The ethics and morality of a border wall

great wall of china
The Great Wall of China.  Built to keep China safe from marauding invaders from the north.

Before doing a bit research on migration into the U.S.A., I had no idea about the numbers of unlawful entries into the U.S.A every year.  I am astounded by some of what I learned.

If someone were to tell you that annually there is somewhere between 250,000 to 360,000 unlawful migrants who cross the Mexican border into the United States EVERY year, what might most people think?  Would it be considered a national emergency?  There are already 12 million unlawful residents in the United States today so you can do your calculations for estimated annual illegal entry [added: “including an estimated 42%, or 5 million, who overstay their visas. This “42%” people are using is from a old Pew Research report.” ].

This figure would be much higher if it weren’t for almost 400,000 who were apprehended in 2018.  These are facts and I’m not making these up (Click: stats from stats U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE).  In previous years (1995-2000), the numbers used to hover around 1.4 – 1.6 million annually who were apprehended (Click: FactCheck.org).

Over six decades ago, my parents immigrated legally to Canada (a nation that I love and live in today).  My grandfather and great-grandfather (Sam) had lived and worked in Canada (e.g., the building of the nationwide railway) but decided to return to their homeland of China.

spiderman wallAs a child of an immigrant, I appreciate immigration and defend legal immigration.  Without immigrants, our two countries of Canada and the U.S.A., or any other western nation would not be what they are today–enriched by their diversity of culture and ethnicities.

However, I hope you can allow me to speak honestly.  Any country in the world ought to take migration or immigration seriously; otherwise, why even have borders?

Illegal entry into any country in the world can, and ought to have some consequences.  Someone I know very well have daily dealings with migrants who are apprehended by U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Let me share with you a story.  I remember many years ago when I was still a university student in Virginia. During the summer months, our family intended to bring an aunt over to cross the U.S.-Canada border.  We would go across to do some cross-border shopping about 2-3 times per year.  Some go as often as twice per month as a family outing.  It was an ordinary thing for people to do on a weekend, and it still is.  I don’t know why but either I had forgotten, or just out of plain ignorance, failed to pick up a day-visa at the border for my aunt because she was a Chinese citizen visiting us in Canada for a month.

The result.  My poor aunt was apprehended and my father’s vehicle was almost impounded by U.S. Customs.  I was also the driver.  I learned my lesson: Be careful and honest and direct with customs agents.  The penalty could be serious and it could have been more serious for me because I might not have been able to return to finish my last semester of studies.

Now back to my question and this is where it gets dicey:  If illegal migration is an ethical issue, then why is building a wall, in order to prevent illegal migration, not an ethical issue?  And I know the left might feel a little bit squeemish thinking about an honest answer but just leave our political leanings aside for a moment.

First, allow me to put this so-called wall in another context.  Let’s think of other countries that have, or have had, a wall or fence:

unlawful border crossing
The U.S.-Mexico border wall experienced an average of 400,000 migrants who were apprehended in 2018.

-East and West Berlin;
-India and Pakistan;
-North Korea and South Korea;
-India and Bangladesh;
-European Union;
-Gaza Strip and Israel;
-Egypt and Gaza Strip;
-Israel and West Bank;
-Hadrian Wall in northern England; and
-ancient China and Mongolia (Great Wall of China).

I’ve never been to the Great Wall of China but I am amazed at the immensity of its height and width. It was a massive labor-intensive undertaking in order to keep out the marauding Mongol tribes, and to keep the Chinese nation safe. I’d say that was an ethical and moral thing.  It prevented war and potential violence, theft, rape, and other forms of violence from Mongolia and Manchuria.

I am not necessarily left or right on the political spectrum on the wall issue.  Let’s  analyze the ethics of having a barrier of some sort at national borders.

I will affirm my belief that a barrier between any two countries could be considered an ethical and moral matter.

Let’s also set aside what I would consider non-sense from the left that those who accuse Trump as being racist because he is proposing building a wall.  Are other nations like Germany, Israel, Korea, India and Pakistan racist because they’ve built walls to protect their people?

If migrants pour into any country without legal documents or fail to apply for a visa, it ought to become an ethical issue.  You might be reading this from South Korea, Germany, the U.S. or India. Walls have been a normalized if your people have felt threatened by illegal border crossings.

I remember years ago when I was able to cross the U.S.-Canadian border with just a driver’s licence or health card. After 9-11, it all changed. Today, I need to show a passport.

If an outsider attempts to intrude into a high-security office building, ought this be considered an ethical issue? Of course it is. If someone breaks in, is killed or robbed, it also becomes a moral issue.  An ethical and moral thing to do would be to increase the building’s security to protect sensitive information, or important people or property.

The bible speaks of an example of Jerusalem’s wall being re-built due to decay through decades and centuries of neglect. Ezra 4:12-13 states:

“The king should know that the people who came up to us from you have gone to Jerusalem and are rebuilding that rebellious and wicked city. They are restoring the walls and repairing the foundations.  Furthermore, the king should know that if this city is built and its walls are restored, no more taxes, tribute or duty will be paid, and eventually the royal revenues will suffer.”

If ancient Jerusalem failed to protect its own people from invaders who would rob, kill, torture and forcibly exile its people, might that be considered an ethical and moral issue?

Does a nation have a duty to protect its own people and provide them physical and even economic security?  You better believe it!  If our nation failed to provide us with national security, we would be up in arms.

Today, the U.S. might be in a similar situation. Drugs, gangs and violence are not the only issues.  Immigration is very much tied to the economy.  How about protecting the economy and jobs of American citizens? Does a nation not have a right to economic self-determination?  Every other country on earth seems to have the right to secure their own and borders.  Why not the U.S.A.?

With many nations around the world watching from the comforts of their own television sets, it’s rather easy to accuse Trump of being racist, but if unlawful entry into your own country was happening and it affected YOUR job and YOUR family’s security, you would do something about it, wouldn’t you?

Welcome: new name LibertyCulture.com

img_0965 2
Hello.  I want to offer an official introduction to my readers after the new look and name change to LibertyCulture.com and re-introduce who I am.  Some of you might wonder if this is a brand new blog. It’s been around as the NewEpistles blog.  Since I haven’t been blogging as avidly as I used to (especially the past 5-7 years due to work and life’s circumstances), I thought I’d re-introduce myself again to all my current and potentially new readers.

These days, I do not post often but will try to do so when I have some time.  I usually draw inspiration from reading.  When I do get to read theological and devotional books (and the bible of course), I ask questions and reflect upon biblical passages and ideas from my personal theological perspective (and we all have our different theologies).

Expressing these thoughts in writing are the result of my blog posts.  I originally started blogging on bible translations, but these days, I usually blog about issues of faith and biblical passages, and try to see how they intersect with aspects of our daily lives and society.

When society and life’s issues are at odds with Christian and biblical values, it can challenge our spirituality and theology.  Sometimes, we question and we doubt ourselves.  Do I doubt sometimes?  Yes I do.  We can either become antagonistic toward culture and society and run closer to religion; or we can become antagonistic toward religion and shift toward secular/popular culture or even agnosticism/atheism.

We all wonder at times whether what we’re doing is right or the cool or uncool thing. Sometimes, we might feel, “To heck with rest of the world. I’ll do what I feel is right.” Sometimes, we try to fit in and do it the way everyone else is doing it, even with our Christian friends. Then we lose a sense of who we are. Maybe that’s happened to you before.

Our lives are not static but can be in flux, changing. But we are still getting to know who we are and figuring out what fits me. The Father, Christ, the Spirit, and the Church might be telling us one thing. Also, the world might be telling us other things. Sometimes, life is confusing and society around us is not helping.

Because of pressures around us, we don’t feel safe to give ourselves room to ask and ponder if what we practice makes sense to ourselves, to the Church and to the world around us. But if we allow ourselves to struggle and reflect on faith, theology/doctrine, and spiritual issues, one might grow in faith, find freedom and liberty in our spirituality, and interact with our culture in more positive and life-giving ways.

I was sitting with friends in this small local cafe, deep in the hills of Chiang Rai in northern Thailand, enjoying my cappuccino while blogging (March 2018).

My life’s journey took me from working in the financial field in Toronto into ordained pastoral ministry in churches in both rural Saskatchewan and suburban Toronto, and now, into chaplaincy. I thank God for his Calling and speaking to me clearly on this area of my life.

Today, I am grateful for this opportunity to minister as a chaplain.  For now, this work has now brought me to a wonderful and smaller city called Victoria, BC, located on Vancouver Island in beautiful British Columbia, Canada.  My family and I very much like living here.

What gives me reason to wake up each day is being able to live in God’s grace, peace and power every day, and learning to be a better husband, father and a good citizen (sometimes through mistakes) and continuing in God’s call to ministry in this life.

Anyway, thank you for visiting and reading the various posts on this blog and “liking” them if you enjoy them.  Blessings.

Later,
Kevin A. Sam
Liberty Culture.com

From Seminary President to NFL Head Coach

frank-reich4-300x200This fall, former Reformed Theological Seminary Charlotte campus president Frank Reich began his first season as head coach of the Indianapolis Colts.

Here’s a challenging question for you.
Could this be considered leaving ministry and back-tracking on one’s vocational calling? Or is coaching full-time still considered vocational ministry?
Click here to read full article.

Big catch, big grace

jesus fish peterIn Jesus calling of his first disciples, I am continually surprised by Simon Peter’s initial statement to Jesus (Luke 5:8-9):

“But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken.”

Depart from me“: Peter tells Jesus to go away because he is a sinful person. Why would he tell Jesus to depart from him?  If you’ve treated someone with nothing but bad behaviour, but they in turn treat you with kindness—how would you feel? You might feel a sense of guilt or shame. Why?  You know you don’t deserve the kindness they’ve shown you.

I remember someone I had not seen for years had come to me to apologize for something they had done many years ago. I had already forgotten about it long ago.  He blessed me more than the blessings I had to offer him.  I did not deserve it.  That’s grace.

Peter knew he had just encountered the holy One of God. The power and grace of God was evident in the huge amount of fish God had just provided.  They fished all evening but had caught nothing, but now, their net was so full of fish it began to tear.  It must have blown his mind. That’s grace.

Peter was overwhelmingly convinced in that encounter with Jesus that God’s grace was sufficient.  Jesus wanted Peter to understand that there is nothing in heaven and earth that could stop the power and love of God from flowing down.  Grace had just poured out to Peter–despite his sinfulness.  This miraculous catch of fish was evidence that Jesus was the Son of God.   He had enough proof.  He left his nets, boat, and followed Jesus.

For I am a sinful man“: Peter was giving Jesus a preliminary warning. “I don’t deserve to be in the presence of your holiness. You are holy; I am not. I would be bad for you and your image.  I’ve stolen, perhaps broken numerous laws, and should not count myself worthy of being in your presence.”

What might a person say to Jesus today? “Jesus, I’ve cheated on my tax return. Claimed more expenses than what’s legal. Or maybe, I’ve broken environmental laws by spilling toxic waste into the water system causing sickness to many. Or maybe, I’ve robbed a bank or defrauded other people our their hard-earned savings or pension. Jesus, I’m not like you. You are good. I’m rotten.  You might not know how bad I am but I do bad things to people. I feel guilty and ashamed. I don’t deserve to be given such a huge gift.”

Or we might also tell Jesus, “No you must have given the blessing to the wrong person. Bless that other guy over there. He does good things for the community. She gives to homeless and volunteers her time to good causes like the marginalized and the sick. But me? If you really knew who I am, and the horrible and illegal things I’ve done, you wouldn’t want to be around me. So Jesus, save your time and just head on over there to the other fishermen who is more deserving of this big gift of fish.  They deserve it.”

But Jesus affirms.  Jesus turns to Peter and says: “No Peter, I’ve got the right person. You are the person I am giving this gift to. And maybe Jesus didn’t even give an explanation about grace. Kept it simple. It’s for you Peter. I really meant to give this to you.

His reaction.  A big surprise. Perhaps he was overwhelmed with emotional and wept in private. He decided that Jesus’ acceptance of him was proof of God’s love for a sinner like him.

jesus calls disciples

Today, God’s mercy is still the same. He accepts you the way you are. His love for you never changed. He is still the same yesterday, today and will be the same tomorrow.

This story of the great catch is about Jesus calling you. Telling you through his miracle of the fish that his acceptance and love for you is great. It is just a small sampling of God’s abundant grace. He says to you. You are mine. You are my son.  You are my daughter.   My love and acceptance for you is bigger than you thought. I have not made a mistake. You are the one I meant to give this to.

If you pray to the Lord: “Jesus, I accept your grace. Your grace is enough for me.”   An appropriate reaction might be to drop your proverbial nets, leave your boats, and follow Jesus today. He is holding his arms to you today and saying, “Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of men, and catchers of people.”

Happy New Year and a few predictions for 2019

Happy New Year 2019 Images, Wishes, Quotes & Wallpapers ...Happy New Year. A few predictions for 2019. Here goes mine including a few weird ones. I’m interesting in knowing what some of your predictions are.

1. MUSIC: several Christian contemporary songs will hit the mainstream pop charts.

2. RELIGION: the Baptist church and other Evangelicals denominations will get enlightened, ban together and elect their first Bishop… and then change their minds after waking up, realizing it was all just a nightmare.

3. TECHNOLOGY: Electric cars and hybrids will make bigger strides in popularity. SUVs will continue gaining in popularity too. Yes, a hybrid may just be in my future too.

4. TRAVEL: People will be going to outer space for vacations. I will think about going myself one day… but I’d rather wait and see if people return safely to earth before I give it a try.

5. POLITICS: Trump will not be impeached. He will come out ahead but a little gun-shy. He will get to say, “I told you the economy will improve on my watch!”

6. Democrats will elect a moderate to run against Trump. On the left, those like Warren and Pelosi are seen by Democrats as too progressive.

7. Trump’s wall will be built but slowly. The funds will not come from Congress but international trade…but wasn’t that what Trump intended in the first place anyway?

8. GLOBE: The Arctic ice cap will continue melting and the Northwest Arctic passageway will be a bone of contention as far as Canada’s sovereignty is concerned. Countries will begin challenging Canada’s sovereign waters in the Arctic.

9. It will snow in the weirdest place, e.g., Florida, Mexico.

What are some of your predictions?

Become a Better Human

Holiday seasons can be a lonely time for some people, but the loneliness I’m talking about is long-term and reside in each of us.   Even at birth, we were separated from God due to original sin, giving birth to our inner loneliness.  We are afraid of it and run from our feelings of insufficiency.  We tend to avoid situations that make us feel incapable because we fear being left by ourselves, separated from others who are around us.  Deep inside, we want to overcome this but are not sure how to.

I’ve been doing a little reading by Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche Communities.  He saw loneliness everyday in psychiatric hospitals where it was in many of their eyes.  He said in his book Becoming Human: “I believe that loneliness is something essential to human nature; it can only be covered over, it can never actually go away.  Loneliness is part of being human, because there is nothing in existence that can completely fulfill the needs of the human heart.

Loneliness isn’t so bad if we can harness it for positive change in others and in ourselves.  It can act as a reason that compels us to seek to overcome this inner void of loneliness.  Example: mystics, prophets, poets, artists, do not always fit the normal mold of society.  They’ve found a way to use their gifts to express meaning through creative work in seeking to deepen their spirituality and hearing from God, or expressing creativity through their inner inspiration. We can do the same but using our unique gifts to better the well-being of others around us.  We then have purpose in being together within community.

First, we need to change but change can be hard.  We don’t like change because we prefer to control everything.  The comfort in being able to predict everything comes with a cost.  If we refuse to change, we will stagnate as human beings

Vanier said, “In human beings, there is a constant tension between order and disorder, connectedness and loneliness, evolution and revolution, security and insecurity…. When we refuse to accept that they are the price of change, we close the door on many possibilities for ourselves; our lives become lessened, we are less than fully human.”  I don’t know about you, but as for me, I wish to become a better human being.

Prayer: God, help me be a better human being.  Show me the sacredness in each human being.  Help me to grow in a sense of belongingness with my fellow neighbours, and empower me to make the right choices by seeking truth and meaning together with others.  Amen.

Ref. Jean Vanier, Becoming Human. House of Anansi Press, 2008. (pp. 7-8, 12-13).

Extraneous teachings to the gospel?

There is a temptation to add to the gospel supplementary reasons why Christ Jesus came to earth, namely teachings on prosperity and social justice.

Does the gospel necessarily include prosperity or an inherent calling to improve the world through working to heal the environment or eliminate poverty.  It might be a spirituality but I do not believe it is part of the gospel.

Within the traditional Christmas passage is Zechariah’s prophecy in Luke 1:76-77,

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins…”

In a nutshell, vv. 76-77 state the purpose in the ministry of John the Baptist. What stands out here is: “to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins.”  The gospel is exactly this.  Salvation through the forgiveness of sins.  Theology would be much simpler if we stick with this essential gospel teaching.

My fellow believers in both prosperity-based charismatic churches and mainline churches propagate an extrinsic side to the gospel, adding to it, non-core issues, and then calling it the gospel.  One author called the gospel as having a “hole in the gospel,” which implies that something is missing in the gospel, namely, an extrinsic activism in the world.

These dear brothers and sisters in the environmental and anti-poverty movements will sometimes conveniently ignore forgiveness of sins to the detriment of the gospel, preferring social activism or prosperity over teaching forgiveness of sins.  To critique this doesn’t mean that I’m against environmental protection.  I believe in a cleaner environment.  It doesn’t make me a non-charismatic if I do not buy into prosperity-teaching.  I believe in the charisms of the Holy Spirit.

I challenge my fellow believers to prove to me that the bible promises prosperity or an ideal environment or perfect physical health.  Yes, in the redeemed new heaven and earth, I would agree; but in the current world, this is where I beg to differ.

Did Jesus come to authorize us to create an ideal global-earthly environment or promise us financial prosperity in this lifetime?  Is this what the Scriptures teach?  I have my doubts.  Did Jesus truly come to preach and teach a gospel that includes prosperity or the social gospel? I’m not so sure.

If we were to ask some of our believers in some war-torn and impoverished countries if they believe Jesus came to bring such things, I wonder what they would say?

Jesus teachings can be interpreted to include some of these social issues but they were not clear and direct teachings of Jesus. I’ve heard some distortion of teachings to included with biblical references and all; however, I haven’t been convinced by their interpretations.  It all comes down to interpretation or misinterpretation doesn’t it?

There is also a real spiritual injury to adding extra-biblical teachings to the gospel. When people experience suffering or lack financial prosperity or good health in their personal lives or in society, they blame God.  This opens oneself up to doubt and can result in a walking away from the Church’s holy faith and/or toward a works-based religion.  We see this in some of our Word of Faith charismatic churches and mainline/United/Methodist churches.

Am I against the betterment of society in this world.  No.  I’m all for a cleaner environment, benevolence, and bettering one’s life in this world now.

I am just purporting a clear division between earthly works and the gospel.  Keep the gospel the gospel, and keep our earthly works as earthly works.  Never the twain shall meet, otherwise, we confuse works as gospel.  Such a confusion can create a false religion.

The Promise of Christmas

Family and good friends.  Jingle bells. Chestnuts roasting. White Christmas.  Santa Claus and reindeers.  Presents under the tree.  All these and more give us the feeling of Christmas.  What if we don’t have these feelings?  Then what?  What if we don’t even have family and friends to share with?

manger sceneThere is a void in each person that only God can fill.  As a society, we love things money can buy to fill this void.  Christmastime is a good excuse to buy for ourselves and for others.  I admit there are some material things that I like too, e.g., nice watches, boy-toys, guy gadgets, etc. We love to have things, nice-to-have-cool things.  Truth is… there is a sense of emptiness in all of this consumerism. When our “gas tank” is running low, it’s easy to fill our lives with substitutes.   We know that substitutes can also be harmful to ourselves and even to others. If you’ve ever been there, you’d know what I’m talking about.

Christmastime can be an excuse to fill our lives with some of these things to forget our troubles, or forget our loneliness. Sometimes, we try to satisfy our need for happiness using money, material things, sex, drugs and the latest highs. But no matter how much we may try to obtain happiness or distance ourselves from our sadness, the void can never be filled without God’s presence. There is a need in us that can only be filled with God’s love, peace and joy. It’s our real hope for the future.

What God offers to gift us with God’s presence and His love, joy and peace. Christmastime is meaningful when we celebrate our Lord Jesus because we know how much Christ means to us when we have personally experience God’s peace. What Jesus has given us is lasting because God is eternal.

When trials come, the joy of Christ does not fade, even in the midst of our unhappiness, or even our poverty.  When you’ve experience suffering but have Christ walking with you, you will know that this inner peace is real. When the pressures of this life and the weight of this world get heavy, and the inner joy from Jesus remains when nothing else remains, you will know that love of God is authentic.

In this season, may we be a blessing to others through giving, but more important is that we be receptive to God’s spiritual blessings.  St. Paul the Apostle said in Romans 15:13,

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”

In good times or in difficult circumstances, the hope, peace, joy, and love that God gives will remain.  That’s a promise from God–the best Christmas present we can receive. Merry Christmas!

 

Fragrance: a good gift not only for Christmas

Wisemen from the East gave gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.

At Christmas, we think of gift-giving. As a baby, Jesus received fragrant gifts of frankincense and myrrh. These were aromatic resins used for personal, religious and medicinal purposes and for burial.

Near the end of Jesus’ life, he would receive one final and generous gift from a faithful woman.  She would be remembered as giving a generous legacy-gift. It would become a sweet-smelling fragrance that would accompany him to his burial.  In Mark 16, this woman came to Jesus with a jar of perfume to anoint Jesus from head to toe.  Some well-meaning folks around Jesus were concerned that this expensive perfume could have been sold and the money be given to the poor. Jesus’ response them was:

“She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her. (Mark 14:6-9, NIV)

a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head.

What a gutsy thing to say to those who are concerned about the poor!  A couple things here that Jesus knew early on: 1/ The good news would be preached around the world; and 2/  That her generosity would be recorded and be re-told as a legacy.

One, Jesus had already known that the religious leaders were after him and wanted to kill him. He had already made this known to them by clearly drawing an analogy about his perceived death warrant in his telling of the parable of the tenants (i.e., the murder of the vineyard owner’s son).  Jesus would have assumed his pending death would be like a seed being planted, and later, sprout into good news being spread around the world.

Two, Jesus would have expected his death be recorded on paper and/or spread via word-of-mouth. How else would this woman’s generous gift be re-told to future generations?  As the Son of God and the Human One, Jesus is omniscient (all-knowing) as God is all-knowing. He would have known his future would result in a grander legacy than merely a post-generational myth. His own futuristic vision lays a groundwork for a new faith that would reach far beyond a reformed-type ofJudaism.

Faith in Jesus would bring about a radical and worldwide transformation.  Today, Christianity has a worldwide following that is fairly evenly spread throughout all continents. It is not an ethno-centric religion like Buddhism in East Asia, Hinduism in India, or Islam in the Middle East.   Billions of dedicated adherents of every race, ethnicity, culture, and hemisphere, are following Jesus.  Many thousands more each day are coming to trust in the Lord.

Upon the Advent or Coming of Jesus Christ, we will be celebrating a grand birthday around the entire globe including Asia, Africa, the Americas, and Europe (now being the minority).  We have hope in the Expected and Anointed One.

Day 1: Good news: I’m free from sin

Free from sin. I am freer today than before. Not that I sin any less. I am still the same sinner-saved-by-grace that I was before. I’m just now not bound by the guilt and shame.

Guilt and shame is what many Christians struggle with.  For some, it’s everyday.  For others,  it’s when they’re reminded of their past; and others, it’s when their cover has been blown.

I was raised to believe that appearance was very important.  I grew up in a Chinese church.  In many of these East Asian churches, appearance is of utmost importance.  It is important in one’s status and respect.  If one’s cover is suddenly blown, it can be a very tragic situation because one’s respect plummets.  One can get kicked out of the board, responsibilities as a Sunday school teacher removed, etc.  Some of you might know what I mean.  Even if you didn’t grow-up in a Chinese church but was raised in a more fundamentalist/evangelical church, you may identify with this.

Some people I have had heart-to-heart conversations with knew exactly what I was talking about. However, they would tread carefully and never let their guard down.  Failing to maintain their appearance meant losing their social status in the congregation.  This might be true for many Christians out there today.  The result: one ends up leaving the congregation and switching churches due to loss of reputation.

I had believed a false belief that obeying the law could someone  earn me spiritual merit-points before God.   And if it didn’t then it could some how earn me merit points within the congregation.  At the time, it was good enough motivation for me to act or appear more holy and righteous. However, deep inside, I knew my own thoughts, desires, and hidden things were less than pure in God’s sight.

If one were to admit to these sinful thoughts, it would be too much to disclose to one’s own congregation members.  What would the pastor or elders think?!  It’s easy for me to see this now because I’ve distanced myself from this self-righteous and hypocritical church culture.

This type of self-righteousness is exactly the reason why some people don’t want to go anywhere near a church. They say the church is full of hypocrites… and it’s true.  If “worldly people” were to ever step foot into a church, they would have to change their thoughts and behavior, and have a time-limit to start putting on a show that they are worthy of Christ’s righteousness.  Behavior is a sign of how Christ has changed them (or is it really how they have changed their own behavior or how well they hide their sins?).  Whoops.  I hope the truth doesn’t hurt too much.  Well, if I can’t meet the biblical-standard of that congregation, then I better not even attend church.  That’s how most normal people think anyway.  This is why churches have emptied-out and are full of white-haired elderly people.  Not that this is bad, but truth is, where are the young people and young families in the church?

Over time and in a study of theology, the good news of the truth slowly sunk-in and was revealed to me.  I had blinders on for decades because the church had failed to teach the truth about the gospel.  It knew the gospel but it didn’t really see it clearly. I’m not bashing the church.  Entire denominations can fail to see things from different perspectives because it’s always been their ethos and culture. There is not a hidden agenda–just blinders that keep us from seeing the truth from another angle.

I had finally learned that appearance was not useful in God’s sight.  Keeping an appearance would only make me feel better about myself because I believed that I had succeeded that day without committing a “big sin.”  For “good” Christians out there who can identify with this type of moralism and religiosity–whether Catholic or Evangelical, it can be very hard work. Why so? Because one has to “put on a show” to look good.  In the church, we have a lot of good actors.  We become very good at looking good.  We even try to do good things, good deeds, and appear to walk-the-talk.  We value the respect we receive from other fellow congregation members for not being “big sinners.”

The down-side is: eventually we get worn-down. It’s not easy to put on a false appearance 24-hours a day. Eventually, several things happen. We might just give up, throw in the towel and call it quits with Church, or we become so guilt-ridden that it tears us apart inside and we stop going to church or stop telling people we are Christian or are “religious.”  It’s safer to tell people that we’re not religious.  It leaves us room to still believe inside but not act Christian outwardly.  But is this a victorious Christian life that the Apostle Paul describes? No! Absolutely not. This type of Christianity is merely “Church-ianity”.  It’s fake, a false replica and plastic.  It’s what Jesus taught against and labelled as hypocrisy.   It’s what Paul called the Church on when they tried to use circumcision as a proof of a true believer.

God can set us free from having to fulfill what church-ianity tells us are the mandatory requirements of having to be, and do, good. Doing good can never make a person a “better Christian.”  Being a better Christian can only come through faith.  By believing the blood of Jesus continually cleanses and sanctifies us is the only thing that makes us holy and righteous before God–even though we might fail to appear holy.

God has set me free from sin.  I’m continually being sanctified. This revelation has drawn me closer to God. Truth is, God was, and is always pleased with me–just because I am a child of God, and not because of what I do. I am now ever more convinced that God loves me and it compels me to abide closer to God.  This unconditional love and mercy of God makes me desire to do better and live life worthy of Christ’s calling.

Believing in this good news is what makes a Christian spiritually mature. Spiritual maturity is NOT how holy and righteous a person appears in front of others. It corresponds only with one’s degree of faith in believing this profound truth. Amen?