Evangelization of another marginal group–the rich

jesus sick lameIn a previous post, I blogged about a need for evangelization and missions to the margins.  In this post, I will make a case for evangelization to the rich. The left will hate what I have to say here.

Missionary families have sacrificed their lives and their comforts of home to live overseas, to adopt a new culture and learn a new language.  Their motivation is to proclaim the gospel to people on the margins.  They are on the margins due to income/economic status; sickness/health; race/ethnicity; language and education.

Jesus’ entire ministry was to those who were on the margins.  Luke 7:21-22 states:

“At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”

Previously I hadn’t really noticed this one verse in Luke 7:29:

“All the people, even the tax collectors, when they heard Jesus’ words, acknowledged that God’s way was right, because they had been baptized by John.”

Yes, even tax collectors repented and got baptized.  During the days of the Roman Empire, tax collectors were people who were relied upon by civil government. The Roman Empire depended upon them to bring in tax revenues. Without tax collectors, they would not have been able to receive any monies to fund their public services. Thus, tax collectors were highly valued by the Emperor.

It was unfortunate that they abused their positions of power. They took advantage of people. They added additional taxes to their collections that were not necessarily owed to Rome. They enriched themselves by pocketing that extra money for themselves. They were hated and despised amongst the common people.

Some of these dishonest tax collectors were evangelized. They received Christ and transformed their lives. They gave up their dishonest ways, and were baptized by John.  If there is room for the rich in God’s kingdom, who are we to judge?

zacchaeus

Zacchaeus in the bible was a dishonest man.  He came to faith in Christ.  In the gospels, he was repentant and transformed the way he conducted his business.  He promised Jesus to give half of his money to the poor and return four-fold what he had cheated (Luke 19:8).

Jesus’ response was evidence of the good news that came into Zacchaeus’ life.  Jesus said in Luke 19:9-10,

“Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.”

Do we despise those who are rich and powerful?  Are they also unfairly despised by some of us commoners.  We accuse them of being oppressors of the weak.  We accuse them of getting rich on the backs of the poor. Not necessarily true.

There are many rich people who make their money honestly, and through hard work and diligence.

Do we scorn the rich, famous and powerful for the sake of scorning them?  When we do so, it creates a bigger chasm between them and the commoner.

Do the ultra rich, powerful and famous also need to hear the gospel?  Are they also loved by Jesus?   They also have problems like us ordinary people.  They also have marital troubles, divorce and separation, parental issues, just as we all do.  Their lives can also be torn by sin and corruption.

This sector of society also need Jesus.  There is room for them in God’s kingdom.

Here’s a question for us to consider.  If Jesus invited himself to eat with Zacchaeus’ at his home, might Jesus do so with the ultra rich and powerful today?  Most definitely.

Our evangelization and missionary work today could use a good tweaking. We ought not only be evangelizing the poor and sick. We also need to turn our attention to people of influence.

Missionaries are doing some great missional work to evangelize the marginalized. But what about politicians, and the rich business person? In a way, they might also be people on the margins–but on the other side of the margins?

I’ll define this group as those who are on the margins on the opposite of the economic and social spectrum.  We tend to marginalize them because of the division their money and wealth has created.

I know it’s rather difficult to attach the label “marginalized” upon those who are rich. Juxtaposed with a large middle-class population, the super ultra-rich do standout as a marginalized group.

superrich

In our modern contemporary society, we might consider people such as:  the ultra rich, famous Hollywood stars, music icons, Supreme Court justices. These people might also be some of the loneliest people in the world.  Their success in their own field of work has created a greater chasm between themselves and the common person.

What would Jesus do?  Jesus addressed rich people regarding their spiritual poverty.  They were too content, too satisfied and did not seek after the things of God.  Money satisfied them but they missed the spiritual side of life.

To be fair, and on the other side of the same token, I believe Jesus would also speak to the poor people regarding their spiritual poverty.

So whether we rich or poor, God would desire we all people to seek after godly and spiritual things.

The ultra rich might be the most financially comfortable people in the world.  But they might also be the most unhappiest people in the world.

All human beings, regardless of our status, battle with depression, suicide, debilitating sicknesses and diseases.  All people have marital breakdown.  All people battle personal problems.  God can be the savior of all people who need a savior.

It is not unusual that the higher one climbs on the socio-economic ladder, the less happy and more lonely one becomes.

So who might be the proverbial “tax collectors” of today?   Might they also need to be ministered to? They might be our Hollywood producers, famous Oscar recipients, successful real estate tycoons, business persons and corporate executives.

Let me ask you: When did you last minister to Hollywood producers, the political operatives, and business tycoon?  Did you offer them any spiritual guidance?  Were there any around who could share the good news with them.

Most common people never have any sort contact with them. Why would we? And how could we?  The marginal on this side of the bell curve are also isolated people.

How can the gospel transform the lives of the rich, famous and powerful?  This might be worth pondering upon.  The gospel and the love of Christ can transform the lives of all persons.  It might make the world a better place.

Can they be transformed by the light of Christ to the glory of God?  “Yes.”  Jesus also wants to intervene in their lives. God loves all people of all economic and social status.

If this post has made any sense, I hope it might present another challenge. How do we reach this other marginal group of the rich?  Perhaps we might consider and pray that God should send evangelists, missionaries and apostles to the super rich, famous and powerful.

Sex Abuse in Southern Baptist Churches

A scandal will erupt in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). Sexual abuse is currently being reported by the Houston Chronicle (in Abuse of Faith 3-part series) (dated Feb. 10, 2019). No one likes airing one’s own dirty laundry.  There is plenty of dirty laundry to be aired.

It’s no longer just the Roman Catholic Church taking the brunt of the criticisms.  Southern Baptist congregations are also guilty of sexual abuse of children and youth. Some of the names involve prominent SBC leaders, pastors, and involve some lay-leaders, volunteers, and deacons.

There is no stopping at just youth pastors and deacons and volunteer laypersons. This report reveals seminary presidents and SBC leaders, and pastors of large congregations who are guilty.

Houston Chronicle SBC.jpg

This article reveals hideous sins within the SBC churches that will undoubtedly heap shame and guilt upon Southern Baptists. Baptists and evangelicals pride themselves on holiness and piety. We think of ourselves as living out the Christian lifestyle.  Underneath the veneer of Church-ianity, there is still sin that is common to all human beings. I hope all baptists can realize our own hypocrisy and confess our sins.

In May of last year, Patterson was ousted as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth after he said he wanted to meet alone with a female student who said she was raped so he could “break her down,” according to a statement from seminary trustees.

But his handling of sexual abuse dates back decades. Several women have said that Patterson ignored their claims that his ex-protégé, Darrell Gilyard, assaulted them at Texas churches in the 1980s; some of those allegations were detailed in a 1991 Dallas Morning News article.

The Gilyard case bothered Debbie Vasquez. She feared other victims had been ignored or left to handle their trauma alone.

When Vasquez became pregnant, she said, leaders of her church forced her to stand in front of the congregation and ask for forgiveness without saying who had fathered the child.

She said church members were generally supportive but were never told the child was their pastor’s. Church leadership shunned her, asked her to get an abortion and, when she said no, threatened her and her child, she said. She moved abroad soon after.

Pastors can be abused by the congregations. Yes. But church members can also be abused by pastors, deacons, elders and lay-leader/volunteers.  Every person in church leadership need to be held accountable.  Background police checks probably don’t catch every sex offender.  These checks only catch registered sex offenders but those who have never been caught will slip through the cracks undetected.

Harvey Rosenstock, a psychiatrist in Houston worked for decades with victims and perpetrators of clergy sexual abuse. He describes how clergy use their power to abuse children and youth:

“If someone is identified as a man of God, then there are no holds barred,” he said. “Your defense system is completely paralyzed. This man is speaking with the voice of God. … So a person who is not only an authority figure, but God’s servant, is telling you this is between us, this is a special relationship, this has been sanctioned by the Lord. That allows a young victim to have almost zero defenses. Totally vulnerable.”

As clergy, we have influence that causes a power imbalance, especially with the vulnerable.  Young children, youth and young people are susceptible to being taken advantage of by people in authority.  Women can also hold a power imbalance too so we must not take our positions for granted.  I hope our churches becomes more self-aware and corrects this imbalance through a system of checks and balances.

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.

 

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.”

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?

Enduring hardship through faith

Living in caves can be modern experience; it can also be a hard life.  It makes me think of a time when the early saints had to endure an amazing amount of cruel and hardship in the pre-church era. Hebrews 11:37-38 (ESV) says:

“They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.”

This verse indicates that faithful people of God in the Old Testament had been forced to live underground, in deserts, and hid in dens and caves (as were prophets in 1 Kings 18-19). They were a shunned and disparaged because of their faith. They were not just typical Jewish followers but were despised for their deep faith and conviction within broader Judaism. They were living amongst Jews but were still shunned and seen as an abhorrent sect within Judaism.

In the Church today, there is also sectarianism, as in many other major/established religions. Parts of the Christian church also face disparagement and shunning because of their deep faith and conviction. They are not only persecuted by people of different or opposing religions, but from followers of the same religion.

I’m glad we don’t are not as separated by denominationalism as we formerly were. There are still subtle differences but we have come a long way in being respectful of our religious and spiritual differences. I appreciate that it’s our differences that make us unique and special.

I have brothers and sisters in the Lord who went from borderline fence-walkers to devoted Christian believers. I also some dear friends who went the opposite direction and/or stopped attending church. Our society is multi-faceted. Some of us want more devotion and deeper spirituality. Some of us want less or nothing of the sort for various personal reasons. Despite our personal convictions, God is still sovereign and in control, so who are we to judge others for their deep faith or lack of it?!

May we who are faithful, endure, hold-on, and remain thankful for the sacrifice of our spiritual and religious ancestors who paved the way for us. It made our path of devotion and service to the Lord a little easier to walk. God gives each of us strength to follow him; and faith is given to each generation–even this generation, from Baby Boomers to Millennials to generation Z.  God is forever faithful to us.

Merry Christmas to Christian brothers and sisters

Merry Christmas to our Christian brothers and sisters around the world.  Christ comforts us with true peace and joy in our hearts that cannot be extinguished.  For this, we are grateful that God sent his Son Jesus into the world to give us this peace.   May we pray for each other around the world because we don’t know how to acknowledge Christ on his birthday, whether or not we have religious freedom.

To our fellow Christians in North Korea, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, please continue praying for us, as we pray for you.  God knows your sufferings for your faith in Christ.  You might not have as much freedom to openly worship Christ as we do, but yet you still worship Christ even in secret.

And to our fellow Christian believers in nations like Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, Loas, Vietnam, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, God hears your prayers because your faith is real.  We need a stronger faith like yours to overcome our fears.    We as poor souls, are trapped in Satan’s power so we need your prayers.

For all, here is a Christmas blessing from one of the earliest Christmas carols dated to the 16th century (c. 1760 version):

God rest you merry, Gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay,
For Jesus Christ our Saviour
Was born upon this Day.
To save poor souls from Satan’s power,
Which long time had gone astray.
Which brings tidings of comfort and joy.

Have a merry Christmas!

Loving unconditionally vs performance

A true and deep spirituality comprises more than living according to rules and keeping the law.  Some Christians would go as far as to label this a false religion.

People are searching for a deeper spirituality that involves love and acceptance.  If we have a shallow understanding of God’s gift of forgiveness, we might end up emphasizing performance over grace.   How well one follows rules/laws and do good deeds become a measure of our Christian spirituality. This fails to show how deep and wide is the love of God.

What’s worst is how this might influence the way we treat others, e.g., being judgmental and hypocritical toward others if we don’t match up to our standards of following the law.  This type of spirituality can feel very unsatisfying (and be unsustainable), especially if we’re on the receiving end of judgment.

This judgmentalism and performance type of Christianity paints a false picture of God’s love and acceptance of us as God’s children.  People have turned away from the church because of our hypocritical attitude towards them.  The sad thing–we who might be hypocrites may not even know it, and often, we’re too busy putting up a show of being moral.  It might be good for our image but bad for spiritual morale.

Paul said in First Thessalonians 1:3,

“We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing.”

Jesus speaks of loving one another as a command (Gospel of John 13:34-35),

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

For some ex-Christians who have left the church, the ability to believe in God’s unconditional love is where it stops. After failing to live rightly and justly, and having to repent over and over again for our same old sins, some of us just give up and no longer believe because we have not experienced the love of God through others.  We have been given a false image of a harsh God.

This is a lot of pressure we place upon ourselves and upon others.  It becomes an unsustainable spirituality, and possibly, even a false religion.  Where do we get this impression of God’s love being conditional?

If we have projected our moralism upon others, may we be humble enough to ask for God’s forgiveness. It might be a first step toward forgiveness, a deeper spirituality, and a better religion.  We can do better as Christians.

October 31 marks a freedom from good works

October 31 is a special date that marks the beginning of Protestantism.  No, not Halloween but the day one monk-professor protested the Church’s illegitimate rules and regulations.  It was the beginning of the western church’s road to reform.

Martin Luther, a young Roman Catholic priest before he was kicked-out, had nailed the Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the Wittenburg Castle Church.  This got him into big trouble–not for graffiti, but for his ideas.  It was sort of a declaration that stated the truths he wished all Christians would understand, including the Pope and bishops of the Church to whom he had given some constructive, but unwelcomed critique.  They were furious when they saw what he made public for all to read.  They tried him, and finally, wanted to kill him when they realized he would never conform.

Why was Luther up-in-arms about the Church?  Christians had been deceived into giving indulgences (or alms) to ensure the salvation of one’s loved ones. This was totally contrary to biblical teaching because scripture was clear that salvation was a free gift from God and cannot be bought.  Finally, in 1517 A.D., a fed-up Martin Luther began to argue for freedom from such non-sensical rules that were conveniently concocted by the church in order to secretly fund the construction of a big church building in Rome (St. Peter’s Basilica).  He argued that we are saved only by faith in believing that Jesus died for our sins, not by following the illegitimate laws of the Church.  He believed this was the Christian’s religious freedom from having to trust in the dictates of the law for our righteousness.

The great reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin, et al, have fought to restore the freedom of the Christian from having to earn our righteousness through good works.  It was a major sacrifice of blood, sweat and tears (literally).  Christians have died for this religious freedom.  Today, Evangelical, Protestant, and Catholic Christians have solid ground to stand upon the belief that we are not bound by having to do any good works to earn God’s approval or favor.  Paul also encouraged Christians toward good works, not to run from it (Galatians 5:9-10 and Ephesians 2:10).
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
To do good works in the world is part of being a good human being.  It does not make you and I a better Christian.  What makes a person a good Christian is faith alone, in and through, the grace of Christ alone.  In light of our freedom we have today, may we be encouraged to live out our freedom to do even more good works, not because we must, but because we want to bless our fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord, and help our fellow human beings in this world.

We are the salt and light in a dark world.  May the light of the gospel shine as others see our good works to the praise and glory of God the Father.

Art and artisans since Moses

The contemporary church has failed to appreciate the value of art, artists, and artistry as an expression of our worship. The Protestant Church in the 16th century expelled much of art and believed that it was unnecessary and extraneous from the core of the gospel. This is why we have not seen much Christian art since the rise of Protestantism.

In the Old Testament (14-13th c. BCE), God had Moses commission the best of the artists, Oholiab, to design items of worship for the sanctuary. These items were not merely for practical uses, but were also meant to be beautiful and artistic–thus, demanding the best of the best artisans to design and craft the holy hardware.

“…and with him was Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, an artisan, a designer, and an embroiderer in blue, purple, and scarlet yarn and fine linen.” (Exodus 38:23, NET)

During the exile of Jerusalem, the Babylonian King, valued the artists so much so that they were taken captive along with the best military officers, soldiers and craftsmen.

“King Nebuchadnezzar took all of Jerusalem captive, including all the commanders and the best of the soldiers, craftsmen, and artisans—10,000 in all. Only the poorest people were left in the land.” (2 Kings 24:14, NLT)

Art was highly valued in worship and is common in all cultures. Why should Christianity not also value artistry in our worship of the Lord?