Are you a “hypenated-Christian”?

I might be a hypenated Christian. I serve under the Baptists today although I was trained and ordained in the Lutheran church. I originally came from the evangelical and pentecostal churches. Some might call me a Bapti-costal or a crypto-Lutheran, Bapto-Lutheran or Luther-costal, or whatever hyphenated Christian.

I meet many people who are no longer part of the church. Some are lapsed Catholics, and some are also lapsed evangelicals. Some are searching or are visiting different churches and do not consider themselves belonging to any single denomination even though they may have been baptized in that denomination.

Today’s church is in flux. Amongst evangelicals, many have moved from one denomination to another and have never given a thought to staying with one denomination forever. I have done my share of church hopping in my young adult years, especially during college years. Many of my friends were also in the same boat. It is much like how many move from one job to another these days. Church, life and work are not static but always changing.

Organized religion is feeling less organized these days and will continue in this direction for the foreseeable future. For whatever reasons, some people change churches. It might be theological, or spiritual, or because they had friends or family who attended a congregation. Some return to the church of their childhood where they attended Sunday school, youth group or confirmation.

My sense is that people are looking for real spirituality. They want something that is genuine. Denomination is not a big concern. They want something spiritual and yet has meaning for their lives.

Has this been the case for yourself? Do you also consider yourself a hyphenated-Christian?

Why do we say, “He is Risen”?

Hallelujah! He is risen! He is risen indeed!

On Easter Sunday, we in Christ, will say together “He is risen!” Why do we do this each Easter morning?

The witnesses in scripture told the disciples that Jesus is risen from the dead.

Matthew 28:6-7 says, “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

Mark 16:6 says, “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him.”

Luke 24:6 says, “He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘The Son of Man must be delivered over to the hands of sinners, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.’ Then they remembered his words.”

In Scripture, Jesus predicted His own resurrection. His followers did not understand what He was saying to them, but after He returned, they understood.

Matthew 16:21 says, “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”

Mark 8:13 says, “He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.”

Good Friday – when they crucified our Lord – INRI

If you ever watched a Jesus movie with his crucifixion and noticed a sign above his head says INRI (Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum). This means Jesus Nazareth, King of the Jews.

Before his execution, Jesus was flogged, which was a customary practice intended to weaken a victim before crucifixion. Crucifixion was an especially painful method of execution and was perfected by the Romans as such. It was reserved for the worst criminals, and generally Roman citizens, women, and soldiers were exempt in most cases.

During his flogging, the soldiers tormented Jesus, crowning Him with thorns and ridicule. Jesus was forced to carry his own cross. Yes, his own cross! It was good that Cyrene help Jesus to carry it the rest of the way to Calvary. He was nailed between two thieves because his enemies felt he deserved a thief’s death.

In churches that observe Good Friday, the altar is stripped bare. Holy Communion is not taken. A fast may be done. It is a somber day.

With Catholics, there may also be a veneration of the cross to recognize the death of our Lord.

May the cross help all of us remember what Christ went through in his death. It was for us, for the atonement of our sins. May we be grateful for his death, but we will also arise with joy in his future resurrection.

Wishing those a blessed Holy Thursday

The central observance of Holy Thursday is the ritual reenactment of the Last Supper. The holy day falls on the Thursday before Easter and is part of Holy Week.  Jesus celebrated the dinner as a Passover feast. The Last Supper was the final meal Jesus shared with his Disciples in Jerusalem. During the meal, Jesus predicted his betrayal.

Some liturgical churches will do the washing of the feet because Jesus washed his disciples feet. There would also be the stripping and washing of the altar. 

Maundy Thursday’s emphasis on ritual washing also gave rise to the ancient tradition of spring cleaning. It’s interesting that this is related to the Jewish custom of ritually cleaning the home in preparation for the Feast of Passover. Everything was to be cleaned and polished in preparation for the Easter celebration.

Wishing those who observe Maundy Thursday / Holy Thursday a blessed readying for Easter.

Struggle of Religious Leaders and Original Sin

ravi zacharias
Rev. Ravi Zacharias, RZIM

In the past five to ten years, we’ve seen some explosions in the church world across many denominations: from Evangelical, Protestant to Catholic. For many it was a shock and a let down, especially for those who followed the teachings of these religious/spiritual leaders.

A recent evangelical, Ravi Zacharias, was a well-known Christian apologist. Other ministers in the past were Mark Driscoll, CJ Mahaney, Jim Baker, Jimmy Swaggart. There are hundreds of pastors and priests who have faced allegations of misconduct of some sort. All these Christian men have had great ministries and have led many people into a deeper understanding of faith and knowledge of Christ.

It is easy to label them as fake, but doing so does not make sense. They got into ministry for all the right reasons. Their calling of God was very real—as real as anyone else’s. Their faith and ministry are real and it would not be fair to dismiss their prior ministry accomplishments.

What is also real is their struggle with sex, money, power. Some might even struggle with all three. This struggle is common to all persons in vocational ministry and people in all stations in life–regardless of spiritual calling.

I recently read Martin Luther’s teaching on original sin. It describes who we are, not only human beings, but also as a redeemed Christian people. Luther taught, “our entire nature and person is sinful, that is, totally and thoroughly corrupted in God’s sight and contaminated by original sin, as with a spiritual leprosy” (SD I 6, 13) . As a result, we lack the original righteousness we had in the Garden of Eden.

‘Human nature’ is subject to the rule of the devil and ‘is abandoned to the devil’s power and imprisoned under his rule, which intoxicates and seduces many important and wise people in the world with horrible errors, heresies, and other blindness and drags people into all kinds of vice.’”

This quote leaves no one untouched. It points to all of us as human beings including those whom we count as important and wise. There is no sin we are incapable of committing as human beings. It drags us into all kinds of vice.

Yes, Christian people are simultaneously saints and sinners. We all are. Having accepted this as one of my theological beliefs, the moral failure of Christian leaders no longer surprises me, but nevertheless, it does sadden me. I pray that we may all remain faithful to our calling as servants and ministers of the gospel.

A common error we make in how we view our own human nature can be detrimental to one’s faith. Historically in the 16th century, errors were made by teachers of Pelagianism and Manichaeanism. Pelagians believed that after Adam’s fall in the garden, our human nature remained uncorrupted and our spiritual goodness and purity still remained intact. Manichaeans believed that sin was alien from the person committing the sin.

As human beings, we want to believe that humans are innate good and pure. As a result, we alienate ourselves from the sins we commit or even imagine in our minds. The more heinous the sin, the more we distance ourselves from this sinful human nature. How can this play out in our behavior? We try to show we are deadly critical of people like Hitler, Pol Pot, and pastors and priests who commit sins. We display our criticism to prove to others (and ourselves) that “I am nothing like these corrupt sinners.” This is a dangerous ground on which to stand. This is a judgmental and a self-righteous attitude. It is wrong and does not makes us less of a sinner.

We ought to approach God from a more humble starting point. As Christians we are simultaneously redeemed and yet sinful. It places a person in a safer place from which to see ourselves as human beings. Every person, Christian or unredeemed, have been impacted by sin–even from birth.

Martin Luther (1483–1546), Workshop of Lucas Cranach the Elder (German, Kronach 1472–1553 Weimar), Oil on wood
Martin Luther

The temptation that ministers and common people have is to hold up our religious leaders as spotless examples of “good Christians.” It is an impossible expectation to fulfill one-hundred percent. Actually, the higher a spiritual standing one has in the church, the greater the expectation one has to be that “spotless Christian example.” This is especially true in evangelical and Catholic traditions that follow 1 Tim. 3:2 and 5:8. It’s a bizarre expectation of anyone because we have not truly understood the gospel. The gospel is about forgiveness of sins–not about moral perfection, but yet, we make it about moral perfection.

The only expectation we can actually fulfill is to fall upon the grace of God and plead for his daily mercies. We need to see ourselves for who we really are–we are simultaneously saints and sinners. Luther stated, “scholastic theologians have taught pure error and blindness against this article [concerning sin]…

… 2. That the human being has a free will, either to do good and reject evil or to reject good and do evil.
3. That the human being is able, by using natural powers, to keep and carry out every command of God.
4. That human beings are able, using natural powers, to love God above all things and their neighbors as themselves…”

SA III I 5-7

These above are impossible because we are bound by original sin. By acknowledging that my free-will has been kept in bondage, I am now free to lean upon God’s grace each day. This has helped me remain humble and confess my weaknesses. Though I am weak, it is God who strengthens me each day.

And the good news is this. God has provided us a way out through a spiritual rebirth and renewal in the Holy Spirit. Though we are fully justified by grace through faith alone, we are also sanctified through the washing of the word as we repent each day. In Christ Jesus name, we are healed from our spiritual disease and corruption. Praise the Lord.

Quotes from Luther found in:
Kolb, Robert and Timothy J. Wengert, eds. The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000.

Psalm 23 The Lord is like a good shepherd

I hope this message can be a blessing and bring comfort to some people.

Coronavirus ignition to a spiritual awakening

What I’m about to say in this blogpost will sound very spiritual so you’ve got to hold on. I’ve been blogging lots on our current situation with this Coronavirus pandemic. It has affected every single person. As long as you haven’t been living under a rock, I’m sure it’s affected you in some way too. This virus has brought us to a new level, at least within my lifetime and possibly yours too.  I don’t remember having ever experienced such a devastating event.

[ In China, the real number of deaths due to Covid-19 is far higher than what’s been reported. People in China no longer trust the Communist CCP government to tell the truth. They have blatantly lied and covered up the real numbers of deaths to the people and the world. Countries suffering from this epidemic today are left to deal with China’s dishonesty. People can no longer trust their governments, nor their health care systems, nor their savings, economies, nor markets to save them. People are now questioning everything about society’s protectorates. They have now been awakened to seek for truth outside established sources. ]

The spiritual landscape today

Spiritually-speaking, there will be a spiritual awakening in the midst of the Coronavirus. It will not be the cause of it but a sort of triggering point. This event will cause many people to seek deeper to look for answers in their lives. I have had this feeling inside me during the last week that there will be a sort of renewal in faith, spirituality, and religion in general.

If you’ve noticed that in the last ten years, the larger part of western society has turned away from established forms of religion (like the church). In doing so people and families have lost their religious traditions including their spiritual roots. We have become a very secular society, which irreligious society and it has removed and numbed our sense of spirituality.

In the east, namely China, the CCP has tried to control the Christian church. This will no longer be possible. God the Holy Spirit will start a sovereign move to breakout of its shell. Chinese people in the mainland have lost faith in the integrity of their once beloved CCP government. They will be seeking outside the regime to a higher power for salvation. The Christian church in China will begin to rise to become that Christian nation it is destined to become.

The spiritual landscape has been very dry, such that even a spark can ignite a fire. To use this analogy, it will be like a fire that cleanses and renews us–almost like a purification. To use another analogy like a dry parched land, rains will be coming down upon us.

I don’t believe this is merely coincidence. An opinion piece from the Wall Street Journal also spoke about such a spiritual revival: “A Coronavirus Great Awakening?” (article here). The author’s point was that sometimes the most important ingredient for spiritual renewal is a cataclysmic event. Another article I came across was from First Things. Pope Francis is calling for repentance (article here).

A coming awakening of spirituality

The heart of God has been hurting and saddened in our neglect of him. Can God feel hurt? I think so. Like the prodigal son who has run away from home, his parents are reaching out him to calling him to return home. God will be calling us to turn our hearts back home–even during this Coronovirus pandemic.

The Holy Spirit will begin moving to renew societies and cultures worldwide.  What is coming in the future will be a spiritual revival of hearts, minds and lives like we have never seen before. From God’s perspective, God can take a bad situation and turn it into something good.

Those whose hearts had been cold toward God will return to him again. People you might have never expected will begin to seek after spiritual things. There will be a big return back to God. The Holy Spirit will be calling people into repentance and return to God, to come to Jesus the Savior, and experience peace.

This pandemic has shown us that control over the events of the world does not rest in our own human power. It is not our call and it never was. We might be rich, powerful, strong, healthy, smart and intelligent, funny, beautiful, but ultimately we are all the same like everyone else who are not these things. Human power will not be enough to overcome the evils that have impacted our world today.  As peoples and nations, it will be a humbling thing to come to this realization. It is what God wants us to realize.

A spiritual revival or renewal is on the horizon. It will bring a spiritual peace to entire societies and cultures around the world. At last, people will be free to live for God again, so get ready.

Get ready for God’s sovereign move

1/ There is still hope. This hope will not be found in ourselves. This hope rests solely in the love of God.  The peace of God will be freely given.  The gifts of God will be poured out into your life and cover all your disgraces, all your poverty, your losses, and yes, even the sins you have been keeping disclosed.  That is the amazing love of God that Jesus came to give us. 

2/ Another thing we can do is to pray to God and ask Him for forgiveness and be reconciled with God again.  Christ the Lord will come into your life and give you His peace.  The Holy Spirit will live with your family and give your spouse and children a peace that cannot be found anywhere else. Jesus is about love, peace and joy. So pray.

3/ This is just the start, but God is moving in this world to change, renew, and align our hearts and minds to that of God’s heart and mind (God’s will) . A new wave of revival will cause our cold and hardened hearts to return to God. This will be a sovereign move of God’s Spirit to soften our hearts, renew us and ultimately, renew society and culture. Then we will have hope of liberty and freedom to live in unity with God.

4/ Each of us, each of our families, each of our places of worship, will do well by preparing our hearts for this future coming. Be open to what God is about to do in our lives. Jesus Christ may be looking at you and desiring to have your heart and spirit re-awakened and re-aligned to be in tune with God’s Holy Spirit. If so, get ready. It’s starting soon.

Hope exists – even in our suffering

We might be asking ourselves, when is this Covid-19 pandemic going to end? We might be bored out of wit’s end and stuck in our home in isolation but around the world there are other negative events happening this week.

A Kenyan farmer tried to dispel desert locusts in a village east of Nairobi last week. The infestation in Kenya is the worst in 70 years.
  • Pestilence of biblical proportions in eastern Africa and Middle East: Massive swarms of 500 billion locusts are devouring entire swaths of vegetation in eastern Africa, i.e., Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, and others, and now the Arabian Gulf. The likes of this has not been seen in 70 years. One swath measured 60 km long by 40 km wide. Over 20 millions people are in danger of starvation due to food shortage.
  • War and terrorism in western Africa: terrorists group, Boko Haram, is mercilessly murdering men, women and children and inflicting harm upon innocent people in Nigeria, Chad, Niger, Cameroon.

We might be able to mitigate some evils but we cannot control all the bad and evil things happening in the world today.  The wise teacher from the book of Ecclesiastes speaks of equal and common treatment toward all humanity. 

“This, too, I carefully explored: Even though the actions of godly and wise people are in God’s hands, no one knows whether God will show them favor. The same destiny ultimately awaits everyone, whether righteous or wicked, good or bad, ceremonially clean or unclean, religious or irreligious. Good people receive the same treatment as sinners, and people who make promises to God are treated like people who don’t.”

Ecclesiastes 9:1-2 (NLT)

Regardless of whether we’ve been a good person, or done lots of bad things, this Covid-19 pandemic has affected all of us in some way. 

This shows that control over the events in the world is not in our own human hands.  We might be rich, powerful, strong, healthy, smart and intelligent, funny, beautiful, weak, poor, ill, good or evil.  We do not have as much control as we might have thought we had.  Ultimately the destiny of our world is not in our hands.

The good news is that there is still hope. Hope is in the love of God.  There are things we can do to experience hope.

  1. Be teachable and listen for God’s soft voice during self-isolation/quarantine/lock-down. 
  2. Take this time alone to focus and pray to God. Ask yourself: what is God’s will in my own life.
  3. Enjoy the good gifts that God has already given to you. There’s always something.
  4. Pray to God for joy and hope, even in my own suffering, anxiety, sadness (or even boredom).

What is the Corona/Covid-19 virus really teaching us?

Someone has written a series of very reflective thoughts. Some have mistakenly attributed it to Bill Gates says the Independent newspaper (UK). Any way, it’s still quite good and I’m sharing it here.

I’m a strong believer that there is a spiritual purpose behind everything that happens, whether that is what we perceive as being good or being bad. As I meditate upon this, I want to share with you what I feel the Corona/ Covid-19 virus is really doing to us:

1) It is reminding us that we are all equal, regardless of our culture, religion, occupation, financial situation or how famous we are. This disease treats us all equally, perhaps we should to. If you don’t believe me, just ask Tom Hanks.

2) It is reminding us that we are all connected and something that affects one person has an effect on another. It is reminding us that the false borders that we have put up have little value as this virus does not need a passport. It is reminding us, by oppressing us for a short time, of those in this world whose whole life is spent in oppression.

3) It is reminding us of how precious our health is and how we have moved to neglect it through eating nutrient poor manufactured food and drinking water that is contaminated with chemicals upon chemicals. If we don’t look after our health, we will, of course, get sick.

4) It is reminding us of the shortness of life and of what is most important for us to do, which is to help each other, especially those who are old or sick. Our purpose is not to buy toilet roll.

5) It is reminding us of how materialistic our society has become and how, when in times of difficulty, we remember that it’s the essentials that we need (food, water, medicine) as opposed to the luxuries that we sometimes unnecessarily give value to.

6) It is reminding us of how important our family and home life is and how much we have neglected this. It is forcing us back into our houses so we can rebuild them into our home and to strengthen our family unit.

7) It is reminding us that our true work is not our job, that is what we do, not what we were created to do. Our true work is to look after each other, to protect each other and to be of benefit to one another.

8) It is reminding us to keep our egos in check. It is reminding us that no matter how great we think we are or how great others think we are, a virus can bring our world to a standstill.

9) It is reminding us that the power of freewill is in our hands. We can choose to cooperate and help each other, to share, to give, to help and to support each other or we can choose to be selfish, to hoard, to look after only our self. Indeed, it is difficulties that bring out our true colors.

10) It is reminding us that we can be patient, or we can panic. We can either understand that this type of situation has happened many times before in history and will pass, or we can panic and see it as the end of the world and, consequently, cause ourselves more harm than good.

11) It is reminding us that this can either be an end or a new beginning. This can be a time of reflection and understanding, where we learn from our mistakes, or it can be the start of a cycle which will continue until we finally learn the lesson we are meant to.

12) It is reminding us that this Earth is sick. It is reminding us that we need to look at the rate of deforestation just as urgently as we look at the speed at which toilet rolls are disappearing off of shelves. We are sick because our home is sick.

13) It is reminding us that after every difficulty, there is always ease. Life is cyclical, and this is just a phase in this great cycle. We do not need to panic; this too shall pass.

14) Whereas many see the Corona/ Covid-19 virus as a great disaster, I prefer to see it as a *great corrector* It is sent to remind us of the important lessons that we seem to have forgotten and it is up to us if we will learn them or not.

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.