A letter from a Christian work in progress

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

Last weekend, I watched my Facebook newsfeed turn rainbow-colored as people celebrated the legalization of same-sex marriage across 50 states in the USA. Now before you, or other readers, start reacting or calling names, this piece of writing is not about what I feel about gays or lesbians, but what I feel about Christians in today’s hyper-connected world.

I observed the newsfeed and realized most of the Christians I knew were keeping quiet on the matter. Undoubtedly, it’s a sensitive and emotional issue for many people, and I spent many hours in my university days debating or mulling on this topic with Christian and non-Christian friends. I stopped discussing this when I got into the working world because I was too busy getting work done with colleagues, regardless of their lifestyle preferences.

I went to church on Sunday and nobody even mentioned this at the pulpit. Isn’t this the time for the pastor to share his views, when it’s the topic of the day?

So maybe Christians don’t know what they should say, or don’t feel like saying anything, or don’t dare to have a public opinion on a divisive matter. But isn’t this an irony considering how connected we are today, and how everyone is trying to voice their opinion? What happened to us?

It took me a few minutes to consider the possible consequences, but I decided to put up a public post just to state my stand on the issue as what the Bible taught me (God laid down the foundation of marriage between a man and woman), really just to add to the plurality of voices out there and hopefully encourage other Christians to be more vocal. (And also because I like to voice my opinion)

Social media is funny – you can surround yourself with people who think the same way as you do, or expose yourself to every possible idea out there. I filter what I read by making sure I follow only people who can provide a balanced view and not go hysterical on my posts, no matter their affiliations or religion or lifestyle. Public posts are even more risky – you don’t know which stranger will read your post and come in to start heckling everyone.

Thankfully, the comments were mostly very civil as different friends chimed in with their views and most agreed to disagree on the topic. I learned many new things from the discussions and saw more of the other point of view.

I did have to block some strangers who came with the usual tired “Leviticus” quotes or had some nasty things to say. But generally, my faith in humanity and civility remained intact.

This incident also reminded me that no matter how difficult it seems in this secular city of many contradictions, we can discuss our faith without getting into arguments or misunderstandings … it first starts with how much we know about our own behavior and focus, especially in the online space.

It’s terribly difficult to be Christian in any society, and the challenge for us in Singapore is that we’re so distracted by the shiny stuff around us that we don’t remember how difficult it is and we get blown about with the wind.

I will first state that I’m deeply flawed and imperfect, and I’m still not a good Christian role model. I get angry too easily, I’m not patient enough with people, my words can be too abrasive, and so on. Too many shortcomings to list. But I look back in my life and I see how I’ve changed since I accepted Christ in my life and it has been quite a journey of self-awareness, contriteness, understanding and then transformation.

Not overnight, mind you, but in baby steps, and sometimes in duration of years, not months, for God to help sandpaper my rough edges down and show me a better way. If you read the early 2005-2008 posts on this blog, you’ll see how my writing and tone has changed over the years too.

Most of the time, I write posts on this blog because I want to say something. Better to say it out than to keep it inside.

As Jesus said this to the church of Laodicea: I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”

Consistency

It’s easy for one to say “I don’t care about money” and then go chase after it relentlessly. Money is important to keep having meals and to pay the bills. If God chooses to, some of us can become wealthier than we ever thought possible, but some of us remain penniless. Why? Only God knows.

The whole idea of money is that it’s functional, but people begin to build their lives around their jobs or the amount of money they want to earn and so on. The need of money then becomes the love of money, and Jesus was clear on that bit.

And let’s not kid ourselves, who wouldn’t like to be rich?

But when Christians go for the Prosperity Gospel (ie. I must be financially rich otherwise God didn’t bless me), the consistency with the Bible breaks down. You cannot expect non-believers to reconcile what we keep spouting about being anti-Mammon from the Bible vs the wealth-obsessed lifestyles that self-enriched pastors choose to lead.

And you don’t even need to be that high-flying pastor or particularly wealthy – you just need to keep demonstrating to people how much you’re enjoying the trappings of life on Instagram and Facebook.

(At this point, I wonder if I’m getting judgmental, or asking people to lead a life of utter austerity, but I hope you get my drift.)

For example, I love my motorcycle for its sheer beauty and performance, and I sometimes remember it’s become like an idol which I spend too much time on. I also like taking really nice photos of it, and posting online, but will people think that I’m obsessed with material things? I came to this realization when I started to clean up my material life, and it’s still an ongoing process, but at least it’s a start to think about it and figure it out with God.

A life of excess also has real consequences such as diabetes, obesity and gout. So that’s why I always remind myself of the line in Ecclesiastes : “Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes” and that’s also a tenet of my balanced diet plan.

The Christian needs to constantly rethink his situation and his relationship with God. Well, at least I think I do.

The Singaporean Christian is also often in a dilemma – the city is so expensive to live in, so how? Gotta work hard right? That’s where we need to be clear about doing our best at work to gain respect and honor for God and from men, versus draining our lives out so we can keep spending on the next big thing. So that’s where consistency is key.

Consistency is also about sticking to your beliefs and not fear if other people disagree. I often tell this story about a university classmate who said I wouldn’t be going to heaven because I couldn’t speak in tongues. Even though I said I believed that Jesus was my savior. I think he saw how upset my face turned. Recently, I met him again after 14 years and I wondered if he still believed in that extreme doctrine.

Well, I secretly hoped he did, at least I can respect consistency in doctrine!

Open the conversation right

Some… or perhaps many Christians tend to forget – most people firmly disagree with us and what we say from the Bible. Many people reject the concept of God to begin with. And Christians have been persecuted throughout history for their faith.

But sometimes, I really think people hate us because we start the conversation on the wrong foot. How many Christians have been condemned because of poor public relations skills?

For example, say you are an unbeliever. How would you like it if the first thing a Christian says to you is that you are going to hell if you don’t believe in Jesus?

It’s true that that’s what the Bible says and that’s a foundation of our faith. But personally, I can’t begin conversations like that.

As someone who has done much public speaking, a good rule of thumb is “What’s in it for your audience to give you five minutes of their time?”

Surely, I shouldn’t try to upset them first?

It really makes having the conversation and sharing about faith and ideas a lot easier. And it’s God who chooses his people, not us, but let’s not drive people away so quickly before they had a chance to learn more about our beliefs and listen to our testimonies.

On social media discussions, believers often like to cut and paste Bible verses to prove their point and have the last word. But verses also need to be taken in context, and the listener may not know the wider context of the verse/chapter. The usual end result is anger or disappointment, not understanding or redemption.

gracious speech

The key then lies in our daily conversations and behavior, but first…

Do we know our Bible?

I’m thankful I grew in my faith with the help of friends and teachers who focused my attention on the Bible and not man-made doctrines. The key concepts and tenets of the faith must be made clear, or people start spouting all sorts of falsehoods that also tear churches and families apart.

For example, I will roll my eyes at any church that tells me I must only use their sanctioned version of the Bible (eg. King James Version which I find difficult to read in its Olde English).

Often non-believers will wave the book of Leviticus at us, saying how is it that we believe in such arcane, legalistic rules when they don’t know the old Law was made redundant by the coming of Christ.

Some people will say Jesus didn’t say this particular commandment, but they don’t know what the Apostle Paul taught is what God taught him too. Many people don’t know the miraculous story of how Paul used to be the murderous Saul, and then was utterly transformed by Christ into his great messenger.

I need to read the Bible more, because the more I read it, the more I understand it with the help of God. And that helps us to spot false doctrine and preachers from a distance, because they always twist the Bible for their own agendas.

And when we know the Bible better, we’re not so fast to cut and paste verses to show how much we know, but to consider God’s will first over our will, as learned in the Word.

Being a better role model

But for non-believers, how do they get to know Christ better if they don’t want to read the Bible (which they often believe to be human-written fiction?) The answer lies in our desire to be better representatives of Christ.

Throughout my life, I have looked up to great Christians who by their daily behavior and decisions in the secular world (not just in church or cell group), have shown me that Jesus exists for real.

What’s the point of being a believer if people cannot see the difference that Jesus is making in your life?

And what’s the difference, some might ask?

An unmistakable sense of contentment and kindness, derived from the trust that God is in control and that we love because God first loved us. And more often than not, they’re respected by many people because of their integrity, honor and patience. That’s what is meant by being loved by both God and man. They really embody the phrase “Love your neighbour as yourself”

I feel ashamed of my still sinful behavior when I compare myself to them, and I’m encouraged to get better at this reworking of myself that will not stop till the day I die.

And it helps to keep a record: Earlier this year, I started writing my prayer journal with specific prayers and asks for friends, family and myself – it’s mindblowing how God deals with my requests.

To close…

These are just observations I’ve made over the years in my own situation to understand what I really need to work on. My trouble is that I just keep getting distracted by the ways of the world and thankfully, God keeps pulling me back to see what I’ve done wrong this time.

It’s tough to be a Christian, but God never said it would be easy.

Best regards,

Ian.

 

6 Replies to “A letter from a Christian work in progress”

    1. I’m allowing this comment to appear because I want to bring up this point again – you can’t have a good conversation if you decide to kick it off this way.

  1. Ian, thank you for sharing your thoughts. You’ve expressed what many many of us cannot, but wished we could. May you and I continue to be a reflection of Christ and how He would want us to be.

  2. Ian and brother in Christ,
    I just chanced upon your blog and want to commend you on your excellent writing. We die to our old selves each day and start anew each morning, in a way like how Jesus died and rose again. We will eventually be transformed from glory to glory into his image. (Christ is in you is the hope of glory)

    Ps: i am an old JC classmate of yours, we used to compare biceps, we bumped into each other at a Clementi taxi stand maybe some 10years back.

  3. This is the first time I read your blog. I love this comment…. “But for non-believers, how do they get to know Christ better if they don’t want to read the Bible (which they often believe to be human-written fiction?) The answer lies in our desire to be better representatives of Christ.”
    How true. Our example, our behaviour, our attitudes is a true witness for Christ. Most of us behave “holy” on Sundays in church. The moment we walk out of church after service, we moth into our ugly self. It’s a pity.

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