Doing Good Works: Praying, Fasting, Charitable Giving

Some devoted Christians around the world will be observing Holy Week starting this coming Saturday till Sunday, 9-15th of April 2017. For many this can be set aside as a holy time for praying, fasting, giving alms and doing charitable deeds to help the underprivileged. What a special time!


An angel in Acts, announced to the devoted Cornelius that his prayers of thanksgiving and almsgiving were remembered by God. He is about to come to know Christ.  Acts 10:3-4 says,

3 “About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius.” 4 And he stared at him in terror, and said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God…” (RSV)

Here’s a seemingly simplistic but a spiritual question:
If God recognizes and remembers our prayers and charitable giving, then shouldn’t we be encouraged to pray more and give more? 

Our obvious answer would naturally be “Yes!” but our good works of praying and almsgiving can either be both a good work or they can be done purely out of genuine faith.  Martin Luther cautioned that none of our good works can earn any merit toward our salvation, or earn God’s recognition to merit more approval.  According to Paul, our human righteousness is worthless as rags.  Salvation and good works ought to be done only in faith.

Now here’s a bit of theology to get your head around… If you are past the “human religion” stage and couldn’t care less about trying to earn salvation or earn God’s favor by being a good person, then that’s great!  You are set free to act in good faith to move on to do even more good works.  Since you’ve already been created into God’s beloved child, then you are set free from a human striving in order to please God (see Luther’s quote below).

Be encouraged to observe Holy Week with passion. Pray more, fast more, and be more charitable. Praise the Lord! Do your good works boldly. God loves it and hears it. 

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Martin Luther states in his A Treastise on Good Works (1520):

XVI. But you say: How can I trust surely that all my works are pleasing to God, when at times I fall, and talk, eat, drink and sleep too much, or otherwise transgress, as I cannot help doing? Answer: This question shows that you still regard faith as a work among other works, and do not set it above all works. For it is the highest work for this very reason, because it remains and blots out these daily sins by not doubting that God is so kind to you as to wink at such daily transgression and weakness. Aye, even if a deadly sin should occur (which, however, never or rarely happens to those who live in faith and trust toward God), yet faith rises again and does not doubt that its sin is already gone;…

Gospel of John: a partial account of signs and wonders

In the Gospel of John 21:30-31, Jesus said:

“Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

Sidenote: a fragment of an Egyptian papyri containing a text of Gospel of John 21:20-23

These few verses are rarely discussed, as to its implications, in how we perceive Jesus’ earthly ministry. Upon taking a closer look at what the writer of John’s Gospel said himself, the Gospel represents only a partial account of the totality of Jesus’ earthly ministry because he explicitly said, “…which are not recorded in this book” meaning there are many more signs and wonders that we haven’t read about but that were performed and witnessed by the apostles.

If so, then is it possible that we also may have a partial written account of miraculous signs in the Acts of the Apostles, and of the New Testament epistles? 

Then does the bible as a whole represent a full or partial account of Jesus’ and the apostles’ history and ministry on earth? 

On the surface, this question itself is suspect and smells of heresy because the sufficiency of scripture is questioned.  Before I went to seminary, I might have thought so because I was taught to believe the bible was the entire revelation of God. The word of God was the be-all and end-all.  Do I believe that God is fully revealed in Jesus and that the gospel is fully sufficient for our salvation?  Yes, indeed! But this differs from what some call Bibliolatry.

Acts 5:12 says,

“Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles.”

Let’s allow ourselves to ponder… how many of these signs and wonders were actually recorded in the book of Acts?  Back then, it is a fact that few people knew how to write, and to even find a scribe or writer to record everything would have been next to impossible.  The actual total number of acts of God’s miracles and healings would fill up multiple volumes of books. The books of the Gospel of John and the Acts of the Apostles are only a fraction of what Jesus and his apostles actually did on earth. It only gives us a small impression of what their earthly ministry was like.

Moreover, to say that some things were not recorded means that the accuracy, validity and historicity of recorded signs were important to the writer of John’s Gospel. He also implicitly understood that the visible and powerful signs of God would have a major influence in the faith of future generations of believers.

He says that these were written with the intention that future Christ-followers would come to believe in Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God; and that by believing, we may have eternal life.  Today, this has come true.  Our belief in Jesus as the Son of God was the goal of the disciples in these written instances of God’s signs.

Asking for whatever you wish

John 15:7 says: “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.

Someone less familiar with the bible who reads this might easily take this to mean that God will grant whatever wish he or she wishes.  I have heard of Christians who innocently asks the Lord for a miracle or healing and receive from the Lord the answer they prayed for. Is this coincidence or for real.  Probably a bit of both.

As a devil’s advocate, I wish to ask: Do we treat God the Father like an earthly father who gives good gifts, or as a genie in a bottle?  The bible directs us to approach God like we would approach a good earthly father.  For some of us Christians, we might hesitate to do so because it would be wrong to treat God our Father like a genie in a bottle who grants whatever wish we desire, but for many of us Christians, it is also practical and simple approach to understanding God. But for many Christians who do ask but do not receive, I have empathy for them.

As a father myself, my daughter will ask me for this and that, and anything she sees and likes. But as a father who loves my dear daughter, I know that some things would be unhealthy or bad for her.  I also don’t want to spoil her.

Our Father God also knows what is good and what is bad for his spiritual children. Wouldn’t God also keep things away from us in order to protect us just like a good earthly father would want to protect his children?  I certainly believe He would.  We have a Heavenly Father who knows exactly what would be good or bad or unhealthy for us.  We would not know it at the time but God knows the future and foresees what would be bad or un- or counter-productive for our lives.

Do you trust our Heavenly Father even if He were to withhold some seemingly good things back from you?

Hearing God’s voice

In John 12:27-36, after Jesus answered the heavenly Father, the LORD spoke audibly to Jesus’ disciples with a voice that thundered. Then Jesus informed them saying, “…This voice was for your benefit, not mine.”

When God speaks to human beings, it’s for our benefit.  We might mistakenly think this is God speaking to glorify God but it’s really for our benefits.  God does not need glory.  He is already glorious. Rather, we are the one’s who need to hear God’s voice. We need to be built-up and strengthened in our faith in the Lord.  Without revelation from God, our faith will wane.

A prayer: “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.  Your people, your church, needs to hear from you daily.  I need to know that you are with me, loving me, and guiding me.”

 

Truth of the gospel brings freedom

As Christians, we love our social freedoms–freedom of religion, of assembly, of the press, to name a few.  Freedom is a natural outcome of the Christian gospel. Back on February 1st, it was National Freedom Day in the USA, but many do not understand where these liberties in our free world came from.

I’m considered an early generation of millennials and attended several liberal arts universities. We, as others in the western world, have been subjected to an indoctrination and propaganda of untruths and lies in our education systems.  This flowed into how the mainstream mainstream media viewed the world.  The end result was a generation of socialists. I’m a fruit of this but thank God it was the Church that brought me back into a Christian worldview. As Christians, we have lost ground.  Socialism and other religious thought dominate this generation’s philosophical outlook on the world. This can only be countered when we teach the good news; otherwise, we might be in danger of losing our God-given freedoms.

In a democratic society, the conservatives and liberals ought to mutually respect the people’s decision of their elected national leader. In Jan. 2017, media attacks on President Trump incited riots and vandalism.  I was very much saddened to see how the left-wing media had created a division in America. Thank God Trump did not just “suck it up.” I think the left needs to own up to their divisiveness.

We need a correction in mainstream media and how universities teach our young people. This day will come one day, as the truth sets people free.  As Christians, God calls us to set the prisoners free and be salt and light in a dark world. Jesus said: “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32).  He was speaking in terms of salvation but the point here is that there is an inherent sense of freedom experienced when we share the truth of the good news of Christ.  Truth must be spoken by all as private citizens, as well as, by the media/press in the public sphere. We have a responsibility to convey the truth in whether it’s in the church, government, the courts, the media, in schools, in all places at all times.

givemefreedomFrom within God’s kingdom, God will be calling law-abiding, Christ-loving people who are truth-tellers to lead society in our classrooms, the courtrooms, and legislatures.  The church and the truth we hold dear in the Gospel of Jesus Christ need to intersect with society so that people can come out from under a veil of darkness.  The truth can and will set people free.

Is there other intelligent life out there?

This current generation will have the opportunity to dream about the possibility of new life and living on other planets.  In my growing-up years, this was only in the movies because earth was the only planet we knew of that was livable.  As many people learned this past week, NASA has just announced the new discovery of seven planets known as Trappist-1.

As a teenager, I was told “Aliens do not exist,” and that if a person thought they saw an alien, it was a demonic manifestation.  I had no problems with this according to my Christian culture because scriptures had nothing to say about other life other than earth’s human beings.  But if we were to actually discover intelligent life in outer space, would it contradict the bible?  I don’t see any contradiction.

Walking in the light

jesus-light3Jesus was teaching Nicodemus about living in the light and being born again into the kingdom of God.  He said in the Gospel of John, ch. 3:20-21,“Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God” (NIV).

As human beings, all of us fear being exposed of our sinful or unlawful acts because we feel shameful of our sinful acts, habits or practices. We are guilty of breaking the moral, and even, civil laws given to us by God or society. But if we enter into the merciful courts of God’s presence, there is nothing God cannot delete from His list of our wrongs.

Walking in the light of Christ means that we are to daily confess to God all our sins—yes, telling God everything we have done, said, or thought, that day or week. It means exposing everything to God means we are walking in safety—not in fear like walking on hot coals.

But what if our fear overtakes us and we run and hide away from God’s light?  The Holy Spirit wants us to learn to trust that it is safe to expose our sins to God and to trust that God’s grace is always forever merciful. The Spirit wants us to have more courage and boldness to walk in the light of Christ.  Yes, this is a hard thing to do.  Even though I have been a Christians for decades, I still find it a constant challenge for me to trust that God and man can be merciful. Perhaps it comes from my Asian heritage, which is a shame-based culture.

Prayer: Lord, constantly be my lighthouse to shine into my darkness so that I may contemplate my sins within your perimeter of light and become cleansed by your gift of forgiveness.

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.