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.

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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.

Religion in Taiwan

While visiting my spouse’s hometown in Changhua, Taiwan, I visited Bagua Mountain (actually a hill) where there is a huge statue of Buddha.  I climbed up its inner staircases within its inner sanctum where there are displays on each floor explaining the history of Buddhism in Taiwan. I found this to be a good learning experience as I was not raised in a Buddhist-Confucian culture.

Christianity had missed an early opportunity to evangelize China.  Buddhism was only introduced to China in the 3rd century BC but did not flourish until later even into the 3rd to 6th century AD.  There were a some early 5th c. evangelists in East Asia but they did not make any in-roads to evangelize China.

Taiwan’s major religion today is Buddhism.  Having 35% of its population as adherents, there are countless temples in Taiwan–as many as there are churches in the U.S. bible-belt. I’m not sure of the percentage of Christianity in Taiwan but my guess-timate according to various sources is anywhere between 5-10% of the population. Evangelism through the Presbyterian Church came in earlier and established many institutions like hospitals and schools. The local hospital in this city is Changhua Presbyterian (Christian) Hospital.  The local people greatly appreciate this major institution because it has benefited so many people.

Taiwan (R.O.C.) is a free nation and has freedom of religion, speech, assembly, elections, etc., but it is forced to play the political game of who has sovereign authority over the country.  Pray for political stability of Taiwan. The threat and intimidation tactics from mainland China (P.R.C.) is similar to that of North Korea vs South Korea.

 

Helping unwed mothers

Gimme_ShelterThe idea of single pregnant teenagers scares many people including Christians.  We probably wouldn’t know what to do about it if someone in this situation were to come to us, or walk into one of our churches.

What would your church do about it?  What would most churches do about it?

Would you advise such a person to have an abortion, or to have the baby and at least give it up for adoption?

If churches do not have compassion or the willingness to minister to the downtrodden, then is it any wonder most girls turn to the easy solution of abortion?  So if we say we are pro-life, then we should be there to support them and counsel them to have the child, and later, give it up for adoption if they don’t want to raise it themselves.  There are up to 36 couples waiting for every one baby placed for adoption.  Yes, really.

I watched a film called Gimme Shelter.  It’s based on a true story and is inspiring.   The main character, Apple, who’s a sixteen year old teenager, runs away from her mother who is a drug addict and sex worker.  Apple finds herself pregnant and hospitalized from a car accident.  A Catholic chaplain (priest) in a hospital was initially turned away by Apple, but his patience and long-suffering eventually paid off.  Apple began to trust him and gave him the opportunity to bring her to a shelter where she is loved, care for, and finds friendship.  The shelter was founded and run by a Catholic housemother, who truly has a calling in ministry to take care of young unwed mothers.   The love in that place really impressed upon Apple because she chose to stay even when she had the chance to leave. Truly inspiring.

There aren’t a lot of good films that promote the social needs of people from a Christian perspective. This is one that can inspire not only Catholics, but evangelicals and protestants to take action to do what is godly.

Part 4: Religious and spiritual landscapes — urban vs rural

Have you noticed a decline in evangelism in your local church?

In most rural communities, the visible church is more stable and will likely remain (although many historic mainline churches are closing).  Naturally, change in rural communities do not happen as frequently; therefore, people will have the opportunity to integrate their spirituality and their religious life when they feel a need to do so (e.g., some may even decide to enter a church after a long absence after Baptism, Confirmation, wedding/funeral, or the odd Christmas worship service).

However, in the urban communities where the visible Church is less likely to be a permanent fixture.  Fast-paced change is common place (due to construction and new developments).  If an established or historic local church were to disappear from a major intersection in “City X”, the religious loss might not be very apparent; however, the spiritual void will eventually be felt by people whether we know it or not.

What does this mean for the visible Church in urban settings today?  The visible church triumphant must continue to remain and become a more visible part in our urban communities.

Are we, the Church, trying and working hard enough to make the visible Church more visible in our urban settings?  Hardly.

Tragically, many congregations of the historic mainline denominations are shrinking and disappearing from the religious landscape.  This will continue for the foreseeable future because they are failing to  help people make the connection between people’s spiritual lives with their real everyday lives.  There is a currently a huge void and lack of vision for evangelism in reaching out to people with Jesus’ Gospel message.

This means that our contemporary evangelical churches must continue to take responsibility and carry the load for evangelism and mission in urban communities.  Thankfully, many churches have not forgotten or lost their passion and vision for evangelism and outreach.  As Christ’s visible Church triumphant in North American society, we must remember and carry out Jesus’ Great Commission from Matthew 28:19-20, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you”.

Is your local church doing taking responsibility in carrying out Jesus’ Great Commission from Matthew 28?

[ see previous post: Part 3: Religious and spiritual landscapes — urban vs rural ]

Part 3: Religious and spiritual landscapes — urban vs rural

Is there still a need in people’s lives to express their spirituality in some way, shape or form–and within community?  Our  western culture seems to have taken individuality to the extreme where religious community life has been secularized and devalued to the sidelines of life, and even ignored.  Participation in religious community life has now become totally voluntary… but maybe this is good.  It separates true and genuine Christian believers/seekers who voluntarily commit to their beliefs from those who follow Christianity due to involuntary happenstance or family heritage.  As religious community life becomes more marginalized, what distinguishes the visible church from the invisible church will be pared down.  The expression of true spirituality and religious life will become more apparent to secular eyes.

Morever, and more to my point, is that, people who voluntarily desire to become a part of an organized religious/faith community (a church) are not as prone to sliding into spiritual oblivion. Here’s a few cases I witnessed the past month that explains our human need to be in Christian community:

The other day, a stranger walked into our church during our prayer meeting.  he didn’t know us, and we didn’t know him from Adam.  I admired his courage to enter our church.  I suspect the reason why he came might have been motivated by his desire to express his thanks to God for getting him a new job, after having been unemployed for the last four months.  In our prayers together, I felt that our small prayer group was successful in helping him express his thankfulness to God for giving him a job.  I ended up giving him a bible to take home, and we all welcomed him to come again to join us for Sunday worship and Wednesday night prayer meetings (may the Holy Spirit continue working in his life).  Also another fellow had walked into our prayer meeting a month ago. I don’t know what motivated him to come but I sensed he had a need to come.  He wasn’t a complete stranger to the church because he says he knew someone from a while back.

All of us need to have  an outlet for spiritual expression.  Without it, we will ultimately become disconnected from true spirituality.  If the opportunity for one to access  such expressions are denied them, will their spirituality become lifeless and formless? 

[ next post expresses what we need to do about this disconnect. See previous post Part 2. ]

Part 2: Religious and spiritual landscapes — urban vs rural

Have we, as a society, kept our spirituality hidden away too much from the eyes of others for the sake of being tolerant? 

In my move from rural to urban, I have also noticed a big difference in how people approach spirituality (as opposed to religion).   Spirituality in the urban setting (especially on the part of the postmodern generation), is much more individualized, where one person’s spirituality might not  be the same as another’s approach.  This is fine, but when one’s spiritual life is totally disconnected from the religious community life and privatized, there is a hidden danger.  When a person’s sense of spirituality goes dry and empty without some kind of organized religion to support and back them up, their spiritual lives can slide into oblivion.   They may lose their entire sense of spirituality and never know how far they’ve gone because no one is there to keep them accountable.

Has the expression of individual spirituality become too privatized?

[ next post expresses our lack or need of spiritual expression in society. ]

Part 1: Religious and spiritual landscapes — urban vs rural

This will be the first post in a four part series.  I want to bring up and provoke some thoughts about differences in people’s attitudes toward religion and spirituality in both rural and urban settings. The Church is at a critical moment in the 21st century. Either we work to survive and thrive, or we curl up and die in a corner.  What has Christ called us to?

Have you noticed a difference in people’s attitudes toward religious and spiritual expression between rural and urban communities?

Having moved from a small community to a large one, I have noticed very big differences in the religious and spiritual landscapes between urban and rural settings.

In the rural setting, religion is still part of people’s normal everyday lives.  Whether or not they participate in organized religion, the established Christian church is there and is accepted as an integral part of the community.  It is funny how even non-church goers understand and accept the Christian church as  part of being people’s normal everyday life.  If the church were to collapse or close  in a rural community, there would be a marked void in their life because they will feel that something is missing.  I think this is due to how the church has remained somewhat integrated into the life of small communities.

In the urban setting, religion is hardly and rarely a part of people’s everyday lifestyle.  If a church is not sitting there in front of their face, it can very easily go unnoticed and be forgotten.  Furthermore, the impact of the Christian church is minimal and hardly felt in the midst of the busy and changing marketplace.  If an urban church were to suddenly disappear due to deconstruction to make room for a new condo and business developments, most people won’t even notice.  They will have forgotten that a church had even existed on intersection of Main Street and Central Avenue.

How is your local church integrated into your community (rural or urban)? Would there be an impact in your immediate community if your local congregation were to burn down or suddenly disappear?

[ next post touches on society’s approach to finding a connection with their spiritual lives. ]