A time of joy, good tidings, and doing good

We’ve been subconsciously taught that Santa gives us gifts accordingly–whether we’ve been naughty or nice.  If there was such a list, our gift wouldn’t actually be a free gift but something we earn for doing good things for others.

During Christmastime, when we make donations to charities (e.g., Salvation Army bell-ringers, pack Christmas shoeboxes, etc.), we give with the intention that it’s a free gift–no strings attached.  We might feel like a saint after doing a good-deed-for-the-day but it doesn’t give us joy.

A letter to Titus speaks of righteous things we do. In Titus 3:4-5, Paul said,

“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.” (NIV)

Some of us might like to think of our salvation like a naughty and nice list: “If I can do just enough good in the world like helping the poor and disadvantaged, maybe God will overlook all the shameful and wicked things I’ve done.”  Let’s be honest, many of us may have had thoughts that God works on such a spreadsheet, maybe even some of us long-time church people. Why? Because we want our good deeds to count for at least something.  Otherwise our efforts doing good deeds would be wasted.

If God were to really keep a running list of all the naughty things and nice things I have ever done throughout my life, I might be ashamed of the imbalanced tally of certain unnamed things.  The truth is that following the law is incapable of making us righteous–only the gospel can do this.

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.  Unlike happiness, joy doesn’t depend on good things that affect us externally.  For Christians, our joy comes from knowing that God’s righteousness and mercy has made us righteous in God’s sight.

God’s gift of making us righteous was always intended to be a free gift for every human being.  God doesn’t care where we are from, where we were born. Whether we are a person living in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Americas, Europe, etc., God’s gift of unconditional love and forgiveness is free.  When we understand that “free” really means FREE, then we are truly free to do good and nice things for others.

Paul encourages all of us to do good in Titus 3:8,

“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.”

May we never stop doing good.  I’ve discovered the freedom of doing good works.  Now I do it because I’m not compelled to do it to get on God’s “nice” list.  I am now free to do it!  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 of your time and energy to help others in society.

 

 

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Our season for God’s hope, peace, joy, and love

Christians are preparing this season of Advent season leading up to Christmas, as a religious time to celebrate Christ’s entry into the world.  For many in North America, it’s about going to Christmas parties, buying presents, and racking up financial debt to pay for presents for siblings, parents, children, nephews and aunts. For some, it might be a hard and lonely time.  For others, maybe it’s a mix of everything. I hope this season, people can slow down to reflect on the reason for Christmas.  We are a fast-moving society that’s in a hurry to get from place to place–from work to home to parties.

A prophet spoke of a people who didn’t take time to observe a Sabbath rest as God had commanded.  They hardened their hearts toward God. They didn’t slow down to celebrate God’s salvation and worship the Lord as God had designed for them to worship. In a way, our society today has also hardened our hearts toward the things of God.

In Hebrews 3:7, 12 and 15, it writes:

“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts“… “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness“… “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.”

As Christians, it is very important that we slow down and rest.  In our rest, God can come into our busy lives.  Manufactured hope, peace, joy and love do not last; it’s artificial.  But God sent Jesus into this world to bring us something genuine.  He came to:

  • bring us an eternal hope that leads to salvation so that we may be with God forever,
  • give us inner peace between a sinful humanity and a holy God,
  • give us real joy  that comes from God’s unconditional forgiveness,
  • share God’s love with us.

These things are eternal and lasts forever.  May God’s grace find its way into your lives this Christmas /Advent season.

Advent: Hope and peace for humankind

My parents gave me a maxim to live by that I never forgot: “As being human, be a better human being.” Being a good human being is not so easy when anger and resentment gets in the way.

The Apostle Paul said in Titus 3:11-12,

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age…” (ESV)

Christian spirituality exhorts us to live godly and upright lives which Paul the Apostle told Titus.  Religion says I have to do it.  I know that in my human power, I cannot do it.

The good news is this: the grace of God (gift of Jesus Christ himself) has appeared to usher in salvation for humankind.  Paul said, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people.”  In Jesus, this grace of God comes to us despite our failures and guilt.  We don’t earn it. It’s a free gift.  We are no longer condemned by our personal failure to live out the law.  Shame and guilt no longer controls us.  God has now given all humankind a new hope.  This is why this Christian/Advent message of peace also comes with a hope-filled exhortation.

The Holy Spirit invites us to take a step to welcome Jesus into our imperfect lives.   God has called you into his spiritual calling.  As for me, answering his call has given me hope for a peace-filled life, knowing that I have made peace with God, and God has made peace with me. This is God’s solution for me in becoming a “better human being.”

The gospel liberates us to really live in freedom

I have said that a performance type of Christianity can be unsustainable.  What I mean by “unsustainable” is that a person can get tired out by having to perform all the time. We are forced to keep up and maintain the image of being a “good Christian”.

A part of spirituality involves doing good works, and so I have tried to be a good, holy, and virtuous person.  I tried to be that “good Christian” according to the church’s standards of what a good Christian is.  The righteous life became a goal I pursued.  Honestly, I have failed to live according to the ideal of the virtuous life…but who really can?

When we live out a performance type of Christianity, it can be unsustainable.  A person can get tired out by having to perform all the time because we are forced to keep up and maintain the image of being a “good Christian.”  If religion is about keeping up with self-image then that religion itself is a failure.

Though I have failed to keep up to that image, I have never considered giving up my faith in Christ or leaving the Church, but I have felt a burden of guilt–a guilt that’s been planted by people’s expectations. It is a burden and puts us in bondage to our own sin.

[ I was surprised by a recent op-ed article by a Muslim who asked introspectively, “Does Religion Make People Moral?” (N.Y. Times, Nov 2017).  Religion can, and it cannot.]

If our own Christian religion only comes as just a bunch of rules, then it is dead.  When it’s only about law without grace, it can become destructive to a person’s spirit.   A religion of law sucks them dry and leave them spiritually empty.  It is no wonder the church has somewhat of a negative reputation.  This image of Christ’s church needs to change.  We need to change.  There is hope yet.

The prophet spoke of an advent or coming of good news that brings a refreshment of life, healing and freedom (Isaiah 61:1-2, NRSV),

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; 2to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;

Praise the Lord!  This is what the gospel does.  The gospel is to bring healing, liberty, freedom, the Lord’s favor and blessing, and comfort.

I am still learning more of what true religion is, and what it can and cannot do. True religion is not about image, performance, and moralisms; such are human expectations.

The gospel frees us because the good news of God’s forgiveness and unconditional love liberates us from a performance-oriented religion.  On the other hand, the law is also a beautiful thing that can teach us ways that improves our way of living.  Both law and gospel are awesome things that God has given us.

Both law and gospel are deeply spiritual ideas within our Christian faith.  But it’s only the gospel that liberates us.  God sent us Jesus to give us freedom and release from bondage and imprisonment from our sin and of false religion.  It leads us to a deeper spirituality that liberates and comforts our human soul and spirit that mourns for freedom from judgment that can bind us.

 

Thanksgiving for God’s increase

Thanksgiving is a time when we can show appreciation for what the Lord God has given to us.  There have been times in my life when there was little; and there have been times when I received more than I expected.  Looking back, I realize it was those times of little that taught me how to appreciate what little I received.  Put into perspective, in some parts of this world where there isn’t much, I can say that I am truly blessed.

The Apostle Paul expressed thanksgiving.  In 2 Corinthians 9:10-12, Paul said,

“He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God.

Paul had perspective.  He understood what grace meant to him because he once had no grace.   Paul knew what life was like without grace.   As we generously sow God’s word into the lives of others, we can also expect a harvest.  What kind of harvest?  A harvest of God’s righteousness in the lives of others.

At age 15, God poured his grace into my life when I came to faith.  I still remember the day when the Holy Spirit entered into my life and refreshed my soul and gave me new life.  God the Holy Spirit came down and opened up my heart to receive Jesus.  For this, I am very grateful.

Thank you Lord for the words that were planted into my life through my parents, Sunday school teachers, pastors, and brothers and sisters who loved the Lord.

 

 

 

Loving unconditionally vs performance

A true and deep spirituality comprises more than living according to rules and keeping the law.  Some Christians would go as far as to label this a false religion.

People are searching for a deeper spirituality that involves love and acceptance.  If we have a shallow understanding of God’s gift of forgiveness, we might end up emphasizing performance over grace.   How well one follows rules/laws and do good deeds become a measure of our Christian spirituality. This fails to show how deep and wide is the love of God.

What’s worst is how this might influence the way we treat others, e.g., being judgmental and hypocritical toward others if we don’t match up to our standards of following the law.  This type of spirituality can feel very unsatisfying (and be unsustainable), especially if we’re on the receiving end of judgment.

This judgmentalism and performance type of Christianity paints a false picture of God’s love and acceptance of us as God’s children.  People have turned away from the church because of our hypocritical attitude towards them.  The sad thing–we who might be hypocrites may not even know it, and often, we’re too busy putting up a show of being moral.  It might be good for our image but bad for spiritual morale.

Paul said in First Thessalonians 1:3,

“We ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love all of you have for one another is increasing.”

Jesus speaks of loving one another as a command (Gospel of John 13:34-35),

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

For some ex-Christians who have left the church, the ability to believe in God’s unconditional love is where it stops. After failing to live rightly and justly, and having to repent over and over again for our same old sins, some of us just give up and no longer believe because we have not experienced the love of God through others.  We have been given a false image of a harsh God.

This is a lot of pressure we place upon ourselves and upon others.  It becomes an unsustainable spirituality, and possibly, even a false religion.  Where do we get this impression of God’s love being conditional?

If we have projected our moralism upon others, may we be humble enough to ask for God’s forgiveness. It might be a first step toward forgiveness, a deeper spirituality, and a better religion.  We can do better as Christians.

Secret of being content

Having experienced some of life’s difficult times in my last 25 or so years, I’ve learned some lessons of life the hard way. I have experienced heart-felt losses in my life. I have also learned to live life with less. When I look back, I was still satisfied with life even though it may have been dissatisfying.

I am still glad to learn some life-lessons along the way.  Sometimes, failure is the best way to learn. Mistakes that come our way can be good teachers if we stay humble, but it is impossible to learn if we are stubborn and prideful.

St. Paul the Apostle said in Philippians 4:12-13,

I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

When we lack things like the basic necessities of life, we learn to appreciate even what little we may have…like food, clothes, transportation, work, or a roof over our head. When I reflect to look upon my life today and see the small things, I thank God that he’s given me these things to enjoy, and also so that I may share them with others who have less.

It really is a blessing to be able to give to those who are in need. Giving can be easy for some, and hard for others, but it is something we can learn to do. It can also be a hard lesson to learn when we are in the middle of poverty but it depends on the attitude we carry throughout life.

God can empower us to live life to the fullest when we give to those with less.  May God  grant us wisdom to learn these. After all, you can do all thing through Christ who gives you strength.

Remembrance Day – We will not forget

November 11th is Remembrance Day in Canada (also Veterans Day in the USA), which is also like Memorial Day in the USA.  We honor the brave Canadian military personnel who died for our freedoms.  We should not and will not forget the sacrifices our soldiers, sailors and airmen and airwomen have made to protect our freedoms.

I love what the late Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker said about the freedoms our armed forces fought to defend.

“I am a Canadian.  Free to speak without fear.  Free to worship in my own way.  Free to stand for what I think is right.  Free to oppose what is wrong.  Free to choose those who govern my country.  This heritage of freedom  pledge to uphold for myself and all mankind.”

This Remembrance Day in Canada, let us remember and recognize those who made this sacrifice for our freedoms and democracy that we share in common.  God bless.