Peace overcomes pain

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.

Psalm 22:1-2, Bible

This psalm from chapter 22 is often read on Good Friday. Christians have associated this text to the suffering and crucifixion of Jesus on the cross. Jesus quoted this in part while on hung on the cross to die.

The Book of Psalm contains many complaints. For this reason, it wasn’t one of my favorite books of the bible. There are many joyful psalms of praise and celebration which I prefer; and then there are many sad and depressing psalms of lament, which I dislike (especially if I’m not in the mood to read it).

The good bishop, N.T. Wright, recently wrote in Time:

“Yes, these poems often come out into the light by the end, with a fresh sense of God’s presence and hope, not to explain the trouble but to provide reassurance within it.”…. “It is no part of the Christian vocation, then, to be able to explain what’s happening and why. In fact, it is part of the Christian vocation not to be able to explain—and to lament instead. As the Spirit laments within us, so we become, even in our self-isolation, small shrines where the presence and healing love of God can dwell.”

https://time.com/5808495/coronavirus-christianity/

When the psalmist could not see any relief in sight, all he had was pain. He doubted God. If you haven’t read from the bible of the numerous chapters of people feeling sorry for themselves, open up to the book of Psalm. It’s full of it. This is why so many people can relate to the psalms. These writers complained about their pain and they accused God of forgetting and for not caring. Job’s friends came up with invalid reasons for his extreme sufferings (read about it in depressing book of Job). They blamed his sufferings on his past sins. How inconsiderate. If I had friends like Job, I’d tell them where to go.

If one were to contract COVID-19 (or any other sickness for that matter), we might want a spiritual explanation as to why we contracted the disease. There is no good “spiritual” reason why a person contracted COVID-19 or any other disease. No, I’m not talking about a clinical reason, but rather, a spiritual reason. Spiritualizing it doesn’t improve a person’s emotional agony or discomfort. It doesn’t do a person any good.

God wants us to put ourselves in a proper place and be subordinate to the will of God. That is to humble ourselves. It gives room for God to come into our lives and give us peace–a true peace that is beyond all human understanding.

This is the same realization Jesus might have had on the cross as he suffered in pain. He experienced the love and peace of the Holy Spirit while he writhed in pain at Golgotha. I know. Sounds wierd and ironic that peace and pain can go together. Peace and pain can co-exist. This is the irony that so many people find so difficult to understand.

As Christians, and as non-religious folks, we all want answers to our problems, and we want them now. Our natural human desire is to alleviate our pain. We hate pain. We want it to disappear.

One direction people take is to doubt the existence of God. When we witness or hear of so much pain in the world, we begin to rationalize: “How can there be such a cruel God? Who would allow human beings to be put into cruel and painful circumstances? Such an inhumane or merciless God simply cannot exist!”

Another way our mind can wander is to wrongly attribute cruelty toward a loving and merciful God. We begin to doubt God’s goodness, and that God is truly good. We lose faith in a good God. We walk away from the Church. Emotionally and intellectually, it easier to doubt that a loving God can allow injustice and suffering. As a result, we push God out of our lives.

Another way our minds will rationalize a seemingly irrantional God of peace and pain is to find reasons why we might be deserving of pain and suffering.

Examples:

“I have done something very bad and sinful, so now it’s payback time… God is getting even with me now and that’s why I’m suffering.”

“I hurt that rotten person years ago, and that’s why God took away my son or daughter, my father or mother.”

“I’m such an evil person. That’s why God gave me cancer,” or “That’s why God sent the Coronavirus… to wipe out this evil world of evil doers.”

When we demand answers for which there isn’t an answer it’s a vain attempt to spiritualize our pain away. Our human capacity to accept uncertainty is limited, so we prefer to limit God by putting Him in a box. We relentlessly search for a rational answer. We set limits on ourselves as humans beings, and we end up pushing God further away.

Why do we do this? We want to put God where it makes more sense to us. We want to set God in his place. We prefer to think, “that if there truly is a God, then this is who God is. This is what God is like; and so this is how I can be stronger.”

We prefer to own our own problems. By setting God in a place where we want him to be, we think we can garner more control over our lives. We come up with our own solutions to our own problems.

Our goal for a human solution is empty and vain. It is not where God is found. God likely has a totally different solution. God’s knowledge is infinite and All-knowing. If we really knew the mind of God, what God already knows might actually surprise us.

It is not our job to rationalize God. God does not want to be included in our human equation. In God’s mind, there is no such thing as a human equation. Our job is not to put God where we think He ought to be. That is to falsify God and take God’s name in vain.

Our place is to be subordinate to God and become willing vessels of God’s will. When God has His rightful place in your life, it is then that you will have peace. When God feels welcomed in your life, it is then that you will have joy and hope.

What God wants more than anything is to wrap his big arms around you and tell you that He loves you. He desires to be with you. His presence surrounds you and protects you like a mother hen who guards her chicks. The love and mercy of God is greater than what we can imagine.

God wants to come to you in the midst of all your suffering… even in the midst of your chaos, your pain, sadness, sickness and disease. The capacity of the love of God is much greater than our human capacity. God’s love is deeper, wider, and higher.

Our own human capacity to love is extremely limited. We do not have the patience, the courage or the kindness to love like God can. That’s why we prefer to push aside a God who allows suffering. But God is much bigger than our vain human imaginations.

If God the Father absorbed all the pain that Jesus suffered on the cross, God can certainly live in us with all our pain and suffering. How so? God is God, and we are not. God can come into your life, filled with pain and chaos, filled with burdens that you cannot bear, and then fill it with God’s own peace.

Millions of Christians in the world today have experienced the overwhelming love and mercy of God. Christians in the world today currently suffering are experiencing God in the midst of their sickness and pain, in their wars and violence, in their persecutions and personal troubles. Millions more will enter into the Compassionate heart of this Triune God. He is calling out to each individual person, and that person might be you today.

I admit, the idea of a suffering God is not popular in Christian circles. The suffering Christ was once nailed to the cross. The crucified Christ was nailed on Friday. Well, we call it Friday but we really don’t know what day it was. We also like to call it “Good Friday”. It was not a good thing that happened but we call it “good” anyway. Behind this, there is an extremely important truth. It is a “Good Friday” because we already know there is hope coming on the third day. Jesus would soon rise again from the dead. We know the ultimate outcome is renewed life–a resurrection from the dead.

When we invite guests to come over to our house, we want to make sure we have it cleaned up, spotless and all tidy. We do this not for their sake, but we do it for our own sake. We take pride in our own perfection.

In God’s economy, God is not like this at all. God’s way is like this. As we welcome God to enter our lives and live within our pain and suffering, the Holy Spirit will fill us with peace, joy and hope. This is why we can invite God to come into our hearts and homes while we are still a mess. Yes, from our human point-of-view, this sounds unconventional and very different to what we think ought to be normal.

The good news of Christ is not that God came to wave a magic wand to banish away all our pain and problems. The good news of Christ Jesus is that God vanished from the empty tomb and resurrected in bodily form on the Third Day, and rose to live again in the flesh. He conquered and defeated death. If death could not hold Jesus in the tomb, then death will not be able to hold us down in the grave. This is why we celebrate Easter this Sunday.

Death is one of the biggest fears of humankind. If God in Christ Jesus defeated death on Easter, we also have hope of eternal life with God forever. May all praise, honor and glory be to God our Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Powerful oath of the scrotum

As a kid in the schoolyard, I remember making promises to do something, or making an oath to reinforce what I said was absolutely true. One went like this:

Cross my heart, and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye.” And if we got away with crossing our finger hidden behind our backs, our promise didn’t count as a real oath.

Somehow, these silly antics were supposed to reinforce the truth. As we get older and grow out of our elementary ways and methods of making what we say sound more believable, we’ve changed things up a little: “To be totally honest with you…” Well, as if what we just said was going to be more truthful than usual.

I just ran into a very strange saying in the Old Testament Bible. This one has always stumped me and caused me to ponder upon its meaning and how it originated. It seems that an oath made under a man’s scrotum was somehow more binding.

So the servant put his hand under the thigh of his master Abraham and swore an oath to him concerning this matter.” (Genesis 24:9)

Really stumps me. Hard to imagine its significance. Anyone get the meaning of this one or how it originated?!

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.

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.”

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.

Day 1: Good news: I’m free from sin

Free from sin. I am freer today than before. Not that I sin any less. I am still the same sinner-saved-by-grace that I was before. I’m just now not bound by the guilt and shame.

Guilt and shame is what many Christians struggle with.  For some, it’s everyday.  For others,  it’s when they’re reminded of their past; and others, it’s when their cover has been blown.

I was raised to believe that appearance was very important.  I grew up in a Chinese church.  In many of these East Asian churches, appearance is of utmost importance.  It is important in one’s status and respect.  If one’s cover is suddenly blown, it can be a very tragic situation because one’s respect plummets.  One can get kicked out of the board, responsibilities as a Sunday school teacher removed, etc.  Some of you might know what I mean.  Even if you didn’t grow-up in a Chinese church but was raised in a more fundamentalist/evangelical church, you may identify with this.

Some people I have had heart-to-heart conversations with knew exactly what I was talking about. However, they would tread carefully and never let their guard down.  Failing to maintain their appearance meant losing their social status in the congregation.  This might be true for many Christians out there today.  The result: one ends up leaving the congregation and switching churches due to loss of reputation.

I had believed a false belief that obeying the law could someone  earn me spiritual merit-points before God.   And if it didn’t then it could some how earn me merit points within the congregation.  At the time, it was good enough motivation for me to act or appear more holy and righteous. However, deep inside, I knew my own thoughts, desires, and hidden things were less than pure in God’s sight.

If one were to admit to these sinful thoughts, it would be too much to disclose to one’s own congregation members.  What would the pastor or elders think?!  It’s easy for me to see this now because I’ve distanced myself from this self-righteous and hypocritical church culture.

This t

ype of self-righteousness is exactly the reason why some people don’t want to go anywhere near a church. They say the church is full of hypocrites… and it’s true.  If “worldly people” were to ever step foot into a church, they would have to change their thoughts and behavior, and have a time-limit to start putting on a show that they are worthy of Christ’s righteousness.  Behavior is a sign of how Christ has changed them (or is it really how they have changed their own behavior or how well they hide their sins?).  Whoops.  I hope the truth doesn’t hurt too much.  Well, if I can’t meet the biblical-standard of that congregation, then I better not even attend church.  That’s how most normal people think anyway.  This is why churches have emptied-out and are full of white-haired elderly people.  Not that this is bad, but truth is, where are the young people and young families in the church?

Over time and in a study of theology, the good news of the truth slowly sunk-in and was revealed to me.  I had blinders on for decades because the church had failed to teach the truth about the gospel.  It knew the gospel but it didn’t really see it clearly. I’m not bashing the church.  Entire denominations can fail to see things from different perspectives because it’s always been their ethos and culture. There is not a hidden agenda–just blinders that keep us from seeing the truth from another angle.

I had finally learned that appearance was not useful in God’s sight.  Keeping an appearance would only make me feel better about myself because I believed that I had succeeded that day without committing a “big sin.”  For “good” Christians out there who can identify with this type of moralism and religiosity–whether Catholic or Evangelical, it can be very hard work. Why so? Because one has to “put on a show” to look good.  In the church, we have a lot of good actors.  We become very good at looking good.  We even try to do good things, good deeds, and appear to walk-the-talk.  We value the respect we receive from other fellow congregation members for not being “big sinners.”

The down-side is: eventually we get worn-down. It’s not easy to put on a false appearance 24-hours a day. Eventually, several things happen. We might just give up, throw in the towel and call it quits with Church, or we become so guilt-ridden that it tears us apart inside and we stop going to church or stop telling people we are Christian or are “religious.”  It’s safer to tell people that we’re not religious.  It leaves us room to still believe inside but not act Christian outwardly.  But is this a victorious Christian life that the Apostle Paul describes? No! Absolutely not. This type of Christianity is merely “Church-ianity”.  It’s fake, a false replica and plastic.  It’s what Jesus taught against and labelled as hypocrisy.   It’s what Paul called the Church on when they tried to use circumcision as a proof of a true believer.

God can set us free from having to fulfill what church-ianity tells us are the mandatory requirements of having to be, and do, good. Doing good can never make a person a “better Christian.”  Being a better Christian can only come through faith.  By believing the blood of Jesus continually cleanses and sanctifies us is the only thing that makes us holy and righteous before God–even though we might fail to appear holy.

God has set me free from sin.  I’m continually being sanctified. This revelation has drawn me closer to God. Truth is, God was, and is always pleased with me–just because I am a child of God, and not because of what I do. I am now ever more convinced that God loves me and it compels me to abide closer to God.  This unconditional love and mercy of God makes me desire to do better and live life worthy of Christ’s calling.

Believing in this good news is what makes a Christian spiritually mature. Spiritual maturity is NOT how holy and righteous a person appears in front of others. It corresponds only with one’s degree of faith in believing this profound truth. Amen?

Time of joy, good tidings, and doing good

We subconsciously pickup from Santa songs that we get gifts according to how naughty or nice we’ve been.  If there were such a list, our gifts would be something we earn for doing good things (not totally free without strings attached).

Don’t we give with the intention that it’s a free gift without strings attached when we make donations to charities (e.g., Salvation Army bell-ringers, pack Christmas shoeboxes, etc.)?

In a letter to Titus, Paul speaks of doing what is good (Titus 3:4-5; 8),

“But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy…And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone.”” (NIV)

Regarding salvation, thank God there isn’t a naughty and nice list.  If God were to really keep a running list of all the naughty things and nice things that I have ever done throughout my life, I might be ashamed of the imbalanced tally of certain unnamed things. Following such a list can steal the joy that Christ gives because we have to work too hard to earn God’s approval.

Christmastime is all about the joy that Christ came to give us free, un-earned acceptance from God.  For Christians, our joy comes from knowing that God’s righteousness and mercy has made us righteous in God’s sight.  So spread the joy!  Donate to your favorite charities.  Serve in church.  Give of your service all year-long to your non-profit organizations. Freely give.

 

 

 

Texas church massacre: May God heal us

May God’s peace, love and mercy, be with the families and friends of First Baptist Church, Sutherland Springs, TX.  In this time of tragedy and sadness, may the prayers of the saints rise to heaven, and may the Lord hear our cries and heal our land.

_______________

People are looking for answers and reasons.  Who in their right mind would have the indecency to murder innocent children and adults, especially during worship.  Why do things like this happen in our society, even in small communities?

In our confusion, sadness, and anger, we might ask, “Where is God in this?” but another question might be, “What is it with human beings?”  Is humankind so potentially depraved that it would drive a human being to murder Christian worshipers in cold-blood?

When a person is estranged from God, one is also estranged from God’s love; and when one is estranged from God’s love, it leaves room for hate, sin and evil to enter in.  This is why there is such potential for evil.  We call this depravity.

The murderer, Mr. Devin Patrick Kelley, was far from having any reverence for God’s holiness and love for his fellow human beings.  He was a hardcore proponent of atheism, and Antifa globalist propaganda (left-wing, anti-fascists who hate Christian conservatism).

The Apostle Paul speaks of human depravity in Ephesians 2:1-3,

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”

We, as depraved human beings, have the potential to do much evil in this world, especially with all our passions and desires that drive us toward sinful behavior.  Add in factors of mental illness, Antifa ideology, and perhaps add in chemical dependency, a person can get very confused.

When we are spiritually weak, we need God desperately.  Perhaps the fear of God really is the beginning of wisdom? (Proverbs 9:10).

In our search for answers, I hope that we as a society and as individuals, seek peace, truth, and reconciliation with God, with humanity, and with ourselves.

God of miracles turns water into wine

The story of Jesus turning water into wine in John 2 shows us something about Jesus’ grace. God is a holy God but yet, he is loving and merciful enough to engage in the earthly and common things in this world. God humbly comes into our world, uses a common object (water jugs used for cleaning) and uses it for a holy purpose

“Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine.” (John 2:6-9)

This shows us a few things about God.  First, God who did not need to become human did become God incarnate in the humanity of Jesus Christ.  He did this to transform a sinful people into a holy people.  If God can transform water into wine, then He can surely transform a common unholy person into a holy person.  This gives all of us hope.

Second, the earthly secular things of this world, like the water jugs he used when he turned water into wine shows that he is willing and able to take what is common and use it for his divine purpose.   As vessels of God, He can make us holy and sanctified, and be used for his purposes.  No one is beyond the reach of God who can pull us up from the deepest and darkest muck.

Third, God has the miraculous power in this earthly world to transform all of this world’s material things (organic and inorganic).  God is omnipotent, all-powerful, and unlimited in His potential

Today, millions of lives have already been miraculously turned around and have come into the kingdom of God from lives that have been totally messed up.  Even if a person were the worst and greatest of sinners, Christ has the desire and power to come into one’s lives (justify us), clean us up (sanctify us), and still use us for his kingdom’s purpose (missio Dei).  This is why God’s love for us is eternal, and amazing.

God also has a plan for each of our lives.  When we are feeling down, hopeless and useless, we needn’t stay down.  Don’t give up hope because God has never given up on you.  You are God’s vessel if you allow him to come into your life, cleanse you and transform you for his purpose.  This was always God’s divine plan for humanity.  He does this because He loves you and cares for you.  If you welcome Jesus into your life and receive God’s forgiveness of your sins, then you have just become God’s child.  Follow Jesus.  Find a local church, learn more about Jesus, and begin worshiping the Lord together with God’s holy people.

October 31 marks a freedom from good works

October 31 is a special date that marks the beginning of Protestantism.  No, not Halloween but the day one monk-professor protested the Church’s illegitimate rules and regulations.  It was the beginning of the western church’s road to reform.

Martin Luther, a young Roman Catholic priest before he was kicked-out, had nailed the Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the Wittenburg Castle Church.  This got him into big trouble–not for graffiti, but for his ideas.  It was sort of a declaration that stated the truths he wished all Christians would understand, including the Pope and bishops of the Church to whom he had given some constructive, but unwelcomed critique.  They were furious when they saw what he made public for all to read.  They tried him, and finally, wanted to kill him when they realized he would never conform.

Why was Luther up-in-arms about the Church?  Christians had been deceived into giving indulgences (or alms) to ensure the salvation of one’s loved ones. This was totally contrary to biblical teaching because scripture was clear that salvation was a free gift from God and cannot be bought.  Finally, in 1517 A.D., a fed-up Martin Luther began to argue for freedom from such non-sensical rules that were conveniently concocted by the church in order to secretly fund the construction of a big church building in Rome (St. Peter’s Basilica).  He argued that we are saved only by faith in believing that Jesus died for our sins, not by following the illegitimate laws of the Church.  He believed this was the Christian’s religious freedom from having to trust in the dictates of the law for our righteousness.

The great reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin, et al, have fought to restore the freedom of the Christian from having to earn our righteousness through good works.  It was a major sacrifice of blood, sweat and tears (literally).  Christians have died for this religious freedom.  Today, Evangelical, Protestant, and Catholic Christians have solid ground to stand upon the belief that we are not bound by having to do any good works to earn God’s approval or favor.  Paul also encouraged Christians toward good works, not to run from it (Galatians 5:9-10 and Ephesians 2:10).
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
To do good works in the world is part of being a good human being.  It does not make you and I a better Christian.  What makes a person a good Christian is faith alone, in and through, the grace of Christ alone.  In light of our freedom we have today, may we be encouraged to live out our freedom to do even more good works, not because we must, but because we want to bless our fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord, and help our fellow human beings in this world.

We are the salt and light in a dark world.  May the light of the gospel shine as others see our good works to the praise and glory of God the Father.

Restoring a broken world: via God’s strength in human weakness

In 1 Corinthians 4:9-13, St. Paul the Apostle shared with the Christians and the Church in Rome about how he was mistreated and suffered persecution. He was comparing his suffering with the Christians who gloried in their power and strength. It’s a very stark comparison.

For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings.
We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ!
We are weak, but you are strong!
You are honored, we are dishonored!
To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands.
When we are cursed, we bless;
when we are persecuted, we endure it;
when we are slandered, we answer kindly.
We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment.

What ought to be the norm in Christianity? Is it suffering or is it strength?  In Paul’s days, it was suffering and persecution. Today in the west, the norm is to choose vain human glory and power as if it were a human right. Today, in places like the Middle East, Christians are suffering greater persecution at the hands of radical Muslim terrorists like ISIL, Al Qaeda, etc.

How do we reconcile the injustice inflicted upon the millions of Christians this century?  We cannot ignore the injustice.  We must deal with it in the right way, otherwise, we could end-up with another catastrophic world war, or chemical/nuclear self-annihilation via Mutual Assured Destruction.  Decades ago, it was the Cold War. Today, it’s radical Jihadist Islam bent on creating a worldwide caliphate vs the non-Islamic world that will never relent to an Islamic caliphate.  Is human rights and justice the true answer?

A rights-oriented society likes to talk about justice in terms of human rights. However, did St. Paul the apostle ever once talk about human rights? I do not recall this ever mentioned in his epistles. Rights was not in his religious vocabulary. Rights, as we know it today, is actually a recent human invention since the Enlightenment Period. It has been engraved with human words in the constitutional frameworks of American and French political lawmakers (e.g., U.S. Bill of Rights and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizens).

The downside and weakness of trying to fight for justice using a framework of human rights is that it can be abused. Human beings have the potential to argue for unlimited types and levels of rights and still consequentially end-up with the likes of Stalin, Pol Pot, Darth Vadar, and The Punisher.

Example: 1) animal rights rather than the utilitarian good of humankind; 2) economic rights for human subsistence, which leads to Marxism/Communism with its horrific ideological means to an end-type of destruction; 3) rights of women for control over their bodies to decide whether to abort unborn babies; 4) rights of persons to choose to suicide; and the list can go on.

What does the bible say about these issues?  Just for starters, Genesis speaks of created world where we care for God’s creation within God’s dominion rather than environmental justice. Jesus and the New Testament speak of sharing and giving to the poor and less-privileged rather than Marxism/Communism. The bible throughout speaks of the sanctity of human life rather than taking away life.

The Gospel of Christ shows the church and the world that God desires to redeem what we have destroyed and twisted. Humanity has a way of manipulating love to seek out one’s selfish interests in the name of caring for one another. However, the Gospel, whether in the Old or New Testaments, show us God’s redemption of a sin-filled world.

Hope is not lost. God still has the ability and power to turn our evil into good but in order for this to happen, we need to confess our sins and seek reconciliation.  We fear confession because there are repercussions to revealing our human wrongs, which may cause even more repercussions (e.g., in Canada, we have harmed the First Nations peoples. In the U.S., we have abused African-Americans through slavery. In our established churches, we have sexually-abused children).  We want to avoid opening up a can of worms for fear of being levied even greater penalties for our past sins.  Denominations, businesses, and nations can go bankrupt from paying endless penalties due to retributive and distributive justice in the courts’ justice system. We need to get past this fear because in God’s love, we have no fear.

There is still good news for all people; however, it’s too bad the world is not able to see this. It is seen with spiritual eyes because God’s redemption comes in a form of weakness. It is far from glorious according to the world’s standards. It is hidden in the form of our suffering and our weakness, but behind it, is God’s power to restore the nations.

The Apostle Paul exemplified this in his above statement to the Roman Christians here in 1 Corinthians 4. Paul’s way of the cross is not worldly but it is deeply spiritual.  Paul’s theology and spirituality is not the most popular because it is contrarian.  Our human temptation is to trust in our own power and strength to destroy or over-power our opposition or weaker party.

Paul’s theology and spirituality is to trust in God’s power to redeem and restore what was lost due to our human evil and sin. It takes faith and trust, and also patience to wait-out and see the results. This is why I stated that this can only be seen with spiritual eyes; in other words, it happens in God’s timing using God’s means and methods–rather than our human timing, means and methods.

May our world come to a deeper spiritual understanding of how God works in this world. May we be truly enlightened by God’s Holy Spirit and words to follow a path shown by God’s love in his one and only Son, Jesus Christ. It is a path towards God’s righteousness and true justice.

A saint in God’s dominion and a sinner in the earthly dominion

As Christians, are we fully-redeemed saints of God, or are we still sinners?  As believers in Christ, while we live in this earthly dominion, we are also a part of God’s heavenly dominion.  In other words, we have one foot on earth and one foot in heaven.  Our citizenship is simultaneously in both our heavenly and earthly nations.

Paul speaks of “dominion” in Romans 6:14-15,

“14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!”

In v. 14, Paul seems to be implying a sense of authority rather than a sense of mastery or domination  (The definition of dominion might include: jurisdiction; territory of a sovereign/government; sovereign control; supremacy; domination; authority; command; power; etc.).

If he was implying mastery, he would not have asked the rhetorical question in v. 15  Paul was warning Christians to refrain from taking advantage of God’s grace by intentionally committing sins we know are wrong.  It implies that we as Christians have the potential to commit sins we already know are wrong.  We may be redeemed but we are not free to sin whenever we want (6:12, 15).

Within the church, there is a debate whether we are still sinners. Some would say we are no longer sinners but redeemed saints of God, and have the potential of moral perfection.  Others would say we are still sinners and cannot stop sinning even if we tried.

The body of Christ and our Christian leaders are far from moral perfection. It is only Christ who is totally righteous and it’s only through his sanctification that we are made righteous (Rom. 6:11, 4:24).  I believe Luther was right about humanity’s sin and God’s grace. The doctor of theology, Martin Luther, said we are simultaneously both saint and sinner.  He accepted both realities about man’s sin and redemption.  Humanity’s sin is utterly depraved while we are still in a state of being redeemed.  If we are in God’s dominion of grace, we can be assured that we have eternal life, and have been, and will be fully, set free from sin and death because God has promised this.

Eating and drinking out of faith

The apostle Paul was very sensitive toward the conscience of fellow believers–especially those who were new believers in Christ.  Recent converts to Christ would have experienced a new-found freedom in Christ.  They came from either strict Judaism where rules and regulations binded them, and if from paganism, Gentiles would have had little or no rules. Jewish beliefs about eating non-kosher food or drinking alcohol would have diverged from Gentile beliefs.  Thus, the church may have been quite diverse.

Paul instructed Christians in Romans 14:20-23,

“Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.  So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.”

I am reminded about my fellow brothers and sisters of Asian cultures who eat solidified pigs blood (blood curd) like my Filipino friends.  Deuteronomy 12:23 advises not to eat pig’s blood,

But be sure you do not eat the blood, because the blood is the life, and you must not eat the life with the meat.

What about after it’s been cooked?  When I was a younger Christian, I would have judged because others in the church were judgemental.  I guess it was a form of devout piety and a sincere but twisted desire to bind others with biblical rules.  Today that’s changed. Hopefully, some of the church is changing too. Does this mean I’m going to start eating blood curd? No. It’s just not in my taste in food. But I do love eating pork chops, pork cutlets, and pork bone soup (Korean). Yum yum.

The freedom that we are given frees us from the consequences of external laws–liturgical and ceremonial law.  It is the life of the Spirit in which we live–the interior life–which is not visible to human eyes but is spiritually discerned.

Laws are not disregarded or thrown out.  Laws are holy and good because they are given by God and inform us of what is moral and ethical.  They inform us that we are still sinners; while the gospel transforms us into saints.  Laws help correct us and steer us toward living a better life but they do not save us.  We thank God for good laws, but we also thank God more for freedom in the Spirit.

God’s election of a predestined group

 

St Paul Cathedral, London UK

The debate about Calvinism vs Arminianism sometimes center around the issue of predestination.  Everyone believes that God does predestine, but to what extent are we predestined to?  God has predestined that Christ should live within the believer in order to be saved, but the question is: Does God predestine a certain chosen or elected smaller remnant of people to be saved?  Scripture seems to point to this.

Certainly Israel was chosen, as the Apostle Paul points out here in Romans 8:28-30,

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” (Rom. 8:28-30, NIV)

Calvinists would say that predestination is explicit in this passage of scripture, however, Arminians would interpret this verse to imply that God’s prevenient grace is universally offered to all people, regardless of whether or not they’ve heard the gospel. In a way, this grace also renders the person “neutral” so that they can decide themselves whether to accept or reject Christ (see Monergism).

In the Old Testament, Paul quoted Moses and makes it clear that only a remnant will be saved to continue on as the surviving and true Israel,

“For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children…” (Rom. 9:6-8)

Furthermore, the argument of whether God is truly merciful or not is clear in the Old Testament. Paul quotes Moses from Exodus 33:19,

“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” (Rom 9:14)

This begs us to wonder: “What if my son or daughter, brother or sister, is neither predestined or called by God?”  Ouch.  A loving father, mother, sibling or spouse, would feel a deep heart-ache if they knew that their loved one was not predestined to be with the Lord on the Last Day.

Another question might be: What about all the other millions of people around the world who have never had the opportunity to hear the gospel of Jesus?  Are they not predestined to be saved?

I still have unanswered questions, but for me, come what may, I still believe that God is a sovereign God and will place my bets on God’s mercy, grace and love.

 

 

Doing Good Works: Praying, Fasting, Charitable Giving

Some devoted Christians around the world will be observing Holy Week starting this coming Saturday till Sunday, 9-15th of April 2017. For many this can be set aside as a holy time for praying, fasting, giving alms and doing charitable deeds to help the underprivileged. What a special time!


An angel in Acts, announced to the devoted Cornelius that his prayers of thanksgiving and almsgiving were remembered by God. He is about to come to know Christ.  Acts 10:3-4 says,

3 “About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius.” 4 And he stared at him in terror, and said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God…” (RSV)

Here’s a seemingly simplistic but a spiritual question:
If God recognizes and remembers our prayers and charitable giving, then shouldn’t we be encouraged to pray more and give more? 

Our obvious answer would naturally be “Yes!” but our good works of praying and almsgiving can either be both a good work or they can be done purely out of genuine faith.  Martin Luther cautioned that none of our good works can earn any merit toward our salvation, or earn God’s recognition to merit more approval.  According to Paul, our human righteousness is worthless as rags.  Salvation and good works ought to be done only in faith.

Now here’s a bit of theology to get your head around… If you are past the “human religion” stage and couldn’t care less about trying to earn salvation or earn God’s favor by being a good person, then that’s great!  You are set free to act in good faith to move on to do even more good works.  Since you’ve already been created into God’s beloved child, then you are set free from a human striving in order to please God (see Luther’s quote below).

Be encouraged to observe Holy Week with passion. Pray more, fast more, and be more charitable. Praise the Lord! Do your good works boldly. God loves it and hears it. 

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Martin Luther states in his A Treastise on Good Works (1520):

XVI. But you say: How can I trust surely that all my works are pleasing to God, when at times I fall, and talk, eat, drink and sleep too much, or otherwise transgress, as I cannot help doing? Answer: This question shows that you still regard faith as a work among other works, and do not set it above all works. For it is the highest work for this very reason, because it remains and blots out these daily sins by not doubting that God is so kind to you as to wink at such daily transgression and weakness. Aye, even if a deadly sin should occur (which, however, never or rarely happens to those who live in faith and trust toward God), yet faith rises again and does not doubt that its sin is already gone;…