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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A connected spirituality in Asia

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Steps to Temple of the Emerald Buddha at The Grand Palace, Bangkok

Bangkok and Thailand is filled with many temples, including some mosques and churches.  It’s a religious and multi-religious society with a connected spirituality.  Initially, I couldn’t put my finger on it; but I couldn’t find words to explain why I felt the people of Thailand and S.E. Asia were “nice”.  “Nice” doesn’t accurately describe the people’s calm, kind and compassionate demeanor.  After some reflection, I think I’ve got it.  Their culture has been influenced through their Buddhist religion and spirituality that teaches and espouses values of kindness and compassion.

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Ratchaprasong District, Bangkok, Thailand

Notice this public map at the Skytrain station in a very busy district of Bangkok.  Thousands of people pass by it everyday to seek direction.  It says: “Eat, Pray, Shop.” The surprising thing is “Pray” is highlighted and “Eat” and “Shop” are grayed out.  No need to hide their spirituality, but rather, it emphasizes it.  I really like that.  They are openly spiritual people and recognize the need to “Pray”.  That’s something we can learn from.

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White Temple, Wat Rong Khun in Chiang Rai

Yes, here in the west we may be multicultural but it doesn’t mean we have to hide our spiritual or religious differences by wiping them away.  To wipe away and hide our religious and spiritual heritages is to deplete ourselves of a blessing that it has nourished and enriched western society. I “pray” that we don’t do that and destroy God’s blessings that the Holy Spirit through Christ’s teachings have provided us (e.g.,, things like kindness, love and compassion and the fruits of the Spirit).  The Apostle Paul reminded the Church in the Epistles to the Galatians 5:22-23 (Holy Bible) of these things I hope we continue to practice:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”

The post-resurrected Jesus

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Picture depicts a post-resurrected Jesus with nail scars still on his hand.

When most of us think of Easter, it’s usually a simple one. Jesus rose from the dead, then ascended into heaven.  What we don’t hear much about is what happened just after Jesus resurrected.

Some dismiss or try to explain away the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection, saying that he was only a spirit-being (like a ghost).  Jesus rising as a spirit-being does not qualify as a resurrection. That’s a Star Wars myth like what we see in Obi-Wan Kenobi (New Hope) or Luke Skywalker (Last Jedi).  To be resurrected in a physical form is much harder to believe.  A resurrection is a bona fide miracle.

After Jesus had resurrected from the dead, left the tomb, he walked and talked with people in a physical form as a real human being. A week after Jesus had resurrected, we know the bible says he was still around before his ascension.  The resurrected Jesus walked around, made himself known to a lot of people, and he showed himself to people.  He was not hiding himself.

Furthermore, he wasn’t just a spirit-being floating around in ethereal space somewhere.  He actually had life in physical form. It was not the same physical body that we have today but it was a resurrected body.

In the bible, the word used for “spirit” is pneuma, but in 1 Cor. 15:44, Paul used the words: soma pneuma (“σωμα πνευματικον”) which means “spiritual body”.  This is the type of body that we, as believers in Jesus, will also be raised with.

Here are some places in the bible where the post-resurrected Jesus showed himself to his disciples in that “spiritual body”:

John 20:19-23  Enters locked room
John 20:24-29  Doubting Thomas
John 21:1-14  Another big catch
Luke 24:13-35  Road to Emmaus
Matthew 28; Mark 16:9   Women
1 Cor. 15:6    500 followers
1 Cor. 15:8    Apostle Paul

Think about it.  First Corinithians 15:6 said that Jesus appeared to over 500 of his followers!  Jesus became a legendary figure.    Witnesses testified they had been with the real live walking-and-talking Jesus.  Their testimonies would have been very hard to dispute.  No wonder the church grew.

God’s supernatural love poured out for us

In my previous post, I revealed that I find myself falling short of being able to love my enemies and those I don’t like. But there is hope because God has provided us an answer to this problem of anger, bitterness, and hatred toward those we might find to be unlikable.

I want to talk more about what scripture calls agape love.  Agape is used in the original written language in scripture.  Our English translation for love in the bible doesn’t express the depth of the original meaning of Greek.

Agape love has a much deeper meaning.  It is more than “being nice,” which is from human effort or power.  We might tell our kids to “play nice.” We might put on a happy face when we are feeling angry inside and try to be nice.  This is not agape love.  First John 4:16 says:

“And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.”

The words “God is love” goes far deeper in meaning than what we might see on the surface.   It cannot be contrived or manufactured. That’s the stuff of romance dramas, movies, or pop songs.  God’s agape love doesn’t come from us but it’s a “God thing.”  It originates from God alone.  It is what we need from God in order to love our enemies and those we find hard to love.

In my discovery of my own short-comings, I’ve realized that I need God’s agape love working in my life everyday to be able to love the unlikable.  God’s agape love is a supernatural love that’s given to us if we openly receive it from God first.  John taught us that we can love others because God has poured out his own supernatural love upon us first.  1 John 4 18-21 continues saying,

The one who fears is not made perfect in love.  We love because he first loved us.  Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.  And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

Personally, when I find people making it hard for me to like to like them, I need God’s agape love to make up for what I lack.  I need to remind myself that God wants to shower his tender grace and mercy upon me (and you too), and pour out his love upon me (and you) to love the unlovable.  All things are possible with God.

 

Impossible task to love my neighbor

Think of a person you dislike or love to hate… either in your workplace, office, your ex-, family member, or whomever or wherever.  Maybe they’ve done something against you and you just hate them for it, or you can’t get along due to unresolvable personality conflicts.  Whatever it may be causing you to dislike or hate each other so much that you cannot say to him/her face, “My dear friend, how are you really doing today?  I really do care and would like to hear how you are doing?”

We may try to pretend to like them, but deep inside, you know you can’t.  As good Christ-followers with honest-to-God intentions, we end up feeling like failures because we cannot pull ourselves together to love them.  Yes, even the best of us Christ-followers may try to love but when it comes down to it, we eventually fail when we are face-to-face with our arch-enemy.   I’m sure all of us reading this blog-post might honestly admit that when faced with our enemy, we will find it impossible to love our enemy.

This is why some people would prefer to walk across the street just to avoid them, or to hide somewhere where we will never see our nemesis. Out-of-sight…out-of-mind, right?  After realizing how truly difficult it is to swallow the pill of being unable to love those who are unlikable, we might admit and confess to the Lord God that “I have failed to love my neighbor as I would like others to love me.”

1 John 4 is John’s love chapter.  First John 4:7-9 says:

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” 

When I look at Christ’s command to love, I am confronted with my own weakness and failure.  I might think to myself, either, I am not Christlike enough, or have failed to obey his command to love.  Shall I be fatalistic and say that: I can never totally love like only Christ can love?  Or shall I fall down before God and confess that this is truly an impossible task to love my neighbor? And that I don’t know God as I ought to know him.

Today, I can honestly answer: “Yes, yes, and yes,” to all the above, and I freely confess: “I have not loved you with my whole heart; I have not loved my neighbors as myself. I am truly sorry and I humbly repent…”

MeToo Movement and Peter’s advice for men

Today’s MeToo movement feels bigger than just a movement; it’s like an explosion. Women, inspired with hope and increasingly courageous are finally coming out to report their experience of abuse. It’s a time and place in society where a firestorm of justice is being unleashed.  This moral and ethical change is very much needed in Hollywood, in politics, at work, and the sports world.

Over 100 American gymnasts have come forward to testify of sexual abuse.

CEOs, sports coaches, Hollywood stars, and politicians left and right are being accused of sexual impropriety, and are falling.  We saw this in the church, now it’s happening in the secular world.  I live in Canada and the same thing is going on  here. It has the potential to effect change around the world.  For too long, sexual assault around the world have gone unspoken.  This has been happening so fast that many of us haven’t had a chance to stop and reflect why.  There is a reason.  Peter wrote about a similar evil in his days (2 Peter 2:13-14, Holy Bible).

One of over 100 from Hollywood have spoken of being sexually assaulted by Harvey Weinstein.

Just as we can only tolerate dirt up to a certain point before a good bathing is desperately needed, today, we also need genuine repentance, a baptism or washing; now is a time of cleansing. Society is in a moral-ethcial cleansing mode where we must come clean. After generations of Hollywood’s filth and grime, and the dark world of sexual scandals in the workplace, God’s word still says that this is wrong and has to stop. This is still sound advice for us to take today.

The Apostle Peter said in 1 Peter 2:11-12,

“Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”

By living ethically and morally, we can all avoid a lot of heartache and turmoil in our lives. Men, let’s just live right today so we can enjoy tomorrow with less regret.  As Peter alluded to that not only is God glorified but others in this world will notice and we will all be blessed by living in a better world.

 

 

Humilty vs selfish ambition

I think most people have worked hard to try to “look good” in front of our friends and colleagues at work.  In our society, we tend to place value on people by what or who they know, how good they look, and other external things.  We do it because we want to be respected, loved or valued by people in our lives. In one of my favorite practical books for living, James says in 3:13-15,

 “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.

One of the vices that’s an easy trap is pride.  I haven’t fully escaped this trap yet but always working on it. The vanity in trying to look good is driven by an idolatry inside of us for things we crave.  It’s especially true in our workplace because we want to be promoted, recognized, admired or respected.  Sometimes we get what we’re after… sometimes we don’t.

The downside to trying to “look good” is that we can get ourselves in trouble, and cause even more trouble… trouble in our workplaces, in friendships/relationships, and family-life.  It causes more arguments, resentment, and just complicated negative vibes all over.  It is unspiritual and demonic as it says in James.   In v. 16: “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

I get good vibes, positive energy and peace from people who have humility and self-confidence.  Both humility and self-confidence are not mutually-exclusive, but they can go together.  James says in vv. 17-18,

“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.”

These are people I like to work with and hang out with. They’re easy to get-along with. They are not pretentious; they are genuine and authentic. I admired these kinds of people.  Between humility or selfish ambition, I’d rather choose humility (a good article on humility at workplace here).

As we go about daily life, may we be encouraged to practice peace, and be sincere and authentic with others.  Let’s not worry about trying to look good, smart, cool, or try to be better than others.  It’s too much hard work anyway. If we just stay focused on our tasks, work hard, and ask God to help us be the best person we can be, we will naturally reap the benefits and rewards.  Good things will eventually come to you like rain on parched dry land.

Star Wars and Christian spirituality

In the movie Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the struggle between the darkside and the lightside is like an internal spiritual struggle that everyone can identify with. Everyday, we struggle with making choices between right and wrong.

Kylo Ren tried to entice Rey into the darkside; and Rey tries to draw Kylo Ren into the lightside.  It’s a Star Wars simplified version of spirituality–a human moralism of good versus evil.  Rey was helpless in the hands of the Supreme leader. Kylo Ren was also helpless in overcoming his entry into the darkside.  And if it weren’t for Luke Skywalker’s intervening at the right moment, Rey would have come very close to entering the darkside.

The Last Jedi was not the typical Star Wars movie.  Lots of inner conflict, and spiritual soul-searching as to who they are, where they come from, and where they belong.  There is not much hope for Kylo Ren coming into the light.  Humanism places hope in the goodness of humanity.  Even if he were to turn to the light in the future Star Wars IX, we can see how weak humanity is in the face of the darkside.  There will not be redemption for Kylo Ren who killed his own father Han Solo to escape his past.  Humanism doesn’t provide healing for his guilt and shame.

The winning outcome from this type of spirituality depends on who has more power at what moment in time.  As human beings, we need a spirituality that is independent from human power or how we use or misuse the Force.  This gives our own human influence more credit than it deserves.  Humanism is deceptive as the darkside.

If you’ll allow me, Christian spirituality is different from the Star Wars type of spirituality. The solution to overcoming the darkside doesn’t depend upon our human influences of good or evil.  In Christian spirituality, we take the starting position that darkness already reside within all human beings. Our fall into sin had already begun since the beginning of creation at Adam’s fall into original sin. Sin and elements of the darkside reside in all of us which we cannot escape from.  We are helpless in the face of darkness because we are incapable of choosing the light, as St. Augustine would have it.

Therefore, we need God’s recreative force of light, external to humanity, in order to overcome the inescapable chasm of the darkside.  As Christians, we believe in the sovereignty of God, in redemption and forgiveness from our wrong-doing.  God is our Supreme Leader and his will is to conquer evil and death to save us from the consequence of the falling into the darkside.  The Lord God will reign victorious on the Final Day of our redemption.  This will happen whether we play a part in it or not.  It is inevitable; the lightside will prevail.  It is God’s battle and we can either participate or sit by the wayside.

If we do participate in the missio dei (God’s mission), then we will do what our Supreme Leader calls us to do, and allow him to reign in all that we do on earth.  If we do not participate in the missio dei, then God will use whoever is willing.  However, God will empower us by God’s Force (i.e., God’s breath, wind, or Holy Spirit) to do his will and complete the mission.

In Star Wars, we know that the lightside and the rebellion will prevail because of the force.  In Christ, we also know that Christ’s reign will prevail because the light in God’s Force will easily overcome all darkness.  The light cannot be extinguished.

In the Gospel of John, it speaks of this powerful light who is the ultimate force in this universe:

“The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it…,.The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.” (John 1:4-5, 9, NLT)

This light is Jesus Christ, who comes to us as Emmanuel (God with us).  Prepare for the Advent of the lightside this Christmas.  May God’s Force be with you.  May his Holy Spirit empower you to fulfill his mission.