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.