2020 is a Good One, After All!

Is 2020 really that bad? Honestly, I feel that I’ve been unfair to God and how He has sustained me throughout this turbulence year. Yes, it’s been a turbulent; but no, it’s not nearly as bad as I often portray it.

Whenever people ask me how I’m doing I’d come up with an answer that by now has solidified into an almost stock answer. I even get to say more with less words, how I’ve lost so much and how I’ve been living in the midst of endless uncertainties.

God is good, ultimately. And I do mention that. But it struck me recently that God’s provision in my stock answer is more like a lip service, an afterthought, rather than a solid conviction that flourishes out of a lived experience. That is wrong.

Yes, I have lost so much. Yes, my life has taken totally unprecedented turns — and yes, the plural is deliberate. But ultimately, isn’t it all good? I don’t starve; I’m even stressing out how to lose the weight I’ve gained in this season. I can focus on full-time ministry. I have lots of people and numerous support networks around me. I’m never alone.

My stock answer needs revising — or better, I must throw it away and come up with a fresh one. One where God comes first and foremost; one where His faithfulness and provision take the center stage; one where people can witness how amazing God is in my life.

Year 2020 is not what I envisioned it would be. It is for that very reason though, that God’s love for me and His works in my life become even so much clearer than otherwise. Thank You, dear God!

A Special Day, On Laughing Alone, and A Failed Suicide Memoir

“Now that was a special day,” I told myself out loud. These days my self-talk is often audible. I need to voice it out. I need to have an audible conversation: over coffee, over books … and these days it means a conversation with myself.

But that was a special day. It kicked off with a call from a friend in Milan, followed by a series of email exchange with another in Hamilton. Many hours later, chats with a friend in Singapore and another one in Fukuoka wrapped up the day. Even among my birthdays, 2020’s was special one: I was reminded of the many friends in my life, people with whom I had spent countless hours chatting over coffee, exploring cities and museums, sharing common interests … and how life had suddenly come to a screeching halt.

I know I’m not alone. We now find ourselves in this uneasy situation that we might remember as “that lost year of 2020” …. After so many months, I feel like my body, my sensibility, my psyche are handling this situation differently.

It was a moment of realization when watching The Good Doctor, I repeatedly laughed, but I was laughing alone. No one else watching with me understood what was even funny. I’ve got things in my head that I can’t even share because people around me just don’t get it.

A couple of times, I pulled myself to share with friends how I’m taking all these things. Sometimes I got a good response, but rarely. Rather than listening, people are just so eager to give advice. Endlessly. More surprisingly, I found out that even those with professional qualifications in this area are not much better in lending their ears to listen.

This is a season of rediscovery and one way I’m rediscovering myself is what books give me comfort in that season. This past week, it’s remarkably a new book The Boy Between, a mother-and-son joint memoir on the son’s failed attempt at suicide. It strangely provides a muted depth and calm that I need in this season. From the moment I received the email from Amazon promoting this book, I was hooked. It has not been disappointing thus far.

It has not been an easy season, and for me a big part of it is for the challenge of finding locals with whom I can just sit down and share a cup of coffee (even virtually), or laugh at the same joke, or just share a common appreciation on some book. That was why that day was so special: in lockdowns, these distant connections ironically remind me of the closeness I share with these friends. I’m honestly still figuring out what to do with my local relationships, but this is a self-reminder to cultivate what precious friendships I have in so many other places on earth. I thank God for these precious friends.

Friends in Grief

Three friends
Made an appointment

“What are we looking at?”
They were shocked
They cried
Yet said nothing

For seven days
And seven nights
They said nothing

For they saw
That his suffering was very great

Three friends
Often evoked as deterrents
“Don’t be like Job’s friends!”
Seriously? Who can count

Among their friends

Who would come
And stay silent
Who’d be there
And provide the space

To grieve
To grieve

Not to ask questions
Or open the floodgates
Of advices
And wisdom

Just to be there
Just to be friends

In retrospect
Job’s friends weren’t the best friends could be
Yet many
Wouldn’t even be

Whose Merit?

Do this, and you will live!
Knowing what to do
We do not

We sin!
No option for the judge
Who’s the spring of all justice
But to condemn us

But thank be to God
Who’s the fountainhead of all love
For He loved us so much
He sent His only begotten Son

Not only to die
A sacrifice for our sins
And bring us back to square one

But also to live
A sacrifice of perfect life
Fulfilling all righteousness

Only in Christ
Faithful love and truth meet as one
Righteousness and peace
No longer two, but one

So before God’s judgment seat
I stand

Relying not on my own deeds
Relying no more on my own merit
Nothing but polluted garment

I stand
A sinner
Covered by merit
Not mine, but Christ’s

A new heaven
A new earth
Life everlasting

No more pain
No more tears
No more death

Beholding God
Face to face

Thank be to God

For the sacrifice of Christ’s blood
Paying all my sins in full
For the sacrifice of Christ’s life
A perfect and sufficient merit for me

Let the verdict be announced

Pahala Siapa?

Perbuatlah demikian, maka engkau akan hidup!
Tahu harus berbuat apa
Kita tidak berbuat

Kita berdosa!
Tak ada pilihan bagi sang Hakim
Sumber segala keadilan
Selain menjatuhkan vonis

Syukur kepada Allah
Sumber segala cinta
Begitu besar cinta-Nya buat kita
Ia mengirimkan Putra tunggal-Nya

Bukan cuma untuk mati
Menjadi kurban buat dosa-dosa kita
Membawa kita kembali ke titik nol

Tapi juga untuk hidup
Satu kurban kehidupan yang sempurna
Menggenapkan seluruh kehendak Allah

Hanya di dalam Kristus
Cinta dan kesetiaan bertemu
Keadilan dan damai sejahtera
Bukan lagi dua, melainkan satu

Maka di hadapan takhta pengadilan Allah
Aku berdiri

Tidak mengandalkan kesalehan
Tidak lagi mengandalkan pahala
Yang ternyata
Tak lebih dari sepotong kain kotor

Aku berdiri
Seorang pendosa
Dibungkus dengan pahala
Bukan pahalaku, tapi pahalanya Kristus

Langit yang baru
Bumi yang baru
Kehidupan kekal

Tak ada lagi sakit
Tak ada lagi air mata
Tak ada lagi kematian

Menatap wajah Allah
Muka dengan muka

Syukur kepada Allah

Buat kurban darah Kristus
Membayar lunas semua dosaku
Buat kurban kehidupan Kristus
Menjadi pahala yang sempurna buatku

Dan vonis pun dijatuhkan

Being Prophetic?

What do you feel about being prophetic? I imagine many Christians would feel that it’s cool to be prophetic, or at least it’s something good and desirable. And why is that? I guess that’s because what many people has in mind about “being prophetic” is something verbal: it’s something you express in words. There are various kinds of artistic expression as well that are generally regarded as expression of “being prophetic”.

However, what if God calls you to be prophetic with your life? What if God chooses to speak not through your posts, nor through your lyrics, nor through your sermons, nor through your works of art; but through your life? Would that still be cool? Would that still be good and desirable? Would “being prophetic” still be something you desire for your loved ones?

Would You Rather be Isaiah or Jonah?

Any Christian in their right mind would choose Isaiah over Jonah. People name their sons Isaiah over the biblical character, but my guess is when they name their sons Jonah it’d probably be after some famous people instead of the biblical Jonah.

However though, looking at these two men’s lives, I imagine most parents in their right mind would rather choose Jonah’s life over Isaiah’s for their children.

Who is Jonah?

He’s probably the one Israelite prophet with the most glittering CV of all. He had a highly successful career both at home and abroad. At home, he served under an evil king, Jeroboam II, yet he prophesied great victories for the king and his prophecies came true (2 Kings 14:25). I imagine he’d be rubbing shoulders with the dignitaries of the day. No wonder he’s so afraid being sent abroad! Abroad though, he only repeated his success at home — probably with more stunning result: he preached not even 10 words, and every single person in the big city repented!

Today, Jonah would be that pastor with the best LinkedIn profile of all: great prophecies, highly effective sermons, successful both at home and abroad.

Who is Isaiah?

He’s born a royal, a nephew of King Amaziah, yet he died sawn in two (Heb. 11:37). Talk about reverse social mobility! His whole life, humanly speaking, was virtually a downward social mobility, and that included his ‘ministry life’. The reverse of Jonah’s super-short sermon, Isaiah’s sermon is a literature masterpiece, and not a short one at that, his masterpiece is also one of the longest books of the Bible! Was it effective?

Reading Isaiah’s commissioning by God in Isaiah 6:8-13, could you not feel sorry for him? Right after he said, “Here I am! Send me,” God right away received Isaiah offering of his life and, almost in the same breath, essentially told him, “Whatever you do, nothing will work.” What kind of CV can a guy like Isaiah put together these days?

And Then, There’s Ezekiel and Hosea…

God assigned Ezekiel to act like a crazy guy for roughly 14 months, eating bread that’s baked on cow’s dung — and that’s already a compromise since God initially instructed him to use human dung. I wonder if you don’t feel some sense of disgust and pity, just from reading how God uses Ezekiel’s life as an act of prophecy in Ezekiel 4.

And finally there’s Hosea, whose life is probably the Old Testament’s most vivid imagery of the Gospel: God chasing His unfaithful people, seen through Hosea’s dedication to his prostitute wife. God told Hosea to go to a brothel and take a professional prostitute as his wife!

Not only would she return to her former life as a prostitute and Hosea would again have to redeem her, from how the story is presented we’re not even sure that the children this woman bore to Hosea during their marriage life were actually Hosea’s biological children!

As a man, how would you feel, and how would you respond, if God calls you to be prophetic through your life, like He did these men in the Bible? Living a life that literally goes against the current: Instead of building a glittering CV, follow God’s direction the other way around? Instead of marrying up into a respectable family, marry a woman of dubious reputation?

These men of the Bible actually lived what Paul says in Philippians 3:8, “I consider them sh*t” (literally, that’s the translation of Paul’s choice of word). God called them to be prophetic, first and foremost, with their lives!

Being Prophetic with Your Life?

Have you ever imagined “being prophetic” in this way? It can be cool to be prophetic in what we say, in what we express, in what we produce…. God may not be satisfied with that though.

He may want to speak more of Him, through more of you: not just your posts, not just your lyrics, not just your sermons, not just your works of art; but first and foremost through the life you live, through the crucial decisions in your life.

What would you feel about being prophetic in this way? Would this still be cool for you? Would you still see this as something good and desirable? I guess the ultimate litmus test is: would this be a life you desire for your loved ones?