Restoring a broken world: via God’s strength in human weakness

In 1 Corinthians 4:9-13, St. Paul the Apostle shared with the Christians and the Church in Rome about how he was mistreated and suffered persecution. He was comparing his suffering with the Christians who gloried in their power and strength. It’s a very stark comparison.

For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings.
We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ!
We are weak, but you are strong!
You are honored, we are dishonored!
To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands.
When we are cursed, we bless;
when we are persecuted, we endure it;
when we are slandered, we answer kindly.
We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment.

What ought to be the norm in Christianity? Is it suffering or is it strength?  In Paul’s days, it was suffering and persecution. Today in the west, the norm is to choose vain human glory and power as if it were a human right. Today, in places like the Middle East, Christians are suffering greater persecution at the hands of radical Muslim terrorists like ISIL, Al Qaeda, etc.

How do we reconcile the injustice inflicted upon the millions of Christians this century?  We cannot ignore the injustice.  We must deal with it in the right way, otherwise, we could end-up with another catastrophic world war, or chemical/nuclear self-annihilation via Mutual Assured Destruction.  Decades ago, it was the Cold War. Today, it’s radical Jihadist Islam bent on creating a worldwide caliphate vs the non-Islamic world that will never relent to an Islamic caliphate.  Is human rights and justice the true answer?

A rights-oriented society likes to talk about justice in terms of human rights. However, did St. Paul the apostle ever once talk about human rights? I do not recall this ever mentioned in his epistles. Rights was not in his religious vocabulary. Rights, as we know it today, is actually a recent human invention since the Enlightenment Period. It has been engraved with human words in the constitutional frameworks of American and French political lawmakers (e.g., U.S. Bill of Rights and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizens).

The downside and weakness of trying to fight for justice using a framework of human rights is that it can be abused. Human beings have the potential to argue for unlimited types and levels of rights and still consequentially end-up with the likes of Stalin, Pol Pot, Darth Vadar, and The Punisher.

Example: 1) animal rights rather than the utilitarian good of humankind; 2) economic rights for human subsistence, which leads to Marxism/Communism with its horrific ideological means to an end-type of destruction; 3) rights of women for control over their bodies to decide whether to abort unborn babies; 4) rights of persons to choose to suicide; and the list can go on.

What does the bible say about these issues?  Just for starters, Genesis speaks of created world where we care for God’s creation within God’s dominion rather than environmental justice. Jesus and the New Testament speak of sharing and giving to the poor and less-privileged rather than Marxism/Communism. The bible throughout speaks of the sanctity of human life rather than taking away life.

The Gospel of Christ shows the church and the world that God desires to redeem what we have destroyed and twisted. Humanity has a way of manipulating love to seek out one’s selfish interests in the name of caring for one another. However, the Gospel, whether in the Old or New Testaments, show us God’s redemption of a sin-filled world.

Hope is not lost. God still has the ability and power to turn our evil into good but in order for this to happen, we need to confess our sins and seek reconciliation.  We fear confession because there are repercussions to revealing our human wrongs, which may cause even more repercussions (e.g., in Canada, we have harmed the First Nations peoples. In the U.S., we have abused African-Americans through slavery. In our established churches, we have sexually-abused children).  We want to avoid opening up a can of worms for fear of being levied even greater penalties for our past sins.  Denominations, businesses, and nations can go bankrupt from paying endless penalties due to retributive and distributive justice in the courts’ justice system. We need to get past this fear because in God’s love, we have no fear.

There is still good news for all people; however, it’s too bad the world is not able to see this. It is seen with spiritual eyes because God’s redemption comes in a form of weakness. It is far from glorious according to the world’s standards. It is hidden in the form of our suffering and our weakness, but behind it, is God’s power to restore the nations.

The Apostle Paul exemplified this in his above statement to the Roman Christians here in 1 Corinthians 4. Paul’s way of the cross is not worldly but it is deeply spiritual.  Paul’s theology and spirituality is not the most popular because it is contrarian.  Our human temptation is to trust in our own power and strength to destroy or over-power our opposition or weaker party.

Paul’s theology and spirituality is to trust in God’s power to redeem and restore what was lost due to our human evil and sin. It takes faith and trust, and also patience to wait-out and see the results. This is why I stated that this can only be seen with spiritual eyes; in other words, it happens in God’s timing using God’s means and methods–rather than our human timing, means and methods.

May our world come to a deeper spiritual understanding of how God works in this world. May we be truly enlightened by God’s Holy Spirit and words to follow a path shown by God’s love in his one and only Son, Jesus Christ. It is a path towards God’s righteousness and true justice.

Our desire for significance

PrintTruly great people carry themselves with genuine humility through and through, and do not try to prove themselves to anyone.  We admire such people.  It is a godly trait and one that prideful people envy in humble people.  Pride is a temptation common to all human beings and is one of our bigger weaknesses. It’s traditionally known as one of the seven deadly sins.

St. Augustine said, “It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes men as angels.”  Finding true humility in people is hard to come by and is an impossibility for most of us.  Even within the church, we all have a desire for recognition (including all human beings).  We want to be associated with people or things greater than ourselves.  I admit, even clergy/pastors do it, e.g., we like to claim we baptized x number of people on baptism Sunday.

In 1 Corinthians 1:14-17, Paul had lambasted some of the Christians for bragging they were baptized by Paul himself (as if his act of baptizing made them more special).

I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (1 Corinthians 1:14-17)

We try to associate ourselves with something greater than ourselves in order to alter how people perceive us.  Why do we do this?  As most human beings, at times, we feel insecure about ourselves or status.  We have an insatiable desire to be seen as more significant because we feel insignificant in comparison to others.  It comes from our sin of wanting to be God in God’s place.

Paul said he would rather have not baptized anyone except Crispus and Gaius–probably because they were the humble ones who did not brag about having been personally baptized by Paul. It sounds like Paul did not baptized many people, maybe for this very reason. He didn’t care to baptize more people.

Ideally, we ought to be satisfied with associating ourselves with God in Jesus Christ.  We can ask the Holy Spirit to help us forsake this deadly sin of pride.  He will help us.

God’s election of a predestined group

The debate about Calvinism vs Arminianism sometimes center around the issue of predestination.  Everyone believes that God does predestine, but to what extent are we predestined to?  God has predestined that Christ should live within the believer in order to be saved, but the question is: Does God predestine a certain chosen or elected smaller remnant of people to be saved?  Scripture seems to point to this.

Certainly Israel was chosen, as the Apostle Paul points out here in Romans 8:28-30,

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” (Rom. 8:28-30, NIV)

Calvinists would say that predestination is explicit in this passage of scripture, however, Arminians would interpret this verse to imply that God’s prevenient grace is universally offered to all people, regardless of whether or not they’ve heard the gospel. In a way, this grace also renders the person “neutral” so that they can decide themselves whether to accept or reject Christ (see Monergism).

In the Old Testament, Paul quoted Moses and makes it clear that only a remnant will be saved to continue on as the surviving and true Israel,

“For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because they are his descendants are they all Abraham’s children…” (Rom. 9:6-8)

Furthermore, the argument of whether God is truly merciful or not is clear in the Old Testament. Paul quotes Moses from Exodus 33:19,

“I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” (Rom 9:14)

This begs us to wonder: “What if my son or daughter, brother or sister, is neither predestined or called by God?”  Ouch.  A loving father, mother, sibling or spouse, would feel a deep heart-ache if they knew that their loved one was not predestined to be with the Lord on the Last Day.

Another question might be: What about all the other millions of people around the world who have never had the opportunity to hear the gospel of Jesus?  Are they not predestined to be saved?

I still have unanswered questions, but for me, come what may, I still believe that God is a sovereign God and will place my bets on God’s mercy, grace and love.

 

 

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;…

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?

God’s kingdom: Small churches or mega-churches?

In Jesus’ days, the religious leaders were consumed with anxiety that Jesus had been gaining too many followers (John 11:45-57).

 11:48 – “If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”
12:19 – “’See, this is getting us nowhere.  Look how the the whole world has gone after him!‘”

Religion today is still concerned about how many people attend our worship services.  The number of parishioners translate into dollar amounts collected in the offering plate, which is translated into how many pastors it hires/calls and how big a building project can be.  This causes us think of adherents and followers as just a piece of the pie (“more for others means less for us”). This also causes us to think of the small church as lowly vs mega-churches as more successful.  Should we carry this view of God’s kingdom.  Is this a healthy or distorted way to view God’s kingdom?

Jesus was concerned about discipling people and truth and life, not the number of followers he has.  For pastors, elders and deacons, it takes faith to carry on as small churches in communities where there are mega-churches next door.

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.

Mark 5:19 – Be a witness first to our family, friends, or people?

A continuation of a further look at Mark 5:19 on the man who was exercised of a legion of demons and had them cast into a heard of pigs (swine). Did Jesus tell the healed man to return and give witness of Jesus Christ to his family, friends, or to his own people?

Mark 5:19 says: “But Jesus would not let him. Instead, he told him, “Go back home to your family and tell them how much the Lord has done for you and how kind he has been to you.” (Good News)

NLT, Amplified, Douay-Rheims:  uses “family
NIV, ESV/RSV/NRSV, N/KJV: uses “friends
CEB, CSB, NJB, NET: uses “your [own] people

Which is correct? One biblical commentary states: “Jesus refused the man permission to accompany him, but instructed him to return to the circle of family [Mark’s phrase τοὺς σούς may well include a circle wider than the man’s family, but there can be no doubt that the family was at the center of that circle.”  (William L. Lane, NICNT).

Another states: “To your people” (πρὸς τοὺς σούς), unique to the NT, has been taken narrowly by some to mean “your family” … But most take this to refer more broadly to “the people of your area” (R.A. Guelich, Word/ WBC).

In terms of biblical theology, either interpretation would not have any implications; but it would in terms of evangelism.  Do we go and bring our witness of Christ to our family first, or friends first, or our own ethnic people?  Obviously, we should evangelize everyone, but if I were this man healed of demon possession, I would want to tell my family first, then everyone else.