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Can A Christian Be Both Loving and Critical?

The songs at church this Sunday were alright. Only one minor theological blunder that I counted. The person on stage who read today’s passage managed to pronounce all the words correctly. . .

From the moment the pastor started preaching, my brain quietly fact-checked everything that came out of his mouth, from the historical background of the passage, to the “original Greek” claims he made, to whether or not I thought his message was gospel-centric enough . . .

Not exactly the posture of a humble worshipper before God, huh?

I grew up in a Bible-believing household, went to Bible college, and now work with a Christian ministry. I love history, culture, and language, so my interests happen to line up nicely with acquiring biblical knowledge. The problem? As Paul said it so simply, “knowledge puffs up” (1 Corinthians 8:1).

Don’t get me wrong—familiarity with the Bible is a good thing. Analytical thinking is a good thing. It is important to know the difference between a solidly gospel-grounded sermon, and a motivational feel-good speech. Even the most experienced pastors will make mistakes, and it is crucial for us to cross-check anything we hear with the Bible.

After all, even the Bereans checked Paul the Apostle against Scripture (Acts 17:10-11).

But none of that calls for sitting back with arms crossed, silently grading the pastor on the quality of his sermon. Partway through the sermon that Sunday, I realized that I was being critical of the pastor to a point of hostility. I had let myself puff up with pride, and was silently pointing out every minor flaw I noticed as a means of affirming my own inflated sense of intellect, well-read-ness, and general arrogance.

Once I realized my serious attitude problem, I told my brain to shut up and stop being so critical. But that doesn’t exactly solve the problem, does it? For the rest of the day, I wrestled with how to reconcile a critical mind with Christian love. Eventually, I came up with some guidelines to help me think through the issue and hold myself accountable.

 

Does it really matter?

Sometimes I find myself nitpicking at minute details that don’t really matter. If a person mispronounced a word, for example, it probably wouldn’t cause any misunderstanding. Or if the pastor gave an illustration of God’s amazing creation, and mentioned nine planets in the solar system (instead of eight, since Pluto has lost its status)—the main point is still clear and valid. It would be silly for me to worry over such irrelevant mistakes in a worship service.

On the other hand, sometimes there are mistakes with greater consequences. For example, I was recently in a Bible study where a newcomer mishandled biblical passages to argue that the Holy Spirit was not God. This clearly contradicts the Bible’s teachings, and could potentially mislead some of the newer Christians in the group, robbing them of the comfort of God’s continued presence in their lives (John 14:16-17). Unlike mis-numbering the planets, this was a problem that needed to be addressed.

Thankfully in that case, the leaders of the Bible study politely but firmly put a stop to this newcomer’s theories, while offering to discuss it more in a private setting.

While some mistakes are minor and have little consequence to how we live our lives or relate to others, other mistakes might be more foundational and problematic. I need to learn not to dwell on minor mistakes, as well as how to act lovingly in the face of more serious problems.

 

If it matters, how do I respond in love?

When faced with errors in foundational doctrine or mistakes with the potential to damage a young Christian’s relationship with God, sometimes we need to act. But at the same time, I need to take care in how I respond to the issue. Too often I find myself stewing in imagined debates, or pointing out errors to those around me in a gossip-like manner while not actually doing anything constructive to address the problem.

If I decide that a mistake is not trivial but requires action, then I need to ask myself, am I being loving in my approach? I should always start by praying and asking God to purify my motive.

If I counter someone’s point in Bible study, or approach a pastor after the sermon, I need to do it out of a heart of love and service. I’ve found that starting with questions and clarifying the other person’s view first is one way I can do that. After all, perhaps they know something I haven’t thought of yet, or maybe I misunderstood!

If I bring up the issue with friends or family, I should talk about it in a way that seeks further understanding and truth—it should never simply be criticism for the sake of pointing out errors. “What did you think about the speaker’s interpretation of this verse?” would hopefully lead to a constructive discussion that leaves us all with greater understanding and confidence in the truth the Bible offers.

Finally, whatever I do, pride must have no place in it. I am to “do everything in love” (1 Corinthians 16:14).

Too often, I am overly confident in my own opinions and understanding. I need to learn to let go when something simply doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. I also need to remind myself—and ask God to help me—to be loving in all that I do and think. I pray that He will continue to overcome my sinful pride and reveal my many mistakes and misplaced opinions. And as I continue asking myself these questions throughout the week, I will ask God to enable me to interact lovingly and humbly with people around me.

How Moving Abroad Helped Me Re-think Missions

Written By Sonja Chua, Singapore

When I first moved to Israel for work, the busyness of adjusting to life in a foreign land helped keep my mind occupied. However, as I started to settle into daily life and got used to the place, loneliness and homesickness began to sink in.

On weekends when my Israeli apartment-mate left to visit her family, I came back to an empty apartment—the silence and stillness unsettling to me, since I was rarely alone in Singapore. The shock of different working styles, a new culture, and the language barrier hit me hard.

It didn’t help that in the Middle East, I stick out like a sore thumb. I do not look like a local, neither do I speak like one. This is a constant reminder that I am not in a familiar place where I can easily fit in.

When I lamented about my struggles to my church’s missionary in Cambodia, she pointed out that this experience wasn’t much different from what new missionaries go through in the field, as they too experience culture shock while adjusting to new environments.

I also quickly learned that whenever my appearance and accent give me away as a foreigner, it almost always leads to questions about where I’m from. This opens up an opportunity for them to ask me questions about Singapore’s weather, the food, and various other things. While I admit I do not have a Wikipedia-page knowledge on Singapore, I have learned to memorize certain key facts in preparation for these questions, and do enjoy the opportunity to represent Singapore the best I can.

The conversation with my missionary friend, and the new realization that “sticking out” can lead to opportunities for sharing, encouraged me to think about my time in Israel from a new perspective. I realized that in many ways, I am like a “missionary” sent to Israel. All Christians, whether we’re called overseas to missions or for work, or to various other places or occupations, are always called to represent Christ. In 2 Corinthians 5:20, Paul writes that Christians are to be representatives or ambassadors for Christ. Jesus called all His disciples to be salt and light for Him (Matthew 5:13-14).

I’ve realized how great a responsibility Christians have for our lives to reflect the faith that we represent. As much as my face and hair and speech seem to tell everyone around me that I’m not from here, my words and actions as a Christian should do the same. After all, we have been set apart from the world (Romans 12:2). Recently, I have been considering how I can apply my life to be more dedicated to the call of ambassadorship on behalf of Christ. Here are two observations I’ve made.

 

1. It’s not enough to “look” Christian

It’s not enough to wear a cross, tell others you are a Christian, or attend church regularly. Being salt and light in the world means that others must see something different about our lives that is good, flowing from the faith we subscribe to. The way we live our lives and perceive the world around us should be different—through the lens of the gospel and eternity.

A simple way that I’ve been living that out is by practicing Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). Being in academia, I find that it can be easy to get caught up in the rat race and be reluctant to share information such as experimental tips or unpublished research with others out of fear that they might steal your idea. Though it’s tempting, I personally do not subscribe to this rationale. While some of my colleagues have called me naive and too trusting in helping someone troubleshoot their failed experiment or even sharing study notes with a fellow student, I believe it is a simple way I can love my neighbor.

 

2. We can be missional with our words, too

When we are intentional in living out our faith, we are bound to get questions about the God we believe in. While no one can claim to know everything about Christianity, our willingness to engage with these questions can open up opportunities to share more about what we do know.

Once, while working in an international lab in Singapore, my Chinese colleague asked me what I did in church and why I would sacrifice my Friday evenings for Bible study even though I was tired at work. She also asked me whether I would ever “force” her to convert to Christianity.

This conversation caught me off guard, and I didn’t feel prepared to give a good answer. However, I was able to offer my colleague honesty and sincerity as I pieced together a response that I hope communicated how studying God’s word is life-giving after a long day of work and that Christian evangelism isn’t about “forcing” converts.

Since then, I’ve learned that what’s more important than having the “right” answers, is being ready to discuss people’s doubts and criticisms with them in a loving and respectful way (1 Peter 3:15). The other person is a fellow image bearer of God and how we respond to them says a lot of about the God we represent. In the midst of the discussion, if we get stuck, we can always say we do not know the answer and engage them later after we have researched a little more.

I am still learning to be an ambassador for Christ. Through various situations and conversations, I’m discovering that there are many opportunities for us to share about our faith with others. Recently, I got to speak to a Jewish student about the gospel of Matthew and share about a resource called the Bible Project—and I look forward to more of such conversations where I’m able to apply all I’ve learned and continue to grow in being salt and light to those around me.

 

These experiences have challenged me to think about how we, as Christians, are representing Christ where we’ve been placed. Do people notice us as being different because of our Christian faith? My prayer is that God will use us as His representatives to bring others to Christ wherever He has placed us to be.

3 Ways the Church Can Love the Disabled

Written By Hillary Chua, Singapore

“This might reflect my bias, but why should we care about people with disabilities?”

I was leading a Bible study on disability when someone unexpectedly asked me this. My heart sank. Since my love for God motivates my love for the disability community, I assumed all Christians must feel the same. My assumption was wrong.

As a teenager, I had wondered what life would be like if I were to lose my hearing or sight. This prompted years of consuming stories by people with disabilities—to understand their world—and finally led to service in Deaf ministry as a young adult.[1] God used those formative years to prepare me for friendships within the community that I could not have anticipated. I finally understood what my blind friend meant when she said: “The reality is that most people don’t care. The fact that you want to be a better ally [to our community], even when you don’t know how, says a lot.”

I respect my small-group member’s bravery for asking what was on everyone’s mind. It was a wake-up call for me. As someone who has friends with disabilities, and who studied disability rights law, I had forgotten that not everybody was familiar with, or even cared about disabilities.

“Nothing about us, without us” is a key disability rights principle. It reminds us that people with disabilities have voices that deserve to be heard. As an able-bodied person, I cannot speak on their behalf. These are just my personal reflections on loving people with disabilities, as someone who cares about their inclusion.

 

1. Caring about

One of my earliest lessons, from conversations with friends, was that seemingly minor oversights can have huge impacts on people with disabilities. A wheelchair-user cannot join an outing in a mall without ramps to enter. At Bible study, when people talk over each other instead of speaking slowly and taking turns, deaf newcomers cannot follow along. It hurts to be excluded, whether intentionally or not.

In a world that is overwhelmingly apathetic, we can be beacons of light by listening to the disability community’s concerns and accommodating them gladly. For example, printed hymnals are inaccessible to the blind, so my friend asked our church to send her weekly lyrics in advance (which she can then download to her Braille-reader). The church did this willingly, and now my friend can participate in worship. Imagine if we had been skeptical, or had treated her request like a chore? Disabled people may raise requests for accommodation that we find unfamiliar, and it is up to us to choose whether we respond with humility or resentment.

 

2. Relating to

Jesus prayed for the blind to receive sight, for the paralyzed to walk, and for the deaf to hear. So when Christians see a disabled person, our first impulse may be to do the same. Yet praying for strangers to be healed, without getting to know them personally, can make people feel like projects. No one likes feeling this way.

If we think disability ministry only involves physical healing, we miss out on the opportunity to grasp the Bible’s deeper message about disability. The Bible story has four stages: creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. God created us, and whether disabled or able-bodied, we all bear the image of God. We are all alike in God’s eyes.

After Adam and Eve disobeyed God, however, sin corrupted God’s perfect creation. Does this mean that disability is caused by sin? The disciples asked Jesus about a man who was blind from birth, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus replied: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned . . . but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him” (John 9:2-3).

Jesus then restored the man’s sight. However, I think Jesus meant more than physical healing when He referred to the “works of God.” Jesus performed miracles to confirm His divinity and point people to the coming of God’s kingdom.[2] This heavenly kingdom would restore all creation, starting with reconciling sinful hearts to God. I believe that spiritual separation from God (sin) is what Jesus ultimately sought to cure, through His victory over the cross.

Today, many people with disabilities are never healed in their lifetime. Many make peace with disability, considering it a fact of life, or claiming it as a unique identity. God lovingly formed each of us in the womb (Psalm 139:13-16) and intended for each of us to come into this world. This is a message we all need to hear, able-bodied or disabled. Though we can cherish good health, perhaps it is more important to preach that our very existence matters to the Lord, especially in a world that usually seeks to erase disability (through institutionalization, abortion, etc.).

God wants us to love people with disabilities as He created them, and strive to cure spiritual sickness before physical shortcomings. Let us not dilute the gospel message with a narrow focus on physical healing. Let us relate to people with disabilities by regarding them as equally-loved by Christ, and affirm their place in God’s Kingdom.

 

3. Learning from

I am humbled by people with disabilities, because they know what it is like to be dependent at times and cannot hide from it like many able-bodied people attempt to do. Christianity affirms that “dignity” and “giving/receiving care” are compatible, and the community needs to know this. The blind need sighted guides to navigate unfamiliar places. The paralyzed need help getting dressed. The world champions independence, but the Bible teaches that humans are ultimately dependent. Since we are created in God’s image, we derive meaning from Him alone. Scripture teaches us to “carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).

In the Bible, weakness is not a source of shame, but a signpost towards “less of me, more of Christ”. Paul wrote:

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. (1 Corinthians 1:27-29)

We have much to learn from people with disabilities about glorifying God in our limited bodies. Dr. John Wyatt, physician and author of Matter of Life and Death, notes the significance of God coming to earth as a man upon a cross: “Sometimes we see the image of God most clearly, not in the perfect specimens of humanity, not in the Olympic athlete or the Nobel prizewinner. We see Christ in the broken, the malformed, the imperfect.”[3]

Jesus described the people of His day as “ever hearing but never understanding . . . seeing but never perceiving” (Matthew 13:10-16). The deaf and blind who know Christ can listen and see better than people who are far from the truth. My prayer is that more people with disabilities will be touched by this truth.

Fellow Christian, I exhort you to care about people with disabilities, relate to them as fellow image-bearers of God, and learn biblical truths from their lives.

 

[1] “Deaf” with a capital “D” refers to deafness as a culture which embraces sign language, rather than a medical condition.

[2] Holcomb, Justin. “Why don’t we see miracles like the apostles did?” The Gospel Coalition.

[3] Wyatt, John. Matters of Life and Death (2nd edn, IVP 2009) p.189.

 

3 Tips for Those Overwhelmed by Brokenness

Written By Rebecca Krämer, Germany

The room was loud and busy . . . packed with over 150 students gathered for Bible school. My instinct was to observe. In situations like this, my keen senses allow me to see beyond the organized chaos and eager shouts—so as I looked around the room, I saw 150 individuals trying to fit in, desperate to be seen and heard. I saw brokenness, loneliness, and students not knowing what they’re worth.

As a result of being in tune to the needs around me, my genuine desire to do my job and love the students well quickly turned into an unhealthy (and unrealistic) desire to solve every problem and be a champion for all of their needs.

I find myself in this type of situation a lot. When I see needs, I hope to meet them. I want to see people walk in freedom through my efforts. This impossible expectation, however, often leads me down a painful road of disappointments because my attempts don’t produce the change I expect—I simply cannot fix all of the problems I see.

This is a reality that we all must face. As we become aware of the brokenness around us, we have to learn how to respond in a way that doesn’t exhaust us and that serves others well. As with any gift we have, we must shape and train it so we can use it in a God-honoring way.

On my path of learning to manage my emotional sensitivity, there were three specific truths which nourished me. I hope they will also encourage you to harness your own gift and learn to exercise it productively!

 

1. Embrace it for what it is—a gift!

Although emotional sensitivity can sometimes be perceived as a weakness or an over-dedication to feelings, I’ve learned that it isn’t helpful to brush it aside as a weakness, or to ignore it. In fact, I find comfort in seeing how often Scripture records Jesus being moved with compassion (Matthew 9:36, Matthew 14:14, Matthew 15:32, Matthew 20:34, Luke 7:13). I’ve learned to embrace that God has gifted me with perception and when I am moved by the needs of those around me, it reminds me that my heart is beating and I still care about people and ultimately, about the world being a better place.

If handled properly, emotional sensitivity can actually be a great help to walking alongside people and loving them well! By openly welcoming our gift to the table, we can give thanks for it, and then evaluate how to handle it in a healthy, God-honoring way.

 

2. Take time to pray

One of the pitfalls of my emotional sensitivity is trying to do too much. There are so many people around me who are hurting that I can quickly get overwhelmed. But I am encouraged to remember that even Jesus took calm moments away from the crowds (Mark 1:35). I believe these times helped Jesus to re-center and focus on doing what His father wanted Him to do (John 5:19). This is a helpful reminder that I must take quiet time to reflect on what God wants me to do with my gift of sensitivity.

To protect from overexerting myself, I have found that it helps to listen and observe needs, but to not react in the moment. While it can still be uncomfortable to not intervene in a situation when we feel like we could help, it’s important to realize that we simply cannot go after every single hurting person or situation. First, we must take time to pray to determine if and how we should act on any given need.

 

3. Remember that I’m not the Savior

In the past, I invested a lot of time into listening and counseling people instead of bringing them directly to Jesus in prayer. I gave them advice on what to do instead of letting them seek Jesus and discover it themselves.

I found that acting to fill the needs around me sometimes caused people to look to me rather than Jesus for help. In order to know what my responsibility is, I need new glasses of discernment. My feelings are not always trustworthy, but the voice of the Holy Spirit is. The Spirit of truth guides us into all truth (John 16:13). Often, I need to listen to a silent whisper rather than a loud emotional prompting.

Ultimately, I can be assured that God cares for those in need, and He can work in mighty ways to save them. It’s not up to me to save them, and it’s definitely not only up to those of us who have the gift of emotional sensitivity! We must focus instead on obeying when God leads us to help, and rest in knowing He is doing His work.

 

These three lessons helped me to take care of my gift of emotional sensitivity.

As I’ve reined in and learned to train my responses to my emotional sensitivity, it means I no longer jump at any and every opportunity that comes my way. Instead, I’m trying to be more prayerful and intentional with where I invest my time and effort.

Since I’ve started putting these three tips into action, I’ve also seen a lot of good come from it. So, when I find myself in a situation like I did at that Bible school, I’m more equipped to not be consumed by the overwhelming needs around me, but rather love the students better while maintaining my emotional health in the process. I’m now better able to keep a good balance between investing in a student’s life, but also directing them towards God and trusting Him to work in their lives in His perfect timing! Ultimately, a life-long commitment to Jesus is worth much more than a short-term emotionally charged conviction.