Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Sibu Churches should give away all 'that' money

By Steve Oh

There is nothing wrong in churches receiving money from the government if there are no strings attached. And there is no dilemma for the Methodist churches if they do the right thing with the RM1.5 million to dispel the controversy.

Goh Keat Peng was criticized for his letter (in Malaysian Insider on May 18) warning against accepting the money and called ‘arrogant’. But regrettably, ‘arrogant’ is not a fair description of a man merely speaking his mind and rightly warning the churches against money politics.

A humble chap – I have known him for many years – his involvement in politics came as a surprise, but timely. Goh has always been governed by his belief that Christians are the ‘salt of the earth.’ Being arrogant and forthright are worlds apart.

Thus his concern aired in public was understandable.

Perhaps it was the givers who did not understand. It is this sort of giving – the trumpeting of it that Jesus denounced. Christians are taught to give quietly, sincerely, unconditionally, without fanfare, and to receive unconditionally.

Still as Bishop Hwa Yung rightly wrote, Christians should not argue over it. The Sibu by-election is history. The money was problematic because of its timing as he rightly opined.

Nevertheless the incident can be an opportunity for the churches, as he suggested, to “let their light shine before men so they may see their good works and give glory to God in Heaven.”

What better way to do that than to give the money – all RM1.5 million given by the government to the poor?

After all Jesus taught that “it is more blessed to give than to receive” and the Bible is one continuous sermon on how God – Jehovah Jireh – gave to his people culminating in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross to save everyone.

Practicing Christian charity

And in his epistles the Apostle Paul spoke passionately about helping the poor. In fact when he spoke of giving, as in his letter to the Corinthians, it was all about the needs of the poor Jews who had become Christian and were persecuted and had no means of support because their properties were confiscated and many had lost everything.

Also remember that Paul was very careful in handling public money so that no one could accuse him of impropriety. His advice to Christians, whether in giving or receiving, is to appear to do the right thing ‘not only in the sight of God but men.’ (2 Corinthians 8:21)

When Abraham was donated burial land, he refused a handout and paid for it lest people thought they instead of God enriched him. Others may depend on the state but Christians are to rely on God.

But there is nothing wrong with the state giving money to churches as the conduit of its welfare programs for the poor. In many places the churches do a good job in social welfare work and there is nothing wrong with them getting money to carry out projects, as long as there must be no strings attached.

Jesus said, “You cannot serve two masters.”

“Choose God or money. If you serve one you will hate the other.”

So Christians not only open their hearts to God but their wallets – I mean to give – and money should never be a stumbling block. Those who still love money tread on thin ice.

It is okay to make money – honestly – and God blesses in a material way. But it is the love of money, not money itself that is the root of evil. We all need to guard against it – including churches. We also need to guard against the accolades of the world. Those who bask in man’s favour may find themselves out of favour with God.

Scourge of money politics

There are Christians in the BN government and Pakatan Rakyat. They may all be praying for God to be on their side but they should really consider if they are on God’s side. God does not side with those who do wrong.

There is no dilemma when you make a decisive moral stand.

It is no secret that money politics is the cancer and when you have the one who governed the country for 22 years admitting that in politics you can’t do without money, it figures why politicians give money to communities, even churches, during crucial elections.

Ultimately God is the one who puts one leader down and elevates another – not money politics. Sibu may be one proof yet since Lim Kit Siang declared it ‘a miracle.’ No one can thwart His (I mean God’s) purpose. So when God is in control nothing is out of control even as we can be discouraged by what happens around us.

After all, Jesus and Paul forewarned that “in the last days” things will get worse – people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of pleasure and money, insolent, God-haters, corrupt, and so on.

If one reads the lives of Daniel and Joseph in the Old Testament, they were godly men downtrodden by men but elevated by God to high positions who served ungodly governments. If Christians are to associate only with the godly, they would have to leave this world.

And who can forget Lim Guan Eng, when he was in prison and I wrote a poem for him then called ‘A Bright Star Shines’ believing one day he will rise above his persecutors because he was punished for doing good in helping a young Malay girl.

Christians are to work with those who are corrupt, dishonest – even the chief of sinners – in fact everyone; though in private they are to avoid bad company because bad company corrupts good character. So they themselves are not to be tainted by sin. They are to live as ‘lights shining in a dark world’ and not to be ‘overcome by evil’ but to ‘overcome evil with good.’

Enjoin good, abjure evil

We read of churches growing but their saltiness has yet to percolate significantly outside their church walls and pervade their communities, notwithstanding the outstanding contributions of those churches already engaged in helping others.

Christian piety must produce the fruit of good works outside the church. Instead of looking to receive money, Christians should be finding ways to give to others. They have no reason to be building white elephants when poorer Malaysians can do with help. And sacrificial giving is the best form of giving as in the story of the poor widow who gave all she had to live on.

Righteousness exalts a nation and I hope more Christians will learn to stand in the gap for the nation and boldly do many constructive things – in addition to what they do in church.

They are God’s agents for change – agents for good.

Join the BN government, join Pakatan Rakyat, join the NGOs – God gives everyone the freedom of choice – but above all they must not join in with those who do wrong. They have to use their influence to change society by being salt and light and setting the fine example.

It is better to give than receive, they should not forget.

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