Category: Culture & Society


Salt and Light

We are called to be salt and light in the world. Jesus describes the agents of God’s Kingdom as people of influence and inspiration (Matthew 5:13-16). Salt may be a common ingredient in food preparation. Light is valued for making daily work viable. We take them for granted. But Jesus invokes the irresistible and irreversible significance of salt and light. The presence of Jesus’ disciples challenges cultural conditions and transforms human relationships.

How will disciples of Jesus fare as salt and light in a culture of pessimism and fear? Do we feel discouraged by the indifference and indiscretion? Are we troubled by the lack of self-awareness and self-discipline? Does it matter whether outreach and compassion touches lives? Do we sense the needs and hurts? How will we respond?

I believe Jesus has given us the authority to be salt and light as disciples who care about the Gospel. Therefore, we are empowered to pray, to speak the truth of God’s Word, to practice love, mercy and justice. We can experience the power of praying for God’s healing grace and spiritual transformation. We can engage hearts and minds with the liberating truth of Jesus’ teaching. We can serve those who are struggling and suffering with the love of Jesus with acts of kindness and compassion. We can become a community of the Gospel embodying the reality of Jesus’ life and presence in our daily living.

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On October 5th, the world bade farewell to a compelling, creative genius. Steve Jobs, artist and entrepreneur, inspired a global passion for simplicity and elegance in how we use intelligent products for expressing our humanity and personal yearnings. The iPod, iPad and iPhone are certainly well-crafted technological showpieces. Steve Jobs was a consummate advocate for following one’s heart. Instead of riding on the cultural waves of popular sentiments, Jobs created a cultural revolution in the way we communicate and share ideas, values and stories. Apple is now the most highly valued technological enterprise and will likely lead the industry in innovative design for the coming years. Steve Jobs followed his heart and lived out his vocation with passion and determination.

How does a person discover his heart’s true voice in a busy, chaotic world where a thousand voices compete for attention? While Steve Jobs was an exceptional individual, we might feel less significant. What is my heart saying to me? If I follow my heart’s desire, will it lead to personal fulfillment and contentment? Where is my heart leading? Who are those God has placed in my heart, not as a burden but as a blessing?

In Psalm 37, we hear the voice of David, a man whose heart was fully devoted to God. David writes: “Trust in the Lord and do good. Then you will live safely in the land and prosper. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires.” (Ps. 37:3,4 NLT) When we trust in the Lord and take delight in Him, God will grant us the desires of our heart. David emphasizes the priority of entrusting our heart to God by nurturing a singular desire for God. The more we delight in Him and desire His will, the more our hearts will discover a harmonious voice of agreement with God. We learn to desire what He desires. We sense His purpose for our life. We discern His heart for the people we are called to serve. We feel His pleasure when our life echoes His truth and love.

At the 2005 Stanford University Commencement address, Steve Jobs spoke about following his heart and facing his own mortality. “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

David followed his heart and intuition by desiring what God desires. It is not what others think that really matters. It is what your heart says that ultimately matters. So trust in the Lord and delight in Him. Then follow your heart’s desire, for God will make your life speak His goodness, His love and His truth.

How does one value a life? By measuring age, tenure, credentials, achievements, legacy, reputation, net worth, or popularity? What characterizes a life well-lived? Does it matter? If we look at the life of Jack Layton, leader of the opposition and the federal NDP, would Canadians agree that he was blessed with a rich and fruitful life despite the pain and struggle with terminal cancer? If we consider our own life, what makes it unique and significant? How can we learn to live well regardless of circumstance?

As we conclude the series on Philippians, we have learned from the apostle Paul that the Gospel of Jesus Christ presents the most essential message of hope and faith for those who chose to live a life filled with grace and love. Paul reminds us that a life worth living is truly defined by Jesus Christ alone. When we experience the power of transformation through personal and practical knowledge of Jesus Christ, we also gain the freedom and joy of living in the present without fear or guilt of the past. The future is filled with hope for what God intends to accomplish in every life given wholly to Jesus. God will reshape our lives and change us into persons of courage and faith who progressively mature in character, conviction and calling.

In the final chapter of Philippians, Paul shares the secret of living well. Without apology or reservation, Paul urges the Philippians to “keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me and saw me doing.” (4:9) Such audacity of spiritual leadership might make us feel uneasy. But Paul was seriously advocating a way of living that was countercultural and counterintuitive. The Gospel of Jesus Christ produces such an effect in people’s lives. For Paul, the secret of living well is sourced in how to live in Christ Jesus. Consequently, Paul declares: “For I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength.” (4:13) Yes, Paul was confident that in everything, he could live life to the fullest without hesitation or complaint. He believed in doing everything with the power and potential that is in Christ Jesus.

In the past seven days, several events around the globe have generated a range of feelings and reactions that reveal our human dilemma. We are angry and disgusted when hooligans and anarchists cause riots and looting in parts of London UK. We are fearful and insecure when the global debt crisis cause turmoil and turbulence in the financial markets. We feel saddened and somewhat helpless when we learn of the massive starvation and death caused by drought and war in parts of Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia.

Global upheavals generate uneasy effects among Canadians. We are not immune from  economic, social and political uncertainties. Compared to the London riots, we might feel reassured that recent riots in Vancouver were not as terrifying. Compared to corruption and crimes in other cities, Vancouver seems more livable and safe. But, if we were to probe and to ask questions concerning personal wellbeing, we might find those questions compelling and uncomfortable. What is the meaning of life? Is there more to life than money, sex and power? Why do people pursue fun, fame and fortune at the expense of truth and justice? Why do some people condone violence, discrimination and crime as a way of survival? What makes a certain way of life worthwhile? What makes a certain way of life enduring and purposeful?

In the face of trouble, pain, suffering and disappointments, why do we persist in believing God is good and loving? In the midst of challenges and difficulties, why do we insist that following Jesus is the only way to experience a life worth living? What gives us the courage, boldness and discipline to commit to a countercultural way of life? Followers of Jesus, like the apostle Paul, affirm without apology: “For to me, living is for Christ, and dying is even better.” (Philippians 1:21) There must be a life worth living and according to Paul, that life is centered upon the person of Jesus Christ. To live is Christ, nothing more and nothing less.

The Alpha outreach initiative begins with a simple question: What is the meaning of life? But it progresses to another vital question: What is the life worth living? In our conversations with Paul on the letter to the Philippians, we encounter this question and we hear Paul speaking boldly and persuasively. He challenges us to live a life worthy of the Good News of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:27). It is a life that is oriented towards God’s heavenly kingdom. It is a life engaged in expressing the values, virtues and vision of the Gospel in our daily living. It involves suffering, sacrifice, discipline and commitment. It calls for selfless humility and generous holiness. It is a life worth living.

 

We have been exploring the subject of money and possessions, money and lifestyle and for this coming Sunday, money and giving. It is significant that Canadians are remarkably generous when the need arises. Our responses to the Asian Tsunami; the orphaned children in Rwanda; the earthquake in Haiti are positive examples of Canadians giving with compassion to worthy causes.

But how we do apply what we learn? How do we practice the art and the grace of giving in a culture of acquisitiveness and conspicuous consumption?  When Mother Teresa visited Australia, a new recruit to the monastery in Australia was assigned to be her guide and “gopher” during her stay. The young man was so thrilled and excited at the prospect of being so close to this woman. He dreamed of how much he would learn from her and what they would talk about. But during her visit, he became frustrated. Although he was constantly near her, he never had the opportunity to say one word to Mother Teresa. There were always other people for her to meet. Finally, her tour was over, and she was due to fly to New Guinea. In desperation, the friar had his opportunity to speak to Mother Teresa. He said to her, “If I pay my own fare to New Guinea, can I sit next to you on the plane so I can talk to you and learn from you?” Mother Teresa looked at him. “You have enough money to pay airfare to New Guinea?” she asked. “Oh, yes,” he replied eagerly. “Then give that money to the poor,” she said. “You’ll learn more from that than anything I can tell you.”  The problem was the young man wanted to experience a feeling when he needed to simply learn by doing.

Once a rich ruler approached Jesus with a question, “What must I do to inherit life eternal?” In reply, Jesus focused on his attitude towards God by reviewing his ethical behaviour. In Luke’s Gospel, we are surprised by Jesus when He challenged the rich man: “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (18:22)

Alas, the man was very wealthy and became greatly disheartened by Jesus’ words. Jesus spoke with compassion and conviction: “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” In other words, from a human point of view, it would be impossible for anyone to enter the kingdom of God for if the rich and wealthy have no advantage then how much more precarious it might be for those who are poor and less well-off.

In the OT, we see examples of godly men who were wealthy, such as Abraham, Job and Solomon. However, we need to remember that their wealth was fully recognized as the gracious gift of God. They did not presume on their wealth as a means of leveraging divine favour and approval. Indeed, they acknowledged God as the source of their wealth and influence.

In contrast, what we observe in the NT is Jesus’ critical view of wealth as a serious obstacle to gaining entry into the Kingdom of God. Many disciples were shocked and surprised by Jesus’ statement that the rich and wealthy would find it hard to enter the Kingdom of God. One reason for their reaction might be the persuasive notion that a person’s wealth was a clear indication of God’s blessing and approval. Consequently, the disciples expected life in the Kingdom of God to be filled with promises of wealth, power and influence. Here then is the crux of Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom. Jesus holds the key to the Kingdom. His teaching, His promises, His mission and His actions reveal a Kingdom that is not of this world. The values, vision, and virtues of the Kingdom are countercultural and counterintuitive. The way to enter the Kingdom is to embrace and to embody Jesus’ way of life.

Therefore, wealth, money and possessions are no longer viewed as leveraging a person’s access into the Kingdom. Instead, Jesus challenges us to give up everything we value for the sake of following Him. Whatever assets we may have gained through our intelligence, our diligence and our resilience are now offered to Jesus. In reality, whatever we think we own, possess or inherit are simply gifts from God. If Jesus is our Lord and Saviour, then He has total control of our assets, wealth and possessions. Our attitude changes from self-indulgence to self-sacrifice; from a fear of scarcity to a faith in God’s abundance. Our confidence lies not in our ability to succeed but in Jesus’ power to accomplish His mission in our lives. We are then set free from anxiety about our daily needs for Jesus has promised that if we seek His Kingdom, all our essential needs in life will be addressed. We bless the name of the Lord, for everything we have belongs to God and He is free to give or to take away.

May the Lord set us free from the spirit of entitlement and fill us with a spirit of endearment so that we might love the Lord Jesus more than what the world offers. Ultimately, we need to ask ourselves, what do we truly treasure more than anything else in the world? For where our treasure is, there lies our heart.

Not Ashamed

In the Fall of 2010, a London-based Christian advocacy group, Christian Concern for Our Nation, launched a campaign defending the right of Christians to express their faith and beliefs in the public square. The former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey wrote a leaflet in support of the nationwide “Not Ashamed” campaign. At issue was the discrimination some Christians experienced in school or the workplace for being consciously open about their beliefs. For example, the advocacy group mentions the high profile cases of Gary McFarlane, a relationships advisor who was dismissed by Relate for refusing to counsel same-sex couples, and Shirley Chaplin, a nurse who was taken off wards after refusing to remove her crucifix.

The group’s founder, Andrea Minichiello Williams, contended that attempts to remove Jesus from public life and confine faith to the private sphere called for an appropriate response. She believed “many Christians have felt unable to speak and live out their faith, or confused and bewildered at what they are allowed to say and do in public.” Williams said the campaign was about giving Christians at the grassroots the courage to stand up and be counted and to “fearlessly declare that they are not ashamed of who they are or what they believe in.” “It is time for the Church to find her voice again,” she emphasized. “We are praying that this campaign will achieve just that by igniting a flame in Christians such that they find their voice and place in public life. The Not Ashamed symbol of the cross is designed to act as a reminder of the hope that is found uniquely and supremely in the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Jesus taught his disciples that they would be pressured to declare their allegiance to Him or to the world: “I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God. But whoever disowns me before others will be disowned before the angels of God…When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.” (Luke 12:8-9, 11-12) Those who fear God will choose Jesus. Those who fear men will choose self-preservation. The world is hostile to the ways of Jesus and it is inevitable that the disciples of Jesus will face the test of allegiance in the public square. Jesus promises the Spirit’s wisdom and advocacy for those who are not ashamed to bear the name of Jesus. We are called to stand up for Jesus and to acknowledge Him publicly without fear or hesitation. It is time for Jesus’ followers to voice our faith as we live out the Gospel in an unChristian society.

Are we unChristian?

What is our reputation as Christians on the West Coast of Canada? Every now and then, I hear comments from people who remember “Walk to Bethlehem” when I mention my role at WVBC. Indeed, this Christmas pageant has made a positive impact on the community. Young and old alike found the story of Christmas attractive and interesting as they walked through the various sets. It seems residents on the North Shore have appreciated WVBC’s contribution to the Christmas season for several years.

In a recent study by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, published in “Unchristian,” they present survey results that indicate a serious image problem for Christians in North America. For many young people, Christians are perceived as largely unlike the one they claim to follow. The overall perception is a serious indictment of our reputation and status in society at large. The authors report that a high percentage of young people perceive Christians as anti homosexual, judgmental, hypocritical, sheltered (boring, out of touch with reality), too political and too concerned about making converts (insensitive to others, not genuine). In other words, the generations after the boomers, namely the Mosaics and Busters, generally do not observe Christians who embody service, compassion, humility, forgiveness, patience, kindness, goodness and love.

Should Christians be concerned about their public image? Should we care what people think about Christianity in general and about Christians in particular? If we have been unChristian, and if there are good reasons for this perception, then we should be deeply concerned. If we no longer look like genuine disciples of Jesus, what should we do? If the perception, rightly or wrongly, creates barriers in our witness and in our communication to the younger generation, how do we become more Christ-like?

Kinnaman and Lyon offer a timely recommendation: “To shift our reputation, Christ followers must learn to respond to people in the way Jesus did. In other words, to reverse the problem of unChristian faith, we have to see people, addressing their needs and their criticism, just as Jesus did. We have to be defined by our service and sacrifice, by lives that exude humility and grace.”

Regardless of our vocation and cultural identity, Christians have been transformed into  ambassadors for Jesus Christ, demonstrating the love and generosity of the God who reaches out with healing and forgiveness in a broken world. The Apostle Paul describes the creative change for anyone who is Christ: “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!…We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:16-17, 20) We are called to live for Jesus and to act like Jesus in a world desperately seeking for truth, reconciliation, justice and compassion.

According to a recent report by Michael Valpy in the Globe and Mail (December 14), young people in Canada seem to be losing their religion. “More than half of Canadians in the 15-to-29 age cohort either have no religion or never attend a service of worship, says Statistics Canada. Only 22 per cent say religion is very important to them, down from 34 per cent in 2002. And in a recent poll done by Nanos Research for The Globe and Mail, just one in five of the under-30 age group say they are the generation of their family that attends weekly religious services.”

While the decline in religious affiliation is noteworthy, yet there is hope for the Evangelical Church. Young people are still interested in Jesus. Instead of telling young people what to believe, we are invited to share our stories of faith; to share our experiences of love; and to share our concern for justice, peace and truth. When a young person undergoes baptism and speaks publicly of her reason for committing her life to Jesus, her friends and family listen with genuine interest. The compelling witness of a personal faith demonstrated in water baptism cannot be explained away.

On Sunday, when we witness the baptisms of an adult professional and a high school student, our faith rises up in hope and celebration for what God is doing in each person’s life. We resonate with the act of faith commitment to Jesus. We celebrate the hope that Jesus gives to each person who dedicates his or her life to God. There is no doubt that faith engenders faith; that faith is contagious; that faith is life-changing.

While Canadians seem to be losing faith in institutional religion, the followers of Jesus in the Evangelical community are actively sharing their faith and making disciples. We have an urgent priority in sharing the story of Jesus; in telling our story of personal commitment to Jesus.

Let us pray that God will turn the tide of secularism and unbelief in Canada. Let us ask the Lord of the Harvest to raise up committed believers who are not ashamed of their faith and who will engage in sharing their personal faith others. Let us pray for an amazing outpouring of God’s Spirit upon the people of Canada. Let us remember Jesus’ charge to his disciples in Acts 1:8: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

In a world of information and instant search, Google has become the first choice of access to whatever facts or media we might be looking for. We seem to depend on the internet for almost every kind of information. Google has become a verb in our everyday life. Have you tried to google your name and then learn that somewhere in another part of the world, someone has the same name?

Currently, more people rely on the internet for news and events than on traditional media, such as newspapers, radio and television. Wikipedia offers a comprehensive range of entries for the inquiring mind. Social networking sites, like Facebook and Twitter, cater to the human craving for intimacy and interpersonal connections. Companies and government agencies rely on their websites to distribute relevant information for clients and citizens alike. There is no doubt, most of us use the world wide web for sourcing consumer information on products and services. Of course, I am pleased to learn how newcomers found our church by a quick search on the internet. Our church website has become a source of learning when individuals listen to past sermons or perhaps read our newsletters.

This leads to a pertinent question: Can we trust the Internet sources that provide information and data on the subject of our search? How do we know if the source is reliable and credible? How do we discern the truth in the midst of diverse opinions and comments posted on the websites? If we are searching for truth regarding the Christian faith on the web, how can we determine the authenticity and authority of the source?

We can certainly read the Bible in a variety of translations online. Commentaries, sermons, and studies on the Bible are easily accessible. The internet offers ideas, opinions, comments, and reviews on all matters of faith, practice and values. But truth is not subject to popular sentiments. Our views of God and Jesus Christ are not dependent on the number of websites that support the Bible’s claim that Jesus is the Son of God. So while we are cautious about what we read on Wikipedia, we should be equally cautious about Wikileaks. What if the information “leaked” through the internet is intended to subvert the truth by propagating “half-truths” or “true lies”? Is there a conspiracy of truth regarding the Good News of Jesus Christ? Are there “secrets” revealed by self-declared prophets who are motivated by self-serving agendas? How can we discern the true message when deceptive and dangerous ideas are widely disseminated by those who conspire to undermine the Christian faith?

The internet has become a global arena for the contest of ideas and beliefs. When an idea is conceived and then inserted into our minds, that idea becomes so real and authentic that we take it for granted as if we have always believed in it. Thus, the inception of any idea is as dangerous and as powerful as the source itself. When we investigate the source, we are able to discern the veracity of the idea. When Jesus confronted the Pharisees who questioned his knowledge and authority, he said, “If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.” (John 8:46-47) Only those who belong to God will welcome the truth in Jesus Christ and thereby obey the words of Jesus. When we know the truth, that truth will set us free from our ignorance, our pride, and our prejudices. Knowing the source of all truth means coming to know the God of all truth. Ultimately, it is who we know that matters more than what we know. Those who belong to God know Him personally. We are invited to trust God’s Word, to listen carefully to Jesus, and to live in light of the Holy Spirit’s illumination. Caveat lector!