How-A-Preacher-I-Didnt-like-Convicted-me(2)

How A Preacher I Didn’t like Convicted me

“But if not for the grace of God, I am finished!” said the speaker at my church one Sunday.

I couldn’t agree more.

I knew the speaker (let’s name him Dan) on a personal level; he was someone who had a rather abrasive personality. Having had a few run-ins with him in the past, I didn’t always look up to him as a Christian example. When he uttered those words at the pulpit, memories of all my past unpleasant encounters with him resurfaced. I couldn’t help but think how right he was—about himself.

So I began to listen carefully to every word he preached—and found myself going “yup, that’s you!” at various points of his sermon. It seemed like a message he was preaching to himself, and I even wondered how much he would change after his message.

In my church, it is a practice to share with the person seated beside us our reflection on the message and to spend time praying for one another. When it came to sharing time that Sunday, a sister-in-Christ shared with me how Dan’s message resonated with her. She had recounted all the times in her life when God had saved her from the messes she made, and realised how, if it hadn’t been for the grace of God, she would indeed be finished.

Listening to her, I felt overwhelmed by guilt. Instead of focusing and reflecting on what the Bible had to teach me that Sunday morning, I had allowed my judgmental feelings towards Dan to get in the way. As I reflected on this incident, I felt the Lord leading me to remember three things:

1. We are all in need of God’s grace.

There were many times when I, too, had been ensnared by sin and God had been gracious to me. I’ve lost count of the number of times I had sought the Lord’s forgiveness for my sin, only to eventually plunge right back into a sin-filled life.

Despite the many times I lived as though I had given up on Him, God never gave up on me. Who was I, then, to assume that God could not have also worked in Dan’s life? At least he was honest about his struggles. We are all in need of God’s grace.

As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; (Romans 3:10)

 

2. We need to focus on removing the plank in our own eye.

I was so focused on Dan’s faults and shortcomings that I failed to allow God’s Word to examine my own life and to change my heart that morning. Focusing on how others ought to behave or change without first considering what I need to do with my own sin-filled life is, as the Scriptures describe, hypocrisy.

I have come to acknowledge that despite being saved, all of us are still very much work-in-progress.

You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:5)

 

3. We need to remember God’s grace and mercy for us.

Over the recent Easter weekend, I was reminded of the disastrous state my life would have been in if not for Jesus. Jesus’s death and resurrection was God’s ultimate display of both His grace and mercy for mankind.

Remembering that truth helps me to firstly recognize my deep need for a Savior. Being a recipient of God’s grace and mercy should then lead me to extend it to another—like Dan.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

 

Among the many things I may disagree with Dan over, I do agree with him that if not for the grace of God in my life, I would be finished.

3-Ways-Discomfort-Discomforted-Me

3 Ways Discomfort Discomforted Me

Not again. I was at my wit’s end. A good two and a half weeks had passed since I had finished my second course of antibiotics, but as I gazed at the ceiling that night—awake, alert, and anxious—it felt as though I was back to square one.

For weeks, I had been experiencing a mild case of urinary tract infection (UTI). It was not the first time I had it; but unlike the first time, when a round of antibiotics easily cured it, the symptoms were relentless this time.

In most cases, UTI manifests as a frequent or intense urge to urinate. On some nights, I would go to the toilet as many as seven times before going to bed. On other nights, anxiety about having to visit the toilet in the middle of the night would plague me the moment I lay on the bed. I would end up tossing and turning for a couple of hours—and on some occasions, the entire night.

That night, I had just made five trips to the toilet within two hours. As I flopped onto my bed for the fifth time, I could feel my heart racing and a sense of dread setting in. I couldn’t help thinking about what else I should have done to ensure a faster recovery.

Take antibiotics, probiotics, and cranberry juice? Check. Drink a lot of water? Check. Pay a visit to the doctor? Check. Twice. Seek divine intervention? Big check. I even “formalized” my plea to God on three separate occasions by recording my prayers in my journal when the symptoms seemed to much for me to bear.

But none of these things seemed to work.

“Maybe this is the thorn in your flesh God has given you,” my brother finally said on one occasion after hearing me lament for the umpteenth time and trying unsuccessfully to cheer me.

That’s when it hit me. What if God had no intention to remove this “thorn in the flesh” from my life for the time being? What if the whole reason why I was going through this was that God was trying to teach me that His grace was sufficient for me—but I had just been too preoccupied to see it?

When I finally turned to scripture to read about Paul’s struggle and response to his thorn in the flesh (2 Corinthians 12:7-10), I felt rebuked by my own less-than-ideal response. That’s when I discovered three things about myself.

 

 1. I tend to rely on myself.

As much as I know my life is in God’s hands, I almost always resort to human means to address my problems. If I’m falling sick, I make sure I get enough rest and eat the right food. If I don’t achieve positive results at work, I try to put in more effort. If people don’t respond to me, I look at what I should or shouldn’t have said, and try to make up for it. Everything in life can be “fixed” with the right solution, and so can my health.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with these actions, I realize that it’s only when I exhaust all human means that I turn to God, delve into scriptures, and pray actively and fervently for relief. This is exactly what happened in my recent case of UTI.

 

2. I tend to focus on myself.

In the grand scheme of things, I knew that the physical discomfort I was experiencing wasn’t that bad. For one, it would hardly constitute the kind of suffering the Bible talks about (Romans 5:3-5). Also, aside from having to make frequent toilet trips, I didn’t feel any physical pain and could function perfectly well. I could eat, work, sleep, and play. As long as my mind was distracted by something else, I wouldn’t even feel the symptoms.

But I certainly made a big deal out of it. Whenever the symptoms became more pronounced— especially in the evening when I was resting at home—I would throw a pity party for myself and invite my family members to be a part of it. I also made sure those around me—my colleagues, church friends, and close friends—knew I was “suffering” and would never fail to request for their prayer.

I’m ashamed to say I don’t always remember to pray for friends the same way, especially if they share about their “minor” problems like cough and cold. In fact, I even secretly frown on those who keep harping on the same issue, such as when my mother kept asking my brother and I to pray that God would remove the itchy sensation around her neck. It was only when I had to go through a prolonged period of physical discomfort myself that I realized how “non-issues” like these could so easily affect and discourage me.

That realization made me more sympathetic to others going through similar discomfort. I decided to consciously pray for others every night as I prayed for my own relief. And that’s when God really put my problems in perspective. Compared to the aunty at church who was having a relapse of lymphoma and a friend who had just suffered a serious viral attack that almost took her life, what did I have to complain about?

 

3. I tend to focus on this earthly life.

Though I know that this world is not my final destination, I tend to live my life as though I’m going to be here for eternity. It’s only in moments of helplessness that I’m reminded of the truth that I should not be holding on to anything in this life.

Discomforts and setbacks of any magnitude or nature serve as reminders that we live in a transient—and broken—world. Our physical bodies are not built to last; over time, they will naturally wear down and malfunction. How comforting, then, are the words of 2 Corinthians 4:17-18, which tell us that the suffering we go through in life now is preparing us for eternity: “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

Though we see trouble and suffering on every front, we know that these are but signposts that there is something so much better ahead of us; difficulties and suffering in life will come to an end. And while there’s nothing we can do to escape problems in life, we can certainly change how we choose to respond to them. American pastor Charles Stanley once said that nothing attracts the unbeliever like a saint suffering successfully. Based on how I had been responding, I’m pretty sure I looked more like a saint suffering sorrowfully. Still, I thank God for using this episode to correct the way I have been viewing and responding to “suffering”.

As I write this article now, I’m thankful that God has stopped my UTI from flaring up in the past week. I’m not sure it will recur, but this experience has given me the determination to do these three things the next time I’m faced with any form of “discomfort”:

  1. Commit my discomfort to God and ask Him for strength and wisdom to respond to it.
  2. Remember that there are many others around me who are facing similar discomfort—if not worse—and pray for them.
  3. Thank God for giving me the discomfort, because it is a reminder that this earthly life was never meant to be a comfortable one.
Letter-to-My-Past-(Gay)-Self(1)

Letter to My Past (Gay) Self

Dear Raphael,

I am you in 10 years’ time. Before I say anything else, I want you to know that you’re deeply loved by God and you’re very precious to Him. You are the apple of His eye (Psalm 17:8).

I know you don’t feel this way right now—not when God just told you to stop pursuing a gay relationship. You feel like your only hope at happiness has been crushed. There’s pain in your heart and you’re crying out, “How can something that feels so right be so wrong?”

I get it. It does feel right and natural. Since you started having romantic and sexual desires, it has only ever been for guys. It’s all you’ve ever known, and it feels like a natural part of you. It feels like acting on these desires can lead you to a wonderful relationship that will finally make you happy.

Oh yes, I remember, Raph. How can I forget the first major crush you had in junior college on that guy the minute you laid eyes on him? Your heart would leap whenever he so much as glanced in your direction and you’d long for him to hold your hand one day.

I remember your first boyfriend, whom you met four years later. I know how happy you felt with him.

So you’re wrestling with lots of questions now. You’re asking, “How can all of this be wrong? Why would God forbid me from pursuing happiness? How can God be so cruel? What kind of God would tell me to deny something that’s so natural to me?”

You will find this hard to believe right now, but I want to tell you that it’s precisely because God loves you that He’s calling you out of homosexuality. Far from being cruel, your Father is acting out of His love, grace, and mercy for you. He cannot bear to see you wrecked by a life of sin and brokenness.

Please hear me out. I finally saw the truth of what God was doing after 10 years, and I want to share with you what I’ve learned—what you will eventually come to see for yourself.

Being gay is not who you are. When you became a Christian, you became a child of God. That’s the deepest truth of your identity, and that’s how your Father always sees you. He calls you “son”. Yes, you experience attraction towards guys, but that’s what you have, and not who you are: you have gay desires, but you are not gay. You are—first, foremost, and forever—God’s beloved son.

I know this attraction feels natural to you. They still do to me. But God showed me—as He will show you—that these desires aren’t as natural as they feel.

Remember how you always wanted an elder brother to show you the ropes of life when you were growing up? In upper primary, you looked up to this older boy in your class as a kind of big brother and wanted his attention. Do you also remember how you hated your secondary school years because of how much you wanted to fit in with the guys in your class, but couldn’t? You didn’t think these two things were connected, did you? Well, God showed me that they both stemmed from a longing to be taught by a man on how to be a man.

It wasn’t a coincidence that just when you were struggling intensely with not belonging with the other boys, you started to have crushes on some of them. Your desire to be like these boys, during the sexual awakening of puberty, turned into a desire for them.

In recent years, God helped me to understand that what I really craved was male identity and intimacy, which I should have received from Dad when I was growing up. What you long for, deep down, is Dad’s attention, affirmation, and affection. I know he wasn’t perfect, but he was the best father he could be. (We’ll talk about working on a better relationship with Dad in another letter.)

And because your gay desires aren’t a natural part of you, pursuing a gay relationship won’t actually bring you true happiness. In fact, it would bring you further away from your real needs. What you actually need is learning how to develop a secure masculine identity and to receive male intimacy in healthy—non-romantic and non-sexual—ways.

This may all sound rather abstract and foreign to you at the moment. Maybe I can put it another way. You know how you’ve been looking for that perfect relationship with a guy, but never seemed to find it? How you’d think a guy you’d met was the one, but when you got to know him better, one thing or another would make you feel he wasn’t the right guy? How your heart was broken over and over when your hopes were dashed again and again? It all seemed so elusive, didn’t it? Have you ever thought that maybe the reason no guy ever seemed to be the right one was that a guy is not actually what you need?

In fact, hasn’t that search thrown you into frustration and despair many times? In your moments of intense loneliness and longing for intimacy, you’ve often turned to alcohol to numb the pain, and to one-night stands. You knew they gave you little more than short-lived comfort and a shadow of what intimacy was, but you desperately wanted whatever scraps you could get. Then the guilt and the shame would come, and you’d plead with God for His forgiveness and promise Him you wouldn’t do it again. But it wouldn’t be long before you fell into it once more. I understand the pain you felt going through that cycle, and how deeply regretful you were each time. I know you’re so sick and tired of going down that spiral again and again.

How about the many nights when you’d cry yourself to sleep? I remember that one night when you cried so badly because you were struggling so much with loneliness. You just couldn’t see how you could be happy. Do you remember what God said to you that night? He said, “Trust Me.” I know that for years after that, you didn’t think He could be trusted to bring you the happiness you want. I’m here to tell you that God is faithful. He came through on His promise—just not in the way you think. He who knows better will give you far better.

God will show you that there are many other Christians who have gay desires, but who choose to obey Him by not acting on these feelings. There is a better way to live. He will also bring into your life Christians who can walk with you in this journey. I assure you that, even though there will sometimes still be struggles, there is much joy and peace in living a life being obedient to God and His life-giving ways.

He wants to bring healing to all those broken places in your heart that ache for love and intimacy. Getting into a gay relationship will not make you feel complete; it will only deepen the wounds you have. Trust me, I’ve been there. So I recognize now that God is merciful and gracious when He calls you to stop acting on your gay desires—because when you do, you’re only hurting yourself. How can a good Father do nothing and let His child keep throwing himself into what will bring him more pain?

Instead, God wants to heal your broken heart and bind up your wounds (Psalm 147:3). But in order for Him to do that, you have to stop injuring yourself and stay still long enough for Him to bandage you up. Be still, and know that He is the God who forgives and heals you (Psalm 46:10, Psalm 103:3).

Yes, I’m still attracted to guys, but I’ve decided not to act on my same-sex desires anymore. I don’t have to always give in to them helplessly. But you know what? I am much happier and at peace now than I was back then, when I was looking for a gay relationship. You do not understand this yet, but believe it. Or at least, believe me; I’ve gone through this long enough to know. God is very trustworthy, Raph. Trust in Him with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. When you acknowledge Him in all your ways, He will direct your paths (Proverbs 3:5–6).

Hold on to God, because He holds on to you. In the coming days, you’re going to feel like Jacob as he was wrestling with the angel of God (Genesis 32:22–32). Don’t let go of the Lord. Don’t let go even when you feel overwhelmed by the struggle, not even when you feel so weak that you want to give it all up. The wrestling will be worthwhile. As God did with Jacob, He will also bless you through this struggle.

As you hold on to God, you will get to know Him up close and personal. You will come to know that God isn’t uncaring and unreasonable, but He loves you so fiercely that He wants to pursue you relentlessly. He cares for your well-being and wants to give you His best. He’s a loving Father who is willing to let you, His precious child, hate Him for a season when you didn’t understand His ways, so as to save you from more pain and anguish.

So don’t misunderstand God’s heart. He isn’t cruel at all. Through His divine intervention in your life, He is actually showing you His love, grace and mercy by calling you out of brokenness into wholeness, out of darkness into His wonderful light (1 Peter 2:9).

Will you trust the Lord? Will you hold on to Him? Will you let your Father bless you?

 

God’s faithfully,

Your Future Self

When-Good-Friday-doesnt-feel-so-good

When Good Friday doesn’t seem so good

For most of my life, Good Friday primarily served as a heads-up for a nice candy-gorge. I glossed over what it really represented, anticipating instead the large egg-hunts with my cousins around my grandparents’ farm on Easter Sunday.

It was only a few years ago that I gained a painful understanding of the true significance of Good Friday. That happened when one of my closest friends from middle school, Erica, died suddenly in a car accident. All throughout late elementary and middle school, Erica and I had been joined at the hip. We attended summer camps together, were pairs for science-class projects, and even had our 15 minutes of fame at a statewide jump rope competition (yes, you read correctly: jump rope).

We communicated less as we went through college and pursued separate ways after graduating, but we never lost our mutual respect and affection. I had planned to contact her after the Easter holiday to reconnect before she moved overseas for missions work.

But in the late night hours of Good Friday, I learned that Erica had died in a car accident while driving home that day. It was inconceivable. In the wake of her death, I was confronted with the reality of how wrong and intrusive death could feel.

Yes, death is wrong. We weren’t designed to experience the sudden separation of death. But because of the Fall of man, death became part and parcel of life. Suddenly, I had a glimpse of the confusion, anger, and sadness that the disciples of Jesus experienced when He died.

But then, I also saw hope. The day I had previously ignored—Good Friday—commemorates two things. One, the torture and wrongful murder of the one who claimed to be the world’s Savior; two, the “good” result His death achieved: a way out of death for us! His resurrection three days later, which we commemorate on Easter Sunday, gives us hope for a lasting solution to death.

Thanks to what was accomplished that first Easter, I could rest in the fact of Erica experiencing paradise right now even as I grieved her unfathomable death and the depth of our earthly separation.

What has been of immense encouragement to me are the words that Jesus gave His disciples in John 16:33 before His crucifixion, which summarize the incomparably low moments of Good Friday and the unsurpassed high of Easter. Jesus told them, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Today, we still experience effects of the fall. The emotions and pain that Jesus’ disciples felt still exist in this life. But even when we experience these extreme lows, we have the truth of Easter to hold on to. Jesus has already overcome the wrong by taking our place on the cross, and, accrediting His righteousness to us, declared, “it is finished” (John 19:30).

Knowing that Erica had fully accepted Jesus as her Savior, I look forward to seeing her again one day. And hey, for old time’s sake, maybe we’ll go ahead and earn another ribbon with our old jump rope routine!