People in Heaven Know What’s on Earth?

Luke 10 15 a

Q. My beloved husband passed away last year in an accident. My pastor’s wife comforts me by saying that he is still with me in spirit. Is that true?

A. It is very hard to lose a loved one, and your pastor’s wife is very kind in trying to console you. However, I think she has gone beyond what the Bible said. I believe people in heaven know what’s happening on earth, but are not physically with us here. My opinion is based on the following:

Lk 15:10 In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.
The text did not say the angels rejoiced, but “there is joy in the presence of the angels”. Who are those who rejoiced in heaven? I believe they are the people of God, since the four living creatures and elders were not mentioned specifically. I don’t know how much they know, but as a minimum they know when one sinner repents on earth, and rejoice.

Lk 16:23 In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom.
If the rich man in Hades can see Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom, and Abraham answered his cries, it is not unreasonable to assume that Christians in heaven knows something about what’s happening on earth.

Lk 16:26 And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.
There is a chasm between Hades and Abraham’s bosom, so that no one can cross from either side to the other. I infer from this that there is a similar barrier between heaven, earth, and hell, so that no one can cross over without special permission. That’s why I believe your husband’s spirit is in heaven and not beside you.

Revelation 6 10 a

Rev 6:9-10 When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, “How long, O Lord, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”
Those who had been slain because of the word are martyrs, and they knew that the Lord had not yet judged and avenged their blood. So God’s people in heaven know at least when sinners repent, and also whether God had executed justice on earth to avenge them.

They may not know everything, but are not ignorant of earth’s events. I don’t know how much they know about the mess we’re in, but even if they did it won’t affect their joy because they’ll be seeing things from a holy perspective. The Bible does not give us much detail about what folks in heaven know, but enough for me to formulate the above hypothesis. For sure you will meet your loved ones again, and God will wipe away every tear from your eyes (Rev 7:17, 21:4). In that you can be comforted.

Abused? Divorce?

Q. My unbelieving husband abused me physically and mentally? I would rather die than continue like this. Can I divorce him?

A. I am sorry that your husband is like that. A man who abuses his wife or children is not fit to be a husband or father, but is a coward who vents his inferiority on those physically weaker than he. Death is not a solution to your pain, and the Bible permits divorce only in the case of sexual immorality (Mt 5:32, 19:9; see yesterday’s post), or abandonment (desertion) by an unbelieving spouse:
1 Co 7:15 Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace.

Your husband is unbelieving, so if he chooses to leave, let him leave. You are not bound to the abusive marriage. However, if he does not show any inclination to leave, the biblical option is separation. Nowhere in the Bible does it require an abused wife to submit herself to her abusive husband. Her safety and that of her children are paramount. She can extract herself and any small children to a safe shelter, whether to her parents, her friends, or to a government-run shelter.

In fact, abuse is a criminal offense in many jurisdictions, and must be reported to the authorities. And it is not restricted to physical violence either. The abuse could be physical (e.g. hitting), sexual (e.g. subjecting her to his perversions), verbal (e.g. taunts), emotional (e.g. tearing down her self-worth), and mental-psychological torment. If you are afraid, inform your family or close friends and ask the church to help. The police could place restraining orders on the abusive husband, or put him in jail if he poses a threat to you and/or the children’s safety.

The best option of course is for your husband to become a Christian submitted to the Word of God. Pray that the Holy Spirit will convict his heart of sin, righteousness, and judgment (Jn 16:8). Ask your pastor or church leaders to witness to him, and pray for his conversion. If he is truly repentant, reconciliation is possible. Don’t submit in silence. God never intended you to.

Divorce or Forgive?

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Q. We’ve been married over 20 years but my adulterous husband lost our store and all our savings at the casino. On top of that he has a mistress who is only after his money. Can I divorce him, or should I forgive such a deadbeat dad?

A. It is extremely difficult when your husband is like that, when the man you have entrusted your life to caused all the pain by his philandering and gambling addiction. Whether you should divorce or forgive him depend on two biblical principles and his repentance.

Although God hates divorce (Mal 2:16), He allows it under one exception:
Mt 5:32 but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the reason of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
• Mt 19:9 And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

Unchastity or immorality is any illicit sexual intercourse, including adultery, fornication, homosexuality, lesbianism, bestiality, sexual relationship with close relatives (Lev 18), and with a divorced man or woman (Mk 10:11-12). When a husband or wife is unchaste or immoral, they have broken their marriage covenant, and the innocent spouse is allowed to divorce the guilty party. This is a permissible exception to the general rule of “no divorce”, though not mandatory. Forgiveness is possible if the guilty party repents.

The second principle is based on how Jesus dealt with the situation in John 8:3-15. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery to Jesus to test Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger. Then He straightened up and said, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” They began to go out one by one, and He and the woman were left alone. Jesus said, “I do not condemn you, either. Go. From now on sin no more.

The Bible did not say what Jesus wrote, but scholars have suggested the 10 Commandments as the essence of the Law, or the sins the crowd were guilty of. They did not condemn her because they themselves are not without sin, so were not qualified to stone her. Jesus forgave the adulteress, but with a condition, that she sin no more. He asked her to repent.

The same applies to us. Which one of us is without sin? We may not have committed the act of adultery, but Jesus said in Mt 5:28 that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. We may not be compulsive gamblers, but if we have been greedy we are covetous and will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Co 6:10; Eph 5:5). If God has forgiven us our sins, we can forgive those who sin against us, including unfaithful and squandering spouse, provided they repent.

What if the womanizing and prodigal spouse does not repent? Do we still take him back? In this case I believe the right thing to do is to protect the children. They are innocent and do not deserve to be dragged down with their irresponsible father. The tough love option is to let the delinquent husband-dad go and suffer the consequences of his folly. Let the other woman desert him after his money is gone so that he’ll wake up. Do not cover his debts for him. Get on with your own life for the sake of your children. Let God deal with your husband in His way and His time. It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Heb 10:31).

Are You the Expected One?

Lk 7 19 a

Q. When John the Baptist baptized Jesus he already knew He was the Savior. If that is the case why then did he have to send his own disciples out to ask if He is the One again?

A. Yes, John already knew Jesus is the Lamb of God and Son of God:
Jn 1:29, 34 The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! … I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

However, in Lk 7 he sent his disciples to ask Jesus whether He was the Expected One:
Lk 7:19-20 Summoning two of his disciples, John sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?” When the men came to Him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to You, to ask, ‘Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?’”
Why?

The first clue is in the parallel account in Mt 11:
Mt 11:2-3 Now when John, while imprisoned, heard of the works of Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to Him, “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?”

John had been put in prison by Herod since Mt 4:12 (see also Mk 1:14; Lk 3:20), so he had been languishing in jail for months. The Jewish expectation of the Messiah at that time was that He would be a political deliverer, rescuing Israel from Roman oppression. Being in prison, John was discouraged and confused. If Jesus were the Messiah, why hasn’t He destroyed the forces of evil, delivered Israel, and judged all unrighteousness? As a minimum, why has He left His forerunner (Lk 1:17) in prison? It is the same with us, when we are going through difficulties and discouraged, we often forget and doubt what we knew to be true. So John sent his disciples to seek reassurance.

Jesus reminded John of the works of the Messiah predicted in the OT:
Isa 29:18 On that day the deaf will hear words of a book,
And out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind will see.
• Isa 35:5-6 Then the eyes of the blind will be opened And the ears of the deaf will be unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer, And the tongue of the mute will shout for joy.
• Isa 61:1 The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, Because the LORD has anointed me To bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to captives And freedom to prisoners;

Even someone as great as John was influenced by expectation of the masses. The remedy is always to go back to Scripture – What does the Bible say, not what everyone thinks. Furthermore, when studying the Bible, look at the total picture, not just what some passage say, or you might misinterpret by leaving out key elements. When you are in the dark, don’t doubt what you knew as truth in the light.

Challenges facing Panama’s Chinese Churches

challenge 11

Every church has her challenges, some more than others. For the Chinese churches in Panama, their ministerial fellowship have identified the top 3 as follows:

1. Getting Believers to Worship. Unlike most Chinese in N. America who work in white or blue-collar jobs and get their weekends off, most Chinese in Central & S. America work in small businesses which are open 7 days a week. This creates a problem for C&SA churches in that while it is not difficult to share the gospel and get a confession of faith, it is very hard for the new convert to go to church to be discipled. This challenge is unique to that culture, and N. American programs based on inviting people to come to church to participate do not work.

What’s more, without disciples, there could be no leaders. Which leader would entrust the work of the ministry to immature believers who have not learned the basics of worship, instruction, fellowship and evangelism? So the missionary or pastor end up doing most of the work himself, perpetually feeding spiritual infants with milk. What’s the solution?

At the core, this is a problem of priorities and values. New converts steeped in materialism simply do not see the value of setting aside time to worship God, for to them time is money. To rectify this, the value system needs to be restructured from the physical to spiritual. Now the word can help the spiritual babies grow:
1 Pet 2:2 like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation,

But how do you feed them if they don’t come? There are two alternatives. The first is to find another time for gathering together for worship and training other than Sunday morning. This is the method adopted by restaurant workers fellowship in N. America. Since Sunday is the busiest day for those in food services, they meet on Monday nights instead. Services start at midnight after the restaurants have closed, and run till 2 or 3 am including Sunday school. This is a group method and more efficient.

The other option is to go to the convert’s business to disciple him/her. Most have a slow period during the day with few customers. Instead of the convert watching TV programs streamed from China, the missionary can do bible study with them, slowly shaping their values via God’s word. This is an individual method and takes more time, but probably more effective as the mentor shapes the mentee’s life by example.

2. Reaching the Second Generation. As in N. America, the first generation consists of immigrants, legal or illegal, from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong or elsewhere. They speak Chinese, whether Putonghua (Mandarin), Cantonese or other dialects. Some subsequently obtain permanent resident status. The second generation consists of their children, born locally, and speak English in N. America, or Spanish in C&SA. Generally they are better educated than their parents, but unlike them integrate into mainstream society. If the church does not reach them, she loses her future and dies after the first generation. What do you do to reach the second generation?

God had been gracious to our host Panama Chinese Baptist Church (PCBC). Three years ago, before our friends’ arrival, the second generation was still young, being teens bored with church. Some spoke Chinese at home, but not well enough to understand the biblical vocabulary. The adults’ command of Spanish is sufficient for day-to-day transactions, but not enough to read the Spanish Bible. What to do? Just as N. American Chinese churches develop English ministry for their teenagers, C&SA Chinese churches develop Spanish ministry. The hard way is to develop such capabilities internally. The easier way is to enlist external help.

PCBC solicited the aid of a nearby Spanish Baptist church. They sent four youth workers weekly, and two children’s worker biweekly. With their assistance the Spanish-speaking congregation was built up from scratch to 25-30 youth, many of whom are beyond the children of the first generation, but their friends and classmates. It appears that this approach – working in partnership with Spanish churches – can be gainfully employed by other Chinese churches.

3. Sufficient Offering to Support Pastor. Generally churches worldwide do not pay their pastors enough, compared to jobs requiring equivalent education, experience, and working hours. But this is particularly a challenge for Panama Chinese churches. I don’t know the current salary scale, but a couple of years ago it was US$600 a month. Panama has minimum wage scales for different occupations. For example, for a construction worker working 48 hours/week, the minimum salary is:
$2.72/hour X 48 hours/week X 4.33 weeks/month = US$565.32/month

You can see that the pastor’s salary is barely above minimum wage. No wonder some locally trained pastors quit after a few years, because they can’t earn enough to support their family. A couple running a small convenience store can earn about US$2,000 a month, after costs of goods sold and rent. That’s 3.5 times that of a pastor! The pastor’s salary may have risen by now, and there might be certain expense subsidies such as gas, cell phone etc. But that hardly close the gap. Church members respect their pastors, but somehow this is not reflected in the remuneration. The offering is not sufficient to pay the pastor a decent salary, after rents and utility bills are taken care of.

I believe this is again related to the members’ value system:
1 Tim 5:18 For the Scripture says, “YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING,” and “The laborer is worthy of his wages.”
Once the members’ values are aligned with biblical norms, they will learn not to rob God in tithes and offerings (Mal 3:8). So the solution is in discipling the new believers right from conversion, and over time this problem should resolve itself.

I do not have C&SA pastoral experience, so I may not understand the culture enough to propose solutions. But for now that’s how I see things. Hopefully I’m not too far off the mark.

Was Pilate Guilty or Innocent?

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Q. Thinking back to illustrations and children’s books from childhood, Pilate is often portrayed as a bad guy. Reading the scriptures now, it seems Herod was always out to get Jesus, but it was Pilate who tried to save Him. He tried to release Him, but in the end he gave into the crowd’s demand to release Barabbas instead. Was Pilate guilty for his actions (he was scared of the people and gave into what they wanted instead of standing up for Jesus) or ‘innocent’ (he was put in his role to fulfill God’s plan for Jesus to be crucified)?

A. Yes Pilate did try to acquit Jesus, five times as a matter of fact:

1. The first was after he interrogated Jesus: Jn 18:38 Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?” And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews and said to them, “I find no guilt in Him.” This was also recorded in Lk 23:4
2. The second was after he sent Jesus to Herod: Lk 23:14-15 and said to them, “You brought this man to me as one who incites the people to rebellion, and behold, having examined Him before you, I have found no guilt in this man regarding the charges which you make against Him. No, nor has Herod, for he sent Him back to us; and behold, nothing deserving death has been done by Him.
3. The third time was after he had Jesus flogged: Jn 19:4 Pilate came out again and said to them, “Behold, I am bringing Him out to you so that you may know that I find no guilt in Him.”
4. The fourth time was after the Jews chose to release Barabbas: Lk 23:22 And he said to them the third time, “Why, what evil has this man done? I have found in Him no guilt demanding death; therefore I will punish Him and release Him.”
5. The fifth time was when he finally gave up: Jn 19:6 So when the chief priests and the officers saw Him, they cried out saying, “Crucify, crucify!” Pilate said to them, “Take Him yourselves and crucify Him, for I find no guilt in Him.”

He even claimed innocence in sentencing Jesus to be crucified:
Mt 24:27 When Pilate saw that he was accomplishing nothing, but rather that a riot was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this Man’s blood; see to that yourselves.”

The first clue of something wrong is why punish Jesus when he found no guilt in Him? And after examining all the evidence, my opinion is that Pilate was guilty and responsible for his role, based on the following. First, his background.

Pilate was the Governor of Judea and Samaria from AD 26-36, answerable only to Emperor Tiberius, not the Jews. However, he had a checkered past in his relationship with the Jews as seen in his handling of:

1. Civil disturbances. Lk 13:1 Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him [Jesus] about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. He was a ruthless man who did not hesitate to use force.
2. Taxes: To build aqueducts he used temple funds, which was strongly objected by the Jews.
3. People: He brought into the temple troops carrying shields and standards bearing the name of Tiberius, which the Jews considered sacrilegious and complained to Caesar.

Not counting the first incident, there were already two strikes against him. So even though he despised the Jews, he was careful to protect his own neck lest they complain to Caesar again, who would dismiss him.

When the Jews first brought Jesus to Pilate, he asked them what were the charges. The Jews tried to evade by saying if He were not an evildoer, they would not have delivered Jesus to him (Jn 18:30). Note that in the Jewish trial before Caiaphas the charge was blasphemy (Mt 26:65; Mk 14:64). But blasphemy was not a capital offense under Roman law, so they changed the charge to sedition:
Lk 23:2 And they began to accuse Him, saying, “We found this man (1) misleading our nation and (2) forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, and saying that (3) He Himself is Christ, a King.”
As governor Pilate’s job was to keep peace, to collect taxes, and to squelch any rival to Caesar, so naturally this aroused his attention.

The first accusation was an outright lie. (2) was exactly the opposite of what Jesus taught:
Mk 12:17 And Jesus said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
(3) was true, but not in the political sense:
Jn 18:36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.”
So when Pilate found that Jesus was not talking about a physical kingdom but a spiritual one, he wasn’t concerned and said in Jn 18:38 “What is truth?”

But Pilate was a seasoned politician and always looking for a way out, so when he learned that Jesus was a Galilean and under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod. He did not do things right with the Jews, as a result they had a hold against him. He then played the political game and tried to shift the responsibility to Herod. But why, after repeatedly finding Jesus innocent, did Pilate gave in?

I believe it’s because Pilate’s bottom-line was himself. As governor he was also the judge and required to be just, but he was on report already, and afraid of what this might do for his career. He had the army at his disposal, but if he set Jesus free, there might be a riot (Mt 27:24), or the people might report to Caesar, and he would be finished. In the end he chose political expediency over justice. He gave in to pressure and made the wrong choice; he lacked the courage to stand up for justice. He was afraid to stand up for Jesus because of self-interest, hence his guilt.

Is Panama Safe?

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Sometimes people ask if it’s safe to go to Panama for mission trips. They’ve heard stories of high crime rates and gun violence, and worry about their security. It’s a legitimate concern. Yes there are anecdotal incidents. We even heard some on this trip.

One involved the Y-junction near the church. During the day it is extremely busy with traffic jams, but at night the intersection is quiet with little traffic. Recently a car was waiting at the lights when another car bumped into it. The driver got out to assess the damage, but two people came out of the other car, pointed a gun at him, took his wallet, and drove off with his car.

A second incident happened in the hair salon on the ground floor of our apartment building. Usually there is a watchman on duty, but one night near closing time while the guard was briefly away a robber came in, grabbed the money, and also took the keys to the building. That’s getting close to home.

A third concerned a Chinese man running a convenience store behind a steel cage, handing out merchandize and receiving payment through a small window like old style banks. He kept late hours hoping to do more business, despite the fact that the later it gets, the more dangerous it becomes. One night a man came up asking for a can of pop but had no money to pay. The store owner refused, so the man pulled out a gun and shot him dead.

The last serious case involved a lady we visited in old Chinatown. She and her husband ran a convenience store. One night she received a phone call from Spanish-speaking thugs who claimed that they had kidnapped her husband. She demanded proof that he was safe, and her husband was allowed to speak to her in Chinese. He told her to give them the money so they would release him. She complied, but two months after she paid the ransom there was still no sign of him.

All the Chinese merchants we knew had been robbed at some point. It is not a matter of if they had been robbed, but how many times. It is true that parts of Panama City (e.g. Chorrillo) and Colon has a high crime rate. But if you look up the statistics there are far more violent cities in Latin America, such as Caracas (Venezuela), Rio (Brazil), Acapulco (Mexico) and Guatemala City.

So is it safe? I believe for a Christian, his safety is in God’s hands. He could be safe in dangerous Honduras, or in danger in “safe” Toronto. Nothing will happen to him without the Lord’s permission. I am not saying that God will always protect and preserve His workers, as there are plenty of missionary stories to show that God does allow bad things to happen to His servants. But what I am saying is that for a Christian worker on kingdom mission, God will keep him safe until he has accomplished His purpose. That could be a short or long time, but in the final analysis, that’s the only thing that matters, not our comfort or happiness. I hope we can all learn to trust in the Lord for everything, including our safety and security. That’s basic discipleship.