Where is God

https://ebonyjohanna.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/on-earth.jpg?w=660Where 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 type 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.