Imminent death at our doorstep

We all hope the world’s threat from nuclear proliferation has decreased since President Trump’s meeting with DPRK’s President Kim. One deadly push of a wrong button by a rogue madman could destroy half the world. Today, we also have deadly pathogens and global pandemics to worry about. There might be some mad scientists working in backroom laboratories inventing some new strain of virus. Today, we know about the newly identified Disease X as pathogens that can potentially kill hundreds of millions of people, if we don’t find antidotes (read article here).

The book of Revelation gave apocalyptic warnings during the early church. “The fifth angel emptied his bowl on the throne of the beast (Rev. 16:10).

We’ve provided scientific explanations to our real world problems of global pandemic. Whether God actually sends plagues, or we invent some crazy pathogens, either way, death would imminently be at our doorstep.

As human beings who are constantly looking for human and improvements in our world, we are holding out for some hope. We know there is hope. But most important, God is the one is patiently holding out for hope that we might be saved. This salvation is not only physical, but it is also spiritual. Just like we need to prepare for emergency preparedness kits for earthquakes, tsunamis, floods and fires, hurricanes, etc., we also need to prepare ourselves in spiritual ways.

In First Corinthians 10, we really see death very clearly. Paul reminded the Church, which was of Hebrew descent, that 23,000 of their ancestors had died in the past because they had been constantly rebelling against God. He didn’t want them to take their relative sense of calm for granted. He said to them, “So if you think you are standing, watch out that you do not fall.” He wanted them to be on guard. Stay alert. Don’t be deceived. Don’t be taken in by their temptations to sin like they had done under Moses in the wilderness.

During this Lenten season, may we offer a prayer of repentance:

I confess that I am in bondage to sin and cannot free myself.  I have sinned against You in my thoughts, words, and actions; by what I have done, and by what I have intentionally not done when I had the power to do so.  I have not loved You with whole-hearted devotion.  I have not loved other people around me as I would want to be loved.  For the sake of Your Son, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.  Forgive me, make me new again, and guide me, that I may delight in Your will, and walk in Your ways, to the glory of Your holy name.  Amen.

Where is God

https://ebonyjohanna.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/on-earth.jpgWhere is God?  As Christians, we believe just because we know or we assume something to be true.  There are some who won’t believe until they see God and heaven.  Downside of this is that they may never get to see until they pass from this life.  By then, will it be too late for an “I told you so.”  Hence, we look for God’s presence, God’s reality, and indicators of God’s existence in our world.  Jesus also used words like “My father’s kingdom.”

In Luke 17:21, Jesus taught that God’s kingdom is neither here nor there.  His followers, including some of his disciples, had thought that his coming kingdom was going to be a secular government on earth.  Jesus was actually referring to a spiritual kingdom.

As creatures of this physical world, we prefer to speak of God’s kingdom as a country or nation.  God’s kingdom has no physical location.  It is everywhere, yet it is nowhere to be located.  It is neither ethereal nor out-of-this-world.  Jesus said, “God’s kingdom is here with you.”  It cannot be seen but yet it is with us.  We might try to emulate God’s kingdom on earth, but it can never be an earthly kingdom.  God’s spiritual kingdom might be within an earthly kingdom, but we can never put an earthly kingdom into a spiritual kingdom.

So where is God’s kingdom on earth?  It is current.  It’s happening in the here and now.

    • It might be found within the life of a real king or queen, or it might now.
    • It might be found working in the life of church organization, or it might not be.
    • It might be found working in offices of a corporation, and it might not be found working in a church office.
    • It might be found working where people are praying on an old warship in the middle of the South Pacific, and it might not be found in normal-looking but dysfunctional family.
    • It might be found working in compassionate hearts volunteering in a street ministry, or it might not be.
    •  It might be found in the life of a single mother raising two children in the ghetto, or it might not be.

God’s kingdom can be understood as God’s purpose or God’s will happening in this world.  God’s purpose or will can be happening in your own lives.  It can be within our society and culture.  It can be within your place of habitation, within my yown community, and yes, even in my secular place of work.  It is working and functioning within God’s people and where God’s people are glorifying God and doing God’s will.  When God’s will is done, as it is in heaven, then we can say that his reign or kingdom is coming.

One might ask several questions:

    • Do I sense God’s kingdom and God’s will being done in my life or family, in my community, in my church?
    • Are people seeing God working in their lives?
    • Does what I do glorify God?  Is what I do glorifying to God?

If it is a “Yes”, then God’s kingdom might be in your midst.  If you can say positively that God is working in places where you are present, then God’s kingdom might very well be present.  God’s kingdom is present where you are in-line with God’s will, and actively doing his will.

In the end, it will always come back to the question of faith.  If you can honestly affirm the above question with an affirmative “Yes”, it takes faith to believe the unseen.

A closer communion with God: spiritual resilience

Ever felt like you’ve lost your way, or felt off-kilter but couldn’t pin-point why or how you got there?  That’s me and I just hate that feeling.  I have found that making time for contemplation and communion with God helps me be more grounded and centered so I don’t lose my way.

It is called spiritual resilience and it can be developed (read here). Spiritual resilience is a term recognized even by the U.S. military (read here).  Spiritual resilience is not necessarily religious, but yes, having a religious basis helps to give one’s spirituality a framework.  Spirituality and spiritual resilience are like the muscles that give us strength; and religion is like the skeleton that holds up our muscles.  Having one without the other is difficult, but both together will complement one another.

Without this grounding or spiritual resilience, we become more vulnerable to burning out, anger, envy, bitterness, lack of self-control when stressed, and other negative emotions. The advantages of spiritual resilience shines through at certain stressful times in our lives, like being on military operations, going through divorce, losing a job or a loved one. Our ability to be resilience becomes more apparent to us when we go through tough times.

People who are less vulnerable to these things under stress tend to have a more developed spirituality. People practice spirituality in different ways–either religious or not religious. Some might be Christian monks and nuns. Some might be ordinary Catholics or evangelical Christians. I’m not saying we have to become monks, nuns or holy people to be spiritual. Almost every major religion have their sets of spiritual disciplines that followers can practice in order to center themselves and develop spiritual resilience. These are virtues. As human beings, there might be times in our lives when we seek to be more spiritually-grounded. We innately know there is something greater than ourselves that we can turn to. A belief in a higher power becomes our strength.

Every so often, any person can veer off the virtuous path, lose hope, lose our morals, or lose one’s desire to live. We are all fallen human beings who fail at one point or another.

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The scriptures speak on the wisdom of patience and long-suffering, but how do we develop this spiritual character? Through practice and discipline. It’s like learning to ride a bicycle or an instrument.

Personally, for me there are times when I feel I might need to be more spiritually grounded and return to practicing some spiritual disciplines again. Some people find themselves returning to church in order to find themselves. If that is how you feel, then go for it.

If within our Christian disciplines, we can deepen our spirituality, we might gain more self-control of our personal lives and become better people. Without a spirituality and spiritual resilience, even the best of people can lose our ways and lose our balance. A deeper spirituality can help individuals become more centered and spiritually in-tune with God, with themselves, and with others. It be time to return to a closer communion with God.

Spirituality and battle with anger

Have you ever blown your top, got angry and resented the words that came out of your mouth?  I have.   It might feel good to release some steam and pressure but the results are short-term gain but long-term pain.

The bible speaks of anger.  It acknowledges our human weakness, anger.  It sounds like it isn’t necessarily a sin to get angry but it is a less desirable emotion.

Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and do not make room for the devil.”

James 1:19-20 says, “You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.”

Anger causes us to do crazy things.  It opens the door to hatred, violence, fights, war and terrorism.  As human beings, we are better off to seek peace and to create peaceful resolutions.

Being quick-tempered is a sign of folly but wisdom and peace create harmony: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1) “A fool gives full vent to anger, but the wise quietly holds it back” (Prov. 29:11).

I ran across an article on NPR on how the Inuit people (Indigenous people in northern Arctic) raise their children to refrain from anger.  A little big of frustration or irritation is considered weak and childlike.  Wow!  The writer of this article witnessed these things:

For instance, one time someone knocked a boiling pot of tea across the igloo, damaging the ice floor. No one changed their expression. “Too bad,” the offender said calmly and went to refill the teapot.

In another instance, a fishing line — which had taken days to braid — immediately broke on the first use. No one flinched in anger. “Sew it together,” someone said quietly.

By contrast, Briggs seemed like a wild child, even though she was trying very hard to control her anger. “My ways were so much cruder, less considerate and more impulsive,” she told the CBC. “[I was] often impulsive in an antisocial sort of way. I would sulk or I would snap or I would do something that they never did.” (full article here)

This self-control comes from discipline.  We might come from many cultures, e.g., Italian, Middle Eastern, Asian, Western, etc.  Some of our cultures do not keep anger very well hidden.  We can be quick to show our anger.  Inuit culture on the other hand, seems to be the opposite.  I think this something we can learn from our First Nations–Indigenous brothers and sisters.

It makes me wonder if training and spiritual disciplines might be a good thing in our children’s upbringing–and yes, also in many of us adults too.

Letting God do the impossible task: to love your enemies

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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.”   It’s a parallel to Jesus’ sermon on the Mount in Matthew ch. 5-7. 

When I think on this, there are days when I might think to myself, “Yes, I can obey Jesus’ law to love my enemies—that’s easy.”  But in all honesty, there might be some bad days when I feel I cannot even love my friends or even my family, let alone my enemies.

There can be a real challenge in following through with this command.  For some, this might be easier to do depending on the day and on our circumstances.  It might depend on where people are at in their lives.  For some, our hurts and traumas can easily override our ability to love others.  The last thing we can expect someone who has been hurt is to love their perpetrators. 

A person’s visceral reaction in anger might be: “I’m going to wipe them out!  Give me a rock…give me a button… give me a trigger… At certain times in one’s life, it would not surprise me one bit if a person could do it without shedding a tear or breaking out in a sweat.  Jesus’ command seems to stand in stark contrast to the desire of our flesh.

How do we interpret this passage of Scripture?  Was this a piece of good advice or nugget of wisdom?  Or was it a command?  What if the entirety of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount from Luke and Matthew was meant to describe the impossible? What humanism has wanted to achieve perfection in humanity might actually be next to impossible. 

If the latter is true, it forces you and I to turn to God for mercy and grace each and every day.  You might see human perfection as a possibility. For me personally, at this point of time in my own life, the possibility of achieving human perfection is impossible.

If Jesus’ sayings from the Sermon on the Mount were meant to be prescriptions of laws that we must obey, then I would definitely be a failure.  Over time, we might, at one point or another, fail to live up to most or all of Jesus’ commandments.

When we are in the flesh and operating in the needs and desires of the flesh, it is very hard to love our enemies.  Our flesh will naturally want to destroy or defeat our enemies using our human means and methods.  Yes even when we are living as Christians, praying hard and committing ourselves each day to live with Christ, this spiritual battle won’t be easy.  But when we are operating in the love of Christ, there is less reason to give into the flesh.  Jesus asks us to give him all of our worries.

When Jesus asked us to bless those who curse us, it is because there is something that happens in the spiritual realm that we do not see.  On the surface, there is nothing to be gained eternally by blessing those who curse us.  If this was a command, then what reward would there be? 

There is a blessing in simply loving others without expecting to receive anything in return from our fellow neighbor.  We can love others just for the sake of loving others.  There is no ulterior motive to love our neighbor.  This is pure freedom. Christ can free us from the fleshly desires in this world so that we can love the unlovable, do good, and give without expecting anything in return (v.35).

To truly love our enemies who have full intentions of hurting us without mercy is the hardest thing to do in the world.  Personally, I know I don’t have the patience or the strength within myself to love my enemy.  My human flesh tells me to kill whoever might want me dead.  I do not have the tenacity to wait it out to see what happens.  To me, this command is like telling me to fail. 

After recognizing my human weakness, I realize that I need to fall upon the grace and mercy of God.  I would rather hold my hands up and say to the Lord, “Lord, if you are real, give me your grace. I cannot love my enemies.  I cannot stop hating them for even one second.  Pour out your grace upon my life.  Have pity on this poor soul.  I need you God.”  This would be me after God has driven me to utter submission.

Seek God’s kingdom

Luke 12:31-32 – Jesus told his disciples:  “Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.  Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

In these words is a secret that is hidden in plain sight. When we allow worries and anxieties to overtake us, we stumble and fall and resort to our own human will rather than allow God’s sovereign will to take charge in our lives.

Why do we worry?  We worry because we do not have faith that we will have enough.  We also worry that others will stop us from getting what we desire.

As a result, we get angry—angry with those who stand in our way.  We might even find ourselves directing our anger toward those we love, and toward those who may be trying to comfort our hearts.

If we can stop for a moment to calm down. Give ourselves space to reflect.  Reflect without anxiety and fear.  Ponder on the Lord without worries floating within our minds.  Think on godly things. Put aside things that prevent our hearts from feeling God’s love.

God who might be trying to get our attention might have a good message for us.  Focus on God and the spiritual things that belong to the kingdom. 

Things that concern God’s kingdom might be totally different from what we desire for our own kingdom.

Ask God. Pray.  Seek God.  See if he has something else within the kingdom for our lives.

Be open to receiving different things that we might never have expected.  Such things might result in becoming a huge blessing in our lives.

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.