Friday, April 29, 2011

Giving Wisely

Instruct those who are rich in this present world … to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, (1 Timothy 6:17-18 NAS)

PovertyAccording to an article written by Ron Sider for Christianity Today, some people toss a little money to street people just to assuage guilty feelings of their affluence. Such guilt is often warranted because many rich Christians spend vast sums on themselves amid the many in desperate poverty. Instead of tossing coins to beggars to soothe their conscience, however, Sider suggests these Christians should resolve to live their lives simply and give to more effective programs that empower poor people and explore honestly poverty's structural causes.

One of the ways to help the poor through effective programs is to know the needs of people around the world. Over the past two years, many natural disasters have left countless people homeless and devastated with seemingly little hope for the future. We know of the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12, 2010 and the 8.8-magnitude earthquake that struck the central area of Chile on February 27, 2010. We also know of the 6.3-magnitude earthquake that struck New Zealand city of Christchurch on February 22, 2011 and the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami in northern Japan on March 11, 2011. Many living in the aftermath of the earthquakes and tsunami are today still struggling in poverty and in need of our help. As a Christian community, are we lifting our hands to give out financial aid and reaching out to these people in whatever way we can?

Reaching out to the poor in the world through effective programs is helpful, but beyond that, we need also to remember those around us who are in need. The Bible teaches that if there is a needy someone with us or in any of our towns in our land which the LORD our God has placed us, we should not harden our hearts, nor close our hands from such a poor person. Instead, we should freely open our hands to the one in need and generously help to provide for whatever he or she is lacking (Deuteronomy 15:7-8). In today's context, this means besides handing money to someone, we can also offer to buy the person a meal and then sit down and listen to the person’s story. A person in need often appreciates love and care more than financial handout.

When we see someone in need the next time round, let us therefore not be a bystander. Let us instead be stirred within us to go all the way out to give and to bless. Besides our own and the people in our fold, let us also reach out to meet the needs of the poor around the world. Our mission in the Great Commission is not just about proclaiming the word of God and bringing people to the faith. It involves meeting the needs of people too, just as Christ met the physical needs of the multitude and brought the reality of the kingdom of God to them (Matthew 14:19-21).

If we are rich or have plenty, let us give generously and share willingly (1 Timothy 6:17-18), not out of guilt because we spend vast sums on ourselves, but out of love and charity. Let us not give out of compulsion, but give from hearts of compassion—for God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7-8). Rather than toss a few coins to beggars and give handouts which may end up in supporting irresponsible behavior, let us give wisely to those who are in real needs and live our lives in simplicity.

Touch our hearts Lord that we may grow in compassion for the needy and the desperate. Stir within us that we may give wisely and generously to meet the needs of people in poverty, not just financially but also in kind. Help us live our lives simply Lord, that we may not spend vast sums on ourselves. Remind us constantly Lord the needs of others, especially the destitute and the people struggling to live their lives in the aftermath of natural disasters.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter Day 2011

Easter SundayThe angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid;
for I know that you are looking for Jesus who
has been crucified. He is not here, for
He has risen, just as He said."
~ Matthew 28:5-6a (NAS) ~

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday 2011

Good Friday... He Himself bore our sins in His
body on the cross, so that we might
die to sin and live to righteousness;
for by His wounds you were healed.
~ 1 Peter 2:24 (NAS) ~

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Outbreak of Crises

While he was still speaking, another also came and said, "The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants and consumed them, and I alone have escaped to tell you." (Job 1:16 NAS)

CancerFrequently, when a crisis comes our way, it seldom comes alone. When I was a teenager, several crises happened in my life in succession one after another within a short span of time. The crises came like an outbreak of calamity, suddenly and without warning—a loved one seriously ill, an affectionate relationship broken, and a discord in church separating many friendships and the congregation. It was like the entire world turned against me and I was left all alone with no one to turn to for help or share my pain and agony. In that state of despair and desperation, I strayed from God for a little while, but soon returned because I knew I could never live a meaningful life without Him.

The Bible also tells of one who was suddenly faced with a number of crises in his life (Job 1:13-20). Job first lost his sons and daughters, and then he lost his servants and livestock. Yet, through it all, Job did not sin nor did he blame God (Job 1:21-22). Satan then smote Job with sore boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head, yet Job held fast to his integrity (Job 2:4-10). Some days later, Job spoke out and said of his anxiety, “… my cries pour out like water. For what I fear comes upon me, and what I dread befalls me. I am not at ease, nor am I quiet, and I am not at rest, but turmoil comes” (Job 3:24-26 NAS).

Like the outbreak of crises and boils, there is a type of outbreak today that is also spreading around the world. This is the outbreak of worldliness and self-centeredness. Just as a disease outbreak such as cancer can mutate into variations, worldliness and self-centeredness can also lead to fatality and the domino effect of continuing sin, resulting in the eventual death of people around us. Some cancer patients have shared that once they have been diagnosed with the illness, they deem themselves as good as dead. Anxiety then sets in and in their minds they can only think of the doctors as just counting their days.

James in his epistle described the outbreak of worldliness and self-centeredness as the source of quarrels and conflicts that wage war among fellow believers (James 14:1). The root cause of the war is the pleasures, lust, envy, pride, wrong motives, impure heart and double-mindedness of man (James 4:1-10).

Sometimes we may fight and quarrel with others out of envy or lust, and sometimes we may even backstab others—knowingly or unknowingly—just to get what we want. We may at times want the right things for the wrong reasons, and we do not receive them because our motives are impure and self-seeking, desiring only to satisfy our own pleasures.

The Bible states clearly if our involvement with the world becomes too intimate that we participate in its adulterous ways, we make ourselves an enemy of God (James 4:4). We should therefore never be double-minded to think we can serve two masters, for either we will hate one and love the other or we will be devoted to one and despise the other (Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13). We should instead be cautious never to be infected or become carriers of worldliness and self-centeredness.

Let us be on the alert always to watch out for symptoms and quickly take steps to avoid or prevent ourselves from succumbing to any outbreak. Submit and draw near to God; resist the devil and temptation. Purify our hearts and come humbly into the presence of God, and He will draw near to us and exalt us (James 4:7-10).

Dear Lord, forgive us for sometimes swaying from trusting You, especially when in times of crises. Do not let us succumb to the outbreak of calamity in our lives Lord. Strengthen us instead that we may hold fast to Your faithfulness. Help us not be double-minded, Lord, but be devoted to You whole-heartedly.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Reaching Across Cultures

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, (Matthew 28:19 NAS)

Cross-Cultural MissionsSome years ago I attended a missions awareness seminar, and this is what I have learned.

Seen from the perspective of the Great Commission, missions may be classified under three categories:

M1: Mission within local context where local language is used

M2: Mission within local context where different language is used or where crossing the line to different living conditions is required

M3: Outside local context with totally different culture, living habits, language in foreign lands

Cross-cultural evangelism refers to M2 and M3, which means it is not limited to cross-geographical. People of different cultures are often found within the same politically-defined space, and in a less formal definition, ‘cross-income-group’ evangelism may also be considered cross-cultural missions.

Many people in the world today are still unreached by the Gospel despite much urbanization. If only M1 is adopted, many will perish without knowing Christ. As believers in the Lord, therefore, we ought to reach the unreached people (Matthew 28:19-20). The unreached people are those people groups which so far have not had an opportunity to receive the gospel and respond to it because of geographical, linguistic or cultural barriers, or a combination of these.

Some examples of unreached people in local context are:

  1. Foreign workers (imported laborers). Domestic helps or construction site laborers who normally work long hours and are not reached by ordinary means of evangelism.
  2. Shift workers. This would include people employed in hotels, cabarets, hawking, etc.
  3. Dialect speakers. Particularly those in the older generation, many of who are illiterate and face linguistic and cultural barriers.
  4. Blue-collar workers. Those working at construction sites and factories.
Cross-cultural evangelism is essential if we want to reach the unreached people. The church and missions organizations as a whole must work together to achieve this goal.

In preparing ourselves to participate in cross-cultural missions, the following are a few things we may wish to first think about:

  1. Knowledge. Gather enough information concerning unreached people groups through mission magazines, mission organizations, etc.
  2. Prayer. Begin to pray for this unreached people groups specifically and earnestly.
  3. Giving. Give to the mission fund on a regular basis.
  4. Consideration. Consider how we can participate in missions, such as getting trained in a specific field as a professional and reaching the people of that particular group (example: studying in the technical field so as to be in contact with blue-collar workers to reach them for God).
  5. Prepare. Enroll ourselves in the study of missiology so as to be equipped adequately for the task or go on short-term mission trips.
  6. Send. Finally, work with the church or missions organizations to be sent out as missionaries (M3). We should be under the cover of the church to report on mission progress regularly.
Some factors we should consider before becoming a M3 missionary are:
  1. Eyes. Can we bear the sight of people with diseases? How do we react to a place that is filthy and unclean?
  2. Ears. Are we enthusiastic in learning foreign languages or do we see the foreigner as a barbarian?
  3. Nose. Can we take strange and unfamiliar smells?
  4. Tongue. Do we have strong stomachs that can stomach any kind of food?
  5. Back. Can we sleep and lie anywhere or do we need our regular bed, pillows, etc?
  6. Heart. What are our attitudes toward people of different color skin? Do we have compassion toward them?
  7. Marital Status. If single, are we prepared to stay single or delay marriage to go to strange lands as missionaries and bear loneliness? What about family? Are they willing to follow us or do we leave them behind? What about the children’s education?
  8. Stickability. Are we able to start and stick to the end of the ministry? How do we react under pressure?
Put in our hearts Lord to want to proclaim Your salvation to the world, beginning with people around us who share the same language. Grow in us an interest Lord to also want to learn a different language to reach the people of other cultures living around us as well. Reveal to us dear Lord how we can help or participate in the work of global missions too, that we may not be a bystander to watch and fail to bear witness. Mold us Lord and renew our spirits that we may be adaptable in all circumstances, and have a heart that genuinely cares for others.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Secular vs Spiritual

And hearing this, Jesus said to them, "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners." (Mark 2:17 NAS)

Crossing the LineAs a former journalist, I used to have to cover entertainment news and mix around with people in the entertainment circle, including movie directors, actors, actresses and models. These are the people who spend more time in clubs, studios and roadshows than any place else. Although I have since moved on to write more serious stuff, I still keep in contact with some of them. In fact, I even maintain an entertainment blog and a social networking profile to communicate with them and keep abreast of what's going on in the entertainment circle.

Not too long ago, a follower of my Christian blog who knows about my entertainment blog and social networking profile wrote me an e-mail. In it, she told me that the things I wrote and posted at the blog and social networking profile do not reflect well of my testimony as a believer of the faith. This feedback upset me because while my blog and social networking profile primarily cover topics of social interest, at times I would also leave comments on my contacts’ status and share with them my experiences as a Christian. I would relate to them how I handle certain things in life and offer them suggestions based on Christian principles.

Not wanting to stumble anyone in the faith (1 Corinthians 8:9), I did a thorough cleanup to remove a large part of the entertainment information at my blog and social networking profile. Some days after that, seeing no value in continuing with the social networking profile without the information that interests my entertainment contacts, I terminated the account. Now, my entertainment blog has also been streamlined to contain only information about movies, dining and lifestyle, minus topics like night spots, clubbing, women’s apparels, fashion, and modeling. With this change, the ratings and number of visitors to my site dropped to near bottom. My thought in this aftermath is, have I made the right choice? Did not our Lord Himself mingle among sinners to lead them to Himself?

In a sermon I heard some years ago, the speaker said if we are to be so holy to the point of living our lives ascended above ground, we are of no earthly worth to the people around us. I tend to concur with the speaker on this frame of thought. If we are not worth much in this world, then we are of little value in bridging the gap to bring people to the spiritual world. Do not get me wrong, I am not justifying or advocating we should live unholy lives while on earth so as to reach the sinners (Romans 3:5-8). Rather, I am suggesting that we should not live our lives separate from the crowd, like some of the Jews in Jesus’ days who do not associate with Samaritans (John 4:9).

Some of us may argue that the Bible says, "... do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God" (James 4:4 NAS). If we however read this passage carefully, we should realize this ‘friendship with the world’ is referring to our hearts and motives (James 4:1-4). It does not say because we are in the world and not of the world, we should separate ourselves from the world (John 15:19).

Many people seem to think if a person is of a particular faith, he or she should behave in a certain way and do or not do certain things. Such thinking is unrealistic because one cannot live an ascetic or anomic life just because of one’s belief. We know Jesus did not avoid or stay away from sinners. In fact, He even mingled and ate with them (Mark 2:15-17).

The lesson we need to learn here is that in the real world the line between secular and spiritual life is inseparable. Knowing this, we should always keep in check to draw the line between what’s profanity and what’s permissible. We must stay alert, yet not separate ourselves from others, but keep in balance the secular and the spiritual. We must not avoid the crowd or draw the line so clearly that the unsaved cannot cross over from death to life. We should do our best in the secular—which often pays our bills and keeps us alive—so we may have sufficient to share with others and give our lives to serve the Lord.

Thank You, dear Lord, for keeping us alive. We know Lord that while the line between good and evil is clear, between the secular and spiritual, we are sometimes unsure. Help us therefore Lord not to cause anyone to stumble by our actions nor give up on the unsaved because of one decision. Guide us to know where we should draw the line Lord that we may not by mistake cross it.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Facing the Enemies

so that we confidently say, "THE LORD IS MY HELPER, I WILL NOT BE AFRAID. WHAT WILL MAN DO TO ME?" (Hebrews 13:6 NAS)

Psalm 42:11Not too long ago, I woke up one morning feeling depressed over the situation happening at my workplace. Ever since the team I have been working in was absorbed into another department of the organization, I have been getting such dispirited moods frequently.

The department I am now working in is headed by a lady who believes only in top-down management. She is a practitioner of everything that is typically taught in management studies about using negative motivational tactics to get staff working in fear, following a bureaucratic and hierarchical structure. Her disposition and personality is generally fierce, and she constantly breathes down the necks of her staff every weekly department meeting. Words from her are like fire—hot and fiery, and like storm—cold and harsh, filled full with regular reprimands. The way her staff is handled is similar to the way elementary school teachers control the kids. It is as if every of the staff owes her a living, and any difference in opinions finds trouble for oneself. Few are willing to put their jobs on the line in begging to differ or practice freedom of choice or speech.

Such is the kind of depressive working environment and low morale I go through these days, which similar feelings have once faded from my past, many years ago. None of such negative feelings existed when I began working in this organization some six years ago. Things have been fairly well with everyone doing their part as a team, working with each other to resolve issues rather than being driven from top-down.

What first came to mind when I woke up that morning was the urgent need to calm down and seek God. I knew in my heart then there was a Bible verse that expresses well how I felt and therefore desperately searched for it, seeking to calm myself as I cried out to God. I knew I was already late for work, but felt the need to read the verse, and I eventually found it.

Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him For the help of His presence. (Psalm 42:5 NAS)

Wanting to know more about the cicumstances in which the psalmist cried out, I decided to read the entire Psalm 42 and realized verse 11 ended on a similar note as verse 5 with a difference.

Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance and my God. (Psalm 42:11 NAS)

In verse 5, the psalmist cried out in his despair. In verses 6 to 10, the psalmist poured out his heart and talked to God about his sufferings, oppression and adversaries. In verse 11, he acknowledged God's supremacy once again and said he shall yet praise God, despite his circumstances.

Like the psalmist, I cried out to God in my desperation, and in Him I found relieve. For even though I walk through the darkest valley, I need not fear, because God is with me; His Spirit comforts me and calms my soul (Psalm 23:4-5). I will surely again praise Him and continue to hope in Him, for He is my help (Psalm 42:5, 11). I will not cease to call upon the Lord and seek His face in my time of difficulty.

Perhaps some of us, like me, may be facing some difficult situations now, and are feeling stressed and desperate. It may be a matter relating to a situation at the workplace or at home, or some difficulties we face working with or for a person. Regardless the matter or situation, we need not despair or be afraid, for the Lord is our helper; what can man do to us with God on our side (Hebrews 13:6)? What situation can we not face if it is permitted by God?

How then should we respond in the face of our enemies or in times of desperation? Do we, like Elijah who ran away from Jezebel (1 Kings 19:1-8), run away from our enemies and difficulties, or do we cry out to God and seek His face? Let us choose first to seek God to calm our souls. Let us also hope in Him and not be distrubed within us. Praise Him, for He is our Savior and our God; in Him we can confidently say, "the Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid" (Psalm 118:6-7; Hebrews 13:6). As for those of us who are bosses, employers or supervisors, let us not intimidate our workers. Instead, let us give up threatening, knowing that we have a God in heaven and there is no partiality with Him (Ephesians 6:9).

Help us in our times of desperation, Lord, and do not turn Your face away from us! We need You desperately Lord, for without You, we can do nothing and are in despair. See us through every difficult situation Lord as we continue to praise You. Grant us confidence in the face of our enemies Lord, that we will not be afraid, for You O God are our helper.