THE Big Story

Here’s an interesting presentation of THE Big Story of God, humans, and the world:

Please bear in mind that this is a three-minute summary, so do give the presenter some leeway if he does not include some details we would prefer to see if we were the ones to present a Big Story 😉 .

What do you think?

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Note (added 10/10/08): This presentation was developed by James Choung, who explains it further here.

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Animoto.com—Create Your Videos Online

I received an email from Web Evangelism, where they featured this neat Web app at http://animoto.com.

Animoto will create videos for you from your own pics and choice of soundtrack music. You can choose soundtracks from their library or from your own music collection. They promise that no two videos will be the same. You can use the same collection of pics and same music, but they will remix it to come up with different videos every time.

Free videos will last only 30 seconds. You’ll have to pay for longer ones.

Just to see how good they are, I tried them out with some pics from when Perry and I were in Italy. Here’s what they came up with, in less than seven minutes:

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[clearspring_widget title=”Animoto.com” wid=”46928cc51133af17″ pid=”48bcb0ef4452744b” width=”432″ height=”260″ domain=”widgets.clearspring.com”]

You can then post the videos in your blog (as I did with this sample), in WordPress, MySpace, Friendster, Facebook, Multiply, etc. You can invite your friends to view them, or upload them to YouTube.

Great tool for 30-second promotional messages for your services, organization, church, etc.

Pretty cool for a free service, huh?

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Related posts:

Kudos To My Beautiful Wife (Perry)

Anyone Out There Need 50GB of FREE Online Storage? (Another excellent and FREE online app)

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Dying for Rebels

(…continued from To Understand, Stand Under)

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And what does the Bible say?

That the Almighty Creator God, who is love [1], loves us so much that Jesus Christ died for us to take the penalty for our sins [2].

We are by nature rebels, shaking our fists at God, thumbing our noses at Him and declaring that we don’t need Him, and that our standards of right and wrong are better than His. Because of this we do not deserve to be in His presence. The penalty for our rebellion against the very One who created us is death—eternal separation from God. I have discussed this in my post Will Dead Babies Go To Hell?

But God loves us so much that Christ died for us—even while we were still rebels [3]! Even while we had not yet given any indication that we were willing to lay down our arms, to set aside our desire to live separate from Him, in fact even to live in a world where He does not exist—even while we were still sinners, as the Bible says, Christ died for us!

The King of kings dies for the sake of rebels against Him

The King of kings dies for the sake of his rebellious subjects

THIS is the difference between Christianity and other religions or philosophies. If you analyze them closely, other religions are ultimately about what human beings can or should do in order to gain the favor of the god or gods in that religion, or to progress from one level to higher levels of existence. There are rules to follow and specific behaviors or actions that must be performed. This is the common denominator among the other religions. Unfortunately, this common denominator, and the expectation among many people that it is a necessary part of ANY religion—that certain behaviors must be done first before the god(s)’s favor can be earned—has been exploited by various cults which have taken advantage of so many people through the centuries.

But Christianity is different. Where other religions would say that we have to earn a god’s favor, and teach what we should do in order to do that, Christianity says that God, the true God, the One who created us, already loves us—even while we were and are still rebels. His love, His favor, is already on us. We do not have to do anything to earn it. And His love is so great that He actually died for us, in the person of Jesus Christ, in order to pay the penalty for our rebellion, so that we can enjoy a blessed life with Him in eternity.

The other systems talk about what we should do in order to gain heaven (or higher levels of existence, or whatever else they call it in their systems).

Christianity is about what the Almighty Creator God has done so that we can gain heaven.

The other systems are about what human beings should do. The Christian God, the one true God, says, “I have already done what needs to be done. What you have to do, for your part, is to believe that I have indeed done it.”

If we do that, if we believe that Jesus Christ, in dying on the cross to pay the penalty for our rebelliousness, has done what needs to be done in order to reconcile us rebels to God and to make us deserving to live in eternity with Him—if we believe this first, then we will understand the rest.

Then we will be able to obey what needs to be done next—to lay down our arms, give up on our rebellion, and surrender to the One true God.

To be continued…

[1] Read 1 John 4:8
[2] Read John 3:16, 1 John 4:9-10
[3] Read Romans 5:8

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This is Part 4 of a series. Other posts in this series:

Part 1: Judging God

Part 2: Original Sin

Part 3: To Understand, Stand Under

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Reaching Out To Children

Bad blogger. BAD, bad blogger. Haven’t visited his own blog for two weeks. Shame!

So very sorry. Been busy. Aside from the evangelism and discipleship program for microentrepreneurs which my wife and I are mainly involved in right now, I’ve also been preparing for a possible short-term teaching stint in Davao City, in the southern Philippines. I’ve been asked to teach a summer module on the Old Testament prophets (listed as Isaiah-Malachi in modern Protestant and Catholic Bibles). Lord willing, if everything goes well, that will happen this coming Apr 21-30.

And, this weekend, I accompanied my wife as she checked out some communities where the ministry she’s involved in will give gifts to children from economically disadvantaged families. These gifts are solicited by Samaritan’s Purse from children of more economically advantaged families as part of their Operation Christmas Child program. Through this program, Christian families, particularly the children, are given opportunities for hands-on giving to financially disadvantaged families from other countries, especially to other children from all over the world. This teaches them that Christianity is about loving God AND loving other people (cf. Mark 12:28-34), including those from other countries.

The Philippine partner of Samaritan’s Purse, Sowers of the Word Ministries, has scheduled gift-giving operations in Zambales and the Mountain Province from April 7-9. As part of preparations for those activities, scouts have been sent to “prepare the way”. My wife was the scout for the Zambales area. I accompanied her as her regular “go-fer” and bodyguard 🙂 .

We went to the municipality of Botolan, about 200 kms NW of Manila. Because of traffic conditions, the 200-km trip was a five-hour bus ride. Our bus left the station at 8am Saturday, and we arrived at Agora, Botolan, at 1pm.

Most of the beneficiaries of the Apr 7 gift-giving will be Aeta children. The Aetas are an indigenous tribe, many of whom were forced to evacuate their lands and were resettled by the government in the wake of the cataclysmic eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991 (said to be 8-10 times greater than the eruption of Mt. St. Helens). The volcano is located at the borders of the provinces of Zambales, Pampanga, and Tarlac. The eruption totally destroyed the United States’ Clark Air Base in Pampanga, and severely damaged the U.S. Naval Base in Subic, Zambales, at that time said to be the largest U.S. Navy installation in the Pacific.

Below are some pictures from our “scouting trip” 🙂 :

Perry and Mel on a carabao taxi

Me and Perry on a carabao “taxi”

(The locals jokingly refer to this carabao-drawn bamboo platform mounted on two wheels  as their version of the taxi. The driver and the passengers have to sit on the sides and balance each other, or else the whole thing will collapse 😦 ).

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Perry on her way to the venue for the gift-giving

Perry (with backpack) on her way to the venue for the gift-giving

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Perry with some of the children

Perry with some of the children

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Going on up…

Going on up…

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Aeta children

Aeta children

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Aeta Child

Aeta child

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Aeta child with older sister

Aeta child with older sister

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Some more children

Some more children

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“A Bad Smell”

God is good!

Our project was enthusiastically received by our client’s transformation officers (TO’s). These TO’s would be in charge of training the project officers who, in turn, would lead the organization’s tens of thousands of clients in Bible studies all over the country (the organization is a coalition of 11 Christian microfinance organizations with branches all over the Philippines).

They all agreed that the Bible study materials/devotionals which Perry developed would be very helpful in enabling them to provide a holistic ministry to the micro-entrepreneur clients—not just helping them in terms of providing loans and business and management skills training, but also in terms of sharing spiritual blessings with them.

The TOs’ enthusiasm was further boosted by reports from field tests, where random samples of clients were asked to read and study the materials, which we have entitled Gawaing Bahay (Household Work).

A great majority of the clients are mothers who are borrowing money in order to set up small businesses that can augment the family income.

One mother said that, in all her 43 years, she had never read the Bible. She thought that it had nothing to teach her. Besides, she thought that she could never have the time. But when she read the Gawaing Bahay material, she realized that the Bible was very relevant to her life, and could actually be appreciated even if read for only short chunks of time in the midst of her very busy schedule as mother, housewife, and microentrepreneur. Now she is motivated to study it along with the Gawaing Bahay as guide.

Another said that the Gawaing Bahay materials, which draw lessons from ordinary household work such as doing the laundry, cooking, sewing, etc., gave dignity to her routine housework, a perspective which she never had before.

Our client has already bought 30,000 copies of the Tagalog version for distribution to their microentrepreneur clients. We are now in the process of translating the Tagalog into Ilonggo, Cebuano, and Ilokano, three other major Philippine languages. We are also polishing the English version, which we will also print soon.

Below is an excerpt from the English draft of Devotional #4 of Gawaing Bahay (the Bible verses are taken from Today’s English Version):

-=-     -=-     -=-     -=-     -=-

A Bad Smell
(Devotions 4)

If clothes are not washed well, they will have a bad smell. One day, I was folding the clothes that had been washed. While doing this, I smelled the clothes. One sock didn’t smell good. I asked myself, “How come? This is the only one that doesn’t smell good. All the others are okay.”

Probably it was because the sock was thick and black. Maybe I didn’t scrub it well, thinking that it was black anyway and any remaining dirt wouldn’t be noticed. But I was wrong. Maybe the dirt couldn’t be seen, but the uncleanness can be smelled! So I soaked it again in laundry detergent, and this time I scrubbed and rinsed it well. When it was dry, I held it to my nose and smelled it again. “Hmmm,” I said, “Now that smells good.” Since then, I have been more careful in washing black clothes to make sure that they will not smell bad.

Dirt in dark clothes may not be noticeable. But you cannot hide it even if the color of the clothes is dark, because it will smell. Sin is also like that: it smells bad even when it is not easily seen. This is why we cannot say that we can hide our sins because no one knows what we do in secret anyway. We should be more careful of secret sins because some day it will smell—and then what a shame it will be!

The Bible says that we ourselves are the ones who suffer when we know that we have done wrong and yet refuse to admit it.

But you know, God “does the laundry” very well. He knows everything about us—even sins done in secret. If you will only listen to Him, He will make you realize those sins so that you can allow Him to wash them away. He does not want to leave you smelling bad!

Things to Think About or Do:

(1) This is very personal, and you do not have to share this with anybody: Is there anything in your life which you know is wrong but which you do not want to let go?

(2) Would you like to spend some time, maybe 15-30 minutes, talking to God about it?

 “Hmmm, newly washed clothes really smell good!” That’s what we want, right? That is why we look for detergent soap and fabric softeners that will not only clean our clothes, but also leave them smelling clean. We feel good when our clothes smell clean, and we feel confident when we wear them.

A life surrendered to Christ smells clean. When we allow Jesus Christ to cleanse us from our sin, and specially when we serve Him, our lives “smell good” not only for God, but also for other people:

God uses us to make the knowledge about Christ spread everywhere like a sweet fragrance. For we are like a sweet-smelling incense offered by Christ to God, which spreads among those who are being saved and those who are being lost.
—2 Cor. 2:14-15

God is so good to cleanse us. He knows that we will only be truly happy when we are clean. You might want to use the following Psalm as a prayer to God:

Be merciful to me, O God,
     because of your constant love.
Because of your great mercy
     wipe away my sins!
Wash away all my evil
     and make me clean from my sin!

I recognize my faults;
     I am always conscious of my sins.
I have sinned against you—only against you—
     and done what you consider evil.
So you are right in judging me;
     you are justified in condemning me.
I have been evil from the day I was born;
     from the time I was conceived, I have been sinful.

Sincerity and truth are what you require;
     fill my mind with your wisdom.
Remove my sin, and I will be clean;
     wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear the sounds of joy and gladness;
     and though you have crushed me and broken me,
I will be happy once again.
Close your eyes to my sins
     and wipe out all my evil.

Create a pure heart in me, O God,
     and put a new and loyal spirit in me.
Do not banish me from your presence;
     do not take your holy spirit away from me.
Give me again the joy that comes from your salvation,
     and make me willing to obey you.

Then I will teach sinners your commands,
     and they will turn back to you.

Spare my life, O God, and save me,
     and I will gladly proclaim your righteousness.
Help me to speak, Lord,
     and I will praise you.
—Psalm 51:1-15

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God is so good and gracious to allow us to participate in a great work that He is about to do among our countrymen. All praises, thanks, honor and glory be to Him!

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Will Dead Babies Go To Hell?

Somebody posted a question at the “Comments” section of an earlier post on the reliability of the New Testament documents. I thought the subject matter he was dealing with was very important, and so I have decided to answer him via this separate post.

His question, essentially, was: If it is true that all human beings are born as sinners, what about babies who die? As he puts it, “the baby would not have had the opportunity to accept Jesus as his personal savior and ask forgiveness for his ‘sins’.”

First, I would like to clarify that, even among Christians, there is no uniformity about what is technically termed the doctrine of “original sin”. And even among those of us who do believe in it, there are many who do not believe that the infant who dies is automatically condemned.

The question posed is similar in essence to questions asking about the fates of people who have never had a chance to hear the Gospel, whether in our days or in former times (e.g., what about the people who lived and died before Jesus Christ became man?), or who have no mental ability to understand the Gospel (i.e., mentally incapacitated).

To the questioner, doubtingthomas, I would say that, actually, the Bible is silent about this. But it is my firm belief that where the Bible is silent about God’s plans or programs, we can always rely on His character, which is sufficiently revealed in the Bible

In His self-revelation in the Bible, God has revealed that He is love (e.g., 1 John 4:8).

On the other hand, He has also revealed that He is holy and that He hates sin. In fact, a word often used in the Bible to describe how God looks at sin is “wrath” (e.g., Romans 1:18). Sin is not permitted to abide in His presence, and therefore no sinner can enjoy eternity with Him.

The problem is, all human beings do sin. Everyone breaks God’s standards and therefore are not worthy of spending eternity with Him. But God, who is love, wants human beings to be with Him and be blessed by His presence and glory—for all eternity. That is the eternal life which God offers to human beings. Death, on the other hand, is, essentially, separation from God. And God does not want anyone to die or “perish”. He wants everyone to come to know the truth, turn away from their sins, be saved from death, and have eternal life (2 Peter 3:9; 1 Timothy 2:4).

The solution to the problem of man’s sin and God’s love? THE CROSS! As John Stott, respected Christian scholar, author, and preacher says, “The cross is where God’s love and justice meet“.

As the Bible says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17).

God, in the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, became man in order to die on the cross as payment for the penalty of the sins of human beings. “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 2:2).

This is how the apostle Paul summarizes the Gospel, or Good News of how human beings are restored to a right relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and are made worthy to spend eternity in His presence: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve…” (1 Corinthians 15:3-5).

So God is love, but God is also holy. He hates sin, and no one who sins can spend eternity with Him—except those who believe that what Jesus Christ did on the cross was a sufficient and effective payment for the penalty of their own sins, which is death. Only those who believe in Jesus Christ in this way can be saved from death, or what has been pictured in the Bible as hell, the outer darkness, or the lake of fire.

So there are only two choices: either eternity with God, in His presence, or eternity separated from God, in hell. Either eternal life or death. The first can only be obtained by turning away from sin, accepting Jesus Christ as Savior, and surrendering our lives to Him as Lord.

Now the Bible says that “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Jesus Himself says that He is the only way to God the Father: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

But what about those who cannot make this choice? What about infants or the mentally incapacitated, or those who lived and died before Jesus Christ became man?

To answer this, we depend on the character of God. He is love, and He is just. To hold this in conjunction with the essential revelation that no one can be saved except through Jesus Christ, C.S. Lewis has said “We do know that no person can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him” (from Mere Christianity).

At this point in the development of my Christian thought, I agree with Lewis: we do not know, but we have to admit it is possible, that Christ, in love—and in justice—can save even those who have not had an opportunity to call upon Him as Savior or to surrender to Him as Lord. How? I do not know. But I do know His character, and because of this I trust Him completely to do what is just and loving vis-a-vis those who have not had an opportunity to hear the gospel and decide for themselves.

Some would say it would have been better if God had been more explicit in His Word about the fate of infants, thus saving us all this wondering. Author Philip Yancey has an amusing but correct answer to this: “What if God had made a clear pronouncement: ‘Thus saith the Lord. Every child under the age of ten, I will welcome into heaven’? I can easily see crusaders of the tenth century mounting a campaign to slaughter every child under the age of ten in order to guarantee their eternal salvation—which, of course, would mean that none of us would be around a millennium later to contemplate such questions.

“In view of the mess we have made of crystal-clear commands—the unity of the church, love as a mark of Christians, reliance on God’s grace and not our works, the importance of personal purity, the dangers of wealth—I tremble to think how we might act if some of the ambiguous doctrines were less ambiguous. We dare not repeat the error of Eden by assuming prerogatives in realms we cannot fathom” (from Yancey: The Encyclopedia of Theological Ignorance).

In such situations where the Bible is silent or nearly silent, reliance on God’s character is called for, and a humble attitude of simply obeying what is clear. There are some who make what is unclear into an excuse for not obeying a clear command—in the case of non-believers, “I will not accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior until you explain to me what happens to the babies and the indigenous peoples unreached by Christians”; or in the case of believers, “Well, if it is probable that Christ will somehow save them anyway, then I don’t need to obey His (clear!) command to share the Good News”.

So, dear doubtingthomas: Trust God’s loving, holy, and just character, humbly accept that His ways are higher than our ways, His thoughts than our thoughts, “just as the heavens are higher than the earth”, and seek Him and call upon Him—“while He may be found“, or while you still can (Isaiah 55:6-9).

God bless you!

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PS: One possible clue regarding the fate of infants who die might be provided by the account of the death of King David’s eldest child with Bathsheba. The child was struck with a fatal illness, and David wept and fasted before God for the child’s life. When the child died, David ceased fasting and said: “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, ‘Who knows? The LORD may be gracious to me and let the child live.’ But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me” (2 Samuel 12:22-23).

Shalom!

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PS to the PS 🙂 , added Feb. 6: The interpretation of David’s statement would depend on our view of how David probably conceived of death and Sheol at that time.

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