Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The look of LGBT "friendliness" in our obvious diversity

The email titled "the UK's least LGBTQ friendly universities". I recently reread this few months' old email with fresher eyes.  

I guess I never took the topic on a personal level. Until after I sat in with my other family in Singapore a couple of months ago as they were on the series of sexual ethics, the sermon on gender and creation has since brought about new insights into my small world. 

Gender: at the beginning

It was interesting how in Matthew 19 Jesus took the Pharisees back to creation, how God created male and female, when he was giving them his answer on divorce. In my limited knowledge I could only think, that divorce, and LGBT issues in our today's society, are not "this way from the beginning" (v. 8).  But in our attempts in understanding how things are very different today, we can't but take God's original intention into consideration. 

I think I could grasp what Si was trying to say; that although Jesus affirms how clear the Bible is on the binary nature of gender (male and female), the Bible is not necessarily being specific on gender stereotypes. While bearded men could be seen masculine in some parts of the world, does not mean all men should be football fans and drink beers to show their true manhood. I could get that it's almost all cultural that binds gender stereotypes. But I think it's unfortunately too common that we get too caught up with these cultural traits.

In a fallen world: intersex and gender dysphoria 

While Jesus affirms that gender is binary (referring to Genesis) and that is still to be followed today, He then mentioned that there are some people to whom the rule doesn't apply.  

The story of the midwife who saves intersex babies makes this real. There are people born with sex that does not fit into the typical male or female gender -- some examples, those born with XXY chromosome, or some having DNA opposite with their natural genitalia. And many of such cases manifested only later in their lives. 

The other group of people struggle with gender dysphoria as they experience discomfort, feeling a mismatch between their assigned sex and their gender identity. They do have a clear assigned anatomy or chromosomes, either male or female, yet they sense their gender differently with how they actually are biologically/anatomically.  These sense or feeling, I try to grasp, can be so strong, that not surprisingly these people struggle with the distress are prone to commit suicide. 

The Hope

Source: bogor.tribunnews.com
With awareness, comes action. So, I thought I could do a couple of things, more of real actions, besides a changed perspective: 

1. Less judgment, more empathy 

11 Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12 For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.” (Matthew 19:11-12)

For someone with very little information on and exposure to transgender people, those dealing with intersex, gender dysphoria, or same-sex attraction, to have learned that there's a shared commonality between me and the sufferers has helped me a lot that to have empathy for them is not as hard as I imagined.

It's almost like, you were sitting in front of a doctor and being told that you had a physical anomaly, a medical condition of which the cause is still unknown -- I've been there. So, rather than making a quick judgment that this group of people brought it all on themselves, I think I now know better that their suffering is far from self-inflicted, "... who were born that way...".    

34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” (Acts 8:34)

Secondly, because it's one of the loneliest places one can be in. As someone who's gone through a lot I've been in loneliest places uncommon for any average person of my generation. But the study has helped me to look into the eunuch's perspective as he was reading about Someone who seemed to have suffered so much; as if he thought, it's almost impossible to comprehend any other worse sufferings could have existed than his.  

2.  Who else?   

In a fallen world that seems can't surprise us anymore with unusual medical anomalies, strange human behaviors and tendencies, who else should these sufferers get to know the true hope from, if not us as image bearers? 

I think it perfectly makes sense that these sufferers at some point cross path with us on Sunday services, considering their prevalent number. I hope they could keep on coming and sit with us. 

Keeping up with the kardashians, or ellens

Not just educational institutions. I've seen world's top consulting companies led in openly and proudly advertising how they embrace gay employees. In our context and environment I don't even know how it looks like to befriend a sufferer of intersex, or gender dysphoria, but I think we have a different kind of "friendliness" for them in our obvious diversity as image bearers. And a study on the eunuchs is an example that we could start the discussion, and end the avoidance on the topic. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Despite all these.

Several years ago already a few things struck me in the Captivating book.  One of them being the revelation how Lucifer, the devil, makes the woman a special target, as the book's Chapter 5 describes "A Special Hatred", how then that helps me to understand his attacks against me, a woman, deeply loved by God and deeply hated by him, God's enemy. 

One of the devil's attacks on women is the fear that we will be left alone, abandoned, from the day of the woman's birth. To every woman he has whispered, 'You are alone', or 'No one will ever truly come for you'. He arranges for her to be abandoned, and he puts his spin on every event he can make to make it seem like abandonment.

At least I know I have every reason falling for that fear he's been planting in me:

1. Fatherless
A backslider for many years till he died, my late father was not a saint. But I knew I was always his little girl. There are millions of fatherless daughters in this world, but still, when it happened in my 20s, it is not so common even now to be fatherless, assuming your father was in his late 40s, although men die in a younger and younger age these days. The fact that you do not have an earthly father, a symbol of breadwinner, a protector in a family, can make you feel alone and abandoned. Wait till you hear a story of my friend, how boyfriends ditched her, after finding out that she had an ill father (her dad then passed away, but we think, those guys simply don't want to be dragged into her life, potentially sharing the responsibility of taking care of a bed-ridden father-in-law).        

2. A controlling mother
A British guy told me, his late mother was controlling over his sister.  So, definitely this is not about culture.  In my mother's small world exerting too much control over me and situations surround her seems natural and being one the things she has left to hold on to tightly now, can lead to stress when she looses it. I often times asked friends or acquaintances with psychology background on this, I believe, mental illness -- partly curiosity, partly because I was born and raised in a country with no evident support to children in this situation, so I always try to gather as much knowledge as possible.  
Studies show the damage is for life and now in my 30s I begin to see the damages it has caused, all the more the situation makes me feel alone. PS: In case you need to know what a controlling mother looks like, here can be a good starting place :-)

3. Reverse culture shock
Last week I was very blessed to have spoken briefly to someone who has gone through a reverse culture shock period herself, going on 3.5 years now for her. Coming back to your home-country after being abroad is not easy and a lonely place to be. People here expect you to understand, instantly, all the changes happened when you were away, forgetting that you yourself have changed during that period (x years or x months, is irrelevant). 

Despite all these things...

When last Sunday I heard Jordan on stage speaking of this topic, I know it wasn't particularly heavy or doctrinal whatsoever, but it was very relevant to me. Isn't the invisible God so gracious, to remind the forgetful me, how He took me back to the very fact that I am never alone, because He simply doesn't let me. 

Does it mean He no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? ... Despite all the no human way out situations, ... despite all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. Because ... nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. ... neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow...

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Revisited: The call to a counterintuitive life in our century

To leave the comfort of your boat and walk on water, it was counterintuitive. 

And remember that guy who left his family in Ur Kaƛdim for an unknown destination; it was counterintuitive. 

To die for the people who betrayed you in the first place, that was major counterintuitive. 

That was only You, God, and those biblical heroes could do such things. I don't think many of Your teachings are applicable in this day and age, I oftentimes argue. Or they are, but it's just too hard, barely possible to implement. 

The faceless culture of corporate world.  The profit-oriented nature of businesses.  The competitiveness that aims to see your competitor(s) as an enemy to eliminate. Value people in high places.  Evaluate one's worth of our attention based on how they look, speak.

If you come to think of it, how could one cope with the 2 forces of abiding with His teachings and remaining to make sense in this current world we live in.

In a dog-eat-dog world: human nature

We're on the third session of Christ in Synoptic Gospels class with the family I've been attending and last week we touched on His teachings. 

It was made clear to us that, not only He knew how to be relevant to His audience -- a prostitute, a group of knowledgeable religious leaders, widows, you name it -- in His 100% man and 100% God nature, Christ has the perfect understanding of our human nature. 

I was thinking, if our fallen human nature has robbed from us the joy of living a counterintuitive calling, then perhaps it doesn't really matter whether you live in this century, or 10 centuries ago, or decades in the future, putting into practice the counterintuitive teachings of Christ would always have its own challenges.

We may have different distractions, different cultural biases, now in this lifetime.  It doesn't necessarily mean that the people in Jesus' era and environment were in a better situation.  This counterintuitive life we are called to remains challenging across generations.  Hence, in the same breath His counterintuitive teachings should remain relevant and applicable to any audience in any given era.

What do You think my heart is made of?

If my heart could ache so much striving to live a counterintuitive life amidst the distorted perspectives, selfish ambitions, fallen systems in a fallen world, all the more His missional heart... who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4).



Sunday, September 18, 2016

If I were a boy (oh the gifts He chose to bestow on us)

Earlier today I was with a group in a study on Christ in the Synoptic Gospels with the family I've been attending since I'm back home.  I heard a friend asking the class, what made God decide that Israel is His chosen nation

Well, I've been taking this online course on Behavioral Science and getting this insight on how our mind is not as 'deep' as we thought -- the behavioral science calls it a "flat mind".  The scientists back it up with years of extensive research obviously, but it's a thought-provoking to hear the impact that they propose: we make our choices based on  experience and from how we see other people make theirs and behave

If someone asks me why I like a particular brand of coffee, for example, all the answer I could come up with, according to behavioral science, is all made up.  Because my mind would not have the 'depth' of knowing exactly why I like that brand.  In a nutshell. 

So, not only Israel as a nation, but all the way back to why He chose Jacob over Esau, I'm thinking, I could probably ask Him when I see Him, but for now I could 'only' trust His sovereignty -- because He's all-knowing, His choices and decision-making process must be perfect and way beyond my level of understanding.       

The "God-given" I've never wanted 

Similarly with the choices God made, I thought it applies to His "gifts" too.  The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines "God-given" as "received as a gift from God". 

Funnily, the situations and people I believe He chose to bestow on me -- things we had no chance of choosing, hence as believers we believe they are "God-given" -- sometimes I find it harder to see His sovereignty in them: the family I was born into, my hair color and other physical traits, my nationality, my gender (if I were a boy!)... Or, what I'm most envious of as I often compare mine over others': the godly parents I never had. 

The "God-given" I wish I had 
I was leaving Singapore for the UK three years ago when my pastor's wife -- who is a PK (pastor's kid) -- said one thing that struck me; that she couldn't imagine how it feels to make important decisions in life as a young woman without the figure of a father. 

My earthly father was far from a God-fearing person to give a godly counsel, but ever since he died in 2006 I practically received no guidance from a father.  

I was talking about this to another PK friend of mine in Berlin last year.  She points out, how it's of a different blessing to be in my position, as God "compensates" godly parents I do not have with godly people He places around meMy spiritual gift, too, of how Scriptures talk in my face and I use them as guidance in my decision-making is not something that everyone has. 

But if there's such thing called replacement or compensating gifts that God would ever give, I thought, it's always a means to take me back to Him, the Source of every good gift and perfect gift (James 1: 17), the Sustainer and the Provider.

... with My eye upon you. 

Psalm 32:8 was given to me through a vision December past, on my last Sunday in Berlin when a pastor's wife was praying over me.

Psalm 32:8

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
As a fatherless daughter I recently realized how I long for and often times intentionally seek  godly father-figure, and godly couple whom I could look up to -- maybe because that's what I've been trying to fulfill all my life -- like now when I am  deciding which home-group, or the family I'm now attending calls it a Life Group, to be part of.

But this verse reminds me again, that my heavenly Father will instruct me and teach me Himself and that's what I should seek and treasure above all.     

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Meet me halfway: #church

A couple of months ago I was with the family I've been attending in a 6-week evening course when God revealed an issue -- for the lack of word -- I've been putting on hold: church. Although I've been thinking about it since, I need to be honest that I still can't put my finger on it. 

It was the last session of the course when a brother shared about, #hashtag, church -- I can understand where he came from (he's a PK - pastor's kid) as God worked in his life through the church from which he receives all God's goodness. But, not the first time I told myself, I do not have that privilege. And I remembered then sharing to a friend (another PK) in our family, how I always felt jealous with PKs and MKs (missionaries' kids) and all my other friends blessed with God-fearing parents.  

In a diverse Indonesia my parents were of mixed ethnic groups -- my mom embraced Christianity due to marriage when she was 23; my late dad was always a traditional church-goer, with a wealthy father, yet having 3 different mothers as one died after the other, he never had the exemplary models of God-fearing parents.  My late dad then turned backslider for many years until he died in 2006. 

Practically I was born in a Christian home, going to Sunday School since I was young, growing up loving my colorful Bible-stories book so much and attended Christian private schools my entire life. 
I was 17 when I started teaching in Sunday School. But God knew I was far from having a personal encounter with Him as He brought about the turning point of my faith only a couple of years after that.


Parachurch: two of them

I got my B.A. (German Literature) in a (state) university which is Indonesia's oldest. But I guess being in the world's largest muslims population we never had that privilege of having various Christian organizations in 1 university. We have one, that of the InterVarsity

The teaching was strict: as a worship leader, we learned hymnology; as part of the core committee and small-group leaders, we read theological doctrinal books. 
It was imprinted on me that we were trained in student ministry to be agents of change in our own church. So, I was always clear, we are not a church, but we are here for the church.

I thought the Friday meetings, listening to good sermons from dedicated alumni/speakers and small-group were His ways to reveal Himself to me. But He was giving me more -- a Korean missionary just moved to Indonesia in 1999 with his young family and started a student fellowship in one of the student-housing areas nearby our campus. 

It was the Korean missionary and his ministry -- who taught me about the missional God, who taught me to pray around the campus for salvation of students, who taught me to be in a prayer team throughout gospel rallies were being held. 

I still went to our church in Jakarta with my parents. I was still a Sunday School teacher too. But all what these 2 parachurch movements did in my life made me even realize how I sat feeling empty in every Sunday service -- how my perspective about church was changed: the liberalism of theology schools that supply pastors to our churches, the lack of pastors' effort for a reformed back-to-Bible approach speaking from the pulpit.

Parachurch: yet another one

We do 4-year (8 semesters) undergraduate study in our country.  It was only the beginning of the 3rd semester when a CT-scan showed I have a 6-cm diameter of a left suprarenal cyst. Little that I knew, it was just the start of a journey dealing with the medical world that practically took almost my entire 20s. 

After some trips back and forth Jakarta-Singapore, I moved to Singapore in August 2004, when doctors said it would be best for me to stay close to them. Little that I knew, God was about to reveal another amazing thing to me: His mission. 

Dubbed as Asia's beacon of this century's churches, He made Singapore as a training ground for me. I unfortunately can't write much here about our missions work, to protect the safety of certain stakeholders. But again, through courses such as Kairos, Tentmaking, Cats & Dogs Theology, and some CPM (church planting) materials, not to mention those mission conferences and seminars, listening to good speakers in their field, His work was evident in my life as He showed me more about His missional heart, until I left Singapore in September 2013. 

#church: meet me halfway

I have been feeling like a mere spectator in every church I was and am part of, even though every single time I gave myself up to serve, or to a church-membership (including with my church in the UK, where I was for only a little over a year), realizing that as a gesture of commitment to the church leaders, for myself to be rebuked if needed as well as to be taken care of spiritually.

Glancing back and pondering of what God has been doing doesn't help me much in pointing finger on why I feel quite distant, still, with any local church.  But it certainly makes me more appreciative to the parachurch movements that He used to win me over from darkness to His light; participating in His holistic mission with a global perspective of building His global kingdom. 

This morning as God spoke yet again to me through a sister sharing a changed life of hers through a local church, I am taking this divine challenge to a journey of healing, to receive gladly and waiting in anticipation of His continued personal revelations on #church. 

I may find myself halfway in the journey, but just as He knew I was dry bones and He brought me to life, I rest knowing He will complete His work in me in His time.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Love conquers: revisited.

Last week the family I have been attending announced the topic of what they would focus on for 2016: Love Wins. And I was once more made amazed as I was just two weeks earlier, standing in awe of His continued revelation on His love. 

Two weeks before that I was reading from Acts 8 on Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch when God gave me a new revelation on His heart: the inclusiveness of His love, that at the center of His heart is always about saving souls. And by His grace, this reading also healed me from my wound.  

Love that conquers wounded lives
Has it ever happened to you, that you put a certain issue of your life into an invisible closet and you continued your life pretending that you don't have that issue with you anymore. At least I knew I did it to my wound. 
Several times at my last church in Singapore people would come up to me to say, "God loves you." And I never really believed that. That knowledge of God's love for me stopped at my head, and never really reached my heart. If you knew my background, an avid activist in student ministry in my undergraduate years (core committee, worship leader, small-group leader), at the same time a Sunday School teacher at my church, and at least 7 years after that I was in parachurch environment -- a few close friends I shared my wound with, couldn't believe what they heard, that I had difficulty to believe in His love for me. 

For years what I believed to be true, that God's love for me was less than what He graciously gave to others, was healed at the moment He revealed this new meaning on His heart from an 'old' passage that I've read many times before. If He cares so much about the salvation of the Ethiopian eunuch and mine, practically gentiles with more than two thousands years apart, all the more He would have my best interest at heart. And to trust His heart is enough, regardless of any storm I am and will be in.

Love that conquers doubts
I could pretty much imagine what Philip may have had in mind (in much lesser degree of a personal experience, just a few months ago) -- being summoned in a sudden, with little information, Philip sets out with immediate obedience. Divinely Philip intervened the Ethiopian eunuch's journey, As he was going back home, he was sitting in his wagon reading about the early preacher Isaiah (v.28). 

I wonder if Philip would have showed the slightest hint of amusement from the moment he ran up to the eunuch's chariot (v.30), to when he started preaching the good news (v.35) and to baptizing the eunuch (v.38). Because this was one of the very first beginnings when God started to continuously reveal to the disciples that His kingdom is also meant for non-Jews. 

In his obedience Philip exhibits God's perfect love that conquers doubts. 

The unconquerable love
This battle of mine I am currently fighting may not be the last as more others may come, but indeed He has won all of them for me, because this perfect love that conquers my wound and doubts comes from a God who wins.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Take me back to the "city"

It was around this time in 2012 when I was in an event held at my last church in Singapore. That weekday evening "Table for One" was a talk about relationships and singleness. But I came home with something not quite about it at all. 

The word "city" began to haunt me for weeks since. 

Struggling with visa issues in my stay here in Berlin, this week I learned new words in German law. Fiktionsbescheinigung. Rechtsbehelfsbelehrung. And some others that, I'm telling you, are not simpler than those two. But the word "city" is definitely not a new word for me. So, I felt it unusual when I just couldn't stop thinking about it back then. 

That year there was already a lot of talk in the church about the city vision -- our strategic presence in the city state, the location of the church, the multinational environment and diverse culture, and our calling as a church in the midst of those unique settings.
So, it wasn't at all the first time I heard the word being mentioned in the church.

Not until that night a different revelation was given to me, of the word 'city'. That night started all of my rethinking about the cities I've lived in. 

I was born in Indonesia's second largest city, Surabaya. Was there only until I was six years old, before our family moved to Jakarta where I spent practically my entire education until university, I don't really have much emotional attachment to Surabaya, apart from a place to spend school holidays in.
Just a few months after my graduation ceremony in 2004, I moved to Singapore, after spending few months flying back and forth to see doctors. They said it would be ideal for me to be near them, for a closer monitoring (It would be another beautiful testimony to share about a miracle He did to make my move to Singapore permanent.)

That night also started my rethinking about my role, what I do, in those cities. My job at that time, the concept I learned from the Tentmaking theology course came back in mind, the marketplace I was in, my colleagues at work... The thoughts were overwhelming as I was reaching to the point of looking to go to grad school. The idea of a graduate degree in business then came as I see it as a means to improve myself, positioning myself for God to be able to use me in wider, higher, increased capacities. 

Appointments I made for face-to-face meetings with one of our pastors to help me in my train of thoughts were not as easy as I thought. Our pastor asked me tough questions, questions I have no answer for, questions I was still looking an answer for. Why an MBA. Why the UK. Why business school. Why now. Why 'city'. What's about 'city'.
Until now, as I look back, I'm not sure I now have the answers of those tough questions he asked me, that he meant to sharpen my thinking, my decision, as he prayed with and for me.

September 2013 may have marked my move to another city (Glasgow, Scotland, UK), and now I'm here in Berlin; but these European cities added even richer thoughts and aspects to the revelations of the word. At least to me.

Yet again, the same word 'city' spoke to me in tonight's prayer meeting. It was the second time this week and each time I learn a new aspect about it. Tonight was about cities that are ruined, destroyed and abandoned.  

They will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
    that have been devastated for generations. (Isaiah 61:4)

Surabaya and Jakarta may not as advanced and modern as Singapore. Most European cities I visited are typically much more quiet, laid back, and more relaxed. But I've never lived in a ruined city, never saw one either. 

Little that I knew, I'm afraid, that cities I've lived in, in all their hectic lifestyle, modern infrastructure, their majestic architecture and history, good transportation system, have one thing in common: people, souls, that are not just distant from their Creator, but also people who are broken, hurt and lost. And by now living in this part of the world, I somehow see the 'ruin' and 'devastation' in a different light. 
The western world that's become more and more secular has long left its faith and belief in God is giving the alarming high divorce rate, the decades low birth rate, the stagnant European economy among others a new definition of the cities that God is calling us to rebuild and restore.

I'm grateful to see His present work in the continent where the gospel first brought into (Paul's second missionary journey) outside Asia Minor. Church attendance on Sundays or congregation size may not be anywhere near where I came from in Asia. But it warms my heart, every time, to see how God preserves His people in churches here. 

As you take me back to the "city" I see Your hands working beyond limitations of culture, people and situation, and I see Your heart, that You long for souls, for people to come to You.