Enduring hardship through faith

Living in caves can be modern experience; it can also be a hard life.  It makes me think of a time when the early saints had to endure an amazing amount of cruel and hardship in the pre-church era. Hebrews 11:37-38 (ESV) says:

“They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.”

This verse indicates that faithful people of God in the Old Testament had been forced to live underground, in deserts, and hid in dens and caves (as were prophets in 1 Kings 18-19). They were a shunned and disparaged because of their faith. They were not just typical Jewish followers but were despised for their deep faith and conviction within broader Judaism. They were living amongst Jews but were still shunned and seen as an abhorrent sect within Judaism.

In the Church today, there is also sectarianism, as in many other major/established religions. Parts of the Christian church also face disparagement and shunning because of their deep faith and conviction. They are not only persecuted by people of different or opposing religions, but from followers of the same religion.

I’m glad we don’t are not as separated by denominationalism as we formerly were. There are still subtle differences but we have come a long way in being respectful of our religious and spiritual differences. I appreciate that it’s our differences that make us unique and special.

I have brothers and sisters in the Lord who went from borderline fence-walkers to devoted Christian believers. I also some dear friends who went the opposite direction and/or stopped attending church. Our society is multi-faceted. Some of us want more devotion and deeper spirituality. Some of us want less or nothing of the sort for various personal reasons. Despite our personal convictions, God is still sovereign and in control, so who are we to judge others for their deep faith or lack of it?!

May we who are faithful, endure, hold-on, and remain thankful for the sacrifice of our spiritual and religious ancestors who paved the way for us. It made our path of devotion and service to the Lord a little easier to walk. God gives each of us strength to follow him; and faith is given to each generation–even this generation, from Baby Boomers to Millennials to generation Z.  God is forever faithful to us.

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Oaks of righteousness

The prophet of Isaiah uses some powerful images of God’s strength in our lives.  One such image in Isaiah 61:3, the prophet says his people will be called “trees (or oaks) of righteousness, the planting of the Lord to display his glory.” God’s righteousness is compared to oak trees. Oak trees are big and strong. They withstand strong winds and still remain rooted and unmoved.

Throughout our lives, we will face many challenges. Sometimes, the pressures we might face can be insurmountable. It feels like we are going to fall. We might feel like giving up. If you’ve had some ethical dilemmas where you had to make tough choices, sometimes, we might make some wrong choices in life, and there is guilt and shame.

As people who need forgiveness and redemption, we don’t want these pressures, our sin, guilt and shame to take us down. In these times, God can give us strength to stand up under the pressures. It’s not in our own power or might, but it’s under God’s righteousness. God’s strength and righteousness can hold you up and be your source of strength.

We can rely on God’s righteousness, confess our sins and trust that God forgives.  Then, like a strongly rooted tree we are under the attentive care of the strong and mighty arm of the Lord Almighty.

Light of the world

Biblica and the LUMO Project has a video portrayal of the bible  (online here). It’s very good. Christ’s birth (00:00-10:40 min.)

Biblica is excited to be partnering with the LUMO Project – an organization that is redefining the standard of biblical media with visual translations of the Gospels to encourage us to engage with Scripture.

Together with LUMO, we’re excited to bring you “Light of the World,” an authentic portrait of the birth of Christ that features unabridged passages from the New International Version of the Bible.

We hope this makes your holiday more meaningful and helps you share in the joy of our Lord.

Merry Christmas,
Your Friends at Biblica

Merry Christmas to Christian brothers and sisters

Merry Christmas to our Christian brothers and sisters around the world.  Christ comforts us with true peace and joy in our hearts that cannot be extinguished.  For this, we are grateful that God sent his Son Jesus into the world to give us this peace.   May we pray for each other around the world because we don’t know how to acknowledge Christ on his birthday, whether or not we have religious freedom.

To our fellow Christians in North Korea, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, please continue praying for us, as we pray for you.  God knows your sufferings for your faith in Christ.  You might not have as much freedom to openly worship Christ as we do, but yet you still worship Christ even in secret.

And to our fellow Christian believers in nations like Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, Loas, Vietnam, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, God hears your prayers because your faith is real.  We need a stronger faith like yours to overcome our fears.    We as poor souls, are trapped in Satan’s power so we need your prayers.

For all, here is a Christmas blessing from one of the earliest Christmas carols dated to the 16th century (c. 1760 version):

God rest you merry, Gentlemen,
Let nothing you dismay,
For Jesus Christ our Saviour
Was born upon this Day.
To save poor souls from Satan’s power,
Which long time had gone astray.
Which brings tidings of comfort and joy.

Have a merry Christmas!

Mary’s song: Christ for the humble and lowly

In some Christian circles, we try to portray the image that Christ is for the powerful, the smart intellects, and the rich.  We learn from Mary that it is not the strong, the proud, or the rich who think they don’t need God. Rather, it is the humble in heart, those who hunger for God’s righteousness who will receive God’s promise, an everlasting covenant, given to you.  We’re not talking about a physical strength, or monetary riches.  Our need is a spiritual one.

In Mary’s song in Luke 1, she praises and testifies of the Lord’s work in these wonderful words:

“51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. 52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

As we continue into this season of Advent and Christmas, God invites you come to him, humble and thirsty for his righteousness given to us in Christ Jesus.  Merry Christmas! and may you be blessed as you trust in the Lord who came to give you God’s salvation.  To God be all praise, glory and honor. In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Star Wars and Christian spirituality

In the movie Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the struggle between the darkside and the lightside is like an internal spiritual struggle that everyone can identify with. Everyday, we struggle with making choices between right and wrong.

Kylo Ren tried to entice Rey into the darkside; and Rey tries to draw Kylo Ren into the lightside.  It’s a Star Wars simplified version of spirituality–a human moralism of good versus evil.  Rey was helpless in the hands of the Supreme leader. Kylo Ren was also helpless in overcoming his entry into the darkside.  And if it weren’t for Luke Skywalker’s intervening at the right moment, Rey would have come very close to entering the darkside.

The Last Jedi was not the typical Star Wars movie.  Lots of inner conflict, and spiritual soul-searching as to who they are, where they come from, and where they belong.  There is not much hope for Kylo Ren coming into the light.  Humanism places hope in the goodness of humanity.  Even if he were to turn to the light in the future Star Wars IX, we can see how weak humanity is in the face of the darkside.  There will not be redemption for Kylo Ren who killed his own father Han Solo to escape his past.  Humanism doesn’t provide healing for his guilt and shame.

The winning outcome from this type of spirituality depends on who has more power at what moment in time.  As human beings, we need a spirituality that is independent from human power or how we use or misuse the Force.  This gives our own human influence more credit than it deserves.  Humanism is deceptive as the darkside.

If you’ll allow me, Christian spirituality is different from the Star Wars type of spirituality. The solution to overcoming the darkside doesn’t depend upon our human influences of good or evil.  In Christian spirituality, we take the starting position that darkness already reside within all human beings. Our fall into sin had already begun since the beginning of creation at Adam’s fall into original sin. Sin and elements of the darkside reside in all of us which we cannot escape from.  We are helpless in the face of darkness because we are incapable of choosing the light, as St. Augustine would have it.

Therefore, we need God’s recreative force of light, external to humanity, in order to overcome the inescapable chasm of the darkside.  As Christians, we believe in the sovereignty of God, in redemption and forgiveness from our wrong-doing.  God is our Supreme Leader and his will is to conquer evil and death to save us from the consequence of the falling into the darkside.  The Lord God will reign victorious on the Final Day of our redemption.  This will happen whether we play a part in it or not.  It is inevitable; the lightside will prevail.  It is God’s battle and we can either participate or sit by the wayside.

If we do participate in the missio dei (God’s mission), then we will do what our Supreme Leader calls us to do, and allow him to reign in all that we do on earth.  If we do not participate in the missio dei, then God will use whoever is willing.  However, God will empower us by God’s Force (i.e., God’s breath, wind, or Holy Spirit) to do his will and complete the mission.

In Star Wars, we know that the lightside and the rebellion will prevail because of the force.  In Christ, we also know that Christ’s reign will prevail because the light in God’s Force will easily overcome all darkness.  The light cannot be extinguished.

In the Gospel of John, it speaks of this powerful light who is the ultimate force in this universe:

“The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it…,.The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.” (John 1:4-5, 9, NLT)

This light is Jesus Christ, who comes to us as Emmanuel (God with us).  Prepare for the Advent of the lightside this Christmas.  May God’s Force be with you.  May his Holy Spirit empower you to fulfill his mission.

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.