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.


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!

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.

October 31 marks a freedom from good works

October 31 is a special date that marks the beginning of Protestantism.  No, not Halloween but the day one monk-professor protested the Church’s illegitimate rules and regulations.  It was the beginning of the western church’s road to reform.

Martin Luther, a young Roman Catholic priest before he was kicked-out, had nailed the Ninety-Five Theses on the door of the Wittenburg Castle Church.  This got him into big trouble–not for graffiti, but for his ideas.  It was sort of a declaration that stated the truths he wished all Christians would understand, including the Pope and bishops of the Church to whom he had given some constructive, but unwelcomed critique.  They were furious when they saw what he made public for all to read.  They tried him, and finally, wanted to kill him when they realized he would never conform.

Why was Luther up-in-arms about the Church?  Christians had been deceived into giving indulgences (or alms) to ensure the salvation of one’s loved ones. This was totally contrary to biblical teaching because scripture was clear that salvation was a free gift from God and cannot be bought.  Finally, in 1517 A.D., a fed-up Martin Luther began to argue for freedom from such non-sensical rules that were conveniently concocted by the church in order to secretly fund the construction of a big church building in Rome (St. Peter’s Basilica).  He argued that we are saved only by faith in believing that Jesus died for our sins, not by following the illegitimate laws of the Church.  He believed this was the Christian’s religious freedom from having to trust in the dictates of the law for our righteousness.

The great reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin, et al, have fought to restore the freedom of the Christian from having to earn our righteousness through good works.  It was a major sacrifice of blood, sweat and tears (literally).  Christians have died for this religious freedom.  Today, Evangelical, Protestant, and Catholic Christians have solid ground to stand upon the belief that we are not bound by having to do any good works to earn God’s approval or favor.  Paul also encouraged Christians toward good works, not to run from it (Galatians 5:9-10 and Ephesians 2:10).
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.”
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
To do good works in the world is part of being a good human being.  It does not make you and I a better Christian.  What makes a person a good Christian is faith alone, in and through, the grace of Christ alone.  In light of our freedom we have today, may we be encouraged to live out our freedom to do even more good works, not because we must, but because we want to bless our fellow brothers and sisters in the Lord, and help our fellow human beings in this world.

We are the salt and light in a dark world.  May the light of the gospel shine as others see our good works to the praise and glory of God the Father.

Art and artisans since Moses

The contemporary church has failed to appreciate the value of art, artists, and artistry as an expression of our worship. The Protestant Church in the 16th century expelled much of art and believed that it was unnecessary and extraneous from the core of the gospel. This is why we have not seen much Christian art since the rise of Protestantism.

In the Old Testament (14-13th c. BCE), God had Moses commission the best of the artists, Oholiab, to design items of worship for the sanctuary. These items were not merely for practical uses, but were also meant to be beautiful and artistic–thus, demanding the best of the best artisans to design and craft the holy hardware.

“…and with him was Oholiab son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, an artisan, a designer, and an embroiderer in blue, purple, and scarlet yarn and fine linen.” (Exodus 38:23, NET)

During the exile of Jerusalem, the Babylonian King, valued the artists so much so that they were taken captive along with the best military officers, soldiers and craftsmen.

“King Nebuchadnezzar took all of Jerusalem captive, including all the commanders and the best of the soldiers, craftsmen, and artisans—10,000 in all. Only the poorest people were left in the land.” (2 Kings 24:14, NLT)

Art was highly valued in worship and is common in all cultures. Why should Christianity not also value artistry in our worship of the Lord?

A glass wedding chapel in Taiwan

I am currently visiting Taiwan and will blog when I get the opportunity. I saw this church on the internet and thought this was interesting. It is a glass slipper church in Chaiyi, Taiwan.  There are no worship services, and was built with the intention to be used as a wedding chapel.  Seems like a bit of a luxury.  The BBC websites blogged about this here.  Might be an interesting place to visit if I get the chance.

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.

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 ]