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3 Ways To Respond to A World With Changing Values

Written By Julian Panga, India

Julian grew up in India and then lived in Australia for 12 years. While working in the banking and finance Industry in Melbourne, he also served as a church elder, missions trainer, and Bible teacher. In 2014, he returned to India in response to God’s calling and is currently involved in pastoral ministry and theological training. He is passionate about teaching and training as well as engaging the youth and those in the marketplace with the Gospel.

On 6 September 2018, India’s Supreme Court overturned a 157-year-old law which had previously criminalized consensual gay sex.

This may come as a surprise to many, since India has long been known for its family values and traditional views on marriage. But all over the world, same-sex relationships have become more and more accepted, so this move by India’s Supreme Court was inevitable.

The LGBT community in India—which used to be a hidden minority—are now coming out in the open and reveling in their victory. This landmark decision was a huge relief to the LGBT community, as well as activists and supporters who stood by them. Celebrities and politicians across the country have expressed support and congratulations over social media, reflecting the increasing acceptance of same-sex relationships.

This news has highlighted a growing trend towards changing values that are at odds with the Bible. Going forward, we will more and more frequently encounter people with ideas, mannerisms, and desires different from ours. How then should the Church respond?

Should we respond in protest and anger, or should we continue to spread the message of love, acceptance, and inclusion? Should we seek to hold on to our core beliefs revealed in the Bible, or compromise our message in favor of being progressive and accepting? What is clear is that we need to make these choices with sensitivity, wisdom, and with the help of God’s grace and love.

Here are three ways I believe we can respond to a world of changing values with love and gentleness:

 

1. See each person as made in the image of God

Regardless of what someone’s views on sexual relationships or any other divisive issue may be, it’s important that we remember that we are all broken, sinful, and in need of Christ. All of us need the good news of the transforming power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We all need to learn that our identity does not come from our sexual orientation, social status, or even personality—but in the privilege of being called Sons and Daughters of the Living God.

This begins with being committed to seeing each person we meet as made in the image of God and valued by Him. As long as we focus on showing people the love, grace, and mercy of God, the Holy Spirit will bring about transformation in our lives and the lives of those around us. Take time to build relationships and trust with genuine love.

 

2. Demonstrate the love of Christ through practical ways

As Christians, we are called to love God and love our neighbor (Matthew 22:37-40)—and our neighbor is anyone around us who is in need and hurting. This call remains the same regardless of the legal changes or societal views that prevail. There is no list of requirements our neighbors need to meet before we shower them with our love. No one is out of bounds.

Instead of retreating in fear or shame, or inciting anger or hate, we must seek to be the hands and feet of God in practical ways. As Christians, we recognize that only Jesus Christ, the Son of God, can offer real hope to this lost, broken, and damaged world. And His love is demonstrated when we serve others in practical ways.

This could take the form of taking the time to listen to the stories of those who struggle with same-sex attraction with sensitivity or empathy, helping those who are hurting find counseling avenues, and keeping our hearts and doors open to anyone seeking refuge.

 

3. Get to know those who are different from you

Many churches have already begun doing this by breaking down age-old stereotypes, educating themselves, and reaching out to those unlike them. This often comes about through church services that are welcoming, intentional acts of compassion and mercy, friendship evangelism, and providing counseling and pastoral care.

There are also focused ministries that are committed to reaching out sensitively to LGBT communities as well as many others, presenting the message of the Gospel. Much fruit can already be seen as a result of the persistent efforts of these ministries.

My church, for example, has organized a seminar for youth and young adults to hear from experts and ask questions relating to our sexuality. These young people are also encouraged to invite friends who are either curious or troubled about these changes and are seeking frank answers to difficult questions.

As a church, we have also taken steps to proactively approach the transgender community in parts of our city, and invited them to a special service at our church. Many attended, and were received with warmth and genuine love. We desire to continue building relationships with the leaders of this community, so that we may have more opportunities to engage with them and share the transforming love of Christ.

 

In a world where ethical and moral values are shifting endlessly, it’s even more pivotal that we understand our role as Christians—to be the salt and light that will draw others to the Light of Christ and His offer of eternal life. Let’s hasten to do this and ask God to lead us in our interactions with the world around us.

Reaching Out to the Church That Rejected Me

Written By Thaddeus Lee, Singapore

One morning when I was eight, I raced to the canteen excitedly with a female friend, all too keen to escape the prison cell of the classroom. In my eagerness, my hand accidentally swung upwards and lifted her skirt.

Or hor, I’m gonna tell Teacher!” she giggled. Her laughter gave me the impression that she wasn’t serious or disturbed, so I merely shrugged it off and ran along. But right after recess, halfway through English class, my class teacher abruptly ordered me to stand and accused me of molest. I was too stunned for words. She took that to mean I was guilty.

For the next four years, I was mercilessly teased by my schoolmates. The boys started flinging labels at me, labels which we didn’t fully understand at our young age: pervert, sex maniac, molester. When the novelty of the name-calling wore away—they wanted a bigger, more formidable monster—the teasing gradually evolved to hold homosexual connotations: faggot, ah kua, pondan.

The weekday torment continued straight into the weekends. Church was a small community of 50, my relatives constituting a sizeable portion of the congregation. From the age of four, I was frequently picked on by an older cousin. Every other kid had a sibling around their age; but my sister was 17 years older than me, and so I was his natural target. The rest of the children followed his lead. Occasionally they’d let me play with them. At those times, I was always put at a disadvantage, or was the object of their derision. During ball games, for example, I’d be hit on purpose.

Usually, though, I was simply excluded from their games. Far too many Sunday afternoons were spent gazing through the window of the children’s activity room, watching the other kids play. I would bang on the locked door and shout for them to open it, but they willfully ignored me every time. It felt like I was watching a movie—I could hear and see them through the glass, but to them I was invisible.

The years of ostracism slowly emptied that cup of self-worth that every child starts out with. As the constant exclusion slowly killed me on the inside, I gradually grew more withdrawn. My parents told me to ignore the bullying, and they saw my withdrawal as merely a phase that would pass. Church, rather than being a refuge from school, was a place where the bullying continued. Ironically enough, my exclusion from the “people of God” brought me closer to Him; I didn’t feel safe with the people around me, God was the only one I could count on. Without a place in the community, I pushed myself to fix my eyes on Him, seeking Him in prayer and the Word.

Despite being an active child, I didn’t gravitate towards sports like the other boys did. I wasn’t uninterested, just apprehensive—I associated physical games with rejection and humiliation. When my classmates played basketball during recess, I’d simply watch from the sidelines, never joining in. Once, when I was 11, I noticed some boys from the neighboring secondary school playing shirtless. I found myself watching, fascinated, drawn to the sight somehow. This was also around the time puberty began.

Even then, my growing attraction to boys confused and disturbed me. Because of Scripture passages I’ve come across from time to time, my gut feeling was that something wasn’t right about my attraction. I didn’t want it. In Primary Six, I scoured the Internet for “how to change”. My research went on in secret for years, focusing on Christian material.

 

Learning to Redirect My Attractions

Eventually, with the insight that various Christian resources helped me attain, I came to better understand what was happening inside me. I realized that my attraction to males was partly rooted in a fear of them. To the boys around me, I was a reject, someone they ridiculed and despised. Ironically enough, as this alienation cut me off from the world of men and robbed me of my own sense of masculinity, my apprehension of men slowly turned into an exoticization, and then an eroticization. I dwelt in the tension between fear and fascination, anxiety and admiration.

I learned to give up my urges and desires to God instead of trying to fight them. Instead of dwelling on my attractions, I learned to redirect them to God and seek to understand my core emotional needs instead. That helped me cultivate and practice an attitude of seeking God and relying on Him. Daily, I was aware of my absolute need for Him in my quest towards holiness.

As my traumatic encounters with boys resulted in a broken conception of male identity, a crucial step I had to take in restoration was to form healthy male friendships. Feeling like one of the guys was necessary in restoring a healthy self-identity by affirming my masculinity. However, I was still a teased and rejected 12-year-old, shunned in school and bullied by the same boys in church; needless to say, forming brotherly friendships was a challenge.

In Secondary Two (eighth grade in American terms), I followed a friend to her church and took root there, longing for a genuine Christian community that my home church sorely lacked. Through joining a youth cell group and a ministry, friendships were formed, and I crawled out of my shell. I began to heal, simply by having healthy friendships with guys, feeling accepted, and having the freedom to be a normal teenager.

Throughout this time, I was careful to love my male peers as brothers and see them rightly. I never let my sexual inclination define my identity. Instead, I saw my homosexuality as a journey with deeper underlying issues to be resolved. I hoped to have made significant progress by the time I enlisted in the army, a requirement for all Singaporean men, and my perceived rite of passage of masculinity. Then, if all went as planned, I would be healed by university—with a girlfriend in arms, and marriage on the horizon.

 

Years of Struggle

Reality, however, was messier. Our youth ministry became split according to the different academic institutions we attended, and I was thus separated from the friends I had been with since secondary school. Dealing with both the pressures of a new school system and environment, and the loss of my former support system, my social anxiety and depression erupted.

During break times at school, I would hide in the toilet and cry—I had nowhere to go, no one to be with. I dropped out of school, and insomnia eventually became 15-hour naps, a different form of suicide. I left church, since the cell group I had known and loved was gone. Throughout this period, nobody called or asked how I was doing. Perhaps the others were too busy juggling school, extracurricular activities, church, and ministry. We were in different worlds now.

My enlistment letter was a rude wake-up call. Besides feeling wholly unprepared, I was nowhere near the target I had set for myself years ago, far from the oasis of emotional healing. Desperate and afraid, I jumped back into my church and joined the National Service (NS)* cell group. However, as the only one from a non-military force, I didn’t get their army-related jokes and references. I sat clueless, a foreign onlooker, as they laughed among themselves. My insecurities about my masculinity were also exacerbated. My differences from them—in terms of physique, ability, agility, mannerism—felt all the more prominent. Constantly, I was afraid that they might find me out and I would be further ostracized.

As my distance from the cell group grew, my desires for healing and brotherly connections lay unfulfilled. Despite feeling disconnected, I kept going, hoping to regain the spiritual family I once had. In sore need of friendship and restoration, being physically present in this community was the least I could do. Yes, I was wholly alienated from them, but there was nowhere else to turn. Perhaps, if I kept going, I could rediscover the bonds I longed for.

Towards the end of NS, I decided to open up about my same-sex attraction to a few trusted church mates. They were leaders, deeply involved in ministry, and it felt reasonable to take this step of faith, to let them accompany me in this pursuit towards healing. Perhaps they would be compelled to journey with me in love. Perhaps the divide could be repaired somewhat as I opened myself to them.

But as I began to share my story, a few stopped talking to me entirely. Some didn’t know what to say. Some proceeded to avoid the topic altogether, as if the conversation had never happened, as if they willfully forgot that part of me. Mostly, I was met with stunned silence. No one ever probed further, and as a result, assumptions were likely made.

The reactions were unexpected and disappointing. I had invested much in the community, and served alongside these friends. They seemed to perceive homosexuality as plainly a sin issue, painting the zebra stripes of right and wrong without regarding the difference between inclination and action. Was I to them an unforgivable sinner, drowning in a lifestyle that scorned redemption? Did they not see that I was trying to lead a life pleasing to God? It took effort to pry myself open, to entrust Christian brothers with this part of me. It seemed they would’ve preferred that I remained sealed shut.

Now, the late night suppers and midnight chats were a thing of the past: having been rejected by the church yet again, I accepted that loneliness was the church’s end for me. I was never asked along for group suppers again. Though I cried out to God over and over again, He seemed silent throughout this time. Church had devastated me.

In NS, I worked closely with a fellow gay recruit. He was fun, extroverted, and spontaneous. While I kept my distance initially, his humor and carefree attitude eventually broke down my defenses. Over long and boring hours of sentry duty, he gradually became a friend. He tried introducing me to gay pubs, and I finally conceded to his coaxing. Besides, my church community was by now merely a memory; with none of my own friends left, there was no harm meeting his.

However, even in the gay community, my attempts at friendship weren’t successful. Many gays I interacted with couldn’t seem to comprehend brotherly intimacy, or maybe even thought me naive to believe it existed. For many, sex was the goal. Some were genuinely confused when I tried to explain myself. Some thought I was in denial, or just weird. Eventually, I left, thinking, “Even here I don’t belong.”

 

Where I’m At Now

Fast forward several years, and the peers I grew up with in church are now married, or planning for marriage. It’s a phase I can’t identify with, and we’re no longer in contact. While my life is given to Christ, I no longer regularly attend church—there’s always that apprehension, and even distaste sometimes. You can’t blame me for it, though; the church preaches love yet practices rejection, and I fear getting hurt again.

The church has much to say about LGBT issues; yet when it comes to doing, we seem stuck, immobile. Throughout my journey, I pursued God, holiness and healing the best I knew how, but I couldn’t help feeling like the church failed to walk alongside me. My relationship with God occasionally gets clouded by my feelings of betrayal by the church community. The heartbreak and disappointment I’ve experienced often morphs into anger at God’s people, which leads me to close my heart off from God. I am tired of letting this affect my walk with Him. I must let my angst settle into dust, so peace can rise.

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the confidence in things yet seen (Hebrews 11:1). With faith, I pick up my angst and turn it into action. Now, instead of waiting for the church to help individuals like me, I accept my responsibility to be part of that change.

By God’s grace, He has led me to two mentors who have been pivotal in my journey: one of them I sought out myself, the other was recommended to me by a friend. Having submitted to older, wiser, male Christian mentors, I’m now also reaching out to fellow Christians with a heart for same-sex attracted individuals, hoping to help the church understand our struggles. I want the church to be aware of the many others like me living in the shadows.

As the church provides a community that singles can call home, as we learn to teach sex and sexuality rightly, and as we reintroduce the radical and all-accepting love of Christ into our daily lives, perhaps then the church will become a home that SSA individuals can step into, just as they are. SSA individuals will not feel a need to struggle in silence, as the church will embrace them and journey with them in love. Rather than having to hide from fear of stigma and judgment, SSA individuals will find a safe community that accepts them and affirms their worth.

 

* National Service (NS) is compulsory duty in the uniformed services for all Singaporean males upon finishing their tertiary education (but before any higher education). This usually includes two years of full-time service.

Thank God I Struggle With Same-Sex Attraction

Written by H.Y, Singapore

Yes, you read that right. It sounded ridiculous—even sadistic—to me as well, when my friend said a similar prayer years ago. But today, these seven precious words have taken on a new meaning for me.

Experiencing and resisting same-sex attraction (SSA) is probably the hardest battle I have ever fought. While I’ve had crushes on guys as well, my attraction towards females have always been much stronger. Throughout the past seven years of resisting the temptation to act on my emotions, I’ve never understood why I had to go through this.

These were the thoughts that used to run through my mind: Doesn’t God know how disgusted I am with myself whenever I come to Him? Doesn’t He know how difficult it is for me to repeatedly turn away from my most natural attractions? If God really loved me, why didn’t He just make me normal? Why did He allow me to go through so much pain?

Even as I grappled with these questions, God used a recent infatuation I had to show Himself to me.

 

Succumbing to Temptation

I met her on a week-long overseas work assignment and we clicked instantly. She was kind and took special care of me. Soon, we grew closer and started to confide in each other. We often deviated from the group to spend time together and even hung out in each other’s hotel room alone. I didn’t fully recognize my emotions then and hence, set myself up for trouble.

Perhaps it was the extended amount of time that we spent exclusively or the emotional connection we had that led me to develop feelings for her. As much as I knew my feelings were contrary to what constitutes holiness and Christ-like behavior, I couldn’t help myself. I told myself every day that I couldn’t continue indulging in my feelings, but I just kept falling helplessly into sin.

One day, God intervened and graciously used the situation for my good. At that time, I had yet to share my struggle with my mentor and friends, hence I did not have anybody to turn to. As a result, God became the only Person I could hold on to. But at the same time, I felt far too dirty and sinful for God to handle.

 

We Can Always Draw Near to God

However, even in the midst of my struggle, I was repeatedly reminded of what the apostle James wrote about choosing God over worldly passions. He instructs us to “resist the devil” and “come near to God” (James 4:7-8). It’s a two-pronged approach that we have to take—not an either-or approach—for it is impossible for us to turn away from sin without drawing near to God.

The apostle James also encouraged us in this: when we violently reject the devil, he flees from us. But on the other hand, when we run to God, He Himself draws near to us. That beautiful and magnificent image of God Himself being with me kept replaying in my mind.

When that realization hit me, I knew what I had to do. I had to come to God in brutal honesty, regardless of the state I was in. Humbling myself to realize that I could not do it on my own and raising the white flag in surrender was difficult, but I knew that there was no other option for me. I had done all I could with my human strength but it still did not amount to anything. I saw my helplessness and my desperate need for God.

I remember crying out to God in frustration. I whined endlessly to God in agony. I begged Him to remove my feelings of attraction. It was in these moments of vulnerability that I realized that it is absolutely okay for me to come to our Holy God in filthy rags. In fact, just like the father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son, He welcomes and embraces us when we come to Him in repentance—regardless of the state we are in. When we become His children, we can never be too dirty, too unholy or too distant to come back to him.

Slowly, I started to feel less alone in my struggle and I knew for certain that God was fighting alongside me. Every time I turned to him, comfort and peace, which were usually elusive to me, suddenly began to fill my heart, and I felt reassured that turning to God was the right thing to do.

I also noticed how my prayers shifted from asking God to remove the temptation to asking God for strength to make the right decisions. He became very real to me in those precious seven days when I struggled with that temptation.

 

God Never Abandons Us

For the first time, I was truly convinced that our Father never abandons us. Even in our times of rebellion against Him, He is never too far away for us to reach out to.

God proved to me that He provides us with the strength to obey Him, so that we can resist even the toughest temptations that we face. In Philippians 1:6, He reassures us that He is not done with us yet, and that He will complete the good work that He started in us.

Since I began this journey, I have found it easier to obey God. By actively distancing myself whenever I find myself developing feelings for other girls and being honest with God about what I’m feeling, I now struggle less to turn away from temptations and turn my heart towards God.

I still do not have an answer for why God allowed me to be attracted to both genders and am far from being immune to temptations, but God has opened my eyes to see how these encounters have become a way for Him to draw me back to Himself.

I’ve seen how weak and helpless I am in the face of sin, and how the Almighty God works even through that.

Now, I am able to truly thank God that I struggle with same-sex attraction, for if I didn’t, I wouldn’t see how God graciously provides us with His own presence and supernatural strength to fight these battles and to ultimately win the war in eternity.

My Friend Is In God’s Hands

Written by Constance Chan, Singapore

Yen* and I walked down a narrow alley in silence. A few days earlier, Yen had sent me a text message: “I want to go to this clinic where you can check for AIDS…” He had gone for a medical check-up prior to messaging me and the doctor had raised some troubling news.

We went, but were told to go back later—or it was the wrong clinic—I cannot remember. Leaving the clinic that afternoon, Yen was silent. And I had nothing to say. I prayed and hoped hard that Yen was not HIV-positive, feeling a great heaviness and powerlessness to do anything to help him.

A few years before that visit to the clinic, Yen had called me late one night. There was desperation in his voice. It sounded like he had been crying. I think if he had not been so depressed, he might not have shared what he had shared then. Yen said that he was upset with a good guy friend because this friend seemed to take him for granted and paid a lot of attention to others. Yen then admitted that he was in love with this friend but felt suicidal because that love was not reciprocated.

That was an unexpected revelation, but not entirely surprising. As Yen spoke, I realized that I had been carrying this fear for a while, that one day he would tell me that he is struggling with same-sex attraction (SSA). I do not recall what I said to Yen that night, only that I listened and did not say much, partly because I did not know what to say or do.

In the last few years of journeying with Yen and a few other Christians with SSA, what stood out for me was how little I knew about what to do and how to relate to them rightly. I respected Yen because he was always honest with where he was with God. I saw how, at times, he had faith and trusted that homosexual acting out was not God’s will for him. At other times, he was angry at God, doubted God, or just wanted to not care or think about what God thought of homosexuality or of him.

I knew that he hoped God might allow him the blessings of living together with a long-term male partner. Yen knew I subscribed to the orthodox position that homosexual acting out was against God’s will, but at times when Yen was questioning and struggling with God, I often wondered, was I supposed to be communicating more about how his sexual acting out is sinful? Was I supposed to warn Yen more about the temptations of hanging around gay friends? Was I supposed to do more for Yen?

Looking back, perhaps it was good that I did not know what to do, because it made me listen to Yen more and empathize before giving any hasty advice or counsel. It gave me the enormous privilege of crying with Yen when things were hard, helping him come before God when he felt ashamed and wanted to confess sins. Aware of my utter helplessness to do anything to take away Yen’s SSA feelings or make his questions, doubts and anger at God go away, I realized that I could only trust God with Yen. Praying for him was the only thing I really could do for him.

What was not helpful to Yen, especially in the first few years journeying with him, was how I amplified his struggle with SSA over any other struggle or aspect of his life. I was also unconsciously comparing myself with Yen and concluding that his SSA struggle was greater than any struggles I had or could have. And this manifested in the way I responded to him on one occasion. We had agreed to meet up for coffee one day. But he had failed to confirm the details the day before our meet up, and also did not answer my calls on the day we were to meet. It was only a few weeks later that he apologized and explained that he had been really busy the whole day with work and, therefore, had not replied to the message I had sent.

My first thought then was that it was okay; after all, how could I hold Yen accountable for his rudeness and inconsideration when he had such big struggles in life to battle with? It was only later that I realized that, in some way, carrying Yen’s secret about his SSA struggles was causing me to treat him with kid gloves, to expect less of him than I would with other friends, to see and treat him as a victim because of his SSA struggles.

As a result, I had also refrained from sharing much about my personal struggles and problems with Yen and did not let him be a friend to me although I demanded of myself to be readily available to lend a listening ear to Yen and be there for him when the need arose.  Unconsciously, I had treated Yen less as a peer, a friend, and more as if he were a needy case God had assigned to me.

 

We Are All Wounded

That changed when I got to know of a discipleship ministry that cares for people struggling with relational and sexual issues while I was in Vancouver. As I heard brothers and sisters share openly about their struggles in the ministry’s small groups, I recognized that no matter the specific nature of the sins each of us struggle with, all of us have been wounded by others and are wounding others. And before God, we are all unable to respond rightly—whatever the nature of our sins.

What was more surprising was being convicted that I was not excluded from this. When I compared and downplayed my struggles and sinful tendencies in relation to Yen, I was conveniently turning a blind eye to all that trapped me from a free and loving response to God or others.

Realizing that, I resolved to treat Yen truly as a friend and a peer, someone who, like me, needs community and friendship but also someone who is responsible before God for all that he chooses to do or not do.

As I did so, I found that I truly enjoyed Yen‘s company—beyond just wanting to spend time with him to help or fix him. God was enabling me to see Yen beyond his SSA struggle as a person with strengths and weaknesses, with traits that really annoy others as well as ones that were truly admirable and fine. I also started sharing more of my life with Yen, revealing my true self, and how I wanted to be respected and treated as a friend as well.

The problem with comparing Yen’s struggle to mine and amplifying his struggles, was that it made me doubt that God could really do anything to help Yen. Though I prayed, I didn’t really believe that God would do anything for Yen. It was as if I had more empathy for Yen’s plight than God did. It was only as I increasingly noticed how much I also needed God to deliver me from my own sins and saw that God truly could and did meet me in my places of pain and emptiness, that my confidence in God’s care and His ability to transform Yen grew.

***

Let’s go back to that day when Yen and I visited the AIDS clinic. We eventually found out that he did not have HIV. I don’t know what Yen thought of this outcome, but I am convinced that God did do a miracle that day and kept Yen from HIV infection. For me, that was a profound moment. I saw that Yen was and is in God’s hands. And that God did care for him greatly and cares more than anyone can to lead Yen to Himself.

Also, knowing that Yen has had experiences that make it hard for him to deny that God is real in his life has helped me pray for Yen with more faith. I ask that God have mercy on Yen and on me, that God draw Yen nearer to Himself daily and that Yen, like myself and any other person, would daily live more and more into the life that Christ died on the cross for each of us to live.

Nowadays when I see Yen, I find myself thinking this: I do not fully understand your struggle and why God allowed it. I know this causes much pain, confusion, and loneliness. I do not know what God is doing in your life. However, I trust (some days I do and on other days, I want to trust this!) that whatever He does in your life, or in mine, is truly for good—real solid good that we will be able to “taste and see” one day. For now, what I do know is that you know God and you know God’s voice, just as I do. So, can we help each other hear and respond to God’s voice today?

 

*Not his real name. Changed for confidentiality purposes.

This article was originally published in Good News For Bruised Reeds: Walking With Same-Sex Attracted Friends by Graceworks. Republished with permission.