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.

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.

cropped-Jerus-cross.jpg

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.

Peace,
Kevin A. Sam

(This Jerusalem cross, one of my favorite symbols in the world, represents the gospel going 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.

 

Become a Better Human

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of truth, freedom and culture

As people yearning for freedom, we value and appreciate our liberties like freedom of religion, speech, assembly, the press, etc. Liberties and freedoms are a natural outcome of a moral people. To get there, we need to take the right path.  Jules Renard said,

Liberty is the right to choose. Freedom is the result of the right choice.

However, to make the right choice, we need to live in the light and see truth. Light and truth, however, is revealed by Nature’s Maker.

Without the Truth, people will live in darkness. Unfortunately, around the world, societies do still live in darkness. In the past, many freedoms around the world have been lost due to wrong choices. One such nation might be North Korea. Others might be some unnamed African nations where one dictator succeeds another and whose results are no better than his predecessor’s. Today, in the west, our freedoms are slowly eroding (e.g., freedom to pray in public spaces; facebook and google’s abuse of private information).

The solution. We need a just and moral people who live in truth and light to work in their vocations as a holy calling. Each person has been given a vocation and we should not take it lightly. In whatever vocation God has called you into, you are to always bring light. Light shatters the darkness so that truth may freely inform each others’ human experiences, allowing humanity to continue remaining in freedom. The alternative would be enslavement to darkness.

God is calling a just and moral members of society to be leaders in our homes, classrooms, courtrooms, legislatures and business marketplaces. We have a responsibility to speak the truth, whether as private citizens; or as the media/press in the public sphere. This is our calling: to convey truth, in our houses of worship, in government, in courts, in media, in schools, in all places at all times.  Jesus said in John 8:31-32:

If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

He was actually speaking in the context of salvation but my point I borrow this for is this: there is an inherent sense of freedom experienced when we share the truth. Hopefully, it is truth that dispels the darkness that prevails in some corners of our society and in the world. This is a mission that we are called to take on. May we strive to bring freedom, liberty and truth into our culture and society.

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.

Religion in Taiwan

While visiting my spouse’s hometown in Changhua, Taiwan, I visited Bagua Mountain (actually a hill) where there is a huge statue of Buddha.  I climbed up its inner staircases within its inner sanctum where there are displays on each floor explaining the history of Buddhism in Taiwan. I found this to be a good learning experience as I was not raised in a Buddhist-Confucian culture.

Christianity had missed an early opportunity to evangelize China.  Buddhism was only introduced to China in the 3rd century BC but did not flourish until later even into the 3rd to 6th century AD.  There were a some early 5th c. evangelists in East Asia but they did not make any in-roads to evangelize China.

Taiwan’s major religion today is Buddhism.  Having 35% of its population as adherents, there are countless temples in Taiwan–as many as there are churches in the U.S. bible-belt. I’m not sure of the percentage of Christianity in Taiwan but my guess-timate according to various sources is anywhere between 5-10% of the population. Evangelism through the Presbyterian Church came in earlier and established many institutions like hospitals and schools. The local hospital in this city is Changhua Presbyterian (Christian) Hospital.  The local people greatly appreciate this major institution because it has benefited so many people.

Taiwan (R.O.C.) is a free nation and has freedom of religion, speech, assembly, elections, etc., but it is forced to play the political game of who has sovereign authority over the country.  Pray for political stability of Taiwan. The threat and intimidation tactics from mainland China (P.R.C.) is similar to that of North Korea vs South Korea.