A prayer for those who have died

In the news, I heard a story about a spouse who could not leave the house to plan for her husband’s funeral.  There was also a doctor who worked in the same hospital where his father had died. The sad thing was she could not be with him due to mandatory quarantine so he died while apart. For those who recently lost loved ones, here is my prayer for them, and for us, and you may also make this a prayer for yourself too.

Dear God, guide us as people on earth from nations
to support and care for one another during this pandemic.
May your healing wings rest upon us
and cover us with your protection.

Show us the reason and purpose for our lives
so that we may live with hope
which is in God, in life, in death
and in life beyond death.

Loving God, by the peace of Your abiding Presence,
give us your peace and comfort us
through the support of our family and friends,
though we may be in imposed quarantine or in isolation.

Merciful God, You created us all in your image
Continue to hold us in your arms through these trying times.
Thank you for the gift of your servants
who have recently passed from this world,
for the gift of their life,
and for the love and mercy they received from you,

Holy God, we entrust all your people who have passed
into your tender care and everlasting arms.
Amen.

Cost of following Jesus

In this life, there might be people who sacrificed the possibility of a romantic relationship because that attractive guy or girl demanded too much of their time, money and attention. They were not ready to sacrifice their relationship with God. There might be people who lost jobs and business opportunities for moral reasons. They didn’t want to go against their values.  Discipleship can come with many temptations.

Jesus told a crowd that was following him:

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26-27).

Jesus had a huge following of fans. He had paparazzi hounding him all day. People were astounded by what Jesus could do. He was a fantastic speaker. He was a very charismatic spiritual and religious leader. He was a performer of miracles and healed many people with disabilities and illnesses.

Despite his huge fan base, Jesus would have known that only some of his fans would actually become devoted disciples who would follow him to their deaths.  Jesus presented a challenge to true discipleship because he wanted hard-core followers, not just a large fan base.

“Jesus presented a challenge to true discipleship because he wanted hard-core followers, not just a large fan base.”

Jesus was a person who understood sacrifice and calculating the cost of following him. He knew there would be hardships in following him to the end. He used an example of the cost of constructing a skyscraper (v.28-30). He followed up with an example of the cost of carrying out a military operation (vv.31-32). If a person is not willing to sacrifice everything to follow Jesus, they might end up resenting their decision.

In this life, there are costs in following Jesus. Jesus expects us to see the long-term possibility of losing everything. He said, “So, therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (v.33).  In some countries, Christians are persecuted for their faith and face death threats. Are we ready for anything if this were the case?

Religious ‘None’s increasing

Dr. Joel Thiessen (Canada’s younger version of Reginald Bibby) has done a Canadian study and found that society increasingly self-identifies as having “No religion”.  Millennials are raised in a social context without a religion.  Some might have gone to Sunday school or received baptism as an infant but end up as a non-attender of church.  The United States and Europe are all generally in a similar situation.  The U.S. might be a little better.

This presents a challenge because people do not know who Jesus is. With this challenge comes the opportunity to socialize Christianity in a more positive way.  The opportunity is that we get to start with a brand new slate.

How we do share the love of Jesus to our friends, acquaintances, and family who are in this category of “Religious None”?  If you are 50 or younger, you probably know someone who has never been to church and who has heard about Jesus spoken of at Christmastime or as a curse word.

How do we share the good news of Jesus in this generation?  With sensitivity to “None”s, or using the seeker-sensitive model?

Sorry the video is only on facebook and not on youtube, thus, the link to a facebook page of Acadia Divinity College (alma mater):

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Facadiadivinitycollege%2Fvideos%2F2275011249205310%2F&show_text=1&width=560

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.

My journey to faith

I will share some very personal and intimate spiritual encounters in how I came to faith and into vocational ministry. I did not think I would ever do this so publicly on my blog and I don’t know why I’m doing this now… but here it goes.

As a teenager, I was raised an evangelical and attended a small Asian church in Vancouver. I remember wondering to myself in Sunday school class if God was real. The teacher was speaking like God was personal and real; she sounded authentic.  I had not yet experienced God for myself in a personal way.  I said to myself that if God was real, I needed to know God more.

Was it a fate or calling?  That day came.  It was at a Pentecostal summer teen camp somewhere between Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta. I was about 15 years old.  I remember distinctly being filled with the Holy Spirit.  This was my coming to faith in Christ.  This cannot be fully explained or understood using words.  It was a spiritual experience–an existential moment that I will never forget.  God poured his Spirit into this teenage boy.

At summer camp, I saw teenagers on their knees.  I hadn’t seen that before.  They were praying.   Seriously praying.  There was no kidding around with them.  They weren’t looking down at their hand-held games and pretending to pray; no, they were praying like serious business, like God was real to them.  This caught my attention and interest.  In church, adults were the ones who did the praying, so it was my first time seeing young people praying this–and praying together in a large group.  A totally new thing to me.

It caused me to wonder and ponder if I was missing something in my life.  I remember telling God:

“God, if you are real, please make yourself real to me.  I want to know that you are real…that you really exist…and that you care about me.”

I looked up to see if anyone stopped praying; nobody stopped praying.  So I continued to pray and asked God to show me if He was real.  Give me sign that you want to make yourself known to me in a personal way.

Then I began to feel a tingling sensation come over my body. It was like 10,000 volts of electricity. This sensation started in my hands.  It spread to my arms, then covered my entire body.  I was covered with God’s presence and filled to the brim.  It was an electrifying experience–literally.  How can I describe this?  It felt like a warm sensation, like as if I was set on fire.  I now knew that Acts 2 was real. (similar initial experience like this priest)

The summer camp speaker, a pastor, spoke prophetically and authoritatively–spiritually speaking.  He told us, “God is here in this place and is making himself real to you.  He can make himself known to you in a variety of ways.”  That was God’s way of making himself known to me that left me without any doubt about his existence in this universe, and in my life.

I realized then, on the spot, that God was real.  No more doubts.  The Holy Spirit filled me with his love and presence.  I was caught by surprise and started weeping and sobbing with tears of joy.  I don’t cry easily but it was the Spirit moving within in a very powerful way that was “out of this world.”  I was oblivious to everything around me and didn’t care if anyone saw me weeping.  In that moment in time, it was a holy moment; it was God and me together.  I told God with a new found love that I would serve him forever.

God gifted me with a real presence that day.  He poured faith into me.  Where I once questioned God’s existence, I no longer had doubts concerning His existence. God became very personal and tangible to me.   I also realized the severity of my own sins, and experienced God’s love and kindness toward me, and of his mercy and forgiveness.

I had learned all this stuff in church and Sunday school but it had never really sunk in until that day.  God became real to me through a real revelation of God, in that holy moment at church teen camp.

1984 Vancouver CrusadeAnother experience. I was 16 years old when evangelist Rev. Billy Graham came to BC Place Stadium in Vancouver for a series of evangelistic meetings. Each night, he would give an invitation to come down to the front–an old-fashioned evangelical altar call.  I still remember Rev Graham quoting from Matt 10:33, “But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven.”

That was enough to motivate me to want to acknowledge Jesus in front of thousands in the stadium.  I decided to publicly acknowledge Christ. Upon mustering some courage, I walked down to the front.  It was both a ‘confession of faith’ and a personal commitment to walk with Christ.

Later, as a university student, I attended a Christian & Missionary Alliance church and made a personal decision to get baptized.   I remained engaged in Christian student clubs on campus (e.g., IVCF, Power to Change, etc.).  As a young adult, I continued worshiping at various denominational or non-denominational community churches.

After finishing my studies at Regent University, I packed my things and moved to Toronto. I lived there for a number of years and found work in the financial field.

During this time, God led me into lay ministry by using my spare time to serve as a lay-pastoral leader in a small local ethnic Pentecostal church (English-speaking congregation). I did this for almost one year and did not have any expectation of ever being called to ministry.  This experience gave me a taste of what pastoral ministry was going to be like.

While in Toronto, I began attending a large charismatic church for a few years (Catch the Fire).  It expanded my experience of worship and my understanding of how the Holy Spirit worked in people, in the church and in the world.  Worship became more intimate for me. In that church, I felt I could almost touch the presence of God. Years later, my experience of worship would be shaped by structured worship with liturgy and comprehensive theology.  This charismatic experience played a huge part in shaping my theology of the Holy Spirit.

It was in that period of time in Toronto that I began to sense and contemplate God’s calling into full-time ministry.  My experience as a volunteer lay minister gave me an idea of what pastoral ministry could be like.  I began to reassess my life and pondered the idea that if I could do anything for the rest of my life, and money wasn’t a factor, what would I want to do?  My answer: pastoral ministry.

I began to explore the idea of pursuing some theological education in order to prepare myself for the challenges of vocational ministry.  I returned home to Saskatchewan and began inquiring with various seminaries.

My parents were attending a small bible study started by a local Lutheran seminarian and I visited the open house at Lutheran Theological Seminary (LTS).  This intern-seminarian also recommended this place.

7Wl

I began praying that God would show me the way.  One night, I had a dream.  In this dream, a white dove was perched on top of the letters ‘LTS’. This bird flew off, swirled around a few times, then very quickly, landed under my left arm. It jarred me awake. Both my legs shot up and I fully awoke.

I pondered: “Was this a nightmare or a sign from God? If this was just a nightmare, I have nothing to worry about.  But if this was a sign from God, I had better pay attention.”

That very next morning, I decided to visit the seminary a second time.  I had some questions to ask. I spoke with one fine professor who cared about ministry (who has now returned to parish ministry).  After our conversation, he encouraged me to apply and see where it would take me.

Throughout seminary and my discernment process, I had some enlightened ‘aha’ moments and also countless moments of doubt. I asked myself, “Do I belong here? Why don’t I just leave? I don’t know anything about liturgy or theology.”

I was not a born and bred Lutheran.  Most Lutherans are just born into the church and cannot recall a specific point in time when they had an existential spiritual experience in coming to faith.

I believe that God still gives people signs. God works in different ways in different people.  Some receive subtle signs.  Some are lightening-struck.  God’s calling comes to each of us in different ways and will be different for you.

For me personally, this sign of a white dove became a constant reminder of God’s calling to me. It kept me from veering off the path whenever I had doubts about whether to stay in seminary.

The rest is now history.  I thank the Lord for his direction, and for the guidance I received from God’s servants. Later, I would serve in several Lutheran congregations and Baptist congregations.  Today, I continue in my vocation serving as a chaplain. My experience, theology, and approach to ministry has expanded and grown in ways I never expected.

The sacrifice of blood, sweat and tears

I’m continuing to blog in the same vein as a previous blog-post on missionaries and evangelization.

I admire the missionary friends I know.  They have sacrificed a comfortable life here in Canada to better the lives of people outside this country. Why?  For the sake of Christ’s calling to serve God.

Many missionaries have literally sacrificed “blood, sweat and tears” to evangelize and bring the good news of Jesus to places where people live on the margins.

I personally witnessed the good and fruitful work of missionary families earlier last year in March 2018.   My family went to Thailand and Cambodia (here), and here and here.  This trip opened my eyes to see, what I would categorize as, life on the margins.

Missionaries, Conrad and Fiona Kwok (my friends), recently shared about a visit to a region in Myanmar…. it took about 6 hours by car from the city of Lashio. (read more here)

I witnessed God was truly at work in the local peoples, cultures, places, and in other far-reaching places around the world.

When people in the church can be so brutal, their relentless love to share and bless other people has restored my faith to continue believing that God so loves this world.

It takes lots of faith to step out and take such big risks.  Many missionaries are sent out but require funding through private donations.  Denominationally-sponsored missionaries are not as common as before. Even then, they are still required to do their own fund-raising.

Thank God for missionaries and their devotion to serve the Lord.  For them, it really is a calling and not a career.  Some pastors and even chaplains make this a career when it really ought to be a calling first.  Without God’s calling, people can get side-tracked and lose sight of what God has called them to do.

But missionaries receive most of their financial support through individual donations. Often times, donations barely cover their annual operating expenses.  Many missionaries just get by, but they do not want to be seen as begging their home churches for funds.

If we do not bring the gospel that brings freedom to cultures and civilizations, then other religions will step in.  Islam is also working hard to bring their religion into places around the world. It is also happening across cities in North America and Europe.  Some of Islam’s proselytization can be very aggressive around the world.   In some extreme cases, violent fundamentalism resort to a violent and authoritarian means of forced conversion.

As the Christian Church, we can pray for missionaries.  Pray that God renews their strength every day.   The love of Jesus is real.  The good news of Jesus impacts lives.  It heals broken hearts and lives torn by sin and corruption.

Evangelism is seen as a dirty word in some circles.  We are ashamed of evangelism because it’s proselytization.

Much of the Near East used to be Christian. At one point in time, the Near East was where Christianity blossomed and had its center (i.e., modern-day Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, northern Africa). Today, we have seen the direction it has taken.

Fact is, every culture has been proselytized by one religion or another.  Yes, even Europeans at one point in time.  If proselytizing is such a bad thing, then perhaps Europeans should return to the old religions.

Christianity has brought so many blessings to Europe and North America.  Today, Asia is experiencing similar blessings that Christianity once brought to the western world.

Secularism, humanism, atheism, also have their own forms of proselytization. They all their own evangelists who seek to influence people toward their way of thinking.

We have lost much ground due to an increased secularization within our culture and society within the last several generations.  We have 2-3 generations that have false impressions of what the Church and the gospel are all about.  Church and the Christian life are genuine spiritualities that can give people a renewed hope–not because of the organization but because of Jesus.

We have a great and wonderful spiritual heritage.  It is worth carrying on for the sake of the next generation.  If we do not, they will miss out on a rich blessing.

Brand new Christians can often make the best evangelists.  When they first get to know Jesus, they share with excitement about God with all their friends and family without shame.  Surprisingly, many of their friends and family can turn to God.

Evangelism ought to be a natural thing we do.  It can take place naturally with two friends over coffee at a local cafe.  I can share with a buddy about what God is doing in my life.  Why shouldn’t he listen?  I have to listen to all their crap too.  It’s an exchange that happens between friends.  It can happen organically as one friend shares the good news with another friend.  This is a ministry.

Call it what you may.  Some call it a healing ministry to the spiritually sick. Some call it a proclamation or promotion of good news that transforms lives.  Whatever we choose to name it, it is still evangelization.  This world is our mission field–even our own home is a mission field.

May God bless his one, holy, catholic Church around the world. May God’s good news spread far and wide to the four corners of the world.

 

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.

 

Welcome to Liberty Culture

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).

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.

Appreciating missionary work and thankful for missionaries

The Kwoks (two on left) minister with Bethel Bible Institute, and Operation Dawn (Drug rehab centres), N. Thailand

Do you remember when you spent blood, sweat, and tears into doing something for someone and never had the pleasure of being recognized or appreciated for your efforts?  And perhaps not even a “Thank you”? You might have had the thought: “I really don’t want to do this for them again!” This is likely how missionaries feel when they return for home assignment.

We’ve just spent about two weeks in Cambodia and Thailand and witnessed the pastoral care in missionary work of our friends. We came with the intention of spending time with our friends.

Mrs Kwok (left), Bethel Bible Institute, Thailand

In week 1: In Chiang Rai, Thailand, we were with friends Rev. Conrad and Fiona Kwok (and a former co-worker in pastoral ministry) who are Global Field Staff missionaries with Canadian Baptist Ministries (CBM) who teaches at Bethel Bible Institute and preaches at Operation Dawn.
In week 2: In Phnom Penh, Cambodia, we were with our friends Pastor Taka & Christina Miyano who are missionaries to Gateway Home for Children (i.e., orphanage).

We were with both missionary families as they ministered and they showed us first hand what they do. Having been present with them, I appreciate the heart they put into their work for the Lord.  They serve the local indigenous peoples in (Thailand and Cambodia) respectively, also known as “mountain tribes people” or “ethnic minorities”), and ethnic Chinese for the Kwoks.

With the Miyano family, Cambodia

What I say about missionaries in general might also be representative of others around the world. Missionary work can be a thankless work.  In general, most of us probably do not show them enough appreciation for their work.  Their efforts and fruits are not directly visible to members of their supporting churches back home. Missionary work is not like running a church organization, a business, or a personal venture, where results might be visibly seen quickly. It is a hidden ministry that happens out of sight. When it’s out-of-sight, then also easily out-of-mind. They get very little attention when they return from abroad to their supporting congregations. However, that’s probably expected when it comes to the work of missionaries.

However, the work does have an impact upon the local churches where it

At the Gateway Home, Cambodia

can take years, or even a whole generation, until one sees fruit. When one’s work does come to fruition, it might never result in any recognition back home. There are no rewards of victory or glory; and at worst, perhaps some criticisms or even demands for results. The latter can be very hurtful.

Then why would anyone want to become a missionary? They do it because they genuinely want to serve the Lord and further the kingdom of God, even if it’s hidden from sight. Churches and congregations back home usually have no idea about what is happening here–unless they come and see it for themselves.

Rev & Mrs Kwok (far left), ourselves, and Op Dawn co-workers (right & rear). N. Thailand

As a family, we have been very blessed by the ministry and presence of Rev. Conrad and Fiona, and Pastor Taka and Christina. God is present in their lives and their ministry. We felt their love and their care for the local people. “Thank you for your service to the Lord and the people you lovingly serve.”  I have learned so much from you. (Note: I might post a few more times on my experiences from this trip).

May God bless them and pour out His blessings upon their lives and family. May they be rewarded through the riches in God’s kingdom.

God’s kingdom: Small churches or mega-churches?

In Jesus’ days, the religious leaders were consumed with anxiety that Jesus had been gaining too many followers (John 11:45-57).

 11:48 – “If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”
12:19 – “’See, this is getting us nowhere.  Look how the the whole world has gone after him!‘”

Religion today is still concerned about how many people attend our worship services.  The number of parishioners translate into dollar amounts collected in the offering plate, which is translated into how many pastors it hires/calls and how big a building project can be.  This causes us think of adherents and followers as just a piece of the pie (“more for others means less for us”). This also causes us to think of the small church as lowly vs mega-churches as more successful.  Should we carry this view of God’s kingdom.  Is this a healthy or distorted way to view God’s kingdom?

Jesus was concerned about discipling people and truth and life, not the number of followers he has.  For pastors, elders and deacons, it takes faith to carry on as small churches in communities where there are mega-churches next door.

Three-point sermons: proper or improper?

When preachers deliver a sermon and boil it down to three points, I sometimes question where they get the three-points from.  Sometimes, they draw them from a single passage of Scripture; and sometimes they get them from separate but related pieces of Scriptures.  If we try to squeeze three points from a passage it can probably be done but the question is: Is it proper to do so?  Can every sermon be boiled down to three points?  I’m not convinced it should be done or can be done.  Sometimes, a passage of Scripture only has one main point and no sub-points or no sub-points at all. But when preachers preach a three-point sermon, I think it might be for either our own benefit.  It also does make it easier to walk away from the pew remembering three simple points of a message.  Maybe listeners do prefer three-points in a sermon.

Anatomy of a sick church

Thom Rainer posted on his blog about 10 symptoms of a sick church.  Many churches don’t realize they’re unhealthy or sick until they get to the latter stages of the sickness and near death.  Let’s hope and pray that these churches would wake up and realize our need for healing and for Jesus to come and heal our body.

  1. Declining worship attendance. Surprisingly, the majority of church leaders do not monitor worship attendance. I advise leaders to compare each month’s average worship attendance to the same month of previous years.
  2. Decline in frequency of attendance of church members. This symptom is the number one explanation for attendance decline in most churches. Members are not as committed as they once were. Their waning love for their church is reflected in their declining frequency in worship attendance.
  3. Lack of joy and vibrancy in the worship service. Obviously, this symptom is subjective. It is still, however, very important. Most people can sense when a worship service is vibrant, lukewarm, or dead.
  4. Little evangelistic fruit. As a general rule, a healthy church will reach at least one non-Christian for every 20 in worship attendance. A church with a worship attendance of 200, for example, should see at least ten new Christians a year.
  5. Low community impact. In my consultations, I attempt to find clear indicators that a church is making a difference in its respective community. I ask both church leaders and community members for clear examples and indicators.
  6. More meetings than ministry. A sick church will meet about what they should do rather than do it. Some churches have more committees than conversions.
  7. Acrimonious business meetings. Christians can and do disagree. Sick churches have meetings where the disagreements reflect obvious bitterness and anger.
  8. Very few guests in worship services. A vibrant church will attract guests. A sick church will not.
  9. Worship wars. Yes, they still exist in many churches. Those wars are indicators of an inward focus by the members.
  10. Unrealistic expectations of pastoral care. Sick churches view pastors and other staff as hired hands to do all of the work of ministry. Healthy churches view pastors as equippers for the members to do most of the ministry.

[ See full blog post here ]

God’s calling is really about God

jesusfishermenMany church-going Christians seem disengaged today… disengaged in the sense that we are not living out an engaged relationship with Christ within the church.  Most Christians never move from the pew to service; but God calls each Christian to move into some form of service to Christ within, and outside, the church.  God gives us an internal “spiritual” calling to love and serve the Lord.

Many Christians become wrapped up in fear and a sense of inadequacy, and put up a wall between God and his calling. We feel more comfortable keeping God and His calling a safe distance from ourselves.  Why? Because we’ve been deceived  into thinking that it ought to begin with ourselves.  Today’s popular theology unwittingly teaches that this calling is about us… but it’s really NOT about us.  We are only participants but we act like we are the “star players in the game” of service and ministry.

One reason for our fears of inadequacy is that we think we have to measure up to God’s standards of holiness.  God’s calling is a holy calling.  We haven’t seriously considered God’s holy calling for what it really is because we think we have to first measure up to God’s standard of holiness.  The truth is: we don’t measure up, and no one ever will.  But God has already taken that into consideration and given us enough grace to walk into this calling and see it to completion. Jesus called some rough and simple fishermen like Peter, James, John and Andrew into the ministry, didn’t he?

God’s salvation was given to us and made possible when he cleansed us of our sins. So the holiness that God expects is not due to our own conduct or actions.  It is not due to our good works or good deeds.  God’s work of sanctification is not the same thing as our life of walking in God’s holy and righteous laws.  Our human acts of love, mercy, kindness, etc. are already expected of all followers of Jesus. It’s a given.  It was expected when we first came into a love relationship with God in Christ. We should be compelled to obey because He has been so gracious and loves us so much.  We can never repay God for his gift of forgiveness.

So how can we, as sinful human beings, possibly match up to God’s standards of holiness? We can’t.  First and foremost, it is really about God’s work of cleansing of our sins.  Only God can make us holy.  That’s what Paul is talking about when he talks about the gift of forgiveness by grace through faith.  It starts from God. It is ONLY God who makes it possible.  It’s all about God—and it is NOT about us.

Paul said in Ephesians 2:9, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith —and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”  If God’s call to salvation began with God, then he will also complete the calling to serve Him.  Paul said: “being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Philippians 1:6).

If God calls each of us to be engaged with the Lord’s kingdom work and service, then we can ask the Lord to help cast our fears aside to have faith that God will empower us for service in His love.  God wants us to simply obey and follow him, and when we fail or fall, we get up and start again. God enables us to serve in His God-given holiness; then, God enables and empowers us through his Spirit and gifts.

Helping unwed mothers

Gimme_ShelterThe idea of single pregnant teenagers scares many people including Christians.  We probably wouldn’t know what to do about it if someone in this situation were to come to us, or walk into one of our churches.

What would your church do about it?  What would most churches do about it?

Would you advise such a person to have an abortion, or to have the baby and at least give it up for adoption?

If churches do not have compassion or the willingness to minister to the downtrodden, then is it any wonder most girls turn to the easy solution of abortion?  So if we say we are pro-life, then we should be there to support them and counsel them to have the child, and later, give it up for adoption if they don’t want to raise it themselves.  There are up to 36 couples waiting for every one baby placed for adoption.  Yes, really.

I watched a film called Gimme Shelter.  It’s based on a true story and is inspiring.   The main character, Apple, who’s a sixteen year old teenager, runs away from her mother who is a drug addict and sex worker.  Apple finds herself pregnant and hospitalized from a car accident.  A Catholic chaplain (priest) in a hospital was initially turned away by Apple, but his patience and long-suffering eventually paid off.  Apple began to trust him and gave him the opportunity to bring her to a shelter where she is loved, care for, and finds friendship.  The shelter was founded and run by a Catholic housemother, who truly has a calling in ministry to take care of young unwed mothers.   The love in that place really impressed upon Apple because she chose to stay even when she had the chance to leave. Truly inspiring.

There aren’t a lot of good films that promote the social needs of people from a Christian perspective. This is one that can inspire not only Catholics, but evangelicals and protestants to take action to do what is godly.