A ‘lost’ generation can be ‘found’

I spoke with parents whose children no longer come to church. There are many young people who are now adults who made an exodus from church. You’d never know they once accompanied their parents to church.  The thing is, they never got to know Jesus in the way that Jesus would have wanted.  Maybe that’s why some see the ‘church’ as a stodgy old place where rules and regulations are recited and taught from the pulpit.

This is not to say that God isn’t holy–the holiness and righteousness of God is utmost and paramount.  Maybe some of our churches might need a little bit of reform and teach more about God’s grace, mercy, love, an embodiment of His powerful living presence, and God’s very own righteousness instead of our own human righteousness.   This is what I hope the church can be, and be more about. I saw this YouTube spoken word video on just this topic.  I liked it because it resonated with me.

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Is war a path to peace?

APTOPIX_Germany_Franc_Jana_t630The news of terrorism in Paris, France, this past week, has taken many people on an emotional roller coaster.  What do we make of all this violence and killing in Paris? All sorts of questions have been rolling through my mind. Will it happen in other free cities in the world?

In our feelings of sadness and anger, we might have feelings and thoughts like, “Should we blow up ISIS/ISIL  till kingdom come?”… or would that just create more hurt in the world?  Back when the Twin Towers came down in NYC, I remember having similar feelings–that if we should cower and absorb the blow of the enemy, we’d be weak and cowardly.

In the midst of our turmoil, yes, we need to “do something,” but yet, I feel that we also need to take a step back.  I, for one, feel the pain of the innocent 129 people in Paris who were murdered  (…and yes, it’s easy for me to say this because I was not personally affected.)  I also feel the shame for my non-Christian friends (including Muslims) who hate what happened in France. Moreover, what confuses and shakes me up is when I hear that a few of these young terrorists were homegrown in the west. That really makes me wonder “Why?!”

Nevertheless, the threat of ISIL is very real. These ideologically-driven terrorists are actually out to wipe out and decimate western (and Christian) civilization.  We do need to defend ourselves with diligence.  We do need to raise our shields in self-defence against the forces out to hurt and kill innocent people.

As people who are in Christ Jesus, we can recall what our Lord and Saviour said:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.  And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.  And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.  Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.  “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,  so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. (Gospel of Matthew, ch. 5, verses 38-45, Holy Bible)

This passage has always irked me, especially when I feel personally hurt by enemies. Now when we are collectively feeling the pain of death, Jesus’ statement above is never easy to accept.

I don’t believe in pacifism; but nor do I believe that revenge-based, eye-for-eye retaliation can solve the world’s problems of terrorism.

Who is the enemy behind the enemy here?  I would point to the evil one, the devil. The Spirit of evil One in the world wants all people to continue living in ignorance, confusion, hate, and division.

We can pray on several fronts: 1) for ourselves, that we will not be driven by fear and anger; and, 2) for our enemies who seek to hurt innocent people, that they may come to experience the love of God in their own lives.  People who seek power and control will mis-believe that controlling others through war and violence is the way to peace and unity. It is not!  Humanity has done this for ages in the name of religion and world peace (including Roman emperors, the Crusaders, dictators like Hitler and Pol Pot, and now, radical Islamic terrorists).

Ultimately, only the Spirit of God, and forgiveness through Christ Jesus, can bring true peace, unity and love into the lives of people in the world.

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Recreation and rest

kevinsam_heartlakeRecently I’ve had more time for some recreation.  I love mountain biking, and biking up to a quiet place to be alone and enjoy God’s nature.  This is recreation–something that God made for us.  Some Christians might guilty about having too much fun but when we look at “recreation” from a biblical point-of-view, it simply means “rest”.  Yes, recreation means renewal or rest.  We also need to take time for our bodies, soul, and spirit to just rest and play, as opposed to, only work.  God gave us the Sabbath for rest (Genesis 2:2.) Rest is also connected to our spiritual renewal (Hebrews 4:1-11).  God knows that human beings need rest–so no more need to feel guilty about recreation but let’s remember that God also wants to be a part of our recreation.  We can follow God’s gift of rest by enjoying our lives in what God has given to us.

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Jesus’ sermon on the mount

I was recently reading Jesus’ sermon on the mount (Gospel of Matthew, chapters 5-7). This thought crossed my mind once again. Each time I read it, I ask myself: “Can I achieve what Jesus just taught?”  If I answer, “Yes, by the power of the Holy Spirit and grace of God, I can do it”, then to me, this is ‘prescriptive’.  If I answer, “No way Jose! Honestly I can’t remember when I fulfilled everything Jesus just taught here”, then what Jesus is teaching is law to me, and is a ‘description’ of who I am: a sinner saved by grace… but still a sinner nevertheless.

Most of the time, I feel the Sermon on the Mount is describing who I am, a person who fails at achieving what Jesus sees as the ideal.  Thankfully, I have Jesus who tells me his grace is sufficient for me when I fail to measure up.  But when Christians present Jesus’ teachings from the mount as what I need to do in order to be a righteous Christ-follower, I feel like I’m being set up for future failure.

Do we have to take a position of Jesus’ teachings being 100% descriptive or 100% prescriptive.  Is there room for middle ground or even least 95% descriptive? Personally, I see Jesus’ teachings to be hugely descriptive but I cannot deny that he also prescribes for his followers a way to live that is alignment with his ideals of righteous behavior and personal piety.  The New Testament has some prescriptive laws as taught by Jesus and the Apostle Paul.

The challenge for us as good theologians and thoughtful Christians is to try to find law and gospel in what we teach.  The world is hungry for a gospel that clearly spells out God’s free gift of forgiveness motivated by unconditional love.  It is a mystery hidden behind religion; but when it is uncovered, it can be a newfound revelation because it can lead a person into an experience of spiritual freedom in Christ out from a slave-mentality under rules and laws.

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Anatomy of a sick church

Thom Rainer posted on his blog about 10 symptoms of a sick church.  Many churches don’t realize they’re unhealthy or sick until they get to the latter stages of the sickness and near death.  Let’s hope and pray that these churches would wake up and realize our need for healing and for Jesus to come and heal our body.

  1. Declining worship attendance. Surprisingly, the majority of church leaders do not monitor worship attendance. I advise leaders to compare each month’s average worship attendance to the same month of previous years.
  2. Decline in frequency of attendance of church members. This symptom is the number one explanation for attendance decline in most churches. Members are not as committed as they once were. Their waning love for their church is reflected in their declining frequency in worship attendance.
  3. Lack of joy and vibrancy in the worship service. Obviously, this symptom is subjective. It is still, however, very important. Most people can sense when a worship service is vibrant, lukewarm, or dead.
  4. Little evangelistic fruit. As a general rule, a healthy church will reach at least one non-Christian for every 20 in worship attendance. A church with a worship attendance of 200, for example, should see at least ten new Christians a year.
  5. Low community impact. In my consultations, I attempt to find clear indicators that a church is making a difference in its respective community. I ask both church leaders and community members for clear examples and indicators.
  6. More meetings than ministry. A sick church will meet about what they should do rather than do it. Some churches have more committees than conversions.
  7. Acrimonious business meetings. Christians can and do disagree. Sick churches have meetings where the disagreements reflect obvious bitterness and anger.
  8. Very few guests in worship services. A vibrant church will attract guests. A sick church will not.
  9. Worship wars. Yes, they still exist in many churches. Those wars are indicators of an inward focus by the members.
  10. Unrealistic expectations of pastoral care. Sick churches view pastors and other staff as hired hands to do all of the work of ministry. Healthy churches view pastors as equippers for the members to do most of the ministry.

[ See full blog post here ]

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Happy Father’s Day

It was nice to get kisses from my daughter today in church.  I lost count how many she gave me.  I’m not a perfect Dad and I admit it, but I still get kisses anyway.  Fatherhood can be the most wonderful thing a man can experience, especially when we fathers love our children.  Sometimes we fail. We all  have our shortcomings but we are blessed we have a Father in heaven who redeems and gifts us with mercy when we do fail.  St. John Chrysostom said: “God loves us more than a father, mother, friend, or any else could love, and even more than we are able to love ourselves.”  When we follow God who loves us with a perfect love, He gives us fathers a fresh start every day.  Happy Father’s Day!

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The glory of God in creation… or modified creation?

crops_fieldPsalm 19:1 says: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.”

Thomas Merton, a Catholic contemplative said:

“A tree gives glory to God by being a tree.  For in being what God means it to be it is obeying Him.  It “consents,” so to speak, to His creative love.  It is expressing an idea which is in God and which is not distinct from the essence of God, and therefore imitates God by being a tree.  The more a tree is like itself, the more it is like Him.  If it tries to be like something else which it was never intended to be, it would be less like God and therefore it would give Him less glory.”  Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation (1961), ch.5.

In our new age of science and genetic re-engineering of GMO foods, chimera and cyborg technologies, there is always the possibility that these bio-technologies can go sideways.  If human beings try to re-create something into what it was never intended to be,  I wonder if it would then be glorifying to God?

It used to be that chimeras (part human–part animal) and cyborgs (part human–part machine) were a thing only from science fiction movies, comic books, and fantasy animations, but these are now a reality today.  Many of the products we eat today have been genetically modified. They’re able to implant animal DNA into the foods we eat in order to allow it to grow faster and be less prone to disease.  If you knew what science and technology can do, you may never look at your food the same way again. Science today can manipulate genes in plants, animals and human beings that might shock people to their core.

This week, our family was eating seedless watermelon and grapes; and homemade popcorn, possibly from GMO kernals.  Many people buy foods from the grocery stores, eat it, and never consider how it’s already been genetically modified.  Many might even be dangerous to human health.  Did God ever create edible fruits without seeds?  No, I doubt it was ever God’s intention.  According to the book of Genesis, you would think that God intended for all living things to reproduce itself and multiply.  Is this type of human re-creation (or manipulation) glorifying to God or distorting God’s creation?

•    Thousands of sheep, buffalo, and goats in India died after grazing on Bt cotton plants
•    Mice eating GM corn for the long term had fewer, and smaller, babies
•    More than half the babies of mother rats fed GM soy died within three weeks, and were smaller
•    Testicle cells of mice and rats on a GM soy change significantly
•    By the third generation, most GM soy-fed hamsters lost the ability to have babies
•    Rodents fed GM corn and soy showed immune system responses and signs of toxicity
•    Cooked GM soy contains as much as 7-times the amount of a known soy allergen
•    Soy allergies skyrocketed by 50% in the UK, soon after GM soy was introduced
•    The stomach lining of rats fed GM potatoes showed excessive cell growth, a condition that may lead to cancer.
•    Studies showed organ lesions, altered liver and pancreas cells, changed enzyme levels, etc. (Source: website here; see here)

We like to play God, and as a result, we do things that God likely never intended.  Some things may bring better health and advancement to society, but some things can just be plain frightening.  No wonder why cancer and autism rates have skyrocketed and infertility has increased.  What’s been killing the bee and butterfly populations around the world?  The end of the birds and the bees may spell an end to the human race as we know it.  We might never fully know the harms done to us as human beings until 50 years down the road when it’s all too late…and it’s irreversibly damaged our health and human genetics.

If we move into an age of Iron Man and Planet of the Apes, we will need strong morals and ethics to keep us from re-creating some really weird things before they’re introduced into our world.

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