I Don’t Feel I Need Jesus

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Q. I am doing fine just as I am. I don’t feel I need Jesus or any religion.

A. This is a classic case of allowing the subjective to influence one’s decision, to the detriment of objective reality. The unbeliever feels that everything is fine and going his way. He is content with his situation and doesn’t feel the need to change. So why bother? The reality is that Satan had deceived him and lulled him into a false sense of security. He doesn’t see his true spiritual condition and the plight he is in, so he rejects the gospel:
2 Co 4:4 in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
• Rom 3:10-12 as it is written, “THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE; THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS, THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; ALL HAVE TURNED ASIDE, TOGETHER THEY HAVE BECOME USELESS; THERE IS NONE WHO DOES GOOD, THERE IS NOT EVEN ONE.”
• Rom 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
• Rom 6:23a For the wages of sin is death,
• Jn 3:18b he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

It is the same in physical life. Some have terminal illness but do not feel a thing. No pain, no suffering, as if nothing is wrong. But when finally the symptoms manifest itself, it is too late. You see feelings do not change the facts; they only change how you behave. Emotions affect your personal preferences, and when you are self-deceived about how deplorable your actual situation is, you choose against your own best interests, which unbelievers tend to do:
2 Co 10:12b but when they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding.
• Eph 4:18 being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart;

So the wise thing to do is to investigate for yourself what the gospel is all about, and then decide after you know the facts. That’s like deferring a prognosis until after a proper diagnosis, instead of refusing medication before even knowing how sick you are.

Why Evangelism?

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Q. If God foreordains who would be saved, then why bother with evangelism at all? He has already predestined everything, so it really does not matter what we do.

A. We evangelize because:
1. Christ commanded it:
Mt 28:19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,
• Mk 16:15 And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation.
• Lk 24:47 and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.
• Jn 20:21 So Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”
• Acts 1:8b and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”

When our Lord commanded it in the Great Commission, that alone is more than enough reason for us to evangelize.

2. God ordained not just the ends, but also the means:
Rom 10:13-15a for “WHOEVER WILL CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED.” How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent?
God chose who would be saved, but He also chose that they would be saved through hearing the gospel. So He sent preachers to preach the good news.

3. It is our privilege:
Rom 10:15b Just as it is written, “HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!”
Most feet are not beautiful, but those who bring the gospel are. It is an honor for those who are given the opportunity to share, and brings great joy when those we witnessed to come to know Christ as their Lord and Savior. That’s why we evangelize.

Leading Seniors to Christ

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Last Sunday we received an urgent call from a former church member C. (name changed), asking whether we could visit her parents before her mom goes for surgery next week. They are in their mid to late 70’s, with health issues.

The mom had been a staunch Taoist, even pledging herself to be a disciple of Zhang Daoling, the first Celestial Master (張天師) in second century BC. However, when she had a near fatal illness nearly 10 years ago, she professed faith in Christ, but hesitatingly, as her husband was not a believer. He had been a businessman in Hong Kong (HK), but does not believe in any religion. Both retired and emigrated to Canada to live with their daughter in 1997, when HK was repatriated to China.

Two weeks earlier the church caring team had visited them to share the gospel, inviting them to trust in Christ alone for their salvation. The mom said she already believed in Jesus, but will follow her husband’s decision as head of the household, as many older Chinese wives are accustomed to do. The dad said he also believes in Jesus, otherwise why would he follow his daughter to church every Sunday? But he cannot trust in Jesus alone, since previously he followed Master Zhang and could not be disloyal. The team explained that Christianity is exclusive and that he could not put his faith in both, but he wouldn’t budge, as disloyalty is a grave sin with dire consequences. That’s when someone suggested C. contact us.

Prior to our appointment the team explained to us how their meeting went, so we were aware of the impasse. What the team said was correct, but there is a better way to present the truth to avoid the deadlock. After inquiring about their health to establish rapport, we transitioned to the gospel. We agreed with him that loyalty is important. Just as in a marriage the partners need to be faithful to each other and not leave room for a third-party, so in matters of faith one should commit wholeheartedly and not have divided loyalties. However, important as that is, there is an even more important issue to be resolved first. And that most important thing is to determine who the one true God is, and commit to Him alone and no one else.

We explained to him that in time past many Chinese did not know any better as they had not heard the gospel. They followed blindly the beliefs of ancestors without questioning, and were conned by demonic deception such as healing from a sickness or winning a fortune. Little did they realize that these are like sugar-coated poison, because the cost is to forfeit their soul (Mt 16:26; Mk 8:36; Lk 9:25). So the priority is to find out who the true God is, and then commit to follow Him only. He was a businessman and understood right away Satan’s tricks to lure people to follow him, so we invited them to settle their commitment once for all, which they accepted. After further clarification questions we asked them to pray to tell Jesus their commitment to trust Him alone. All were glad as we welcome them into God’s family. Hallelujah!

The gospel never changes, but how you present it can vary with the need. Always be ready to share with anyone, any place, anywhere. You’ll be glad you did, just as there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents (Lk 15:10).

Reflections on “It’s a Wonderful Life”

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We attended the live-radio play “It’s a Wonderful Life” hosted by our church. It’s a classic Christmas movie (1946) about “an angel who helped a compassionate but despairingly frustrated businessman by showing him what life would have been like if he never existed.” (For those who do not know the storyline, please refer to http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0038650/) The story held our attention and the performance was very good, but I left with mixed feelings about the plot.

On the one hand, I like the theme “No man is a failure who has friends. Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around he leaves an awful hole. All you can take with you is that which you’ve given away.” Not many of us are wise according to human standards, not many mighty, not many noble (1 Co 1:26), but all of us have friends. What we have given away have left a mark, great or small, on their lives. Had we never existed, our friends’ lives would have been different by virtue of the fact that our impact would have been absent.

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I thought back over the last few decades. A lot of the things I did would not amount to much. Whatever trophies or awards I earned in school or university had long been forgotten, as soon as the next school year came along and there were new students competing for those top spots. What achievements I had with my employers were a thing of the past too, as everyone’s attention quickly refocused on the latest quarterly and annual results. Vanity of vanities. All is vanity. (Eccle 1:2; 12:8)

However, if I had never been born, for sure I would not have any children or grandchildren! And they are important! Even though I had not done anything great according to the world’s standards, I shared the gospel with quite a few, and by God’s grace some did trust and follow the Lord. Many I did not have the opportunity to meet again, but I expect to see them again the other side of heaven. Had I not existed, I guess the Lord would have used others to lead them to Himself, but I’m glad I was there at the right time and place and obedient in carrying the message. To me that’s significant! So I’m thankful for the play’s reminder to reflect on what matters in life.

On the other hand, I am bothered by the play’s utilitarian value system. What if, unlike the story’s hero, I had not saved anyone life? Or contributed to society’s well-being by stopping evil oppressors in their tracks? What if I am just an ordinary citizen trying hard to make ends meet? Or perhaps I was born physically or mentally challenged? Does that mean my life has little value because I had not influenced others for the better? I don’t think so. Even with all the disadvantages and looked down by the world, I would still be fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps 139:14). I would still be made in God’s image, a child of God and precious in His sight.

So I have mixed feelings about the play. But I suppose that’s the best I can expect from humanitarian philosophy – good from today’s moral decline perspective, but far short of God’s ideal. That’s why we need to share the gospel to as many as we can as best as we can. Other things pale in comparison.

Salvation by Works?

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Q. Does Mt 19:16-26 teach salvation by works?

A. No it does not. In fact, the story of the Rich Young Ruler teaches exactly the opposite. What threw some people off is the part b of v 17: “but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments” which seemed to teach that the “good thing” he should do “to obtain eternal life” is to “keep the commandments.” But actually Jesus was correcting the ruler’s misunderstanding. V 17 b is governed by 17 a, “Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good”. By saying that only One i.e. God, is good Jesus was telling him that none of the things he does or could do are really any good at all. They are not meritorious.

When the ruler did not realize how far short he was off the mark, Jesus continued by listing the commandments in v 18-19:
• YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER (6TH COMMANDMENT);
• YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY (7TH COMMANDMENT);
• YOU SHALL NOT STEAL (8TH COMMANDMENT);
• YOU SHALL NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS (9TH COMMANDMENT);
• HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER (5TH COMMANDMENT); and
• YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” (2ND GREATEST COMMANDMENT).

That is, Jesus listed 5-9 of the 10 commandments about loving your neighbor, but purposely left out the 10th on “You shall not covet” (Ex 20:17). When the ruler still did not catch on, Jesus probed one last time by asking him to “go and sell your possessions and give to the poor” (v 21). At that he finally realized his shortfall and went away grieving, because he coveted and could not let go of his properties.

In other words, Jesus was showing him that no one can keep the commandments by his own effort, and that’s why no one can enter into life or be saved by works. Asking him to keep the commandments is simply to let him discover for himself the impossibility of doing so (v 26), and that he should commit himself to God’s grace and mercy instead. Using a negative object lesson to drive home the positive point is one of our Lord’s powerful teaching methods.

Six Degrees of Separation

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It’s a small world after all. Three years ago we went on a leadership course, and met a Vancouver couple (A&B)* whose work is missionary care within a denominational mission agency. We kept in touch, and recently when they came to Toronto to conduct a training workshop we had breakfast together to catch up. It turned out we had more things in common than we realized.

The first connection was when Ellen started learning Spanish two years ago and looked for a tutor. My brother’s wife said her brother has a niece from Guatemala who is visiting him in Toronto. She speaks Spanish fluently and could give Ellen some pointers. We met, and it “happened” that this niece is a Christian who attends the church where A&B used to pastor in Guatemala City! That’s four steps from us to them, had we not known each other directly.

The second link was through one of our engineering classmates C in university. C and his wife D have two children. Their younger son E initially also studied engineering, but did not enjoy it. Interestingly, he went on a short-term mission to, of all places, Guatemala City, where he met A&B. C&D were concerned about E’s safety, and wrote A&B to look after him. E liked missions so much that he returned to Canada to attend bible college, and after graduation moved his family to Guatemala to start a bed and breakfast place for ministry. C&D visited them to show support and became friends with A&B too. That’s three steps from us to our missionary friends.

The last connection was through Ellen’s sister’s (F) husband (G). F&G went on a reunion with his extended family to Hawaii. However, in the middle of the celebrations G’s brother’s (H) wife (J) was struck with meningitis, and had to fly back to Calgary for treatment. H&J are dedicated members within their denomination, and active in promoting missions in Chinese churches. That’s where they got to work with A&B. When J recovered sufficiently, H threw a thanksgiving dinner and invited all their friends and church brothers and sisters, including A&B. That is again three steps from us to A&B.

My first thought was it’s a small world after all! True, our sample may be skewed by the fact that we are Chinese Christians involved in missions, but still you can’t help but wonder our circles are so limited and intersect with each other. Don’t do anything foolish, or else it will spread to who knows where, even without email, FB or WhatsApp!

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The second thing that comes to mind is “six degrees of separation“, the theory that everyone everywhere can be connected to any other person by way of friend introducing friend, in six steps or less. Our example took only 3 or 4 steps, but even if it were a complete stranger in a foreign land, the theory is that you can be connected to him/her in a maximum of six steps.

Mathematically this seems possible. In a random network of n nodes, with each node having k acquaintances, the average distance between two nodes is ln n/ln k (ln = natural logarithm). Assuming the world’s population to be 7 billion people (n), and that each person knows an average of 50 people (k), then the average number of steps to link one person to any other person is:
ln 7,000,000,000/ln 50 = 22.67/3.91 = 5.79, rounded to 6.
Obviously, the larger k is, the lesser the number of steps.
If you solve for k in ln 7,000,000,000/ln k = 6, the largest integral value for k is 44. In other words, if each person connect with at least 44 acquaintances, then anyone can be introduced to anyone else in a maximum of 6 steps.

This has interesting implications for evangelism and missions. We tend to think of reaching the world for Christ as “too big” a task and would require a very long time. But let’s assume the message to be delivered is the gospel. If I find the right contacts with the right connections, then I can share the good news with anyone in the world, including the top Muslim cleric, or the Dalai Lama, within six links. This assumes that those who received the message are ready and willing to pass it on, and that some will have to cross geographic, linguistic, cultural and/or class barriers. But what this tells us is that it is not an impossible task, and that we can share Christ with anyone anywhere in the world, so that they can make an intelligent choice whether to follow Him.

*Names changed for privacy purposes.

Kidnapped!

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When you are a missionary, you deal with a whole new set of challenges that the average pastor in N. American would never have to contend with. Sure there is the usual preaching, teaching, reaching, counseling and leading, that’s just part of the job description of a pastor anywhere in the world. But if you are serving in a foreign field, then you encounter issues, e.g. exorcism or persecution, which you would rarely face in Canada.

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In the Middle East or Central & South America, one particular problem is kidnapping. According to SCR Ltd., a company which specializes in dealing with kidnap and extortion, Panama is not listed among the top kidnap and ransom (K&R) countries in the world generally. But to the local Chinese, K&R is a very real issue because they are often the target. Partly this is attributed to the perception that the Chinese are rich, as they are hard-working and many own their own store. As well, few of them would testify against their abductors for fear of retaliation, making them easy prey.

We visited one lady whose husband was kidnapped, apparently by local gangs. A Spanish-speaking man called and asked for a large sum of money. She wanted assurance that her husband was still alive and well, so they passed the phone to him and allowed him to speak to her in Chinese. He told her to give them the money right away, and that they would release him after they receive the ransom. She raised the money and dropped it off the next day, and waited. But weeks passed without any sign of him, nor further communication from the abductors.

She was superstitious and started consulting idol-worshiping mediums to appease the spirits to find her husband, but to no avail. It was then that we were introduced to her, nearly two months after the kidnap. What can a short-term mission team do under the circumstances?

The Bible has only four verses on kidnaps:
• Joseph was kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews (Gen 40:15);
• Kidnappers shall be put to death (Ex 21:16; Deut 24:7); and
• The Law is made for those who are lawless, including kidnappers (1 Tim 1:10).
The law will punish kidnappers if they are captured, but that is no comfort to her who is waiting anxiously with their three small children, running their store by herself and worrying about his safety.

We decided the best we could do in this situation is to lead her to Christ, so that she could lean on Him. One team member shared the gospel with her while the others prayed. Previously she would have rejected, as she had forbidden church members from taking her kids to Sunday school. But calamity could break down a person’s objections in a way no other means can, and she prayed quietly to receive Jesus as her Lord and Savior, entrusting everything, including her husband’s safety, into His hands. Since we will leave Panama in a few days, we asked her relative to follow her up.

Usually we would rather share more with her over a longer period of time, but these are not normal times. We just do what we can with the appointments the Lord gives us, and leave the results in God’s hands. Success in witnessing is sharing Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit and leaving the results to the Father. All He asked of us is obedience. Nothing more, nothing less. Hope you will do the same.

Why You Should be a Missionary

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Our missionary friend in Taiwan shared J. Trotters’ “Ten Reasons You Should be a Missionary” on her Facebook. We came back from several mission trips this year and found his points spot on, so I’m commenting on a couple of items from our recent experience.

Take number 8 for instance. Unlike traffic in Canada where cars are supposed to pass and merge in from the driver’s side, cars in Panama cut in from both the left and the right. And they usually cut it real close. It’s like playing “bluff” to see who “chickens out” and brake first to yield to the other driver to avoid a fender bender. In Taiwan, the challenge is scooters. They are as numerous as locusts, and weave in and out of tight spaces between cars. If a car driver is not alert, he could send a scooter flying into the air! Even some experienced drivers from N. America are scared of driving in developing countries. If you are accident-free in the third world, you can drive anywhere in the world.

Or take number 6. Police in Russia often do random checks on Asian pedestrians and ask for identification. Aliens who do not have proper IDs are fined or even detained. Even if your documents are in order, they usually manage to find problems where none actually exists. In exchange for not getting a ticket, you can pay a fee directly to the officer. One time our missionary friend in Panama made a left turn where he was not supposed to, despite the fact that there are no road signs telling him this was not allowed. He was stopped by a traffic cop who asked what’s his “offer”. Since he does not pay bribes as a matter of principle, an interesting negotiation followed. This would be especially interesting when neither side know the other’s mother tongue.

But at the top of the list every missionary can identify with is of course number one. Leading someone to Christ in your own language, culture and vicinity is exhilarating enough; doing so when you have to cross barriers in some or all of the above is pure joy that is often indescribable, not to mention the fact that God had seen fit to use you to serve Him. I hope you will take at least one mission trip as part of your bucket list. It will do wonders to widen your heart and mind to fulfill the Great Commission. Some have even changed careers as a result.

C.A.R.E.

We attended the 25th anniversary of a ministry of which I was a part of over 20 years ago – Christian Aid and Relational Evangelism Inc. (CARE), a non-profit, charitable organization formed in 1990 to evangelize and serve those marginalized in society. The Lord commissioned His Church to make disciples of all nations. Many are faithful in fulfilling the Great Commission, but unfortunately some segments of society have been overlooked or ignored, so God raised up para-church organizations to meet the needs of these minority and under-privileged groups.

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One of CARE’s earliest ministries is to those in prison:
* Mt 25:36 I was in prison, and you came to me.
* Heb 13:3 Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them.

The work involves visiting inmates in Federal and Ontario detention centers and prisons around Greater Toronto Area (GTA), and holding worship services for them whenever permitted.

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A large part of the Lord’s ministry is to the blind (Mt 15:30-31), so a second service, now spun off as an independent ministry, is to visually impaired people (VIP). The goal of Joy Beyond Vision Community (https://www.facebook.com/jbvcpublic), is to empower VIPs by training them in skills to make a living e.g. running a small business.
A notable successful project is the Cultural Cafe (https://www.facebook.com/jbvcculturalcafe), run as a commercial enterprise by VIPs.

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Although the Bible does not mention gambling specifically, it warns against love of money as a root of all sorts of evil (1 Tim 6:10) and greed as idolatry (Col 3:5). Gambling has ruined many Chinese families, so a third ministry is to pathological gamblers, reaching out to those under bondage and family members hurt by the addiction. The weekly fellowship has helped many to recover through the gospel.

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The tax-collectors and prostitutes were looked down upon as outcasts, but they believed John the Baptist and will get into the kingdom of God before the chief priests and elders (Mt 21:31-32). So a fourth service, Rahab Ministry, is to reach out to sex-trade workers who work as escorts, call girls or masseuse.

Over the years there had been other initiatives such as ministry to those physically challenged, or to international students to help them adapt to the new environment (Soar on Wings Ministry – SOW). The work is often difficult as they are battling not only the frailty of men, the world forces of this darkness and spiritual forces of wickedness in heavenly places (Eph 6:12), but also the prejudice of churches. The driving force, however, remains focused on what the Lord said in Mt 25:40, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.” I hope churches will get over their preoccupation with fun and food and get down to the King’s business.