How I came to faith

I will share some very personal moments about how I came to faith and into 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 talking like God was real but I had not yet experienced God for myself.  I said to myself that if God was real, I needed to know more of God.

my first church

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 witnessed teenagers on their knees.  They were praying.   Seriously praying.  There was no kidding around with them.  No looking down at their Nintendos and pretending to pray.   They were praying like they knew God was real.  I had seen adults praying in church, but never young people like this.  It was the first time I had seen teenagers and young people praying in one 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.  No one stopped praying.  So I continued to pray and asked God to show me something.  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.

The summer camp speaker, a pastor, spoke prophetically and authoritatively.  He said that 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 knew then and there that God was real.  He satisfied my doubts, filled me with his love and presence.  I was weeping and sobbing with tears of joy.  I was oblivious to everything else around me because now, it was just me and God… together.  I told God that I would serve him.  I didn’t know how this service would look like though–until many years later.

God gifted me with a real presence that day.  He poured faith into me.  Where I once questioned God’s existence, I no longer doubted. He became very personal and tangible to me.  Simultaneously, 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 already learned all this stuff in church and Sunday school but it had never really sunk in until that day.  The revelation of God culminated in one moment on a single day 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. I typify this as is a sort of combined evangelical version of a ‘confession of faith’, plus a personal commitment to walk with Christ.

Later, as a university student, I was baptized in an Alliance church.   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.

lsa torontoAfter 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.

It was then that I began sensing and contemplating God’s Call.  This experience gave me an idea of what pastoral ministry could be like.  I reassess my life and asked myself 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 to Saskatchewan.  I began inquiring with seminaries in nearby local provinces.

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.

I prayed that the Lord would show me the way. I had a dream during the night.  In this dream, I saw a white dove 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 legs shot up. I became fully awake.

7Wl

I asked myself, “Was this a nightmare or a sign from God? If it’s a nightmare, I have nothing to worry about.  But if it is a sign from God, I 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 returned to parish ministry).  After our conversation, he encouraged me to apply and see where it would take me.

awardsThroughout 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 do believe that God still gives us 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 the white dove was 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.

Love your enemies: Possible or impossible?

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

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

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

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

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

jews halocaust

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

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

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

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

Love your enemies-thugs?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Hypocrisy: A Sickness that leads to death

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

hypocrisy mask

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

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

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

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

In others words: by anyone you can think of.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

hypocrisy meter

Another false belief here…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ouch!!  That must have hurt.

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

x2cq

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

homer running

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

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

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

We are all victims of the evil one.

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

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

And those outside the Church also need recovery.

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

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

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

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

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

Big catch, big grace

jesus fish peterIn Jesus calling of his first disciples, I am continually surprised by Simon Peter’s initial statement to Jesus (Luke 5:8-9):

“But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken.”

Depart from me“: Peter tells Jesus to go away because he is a sinful person. Why would he tell Jesus to depart from him?  If you’ve treated someone with nothing but bad behaviour, but they in turn treat you with kindness—how would you feel? You might feel a sense of guilt or shame. Why?  You know you don’t deserve the kindness they’ve shown you.

I remember someone I had not seen for years had come to me to apologize for something they had done many years ago. I had already forgotten about it long ago.  He blessed me more than the blessings I had to offer him.  I did not deserve it.  That’s grace.

Peter knew he had just encountered the holy One of God. The power and grace of God was evident in the huge amount of fish God had just provided.  They fished all evening but had caught nothing, but now, their net was so full of fish it began to tear.  It must have blown his mind. That’s grace.

Peter was overwhelmingly convinced in that encounter with Jesus that God’s grace was sufficient.  Jesus wanted Peter to understand that there is nothing in heaven and earth that could stop the power and love of God from flowing down.  Grace had just poured out to Peter–despite his sinfulness.  This miraculous catch of fish was evidence that Jesus was the Son of God.   He had enough proof.  He left his nets, boat, and followed Jesus.

For I am a sinful man“: Peter was giving Jesus a preliminary warning. “I don’t deserve to be in the presence of your holiness. You are holy; I am not. I would be bad for you and your image.  I’ve stolen, perhaps broken numerous laws, and should not count myself worthy of being in your presence.”

What might a person say to Jesus today? “Jesus, I’ve cheated on my tax return. Claimed more expenses than what’s legal. Or maybe, I’ve broken environmental laws by spilling toxic waste into the water system causing sickness to many. Or maybe, I’ve robbed a bank or defrauded other people our their hard-earned savings or pension. Jesus, I’m not like you. You are good. I’m rotten.  You might not know how bad I am but I do bad things to people. I feel guilty and ashamed. I don’t deserve to be given such a huge gift.”

Or we might also tell Jesus, “No you must have given the blessing to the wrong person. Bless that other guy over there. He does good things for the community. She gives to homeless and volunteers her time to good causes like the marginalized and the sick. But me? If you really knew who I am, and the horrible and illegal things I’ve done, you wouldn’t want to be around me. So Jesus, save your time and just head on over there to the other fishermen who is more deserving of this big gift of fish.  They deserve it.”

But Jesus affirms.  Jesus turns to Peter and says: “No Peter, I’ve got the right person. You are the person I am giving this gift to. And maybe Jesus didn’t even give an explanation about grace. Kept it simple. It’s for you Peter. I really meant to give this to you.

His reaction.  A big surprise. Perhaps he was overwhelmed with emotional and wept in private. He decided that Jesus’ acceptance of him was proof of God’s love for a sinner like him.

jesus calls disciples

Today, God’s mercy is still the same. He accepts you the way you are. His love for you never changed. He is still the same yesterday, today and will be the same tomorrow.

This story of the great catch is about Jesus calling you. Telling you through his miracle of the fish that his acceptance and love for you is great. It is just a small sampling of God’s abundant grace. He says to you. You are mine. You are my son.  You are my daughter.   My love and acceptance for you is bigger than you thought. I have not made a mistake. You are the one I meant to give this to.

If you pray to the Lord: “Jesus, I accept your grace. Your grace is enough for me.”   An appropriate reaction might be to drop your proverbial nets, leave your boats, and follow Jesus today. He is holding his arms to you today and saying, “Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of men, and catchers of people.”

Become a Better Human

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Extraneous teachings to the gospel?

There is a temptation to add to the gospel supplementary reasons why Christ Jesus came to earth, namely teachings on prosperity and social justice.

Does the gospel necessarily include prosperity or an inherent calling to improve the world through working to heal the environment or eliminate poverty.  It might be a spirituality but I do not believe it is part of the gospel.

Within the traditional Christmas passage is Zechariah’s prophecy in Luke 1:76-77,

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins…”

In a nutshell, vv. 76-77 state the purpose in the ministry of John the Baptist. What stands out here is: “to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of their sins.”  The gospel is exactly this.  Salvation through the forgiveness of sins.  Theology would be much simpler if we stick with this essential gospel teaching.

My fellow believers in both prosperity-based charismatic churches and mainline churches propagate an extrinsic side to the gospel, adding to it, non-core issues, and then calling it the gospel.  One author called the gospel as having a “hole in the gospel,” which implies that something is missing in the gospel, namely, an extrinsic activism in the world.

These dear brothers and sisters in the environmental and anti-poverty movements will sometimes conveniently ignore forgiveness of sins to the detriment of the gospel, preferring social activism or prosperity over teaching forgiveness of sins.  To critique this doesn’t mean that I’m against environmental protection.  I believe in a cleaner environment.  It doesn’t make me a non-charismatic if I do not buy into prosperity-teaching.  I believe in the charisms of the Holy Spirit.

I challenge my fellow believers to prove to me that the bible promises prosperity or an ideal environment or perfect physical health.  Yes, in the redeemed new heaven and earth, I would agree; but in the current world, this is where I beg to differ.

Did Jesus come to authorize us to create an ideal global-earthly environment or promise us financial prosperity in this lifetime?  Is this what the Scriptures teach?  I have my doubts.  Did Jesus truly come to preach and teach a gospel that includes prosperity or the social gospel? I’m not so sure.

If we were to ask some of our believers in some war-torn and impoverished countries if they believe Jesus came to bring such things, I wonder what they would say?

Jesus teachings can be interpreted to include some of these social issues but they were not clear and direct teachings of Jesus. I’ve heard some distortion of teachings to included with biblical references and all; however, I haven’t been convinced by their interpretations.  It all comes down to interpretation or misinterpretation doesn’t it?

There is also a real spiritual injury to adding extra-biblical teachings to the gospel. When people experience suffering or lack financial prosperity or good health in their personal lives or in society, they blame God.  This opens oneself up to doubt and can result in a walking away from the Church’s holy faith and/or toward a works-based religion.  We see this in some of our Word of Faith charismatic churches and mainline/United/Methodist churches.

Am I against the betterment of society in this world.  No.  I’m all for a cleaner environment, benevolence, and bettering one’s life in this world now.

I am just purporting a clear division between earthly works and the gospel.  Keep the gospel the gospel, and keep our earthly works as earthly works.  Never the twain shall meet, otherwise, we confuse works as gospel.  Such a confusion can create a false religion.

The Promise of Christmas

Family and good friends.  Jingle bells. Chestnuts roasting. White Christmas.  Santa Claus and reindeers.  Presents under the tree.  All these and more give us the feeling of Christmas.  What if we don’t have these feelings?  Then what?  What if we don’t even have family and friends to share with?

manger sceneThere is a void in each person that only God can fill.  As a society, we love things money can buy to fill this void.  Christmastime is a good excuse to buy for ourselves and for others.  I admit there are some material things that I like too, e.g., nice watches, boy-toys, guy gadgets, etc. We love to have things, nice-to-have-cool things.  Truth is… there is a sense of emptiness in all of this consumerism. When our “gas tank” is running low, it’s easy to fill our lives with substitutes.   We know that substitutes can also be harmful to ourselves and even to others. If you’ve ever been there, you’d know what I’m talking about.

Christmastime can be an excuse to fill our lives with some of these things to forget our troubles, or forget our loneliness. Sometimes, we try to satisfy our need for happiness using money, material things, sex, drugs and the latest highs. But no matter how much we may try to obtain happiness or distance ourselves from our sadness, the void can never be filled without God’s presence. There is a need in us that can only be filled with God’s love, peace and joy. It’s our real hope for the future.

What God offers to gift us with God’s presence and His love, joy and peace. Christmastime is meaningful when we celebrate our Lord Jesus because we know how much Christ means to us when we have personally experience God’s peace. What Jesus has given us is lasting because God is eternal.

When trials come, the joy of Christ does not fade, even in the midst of our unhappiness, or even our poverty.  When you’ve experience suffering but have Christ walking with you, you will know that this inner peace is real. When the pressures of this life and the weight of this world get heavy, and the inner joy from Jesus remains when nothing else remains, you will know that love of God is authentic.

In this season, may we be a blessing to others through giving, but more important is that we be receptive to God’s spiritual blessings.  St. Paul the Apostle said in Romans 15:13,

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”

In good times or in difficult circumstances, the hope, peace, joy, and love that God gives will remain.  That’s a promise from God–the best Christmas present we can receive. Merry Christmas!

 

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.

A connected spirituality in Asia

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Steps to Temple of the Emerald Buddha at The Grand Palace, Bangkok

Bangkok and Thailand is filled with many temples, including some mosques and churches.  It’s a religious and multi-religious society with a connected spirituality.  Initially, I couldn’t put my finger on it; but I couldn’t find words to explain why I felt the people of Thailand and S.E. Asia were “nice”.  “Nice” doesn’t accurately describe the people’s calm, kind and compassionate demeanor.  After some reflection, I think I’ve got it.  Their culture has been influenced through their Buddhist religion and spirituality that teaches and espouses values of kindness and compassion.

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Ratchaprasong District, Bangkok, Thailand

Notice this public map at the Skytrain station in a very busy district of Bangkok.  Thousands of people pass by it everyday to seek direction.  It says: “Eat, Pray, Shop.” The surprising thing is “Pray” is highlighted and “Eat” and “Shop” are grayed out.  No need to hide their spirituality, but rather, it emphasizes it.  I really like that.  They are openly spiritual people and recognize the need to “Pray”.  That’s something we can learn from.

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White Temple, Wat Rong Khun in Chiang Rai

Yes, here in the west we may be multicultural but it doesn’t mean we have to hide our spiritual or religious differences by wiping them away.  To wipe away and hide our religious and spiritual heritages is to deplete ourselves of a blessing that it has nourished and enriched western society. I “pray” that we don’t do that and destroy God’s blessings that the Holy Spirit through Christ’s teachings have provided us (e.g.,, things like kindness, love and compassion and the fruits of the Spirit).  The Apostle Paul reminded the Church in the Epistles to the Galatians 5:22-23 (Holy Bible) of these things I hope we continue to practice:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

The post-resurrected Jesus

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Picture depicts a post-resurrected Jesus with nail scars still on his hand.

When most of us think of Easter, it’s usually a simple one. Jesus rose from the dead, then ascended into heaven.  What we don’t hear much about is what happened just after Jesus resurrected.

Some dismiss or try to explain away the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection, saying that he was only a spirit-being (like a ghost).  Jesus rising as a spirit-being does not qualify as a resurrection. That’s a Star Wars myth like what we see in Obi-Wan Kenobi (New Hope) or Luke Skywalker (Last Jedi).  To be resurrected in a physical form is much harder to believe.  A resurrection is a bona fide miracle.

After Jesus had resurrected from the dead, left the tomb, he walked and talked with people in a physical form as a real human being. A week after Jesus had resurrected, we know the bible says he was still around before his ascension.  The resurrected Jesus walked around, made himself known to a lot of people, and he showed himself to people.  He was not hiding himself.

Furthermore, he wasn’t just a spirit-being floating around in ethereal space somewhere.  He actually had life in physical form. It was not the same physical body that we have today but it was a resurrected body.

In the bible, the word used for “spirit” is pneuma, but in 1 Cor. 15:44, Paul used the words: soma pneuma (“σωμα πνευματικον”) which means “spiritual body”.  This is the type of body that we, as believers in Jesus, will also be raised with.

Here are some places in the bible where the post-resurrected Jesus showed himself to his disciples in that “spiritual body”:

John 20:19-23  Enters locked room
John 20:24-29  Doubting Thomas
John 21:1-14  Another big catch
Luke 24:13-35  Road to Emmaus
Matthew 28; Mark 16:9   Women
1 Cor. 15:6    500 followers
1 Cor. 15:8    Apostle Paul

Think about it.  First Corinithians 15:6 said that Jesus appeared to over 500 of his followers!  Jesus became a legendary figure.    Witnesses testified they had been with the real live walking-and-talking Jesus.  Their testimonies would have been very hard to dispute.  No wonder the church grew.