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.

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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.”

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.

Texas church massacre: May God heal us

May God’s peace, love and mercy, be with the families and friends of First Baptist Church, Sutherland Springs, TX.  In this time of tragedy and sadness, may the prayers of the saints rise to heaven, and may the Lord hear our cries and heal our land.

_______________

People are looking for answers and reasons.  Who in their right mind would have the indecency to murder innocent children and adults, especially during worship.  Why do things like this happen in our society, even in small communities?

In our confusion, sadness, and anger, we might ask, “Where is God in this?” but another question might be, “What is it with human beings?”  Is humankind so potentially depraved that it would drive a human being to murder Christian worshipers in cold-blood?

When a person is estranged from God, one is also estranged from God’s love; and when one is estranged from God’s love, it leaves room for hate, sin and evil to enter in.  This is why there is such potential for evil.  We call this depravity.

The murderer, Mr. Devin Patrick Kelley, was far from having any reverence for God’s holiness and love for his fellow human beings.  He was a hardcore proponent of atheism, and Antifa globalist propaganda (left-wing, anti-fascists who hate Christian conservatism).

The Apostle Paul speaks of human depravity in Ephesians 2:1-3,

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”

We, as depraved human beings, have the potential to do much evil in this world, especially with all our passions and desires that drive us toward sinful behavior.  Add in factors of mental illness, Antifa ideology, and perhaps add in chemical dependency, a person can get very confused.

When we are spiritually weak, we need God desperately.  Perhaps the fear of God really is the beginning of wisdom? (Proverbs 9:10).

In our search for answers, I hope that we as a society and as individuals, seek peace, truth, and reconciliation with God, with humanity, and with ourselves.

God of miracles turns water into wine

The story of Jesus turning water into wine in John 2 shows us something about Jesus’ grace. God is a holy God but yet, he is loving and merciful enough to engage in the earthly and common things in this world. God humbly comes into our world, uses a common object (water jugs used for cleaning) and uses it for a holy purpose

“Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine.” (John 2:6-9)

This shows us a few things about God.  First, God who did not need to become human did become God incarnate in the humanity of Jesus Christ.  He did this to transform a sinful people into a holy people.  If God can transform water into wine, then He can surely transform a common unholy person into a holy person.  This gives all of us hope.

Second, the earthly secular things of this world, like the water jugs he used when he turned water into wine shows that he is willing and able to take what is common and use it for his divine purpose.   As vessels of God, He can make us holy and sanctified, and be used for his purposes.  No one is beyond the reach of God who can pull us up from the deepest and darkest muck.

Third, God has the miraculous power in this earthly world to transform all of this world’s material things (organic and inorganic).  God is omnipotent, all-powerful, and unlimited in His potential

Today, millions of lives have already been miraculously turned around and have come into the kingdom of God from lives that have been totally messed up.  Even if a person were the worst and greatest of sinners, Christ has the desire and power to come into one’s lives (justify us), clean us up (sanctify us), and still use us for his kingdom’s purpose (missio Dei).  This is why God’s love for us is eternal, and amazing.

God also has a plan for each of our lives.  When we are feeling down, hopeless and useless, we needn’t stay down.  Don’t give up hope because God has never given up on you.  You are God’s vessel if you allow him to come into your life, cleanse you and transform you for his purpose.  This was always God’s divine plan for humanity.  He does this because He loves you and cares for you.  If you welcome Jesus into your life and receive God’s forgiveness of your sins, then you have just become God’s child.  Follow Jesus.  Find a local church, learn more about Jesus, and begin worshiping the Lord together with God’s holy people.

A saint in God’s dominion and a sinner in the earthly dominion

As Christians, are we fully-redeemed saints of God, or are we still sinners?  As believers in Christ, while we live in this earthly dominion, we are also a part of God’s heavenly dominion.  In other words, we have one foot on earth and one foot in heaven.  Our citizenship is simultaneously in both our heavenly and earthly nations.

Paul speaks of “dominion” in Romans 6:14-15,

“14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!”

In v. 14, Paul seems to be implying a sense of authority rather than a sense of mastery or domination  (The definition of dominion might include: jurisdiction; territory of a sovereign/government; sovereign control; supremacy; domination; authority; command; power; etc.).

If he was implying mastery, he would not have asked the rhetorical question in v. 15  Paul was warning Christians to refrain from taking advantage of God’s grace by intentionally committing sins we know are wrong.  It implies that we as Christians have the potential to commit sins we already know are wrong.  We may be redeemed but we are not free to sin whenever we want (6:12, 15).

Within the church, there is a debate whether we are still sinners. Some would say we are no longer sinners but redeemed saints of God, and have the potential of moral perfection.  Others would say we are still sinners and cannot stop sinning even if we tried.

The body of Christ and our Christian leaders are far from moral perfection. It is only Christ who is totally righteous and it’s only through his sanctification that we are made righteous (Rom. 6:11, 4:24).  I believe Luther was right about humanity’s sin and God’s grace. The doctor of theology, Martin Luther, said we are simultaneously both saint and sinner.  He accepted both realities about man’s sin and redemption.  Humanity’s sin is utterly depraved while we are still in a state of being redeemed.  If we are in God’s dominion of grace, we can be assured that we have eternal life, and have been, and will be fully, set free from sin and death because God has promised this.