Category Archives: Faith Issues

Reflection on Acts and Ephesians

I wrote a reflection paper on The Book of Acts and The Epistle to the Ephesians for a course I am taking.

church

Pictures in my head

My initial impression on church renewal was a picture which included growing church attendance, people lining up at the altar accepting Christ, numerous baptisms, powerful preaching, and many more other positive images.

The Picture of Revival in the Early Church as Shown in Acts and Ephesians

The book of Acts paints a picture of renewal of the people from a traditional, law-bound, performance-based and ethnocentric1 religion to a group of believers who were grace-bound, transforming into an ethnorelative2 mindset and filled with the Holy Spirit.

Jesus commands the apostles not to leave Jerusalem but to wait for the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the main actor of the church. Paul identifies the Holy Spirit as the seal, or guarantee of God’s promise that the believers are “included in Christ”. (Eph 1: 12 – 14)

However, the disciples do not understand the significance of His command. They are still looking for a Jewish earthly kingdom revival. (Act 1: 6) As I reflected my image of revival of the church today, am I looking for solely numerical increase in congregations? Does Jesus have something totally different for this era? What are the forms and functions of renewal today?

The apostles personally witnessed the death and the resurrection of Jesus. They still focused on the restoration of the former glory of the Kingdom of Israel. However, Jesus had a vastly different picture of the Kingdom of God in His mind.

What does renewal of the church look like today?

I have heard people preach on church renewal. The focus is usually on how to restore the bygone imagined faded glory of the “Christian Nation”. In the book, Abandoned Faith, (2017) by Alex McFarland and Jason Jimenez asked the question: “Why this generation is considered ‘less Christian’ that past American generation?”3 In the author’s mind, renewal is building a future in order to re-establish the resplendence of the past. I do not think that theirs is the model for renewal. Jesus has a vastly antithetical view on the revival of His Kingdom.

What came next was quite different from what the disciples had in mind

First, the future is not for us to know. Renewal is determined by the sovereign Father. (Act 1: 7) I have to humbly admit I do not have a clear picture of how and when renewal will take place.

Second, the renewal of the old religion, law-based Judaism, into the new Christ-based relationship will be powered by the Holy Spirit, not by military might. (Act 1: 8a) I cannot reconcile how or why some mega churches, especially in the US, align themselves with political parties to gain influence today.

Third, I am called to be a witness of Christ starting within my culture and extending it to other cultures. (Act 1: 8b) Unlike the ethnocentric view of McFarland and Jimenez which emphasizes reconstructing the “past American generations”, Jesus points us toward an extending omni-cultural ethos.

Community of the Believers

In Acts 2, the new believers formed a community to learn, to fellowship, to live and to pray. The Holy Spirit enabled them to perform signs and wonders. They shared their possessions. I can envision Christians gathering together to learn, fellowship and pray. However, I do not know how Christians in today’s Western society can live together in a commune or perform miracles in public without being considered weird, eccentric or cultish.

A Threat to the Establishment

When Paul arrived in Ephesus and made many disciples, the silversmiths lost income because the new believers would not buy idols made by them anymore. They started a riot to try to force Paul and his followers out of town by using false accusations and hatred. (Acts 19: 24 – 27) Paul did not retaliate with anger, but let rational argument take its course. When Paul later wrote the letter to the Ephesians, he urged the believers to maintain the attitude of righteousness, holiness and truthfulness. (Eph 4: 23 – 27) They should bear resemblance to their new identities in Christ. (Eph 4: 20 – 21)

Church renewal threatens the establishment. Renewal brings changes to the existing comfortable or perceived stable system. These changes challenge those who benefit from the existing power structure inside and outside the church. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians encourages them to keep their faith and unity in Christ by love, peace and the power through the Holy Spirit. (Eph 3: 14 – 21)

Diversity, Unexpected Convert and Multiculturalism

As the congregation became grew, there were culture crushes between the Jews with Greek heritage and Jews with Hebrew heritage. Both groups were Jewish followers of Christ. However, the language and cultural differences caused tension. (Act 6) I would like to believe such racial or cultural prejudice would not occur today. The reality I observe suggests otherwise. Diverse cultural encounters will emerge when there is true renewal in a congregation.

Once a leader of the anti-Christian Pharisee, Paul was to became a convert. (Act 9) Paul later became the missionary called by God to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles. (Eph 3: 8) The Holy Spirit has the power to reach those I consider the unreachable. I need to expect the unexpected events when renewal occurs.

Peter received a vision from God to reach out to the Roman centurion Cornelius. (Acts 10) Congregations and their leaders may expect some unanticipated callings from the Holy Spirit. I need to prepare to answer the call.

Paul emphasized there were no more distinction between ethnicity or bloodlines; Jews and Gentiles could all reconcile with God through the cross. (Eph 2: 14 – 22) Ethnicity is no longer a factor in God’s grace. I believe that when the Holy Spirit directs a revival, numerous ethnic groups will receive the saving grace of Christ. It does not mean all ethnic groups will live harmoniously together. They all have to learn how to accept each other’s cultural differences.

My “Accidental” Encounter

I was in Hong Kong two years ago. I planned to attend the Christmas Eve service in the oldest English-speaking Anglican Church in Kowloon area. I arrived at the wrong time. I found myself arriving late for the service of its outreach ministry to the Mandarin-speaking Mainland Chinese. The church was so packed that I was escorted to sit in the clergy section. The service was conducted with nine different dialects. The minister used this example to illustrate “For God so love the world…” meaning that God so love all the ethnicities in the world. I witnessed an established denomination was willing to reach out to a different cultural and linguistic group through the gospel. The result was phenomenal.

Bibliography

  1. Bennett, M. (2013). Basic concepts of intercultural communication: Paradigms, principles, & practices.Boston: Intercultural Press. (pp. 88 – 94)
  2. Ibid. (pp. 94 – 99)
  3. McFarland, A. and Jimenez, J. (2017) Abandoned Faith: Why Millennials are Walking Away and How You Can Lead Them Home. A Focus on the Family book published by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (p. 61)
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Movie Review of “The War Room”

Review of “The War Room”

“The War Room” is by far an improvement of other Kendrick brothers’ movie. I am not to going to reiterate the plot and cast. One can easily find those information on the internet. I am going to express how I felt about the film.

It is a faith-based Christian theme movie on the power of prayer, family, and all that healthy God-fearing stuff.

African American family backdrop

The Kendrick brothers centred the plot on an affluent African family. When I researched over the internet, the Kendrick brothers said, “it would be a different movie if we change the races.”[1] I am wondering what would the different be. Is it just political correctness? What would happen if the story were focused on a Chinese family or a Muslim family and converted to Christ because of fervent prayer?

Being “male” is difficult

Similar to other Kendrick brothers’ movies, “Courageous” and “Fireproof”, being male is subjected to all kinds of temptations: infidelity, pornography, pursue of wealth, success, anger, etc. It is always the women who eventually found God and turned the situation around. Do they have to make male bashing a blood sport in order to sell the plot?

“One ‘C’ in math is not that bad”

When the Jordan’s daughter came home with her report card and confessed she had one “C”, Elizabeth, the mother, responded with, “one ‘C’ in math is not that bad”. Why do the storytellers have to stress that innumeracy is “not that bad”? They gave two stereotypes in just one line. First, the subject of mathematics in school is not that important. Secondly, mathematics is not that important with girls. What do the Kendrick brothers think of science and mathematics education, especially with women? Mathematics is the foundation of all science, engineering, technology, and above all, logical thinking. Do they want to instill a belief that STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics”) is not important for Christians (or non-Christians) when they believe in prayer?

Prosperity, simple minded message

It shows an affluent upper middle class family with multiple-garage home will keep their jobs, prosper, have great obedient children if they just pray. Also, when they pray, they have to pray in the prescribed formula: a prayer closet, a list with boxes checked off, posture, words to say… God will answer “on demand”. The husband got sick so he was prevented to have an affair when his wife prayed. It seems that God is our servant rather than our Master. I am just wondering, what happened to those women who prayed and their husbands still had the affair. Did God abandon them? Does it mean that their prayers are not fervent enough?

Deleted Scenes

I watched the “Deleted Scenes” section. My favorite scenes “Dr. Bunji” and “Tina’s Revenage” were in the deleted section. Those are great comic relieve scenes for a preachy movie.

[1] http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/war-room-filmmaker-god-hollywood-823440


Losers are winners

We all want success, promotion, higher income, and bigger home…

This is the foundational success of prosperity gospel. We see mega churches where the preachers tell the congregation strive for more, pray for blessings, live with a positive attitude beyond reality…

Let us see who is the one they are supposed to worship.

There was a man who lived over two thousand years ago. Jesus was not well educated. He was a son of a tradesman. Some even called him a child from an illegitimate relationship (Mark 6:3). (Jesus was described as “Mary’s son” instead of “Joseph’s son” pointed to some snickering was going on.) He did not own any property. (Matthew 8:20) He drew no big salary. He had no fixed address. He and his followers were no political or business heavyweight. In fact, his followers and those he helped were mostly social outcast, lepers, women, tax collectors (traitors of the Jews), the poor, and the sick. He and his followers gained no favour among the rich, the powerful and the religious leaders. He died at a young age. He was framed for plotting against the foreign powerful occupying government. He was sentenced to a brutal death on a cross. He followers disbanded right after his arrest.

By today’s standard, this Jewish sect should never have survived. They lack money, political connection, social status, education, marketing skills… In today’s world, they would be labeled with a capital “L” for losers. Yes, they lost. Many of them were captured, slaughtered, fed to lions, burnt alive… They became martyrs. The term “martyrs” actually means “witness”. Those who died for their faith considered dying for Christ was the highest form of witnessing.

Yes, the witnesses of Christ worshipped a God who seemingly lost the battle. For a while, it seemed that there were no hope, no victory, no power, only defeat. It was not that surprising that a group of social outcast were defeated. History books were filled with names of high achievers, rich and powerful people, kings and queens, nobles, and all their conquests. Few, if any history books regarded the poor, uneducated, prostitutes, and lepers as heroes in their narratives. If they were even mentioned, those would be as losers, and people and situation we should avoid.

Time has changed. We want our church pastors to be well educated. Pastors want to be called with their title Dr. or Rev. The church wants to be associated with the rich and the powerful, or help the politicians’ elected to office. The politicians also want to gain votes from the congregation. It seems to be a symbiosis relationship that they cannot live with the other but they also cannot live without the other. The church today thrives on success. No more being fed to the lions as martyrs (witnesses). It tries to gain power and influence on whatever stage it can seek, pro-life, anti-gay, pro-choice…

Church history seems to tell us a different story. Whenever the church questions the establishment, helps the poor, heals the sick, love the neighbor, she wins. She gains effectiveness. The gospel becomes real. Whenever the church becomes the establishment, gains power, accumulates wealth and properties, she losses. Her constituents become oppressed by her own dogma. Her message becomes an empty ritual.

Jesus preached a subversive, anti-establishment message on power, wealth, and most of all love.


Elizabeth May and Khadr

I posted my response of Elizabeth May, the leader of the Green Party and MP, act during the press gallery dinner. I wrote on my Facebook post, “If Harper or any Conservatives MP acted like May, the media and all other parties would ask for their resignation. For May, she was a hero for praising someone who killed a medic. What a double standard!!!”

I received responses from my friends about how wrong and bad the Canadian and American governments did to Khadr. Khadr is such a nice kid, etc…

Here is my response.

“We can argue that Khadr was only 15 when he murdered and harmed others. It is so comforting to have our names listed on the compassionate side of the ledger. Others will call those who supported Khadr as kind, thoughtful and compassionate people. He may be born into a family who is controlling. He may be tortured. His rights may be violated. He just maybe… There are some facts even his lawyers did not deny. He made bombs. He threw the bomb. He intended to kill people. Yes, he was fifteen. No, he NEVER showed remorse after all these years. The medic he murdered also had a mother and a family. Those who are blinded by his bomb are still blind. He is still glad that he did it. Those who supported Khadr’s killing have no problem with the killings of Americans. I am not an American. I am just wondering, why do they have such hateful feeling towards the Americans? The people Khadr murdered and harmed are also creations of God too.”

I am open to opinions that I may be wrong. I DO NOT think those who are in the “compassionate” camp will ever consider they may be fooled by a murder.


God’s Not Dead

I watch “God’s Not Dead” on DVD yesterday. Usually, I do not write movie review. This is an exception.

A movie for evangelism?

If this is a movie to show the redemptive love of Christ, it failed miserably. Bringing in TV celebrity from Duck Dynasty to talk about their faith looked like an odd marketing endorsement than sincere personal testimony of his own faith. The reporter always appeared angry, rude, and had her own syndical agenda towards anyone who called himself Christian. Do journalists really behave like that in an unprofessional manner?

Stereotyping universities are hostile

Do professors in a university really act like that in the classroom? I highly doubt any creditable university professor will force any students to sign a note to declare, “God is Dead” in the beginning of a course. Moreover, I doubt any professor will yell and manhandle a student when he disagrees with his argument. If I do that with my students, I would be dismissed in no time.

Stereotyping Chinese student

I do not know why the director had to stereotype the Chinese student was a nerd and always wore a tie to class. I have not seen any Chinese students wear a tie to class during my teaching career unless they are giving a presentation or going to an interview. To make matter worse, the Chinese student spoke Cantonese (a dialect of the south) when he was talking to his father, but the father spoke Mandarin (the Beijing dialect of the north). These are two totally different dialects from two vastly different geographical regions. Do the director not expect any Chinese viewers to question the inconsistency? Can they pay more attention to detail?

Stereotyping Muslim families

Why do the producer and the director have to demonize the Muslim family? They obvious do not agree with the Muslim faith. They do not need to demonize the Muslim father was an angry, paranoid, violent tyrant who would beat up his daughter when she chose to be a Christian.

Stereotyping all non-believers

The director portrayed all the professors in the university as arrogant, self-absorbed academics love drinking red wine. They have no problem to demean young females when she let the red wine spoil in the trunk of the car. I highly doubt that many professors, especially female professors, treat a female student that way.

I can write more about why I do not like the movie, but I better draw a conclusion. I doubt God’s Not Dead will bring anyone closer to Christ. It is not even good entertainment.


Thoughts on Democracy

After the incident in Ottawa yesterday the three weeks of protest in Hong Kong, here are my thoughts on democracy.

  • There is a real cost to democracy. People lost their lives it so that others will gain from it.
  • People live under democracy system take it for granted. Most people live under authoritarian or totalitarian governments yearn for it.
  • The ruling class of the established authoritarian government usually labelled democracy as “foreign influence”, “against our cultural values”, “not compatible with our religious beliefs”, “lead to chaos”…
  • The ruling class gains benefit from a totalitarian government. The underclass is enslaved by the ruling class (sometimes without knowing it).
  • Totalitarian governments want their citizens to be uninformed. They will try to censor any news outlet. Democratic systems allow opposite views, even though it may damage its own existence.
  • Democratic systems try to limit the use of force. Force is the mean to an end for totalitarian governments.
  • Violence is always bad, just look at any jihadists who kill or the police who used brutal force to suppress the protesters. “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” – Matthew 10:28
  • The path leads to democracy is messy. The path the totalitarian government tread will lead to destruction.
  • Jesus or Paul might never preach on democracy, but they definitely spoke on freedom. (Just read Galatians)
  • Democracy is not the panacea, but it is much better than the alternative.

The message of Christ is subversive in his era. Jesus was anti-establishment since the very beginning of his ministry. The Christian faith started out as an opposition to the Jewish religious establishment (grace vs. law) and the Roman establishment (Caesar is Lord vs. Jesus is Lord). No communist or totalitarian government is ever friendly to the Christian faith. Faith other than worshiping the supreme leader or party is regarded as treason in an authoritarian government. If the people, especially Christians do not speak up against injustice, corruption, and abuse of power while they still have a chance, they are in fact siding with the evil system which Jesus, Paul and Peter were fighting against. Being a disciple of Christ carries a cost. Some Christians are so busy to “do God’s work” inside church walls. They do not see a bigger picture of bringing justice to the society. Prosperity and stability become their God. Pleasing the earthly power to gain earthly status should not be a Christian attitude.


Conversation on Freedom and Democracy

A friend asked me can the 1200 representatives be acceptable for the democracy in Hong Kong. Has China absolutely refused the idea of democratic reform? Here is my answer.

We have to first ask who and what do the 1200 representatives are accountable to? They are not accountable to the people of Hong Kong. They are obligated to please the mainland government. They are appointed by the communist government because they are loyal to the “one country, one party” system. All these individuals benefit personally from the Beijing government. Individual members of the 1200 may have different agendas but they have to protect their own business interest. Under the “harmony principle”, they can only nominate a puppet administration.

I am not assuming the mainland government will refuse to let democratic principles to rule Hong Kong. The Beijing government just will not do that. They do not have the desire for diversity of ideas. Democratic value is NOT just “one person, one vote”. The fundamental value should be “free to express one’s view” without afraid of someone arresting me in the middle of the night and taking me to jail without a fair trial. This cannot be said about the totalitarian government. The “black jails” still exist in China. As of now, most arguments are focus on two areas. If you do not agree, you do not love your country. You are a traitor. That is simply not true.

That brings up the second point you mentioned. “It will hurt the economy.” Yes, it will. If you look at history, totalitarian government may build up the economy in a short time, but it will not last. Corruption and controlled economy will ultimately fail. One can look at the former USSR, (Russia is not in good shape now either.) Cuba, Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Eastern Europe, etc. Those are examples for us not to follow.

The Chinese propaganda usually claims this protest is an American conspiracy. Conspiracy theory is often used to distract people not to focus on the real issue. It’s so easy to blame the foreign devils for their shortcomings than to look at the mirror. I am not saying the Americans are perfect, far from it. The reality is Obama has his hands more than full with the Islamic terrorists now. Do you really believe he wants to start another war with China? On one hand, Beijing wants to have an open economy so it can attract foreign investments. In the past thirty years, China used this strategy to lift it out of poverty and modernized itself. On the other hand Beijing is hardened with its cold war mentality. It actually attached itself more with Russia, a country which had conquered its territory (and still does) but tried to alienate the US (which helped China to fight the Japanese invaders). The Beijing government published racist article against the former US ambassador Gary Locke. It called Locke a “banana”. It accused Locke did not speak the language of his ancestors (He can speak Cantonese, but the Chinese government does not recognize Cantonese is part of the Chinese language set.) It criticized Locke of being of Chinese ancestry, dare to talk about foreign values such as “human rights”. It is easy to use patriotism to cover up the shortcomings of the political mistakes of the communist party. Then use patriotism to stir up racial hatred of another people group. Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan used the same tactic to start WWII. No, I’m not the opposite side.

I just want to be one the side of reasons. As I see it, the mistake of the students is they focus on 普選, “universal suffrage”. “Universal suffrage” should only be one element of the debate. “Freedom to think, express, choose…” should be the overarching theme.

In Genesis 2, God created two trees for human. Whether one believes the story is literal or not, the teaching in Genesis 2 painted a picture of “freedom of choice”. Free to choose, to question, to imagine… are first and foremost in the creation of the human environment. As Christians, we should imitate Christ. Jesus let his enemies express, talk, and even hang him on the cross. Jesus explained his view of the Kingdom in ways the people at the times could understand. Even though he is the Son of God, he never imposed his views on others. He let all, including the Pharisees, had the right to choose. He never labeled his enemies unpatriotic. Peter asked Him to send fire to destroy the opposition. Instead, he commanded his disciples to “love your enemies “. This should be our response. I do not believe the communist will ever preach that.

I remember a German pastor, Martin Niemöller wrote this poem when he disagreed with the Nazi government. He was sent to concentration camp for seven years because of his beliefs.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.