrassment and told me she was struggling with an addiction, and wanted to straighten out her life before finding God again.

We kept in touch. Three years down the road, she still struggles with the addiction as well as a series of other bad life choices. Every time we talk, she tries to convince me she’s turning her life around. But each time, I see more of the pain (both physically and emotionally) that her choices are bringing her.

Do you know anyone who has, to quote James, “wandered from the truth”? Sometimes people walk away from a doctrinal belief in God and His gospel; other times, someone might believe all the right things, but no longer live by them.
My friend, for example, confesses Jesus as her Lord and Savior—but you would never know it from the way she lives.

As James emphasizes throughout his letter, God does not desire merely our superficial confession of Him. He wants us to live out the gospel in our lives.

But that’s not all. He also wants us to watch out for our brothers and sisters in Christ. When we see a fellow Christian wandering from the truth, whether in thought or in deed, James exhorts that “someone should bring that person back” (v. 19).

To encourage us in seeking wandering souls, James reminds us that “whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins” (v. 20).

For sins to be “covered over” means that God will forgive the sins (Romans 4:7). There is no sin too great for Christ’s sacrifice. When we restore a brother or sister, whatever their sin may be, God’s forgiveness is more than able to save them from spiritual death. What can be greater than a renewed life in Christ? And to think that God allows us to play a part in His amazing work of restoration!

But how do we turn a wanderer back to God?

We can love. We seek to love others just as Christ loves us, which is precisely why we seek to bring them back to Him (John 15:12). Sincerely loving our brothers and sisters prevents us from falling into the sin of judgmentalism or gossip. When we love, we will seek to maintain a meaningful relationship through which perhaps God would be pleased to work.

We can pray—regularly and passionately. Ultimately, it is not our clever arguments or sincere words that change a person’s mind. Rather, it is God’s Spirit moving in the deep recesses of the heart that brings a wanderer back, and by prayer we bring our petitions directly to God, who loves the person more completely than we ever can.

We can lovingly confront a person who has turned away from God. Our love forbids us from being an observer on the sidelines, watching passively, while someone forfeits their soul. In talking with someone whose actions are contrary to God, we “do not regard them as an enemy, but warn them as [we] would a fellow believer” (2 Thessalonians 3:15), lovingly and prayerfully.

God desires that we live out the gospel in our daily life, and is grieved when any one of us turns away. As brothers and sisters in Christ, let’s commit to hold one another accountable because of the love we have for God and for each other. In everything we do, may we act out of love and wholly depend on God’s grace and leading, trusting that He will continue to work in the lives of all who belong to Him.

—Christine Emmert, USA

Questions for reflection

1. Do you know anyone who has turned away from God? What are some possible signs of a person wandering away from the truth?

2. What is one step you can take to restore the brother/sister who has gone astray?

3. What is one truth from God’s word that you can take to heart in this process of restoration?


Christine is a follower of Christ, and a lover of good books and food. Life is good, she insists, and each new breath is a reminder that whatever the circumstances, God is still good. Her husband and her are trying to build a family that seeks Christ and serves as light and salt among the nations. Ezra 7:10 is her favorite verse.

Read 30-day James Devotional

Stop Trivializing Favoritism

Day 12 | Today’s passage: James 2:8-11 | Historical context of James

8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. 9 But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. 11 For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

Growing up as the middle child, I always felt that my parents favored my brothers. I wasn’t as good as they were in both my studies and swimming, and I would feel pangs of jealousy whenever my parents praised my brothers for their achievements and gave them first pick of the food and presents. I also felt the injustice of being scolded the most and forgiven the least whenever we made mistakes together.

Though I may have unfairly judged my parents then as a kid, this perception of being unfairly treated had significant negative effects on my emotional well-being—my self-esteem took a blow and I often felt inferior to my brothers and unloved. It was not until I became a Christian in my youth, that I gradually started to recover my self-esteem. I was convicted of the truth that regardless of how I performed, God loves me unconditionally.

Admittedly, I have also been a perpetrator of favoritism. In school and at my workplace, I have treated certain classmates and colleagues better because I liked their personalities more than others. During those moments, I did not consider what effects my actions had on those around me. When we are the ones being favored or the ones perpetuating it, we are likely to trivialize it.

James, however, reminds us that favoritism contravenes the royal law of Christ to love our neighbor as ourselves. He even mentions favoritism in the same breath as murder and adultery, placing them side by side as violations of not just one component, but the whole law of God (v. 10).

When I look back at my past experiences, I realize that at the heart of favoritism is a glaring lack of brotherly love toward another. Isn’t that essentially at the heart of all sin?
As Galatians 5:14 tells us, “the whole law can be summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” (NLT)

When we show favoritism, we do not consider the feelings of the one who has been victimized and its impact on that person. Instead of loving them, we are hurting them.
This not only reduces that person’s self-worth and leaves a scar on his heart; it also denies his identity as a much-loved child of God and negatively shapes his character and future actions.

In the Bible, we read of accounts of favoritism which led to resentment and ultimately, undesirable outcomes. Sarah’s preference for Isaac and her ill-treatment of Hagar and her son Ishmael led to a break-up of Abraham’s family. Isaac’s unequal treatment of his two sons, Esau and Jacob, drove a wedge between them. And Jacob’s favoritism toward Joseph led to his older brothers resenting him and selling him off as a slave.

Are we also guilty of trivializing this sin of favoritism? Do we cast a blind eye to this hideous sin when we commit it, not realizing its detrimental consequences?

Let us examine our lives and turn to God in all humility. Let us ask Him to help us attain an understanding of His law and of this subtle sin in our personal lives, so that we may live a life of authentic faith with the genuine love of Christ for our neighbor.

—Melvin Ho, Singapore

Questions for reflection

1. In my home, workplace, church or other social circles, have I shown favoritism and trivialized the grievousness of this sin?

2. How can I love the poor or even my enemies—and treat them equally without favoritism?


While not an avid reader and writer, Melvin likes to explore questions people have about the Christian faith and Scripture, and discover the best answer to them. He realizes however, that sometimes he may be thinking too much for his own good, and needs to spend more time putting God’s Word into practice. Among his goals now are to learn godliness with contentment, love people equally without favoritism, and put their needs above his own. In his free time, he likes to run, watch Manchester United football games, and catch inspirational movies. Secretly, he hopes God can use his life as a missionary one day, fingers crossed.

Read 30-day James Devotional

6 Ways to Take Your Relationship Deeper

Written By Janel Breitenstein, USA

When my family and I moved across continents, our lives were stripped down, and being in a new place made everything about three steps harder. I realized in those situations how desperately I needed friends. Real friends, who would plop down on my back porch while our kids got muddy, and who would swap their hearts’ stories with me. I needed friends who would show up when my husband had malaria or put an arm around my shoulder when I wasn’t there for my grandpa’s funeral.

God knew that we needed friendships that loved intrusively. It’s how Jesus loved us—setting aside His status (as God!) to get dirty in our mess. He swapped a throne for a reeking stable, put on diapers, went through puberty and single adulthood. Then, He took what I was carrying, and made it His own (Philippians 2:5-8). After all, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters” (1 John 3:16). Is that what should characterize our friendships? As laying down our own lives?

This is vital. Wherever you are.

But to reach that stage, I needed to build my friendships from scratch. And here are a few things I found useful to deepen my friendships:

1. Ask good questions and be willing to share

One of my favorite questions—though admittedly it can occasionally sound cheesy—is, “How’s your heart?” It’s my way of saying, How are you, really—on the inside? What are you wrestling with in there?

Of course, sometimes we simply want to be the one to whom people tell stuff; to be the confidante, the counselor. But love doesn’t let us get away with always being the giver in relationships. In the Bible, Peter had to allow Jesus to wash his feet (John 13:8-10) and Jesus allowed a woman to bathe his own feet in expensive perfume, and wipe them with her own hair (Matthew 26:7-11).

When I find myself slipping into that role of “always the giver”, it can help to be straightforward with friends: Hey, I tend to let my friendships be a little one-sided, because I get uncomfortable when people ask me questions. So I’m telling you this so you can call me out on it, and keep pursuing me.

 

2. Ask how you can pray for them

Praying is one of the most intimate forms of love. We’re fighting for someone, about their most intimate desires, fears, and concerns. I want to get into the spiritual boxing ring of prayer (like Jacob, who wrestled with God) alongside my friends, for them and the ones they love. I want us to at least get to the level of, “What would you ask God for right now? What matters the most to you that you’re wrestling with? What’s sitting on your heart like a big elephant?”

Sometimes, friends are too weary to pray for themselves. They might feel too afraid or alienated from God. They might feel grief or concern that overwhelms any words. They might not know what to say. It is such a privilege that I can pray for them.

Who do you know who might not have a lot of people praying on their behalf? Practically speaking, consider calling to check up on how they’re doing, or sending a text message or note in the mail to let them know some of the verses and thoughts you’re praying for them.

3. Tell the truth

I’m challenged by the simple words of Ephesians 4:25, “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.” Reality is, I have not always treated my friends as if they are members of my own body, communicating like my own body does with itself.

I am not false—not in the intentionally lying sense—but I am not always intentionally truthful, for the sake of “kindness” or my own security. I am not always faithful to speak the truth or say what someone might not want to hear. I may not love enough to be courageous.

If a friend is, say, caught in sexual sin—then I should care enough to quietly say, “I think I need to tell you what you probably already know. This is destroying you. I think you could dream a lot bigger—for a faithful, forever relationship that really valued you, and where you value them back.”

Honestly, when I’m not truthful with a friend, when I’m holding back, I can feel that between us. My friendships will only grow as deep as we both allow them to go.

 

4. Be vulnerable

Vulnerability takes so much security—first, in our vertical relationship with God. I find a direct correlation between my own humility and my ability to be transparent with other people. Humility says, I’m weak, a flawed sinner. That’s who I am. But God loves me. And that’s who I am. God’s love gives me the courage to be vulnerable and risk rejection.

Sometimes a lack of vulnerability may be because someone isn’t trustworthy. But more often it’s from self-protection; from a fear that if people know who I am, I’ll be rejected. Honestly, I used to wait for others to pursue me as a display of their concern for me—and sometimes still do. But knowing I always have God’s love gives me the courage to be vulnerable with others. And recognizing my own weakness before Him helps me acknowledge my own need for others to shoulder what I’m carrying (Galatians 6:2); that it’s not good for me to be alone (Genesis 2:18); that I can’t say, “I don’t need you!” to those God has given me in community (1 Corinthians 12:21).

Jesus is our ultimate example of vulnerability. He put Himself in a killable, dirty-able human body; He died naked, shamed and broken. Talk about vulnerability! I’m not saying we trust anyone with our most intimate, painful areas. After all, Jesus had his own concentric circles of friendship—His intimate three, then 12 disciples, then 72, then the crowds. But friendship is rewarding proportional to the courage and intimacy we’re willing to extend; and the bar that Jesus set—love one another as I have loved you (John 13:34)—is one that will take the rest of my life to pursue.

5. Be relentless

Not in a “I’m your friendly neighborhood stalker” sort of way, but in a kind of way that doesn’t look to our own interests, but to the interests of others (Philippians 2:4).

Our current society does not seem to encourage true community well—for relationships that go the distance when it’s inconvenient, unhappy, sweaty, and generally uncomfortable. Thanks to social media we may still be in touch with people from high school—but we may also have 580 “friends” who assume they know us because of our status updates.

For relationships to go deeper, we need to be willing to tirelessly pursue them. Social media, of course, can also be a way to simply care for others more than ourselves; to love well, now that we know what’s going on. I’ve got to be willing to initiate, to crowd my calendar with people rather than just events. . . to be secure enough that friendships aren’t all about me.

6. Be aggressive about forgiveness

Forgiveness is easy to elude, right? It’s easy to choose blame, a hard heart, an alienated relationship. Forgiveness goes against all that’s natural in us. I’m amazed at how petty I can get about small “insults” from a friend—ways he or she seemed thoughtless and didn’t read my mind, things that seemed “obvious” because of my unique composition (which is why I need a friend in the first place), ways that someone didn’t return a kindness.

Friendships squeeze me into the discipline of returning a blessing for a perceived insult; of loving extravagantly. I’ve had to return in my own friendships with “I’m sorry”—with my own need for their mercy and graciousness. I am fascinated by this thought from American pastor and scholar Ligon Duncan that tells me a lot about relationships in general: “People don’t fall out of love. They fall out of repentance and forgiveness.”

After all, our affections follow our ability to extend and receive grace in imperfect relationships.

 

You can see that a lot of these ideas begin with a common, perhaps unexpected trait: humility, fastened tightly to love as the motivator in our relationships.

This year, may your relationships press into the next level of loving as Jesus loves us.

How Do We Respond to Same-Sex Attracted Friends?

Written By Ng Chee Boon, Singapore

Ng Chee Boon is a Millennial with a passion to see the Church present good news to same-sex attracted people. He is actively serving in his local church in the areas of community engagement, missions, bible teaching, and youth.

 

My first close encounter with a gay person was back in my pre-university days, when a classmate expressed his feelings for me. I had no idea how to respond except to discourage any further advances (or false hopes) there and then.

Looking back, I realized what a big step it took for my classmate to come out to me—and how inadequate my response was.

Now, many years later, I find myself researching more deeply into Christians’ attitudes towards LGBTQ. This is a pressing issue of our time, and if we follow mainstream and social media reports, we might easily think that the natural Christian response is to frame the LGBTQ issue as a “threat”. That is, to portray the matter primarily as an issue of “marriage and family under attack” (which is indeed an important issue), but sometimes fail to recognize the fact that there are individual lives and hearts involved.

Our biblical convictions compel us to not condone homosexual behavior. But if our focus is on the good news of our Lord Jesus Christ, shouldn’t we first consider how “they” are a mission field—people who need the Lord just like you and me? More than that, have we considered that there are people with same-sex attraction (SSA) who are family—members of the body of Christ? Even in our local church?

Along the way, I’ve been privileged to hear stories of various Christians who experienced SSA. One is a pastor’s kid. Another shared about how he ignored God for many years, but God broke through into his life and moved him to start reading the Bible, break up a long-term relationship, and even attend cell group for the first time.

Two others, a guy and a girl, shared about their struggles with sexuality and how they press on in their walk with God even though they do not feel it safe to share with most people in their church. Another young man talked about his church-hopping as he searched for a place where he could get help. There are many more stories.

My heart is so uplifted by these brothers’ and sisters’ perseverance in the face of challenges. At the same time, however, I am burdened by my belief that the Church can do better—much better—in offering the help, healing, and hope that is available in Christ. I have heard gay men and women complain about being ostracized by churches. Many keep their SSA secret, for fear of how their family and friends will react. I have also seen the anguish of parents whose child came out to them.

What, then, can we the Church do to reach out to those who experience SSA? Here are some pointers which I’ve found useful through my research and my interactions.

Before I continue, let me explain some of my use of terms. First, I use the terms “gay” or “same-sex attracted” somewhat interchangeably, without assuming the extent to which these individuals have acted on their SSA. Second, I am aware that SSA is just one facet of the LGBTQ collective term. While I focus on SSA here, I know that more will have to be said concerning transgender issues and persons.

 

1. Recognize that same-sex attracted people are in the church.

Just because we don’t know of anyone struggling with SSA in our local church doesn’t mean there aren’t any. In my church alone, I personally know two; but the actual number, according to my pastors, is higher.

There are other churches with dozens. I have even heard of one church where almost anyone who experiences SSA will tell their cell leader. They also have staff who are same-sex attracted. What this means for the rest of us is this: Take heed to how we talk about it in our everyday conversations. Let’s be careful not to offend our fellow brothers and sisters through careless remarks we make—whether it’s those that poke fun at those who experience SSA or those that marginalize them—so that we don’t make church an “unsafe” place for them.

 

2. Be clear about the ultimate “why”.

This is a question of purpose—what do I ultimately desire for my same-sex attracted friend, as I do for anyone? I believe it is that he or she may come to Christ, and live life in abundance as members of the kingdom (and the family) of God, as much as possible on this side of eternity.

People who experience SSA, are first of all, persons. They are made in the image of God, and therefore worthy of dignity and respect. We have much to learn about how to better relate to them as persons, and we need to repent of ways in which we have excluded them from the grace and love that is in Christ. Our challenge is to do this while affirming the orthodox view of biblical gender and sexuality, and that we too are sinners saved only by God’s amazing grace.

We need to relate to them and to present Christ to them, not just because there are public laws and social norms at stake, but because they are individuals who need Jesus. We are all sinners, and need to be saved from our idols and our brokenness.

At the same time, we should also note that the rest of the world is watching. How the church speaks and relates to people who experience SSA can play a decisive role in shaping people’s perception of the gospel—especially among Millennials.

 

3. Recognize that SSA is a very personal thing.

One of the biggest mistakes we can make is to treat SSA merely as an issue or a theological problem. The truth, however, is that SSA is a very personal matter for many, whose sexuality may be an important part of their identity. We need to also remember that when people who experience SSA are called upon to follow Jesus, it inevitably comes with costly implications. This calls for a pastoral spirit on the part of the one relating to a person who experiences SSA (or anyone for that matter). This also means that there are no cookie-cutter solutions—we have got to meet each person where he or she is, and learn to understand their life story.

 

4. Help our same-sex attracted friends to feel safe in church.

Until this happens, we will not get to speak to those issues in the person’s life. Let us not single out homosexual sin as if it is the worst of evils. If you are strong on this, be strong too on adultery, divorce, and extramarital sex. Be stronger still on pride, spiritual pride, and idolatry.

Are we doing our part to forge a church culture where people do not pretend to be sorted and well, but where people can be honest and open about their brokenness and vulnerabilities in all their forms? I was challenged when speaking with a pastor in Singapore. After he and his wife decided to become very open—in his words, “verbally naked” about their own sin struggles—quite a few members in his church came out.

For sure, it will take amazing grace to be that kind of church. We will have to overcome the norms of this world and learn to be really open and vulnerable about our brokenness. How can we expect someone to feel safe to come out to us if we ourselves are not honest with our own struggles?

And after a friend has come out on SSA, what next? Will we be willing to walk with that friend or family member, to help him or her stay on a path of spiritual growth? It could well be a difficult and long journey, but perhaps along the way we will discover for ourselves what it really means to be like Jesus.

 

5. Speak the full counsel of God.

My views of homosexuality are not shaped definitively by the so-called “clobber passages” (specific portions of the Bible that talk about homosexuality). These passages are important, but more decisive for me is the warp and woof, the overarching story of God in Scripture.

I am reminded of what English pastor and author Vaughan Roberts, who himself struggles with SSA, said: “Don’t talk about sex without talking about marriage, without talking about creation, without talking about redemption and new creation.” The full counsel of God points to Christ. In Him, all things hold together. So let’s speak in such a way that we are always trying to draw the person’s attention to Jesus.

I think it’s important to keep this in mind because it is so easy to let our identities and our values become centered on things other than Christ. Gender and sexuality are important but they are not the core issues; God is. When our Lord Jesus met the woman at the well, He didn’t start by pinpointing her faults. Rather, He started by offering Himself, the spring of life.

I know of a former gay-activist turned evangelical who devoted his life to ministering to the emotionally and sexually broken in the church. At a leader’s training, he shared about how his sexuality used to take up a large part of his identity. But when Jesus came into his life, the importance of his sexuality gradually shrank relative to Jesus who came to fill up more and more of his self-identity.

 

6. Create a culture that opens the door to a flourishing life in Christ.

There are a good number of same-sex attracted Christians who, based on their conviction of God’s Word, have chosen the path of celibacy. Will they all come to a point where they would seek marriage with a member of the opposite sex? I don’t think so.

If this is true, I hope we can appreciate what these Christians might feel if we keep touting marriage as the highest, most important form of relationship. While we are keen to strengthen the foundations of marriage and family, we need to be sensitive about whether we are inadvertently excluding others. We also need to actively explore other paths by which these Christians can experience deep relationships and intimacy. The same goes for singles and others who for some reason are not married and cannot (or do not) entertain the prospect of marriage.

Can Christians be good friends with others of the same gender without sexualizing it? This is a problem of the world’s culture. Ever since the sexual revolution, we have tended to sexualize everything. But it was not always so, and it need not be so. Dr. Wesley Hill, an American Bible scholar who struggles with SSA and who wrote about it in his moving memoir, Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality, speaks refreshingly and affirmatively of the unique gifts and contributions that same-sex attracted persons can offer to build the church, especially in the recovery of friendship. For someone like Wesley, spiritual friendships* are a critical means for enjoying relational intimacy as a celibate gay Christian. Can church communities provide such depths of friendship so as to enable all persons, whether married or single, to flourish?

 

7. Finally, speak with radical acts of mercy.

Demonstrating love and compassion is not conditional on the recipient’s holiness or level of agreement with you. I think of C. Everett Coop, a former Surgeon-General of the United States. He was unequivocal about his conservative biblical stand on homosexuality, yet he was feted by LGBT people, because he did so much for AIDS education and for AIDS sufferers.

I think of a Canadian friend who serves at the Bissell Centre in Edmonton, Canada, which ministers to the homeless. She told me that a disproportionate number of homeless young people in her community are gays who have been kicked out of their homes. Her ministry reaches out to them without discrimination. Can we hear of such stories among Jesus followers in Singapore?

 

We (myself included) have much to repent of, and much to learn. But let’s start talking about this and strive to be a gospel community, by the amazing grace of God.

 

*For more details, read Wesley’s other book, “Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian”.