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.

https://wp-media.patheos.com/blogs/sites/1186/2019/03/Collective-Contemplation-Prayer-300x201.jpg

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.

Prayers for families on Ethiopian Airlines crash

Our prayers go out to those on the Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX 8 that crashed this weekend. It is devastating for families with family members on this flight. May God be with the surviving family members.

May God’s presence be with you and comfort you and give you peace in this tragedy.

Amongst the 157 people from 35 countries who died, there were 18 Canadians. One was a Brampton, Ontario family of six with three generations including a 5 year old. There were 20 people who worked with the United Nations. There were 8 Americans and 7 British citizens (read full story).

When feeling unsure of ourselves

The Thinker. Artist: Rodin. Legion of Honor in San Francisco CA.

Struggling with issues in our culture, life and society is not a bad thing.  Everyone goes through these phases at different stages in our life.  Things can be at odds with our personal ideals and values and can challenge our spirituality.  You might even doubt your faith.

We might come to question and doubt ourselves because we wonder if what we value are right or wrong.  I also have also doubted too.  We can either become antagonistic toward culture and society and run closer to religion.  Or we can become antagonistic toward religion and shift toward secular/popular culture, or even agnosticism/atheism.

We all wonder at times whether what we’re doing is right or the cool or uncool thing.  We might feel, “Forget what the rest of the world thinks. I’ll do what I feel is right.”  We try to fit in.  Do things the easy way.  Walk the wide road.  At times, we lose a sense of who we are.

Sounds like it’s happened to you before?  Our lives are not static but can be in flux, changing.  We might still be getting to know who we are.  Figuring out what’s right… and what fits my situation and circumstances.

God and our conscience might be telling us one thing; and the world might be telling us something completely opposite.  Life can be confusing and society doesn’t always seem helpful.  Pressures all around us.  We don’t feel safe to give ourselves room, to ask, and reflect on whether what we practice makes sense to ourselves within our culture.

Jesus told his disciples:

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:15-17, ESV).

In the end, pray and ask God to give you grace. In Christ, God will absolve us from all our doubts, out wanderings, our hard-heartedness and rebellion. Let him be the captain of your soul and He will send you his Holy Spirit and his Word to comfort and counsel you.

 

Cost of following Jesus

In this life, there might be people who sacrificed the possibility of a romantic relationship because that attractive guy or girl demanded too much of their time, money and attention. They were not ready to sacrifice their relationship with God. There might be people who lost jobs and business opportunities for moral reasons. They didn’t want to go against their values.  Discipleship can come with many temptations.

Jesus told a crowd that was following him:

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:26-27).

Jesus had a huge following of fans. He had paparazzi hounding him all day. People were astounded by what Jesus could do. He was a fantastic speaker. He was a very charismatic spiritual and religious leader. He was a performer of miracles and healed many people with disabilities and illnesses.

Despite his huge fan base, Jesus would have known that only some of his fans would actually become devoted disciples who would follow him to their deaths.  Jesus presented a challenge to true discipleship because he wanted hard-core followers, not just a large fan base.

“Jesus presented a challenge to true discipleship because he wanted hard-core followers, not just a large fan base.”

Jesus was a person who understood sacrifice and calculating the cost of following him. He knew there would be hardships in following him to the end. He used an example of the cost of constructing a skyscraper (v.28-30). He followed up with an example of the cost of carrying out a military operation (vv.31-32). If a person is not willing to sacrifice everything to follow Jesus, they might end up resenting their decision.

In this life, there are costs in following Jesus. Jesus expects us to see the long-term possibility of losing everything. He said, “So, therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (v.33).  In some countries, Christians are persecuted for their faith and face death threats. Are we ready for anything if this were the case?