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Am I Responsible for My Friend’s Salvation?

Written By Madeline Twooney, Germany

I remember the moment l entered a relationship with Jesus as though it were yesterday.

It happened 10 years ago, on a chilly January evening. My friend Hannah led me in prayer and confession while we were seated in her car, parked outside a supermarket. In a declaration of faith, l accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.

The change was immediate: l felt clean and light, as if all my past mistakes and bad decisions had been erased. More importantly, l felt loved and accepted for who l was, despite my failures and flaws; a love which could only have come from God.

As the months went by, l embraced the chance to start my life afresh with God, with fervent gratitude and a heart that burned to know my Savior more and more. Hannah became one of my mentors, and she taught me about the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20)—how God calls us to spread the good news of the Bible.

My thoughts went immediately to my closest friends who didn’t know Jesus. I realized that the struggles and pain my friends experienced were often a reflection of their search for purpose in life, for identity. This broke my heart.

l wanted to help my friends know the same freedom, peace, and love from a merciful Father that l did. Additionally, l was concerned about the possibility of my friends’ eternal separation from God if they did not enter a relationship with Him. Therefore, l made up my mind to “help” my friends along the path to salvation, which led to an awkward incident between them and myself.

It happened one fateful weekend when my friends and l were visiting Amsterdam. On Saturday night, a few members of our group wanted to visit the red light district, where tourists flock in droves to look at sex workers behind red-lit glass doors. This did not sit well with me. While my friends thought that the experience would be a harmless act of cheeky window-watching, I thought of the desperate circumstances that pushed these women to such a place. l felt for them.

I told my friends that God intended our bodies to be holy and acceptable to Him (Romans 12:1), and that as a Christian, l would not pursue the things of this world. Instead, l would pursue God and so should they. Well, as we British say, that went down like a lead balloon. Some of my friends told me straight out that it wasn’t my place to tell them what they should or shouldn’t do, and most of all, what they should believe.

I wanted my friends to know the love of Jesus, but that setback helped me see that l wasn’t responsible for their salvation—they were. God desires each of us to willingly choose a relationship with Him, and I could not force anyone to a choice—whether through shame or other methods. However, l do have an obligation to share the Gospel. Since that awkward incident, l have been learning to minister to my friends in different ways, in the hopes that it would draw them to the light of Christ.

Here are four ways that I’ve learned to reach out to my non-Christian friends:

 

1. Let Our Faith Shine Through Our Lives

l can be a good spokesperson for Christ when my friends see the way l live my life as a Christian. I love the words of Matthew 5:16, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

One big change that happened after I became a Christian was that I no longer used swear words. Not only did my friends notice this change, but now they actually apologize to me if they accidentally swear in my presence!

Instead of speaking negatively, l now try to use my words to encourage and uplift those around me (1 Thessalonians 5:11). I try to show my friends God’s love by being patient, kind and empathetic with them, just as Jesus is with us.

 

2. Share Testimonies

God is constantly working in our lives, and we get to share it with our friends. When my husband and l were struggling financially, God came through and provided us with income from sources such as friends, an unexpected payment in our account, and even a scholarship for my husband! Not only do my friends get to witness how God has changed my life around, but they also get to learn more about God through what occurs in my life.

I have noticed that my friends are more receptive to hearing about God when they can see a tangible working of His role as a living God and loving Father. Some of my friends have even started attributing good things in their lives to God’s blessings, instead of the result of their hard work or simply luck or fate.

 

3. Create A Safe Space of Mutual Respect

My friends and l have created a safe space in our relationship, where we mutually respect one another, and each person is free to be themselves. We accept each other’s weaknesses and forgive each other when we make mistakes.

I do talk about God with my friends, but l now use discernment and weigh each situation carefully before sharing my opinions, instead of bombarding them with verses from the Bible.

Because of our safe space, my friends feel comfortable in approaching me when they do have questions about God, because they know l will neither judge them nor be sanctimonious towards them.

 

4. Pray for Our Friends’ Salvation

Have you seen the movie War Room? The elderly woman in the movie had a special closet—which she calls her “war room”—set aside for regular, passionate, dedicated prayer on behalf of people around her.

I pray for my friends’ salvation a lot. l have written down a list of people l hope will one day come into a relationship with Christ, and hung this list up in my spare room—my own “war room.” During my quiet time with God, l pray over this list and intercede for my friends and loved ones.

 

My friends may one day choose Christ, or they may not. Either way, l will continue to be friends with them and love them with the love that Christ has shown me.

Having said that, l will not give up hope that, one day, my friends will accept Jesus into their hearts. Until that day comes, l will continue to have faith, believe in God’s mercy, and pray.

3 Ways to Push Through A Dry Season

Written By Madeline Twooney, Germany

Three years ago, l entered a dry season. Up till then, l had been a private school teacher for 14 years; l had worked 75 hours a week, including on the weekends and during school holidays. I was constantly exhausted and struggled to attend church and my home group regularly. To get in some God time, l tried to pray and read my Bible on my daily commute. In April 2016,  my body and my mind gave out and l had a mental breakdown. Consequently, l was diagnosed with burnout and depression, and had to resign.

During the first weeks of my convalescence, l was optimistic that with a bit of rest l would soon get back on my feet. However, as time passed, it became evident that the damage to my health has been greater than what l had initially realized.

Completing everyday tasks overwhelm me. I get panic attacks in open spaces and have been diagnosed with agoraphobia. Severe headaches leave me bedridden, and l often experience stabbing pains in my left arm. I fall into deep pits of depression that last for weeks and have become a social recluse.   

Although l regularly seek the advice of a psychotherapist and other medical experts, l believe ultimately in the power of God to heal. Thus, through prayer and thanksgiving, l lay out my petition of a full recovery to God (Philippians 4:6) every day. However, sometimes it feels like my prayers aren’t reaching God, because l can see only a little improvement in my health. In my darkest moments, l despair whether l will ever experience a healthy, joy-filled life.  

However, after much struggling and griping, I have come to realize that God is using this journey in the wilderness to teach me to completely trust and rely on Him.  

Here are three ways that has been helping me push through the dry seasons:

 

1. Keep my focus on God

The subject of God’s healing, in particular His timing in relation to it, is something l struggle with, and l know l’m not the only one. God says in Jeremiah 30:17 that He will restore health and heal wounds, but He doesn’t say whether that healing will take place in this lifetime; maybe it will occur when He calls us home, or when Jesus returns.

Instead of thinking about the “when”, l try and think about the “who”—I  focus on God and l praise Him for all the times He’s helped me in the past and l thank Him for the time that He will heal me in the future, which l leave to His perfect timing. Praising God despite not seeing a definite change in my health gives me peace in my everyday life, because it keeps my eyes focused on God and not on my circumstances.

This season has also taught me that words have power. Instead of complaining and allowing my situation to control me, l show God my faith—l praise Him not only in my prayers, but l also praise Him out loud as l go about my day. It fortifies my trust in God and reminds me that God is bigger than my problems, not the other way around.

 

2. Keep studying His Word

During this dry season, there have been times when l have wandered around aimlessly as the Israelites did in the desert. I was confused and doubtful as to whether my circumstances would ever change. Like Job, l felt that God had left me alone to fend for myself (Job 23:8-9).

However, God has been with me the entire time in this arid wilderness—my mind and heart just weren’t attuned to hear His voice. Thus, instead of hoping for rain, l had to dig deep inside myself and ask Jesus to stir up His living waters in me (John 37-38).  

Studying the Bible has been a revelation for me: It’s been like discovering a get-to-know-God manual (2 Timothy 3:16). Through His Word, God gives me courage when l am afraid (Isaiah 41:10), strength when l am weak (Isaiah 40:29), and corrects me when l mess up (Hebrews 4:12). On days when l feel disheartened, God meets me where l am (Matthew 11:28).

Studying the Word every day is now a fixed part of my morning routine, alongside prayer, worship, and journaling. It’s not always easy setting aside time every day for study, but the  spiritual comfort and inner peace l gain from doing it motivates me to open up my Bible daily.

Knowing the Word helps me realize that l am fearfully and wonderfully made in Christ and that l shouldn’t believe the lies of the enemy that say otherwise (John 8:44).  

 

3. Keep persevering in faith

Last summer, l started going to the gym. At first, l found it strenuous and my body felt stiff and sore after every workout. Nowadays, my body is accustomed to the physical exertion and l can see muscle definition forming.   

Similarly, l feel like God is using this dry season to grow my spiritual muscles. When l get a panic attack or become depressed, l am learning to hand the situation over to God, instead of allowing it to overwhelm me.  

Though it’s hard, l appreciate that God is using affliction to purify me of emotions that aren’t serving me, such as fear (Isaiah 48:10).

When l first became sick, l was convinced that this trial was designed to fail me. However, the further l push through this season, the more l see God cheering me on, as l learn to seek His face. Through this process, He has renewed my fallen spirit, given me a heart that is hungry for Him, and changed my mindset from that of a victim to that of a victor.  

 

If you are experiencing a dry season right now, let me encourage you that your time in the wilderness is a temporary layover, it is not your final destination.  Stay the course, keep your eyes on God and ask Him to show you what you need to learn from Him to move on through. Keep holding on, you’re going to get through this!

If God Is With Me, Why Do I Feel Depressed?

Written By Madeline Twooney, Germany

Depression is a mental illness that l live with every day. l was officially diagnosed with depression three years ago after l became burnout from my work as a teacher.

Here’s how I would describe my depressive episodes: My mind feels like it’s been overtaken by negative emotions and thoughts, such as sadness and futility. The onslaught either comes in sudden waves or l sink slowly into a miry pit of despair and helplessness that can last for weeks at a time.

When the depression is at its worst, l become either emotionally numb or undergo intense psychological anguish. I find it difficult to concentrate for long periods of time and become easily overwhelmed. Seeing others around me living and enjoying life gives me heartache because l feel like a spectator standing alone on the sidelines.

To combat depression, l’ve chosen not to take antidepressants; instead, l prefer to eat healthily and exercise. I try to avoid stress and seek professional help on a regular basis.

Ultimately, I believe in the power of the Great Doctor to heal. Thus, I spend lots of time reading the Bible and memorizing Scripture. Whenever l experience mental turmoil,  I speak aloud the Bible verses that correspond to my situation: During bouts of fear, l speak Isaiah 41:10; when l am overwhelmed, l speak Isaiah 26:3; and when l feel myself sinking into the murky depths of mental darkness, l recall Psalm 40:1-3. I believe these verses work within me as I speak them aloud and help me keep my focus on God. I also am grateful to have people in my church who pray regularly for me.

Though I believe that I will receive complete healing when Jesus returns again,  l also believe that God can heal me today and wants me to enjoy life “to the full” (John 10:10) while I’m here on earth. Thus, l thank God for His goodness and present my prayers and petitions to Him (Philippians 4:6). Every day, l wait with hopeful expectation for deliverance (Micah 7:7).

 

I’m not defined by how I feel

Having depression holds me back from leading a healthy, functioning life. In particular, l feel like God has called me to start a writing ministry, but l struggle to find the strength and concentration to sit down at the keyboard.

During such times, l ask myself why God doesn’t heal me so that l can do His work. However, when l consider the numerous individuals in the Bible whom God entrusted to further His Kingdom, who suffered from sorrow, anguish and desolation, I realize that if God can use them, surely He can use me?

In Psalm 69:1-2, David relates his feelings of despair and distress as being akin to sinking into deep murky waters with no foothold. Yet God considered David “a man after his own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14), and anointed him as King over a united Israel, gave him many victories over his enemies, and made a lasting covenant with him.

Jeremiah, the “weeping prophet” (Jeremiah 9:1), cursed the day he was born because of the loneliness, ridicule, and rejection he experienced (Jeremiah 20:14). Despite that, God called Jeremiah to be a “prophet of the nations” (Jeremiah 1:4-10) who revealed the sins of the people of Judah and the consequences of their idol worship.

Even Jesus, on the eve of His crucifixion, confided His feelings of distress and anguish to Peter, James, and John in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:34). Where would we be today if He did not go all the way to the cross?

These individuals’ refusal to allow their emotional state to hinder their obedience to God in walking out His purpose for their lives motivate me to keep writing on days when my mind wants to give in to the darkness. It reminds me to let God, not depression, define me and His will for me.

 

Learning to trust Him in the dark

Many a night, l have lain awake and cried out to God in distress for healing.

When the darkness did not lift, l had to make a decision: If God wants me to endure this season, then l can either choose to love Him and trust that He will work out everything for my good (Romans 8:28), or l can turn away from Him and fend for myself.  Considering that my life was a total mess before l entered into a relationship with Christ, the latter was a poor option.

During the times when l sit emotionally (and physically) in the dark, l remember what God has spoken to me in the light: He will not test me beyond my endurance (1 Corinthians 10:13) and He will never fail me nor forsake me (Hebrews 13:5). With these reminders in mind, l choose to trust, lean on, and rely on Him.

Since I’ve put on eyes of faith, l’m now able to see God’s grace, provision, and favor instead of my struggle. He has blessed me with kind doctors, provided financial provision, and enabled me to write productively, for which l am truly grateful.

 

Reaching out to others

One of the ways God has provided for me is through a Christian counselor who attends my church. She specializes in depression and can empathize with her patients, as she used to struggle with depression herself.

This counselor’s healing testimony encourages me that God can heal me as He healed her, but more importantly, l take comfort in knowing that I have someone l can talk to who knows firsthand what l am going through.

Since then, I’ve started to turn my focus away from myself and ask: Is there someone around me with depression whom l can be a testimony and friend to?

Though this season is challenging, I believe in the goodness of God and His healing. I know that He is with me and nothing, especially depression, will keep me from His love (Romans 8:38-39).

l will continue to have faith that God has a wonderful purpose for me; depression is only part of the journey He wants me to take in order to fulfill His plan for my life. And in the meantime, l will enter His rest, and watch with hope and expectation for His restoration.

If you also suffer from depression, my heartfelt prayers are with you. I invite you to join me in believing that this is not the end of our story; God says that He is close to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18) and that He will mend us and bind up our wounds (Psalm 147:3).

He will wipe every tear from our eyes, and pain and mourning will be ours to suffer no more, for He will make those things pass away (Revelation 21:4). I have faith that on that day, we will experience true joy—one that lasts for all eternity.

What It’s Like to Celebrate Christmas Around the World

Ever wondered how Christmas is celebrated all around the world? What are some traditions we all have in common, and how do different countries add their own twist to certain customs?

This Christmas, we asked four of our contributors from different countries to share about the special customs and traditions that are part of their Christmas celebrations.

 

China: The Best Time to Share the Gospel

Written By Kim Cheung

 

 

 

When I was growing up in a small city in China, very few people knew what Christmas is or celebrated it. But in recent years, thanks to the rise of commercialism, it’s becoming trendy to celebrate Christmas. However, it’s merely an opportunity for the merchants to promote their goods, and for young people to date and have fun with friends.

Rather than enjoying family time and having delicious food (which we do on Chinese New Year), we’d take Christmas as a time to do evangelism. We still love Christmas because it’s a time for us to celebrate the best news in the world—the birth of Christ.

For my church, Christmas is a great opportunity to share the gospel with non-Christians. We would usually host an event on Christmas Eve in the church and prepare some performances, including Christmas songs, dances, and live shows.

The whole event normally lasts for two hours and there will be a short sermon on who Jesus is or why we celebrate Christmas after the performances. Preparations for this event often took a month or even longer, but the focus of the whole event is for spreading the gospel.

After that, some of us would head downtown (where many people go) to hand out gospel tracts. Christmas is the best time to do this since people would be more likely to be more open to hearing about the gospel and accepting Jesus as their Savior. These activities take up most of the night, and we’d go home super late on Christmas Eve. So in some ways, Christmas might be the most exhausting time of the year.

This year, crackdowns on Chinese churches have made it harder to host Christmas activities. Therefore, we need to be super cautious when we invite people to our Christmas Eve services and share the gospel on the streets. But no matter how tough the circumstances may be, we should still seize the opportunity to share the Good News. After all, we are doing this to please the Lord and not men.

 

Nigeria: Sharing in the Spirit of Generosity

Written by Debra Ayis

 

Growing up in a Christian family in Nigeria introduced me to many traditions associated with Christmas. From as far back as memory can take me, I remember Christmas being my favorite holiday of the year—maybe it was the food, the community, or the fact that I knew I would get a brand new custom-designed dress to mark the celebration.

Christmas was a huge affair. Though separate regions in the country celebrated it differently, it was a time of warmth, family, and friends, and of course celebrating Christ our Savior.

In north Nigeria where I was born, there’s a rich mix of Christian and Muslim households. My favorite tradition out of many was the custom of exchanging food with our Muslim neighbors.

To me, this tradition embodied the Spirit of Christmas—the spirit of generosity. It was normal to find families cooking and preparing delicacies days before Christmas, generous offices would provide an unfortunate cow for slaughter to share amongst its staff members.

Each household would carry their haul of meat to be fried, cooked and integrated into different meals such as jollof rice, fried rice, white rice and stew, pepper soup, meatpies, pumpkin stew called miyan taushe (soup for masa or rice cakes in English). There was also an abundance of drinks and snacks such as the zobo drink made from sorrel or roselle flowers, chin-chin, cakes, biscuits, and buns.

Come Christmas morning, kids would pour out of their houses like soldiers on a mission, bearing baskets and trays stacked with food in their parents’ most expensive ceramic and china serveware.

They would make their way to each non-Christian neighbor’s house and offer them a dish. As expected, the neighbors would receive the meal and hand the kids candy, money, or a present as a Christmas gift. After delivering the food, the kids would head back home, change into their very best clothes in honor of Christmas and proceed to church for the morning service.

Like most families, my family would return home after church service to receive a deluge of visitors or we would head out to visit relatives and friends for the day. To a lot of Nigerians and to me personally, Christmas is a wonderful time to reconnect with family, friends, and neighbors. But more importantly, it is a time to reflect on the year gone by and a time to be thankful for the gift of Christ, life, and community.

 

Australia: Santa Visits Down Under in Board Shorts and Flip Flops

Written By Madeline Twooney 

 

Christmas time in Australia was a special time of the year for me, especially as it takes place in the summer. Now that l live in Germany, l appreciate having a white Christmas, but l still miss spending Christmas Day relaxing by the pool in my “cozzie” (swimsuit) or making “sandmen” at the beach.

Every year, my mum decorated our house and the garden with wreaths and Christmas trees, as well as shrubs called Christmas Bush and festive lights.

A beloved tradition that really put me in the Christmas spirit, was sitting in front of the telly with my family to watch a live broadcast of a carol concert called Carols by Candlelight. Even though I had yet to give my life to Jesus at that point, we also attended our own carol service in church on Christmas Eve. Australians love to sing Christmas carols!

I love Christmas Eve, as it brings back childhood memories of me believing that Santa, wearing boardshorts and flip-flops, would be delivering my Christmas presents in the night while l slept. I would lay out cookies for him, as well as carrots for his six white “boomers”, or kangaroos, who pulled his sled.

On Christmas Day, our family opened presents in the morning and then we would go to church for a Christmas Day service.

At lunch time, our family and friends would join us for a Christmas meal, which we eat outside in the garden.

My dad would fire up the grill and we would have a “barbie”, with juicy steaks, marinated king prawns, and chargrilled lobster. We would eat them with cold salads and my absolute favorite dessert—the pavlova—which is a meringue-based dessert topped with whipped cream and fresh seasonal fruit.

After lunch and a nap, it’s pool time! We chill, swim, or have pool fights on floaties until the sun goes down around 10pm; it’s the perfect end to a perfect Aussie Christmas!

Now that I have relocated to Germany and also received Christ as my Savior, Christmas is a different affair for me. This coming Christmas, my husband and l are hosting my best friends, who are visiting us from Berlin. This year has been particularly challenging for all of us due to health and other issues, and l look forward to taking this time to share with my friends the love and victory that Christ has given me.

 

America: A Bright and Festive Celebration for All

Written By Ross Boone

 

 

In the US, Christmas is celebrated as a national holiday—so it’s fun and heartwarming to see how the entire nation gets into the spirit of Christmas.

Shopping malls start pumping Christmas music into their stores pretty soon after Thanksgiving. And I love it. Christmas is a time for warm scarves, rosy smiles, being with family, snuggling by a fire, and of course all the presents—and it’s hard not to want to be infected by the spirit of it all.

When I was a child, one of my favorite traditions was when we’d get together with another family and drive around the neighborhoods looking for Christmas lights strung around houses and trees. Whenever we saw a house strung with Christmas lights we’d exclaim, “Ooh la la!”

Sometimes we’d see almost life-size nativity scenes outside of these houses or churches. These days, a lot more families are displaying blow-up Christmas balloons of Santa, reindeers, elves, presents, and even Disney characters in their front yards.

When I spot a block with a series of houses that are disproportionately brighter and more scintillating than the blocks around it, I assume dads are getting competitive!

This time of the year, a lot of people also watch Christmas movies. A couple of the ones my friends and I like are Home Alone (with MacCaulay Culkin) and Elf (with Will Farrell). I just watched The Polar Express with my nephews and nieces, which was based on a book we loved to read when I was their age.

I grew up in Denver, Colorado, which is in the middle of the US, but now I live on the south-eastern corner, in Atlanta, Georgia. I’ve celebrated Christmas in non-denominational churches, Presbyterian churches, Episcopal churches, and Anglican churches. And they’re all lovely.

I’ve recently been introduced to a new tradition in my church. It is called “Lessons and Carols”. It is an hour-long presentation of readings and songs. The readings are from the Bible and tradition, and they tell the stories that start with Genesis and leading up to Jesus’ birth. These stories are interspersed with related Christmas carols, and it is such a beautiful way to remind us of the real, and most important reason for the season, and to get excited about celebrating Jesus’ birth.

 

As you celebrate Christmas this year, may your hearts be warmed by the knowledge that regardless of the way we celebrate our Christmases, Jesus was born so that we may all be part of one big family in Him.