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?

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Congratulations to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, his bride and princess-to-be

meghan and harryMillions of people will be glued to the tube on this 19th of May.  Exciting times for the monarchy and the Royal Family.  Congratulations to Prince Harry and his bride-to-be Meghan Markle who both look very happy together.  What a couple!  They will bring a spark to the British Royal Family that hasn’t been there for a while.  Prince Harry is who he is a charming young man who marries whom he wants to marry, an American actress, who has been divorced, and is of mixed race.  It’s representative of today’s Britain and much of the western world but that’s besides the point. Prince Harry is not next in line for king, but that’s the beauty of it.  He has nothing to lose but much to gain.  Harry and Meghan will bring a charisma to the Monarchy because they are both unlike the rest.

U.S. Embassy now in Jerusalem

The timeline of modern Israel’s re-birth (May 14, 1948) till now (May 14, 2018) will be exactly 70 years. This Monday’s date of May 14, 2018 is significant because the U.S. Embassy will be officially relocated to Jerusalem exactly 70 years on this day of 14th of May 2018.  After this takes place this Monday, 14 May 2018, other nations might also begin recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move their embassies to Jerusalem.

trump netanyahuThis bold move might encourage other nations to do the same.  Why was this a gutsy move?  It implies that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel; and it also implies that Israel is a sovereign nation and has the power of self-determination.  Why have world leaders been so spineless when it comes to recognizing Israel’s right to sovereignty and self-determination?  Fear.  Obama and Trudeau will recognize smaller nations’ right to self-determination, including First Nations and treaty rights, but what about Israel?!

Despite opposition from Israel’s Muslim neighbours, Trump actually carried out what he said they would do. Many people had doubts this relocation would actually happen, but it did. Kudos to Trump for doing this.  Many politicians have feared the political backlash from Arab-Muslim nations.  George W. Bush wanted to do it too but he did not have the will to make it happen.  To date, no world leader has had the courage and resolve to make this happen, until Trump.  Despite the liberal media’s non-stop punishment of him for defeating Hillary Clinton, Trump continues to do what he thinks is right. 

Every country has its sovereign right to choose its own capital, including North Korea, Iran and Cuba.  So why not Israel?  The United States has chosen to recognize Israel’s sovereign right by moving its own embassy.  Throughout history, the threat of retaliation and increased violence has hindered national embassies from moving to Jerusalem.  But, let irony rear its head.  Question.  Wouldn’t it be ironic if this move actually brought more peace and stability to Arab-Israel relations?  There is the possibility.  However, time will tell.

Despite Trump’s flip-flop on some international trade agreements like NAFTA, there is something solid about Trump’s foreign policy.  It is no wonder why some have aleady recommended him for a Nobel Peace prize. He is slowly and surely earning the respect of more people around the world, including that of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others.  This move of the U.S. Embassy will go down in history as the right thing to do.

 

Of truth, freedom and culture

As people yearning for freedom, we value and appreciate our liberties like freedom of religion, speech, assembly, the press, etc. Liberties and freedoms are a natural outcome of a moral people. To get there, we need to take the right path.  Jules Renard said,

Liberty is the right to choose. Freedom is the result of the right choice.

However, to make the right choice, we need to live in the light and see truth. Light and truth, however, is revealed by Nature’s Maker.

Without the Truth, people will live in darkness. Unfortunately, around the world, societies do still live in darkness. In the past, many freedoms around the world have been lost due to wrong choices. One such nation might be North Korea. Others might be some unnamed African nations where one dictator succeeds another and whose results are no better than his predecessor’s. Today, in the west, our freedoms are slowly eroding (e.g., freedom to pray in public spaces; facebook and google’s abuse of private information).

The solution. We need a just and moral people who live in truth and light to work in their vocations as a holy calling. Each person has been given a vocation and we should not take it lightly. In whatever vocation God has called you into, you are to always bring light. Light shatters the darkness so that truth may freely inform each others’ human experiences, allowing humanity to continue remaining in freedom. The alternative would be enslavement to darkness.

God is calling a just and moral members of society to be leaders in our homes, classrooms, courtrooms, legislatures and business marketplaces. We have a responsibility to speak the truth, whether as private citizens; or as the media/press in the public sphere. This is our calling: to convey truth, in our houses of worship, in government, in courts, in media, in schools, in all places at all times.  Jesus said in John 8:31-32:

If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

He was actually speaking in the context of salvation but my point I borrow this for is this: there is an inherent sense of freedom experienced when we share the truth. Hopefully, it is truth that dispels the darkness that prevails in some corners of our society and in the world. This is a mission that we are called to take on. May we strive to bring freedom, liberty and truth into our culture and society.

A connected spirituality in Asia

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Steps to Temple of the Emerald Buddha at The Grand Palace, Bangkok

Bangkok and Thailand is filled with many temples, including some mosques and churches.  It’s a religious and multi-religious society with a connected spirituality.  Initially, I couldn’t put my finger on it; but I couldn’t find words to explain why I felt the people of Thailand and S.E. Asia were “nice”.  “Nice” doesn’t accurately describe the people’s calm, kind and compassionate demeanor.  After some reflection, I think I’ve got it.  Their culture has been influenced through their Buddhist religion and spirituality that teaches and espouses values of kindness and compassion.

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Ratchaprasong District, Bangkok, Thailand

Notice this public map at the Skytrain station in a very busy district of Bangkok.  Thousands of people pass by it everyday to seek direction.  It says: “Eat, Pray, Shop.” The surprising thing is “Pray” is highlighted and “Eat” and “Shop” are grayed out.  No need to hide their spirituality, but rather, it emphasizes it.  I really like that.  They are openly spiritual people and recognize the need to “Pray”.  That’s something we can learn from.

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White Temple, Wat Rong Khun in Chiang Rai

Yes, here in the west we may be multicultural but it doesn’t mean we have to hide our spiritual or religious differences by wiping them away.  To wipe away and hide our religious and spiritual heritages is to deplete ourselves of a blessing that it has nourished and enriched western society. I “pray” that we don’t do that and destroy God’s blessings that the Holy Spirit through Christ’s teachings have provided us (e.g.,, things like kindness, love and compassion and the fruits of the Spirit).  The Apostle Paul reminded the Church in the Epistles to the Galatians 5:22-23 (Holy Bible) of these things I hope we continue to practice:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

Appreciating missionary work and thankful for missionaries

The Kwoks (two on left) minister with Bethel Bible Institute, and Operation Dawn (Drug rehab centres), N. Thailand

Do you remember when you spent blood, sweat, and tears into doing something for someone and never had the pleasure of being recognized or appreciated for your efforts?  And perhaps not even a “Thank you”? You might have had the thought: “I really don’t want to do this for them again!” This is likely how missionaries feel when they return for home assignment.

We’ve just spent about two weeks in Cambodia and Thailand and witnessed the pastoral care in missionary work of our friends. We came with the intention of spending time with our friends.

Mrs Kwok (left), Bethel Bible Institute, Thailand

In week 1: In Chiang Rai, Thailand, we were with friends Rev. Conrad and Fiona Kwok (and a former co-worker in pastoral ministry) who are Global Field Staff missionaries with Canadian Baptist Ministries (CBM) who teaches at Bethel Bible Institute and preaches at Operation Dawn.
In week 2: In Phnom Penh, Cambodia, we were with our friends Pastor Taka & Christina Miyano who are missionaries to Gateway Home for Children (i.e., orphanage).

We were with both missionary families as they ministered and they showed us first hand what they do. Having been present with them, I appreciate the heart they put into their work for the Lord.  They serve the local indigenous peoples in (Thailand and Cambodia) respectively, also known as “mountain tribes people” or “ethnic minorities”), and ethnic Chinese for the Kwoks.

With the Miyano family, Cambodia

What I say about missionaries in general might also be representative of others around the world. Missionary work can be a thankless work.  In general, most of us probably do not show them enough appreciation for their work.  Their efforts and fruits are not directly visible to members of their supporting churches back home. Missionary work is not like running a church organization, a business, or a personal venture, where results might be visibly seen quickly. It is a hidden ministry that happens out of sight. When it’s out-of-sight, then also easily out-of-mind. They get very little attention when they return from abroad to their supporting congregations. However, that’s probably expected when it comes to the work of missionaries.

However, the work does have an impact upon the local churches where it

At the Gateway Home, Cambodia

can take years, or even a whole generation, until one sees fruit. When one’s work does come to fruition, it might never result in any recognition back home. There are no rewards of victory or glory; and at worst, perhaps some criticisms or even demands for results. The latter can be very hurtful.

Then why would anyone want to become a missionary? They do it because they genuinely want to serve the Lord and further the kingdom of God, even if it’s hidden from sight. Churches and congregations back home usually have no idea about what is happening here–unless they come and see it for themselves.

Rev & Mrs Kwok (far left), ourselves, and Op Dawn co-workers (right & rear). N. Thailand

As a family, we have been very blessed by the ministry and presence of Rev. Conrad and Fiona, and Pastor Taka and Christina. God is present in their lives and their ministry. We felt their love and their care for the local people. “Thank you for your service to the Lord and the people you lovingly serve.”  I have learned so much from you. (Note: I might post a few more times on my experiences from this trip).

May God bless them and pour out His blessings upon their lives and family. May they be rewarded through the riches in God’s kingdom.

The post-resurrected Jesus

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Picture depicts a post-resurrected Jesus with nail scars still on his hand.

When most of us think of Easter, it’s usually a simple one. Jesus rose from the dead, then ascended into heaven.  What we don’t hear much about is what happened just after Jesus resurrected.

Some dismiss or try to explain away the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection, saying that he was only a spirit-being (like a ghost).  Jesus rising as a spirit-being does not qualify as a resurrection. That’s a Star Wars myth like what we see in Obi-Wan Kenobi (New Hope) or Luke Skywalker (Last Jedi).  To be resurrected in a physical form is much harder to believe.  A resurrection is a bona fide miracle.

After Jesus had resurrected from the dead, left the tomb, he walked and talked with people in a physical form as a real human being. A week after Jesus had resurrected, we know the bible says he was still around before his ascension.  The resurrected Jesus walked around, made himself known to a lot of people, and he showed himself to people.  He was not hiding himself.

Furthermore, he wasn’t just a spirit-being floating around in ethereal space somewhere.  He actually had life in physical form. It was not the same physical body that we have today but it was a resurrected body.

In the bible, the word used for “spirit” is pneuma, but in 1 Cor. 15:44, Paul used the words: soma pneuma (“σωμα πνευματικον”) which means “spiritual body”.  This is the type of body that we, as believers in Jesus, will also be raised with.

Here are some places in the bible where the post-resurrected Jesus showed himself to his disciples in that “spiritual body”:

John 20:19-23  Enters locked room
John 20:24-29  Doubting Thomas
John 21:1-14  Another big catch
Luke 24:13-35  Road to Emmaus
Matthew 28; Mark 16:9   Women
1 Cor. 15:6    500 followers
1 Cor. 15:8    Apostle Paul

Think about it.  First Corinithians 15:6 said that Jesus appeared to over 500 of his followers!  Jesus became a legendary figure.    Witnesses testified they had been with the real live walking-and-talking Jesus.  Their testimonies would have been very hard to dispute.  No wonder the church grew.

Northern Thailand: its transformation from opium to coffee

From the mountains of Chiang Rai, Northern Thailand.

This moment, I’m enjoying a cup of cappuccino in front of this amazing view here in the mountains of Chiang Rai in Northern Thailand.  As one relishes in the beauty of this fantastic mountainview of Chiang Rai, one would never connect this place with opium. Ching Rai and Chiang Mai used to be known as a region where they grew poppies, not for flowers, but for opium production. Today, they have diversied their farming to coffee beans, amongst other things.

It has spread the blessings of something that people around the world can enjoy without the guilt of addiction (…that’s if you don’t include coffee in the category of addictions). The local tribes people have diversified their farming to grow other things that are not linked with drugs, giving more families the opportunity to do something unrelated to the narcotics trade. It frees them from the guilt that was prevalent about 30-40 years ago which caused heartache and pain around the world, especially China.

China’s widespread drug addiction to opium destroyed its people, society, and nation in the 1800s. Millions of Chinese people were addicted to opium. History recounts this figure at 13-14 million people in China (out of a total population of 400 million). It rendered many men and women useless–useless to the responsibilies of work, education, and raising family, and even resulted in its loss of the territories of Hong Kong and Macau to Britain.

The Apostle Paul discouraged many practices, included were drug addictions. Paul used the word “sorcery” or “witchcraft” (English translation) in Galatians 5:19-20,

“Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

After China’s devastating period of opium addiction, I hope our society here in the west may take away lessons from its history of drug addiction. We must never forget. I pray that we may be able to have the self-discipline to stay away from such ill practices because all it brings is more pain. Short term pleasures of the moment are fleeting and deceiving. God desires from us the purity of our hearts, minds and bodies.

The good news or gospel in all of this addiction is that God has the power to bring us healing if we have, or are in the middle of addiction. Our God in the Heavenly Father, Jesus, and The Holy Spirit is forever merciful and his love endures forever, even for the most heavily addicted man or woman who cannot escape it themselves. Trust in the God who is faithful forever toward his children who call out to Him. The Lord God will reach down to rescue us from the deepest powers of darkness.  Then he fills us with His Spirit to give us his everlasting peace and joy (which drugs can never bring).