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.

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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.

Eating and drinking out of faith

The apostle Paul was very sensitive toward the conscience of fellow believers–especially those who were new believers in Christ.  Recent converts to Christ would have experienced a new-found freedom in Christ.  They came from either strict Judaism where rules and regulations binded them, and if from paganism, Gentiles would have had little or no rules. Jewish beliefs about eating non-kosher food or drinking alcohol would have diverged from Gentile beliefs.  Thus, the church may have been quite diverse.

Paul instructed Christians in Romans 14:20-23,

“Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.  So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.”

I am reminded about my fellow brothers and sisters of Asian cultures who eat solidified pigs blood (blood curd) like my Filipino friends.  Deuteronomy 12:23 advises not to eat pig’s blood,

But be sure you do not eat the blood, because the blood is the life, and you must not eat the life with the meat.

What about after it’s been cooked?  When I was a younger Christian, I would have judged because others in the church were judgemental.  I guess it was a form of devout piety and a sincere but twisted desire to bind others with biblical rules.  Today that’s changed. Hopefully, some of the church is changing too. Does this mean I’m going to start eating blood curd? No. It’s just not in my taste in food. But I do love eating pork chops, pork cutlets, and pork bone soup (Korean). Yum yum.

The freedom that we are given frees us from the consequences of external laws–liturgical and ceremonial law.  It is the life of the Spirit in which we live–the interior life–which is not visible to human eyes but is spiritually discerned.

Laws are not disregarded or thrown out.  Laws are holy and good because they are given by God and inform us of what is moral and ethical.  They inform us that we are still sinners; while the gospel transforms us into saints.  Laws help correct us and steer us toward living a better life but they do not save us.  We thank God for good laws, but we also thank God more for freedom in the Spirit.

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?

Eating the Bread of Life and drinking his blood

bread-cup What is “bread of life” and flesh and blood in John 6.  This can be confusing to many Christians.  It is why Christians have differences in understanding Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion or the Eucharist.  The theology of the Catholic and Orthodox churches take a literal understanding of “bread of life,” and eating and drinking Jesus’ flesh and blood.  The theology of most Protestant and Evangelical churches take a symbolic and metaphorical approach to understanding the eating and drinking Jesus’ flesh and blood.  As an Evangelical Protestant, I hold to it being symbolic.  Why? “Remain in me, and I in you” is referenced both in the contexts of Jesus being the “bread of life“, body and blood (Jn. 6:56), and also as the vine (Jn. 15:5). This commonality may be an indication that Jesus was speaking metaphorically in both instances because in the case of Jesus being the vine, there is no biblical linkage to a sacramental practice.

chalice-breadSome of my Christians friends believe the real presence of Christ is manifested in the Eucharist; and some friends see the Lord’s Supper as simply a memorial.  Struggling through this issue is not so simple.  In some cases, as a Christian, I read things literally, and in some cases, I like to read things metaphorically.  Let’s face it, we do pick and choose.

Note: Jesus claimed to be the bread of life four times in vv. 35, 48, 51, 58.
-ref. eating his flesh seven times in vv. 51, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58.
-ref. drinking his blood five times in vv. 53, 54, 55, 56, 57.

Purpose of the Law since Christ

Paul says in Romans 10:4, “For Christ is the end of the law, with the result that there is righteousness for everyone who believes.”  Since Christ has come, have the laws of Moses come to an end and considered useless?  On the other hand, Jesus and Paul speak of the law in very good terms. They even quote from the Laws of Moses. Some Christians also hold that the Laws of Moses are still today’s rule of life for the Christian.

So what is the law good for then if it is now abolished since the coming of Christ?  What aspects of the law are to remain, and what are to be abolished?  Does not following the law mean that we give license to sin and lawlessness?