The Call for a New Evangelization

The U.S. flag is seen as Pope Francis greets the crowd during his arrival to lead his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican March 27.

In the next several posts, I’m going to share a few things I wish the universal/catholic Church could be doing better, or more of.

We all like and dislike what some of the Church is doing, and not doing.

Most of what the church is doing is good. As the Church triumphant on earth, we’ve done a lot of good in this world.

We have also done some not-so-good things.

Moreover, we have not done enough of the good things that we could be doing more of.

Back in 2009 during my early days of my blogging hobby, blogger Michael Spencer at Internet Monk (now deceased. God bless him!) had predicted that in ten years there would be a collapse of the evangelical Church.

That was a very depressing and pessimistic thing to read.  Well, thank God his predication did not come true.

Parts of the wider North American evangelical Church have actually grown (e.g., Pentecostals and charismatics).

Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul (Pentecostal), South Korea, is the largest congregation in the world with over 800,000 members. Started with only 5 people in a home church.

On a worldwide scale, the evangelical Church has grown at a phenomenal rate amongst all denominations (including evangelicals, mainline Protestants, and the Roman Catholic Church).  Churches in the Southern hemispheric countries have seen phenomenal rates of growth and revival.  Praise God!

Sadly, in churches in Europe and western nations, that is not the case.  Dying churches choose to die because they have chosen to not do evangelism. I do hope and pray that denominations on the decline would awaken spiritually before they die out completely.

God is a sovereign God. The Holy Spirit has a way of reviving Christ’s Church by introducing new movements.

God graces us with charisms that utilizes all the gifts for the sake of the Church.  As a result, God transforms Christian movements into new churches which eventually form new denominations.  Newly established denominations become the new Mainline.

Ironically, as lethargy sets into the new mainline, it develops new problems that have also plagued historic denominations.  May God have mercy on us, the Church of Christ.

Between 2007 and 2014, Pew Research found a general decline in broad sectors of the Church in the United States (Pew website)

Evangelical Protestant churches declined from 26.3% to 25.4%. Note that modern evangelicalism is only 50 years old.

The Catholic Church declined from 23.9% to 20.8%.  Mainline Protestant churches declined from 18.1% to 14.7%.

The thing that strikes me is those who identify themselves as Unaffiliated.  It increased from 16.1% to 22.8%. That’s a 6.7% increase!

What the universal/catholic Church is not doing enough of is evangelism.

In 2006, Pope John Paul II called for a New Evangelization. It was a radical call to proclaim the gospel in our world.

Pope Francis XVI has continued to echo this call for this New Evangelization (here).
See document: titled “Evangelii Gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel).

The pope declared:

“I dream of a ‘missionary option,’ that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world rather than for her self- preservation.”

Some churches/denominations have taken a reactionary approach.  They do evangelism for self-preservation.  Efforts are a desperate attempt to survive.

Sad fact here.  As historic congregations gray-out in the pews, they survive by drawing from the equity of building and property values.  Many of our mainline Protestant denominations are dying a slow but steady death.

They offer the excuse that their children have moved away from home and living elsewhere.

Another sad fact.  Many of their children are not attending church after they have moved away. It’s a sad but hard fact to swallow.  It pains them when they are reminded of it.

If our general population is increasing, shouldn’t church attendance also be increasing?

As institutional churches (or denominations), we have been neglecting some good things we could be doing more of (as I mentioned earlier on): re-evangelizing the generations of unchurched people.

 

Love your enemies: Possible or impossible?

Jesus said to his disciples in Luke 6:27-28, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”

How do we interpret this? Was this a piece of advice or wisdom? Or was it a command? Or was Jesus trying to show us plainly that this was an impossible task for people to follow through?

The challenge in the follow-through might depend on where people are at in their lives. Some people might be very hurt individuals. Their visceral reaction might be: “Screw this! I’m going to wipe them out! Quickly or slowly, nevertheless, painfully!

Another’s reaction might be: “Well, I know it’s hard. I can try. I know I won’t be able to do this but what the heck. I’ll give it a shot and if I fail, I fail. If I can love that x!?@#%!?x#, then I’ll do it. If I try and fail, then what do I have to lose, maybe just eight bloody knuckles that’ll heal up in a few weeks.”

Often we are caught in a dichotomy of two impossible options. We know what Jesus said over 2,000 years ago.  You might say, “But that was for yesterday. Today’s challenges are different.” Well, I beg to differ. There were huge challenges of life and death for early Christians during the Roman Empire– perhaps even impossible challenges to resist the Emperor.

jews halocaust

Even today, anger and hatred still boils in the blood of survivors.  Every generation has its own challenges to love one’s enemies.  The halocaust of Jews during Hitler’s Nazi Germany.  The militaristic Japanese take-over of Asia.  Today’s violent Islamic terrorism of ISIS/ISIL against the non-Muslim world.

We know if we fail this impossible command to love our enemies, it just shows how human we are.  We will have to acknowledge our need for God’s grace.

We also know that if we can manage this, good on me. “I managed to not swear and flip the finger back on someone who called me a !x%$&*.  I simply ignored him.  That made me the better person.”  In this latter case, our need for God’s grace is decreased. We managed to fulfill the law of love.  Okay, that may have been easily accomplished.

But then what about next time? What if a bully were to come after you with a gang of thugs to pulverize you to smithereens? Do I continue to “turn the other cheek” and “give them my other coat”? Where do we draw the line?

Love your enemies-thugs?

More difficult yet.  What if the victim were your own son or daughter this time around? Yes, this makes it an impossible task to “turn the other cheek” and give the gang of rapists and child-molesters your own daughter or son for the taking.

Let’s make it harder…they’ve got a gun to your head.  There are no police around anywhere. You’re in an isolated place.

If possible, most people would be tempted to pull out defensive arms and use it accordingly…without hesitation.

Getting the picture? Seems to me, Jesus saying depends upon the context.

Now then… was Jesus’ saying in Luke 6:27-38 meant to be a word of advice or a command?

I’m of the opinion that Jesus’ saying was meant to be description of our human sinfulness versus a prescription to obey God’s commands.  It’s possible that the entirety of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount was meant to be a description of our human incapacity to be perfect human beings.

If this were the case, it forces us to fall upon God for mercy and grace.

If Jesus’ sayings from the Sermon on the Mount were prescriptions (i.e., as laws we are to obey), then we’d all be failures.

I’m of the opinion that we will all inevitably fail as good human beings. Thus, the consequence is that we will all die and end up in dire straits on the Last Day, separated from God, perhaps eternally.

Thankfully, that is not the ultimate destiny. God has given us a way out. The only way out of this predicament is to fall upon the mercy and grace of God.  This is the good news of Jesus Christ.

Hypocrisy: A Sickness that leads to death

People have been hurt by hypocrisy. I didn’t realize how detrimental and serious hypocrisy was.  Later, when I was on the receiving end, I realized what hypocrisy can do to others and to ourselves.

hypocrisy mask

Hypocrisy is a deceptive and sinister type of sin.  It can be hidden and camouflaged… hidden behind religious talk, good deeds, spiritual acts of kindness.  Sometimes unaware, we Christians fall for it and even turn a blind eye to it.

Who might be victims and perpetrators of hypocrisy?  Ordinary people, including Christian leaders: priests/pastors, pastors spouses, deacons, elders, Sunday school teachers, council/board members.  Religious leaders in Jesus’ days fell for it too, including Barnabas (Gal. 2:13).

It includes people inside the Church and also outside the Church. It happens within greater society and also in sub-cultures.

It is practiced everywhere… by almost everyone at some point in their life.  By politicians…by Moms and Dads…aunts and uncles, by business people, by your friendly local cashier at the grocery checkout,  and yes, maybe even by your local cafe barista.

In others words: by anyone you can think of.

Sad. When we are bound by hypocrisy, it’s hard to recognize our own hypocrisy.  We are numbed by our own self-deception and our deception upon others.

It seems hopeless especially when hypocrites never get called on it.

There is a powerful technique that successful hypocrites use. Fear and intimidation.

Thus, hypocrisy gets further perpetuated. We hide behind a veil of moralism but still feel guilty.

I have seen it in others. I have wanted to expose it.  I have struggled with it myself.

It’s all an act.  We fear that someone might “spill the beans.”  There’s fear… fear that there will never be genuine forgiveness if we confess our faults, weakness and mistakes.

And apologize?  “Why should I apologize when I can just cover it up with a few falsehoods?  It’s safer, cleaner and simpler to just cover it up.  Nobody needs to know.”

We would rather continue hiding behind our lies.  One lie covers up another lie — one stacked upon another.  We are so blinded by our own hypocrisy of lies our consciences can become seared that we no longer feel guilt (1 Tim. 4:2).

Peter puts it in the same category as malice, deceit, envy and slander (1 Pet. 2:1).  So yes, it’s a serious matter.

Sad when we’ve been so cold for so long that it no longer matters. We rationalize it.  “If it doesn’t matter to me, why should it matter to the next person?  They might not even be aware of my hypocrisy anyway.  So who cares?”

Paul said, “Love must be without hypocrisy. Detest evil; cling to what is good” (Rom. 12:9).  When we heap our hypocrisy upon others, it shows we don’t love them.

It’s like when you accidentally shake hands with someone but have mistakenly or innocently forgotten about your flu or cold?  You feel guilty about spreading your germs because you didn’t confess.  Later, they get sick.  Your guilt intensifies.  By then it’s too late.

I didn’t recognize my own hypocrisy.  I saw hypocrisy in everyone else except for the hypocrisy within myself.

God knows there are many more hypocrites in Christendom.  Probably a lot more than I had thought.  It’s one of the symptoms of our sickness… and it’s in the Church.  Yes, even in my own church, and it might very well be in your local congregation or parish too.

We buy into a false belief. “If I act like a saint, God will approve of me.  God might even close a blind eye to my false pretenses, self-deception and deception of others.”  Why? “Since God is love, and I love Jesus, everyone ought to love me too.”  We vainly take God’s love for granted and refuse to truly love the other.

It’s an utter perversion of the heart.  Master-minded by our false pretenses.  It strikes a chord at the level of evil matched only by Lucifer. I know… it sounds dark.

We subconsciously justify it when we put ourselves on a higher plane above others.  “I can do it because I’m better than the other person.  I’m smarter, more beautiful, more deserving, or more righteous than that person.”

See how sinister hypocrisy can be?  You don’t buy it?

hypocrisy meter

Another false belief here…

“My fellow church friends will see me as spiritually mature.  Just act and perform well.  Use my smarts.  Mix some “innocence of a dove” with a little “deception of a serpent.”  Sprinkle it with just enough sugar….

…Abide by generally accepted norms of morality and goodness. All the while, staying within what sounds biblical and Christ-like…

…Make others think I’m spiritually “with it.”  Perform a few Christ-like deeds…

…Mix it in with a little Christian-ese lingo.  Regurgitate a few of Christ’s words from Scripture.  And voila!”

I know this can sound harsh on the ego.  Jesus also had some not-so-pretty words for the religious leaders of his day (Matt. 23:27-28):

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and every impurity. In the same way, on the outside you seem righteous to people, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (HCSB)

Ouch!!  That must have hurt.

What’s worse? Those who are sick, and have the viral infection of hypocrisy don’t realize they’ve been infected. They’re stuck with this condition. It will lead to death — a slow spiritual death.

x2cq

This has haunted and demoralized many Christians young and old.  It has deadened many Christians.  Deadened many churches. Tied down pastors and deacons. Tied down church boards, councils, presbyteries and vestries.  It has tied us down.

We have lost the essence of real spiritual freedom.  We think we are free when in reality we are walking around in chains like zombies.  Zombies are like the walking-dead.  They don’t realize what’s really happened to themselves.  They unconsciously seek to inflict their infectious disease upon others who are virus-free.

There is sort of a parallel in Rev. 3:1-3,

“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.  “‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. (NIV)

zombie kill splatterIn zombie movies, zombies will eventually die (either by fire, gunfire, or via plasma splatter-matter style).   The only hope for zombies is to receive the cure.  As human beings without a spiritual cure, we also will die a spiritual death.

 

The innocent people on the receiving end of our hypocrisy saw it.  They ran.  Exited the doors of the houses of worship and never looked back.

If that’s you: good on you. You can’t be blamed for running away. You ran before the virus could infect you. I hope you got away safely.

homer running

Then, there are some who did not run. They stayed to remain faithful to Christ’s Church.   Sadly, they got the infection. They contracted the virus.  They morphed into another form.

They saw themselves as good… and as hypocrites by others.

They have continued to spread this disease to others. Some unknowingly became victims of the disease. They became sick.  Some died.

We are all victims of the evil one.

Our joy has been sapped out of our spiritual lives. Now we walk with a spiritual limp (like that green pale zombie).

To live a more abundant Christian life, we need a remedy. Those of us within the Church need healing.

And those outside the Church also need recovery.

We need an injection of this serum.  Yes there is a serum…a remedy…a solution. Good news is it’s free.

The courier is God the Holy Spirit.  The prescription has been written in the Holy Scriptures.

It’s the righteousness that comes through faith in Christ Jesus — not in our human abilities.

——-
A Danish philosopher/theologian, Soren Kierkegaard (1813-55), entitled his book, Sickness Unto Death. I like the title so I borrowed a bit from it.  Hence the title of this post.  Kierkegaard wrote on “despair” in the midst of a society that grew cold and slid down a path from true faith into mere Christendom. His nation had lost its spiritual moorings. The Church in North America might be in a similar state of spiritual decay today.

Our prayer: “Please God, send us this serum to rid us of this spiritual sickness. Bring us freedom in Jesus Christ. Teach us to walk by faith and not by sight.”

Pray for U.S. federal government workers on furlough

So many thousands of U.S. federal government workers on furlough due to the shutdown.  They are going without pay, and many are having problems paying bills.  At this point, it’s easy to pin the blame on either side. There are both Republican and Democratic supporters on furlough and nobody likes it.  It’s sad seeing people arguing over politics and blaming this and that party, the President and Representives.

Lord God, be with the families who are struggling with payments, bills and groceries. Give them a way out to overcome their financial challenges.

Trump, Pence, Shapiro speak at March for Life

Yesterday was the 45th March for Life in Washington DC.  Amazing to see so many people who love life walking together in peace to declare and support that God-given life from the womb is precious and ought to be protected.  Very encouraging to pro-life Americans (and non-Americans) today.

Estimates of numbers who marched range from many tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands. Very possible given the crowd size.  The pro-life movement is gaining ground.

President Trump and Vice-President Mike Pence were forthright in their support of life.

Conservative commentator, Ben Shapiro, opened the gathering in speaking first.

“America was founded on the promise of God-given rights, chief among them the rights to life and liberty,” Shapiro said. But while once America’s children were her most prized group,” then something happened. We decided to erase them […] we lied to ourselves, and then we built walls around that lie.” 

“We pretended these were not human lives at all, but disposable balls of meat,” he continued, after detailing multiple scientific truths of fetal development denied by the abortion lobby. “We told ourselves we were virtuous for our lie. We reversed good and evil.”

Shapiro then cited Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s comment this week that pro-lifers are “not in line with where we are as a government and quite frankly where we are as a society.”  “Maybe they’re right. Maybe we today here are not in line with the rest of society,” Shapiro said. “To which I say, good. So were the abolitionists. So were the civil rights marchers. So were the martyrs in Rome and the Jews in Egypt. Righteousness doesn’t have to be popular; it just has to be righteous.”  (Read further at LifeSite here.)

[added: Interesting how young pro-lifers are not necessarily religious. Pro-life just makes common sense. Life is not just based on morality, but is also science-based too. ]

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 had lived and worked in Canada (e.g., the building of the nationwide railway) but in those days were not allowed to stay in the country.

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 to Liberty Culture

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.

In a small local cafe enjoying my cappuccino, Chiang Rai, Thailand.

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 emotion 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. 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?