Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Cultural Ministry

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Urgent Call for Holiness Preaching

Greg Fernandez Jr. Taken while preaching at Jesus Commission Fellowship (JCF) in 2011  

Pervasive holiness preaching is in demand in today’s secular age. The Body of Christ needs holiness preachers to proclaim the unchanging Word of God to this changing society without compromising its message. The preachers who reconsider preaching holiness will make difference in this present age. The following points highlight the urgency of holiness preaching.

First, the Age of a 'Cheap Gospel' should Stirs Us to Preach Holiness More
Some gospel preachers in today’s generation cognitively put up an “On Sale” billboards to attract consumers to buy a cheap grace. Metaphorically, they market the Gospel to customers at a low price. For some, preaching the Gospel is a means for material gain. Preachers preach on the street and on buses collecting offerings. The Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ becomes just another business enterprise to earn money while hiding in the façade of Christian ministry. Let me remind the readers of this magazine that Jesus did not die on the cross to give preachers career but to save the lost from eternal hell. I watched an evangelist told his TV audience that more than a million in a single meeting signed a decision card. In other words, he implied that more than one million got saved in just one single meeting. Great declaration, but signing a decision card or coming forward during an altar call per se does not transform anyone. Only God can change someone. Some people get the idea that coming forward save people and some get the impression that praying the sinner’s prayer per se save them. Are they? May be, may be not? The evangelistic lines, “Just relax. You don’t need to struggle just rest in Him. No price is required because Jesus paid it for you and for me.” This is a cheap gospel. While it is true that we do not need to pay the price for our salvation, there is price to pay in following Jesus Christ. “Sign a card and you will be saved.” “Come forward and be saved.” This type of appeal is not costly. It costs nothing to sign a card or to pray the sinner’s prayer. But it costs something to be transformed into the image of Christ. It costs one to follow Christ in radical discipleship. There is a price to pay if one is to be transformed. Transformation is a process and growth in grace is daily spiritual exercise. Discipleship is costly business. Going to church when it is raining very hard is costly. Giving to God’s work is costly. It costs one to serve the Lord. 

Second, Pulpit Devoid of Holiness Preaching Reminds us of our Holiness Preaching Responsibility
One holiness denomination’s top leader in the Philippines told me that holiness preaching has once declined in his denomination as indicated in its monthly Workers’ Personal Report sometime in the past. The report indicates that the total holiness messages preached was only 1% out of more than four hundred pastors in his denomination throughout the Philippines. While we do not know the reason behind this figure, it does imply that those ministers, in that particular holiness denomination, devalued holiness preaching. But in fairness to the over 400 ministers, looking at the figure alone is insufficient basis to make the conclusion that those ministers have lost their vision for holiness preaching. On the other hand, the statistic deduced that holiness is a hard topic about which to preach in today’s morally decaying society. The criticism among pastors in the Wesleyan persuasion is, “why do pastors seldom preach holiness?” This may be true and is prevalent in holiness churches today. Yet, the reason behind the fading away of holiness preaching is complex. There is no single factor for this problem. Others considered the holiness preaching as passé in today’s secular generation. Is holiness preaching an outdated and obsolete subject? What has gone wrong? Do pastors have the theory but no experience? Do pastors have experience but lacking in external holiness or holy ethics? Perhaps, ministers have both experience and theory, but lack the power and passion to preach it. Holiness preaching is not obsolete.

Third, Our Generation of Low Morality Calls for a Persistent and Pervasive Holiness Preaching
Although, preachers’ integrity and authority is questioned and doubted incessantly due to moral failure of some preachers, this generation of preachers must preach holiness in these times of moral degradation. True enough, our age of moral decadence calls for persistent and pervasive holiness preaching. The world needs daring and uncompromising preachers to proclaim the whole counsel of God in this challenging moment of church history. We are called to preach the Word and not adjust our sermon with the situation in society. The world is going down the hill of corruption and
it’s the preacher’s responsibility to proclaim holiness.

Fourth, The Devaluation of Holiness Preaching Calls for Renewed Holiness Preaching
Holiness preaching is not popular these days. Some preachers intentionally shun it because holiness does not appeal to this age of moral decadence. Preaching holiness makes other uncomfortable in today’s compromising society and prosperity gospel dominated preaching era. Prosperity talk about material blessings is much more appealing to preachers than addressing this sin-corrupted age. Perhaps it’s one of the reasons we have such a low morality because holiness is forgotten. Despite church growth strategies, television preaching and endless preachers, our society is continually going down the hill of moral depravity. Somehow, this great theme (holiness) of the scripture is set aside in the corner of pastoral study. A friend of mine admitted, “To preach sin concerning holiness to a poor community is unsuitable, because the people already have enough to suffer about.” The holiness message is not against the poor, or against poverty and suffering. Although, it might be difficult to preach about sin to a poverty- stricken community, how can one preach holiness without touching sin? Perhaps there is a way to preach holiness and sin without offending the poor. Perhaps there is a way to preach holiness without touching the subject of sin. But that would be another paper to write. Conceivably, we can still preach about sin and holiness to a poor community with love; it’s a matter of attitude and methodology. Behind many pulpits today, preachers do not address sin anymore. This is not to say that a condemning-preaching style is being advocated, because holiness is a message of love and message of moral and heart purity. No daring preacher will preach holiness without touching the subject of SIN. How we view sin, affects our perception of holiness. Thus, when holiness is preached, sin is not a far behind topic. Some say that we can preach moral and heart purity while ignoring sin. Can we? Preachers will be hard up to preach holiness ethics while condoning sin practices. To preach holiness while condoning sin is to create a gospel of tolerance. A gospel of tolerance tolerates sinful practice without teaching righteousness. Yet, this scenario depicts the state of some churches today. If powerful and persistent holiness preaching is indeed lacking in our churches today including the so-called holiness denominations, if the pulpits of today devoid of holiness preaching emphasizing prosperity theology, and since holiness is a cardinal message of the scripture, then, now is the time renew our commitment for holiness preaching. We should get back to one the most significant themes of Holy Scripture and the most neglected message in our society—“Holiness.”

What do we do with it? Are we going to set aside one of the general themes of scripture? The choice is ours to make whether to set aside holiness or peach it and live it in today’s decaying age. Nonetheless, I am convinced that holiness preaching remains powerful and effective, and the key depends on us preachers.

Finally, The Centrality of Holiness Doctrine in the Scripture demands us to Preach Holiness Now
The message of holiness runs like a red thread going through the sixty-six books of the Bible; from Genesis to Revelation, holiness is a central theme. A. F. Harper writes, “Christian holiness is a scriptural teaching to be understood and a relationship with God to be experienced. God is a holy God, and He asks His people to be like Him in this respect.” (Italics mine). (A. F. Harper, .Understanding the Great Holiness 361 Classics,. in Paul M. Bassett, ed. Great Holiness Classics, Vol. 1: Holiness Teaching. New Testament Times to Wesley (Kansas City, Missouri: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1997), 13.
Despite the scriptural reliability of holiness, we must admit, not all genuine Christians understand biblical holiness in the same way. Yet, I like to stress the fact that holiness is not a mere theological treatise, impossible to attain, or a western concept as others think; but rather it is a spiritual
reality, rooted biblically, and attainable experientially in this life.

Despite the plethora of existing volumes written that define and redefine the doctrine of holiness, the word holiness remains a confusing term in the entire lexicon of Christian doctrine. The term holiness carries a heavy and puzzling terminology and hermeneutical freight, which baffles the common Christians continually. Yet, regardless of the misunderstanding on the term, it is the task of the preachers to communicate it in a relevant terminology. With the preceding premise in mind, holiness preaching needs to be reconsidered. Responding to the clarion call to preach holiness is a necessity in today’s sick churches and dying world. We must seriously rethink biblical holiness in a contextual and contemporary fashion. Preachers need to rethink and revisit the content of their holiness preaching and method of communication. Is the content of our message truly Biblical? Are we communicating holiness in language our people understand or are the terms we use foreign and unfamiliar to our people? Is our methodology of presenting holiness relevant to our own culture? If we fail to communicate due to difference in language, we must stop using abstract concepts that are
foreign to the mind of our people and start using the right language and terminologies they are familiar with. Fellow preachers, the challenge remains tough and the task remains formidable. We need to re-visit our methods, rethink our terminologies, and re-shape the content of our message. Reconsidering our communication approach and language skill is great step in making the holiness doctrine understandable in today’s generation. I encourage preachers in the holiness tradition to spearhead the recovery of holiness preaching. If we are to raise and wave the banner of holiness preaching in the 21st century, the task must begin in us.

NOTE:  I wrote this article for a Seminary Journal called The Mediator. I am posting here for my blog readers from more than 40 countries. Read the Original Article HERE

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Pastors Swarming Around Pacquiao for Money: Pacquaio's Achilles' Heel?

Photo Credit: Yahoo
Pastors swarming around Manny Pacquiao for money and perks has been labeled by Inquirer Mindanao as the boxing icon's Achilles' Heel. The article pointed out that several of these pastors have been asking favor,  money, ipad, cars and other things. The problem with the article was those pastors were not named. Another lope hole in the article is the so called 'source', which is anonymous. I am left wondering, how reliable the article's source is? And who are those pastors who have been abusing the kindness and generosity of Pacquiao, if indeed it is true?

I am a preacher/pastor and know that there might be some legitimate needs those pastors have. But I am embarrass if those pastors are indeed making Pacquiao their 'milking cow'  and abusing his generosity and kindness. It would be such a shame and disgrace if those so called pastors and preachers become Pacquiao's Achille's Heel or downfall. May it never be!

Monday, July 16, 2012

First Wesleyan Cambodian Pastor Graduated in Phnom Penh Bible School

On July 13, 2012, Phnom Penh Bible School (PPBS) graduated eight students for Bachelors in Christan Ministry degree and several others for associate degree. This was PPBS's 18th graduation, since the school was founded in 1992. The chairman of the board mentioned that students graduating this year are special as the school celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. 
Rotha and his Family
Yun Rotha, one of the 8 graduates, is the first Wesleyan Cambodian pastor to graduate at PPBS. The Mission Council which, I am a part of made a decision in 2007 to send Rotha and his wife to PPBS on TOOL (Training Of Overseas Leaders) scholarship. In 2009, Rotha began his studies at PPBS. Due to limited funding, his wife was not able to study with him. 

Although, Rotha completed a 3-year program at the Wesleyan Bible Institute in 2007, PPBS accredit only 1 year, and had to start second year with some first year courses. After three years at PPBS, Rotha finally graduated and earned Bachelors in Christian Ministry.  

Even if I am not with the Wesleyan Church of Cambodia anymore, I am happy to see Rotha graduated. Last week he had asked me to write a recommendation letter for a job application and I was delighted to write the best recommendation I could give.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

YOU are Amazing God

One year ago today, we left Cambodia with tears in our eyes and pain in our hearts; but returned with joy in our hearts and greater faith in our God.  People change, leaders change, friends change, and everything changes except God and His Holy Word.

Today was a great day! I had been singing the song Indescribable by Chris Tomlin.  God is not only amazing Creator, Who placed the stars in the sky and know them by name, but He is amazing God in His incomparable and unfathomable love for us. God is unchanging! God is truly amazing God!"Incomparable, unchangeable. You see the depths of my heart and You love me the same. You are amazing God!" I was once a sinner, but have been save by God's amazing grace. My chains are gone, I've been set free..unending love amazing grace!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Sometimes We've got to be Knocked Down to Make us Look Upward

Photo Credit: Reuters
Not everything in life is good but not everything is bad either. Things happened for a reason. Things happened to teach us live our life better. And negative things happened to make us better and not bitter. At times, negative things happened so that we will continue to trust and depend on God and not depend on our own strength. Those things that happened to us, things that we did and places we've been-we call them experience. Experience either makes or breaks us.

A Norwegian Proverbs says, "Experience is the best teacher, but tuition is high." And C.S Lewis once wrote, "Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn". Sure enough, experience is a great teacher, but only if we learn from it. Experience doesn't mean anything if it doesn't make us better people. 
When life knocks us down, we become humble. It is true that sometimes we've got to be knocked down to make us look upward. When we have nothing to lean on, we lean on God. "His strength is perfect when our strength is gone." 

Most of the time, we learn the hard way, not the easy way.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

A Preacher's Prayer

I had one week to study and prepare my sermon, but waited till the last day! Still no message. Then I had a text, and was given a message. thank God for His grace. May this never happen again.

I love preaching but hate preparing. What an irony! What a juxtaposition! God help me not to be someone who wants a crown without a cross, a victory without a fight, and a success without sacrifice!

I had been preaching for the last 24 years, started when I was 17; it's actually even earlier, I first stood behind the pulpit when I was 12. There is a tendency to rely on my experience, expertise, and  ability rather than God. It's a temptation that I must continually overcome!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Everyone Deserves a Second Chance

Photo Credit:
Everyone needs and deserves a second chance; perhaps not just a second chance but many chances.  “Please give me a second chance,” is the voice I hear from John Mark pleading when Paul insisted not to take him along with them on their second missionary Journey (Acts 15: 37-38).   
Mark failed to persevere and he deserted Paul and Barnabas during their first missionary journey. The reason he quit is not known, but perhaps he was discouraged or missed home and family. Or maybe the journey was too difficult and giving up seems the easiest route. Mark learned his lesson that on Paul and Barnabas Second Missionary Journey, John Mark wanted to join them. Paul being an idea-oriented person at least at this point, sees John Mark as a failure and not profitable to bring along. But Barnabas being the son of encouragement and more people-oriented did not agree with Paul’s conclusion. “Let’s give him a second chance” seems the echo I could hear from Barnabas in this particular event. The two missionaries couldn't agree that they ended up splitting. Take note that these two different perspectives divided the two missionaries. Luke recorded in Acts the journey of Paul, but he didn’t record Barnabas’ journey.

Most of us had quitting points. No one is immune to discouragement. Like Mark, all of us failed at some point in our lives (not necessarily sin). Perhaps you can recall the time when you failed to carry on! All of us have known failures in our daily walk with God. Probably you remember the time you have failed in your Christian life. All of us needed a second chance, or else we won’t be here today. When others failed, let’s give them a chance to prove themselves. What they need is encouragement. When others have fallen or failed, that is not the time to give a sermon, that is the time to embrace and accept them. Years ago, I surrendered a friend to his boss after embezzling almost a thousand dollars from a credit union where he previously worked in order to maintain his unlawful relationship with another woman. The executive manager scolded him very strongly. I thought, "Man, it’s useless because the guy has already fallen. The man has already stolen the collection, and no amount of scolding will bring the money back." The rebuke, correction, scolding from the manager are so sharp that I couldn't but felt sorry for my friend. 
What the manager did is a perfect example of what we usually do when someone did something wrong. We give sermon. We scold them. At times, instead of lifting those who have fallen, we kick them and trampled them! 

Goose and eagle fly differently. Eagle flies alone. Eagle can fly through the stormy sky. There are many times we fly alone like an eagle. We spread our wings like an eagle and soar to the top! We fly through the stormy weather and strong wind. Perhaps, it is needed to fly alone at times to prove our maturity and to show we can stand alone! But wouldn't it be better if we learn to fly like geese do. From what I’ve read, a goose does not fly alone, it flies with other geese. When geese fly during a long journey, they support each other. As the geese fly, they get tired, due to the strong wind, rain, and the heat of the sun that beat them continually. But no one would fall because they support each other. How do geese support each other? The weaker ones or the weary ones, fly behind the wings of the strong ones. The stronger geese fly ahead to support the weaker ones behind them. And as long as they are in tacked, no one would fall to the ground. If a goose flies alone, it guarantees a fall.       

Christian life may be compared as a flying adventure. Some Christians fly like a goose, because to fly on the air does not only require strength but requires others’ support. In the course of flying, one will evidently experience weariness. Some gave up the flying expedition of the Christian life due to weariness, added by the strong wind, sun, and rain that beat them continually. They give up because no one supported them. Yet, some endures despite the difficulties because they fly together and support each other—the weaker one flies behind the wings of the strong ones. Strong ones should support the weaker ones.

No one can fly so long and not be discouraged. In the Christian life, we cannot fly alone in the long journey and stormy skies without the support of other believers. Even if we fly like geese, we still get discouraged, get tired and failed. We need each other in terms of prayers, encouragement, moral and even financial support if necessary. No one can fly alone and not become weary. Therefore, we need each others' wings and strength to keep us flying till the journey is over.

How would we make someone fly easier this week? What effort can you and I make today to help someone fly or to keep them flying. May be words of encouragement; may be prayers, but may be financial or material support.

Like Barnabas, we need to encourage others when they fail. We should not leave them behind. Although, Paul was able to reconciled with Mark sometime later and he called Mark 'profitable for my ministry', what would have happened if Barnabas didn't fight for Mark earlier? What would have happened to Mark if Barnabas gave up on him? Mark, by the way, wrote the second book of the New Testament, the Gospel according to Mark. I would like to believe that Mark have told Barnabas, 'Thank you for not giving up on me'!  We need someone who is not willing to give up on us! 

How many John Marks are out there needing second chance?  Will you be a Barnabas to them?