image by Cameron Offer from Unsplash
It's a horrible feeling, isn't it, when you realize what you should have done--but didn't.
After the storm of an outburst fades, and the fury gripping you gives way to regret.
When you realize that the bitterness you clung onto poisoned your relationships and ruined chances for reconciliation and healing, both for yourself and others.
When, unable to resist, you end up contributing to the private gossip sesh behind someone's back. What felt like harmless, negligible entertainment doesn't feel like that when you're looking at them face to face.
After that sudden eye-opening jolt when for the first time you feel convicted of laziness, selfishness, pride; you see how they've been leaving dirty tracks over each day, each seemingly small action or scene.
Failure, especially failure to do what you should have done.
We talk a lot about Christ's death for us on the cross (and we ought to) but when we reduce it to an isolated event we diminish its staggering significance, the full weight of its impact.
The context of His death--the OT prophecies and history of God's covenant with His people, which the Gospels so insistently refer to, to remind us--the symbolism, the parallelisms, between the Old and New Covenant, between the first and the last Passover Lamb--and also, the life that He lived on earth, before it culminated in the cross. As Wayne Gruddem points out, we often neglect this aspect in our discussion of Christ. Jesus's "active and passive obedience," as the term goes, are the two halves of His perfect redemption of us. They mirror the concept sins of omission and sins of commission, which I still vividly remember learning for the first time from Edna Gerstner's lovable book Conduct for the Crayon Crowd.
"Do not steal," "do not lie," "do not kill,"...these are sins of commission, things we ought not to do, but did.
"Honour your parents," "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and strength, and mind...and your neighbour as yourself," these are sins of omission, things we ought to do, but didn't.
All those years on earth growing up, going through all the mundane processes of childhood, adolescence, puberty, the burdens of adulthood, but WITHOUT SIN--Jesus lived the perfect, spotless life we all should have lived. He wasn't simply biding His time, waiting idly until the time for Him to die on the cross. Every day--every moment--in every small everyday routine and action of His 30 years, He was purposefully, faithfully, steadfastly, working out His redemption for us.
The cross is the ultimate expression of Christ's love for us, but it is precious to me to think of how each ordinary day in Christ's life was also dedicated to His love for us.
He fulfilled what we failed to do.
And His passive obedience? For our sins of commission--all that we did, which we should not have done--He took the punishment for them on the cross, meekly and humbly accepting what He did not deserve, even though any moment He could have stopped it, found relief for Himself or revenge on His enemies.
He suffered what we deserved to suffer.
And His redemption of us is perfect. Complete. Comprehensive.
It redeems us from guilt.
When you struggle with this sense of inadequacy, when guilt for what you failed to do haunts your mind and cripples you, remember that the perfect life--so impossible to us now!--has already been accomplished for us, that on God's record, we have already done all, done well.
"...perfect redemption, the purchase of blood..."
As I prepared for this lesson, I did some reading up on the topic, mainly because last week's lesson had given me so much food for thought. One thing I am very thankful for is how engaged the children are. They constantly ask questions and offer opinions which show me how much--young as they are--they're thinking through and relating to what we're studying. It is humbling to realize how much you don't know, at the same time you're trying to teach so much--a paradox that I've experienced only when I'm teaching spiritual things.
On the other hand that also means being frequently stumped by baffling questions. Do babies go to heaven if they die? can girls be pastors? if demons/fallen angels repent can they go back to being angels? do we wear clothes in heaven? isn't God really annoyed or busy if He has to listen to everyone's prayers and requests at the same time? if God already knows what's in our minds why do we still bother praying? won't we feel sad if we're in heaven but we know that our loved ones are in Hell? does Satan feel joy? if God is all-powerful why can't He come up with another way to save us instead of Jesus having to suffer so much?
And all this was just in one class! Teaching Sunday School is no simple thing. It feels like a crash course in theology sometimes. Four out of ten times I feel woefully inadequate, praying nervously throughout the weekend as Sunday approaches. But it's a challenge which has made me grow--at a rather breathless speed perhaps (try answering weighty theological questions thrown at you from five different kids on different aspects of the Bible at the same time)--spiritually, in ways that I would never have otherwise. Let's be honest--how many of us are dedicated enough to read up and research on questions we might have? I had questions, of course, but was too lazy to bother studying and thinking them through--or too fearful. I think many Christians are too fearful of addressing doubts and tough questions that can't be answered pat. Acknowledging and understanding that there will be questions, there will be things hard to explain, is a form of spiritual maturity, a form of applying what that crucial Biblical phrase means: "the truth will set you free." (John 8:32) We shouldn't shy away from them in the misguided idea that we're "thinking too much," that we might end up losing our faith or becoming a heretic, is hardly what Paul calls us to be when he urges us: "For God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but of power, and love, and a sound mind." (2 Timothy 1:7)
We have God's sovereignty and other attributes--our knowledge of Who He is and what He is like--as our guidelines, as well as the bottomless treasure chest of the Word.
image by Stanley Dai from Unsplash
Once you hit 21, everyone celebrates riotously that you're "officially an adult!" After the confetti has been swept up and the thought has properly settled down in your mind, you're left feeling disoriented and insecure. So now I'm magically an adult--yikes--and somehow I don't feel any different. I don't have any idea how to be an adult or feel any more equipped to take on this challenge than I did the day before.
But you make resolutions, and find motivation (for me, it was watching Hiccup take on his father's role in How to Train Your Dragon 2, and reading about young Queen Victoria in Lytton Strachey's biography!) and realize also that it's not really that momentous; it's more of a psychological barrier, really. And life goes on, per normal.
And you get used to it. And you get busy trying to manage everything, trying to get your life together...
...until somewhere along the way you get burnt-out. And you think, this is adulting, right? Why am I doing such a bad job of it?
I wish 21st birthdays were traditionally celebrated with a list of helpful guidelines and pointers, so you don't have to learn everything the hard way. And maybe a crash course in important life skills like how to pay bills, calculate income tax, unclog choked sinks, and ask all the right questions when you go to the doctor's. I still haven't managed to see the doctor on my own because each time I keep forgetting to ask the intelligent questions my mom would--like what are the possible side-effects, or this a steroid, and what should I do if there's no improvement in x number of days. I just take the medicine while nodding with glazed eyes.
I'm no longer at the dewy-eyed novelty of fresh 21 but several years down the road, I look around at my peers, all struggling valiantly to ace this slippery, abstract concept of adulting. Often feeling like they're failing at it. Too busy to think back, reflect. Struggling with a vague sense of discouragement and insufficiency, of not being "there" and yet not exactly sure what "there" is either.
Well, here are a few thoughts on adulting, from someone who's still navigating what that means.
1. Cherish and actively nurture old friendships and relationships. Remember the people who loved and supported you so that you could be where you are today. It's all too easy to leave them behind in the busyness and distractions.
And likewise, aspire to be to someone else what they were to you. "Be who you needed when you were younger."
2. Make new friends; they're not going to fall into your lap the way they did when you were a teenager, being pushed from one group to another and having to make friends almost out of necessity as part of the education system. Take that bit of energy to smile at your neighbour in the lift, to start a conversation with a colleague. Antisocial teenagers are one level, antisocial adults too absorbed and jaded to care or notice anyone else is the next level. Take an interest in people; the temptation to be self-absorbed is present at every stage of life.
From a more pragmatic perspective: life-long friends, the kind you'll be talking to when you're both octogenarians, can originate from your teens--but rarely. Otherwise, your future close friends will be the ones you make now.
3. Appreciate people for who they are, without necessarily having to admire or approve of them. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses; instead of blindly accepting, judging, feeling uncomfortable, or insecure, accept that you're going to learn from everyone--whether positive things to emulate, or negative things to avoid. More often than not, it's a mix of both. This was a realization that really helped me cope in uni, when I met different sorts of people (the nice and the...not-so-nice.) Especially people who were very different from me. How do you respond in those cases, with maturity and graciousness?
4. Take care of yourself. Have a healthy respect and appreciation for your body. Know your limits and learn to have the discipline to make decisions that you know you won't regret. See the connection between short-term goals/actions and long-term ones; each choice reinforces a lifestyle, a habit, a mentality. Which and what kind depends on you.
Maybe you want to have a fit lifestyle where you exercise regularly. Well, that happens when your small, everyday, isolated decisions to have that workout or go for that jog accumulate. See each decision for what it is--a small part contributing to a greater whole. Whether that means not beating yourself up for missing one day, or having the discipline to start TODAY and not next Monday.
5. Compassion. Strive to maintain a compassionate and tender heart towards people, even as you might be experiencing more and more reasons not to. Whenever you're tempted to lapse into cynicism (and with all my heart, I agree that that is a very real struggle) remember that compassion is not the same as naivete. Jesus, after all, looked on us with compassion--not because we were dumb, sweet, helpless. Not because we were nobly suffering victims. He looked on us with love and compassion, clearly seeing how we were malicious, scheming, selfish, dishonest, sneaky, cowardly, living in entitlement and denial.
And He loved us in a way to help us get out of that--not get away with that.
photo credits: meeee for once
It's always good to get out of your corner, see how others are labouring for God in their own ways and means, get some perspective on what would otherwise be an increasingly narrow mindset. You come away feeling humbled--sobered, to reassess your privileges, challenges, strengths, weaknesses--and excuses. To see more clearly, and appreciate better.
The last thing that struck me from that trip was the courage that comes from selflessness.
There are so many excuses when it comes to sharing the gospel, to ministering, to what boils down to the messy work of loving imperfect people. As someone who doesn't like conflict, I'm a genius at thinking up all the possible bad outcomes and ways something could be misunderstood and taken as offensive. Down to language barriers, cultural barriers, age, conversational skills, natural personality bents... But I'm not a theologian, what if they ask me a question that I can't give a pat answer to? But I'm not good at keeping conversations going, there's going to be awkward pauses for sure. But I don't know if she'll get angry at me or think I'm weird. But what if my mistake makes him think badly about all Christians in general?
This trip, as I watched ministry in action, I couldn't help but marvel at how simple, and yet how incredibly difficult it was. Like Jesus dying on the cross, a straightforward action that nevertheless is mind-boggling to comprehend. Difficult people. Difficult situations. And yet, despite all that, the answer isn't making sure that you're well schooled in theology, or have memorized bunches of key passages from the Bible, or being naturally super patient and kind, or innately skilled at interacting with people and building relationships or just "really godly"--all advantages that definitely help but are nevertheless not the answer.
This ties in to Piper's perspective on missions, that it's not something only the holiest and strongest of Christians are worthy enough to be called to (though the confusion on this area is probably due to the fact that at the same time, the process of that ministry often transforms you in spiritual maturity, creating more opportunities for you to grow in closeness and reliance on God.) Piper defines missions in two categories, evangelism (spreading the gospel wherever God has placed you, in your own people group, to the people around you in your everyday life) which is some thing all Christians should have incorporated in their lives--and missions, which he defines as spreading the gospel to a different people group, often requiring you to overcome lingual or cultural barriers, with the aim of establishing a church.
In other words, missionaries are not a rare, superior class of Christians that you and I can comfortably and modestly claim not to belong to.
There's a lot of food for thought in this chapter on missions in Desiring God, (and he develops this starting point in much more depth than I can here) but I'll stick with just this one small point for now, in the context of this post.
I remember the paralyzing sense of helplessness that gripped me when I stood there looking on dumbly, wanting so much to somehow help, yet acutely conscious of feeling unworthy, of feeling inadequate. I felt so horribly out of place. What could you say, to someone who was dying, who was in great pain, without much hope of being healed of it? What could you say without feeling hopelessly inept, without fearing that you would come across as insensitive? It seemed much safer to just be quiet and uncomfortable. Whether in English or Chinese I felt useless, though I argued that if I had been able to use English I might have done better.
What I witnessed, however, was people overcoming their limitations--whether of language abilities, of navigating difficult situations or answering tough questions--with a courage born of selflessness, where sincere, genuine selfless love leaves no room for self-consciousness or fears. A true reliance on God to the extent that their own abilities are no longer the issue, but they rise to the challenge with faith that God will use them. A practical application of the seemingly paradoxical, yet perfect tension between God's sovereignty and man's responsibility.
To conclude--perhaps the next time I shouldn't be blaming my own limitations and lack of abilities, shouldn't be obsessing over how likely I am to make a mistake, to mess this up. To be brutally honest, it's simply self-centered fear masquerading as humility. True love for others would make your desire to help, to bless, stronger than your fear--just as true faith, or true humility, would base your actions on the knowledge that God equips and God empowers, that no act of service we do for God is wholly defined by your effort and your abilities.
Again, God's sovereignty and man's responsibility; we don't serve God because He needs us to. Our ministry and our labours are all within His power and plan, taking away any opportunity for human pride, for the little pats on the back of self-righteousnessness and the martyred air of self-pity. God does not delight in a "self-pitying spirit of sacrifice," to borrow another phrase from Desiring God. Rather, to see it from the perspective behind Jim Elliot's famous quote:
He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.
photo credits: meeee for once
I think we all agree that there are many needs in our society. Many people groups who are disadvantaged or marginalized in different ways. There is social injustice and neglect at some level in every society, no matter how advanced and sanitized it may seem on the surface, and not being able to see that clearly is usually a good indicator that you too live within the nice bubble wrap layer of privilege and comfort.
I think we also all agree that "it would be nice to do something about it." We'd all love to feel that we're making a difference, that we're improving the lives of others, that we're helping to resolve problems and meet needs. At the same time, that's often the furthest we go. Having said that, we fall back with a helpless shrug and sigh, "But what can I do?"
I'm just one person, after all. I've got no resources. I've got no billions at my disposal. Still trying to pay my own bills, to juggle all my own responsibilities. When it comes to time, I've got barely enough for myself. When it comes to money, why, I don't have enough for myself either. I guess I'll just, er, pray?
Not to dismiss the importance of prayer, of course. But we tend to make that the conclusion to our list of reasons why we can't do anything. I thought that if I couldn't really make a lasting, real difference, I might as well not do anything at all; I worried that I was not educated enough, not experienced enough, that this idea wasn't worthy enough, or it wasn't comprehensive enough. There were so many reasons to hesitate. Too many things to fear. Too many causes for doubt.
I didn't know where to start, or how to start, so I conveniently shelved the whole issue under those excuses, (a familiar coping mechanism, no?) and it was only when I started reading Timothy Keller's book Generous Justice that I felt I was finally starting to deal with this topic properly. It challenged me to better understand and validate this vague sense of urgency--two necessary steps in actually pursuing it. Because sure, everyone accepts that it's good to help others; but specifically as a Christian, why is it so important? what does it signify? How do we help others, what goals or principles should guide us?
Though I haven't finished Keller's book yet, it's already offered some insightful and challenging teachings on this whole issue. Here are some of the key concepts that stood out to me:
Jesus's teaching reflects the same mentality of the OT prophets; the same "penetrating use of justice as heart-analysis, the sign of true faith." As you would remember if you're familiar with the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah, and Micah, the prophets condemned a people who observed external religious duties meticulously, and took pride in it, yet neglected to apply justice in their lives and societies, oppressing the weak and doing nothing to help the needy: "A lack of justice is a sign that the worshippers' hearts are not right with God at all, that their prayers and all their religious observances are just filled with self and pride." (Generous Justice, chapter 3: What did Jesus Say About Justice?)
Keller quotes Isaiah 29:21, when God condemns the people with "depriving the innocent of justice," describing them as "people [who] come near to Me with their mouth and honour Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me." He concludes, "A lack of concern for the poor is not a minor lapse, but reveals that something is seriously wrong with one's spiritual compass, the heart."
Also, the need for "multiple layers of help", which Keller identifies as "relief, development, and social reform." This challenged me to be thoughtful and specific about an otherwise abstract concept of "help." In order to truly help someone, you need vision for them, that does more than simply resolve the specific problem at hand/meet the urgent need. This reminded me of random articles I had seen online which really resonated with me--people who were blessing their societies and the needs of their communities with vision and dedication and purposefulness, in ways which would have a splash effect/continue to work a positive impact far beyond the actual site of help. I'll mention Simply Wholesome, which makes healthy food affordable and accessible to underserved communities, breaking the cycle where unhealthy, processed, or fast food is all you can afford to know, so that eating healthy doesn't have to be yet another privilege limited to certain income brackets. By doing so, they offer the option to educate and empower individuals to live more healthily, cultivating something far more than merely deciding your next meal.
During my trip, we had the privilege of visiting a small company run by Christians, a team of six people, who had a vision to holistically improve the lives of the farming communities. Just six people, and yet their work encompassed aspects as diverse as clean water, education, better farming practices, and fair trade. I was amazed, and humbled, by the scope of their work--no, ministry is a better term--and their humility and hopefulness. Whereas I had been in Singapore lamenting the fact that it was just me, a broke student, with lots of ideals and hopes but no concrete way of doing anything, here they were, working with limited resources and manpower, yet creating so much change and bringing so much blessing to multiple communities, through individuals and individual families. Hearing them share about their plans, and their beginnings in individual conviction made it clear just how much their faith had to do with initiating and equipping this; providing them with the perseverance, the courage, and the sacrificial love to continue.
I felt challenged to examine my list of reasons--instead of lack of resources or ability, was it a lack of faith? Of that sacrificial spirit? A lack of dedication, to apply and commit myself to research, to action.
It was sobering, humbling, to try and answer those questions. But it was also inspiring to see what they had done, to re-examine what you thought were your limitations, to realize that God delights to show His power through our weakness, through even our limited resources and lack of confidence, through the very fears and doubts that held us back...
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are
Click to set custom HTML
ALL IMAGES FROM PINTEREST UNLESS OTHERWISE SPECIFIED. THANKS, PINTEREST!