More Blogs 1
Thursday, 20 September 2012
A Place for Silence
We Christians are someties quick to criticize the religious practices of other traditions. We think of the Musim or Jew who fasts on special days as legalistic, attempting to find peace with God through his works. We look at the meditating Buddhist or Hindu as someone embroled in religious error. Although there may be elements of erroneous or legalistic thinking people's spiritual practices, the quick criticism may be telling us that we don't understand the role of spiritual practice. The people of God fasted, they waited on God and sought his will.
But how do we hear God, or be in communion with him. It is in the silence and in transcending our desires. That happens through depriving ourselves and quieting our minds. "Religious" people seek communion with God, however they conceive him to be, because there is a personal satisfaction they get from their practices. It is not a drudgery or a way to earn eternal life but a source of joy. Can we say the same thing about our spirituality? Is our greatest desire communion with God as we walk in the midst of the joys and sorrows of our world?
I think the reason we criticize quickly those who follow rigorous spiritual disciplines is that we are actually worldly. Many of us could not even sit quietly without music long enough to just examine our lives and let God realign our priorities. That could not happen when our senses are extremely engaged with the present reality, with its worries and its noise. In order to engage the spiritual, we somehow have to transcend our present reality. We hide under the cover of our freedom in Christ so we could indulge our worldliness. We interpret freedom in Christ to mean we don't need to do anything to seek God because frankly, we don't really feel need him. We are self sufficient- we can figure out how to get along with others or how we are to raise our children.
Some may object that all we need is to read the bible and pray to connect with God. I agree that scriptures are the final word on how we relate to God. Anti-church people don't like the idea of being bound to dogma (ie. the larger community of the people of God). However, the creator God does not call us as individuals but as a part of a community. That being said, there is always a gap between the head and the heart. We may know the right things in our head, but because of our experiences, we wil have blind spots that won't allow the word of God to penetrate our hearts and therefore transform our actions. How can that gap be bridged? It is throught the grace of the God who speaks to us in the silence, whose voice gets drowned when we indulge ourselves in the world.
My purpose in writing this blog is to help us eliminate our knee jerk reactions to others and therefore help us be able to reach people. A critical attitude breeds an us-them mentality that blinds us to our own faults and demonizes the other. Instead of reaching out to others, we turn our backs and that is not the way of the gospel. We are to bind faithfulness and kindness in our hearts as we relate to others.
Saturday, 14 April 2012
What does it mean that Jesus is sinless?
As I experience life and look at the life of Jesus, I have wondered what it actually means that Jesus is sinless. Is this an objective statement? Would any person from any cultue, past or present, consider Jesus sinless? I wonder about what the pharisees thought when Jesus called them whitewashed tombs. I wonder what the merchants in the temple thought when Jesus turned over their tables. In a culture that wants to say there is no absolute truth, what would they think of Jesus saying he is the truth? Would he be considered deluded or just plain deceptive, therefore bad?
These question made me ponder, what does the writer of the letter to the Hebrews mean by saying that Jesus is without sin? If we truly look at Jesus with our human eyes, we can make a case that he has offended people and therefore have sinned. Of course we can make a case that offending others does not constitute sin. In that case, Jesus' sinlessness could not have been a judgment from a human point of view. Which leads me to conclude that he is sinless in God's sight. God is the one who declared Jesus to be sinless. How could that be?
Despite the things King David did, God declared him to be a man after his own heart. However, David did admit to sinning. If what is important to God is the heart, then we can begin by saying that Jesus' heart was pure in God's sight. His heart was always focused on the father's mission, to reconcile the world to himself. Jesus' sinlessness then comes from his heart being one with the father.
Can humans attain that sinslessness? Can human beings be completely focused on God's agenda, upholding God's values, having the same heart as God? Apparently Jesus did. However, he was able to live a sinless life because of his oneness with God's heart (it was his joy to see God's plan come to fruition) and his complete dependence on the Spirit. Therefore, it seems that the key to sinlessness is oneness with God. Can humans attain this in their lifetife? Is the revelation of the sons of God going to happen before Christ comes? It seems that biblical teaching is that people continue to sin and to claim otherwise is to deceive the self.
What is the point of this reflection? Instead of focusing on doing right things like a perfectionist, we need to focus on sharing the heart of God. We need to strive for the humility of Jesus who gave himself for the ultimate good of others, the grace of the father who gives good things to both good and bad, and the devotion of the Spirit who constantly brings us more and more into obedience and worship of God. The goal of our souls is to share in the life of God. The gift of oneness with God is a gift of grace, not something conjured up through our niceness or sincerity.
Monday, 9 April 2012
Who killed Jesus?
The story of Good Friday had usually been cast as a case of injustice. The religious leaders, in a shady hearing, manipulated the Roman establishment to allow them to crucify Jesus. For some, the story evokes anti-Semitism and they give the answer- the Jews killed Jesus, as if a whole race is responsible for his death. Besides the reality that it is dishonest to blame a whole race for what some of their compatriots, who lived at a certain point of history, had done, it is fogotten that the first devotees and evangelists for Jesus were Jewish. For some, the question also evokes reflection- it is our sin (indifference, jealousy, inability to stand for right) that killed Jesus.
I would like to add my voice to this reflection. What was the complaint against Jesus? Even though the trial of Jesus was shady, done in secret in the middle of the night, the complaint was valid. Jesus was charged with claiming to be the Son of God, and he really did. From the blatant statement "Before Abraham was, I am", to the more subtle act of forgiving sins, Jesus' words and actions validate the charge that he did claim to be the Son of God. The religious leaders were probably jealous of Jesus' popularity, and also angry at him for pointing out the impurity of their hearts and for not being as outwardly observant of the law as they were. Those reasons do not negate the reality that Jesus did claim to be the son of God, a claim that would have been blasphemous if not true. In the passion of Jesus, his claim evoked hostility to the point of connivance and indifference to the point of disregard for human dignity.
The passion of Jesus could be looked at as mankind's reaction to God breaking into their lives- shattering their dreams and expectatios, and pointing out the evil within them. We may be tempted to say that we are not like the religious leaders- we respect Jesus' teachings and we are not hypocrites. But how many times do we get defensive when somebody points out what is wrong in us? We rail at the other person saying they don't have the right or knowledge to judge us, calling them judgmental, mocking their standards, thereby justifying ourselves. How many times have we been indifferent/angry at God when life does not turn out the way we want? We ask God for help in fulfilling our dreams, but rail against God when he redirects us away from our dreams. We want God to validate us and our dreams, instead of being open to God giving us his dreams and walking humbly with him.
How did the son of God react to the rejection of him? He called on his father to forgive them, revealing the God who gives grace even to those who hate him- making the sun shine on both his devotees and those who hate him. He bore all the rejection of men knowing that his death is necessary for their life- an ultimate act of unconditional mercy. But the story did not end in death, the son of God rose again. He faced evil in all its power, and he reigns victorious. He remains alive, overcoming death- evil's ultimate weapon. It is the life of Jesus, given to those who trust him, that would bring victory over evil.
Wednesday, 4 April 2012
This is my body
For many years, Jesus' statement "This is my body" has sparked controversy. Roman Catholic transsubstantiationists interpret this to mean that the bread and wine during communion literally becomes the body and blood of Jesus. On the other extreme are those that see this statement as a symbolic reality, without any reality behind it. Instead of focusing on this controversy, I would like to refocus us on a profound statement that Jesus makes in relation to those words.
Jesus further states that you must eat his body and drink his blood so you may have life. Implied in this statement of Jesus is the assertion that he gives life to human beings. It is bold statement that should make us stop and think of what Jesus claims about himself. He definitely is not presenting himself in the position of another prophet or teacher who shows people the way to eternal life. He is sayng that he is the life itself.
In Genesis and Revelation, there was the idea of the tree of life. Being banished from its presence means death and having accesss to this tree means eternal life. I wonder if this tree of life points to the one who is truly the source of life, a title which Jesus seems to claim for himself. Scriptures are clear that man owes his life to God- God breath on the dust he has shaped and man came to be a living being. Man is not intrinsically immortal but owes his life to God, who by his grace sustains his life. Man chooses what to do with the life that God gives him and God has the power to withdraw that life.
In a couple of days is good Friday. Christians all over the world will remember the image of the body that was broken and the blood that was shed. I hope that we see something more profound in that image.
Christians usually relate that body and blood to the forgiveness of sins and rightly so. The death of the sacrifice, which a man presents to God, represents his death and restores him to God. Jesus stepped forward to represent man, he died to restore man to God. A profound spiritual principle gleaned from the sacrificial system is that the ultimate solution for sin is death. This might seem to make God sadistic and unforgiving. However, sin affects other parts of the creation he loves, like pollution that needs to be eliminated to allow creation to flourish. One man's sin affects others and himself in a way that could be likened to pollution destroying the environment. By the way, the ultmate pollution is the evil in man's hearts- selfishness and greed. Also, the source of sin is the sinful self alientaed from God and his reality, and that sinful self needs a new beginning. In the resurrection, Jesus also stands for the new self, which is the self that is fit to live in a world ruled by God. Jesus destroyed the sinful self by his death and by his resurrection, brought about the new self. For now, that new self is struggling to become fit for the kingdom of heaven, and God's spirit leads the self in that struggle until the sons of God are revealed.
Along with the forgiveness of sins, may we see in that body and blood our source of life, the life of God incarnate.
Wednesday, 14 March 2012
Regrets and Reincarnation
I have some regrets in my life, decisions that I should have made. Sometimes I wish I could go back to those moments and make different decisions and maybe my life would have been different and I won't have these regrets. They are not necessarily sinful decisions, but just in my perspective, not ideal.
I can't help but thinking that the appeal of the idea of reincarnation- being born as a different person, may have something to do with this phenomenon of regret. Some people probably long for a second chance to get their life right.
As I reflected on this, I thought about the question "Is there really such a thing as a perfect life?" I thought about the man who had made a bad business decision and wishes he could change that decision. Is he sure that life won't pose other problems for him? Maybe that bad business decision put him in a place where he would not make more bad business decisions that could have made his situation worse. The world seems to be replete with suffering, that no matter how good we are at making decisions, we cannot avoid. A different path would just seem to present other set of problems and regrets. Being reincarnated would just subject a person to the cycle of regret and longing.
I reflected on a Christian response to the problem of regret- "God works all things together for good for those who love him and are called according to his riches" This response puts "bad" moments in our life into proper perspective. Instead of occasions for despair, they become opportunities for God's goodness to shine through. There is a God behind our bad decisions who is willing to direct our lives in such a way that some good comes out of them. We may not be able to see how, but with an attitude of faith, we can wait expectantly for that good.
I see two choices from this reflection. We can go around longing for a second chance to make things right in our life. Or, we can seek God's ways and find that God works out our bad decisions for good, and ultimately brings us to a place of eternal rest- no more striving for the best life knowing that with him, we already have the best.
Wednesday, 29 February 2012
The True Prodigal
As I went into a Filipino store and heard some American music, I became aware of my thoughts concerning my own culture. I have always felt like Filipinos have always tried to be American (In my childhood days, our English teacher would have us fined for speaking in our native language, and the only place we can speak tagalog was in Filipino class. I chastise my sister for always speaking in English and with an American accent. I rarely hear Filipino music in any gathering of Filipinos). I actually wish sometimes that I could just get rid of my accent, since I sound "strange". In my thinking, my sister and I are both not living up to some expectation (being a true Filipino or being like the good others, whichever seems more important at the moment).
You might be wondering what this has to do with the idea of the Prodigal. When we think of Jesus' parables, we have a tendency to think about categories as static. For example, enemies are those different from us and friends are those we have natural affinity towards, or the Prodigal is the sinner while the older brother is the righteous. However, I believe that thinking of identities as dynamic would really enrich our study of scriptures. The spouse or child you deeply love becomes enemies when they get in the way of our agendas and expectations. The person who is a different race from us becomes our friends when they are agreeable to us. As far as the prodigal son, a person can both be a prodigal and the older brother at the same time.
As I grew up, my parents, by their behavior, inculcated in me the idea of a hierarchy. People who make a lot of money and have a nice house are looked up to. My parents would make comments that they are lower since they don't have a nice house and not a lot of money, but some people are lower because they are usually poorer. In this system, moral values are not the standard of "respect" but money is. This reminds me of Donald Trump, in an episode of the Apprentice, told a contestant that he needs to respect another contestant because the other contestant had made more money in her life.
Now think of a woman in that family coming into the human services field, not making a lot of money and not living up to her family's expectations of the "good" life. Imagine, she has a sister who did live by his family's expectations, becoming an accountant and having lots of money. The woman in this scenario may see herself as the older brother, as it relates to her human services culture, where people are valued for their being good helpers. She may see her sister as the younger brother, as it relates to her human services culture, where people who don't make a living serving others are considered out of the group. However, in their family's eyes, the tables are turned. It is the woman who is considered the prodigal as she lives in a way that defies her parent's expectations. The sister is the older brother in the family's eyes because she is the one who fits their expectations.
How does this insight of the dynamic identities help us in our application of God's word? As the case of the Parable of the Prodigal son, it helps us examine our attitudes in the light of both brothers. The younger brother probably thought that he was better than his older brother at first, more adventurous and free-spirited (willing to flaunt expectations). The older brother, as we know, thought himself better as the one who sticks loyally by his father, following his expectations. However, in the end, this older brother showed that he has resentments towards his father, as the grace of the father towards his brother reminded him that he did not seek more out of life. He wished that he could have more of the things of the world, while the younger brother understood that life with the father is much better than having anything else out of life. The younger son began the repentance process, while the elder brother is called to repent. He is called to follow his gracious father's heart and rejoice in his brother's repentance.
As you think of yourself as the younger son, in whatever world you are part of (family, vocation, etc.), remember that there is a heavenly father that calls you to turn to him. His only expectation is that you find comfort in being in his family, not in anything else. As you think of yourself as the older son, have a more accepting attitude towards others. In God's eyes, which is the most important, God's expectation is only that the younger brother come back to him. We tend to place other burdens on people- be as helpful as us, be as put together as us, but the heavenly father only wants one thing- that everyone find comfort in being part of his family.
Saturday, 25 February 2012
Dangers of Tradition
As the Lenten season comes upon us, I remember my days as a Roman Catholic. There were rules like no meat on Fridays and you are required to fast during that day. There would be discussions on what is truly meat and what constitutes fasting.
Our reactions to tradition can take on two extremes. Evangelicals sometimes assume that following rituals or traditions are a way to gain God's acceptance, so therefore, rituals are worthless, or at worst, sinful practices because God has already set up faith in Christ as the way to gain "acceptance before God" (salvation). However, there is an error to this thinking. Rituals are not necessarily about gaining salvation. The religiously observant person does not necessarily think that he has a better shot at salvation because of what he does. He may be completely tolerant of other religious practices, or even people who are not spiritually inclined at all. Secularists may frown at tradition because of their bias against the supernatural and ancient wisdom.
Most of us have accompanying rituals to commemorate transitions in life. We have funeral services when somebody dies. We have anniversary and birthday parties to commemmorate them. Fraternies have initiation rites to commemorate a student's entrance into the fraternity. Members may eat together during set times as a sign of their togetherness. Anniversaries and birthdays are cyclical, they populate time in the same way that the cycles of Lent and Advent populate the Christian calendar. There seems to be something inside of man that pays attention to the transitions of life. Ritual and tradition is a way to pay attention to those transitions. Praying for somebody when something bothers them or reading the bible everyday is also a form of ritual. The point is rituals and traditions are a part of life.
On the other hand, there are those who truly believe that what is most important to God is their obedience to traditions and they may look down on others that don't observe rituals and traditions as they do, especially those that are supposed to be a part of their community. This was Jesus' issue with the Pharisees of his day. The Pharisees, rightly so, were concerned about how to live as the people of God. God did command his people to live as a holy people, dedicated to him. However, many of the Pharisees did not understand that God ultimately looks at the heart. They made additional rules that were very hard to obey, and at worst, condoned sin. This was something they should have understood from the torah (circumcise your hearts) and the prophets (I will give you a new heart) and wisdom (seek me with all your heart). Some apparently took Jesus' rebuke to heart and they became his followers.
Because of Jesus' diatribe against the Pharisees, many people make the error of thinking that our outward actions, or lack of actions, are not important. However, our actions or inactions are usually related to our hearts. Let's take the observance of the Sabbath as an example. A person who does not make an effort to get to know God, always works because he wants to be richer than everybody else, but says that he trusts in God, is either not understanding what he is saying or is flat out lying (God is irrelevant in his life). His actions are not in conjunction with what he is saying. A person who truly trusts God would not be so wrapped up in working all the time, and would pray more. The actions of worship and prayer are in conjunction with the heart that trusts God. Christians are called to holiness of heart. Holy hearts are dedicated to following Jesus, and holy hearts lead to holy actions, not driven by cultural expectations but by the Spirit of Jesus.
Wednesday, 11 January 2012
Jesus is the Way
I heard that a court in a certain part of the country has said that some violators of the law could use going to church (I assume other places of worship too) as a way to serve their sentence. Some churches find this to be good because it gives them a chance to share the gospel with more people. Other Christians don't like this idea for different reasons (cheapening church, government involvement in church, etc.).
My reaction is that we need to recognize what is happening here, the state is coopting the church in its agenda to build good citizens. This seems to be a good agenda, considering the church should be concerned about the peace and prosperity of the city, which is affected by whether we have good citizens or not. Citizens who are considerate are good for the country. However, is it really good for the church to be coopted by the state?
The government is instituted by God, and sometimes pushes God's agendas (justice, providing security), but it is not an institution directed by God. Sinful men are part of government and they can push an agenda counter to God's agenda. What if the government starts telling churches, in the name of tolerance, to teach that certain lifestyles prohibited in scriptures are fine? Sometimes Christ is coopted by certain agendas like the political left's ideas concerning the environment, redistribution of wealth, etc. Sometimes Christ is coopted by the political right, which can be reactionary and not willing to listen to others' concerns, instead of thinking in terms of the peace and prosperity of the place God put them. Christ, who stands for the holy God, is made to stand for worldly agendas (environmentalism puts the rest of creation above humans, redistribution of wealth is oppressive, imposing morality without concern for people is oppressive also).
When Jesus said he is the way, he is principally saying that he is the way to God. He does not point the way to God but he is asserting that by walking with him, human beings are led to God. What does it mean to walk with Jesus? Jesus' life ended in the cross, and his followers are called to follow him to the cross. Walking with Jesus involves looking at the self, and crucifying it. It is an internal journey, that sometimes manifest itself externally. At the end of that journey, the person finds the divine, where he finds the peace he has been longing for.
So what does this have to do with government or other ideologues using Christ for their agenda? Christ is looking for more than agreement with his teachings. He wants to direct our agendas- our hopes, dreams, etc. Jesus' agenda is not an agenda for social change but an agenda to redeem human hearts. For those who claim to be followers of Jesus, we must remember that his agenda is to change hearts. Therefore, we must not measure our or other's allegiance to Jesus by the causes they support, but by their humility- what I believe to be the manifestation of the heart being crucified.
As I look at the political scene, there is a lack of humility, even among those who follow Jesus. This is manifested by the lack of open conversation between those who oppose each other politically. There are a lot of chips on shoulders, instead of humble acknowledgment of the wisdom and heart of those who oppose each other. I believe revival would be like a wind of humility penetrating personal relationships and the public square. Revival would happen when Christ's followers walk with him to the cross, leading the way in showing humility, putting the self aside for the sake of others. Hearts would then be reconciled and the earth will be filled with the knowledge of God as waters cover the seas.
Thursday, 29 December 2011
What is Life?
As a chaplain, I sometimes meet people near the point of their death. At this point people assess their life journey. I hear statements such as; "I have lived a full life, I have no regrets, I am ready to go".
Among the living strong, people also assess lives of other people. Talking about a friend who is old, still have a mistress, and enjoying himself, someone I know commented- that is life! The cycle of work and then enjoying the retirement years is the life many people hope for. When we see a person who is so disabled, some people comment- this is not the way to live!
But what is life and how is life to be lived? Jesus made a statement, "I have come to give them life and life to the fullest". What is this thing called a full life? Jesus even says he is life, that man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes out of the mouth of God. He even calls people to come to him to have life.
Physical life is given by the breath of God. Food, drink, oxygen comes from the hand of God and are necessary to sustain life. Therefore when Jesus says he is life, it probably includes the idea of him being the source of life, a claim of deity. However, Jesus' discourse on life seem to indicate that there is more to life than the physical, and that the full life comes from him. It is not something to be attained by working hard or keeping healthy, but through connection with him.
In the movie Sixth Sense, the boy who sees ghosts made what I thought was a profound statement- "I see dead people, thinking they are alive but they are not." Could it be that as we look around, that we are looking at people who are not really alive? I don't mean it literally of course. Could we count the people who just go through the motions of life the living dead? Could we count those who focus on endlessly amusing themselves the living dead? Their bodies are alive but their spirits may be dead, not connected to a greater purpose. From the outside, people may be longing to be in their shoes. But in the inside, their souls may be rotting in despair, descending into the mire of selfishness and greed. This is what I believe to be the dying spirit, a spirit that has lost its connection to any sense of purpose. It may have connections (other humans?) that make it look alive for awhile. For example, a parent whose life is wrapped around her child. However, because anything in creation is not eternal, those connections will not last. The child will eventually leave the parent.
Jesus said I am the vine and you are the branches. Branches not connected to the vine may look alive but is in the process of dying. Our bodies are all in the process of dying. Branches connected to the vine are connected to the life of the vine. It produces fruit, which signifies the spiritual growth of the individual. That spiritually flourishing individual brings righteousness to the world around him, making the world a better place. The being itself of the branches serves the grand purpose of God's reaching out to humanity. That is life to the fullest, serving God's purpose in creation. Since the vine is eternal, evidenced by the resurrection of Jesus, the branches are also eternal.
In my morbid moments, I think of my death. Would I be able to say I have lived a full life? I cannot imagine pointing at the things I will leave behind. I can imagine thinking of my connection, my faith, in the one who is life itself. I could imagine thinking of how he has given my life meaning, lifting up my spirit, by his grace, as I walked in this world he has placed me. I would not imagine a life that could have been fuller. It is full, even in dark moments, because of my relationship with Jesus.
Wednesday, 28 December 2011
What is Truth?
"You can't handle the truth!" This was a famous line in a movie called "A Few Good Men" The story is about two Marines who was accused of murdering a fellow Marine. Their defense was that the order to conduct a "Code Red"- a form of informal discipline, came from their commanding officer Col. Jeseph. The Marines' defense was that they were ordered to conduct "disciplinary action" on their fellow Marine that caused the death of their fellow marine, a death they did not mean to happen.
I have been puzzled about this thing called "truth". Why did Colonel Jeseph, after being pushed to admit that he ordered a "Code Red", retorted with that statement. Was it a defense that he thought will absolve him of any responsibility in a young Marine's death? The term "truth" can be seen in the small picture as the specific actions of the two Marines and his specific action- ordering a "Code Red". "Truth" can also be seen in the big picture. Truth is seen as the complete reality, from Colonel Jeseph's perspectiive, which would make it a justification of his action. Colonel Jeseph's perspective, in a nutshell, was that the Marine's death was for the greater good, the security of the nation, its need for strong soldiers to protect. The elimination of the Marine was the elimination of a weak link who may endanger the security of the nation. His conception of "truth" was rejected by the judge who placed him under arrest for murder. The judge went with another "truth", that the deliberate, or at least culpable, taking of human life is absolutely wrong.
This reflection on "truth" made me think about what Jesus meant when he said "I am the truth." I think what Jesus was saying is that his perspective on anything- on life, on the human heart, on eternity. reflects the reality of how things really are. It is a bold statement. We human beings see only little truths- evidences and data that needs to be interpreted. Human coneptions of the big truth- the interpretations of the phenomenon (evidence and data) is limited. He may be able to find evidences that a certain someone committed a murder, but the ultimate judgment of that murderer is in God's hand. King David, despite the obviously wrong act of muder that he repented of, was declared by God to be a man after his own heart. That is God's perspective, the big picture that can only be seen by the all-knowing one, what matters in the end. Jesus claims the place of having the final perspective on all matters. He is the truth means he is the ultimate interpreter of reality.
Newer | Latest | Older