Happy Talk is Pastor Jin’s blog written to encourage those who love God in Christ Jesus to live with hope and always in love.
Fighting with God: Valley of Dry Bones (October 30, 2019)
“The hand of the LORD came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry.” (Ezekiel 37:1-2)
These are the opening verses of the famous vision of Ezekiel, the Valley of Dry Bones. After showing it to Ezekiel, God commanded his prophet to speak to the bones, to speak God’s Words to them so that that they will live. And as soon as God’s Word was declared, the bones began to connect themselves and ligaments and sinews formed to attach them, and then the muscles formed around them and then the skin. And unto them, the breath of God, the Spirit entered their nostrils and they came back to life in bodily form!
And so God is proclaimed as the restorer of dry bones. To the dead, He gives life. To the needy, He replenishes their need. He breathes into our spirit and fills and uplifts and sustains us. He fills us with his Spirit and we are made whole. This is the vision of the Gospel coming to them in the work of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
But the other story is the battle that took place in the first place. The valley is where battles are fought, and the dry bones are the bodies of the dead, the victims of cruel fighting. They lost their lives in the conflict. Now, we know that the bones were of the Israelites (37:11) – they were the defeated ones. But who were they fighting?
God was their opponent; they were fighting God. They were on the same side at one time, but they began to resist him. They opposed his rule over them. They despised his laws. They hated his exclusive claim over them. They wanted to check out other deities. They wanted to jump over the moral barriers now and then. They didn’t think cheating the poor, the orphans and the widows, was all that bad. It was just doing business. Everyone was doing it. And the prophets told them to get back in line, get right with God. But those words became a burden, too. And they locked them up and killed some of them to shut them up. And God acted. And his action resulted in the valley of dry bones.
However, God is the restorer of dry bones. The discipline was for a limited time. But his heart demanded that they come back to life, to restore the relationship, to begin anew. Again, Jesus Christ came to restore what became broken.
But this story offers us a moment to self-reflect. Where are you in your walk with God? Are you walking with God or against God? Do you glance up now and then to see God smiling back? Or has life consumed you? And the ways of this world dictate your actions and the motives of your hearts? Has God become a burden for you, God’s Words don’t sit in your heart?
Spent time to respond to the restorer of dry bones today.
God Chooses to Remember the Good Parts (October 3, 2019)
“The word of the LORD came to me, saying: Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem, Thus says the LORD: I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown. Israel was holy to the LORD, the first fruits of his harvest.” (Jeremiah 2:1-3a)
Through Jeremiah, God recounts, with fondness, the very beginning – the time of the great Exodus when the relationship between God and the nation of Israel was birthed. God connects it to a marriage between two lovers – the older man and a much younger bride. And as God plucked her out of slavery and rescued her through the Red Sea, Israel, his youthful bride, expressed to God her devotion and love, and “Israel was holy to the LORD.” In the wilderness, in the first 40 years of relationship, there was nothing but bliss.
Huh? That’s not how I read Exodus and Leviticus and Numbers and Deuteronomy where those forty years are recorded. Obviously, God was faithful and loving. God was understanding and caring. God was the perfect husband who could do no wrong. However, Israel was far from devoted and loving, and the reason Israel struggled in the wilderness for forty years was because they were far from holy – they complained before God and Moses incessantly.
So, what’s God remembering?
It seems to me that God has chosen to remember only the good parts, those moments when Israel was devoted and loving, and holy unto the Lord. Rather than dwelling on their sins, God has chosen to focus on their positives. And I just love that!
Because our God is all-knowing, and because we know that God remembers everything (how many times have we been reminded of the Great Judgment when our whole lives will be revealed to us – the good, but mostly the bad), we worry that we are always disappointing our God. He is faithful but we lack trust. He is loving but we are neglectful. He is always there, but we don’t always acknowledge him. And we come before him with hesitancy and fear. But through Jeremiah, God is telling us that he chooses to focus on the positives! He is delighting in the times we did look up, those moments we did acknowledge him in our busyness. That’s great news for us!
And so smile because God loves you and cares for you. And free from guilt, try to make more positive memories with God who delights in you.
Becoming Special Utensils (9/25/19)
I’m sure like many of you, we too had a china cabinet standing over our dining room. It contained the most expensive plates and cups and its drawers contained costly silverware. And all of that was used a few times a year, for those special occasions – Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s Day. All other days of the year, we used the cheap spoon and fork, and chopsticks. Those were placed next to cheap plates and mismatching cups. It’s true that my siblings and I used to take out the prized plates and silverware now and then to use when our mother wasn’t around, but we all knew they were her prized possessions meant for those special gatherings.
In Paul’s second letter to Timothy, Paul wrote about utensils – common and costly:
“In a large house there are utensils not only of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for special use, some for ordinary. All who cleanse themselves of the things I mentioned will become special utensils, dedicated and useful to the owner of the house, ready for every good work.” (2 Timothy 2:20-21)
Paul charges his young pastor friend Timothy to become a “special utensil” rather than an ordinary one; become gold and silver rather than wood and clay.
The implication of Paul’s instruction is that as Christians, we all begin as wood and clay. When we first receive Jesus as our personal Savior and Lord, we are all wooden plates, or clay pots, or a wooden forks and spoons. As such, all of us are useful to God one way or another from the very beginning. This is an important teaching. There is a book titled, Not a Fan. And it addresses the many spectators in the church. Too many people like to spectate through life as a Christian – listening to other Christians share testimonies about how God used them. And they cheer them on. But on their own, they sit in the pews with their hands crossed over their chests – “I just like to spectate.” In God’s house, among God’s people, all of us are useful to God and should be used. We are not meant to be just a fan.
But Paul is demanding more of Timothy, and as God’s word, God is demanding more of us. The common wood and clay can become precious gold and silver! And once we are gold and silver, we can be used for special work, useful for special occasions! We can become more valuable to God in usage (we will always be of maximum worth to God).
Here, Paul is addressing our spiritual growth, growing into maturity, moving from a spiritual baby to adulthood. And Paul is saying that our effort is required for this important growth.
So Paul tells Timothy to work at it. And to work at it means he must cleanse himself of impure talk and hurtful chatter (v.14-17, 23-24), and pursue righteousness (v.22). Work at speaking lovingly, kindly, upliftingly. And be good – and Biblical righteousness is not about keeping away from sin. It’s about living rightly, seeking justice for the unjust, feeding the poor, embracing the hurting, going out of our way to love others. And as we pursue those things, in God’s eyes, we will be putting on a shine, becoming silver and gold.
That’s an important point.
About Charis in Mongolia (August 30, 2019)
It came out of our conversation one evening. Charis was increasingly frustrated with her work. In some ways, she was socially successful. She landed a great job out of college – work at a law firm in the city that is designed for college graduates who seek to get their feet wet before a possible direction toward law school. But she wasn’t happy at her job. Her heart ached for something more. She wanted for her life to matter, and for her, that meant doing something meaningful for people living in the margins of the society. I knew that her struggle was more than lip service. And so I asked her to consider enlarging her vision and see, not only what’s going on in America, but the whole world. There are greater social injustices outside America if she is willing to encounter it. And I threw out Mongolia as a possible destination. I knew a handful of people who might be able to set something up for her. That’s how it all began. It was a conversation that birthed a year’s vision.
Without knowing if she was going to pray about it, I contacted a Korean missionary who is working as a biotechnology professor in a Mongolian university. I’ve known him and his family since 2006 (I took a team there three times from 2007 to 2009). And I inquired about a possibility of Charis going to Ulaanbaatar (the capital city and where he’s located) and teaching English for a school year. He responded right away. His wife is a principal of a private school located in a low-income neighborhood, and she would love to have Charis come and teach. I knew about the school because I visited it in 2011 and met the teachers and students. It was small, and it was an elementary school. However, in the last eight years, under her leadership, the school grew to extend out to high school, and the school built a wing to more than double its size. I asked him about the possibility of housing. The school can rent out an apartment for Charis right next to the school. I had to temper his excitement because I didn’t even know if Charis was praying about it.
But then one day Charis mentioned it again. She was seriously considering the Mongolian option and was going to begin praying about it. And she asked me to inquire further about the possibility.
And so I did, and she did. And one Sunday after church, she was quite emotional. She heard the inner voice of God confirming her desire to serve in Mongolia.
She got her TESOL certificate (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages) as required for her work and engaged in a period of prayer before her departure. We were very proud of her through the process.
So having returned from Mongolia, this is what I know. The apartment is small. It’s got a small bedroom, a small living room, a small kitchen, and a small bathroom. And she had to purchase a small refrigerator, a small microwave oven…you get the picture. It’s a small apartment. However, it’s right next to the school she will be teaching, and it’s relatively safe. Because the location of the school is not in a good neighborhood, it was very important for me as a parent.
The school she will be teaching is called Bright Future Academy. It serves about 180 students from grade 1 to grade 12. When it first began, it offered free education for all the students, but with rising cost and demand, they shifted to tuition-based with generous scholarships for financially needy families. About 50% of the students receive full scholarships – the money coming largely from generous donors connected to the Korean churches. The hope of the school is to offer opportunities for children in this poor neighborhood to get solid education with proficiency in Korean and English. Korea is a favorite destination of Mongolians hoping to better themselves, and English is a global language that will ensure jobs in the city.
Charis is meeting with the English department teachers in preparation for the coming school year. She is the only native speaker as other teachers are Mongolian with another teacher arriving this week from Romania. They are really excited to have her join them and are practicing their English with her.
Leaving her behind, there was no tears to be shed. I was excited for her. I pray that God will use her well and she will be effective in all things. But I also pray that this will be a time of great growth for her as a child of God.
What is Christian Maturity? (July 22, 2019)
Toward the end of the Gospel of John, right after Peter has his “do you love me” questions asked of him, Jesus tells him this:
“I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” (21:18)
Jesus was teaching Peter and us about this two-stage Christian life – the younger stage and the older stage. We begin at the younger stage: When we first accept Jesus, it’s completely for a selfish reason. It’s because we need to be saved! The gospel is all about us!
When we share the gospel, we don’t go – “Hey, God wants you to become his servant! You have to let Jesus become Lord and King over your life!” No, we say, “This is the good news! Jesus died for your soul! Through Jesus, you can go to heaven! You hit the jackpot with Jesus!”
“When you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted”
And after one accepts Jesus, it’s a great life where they learn about prayer – how to get more stuff from God, and how to gain wisdom to make life decisions that benefit the self! So they pray before making a home purchase. So they pray before making an investment. Prayer is about tapping into God’s power to get more stuff for the self.
That’s the younger stage. But then Jesus points to a second stage where things change.
“but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”
This two-stage Christianity is referred to in Hebrews:
“Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God…” (6:1)
And if we understand our identities as “born again” in Christ (John 3), there is an infant stage where all of our needs are demanded and met by our Heavenly Parent. However, there comes a time when we must grow up and act more mature. That is demanded of us as a natural course of development.
“but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”
In this maturing stage, or what we call a sanctification process, we come to understand that the gospel is meant, not only for us, but for the whole world. Jesus came and died for me, but also for others – “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). And so from enjoying the privilege of being born again into God’s family, and with that, receiving God’s many blessings, we grow to understand that we must share that privilege with others. As we have been blessed, so we are called to be a blessing to others. And as we grow in maturity, we understand that God’s greatest joy comes when another receives the gospel message (Luke 15). There is a party in heaven every time! And so in our growth into the second stage, we turn from having God bless us and take care of us. We now live to please God and do the work of God in sharing the good news everywhere. Even if doing so inconveniences us and hurts us. We grow into God’s servants.
“but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.”
We are never working for God so that we can earn his love or approval. But we are working for God in response to God’s love, and in response to the Holy Spirit working in us. We are working because we are growing in Christ into maturity.
Jonah was a Really Terrible Person (7/3/19)
I hope you will read Jonah in the Bible before you read this. Jonah is a unique prophetic book in that his life story is meant to be a message to us. It’s a very quick read with four short chapters.
To summarize, In chapter 1, a prophet named Jonah is called by God to go to Nineveh. He rejects God’s command and heads in the opposite direction, boarding a ship sailing for Tarshish. God intervenes through a violent storm and a large fish swallows up Jonah providentially. Inside the belly of the fish, Jonah repents. His song of repentance is recorded in chapter 2.
Chapter 3 begins with God causing the fish to spit Jonah out onto dry land. God repeats his instructions and this time, Jonah obeys. Jonah enters the city of Nineveh and declares the coming of God’s judgment. At their hearing, all the Ninevites repent through fasting. As a result, God relents and withholds his judgment.
In chapter 4, Jonah observes the city-wide repentance and God’s positive response. And that angers him. The display of God’s mercy toward Israel’s enemies is too much and Jonah wishes to die. The chapter concludes with God’s lesson to Jonah about God’s heart for all of his creation.
That’s the story. Now for my observation. There are many, but I want to zoom in on Jonah, the main character. You see, he is a bad person, and a worse prophet.
It was bad enough that Jonah decided to reject God’s command to go to Nineveh, but he showed his contempt by boarding a ship going in the opposite direction. God responded by causing a violent storm to arise about them. It was so bad and continuous that the merchants had to throw overboard all of the cargo—their goods and livelihood, to save themselves. All that time, Jonah was pretending to sleep, not helping others and refusing to talk to God. Jonah knew he was the cause of it all. People’s lives were being ruined, but Jonah didn’t care. He was too upset, and for him, that’s all it mattered. And then when he was discovered, rather than praying to God to help others restore their lost fortune, his response was laughable: he asked others to throw him overboard. Why ask them to commit a crime? He could have jumped off himself! Again, he didn’t care about how others felt at all. As for these other people in the ship with him, they were nothing but good. Even though they realized Jonah was at fault for their lost valuables, they tried to save his life! And his self-centeredness continued at Nineveh. Their repentance and God’s forgiveness brought him to anger rather than to celebration. I understand that he’s not friends with the people, but really? There are people being saved from death here!
So why would God choose a bad guy like him to be his prophet? He’s not interested in doing God’s will – he wants to tell God what to do. And when he doesn’t get his way, he resorts to yelling out, “just kill me!” Such immaturity! When God speaks to him about things he doesn’t like, he doesn’t respond and leaves. He ran away the first time, and in chapter 4, when God replies to his complaint with a question, he simply walks away. It’s like, “I don’t like what you have to say to bye.”
Prophets are God’s mouthpiece. They are supposed to be a conduit to God’s love to the people. They are supposed to be both sympathetic to the people and obedient to God. He is neither. So again, why did God choose him when there were so many others more qualified?
More than that, why did God stick around this bad Jonah? He could have moved onto another prophet.
And that’s because as much as God loves the Ninevites, this story is about God’s love toward Jonah. God knows he’s bad. God knows he’s immature. But God loves him as well. And so God stays by his side to help him grow in maturity, to grow in his prophetic role. That kind of love and patience is a wonder to behold. God was teaching Jonah that the statement that “God is a gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” applies for him as well.
Naaman: Finding Healing in Humility (6/26/19)
General Naaman is mentioned in both the Old and the New Testament. He was a leper who was healed by God through Prophet Elisha (2Kings 5). And his healing is mentioned by Jesus in the Gospel of Luke. But his fame was somewhat controversial. He wasn’t an Israelite. And he was healed by God during a time when the Arameans to the north were in tension with the Israelites. And Naaman was their leading general!
We take joy in the fact that we are God’s people. No, we are God’s children! And as those belonging to God, we kind of expect God to watch over us and protect us and bless us. God can help other people, but certainly, we should be God’s priority. That’s kind of our thinking.
But Jesus turned that notion around when he charged the Israelites, “And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed—only Naaman the Syrian” (Luke 4:27). Even though there were great needs among God’s people, God chose to heal an outsider! What’s Jesus’ point? What did Naaman do right?
In 2Kings 5, we are introduced to a man named Naaman. He’s a celebrated general of Aram whom the Bible describes as “highly regarded” and “valiant soldier.” He garnered the highest respect of his king and his people. But he was found to be with leprosy.
And hearing that a prophet in Israel was a known healer, he went down to Israel to seek out the healer. With valuable gifts in hand, he sought a meeting with prophet Elisha. But rather than opening the door for him, the prophet refused to see him, and instead sent a servant out with an instruction – “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed” (v.10). Prophet Elisha was intentionally rude.
The general became visibly upset. Aram was a stronger nation, and he was their leading general. He expected the prophet to roll out the red carpet and personally come out with his head bowed to the ground in reverence and fear. And instead of a quick fix – a small potion to drink or a waving of the wand with a special chant – he was told to go and bathe at the Jordan River, not once but seven times? And why to a dirty river when he could go to a cleaner one in Aram? And so Naaman felt humiliated. And he departed in a rage, probably with thoughts of returning with his army to destroy the whole land.
But one of his servants spoke and changed his mind. Naaman went to the Jordan River, as commanded, and on his seventh bath, he was healed!
So, why did God heal him? And why did Jesus mention him in his teaching? Naaman was healed because 1) he was a desperate man, and 2) he had a heart that was moldable. He was in a desperate situation because lepers were forced into isolation where they awaited death. Going over to Israel territory to seek out healing was a show of desperation. But more than that, his greatness was in his humility to allow his servants to speak words that corrected him. His reaction wasn’t, “How dare you challenge me?!” And it wasn’t a defensive, “Didn’t you just see what he did to me?!” He had a heart to weigh other thoughts because he had respect for those below him, and he had a humble heart to change as needed. And that’s what he did. The servant’s words made sense. He realized he came to be healed, not to make demands, and so he obeyed the words of the prophet who had offended him.
Jesus used him as a lesson for us today. Seek out our God in desperation or don’t seek him at all. And always have a heart that is moldable, coming to God, not with demands on how you want him to resolve your issues, but with a heart of willingness, to obey whatever he requires of you.
Taking Time Out with Your Child (June 12, 2019)
Proverbs is a collection of wise sayings attributed to the wise king of Israel, King Solomon. Famous for his wisdom, he collected and put into writing all the wise sayings for the benefit of all. And so, much of Proverbs are a stringing together of short wise sayings. But there is an overarching narrative that strings these proverbs together. It’s set in a conversation between a father and his children.
Proverbs 4 begins in such manner: “Listen, children, to a father’s instruction, and be attentive, that you may gain insight; for I give you good precepts: do not forsake my teaching. When I was a son with my father, tender, and my mother’s favorite, he taught me, and said to me, ‘Let your heart hold fast my words; keep my commandments, and live. Get wisdom; get insight: do not forget, nor turn away from the words of my mouth. Do not forsake her, and she will keep you; love her, and she will guard you…’” (Proverbs 4:1-6).
If we read it too quickly, we miss the importance of this setting. A father has set aside time with his children to address something very important – he will teach his children about an important life principle that guided his own life, that is make wisdom and insightthe foundation of their lives. Here, the opposite of living wisely and insightfully is to live foolishly and carelessly – acting on impulse, making decisions on a fly, living without care and abandoning common sense. Young children live this way and are called childish. But the father has decided that it’s time to teach his children correctly so that they will leave their childish behaviors and acquire new tools to guide them – Proverbs identifies them as wisdom and insight.
This is really important for us today. Whether it be a mother or a father doing the serious talk, we all see the importance of doing this for our own children. And placed in the Bible, this father is a model for us. We observe three things:
It’s an important lesson for us who are parents. It doesn’t have to be the father doing this. A loving mother can do this equally well. Do you have a family tradition of something like this? What two words are most important for your family? Do your children know what they are?
The Power of the Tongue (June 5, 2019)
Oftentimes, I make mention of the fact that Jesus died on the cross. By it, I mean, if the purpose of Jesus’ coming was simply to die – then there were other methods of death that were easier, quicker, and less painful. Jesus could have thrown himself over the cliff. Or he could have drank hemlock poison. Or he could have been beheaded like John the Baptist or killed instantly with a spear thrust into the heart by an abled soldier. However, he died the worst way possible.
The manner of his crucifixion death helps us understand what Jesus actually accomplished. His body was beaten and bloodied because we sin with our bodies. His head was pierced with a crown of thorns because we think sinful thoughts. His hands and feet were nailed because we commit sins with our hands and go to sinful places. And his heart was punctured with a spear because our hearts are divided. Jesus died that way to show in his body that he really did die for all of our sins. That makes sense.
However, nothing happened to his tongue. Certainly, we sin all the time with our tongues. And so I thought that maybe, Jesus’ tongue should have been cut off or something. Just saying.
And the Bible makes clear that our tongue is probably our greatest offender.
“And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” (James 3:6-8)
And in writing about the tongue, one of the main topics in the book of Proverbs is, you guessed it, the tongue. And that’s especially true in the two chapters that are Bible Reading last week and this – Proverbs 10 and 12. I hope you will take time to read them both. Chapter 10 lists a series of warnings about the wickedness of the tongue. And that continues in chapter 12. In the string of do’s and don’ts about the tongue, one verse toward the end caught my eye:
“Anxiety weighs down the human heart, but a good word cheers it up.” (Proverbs 12:25)
Speak a good word that cheers up the anxious heart. Speak kind words in an unkind world. It’s true that we live in a time when people are screaming bloody murder at each other, and we are critical and judgmental, and we are angry at the world. We see it all around us. And it seems like everyone walks around with anxious and heavy hearts. And to that negative culture, God calls us to be set apart and behave differently. Rather than tearing down, we are called to cheer up and build up, edify and heal. Rather than criticism that hurts others, we are instructed to speak good words to comfort, to reduce anxiety. How refreshing!
And if, by chance, your heart is also weighed down by worry today, then God reminds us that there is a solution available to us. The Word of God is the good word that cheers up; let God speak truths into your heart today.
“Breath Prayer” (May 1, 2019)
Breath prayer is an ancient practice of praying in silence. It’s meant to stop what we are doing, going away from our busy lives, and sit in silence to hear from God. In silence, the heart is directed toward God and our needs from God, and then we remain silent to hear from God. It can be as short as a few minutes or 15 to 20 minutes. The length of time depends on your ability to center yourself before God by removing the distracting inner noise and focusing on God. It’s a good practice to have paper and pen in front of you.
You begin with the preparation of the heart by pray reciting Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.” You may repeat that several times as a way to speak to your own heart.And with the heart stilled, you can pray the next prayer, “Lord, have mercy”(Luke 18:13). It’s the prayer of the tax collector standing next to the proud Pharisee at the Temple. Imagine yourself as the tax collector before the holy God.
And then, according to your needs, you can move onto one of the prayers below and then wait on God. You conclude with a short prayer of thanks.
Did Jesus Choose the Right Disciples? (April 17. 2019)
Passion Week allows us to reflect on the last days of Jesus. And there’s a lot to take in. For instance, aren’t you surprised at how quickly the crowd turned on Jesus? On Palm Sunday, they received him into their city with great fanfare, the waving of the palms and shouts of Hosanna! (He saves!) to declare Jesus the coming Messiah. But just five days later, the crowd turned on him, just like that. Or what about the Jewish leaders who killed Jesus? How is it possible that these so-called holy men who claimed to be the closest to God, the most faithful of all the people, missed God completely? Can people become so self-righteous that they fail to see God standing right in front of them?
And while we say that his resurrection proved Jesus was indeed the Son of God, his expression of love toward us during the last hours is nothing short of divine. As for me, his staying put on the cross showed himself as God. And that’s because no human being would have done it; no one would have remained on the cross when all the people that followed him bailed. If we were in the same situation, utterly alone with absolutely no support, we would shake our fists, “why am I doing this when no one appreciates it? I am done here.” Jesus was divine – no one could love as much.
And then there are these awful disciples. They are something else, aren’t they? One completely went over to the other side. And the rest talked a good talk, but then they ran away when things got tough. I think Jesus should have taken more time to select better.
For instance, I would have selected Nicodemus. He would have been great as he represented the upper-class, he was literate so he could write down Jesus’ teachings right there, and he would have reached out to wealthy. It wouldn’t have hurt that he was wealthy as he could have contributed more to the ministry. And if Jesus really wanted a tax collector among his disciples, rather than a lowly positioned Matthew, I would have chosen Zacchaeus, the “chief tax collector.” There were only three chief tax collectors in all of Israel so he would have been well connected politically, and again, more funds to do more ministry! And there were others that Jesus encountered that would have withstood the persecution – the woman who pushed her way toward Jesus to gain her healing from 12 years of bleeding, or any one of the cured blind people who dared to shout out for Jesus even though they were threatened by the crowd. They would have stayed with Jesus to the end! Jesus could have done better. Right?
But Jesus knew what he was doing. And he spent the whole night in prayer to assemble the perfect Twelve. How could they be labeled perfect when they all failed so miserably? That’s because they were wonderfully moldable, and they represented all of us who fail so often. They failed in action and speech but they didn’t let their pride get the better of them and they returned to God. They were humbled, exposed for their failure to support Jesus in his last days, but God still called them and filled them with his Spirit because they knew how to get up. Their lives were a testimony to God’s redemption.
Being Happy During Lent (3/27/19)
Erma Bombeck wrote a funny story that happened at church in her book, At Wit’s End,
In church the other Sunday I was intent on a small child who was turning around smiling at everyone. He wasn’t gurgling, spitting, humming, kicking, tearing the hymnals, or rummaging through his mother’s handbag. He was just smiling. Finally, his mother jerked him about and in a stage whisper that could be heard in a little theatre off Broadway said, “Stop that grinning! You’re in church!” With that, she gave him a belt and as the tears rolled down his cheeks added, “That’s better,” and returned to her prayers.…
Suddenly I was angry. It occurred to me the entire world is in tears, and if you’re not, then you’d better get with it. I wanted to grab this child with the tear-stained face close to me and tell him about my God. The happy God. The smiling God. The God who had to have a sense of humor to have created the likes of us.…
But this is a season of Lent! We are walking with Jesus to the cross. He is going to suffer and die. And the least we could do is to walk quietly with Jesus and observe silence, right? What’s to be happy about? How can we laugh and smile when Jesus is so solemn?
But then why do we call the day of Jesus’ death, a “Good Friday.” It was the worst day for Jesus. He struggled with the Father, “Why have you forsaken me?!?” He was nailed to the cross and he bled, and he suffered pain. And he died. So how could it possibly be “good”?
It was also a day of completion. Jesus said it on the cross, “it is finished.” Jesus came to us with a mission – to reveal himself to the world as her Savior and then die on the cross as his saving act. Jesus suffered and died so that we could be saved – so that we could finally smile and laugh. The day of Jesus’ crucifixion was a good day for us. It was a great day for us!
And so I was reminded to smile and laugh. Even during the season of Lent. Maybe more so.
Believers are Sent to Bear Much Fruit (3/13/19)
Towards the end of Jesus’ ministry, the Gospel of John included a serious conversation that took place right before Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion between Jesus and his disciples (chapters 14-16). The feet were washed (ch. 13) and the room became serious. That’s because Jesus assumed a reflective demeanor and spoke at length about what was going to happen to him and to his followers. It was a long talk about preparing themselves for what was to come. And it included a task for them going forward.
In his serious tone, Jesus was loving and caring, like the good shepherd to his sheep. He addressed their fears first (14:1). He knows they want to be with him, but they can’t go with him to the Father’s house, but he will return and they can join him then. He will return to take them home. However…between his departure and his return, while they remained on earth, they have some important work to do. And they will not be alone. Jesus will send the Holy Spirit to be with them. The Holy Spirit will teach them and guide them to have the boldness to proclaim Jesus to the world, but also the power to overcome the suffering that will come as a result. And so they will never have to do anything alone. Jesus would never allow that. The Holy Spirit will be their source of strength as they engage in God’s work, but also in the midst of faith crises.
And Jesus told them, because he will always be with them in Spirit, they will be able to bear much fruit. In fact, they will be able to do “greater works” than Jesus (14:12).
This was about more than just discipleship, of personal conduct and faith living. Yes, they must live like Jesus. They must follow his example and wash each other’s feet and they should serve one another. That’s discipleship. However they were called to be more than that.
There was a charge to fully engage in God’s work after Jesus was gone from them. They must bear much fruit and bring others into God’s family. This was John’s writing of Jesus’ Great Commission. That’s why Jesus prayed to the Father,“As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world”(17:18)
In some way, what Luke did with two books (Gospel of Luke and Acts), John did with just one, the Gospel of John.
Season of Lent (3/6/19)
The Season of Lent is a forty-day period of walking with Jesus to the cross. It begins today with Ash Wednesday and ends right before Easter Sunday.
And how do we observe Lent? How do we walk with Jesus to the cross? Giving up something important is a nice gesture on your part, but I would rather that you do something active.
As I have been preaching on Jesus entering and teaching in Jerusalem, the disciples were quite confused about Jesus. They didn’t really understand Jesus and his salvation plan. They just cared more about themselves and tried to fit Jesus into their life plans. And Jesus’ death was going to ruin all that and so they refused to listen to Jesus talk about his death. But that changed when the woman came with the expensive perfume and broke it open on top of Jesus’ head. What a shocking event that was! And Jesus used that moment to reiterate the reality of his coming death, and then he taught them about the salvation that would come to them as a result. And so Lent is a time for recalibrating our understanding of Jesus.
I want to recommend two books for you to read. Both are from the same author, Philip Yancey: Jesus I Never Knew and What’s So Amazing About Grace? Jesus I Never Knew is a book that asks the most important questions about Jesus, “Who was Jesus? Why did he come to us? And, what did he leave behind?” It’s written with a ton of engaging stories, easy to read, and solidly focused. And What’s So Amazing About Grace? is a collection of “grace” stories that convey what Jesus did on the cross. If you like reading a lot of heart-warming stories, this is perfect. I recommend both to you for Lent.
And knowing more about Jesus and what he did on the cross will lead us to two things: 1) introspection, and 2) acts of love. Knowing Jesus and his grace naturally leads us to a time of repentance and a time of gratitude, a time of worship and praise. And that leads to our acts of love. We remember Jesus’ words after he washed the feet of the disciples,“You call me Teacher and Lord, and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you”(John 13:13-15).
Poor Widow’s Two Small Copper Coins (Mark 12:41-44) (2/20/19)
Jesus sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”
The two small copper coins had a value. It was called a leptonand it was worth 1/128thof a denarius which was a day’s wage for a hired hand. Even if we say that a denarius is equivalent to $128 today, a small copper coin would be worth $1. The poor widow had put in two of those. And only Jesus knew that she had “put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” She had given to God her final two bucks.
I always wondered why Jesus didn’t stop her and told her to keep them – God didn’t need her two coins and she should use it on herself. And like five loaves and two fish, in front of all the wealthy people, he could have multiplied the coins in her hand so that she went home with a huge bag of it. In the end, it’s the heart that matters, right?
I think Jesus was protecting her dignity. Even though she was poor, even though she belonged to the lower class, even though she was probably illiterate, and even though the wealthy men around her looked down at her, she knew that she could approach the offering table of her God without discrimination. In her act of giving, she knew that she was on equal footing with everyone else before God. And so to stop her from presenting her two small copper coins was to tell her that she’s too poor to approach God. Jesus didn’t want to do that to her.
And Jesus protected her extraordinary faith. There is a difference between wanting to do something and actually following through with it. How many times have you thought, “tomorrow I am going to get up early and go to Hana Mission” and then couldn’t wake up? Or you say, “from now on, I am going to get up 30 minutes earlier so that I can read the Bible and pray” and then couldn’t get up the second day? We certainly meant it when we said it. However, faith is in full display in our doing. And this woman was going to trust God fully by giving everything she had. And as she walked up to the offering plate, she could have hesitated, and then kept one for herself and God wouldn’t have been disappointed. However, by her faithful follow through, she put a huge smile on God’s face. She was saying to God, “I am going to trust you completely. No turning back.” Jesus wasn’t going to ruin her faith act.
And we don’t know what happened to her afterwards. I wish we did. We don’t have the next paragraph that tells about how she came upon a bag of money, or how she went home and found a huge diamond in her back yard. But maybe I am glad the follow up story is not there. We are to imagine it for ourselves. One thing I know with certainty. Jesus looked deeply into her heart and her life and was greatly pleased. She left with God’s favor upon her.
Cursing of the Fig Tree; Bearing Much Fruit (Mark 11) (2/13/19)
At the middle of chapter 11 of Mark, there is a scene where Jesus walks toward a fig tree to eat some of the figs. It goes, “On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see whether perhaps he would find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it” (vv.12-14).
It’s interesting to note that Jesus was actually hungry. Many people misunderstand Jesus and think that he couldn’t get hungry, or that he went to the bathroom. Jesus was fully human as well as fully divine. And here, we read that Jesus was physically hungry. However, in this event, there is more going on. Jesus was physically hungry, but there was also a great longing in his heart for the fig tree to bear much figs.
You see, in the Old Testament, the fig tree represented the Jewish people and the figs represented the product of their work before God. As we are called branches to Jesus’ vine and through the ministry of the Holy Spirit, we are called to bear much fruit (John 15), so the Israelites were called to bear much figs.
And in our story, Jesus saw the “fig tree in leaf” – the figs appeared with the leaves and so the leaves show there will be much fruit hanging from the tree. However, when Jesus went to look for them, there was none, “he found nothing but leaves.” [The passage follows with, “for it was not the season for figs.” The fig trees bore figs in early season and in a later season. It was early season and there should have been figs, but there were none.]
In his anger, Jesus cursed the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.”
The fig tree represented the Israelites, but it can apply to all of God’s people, including us. Jesus went to the fig tree because it had leaves. Jesus approached it with great expectation to see delicious figs hanging from it, but there was none. The leaves represent our cherished Christian labels. We plaster ourselves with titles like “child of God” and “disciple of Christ” and “servant leader” and “follower of Jesus.” Those labels ought to produce quite a bit of delicious fruit. However, how have those titles born fruit in our lives? Are there fruit under those leafy claims? If I declare myself a “follower of Jesus,” then am I applying the WWJD on my actions daily? Or if I love the title of “child of God,” then how have I separated myself from those who aren’t? How have I carried myself? How has my life reflected the title I so cherish?
It’s an important point to reflect upon this week and consider how we can be fruitful before God.
Two Different Gods in OT & NT? (Deuteronomy 28) (February 6, 2019)
I mentioned it in passing in one of my sermons but there are some scholars who argue that the Old Testament God and the New Testament God are two different Gods. This thought has been around since the early church. One of the first church heretics, Marcion of the 2ndcentury stated that the God of the Old Testament was indeed different. Unlike the loving and gracious God of the New Testament, the God of the Old Testament was judgmental and angry. And so he rejected most of the Old Testament.
We believe that there is only one God in the Bible. And so how do we rightly address this?
Our reading in Deuteronomy 28 offers the clearest response. In this chapter, Moses summarizes the original covenantGod made with his people. I say the “original covenant” because later when Jesus sat with his disciples at the Last Supper, he poured out the wine and said, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenantin my blood” (Luke 22:20). By doing so, Jesus was offering a new covenant based on Jesus’ death on the cross to replace the original covenant found in the Old Testament and summarized in Deuteronomy.
In chapter 28, we see that God and the Israelites made a pact, a covenant, a contractual agreement of allegiance. God will bless them fully in all ways so that they are set “high above all the nations of the earth” (v.1) if they obey God’s commands. But if they disobey God and fail to align themselves to Him, they will be cursed (and the list of cursing is quite long). If the people will obey God and maintain their allegiance to Him, God will be revealed to the world as God of blessing and love, “all the peoples of the earth shall see” (v.10). However, if the people disobey and abandon their God, they “shall become an object of horror to all the kingdoms of the earth” (v.25). God essentially threw the ball into their court and told the Israelites – how you behave and act will reflect back on how the rest of the people see God.
And so the reason God appears to be angry and vengeful, full of wrath in the Old Testament is because the people failed to live up to their end of the covenant. Their disobedience and their rejection of numerous divine corrections resulted in the world seeing the angry side of God – his justice was in full display.
And so Jesus came and brought a new (and better) covenant for the people – the Good News. Jesus came and fulfilled, for the people, the original covenant of complete obedience, and also, he received the full punishment of the people’s disobedience at the cross. In so doing, Jesus satisfied the demands of the old so that he could impart to us the new covenant – free from God’s wrath because that was taken up by Jesus, and free to appreciate God’s love in Jesus, and free to live rightly and in obedience to God’s commands in the power of the Holy Spirit.
In the Old Testament, we got to see only a side of God, but in the New Testament, through Jesus, we see God in full.
Amazing Ruth (January 30, 2019)
Ruth last worshiped with us on October 22, 2017. I was surprised, too. I didn’t realize it had been more than a year! I think I mentioned from the pulpit the other day that she had stopped attending church about half a year ago. I think the reason I thought that, and perhaps you thought like that as well, was because she is always included in our elder prayers, but more than that, her presence at the front of the sanctuary is ingrained in our minds.
As you know, she went to be with God yesterday early morning. For a handful of years, she had been telling everyone who would listen that she wanted to go home to be with the Lord. And we would smile and respond, “You are still needed, Ruth! God still needs you here.”
She fell down on the morning of Christmas Eve and was hospitalized for a few weeks to repair her broken hip. And then three weeks at the nursing home to rehabilitate. We visited her with two of her favorite food – KFC cold slaw and White Castle original sliders. She wanted half a dozen. A day after she returned home, she fell again and was back to the hospital last week. I visited her this past Saturday and her breathing had shortened. Dr. Lisa and Cherin visited her on Sunday and she wasn’t eating well. However, it was still a shock to receive a text from her son Tuesday morning, “Pastor, Ruth has gone to heaven early this morning.”
I spent the next hour sending out emails to you and to the leadership. And I continued to communicate with her son, David via text.A few hours after the initial text, I sent him a text. “Just a quick question. When did Ruth pass away? I woke up at 3am this morning and couldn’t go back to sleep, and so I’ve been up since.”His reply, “I think around that time. My brother got the call from the hospital so I don’t have the exact time. The same thing happened to me. I woke up and couldn’t go back to sleep either.”And to that I typed, “Maybe she woke us up to let us know she was finally free to dance and jump around.”And his short reply, “I agree.”It gave me goosebumps! (I screenshot it for you and attached it)
12 Spies Returned from the Promised Land… (January 23, 2019)
I taught elementary Sunday School for my church while I was in college. We used David C Cook material and whenever we got to the Old Testament section, there would always be the story of the 12 spies with Moses. I guess it was easy teaching for children – it’s visual (the spies carrying back large bunches of grapes), it’s action packed (you can create a skit of the event with a bunch of kids), and it teaches an important lesson on trusting God when things look dire.
The story goes like this: God used Moses to rescue the Israelites from the bondage of slavery in Egypt. They were saved through the Red Sea, and now, they were ready to enter the Promised Land. 430 years ago, Jacob and his family left the Promised Land of Canaan to go live with Joseph in Egypt. There, the new Pharaoh turned against them and turned them all into slaves. But now, with God leading them, they were returning, and they sought to reclaim the land previously owned by their forefathers.
But they knew that the present occupants of the land would not give it up so easily. They knew that ultimately, they will have to take back their land by force.
And so, to make assessment of their situation, twelve spies were dispatched. The 12 spies brought back their findings: The land is indeed very valuable filled with plentiful fruit and good land and lush grass. It’s a land “flowing with milk and honey.” However, the occupants are huge! One even cried, “we seem like grasshoppers to them!” And so, 10 of the spies ended their report with a grave warning – “We can’t fight them. Let’s give it up.” Two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, differed in their conclusion – “If the Lord is pleased with us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us. Only do not rebel against the Lord; and do not fear the people of the land. The Lord is with us; do not fear them!”
The 10 spies thought they were crazy. They were out of their minds. And the people agreed.
But Joshua and Caleb were the only sensible, reasonable people among them. They had seen their power of God displayed in Egypt that brought the great pharaoh to his knees. And they saw God parting the Red Sea and they walked on dry ground. And every day, they gathered manna that God sent down from heaven. And God protected them with pillar of cloud during the days and the pillar of cloud during the nights. And so, in light of all the spectacular things they saw and experienced from God, how could they not think they would be victorious? God was leading them!
In truth, the unreasonable ones were the 10 spies. Fear got the better of them. They saw the large fighting men, and they cowered in fear. And in that fear, they reacted, not with reason (their God is so much greater!), but with their own inadequacies.
We are like that too. We are confronted with a problem that seems to overwhelm us. And rather than trusting in God who is so much greater than any problem, and who has come through for us time and time again, we cower in fear. We look at ourselves alone for solutions and we become desperate and we give up.
In this story, God was so upset with the 10 spies that they all died by a sudden plague. We can learn from this story and be like Joshua and Caleb who alone entered the Promised Land 38 years later.
Children in Matthew (1/17/19)
The Bible teachers describe the Gospel of Matthew as being written primarily to the Jewish traditionalists, the upper-class learned Jews who knew their Scriptures and were studying it diligently in expectation of the Messiah. And that’s why Matthew often quotes from the Old Testament.
For these conservative Jewish men, children were of little concern. They refused to spend time with their own children because their social circle believed that spending time with little children dulled their intellect. Their friends would have mocked them.
Perhaps it’s to correct them that Matthew mentions children so often. In particular, they take center stage in chapter 18.
The twelve disciples are arguing about who is the greatest among them, and each one lays claim to that title with arguments probably ranging from how much they’ve given up for Jesus, how much they do for the ministry, how much funds they’ve added to their finances, how long they’ve known Jesus. To this heated argument, Jesus brings a little child.“He called a child, whom he put among them and said, ‘unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcome one such child in my name welcomes me.’”(v.2-5). In this one quote, Jesus defines true greatness.
Greatness in God’s eyes is defined, not by occupying an office or performing a certain function or acting in certain roles. It’s not defined by how much amount of work is done by a person nor the amount of funds given. Rather, greatness is defined by genuine humility – childlike humility.
Since I have full-grown children, I am sometimes asked which age was best. When did I enjoy our children the most? While I love them always, I think my fondest memories come from when they were 5 to 10. That was the age when my kids were able to do things on their own, but they still wanted to hold my hand in public. And they fought for my attention and wanted to be the one to sit right next to me. I miss being needed.
‘unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’
Blessed Report from Samar Philippines (1/9/19)
In 2016, a team of us went to Samar Philippines to work with a great organization called SICAP (Samar Integrated Community Advancement Project). In partnership with them, we visited several impoverished villages to share the gospel and gifts to the children. While we were at a village called Magsaysay, we learned that a recent typhoon destroyed some homes and caused damage to most of the others. But despite the major damage, they weren’t receiving much help from the government or the NGOs in their rebuilding effort.
Upon our return, we challenged Bethany to share from our plenty. As a result of your generosity, we were able to send them $2,000. SICAP took that money, added some more of their own, and put together a gift package of 6kg of rice along with noodles, sugar, coffee, and milo for every family in Magsaysay. A complete 100% of your funds went directly to help them. And through that effort, we learned that missions was not simply a 2-week trip, but something that can last much longer and make greater impact.
Last year, a team went back to Samar Philippines. God was extra gracious with us because we found cheaper flight, and we were generously supported with a new grant from our presbytery. We were able to do so much more with the added funds. And at the end of our trip, with more funds at our disposal, Elder Steve and I were able to commit $3,000 toward needed children’s ministry ($1,000 from Bethany & $2,000 from our presbytery grant). We asked that the money be used to continue the children’s program for the neediest villages.
Last week, I received a message from SICAP letting me know how our fund was supporting such an effort. There was yet another local typhoon that flooded an entire village and they were in need. SICAP gathered the workers, purchased needed supplies and goodies, and they shared the love of Jesus with the children. They served a hot meal, passed out backpacks with new school supplies, and loved them. And they posted their ministry in Facebook for the world to see. They simply called us “sponsors” – I love that.
Even after six months back, the team’s impact is seen in the ministry that continues there. What a blessing it is to be used by God! This is the joy of missions – partnership, sharing of blessing, all for the glory of God.
John 6: Focusing on Jesus (January 3, 2019)
I preached on the feeding of the 5,000 last Sunday. It’s the only miracle of Jesus to be recorded in all four gospels, and that’s because the miracle itself was spectacular! Other miracles were singular, to an individual based upon their faith and God’s personal desire to make them well. However, this miracle provided bread and fish for everyone in the crowd –believers and unbelievers alike! You didn’t have to have faith to receive the heavenly food! Of course, it’s just one example of God’s loving concern for all people.
However, the Gospel of John alone records what happened to the people afterwards. Obviously, they were all shocked and excited. But to Jesus’ disappointment, many recipients of the miraculous bread and fish saw in Jesus an opportunity to fill their stomachs every day. And so they followed him, not for who he is, but because he could give them food. Jesus was angry with them, “You are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves!”(v.26). Of course, Jesus cared for them and he fed them while they were hungry, but that was meant to be a “sign” – a sign pointing to Jesus as the Son of God who came down from heaven to offer them eternal life. They saw the bread and fish multiplying and those things got them excited. Jesus hoped that they rather see the person who did the multiplying. He hoped they would turn their gaze upward to see the Savior and Lord, rather than focus on his gifts to them.
This story reminds me of the ten lepers who came to Jesus and were healed. All ten of them left with joy, but only one returned to give thanks. That former leper came back to worship the one who restored his dignity. He came back to praise the one who had the power to heal. He came back to thank his God. It was a posture of recognition.
Let us always recognize the one who blesses us and fills our lives with comfort and joy. Let’s find ourselves in the posture of worship and gratitude into 2019.
Luke 15: Parable of the Prodigal Son (December 27, 2018)
Luke 15 contains the famous parable of the prodigal son. But right before that one, the parable of the lost sheep and the parable of the lost coin precede it. And seen together, the three parables form something of an inverted cone, numerically – It begins with the 100 sheep, and then the 10 coins, and concludes with the two sons – it forms a kind of a telescopic effect that zooms in on the last parable. The master teacher had intentionally structured the three parables to highlight the truths of the last one.
And that view fits the context: two types of people gathered around Jesus: the Pharisees and scribes on one side and the tax collectors and sinners on the other side (vv.1-2). The righteous men were to identify with the older son and his strict code of conduct, and the sinful men were to identify with the prodigal son and his wayward living.
Through the parable, the tax collectors and sinners heard Jesus encouraging them to stop their sinning and return to God because God’s waiting to receive them. But Jesus hoped that the other group also learned from him. In fact, these parables were triggered by the negative comments made by the righteous group, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them” (v.2). Jesus hoped to help them understand that,
Jesus saw how their desire for righteous living formed critical hearts toward others who lived sinfully. In that, they were spiritually arrogant and unloving. And Jesus hoped to correct their view. They are right in their pursuit of righteous living, “be holy because I am holy,” but they needed to keep their focus on God and not themselves. And then know that God’s eyes are focused on the lost.
There is enough critical spirit in the world. But Jesus came to bring love, and peace, and hope and joy. Let’s work on those things in the new year!
Moses at the Burning Bush (December 19, 2018)
God appeared to Moses as a divine fire in Exodus 3. God wanted to enlist him for service to save his people from slavery. But to our surprise, Moses rejected God. Moses protested and told God to look elsewhere because at 80, he was too old, and he had developed a stutter, and he was afraid he would fail, and so there had to be someone better for the task. But for God, it had to be him. God had been preparing him all these years.
Earlier this year, I spent a few Sundays teaching from the story of Moses and his early years. His miraculous birth story and his rise as the prince of Egypt are recorded for us in Exodus 1-2. The Pharaoh sought to kill all the Hebrew boys, but God intervened on his behalf. He was rescued from the crocodile infested waters of the Nile and adopted into the royal family! It’s really divine comedy. And being placed back into his mother’s hands to raise him as his nanny, Moses’ mother was actually paid by the Pharaoh to raise her own son! The readers are LOL.
And you can imagine his mother telling him how God must have a grand plan for his life. And being that God had placed him in a position of power, the prince of Egypt, he must be the one God’s going to use to rescue his people from slavery!
That was probably his motivation when, as a forty-year-old prince, he witnessed a beating of a Hebrew slave and reacted by killing the Egyptian soldier, right in front of the slaves. It’s time! He will lead them! “Join me!” But they didn’t.
And Moses ran far away. And for forty years, he lived a quiet life. He got married and had two boys. And the memories of his mother and her words faded from his mind. What was he thinking when he killed that soldier? What was his mom thinking of putting such a heavy burden on him? Savior of his people? Me? No way.
And now God was calling him to do just that. And Moses was right to reject God, of course. He was too old. He had no power now; he was only a shepherd with a staff…no army to his name…
But from God’s perspective, he was perfect. He admitted that he couldn’t do anything on his own. He admitted that he wasn’t qualified. And that’s the best position to be. And that’s because now God will fully work through him. And now he is completely in God’s hands.
This story applies to us in at least two ways. First of all, if you are asked to serve in some capacity (whether in church or at work), be open to the Spirit of God who may be asking. Trust God – believe that God will be your skill. You will be in God’s hands if God is calling you.
And secondly, it speaks to our heart before God. The Pharisees were always being criticized by Jesus even though they were trying the hardest to please God. And that’s because they rejected God’s help; they could do it all on their own. That wasn’t faith; that was pride. However, the people that pleased Jesus most were the ones who came to Jesus, got on their knees and said to him, “I am needy. I can’t do anything on my own. Help me.” That’s the best posture before God.
During this Advent Season, as we greet Jesus into our world, let’s bow low before him.
Visiting Ruth Yesterday (December 12, 2018)
As you may know, my wife and I visit Ruth every month. And in our visit, I serve communion to her with bread and grape juice taken from our Bethany worship communion table. It’s her way to continue to be connected to us in worship. And I let her know that her name is mentioned in our prayers and that everyone wishes her well. By the way, Ruth is doing well, and she enjoys the churchlunch lunch that Ginny brings to her every Sunday.
Yesterday, Pastor Emily joined us and we sang a Christmas Carol together and celebrated communion. I also shared a short message from Luke 2 – the birth narrative of Jesus. In it, there is a verse that goes, “Then an angel of the Lord stood before [the shepherds living in the field], and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.”(v.9). The Greek word here is “they feared a great fear.” They were stunned and shocked. They had never seen this bright and awesome display before. They quaked with fear and awe.
As I was sharing this passage with Ruth, I was convicted at what God’s word was teaching all of us.
We don’t do “terrified” with Christmas any more. We don’t have a sense of shock and awe with the coming of the Son of God into our world. When we think of Christmas, we are filled with pleasant thoughts and everything is beautifully lit in red and green. And our reaction to Christmas, far cry from the first terrified reaction by the shepherds, may simply be how it is supposed to be. For example, I know that I don’t watch my favorite movies like Sound of Musicor Princess Bridewith the same joy and awe I felt when I first viewed them. Sometimes, I’ll fast forward to the favorite parts and neglect the flow, the buildup, because I am already familiar with the story.
And maybe the birth story of Jesus is like that. We know the story fully: We know about the angelic visit to Mary and Joseph’s reaction to commit to marriage. We know about the travel to Bethlehem where Mary couldn’t find a room in the inn. We know about the birth of Jesus in the cave barn where he was placed in a feeding trough. And because we know the story so well, it doesn’t shock us anymore.
But I was reminded that we have advent season before Christmas as a way to prepare our hearts – to let the story of Christmas shock us once more. Of course, we won’t ever be terrified like the shepherds because the story won’t catch us by surprise, but we can still be awed by the truth of Christmas.
We can be shocked at the decision the Father made to place his very Son on the altar of sacrifice. And we can be surprised at the obedience of the Son to accept the Father’s plan of salvation. We can be awed at the display of humility shown by the Son of God who chose the feeding trough to be his first bed. And we can be inspired by the faith of a young woman who said yes to angel Gabriel to conceive the holy child, and her husband who chose to stand by her side.
I hope to spend some time dwelling on those shocking points this advent season. I hope you will do so as well. Which part is most shocking for you?
Are You A Disciple of Jesus? Don’t Answer That, Yet. (December 5, 2018)
Many churches promote discipleship programs. And in many cases, they are a set of studies and accountability groups geared toward more knowledge and promotion of spiritual habits that are meant to bring them closer to God. And all of that is good. In fact, it was Jesus that began this trend. However, Jesus’ discipleship program was a little bit more hands on and a little bit more demanding.
In Mark 6, we have Jesus’ discipleship training in full display. It begins with a WARNING. Rather than a kickoff celebration, Jesus is met with opposition and mocking and is soundly rejected by his own town (v.1-6). “Who does he think he is? We know who you are!” Perhaps, you’ve experienced that yourself: you lived a different life before, but you want to change. You want to be more like Jesus and so you quit bad habits and coarse languages. You decide to skip out on negative situations and socialize less with bad influences. And you begin to listen to praise music in the car and take out the Bible to read during your break. And one of your old friends sees your efforts to change and what do they say? Nothing good. Mocking words. “We know who you are. You aren’t fooling anyone!” But that’s okay because it’s only natural that the world will hate you for trying to be more like Jesus.
And if you are willing to fight through that, then the TASK of discipleship is laid out: “the mission of the twelve” (v.7-13). Jesus is teaching them that discipleship is not about changed living, even though it requires it. It’s not gaining more knowledge, even though that’s needed. Discipleship is really about trusting God and obeying him by going outside the comfort zones of life and being sent out to share the good news everywhere – to pray for the sick, work to improve lives, do good, and share Jesus Christ. And in the midst of the faith work, experience the presence and power of God.
And for those who are willing to do that, the disciples will certainly experience the greatest of miracles – just like the Twelve who joined Jesus in the feeding of the 5,000 (v.34f)! They all saw the five loaves and two fish – Jesus made them count them out. But then all that bread and fish – they came from Jesus, and they came from their hands!
But sandwiched between the miracle of feeding 5,000 are 1) the death of John the Baptist (v.17f), and 2) the near death of the disciples in the middle of the violent sea (v.45f). That’s to say that a true follower of Jesus will have to experience, not only mocking and rejection from friends and family, but also life struggles and pains for signing up to follow Jesus completely.
But wait a minute! Hold on a second. If we are doing God’s work and he is with us at all times, then are we supposed to experience total victory, witness miracles that astound, overcome problems and difficult situations, come out better than before, right? But hardship and even death…for living our Christ’s discipleship? Really? Will you still choose to become a disciple of Jesus Christ? Even if that means entering into a violent storm of life? Even if death awaits? Even if God doesn’t rescue? Even if God seems silent? Will you still claim to be a disciple of Jesus and follow him boldly? No matter what, trusting that God knows what he is doing? That’s Jesus’ definition of discipleship.
Genesis 37: Break the Cycle (November 30, 2018)
Joseph’s story is well known to us. At the age of 17, he received a dream from God that showed he would become a man of high position. But before that became actualized at 30, he went through 13 years of great difficulty – he was sold into slavery by his own brothers, and while a slave in Egypt, he was wrongly accused of misbehavior and was locked up in prison.
And we can talk about the importance of suffering as a learning tool for future greatness. However, I want to focus on the family dysfunction that led to Joseph’s suffering and how that could have been avoided.
In chapter 37 of Genesis, we find that Joseph, the 11thson of 11 sons is his father’s favorite. The Bible states it outright, “Now Israel (Jacob) loved Joseph more than any other of his children” (v.3). And so Joseph alone received an expensive coat from his father, and Joseph alone was kept from doing the hard labor. No wonder his brothers became jealous of him and their discontent led to their attempt at his life.
Favoritism. Why didn’t Jacob learn from his own life how destructive that can be? Of all people, Jacob should have known how badly his other sons felt. When Jacob was young, he himself watched longingly as his father Isaac loved his older brother, Esau, but never paid attention to him. Jacob grew up seeing his father spend all his time with his brother, teaching him about hunting and about life, embracing him and loving him, speaking words of encouragement to him. All the while, Jacob was pushed away to spend his alone time with his mother. And that longing for his father’s affection and attention grew into bitterness and eventually caused him to trick his father and ruin the family.
Jacob should have done it differently; he should not have repeated that toward his sons. In fact, Isaac should have known better because his father Abraham did the same thing – he favored Isaac and cast away Ishmael. There was a cycle of family dysfunction that should have been addressed a lot earlier.
The family experts tell us that unless the cycle of dysfunction isn’t intentionally addressed, they will go on. For example, boys who witness domestic violence in their own home are three times more likely to become batters. And that’s because those children learn wrongly from their parents that violence is a quick way to resolve conflicts and problems, and even though they understood that was a wrong teaching, it wasn’t properly addressed, and then it got repeated. Of course, the wrong behavior needed to be addressed. Or in the case of Isaac and Jacob, the cycle of favoritism continued to future generations. And as Genesis continues on, for the next 13 plus years, Jacob would suffer greatly as a result of it.
And what’s interesting is that later when Joseph brought his two sons to Jacob for his blessing, Jacob intentionally blessed the younger son more – to Joseph’s surprise and objection. Maybe Jacob was teaching his son and grandson that the cycle just had to stop.
It’s an important lesson to stop and pause and reflect. Are there dysfunctions you experienced growing up, and were they properly addressed? It’s a great discussion to have with your mates and parents.
Matthew 5: Salt of the Earth (November 21, 2018)
“You are the salt of the earth!” (v.13) declared Jesus. To the modern audience, the idea of being compared to salt doesn’t trigger an immediate reaction. It’s not like being compared to a sparkling diamond or a 24k gold bar. Salt is something you find for free at any diner table.
But salt was quite significant in those days and everyone knew the value of it. The fishermen of Galilee that followed Jesus certainly knew the importance of salt. They couldn’t fish without it. In today’s fishing, the fishermen use plenty of ice in which to store their catch and keep them fresh. In the ancient times, they used salt. Under the hot Mediterranean sun, the fish spoiled too quickly. And so salt was applied to the caught fish to preserve them and later taken to the market. And those who sold meat in the marketplace needed plenty of salt for the same reason. Salt was absolutely necessary for their livelihood.
And every household had some salt in the house for medicinal use. Every stomachache was treated with salt diluted in water and consumed. The first century scientist Pliny the Elder declared, “nothing is more useful than salt and sunshine.” That was the reason why many of the Roman soldiers were paid in salt, and the phrase “he is not worth his salt” came from that time.
And so when Jesus declared “you are the salt of the earth,” he was telling his followers that they were indeed valuable. However, Jesus was saying more. The salt was valuable, and is valuable today, only when it is applied on another. Whether it is to preserve the fish or meat in the ancient times, or to enhance the flavor of a bland French fries or an expensive steak for us, salt has value only when it is applied to another. In fact, if the salt sits in its container beyond its expiration date, the salt loses its taste and crystalizes and become useless. That’s why Jesus went on to say, “But if the salt loses its saltiness…it is no longer good for anything, but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.”
And so when Jesus compared his followers to salt, he taught them and us to never sit on our faith and hoard the good news for ourselves. A Christian who doesn’t apply their faith and share the good news with others is good-for-nothing useless. Our value as followers of Jesus Christ is in enhancing our surroundings with our expressions of love and sharing the good news with those whose lives are dull and spoiling.
And so how have you sprinkled your saltiness unto the world today?
Mark 5: Father’s Love & Jesus (November 14, 2018)
It’s true that the Bible doesn’t have many examples of good fathering. And that’s because the ancient society mocked men who spent too much time with their children. One Rabbi Achinos taught that “chattering with children destroys a man.” And so the raising of children was given over to the mothers while the fathers worked outdoors and lived emotionally detached from their families.
But not Jairus who came to Jesus in Mark 5. Jairus is introduced to us as a “leader of the synagogue.” He was the official in charge of the synagogue, its president – a high position reserved for a man of high social standing. However, this leader of the synagogue came to Jesus and fell at his feet. And he begged. Repeatedly.
“Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly. ‘My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.’”(Mark 5:22-23)
This Jairus stayed low to the ground begging until he got Jesus’ attention. Again, the ancient rabbis had a saying for those who begged for whatever reason: “It is better to die than to beg” (Sirach). But his daughter was sick. He brought in the best physicians, but she wasn’t getting any better. In fact, she was at a point of death. And he had to act. He had to do anything and everything. He loved her. And so despite his high status, he ran to Jesus and begged repeatedly. What a father!
Jesus didn’t do a lot of house calls. He healed in the streets, or by the shore, mostly in open areas. There were so many people wanting and demanding and yelling for his attention that he couldn’t do house to house. But something in the heart of the crying father moved Jesus. He knew Jairus was not used to begging. He was always in a position of giving approval, giving to others to meet their needs, not the other way around. But here was this Jairus, on his knees, clutching the feet of Jesus to get his attention, and begging. Repeatedly. You can hear him pleading: “My little daughter is sick. My little daughter is at a point of death. My little daughter is going to die if you don’t come. Please save my little daughter. Jesus! Please save her! I can’t lose her!” Jesus agreed and asked him to lead the way.
That was a “tears turned to joy” moment for sure. Jairus got Jesus’ attention and he got him to agree to go and heal the love of his life! He must have been so ecstatic. He must have pushed the crowd forward to make space for Jesus; he must have tried to pick up pace. He yelled at the crowd, “Please make room! Jesus is coming to my house! Jesus is going to heal my daughter! Make room! Clear the path! Please! Jesus needs to get through!” Smiling. Yelling. Waving his hands to make a large path for Jesus, Jairus knew he found that one person who would make his daughter well.
And then came the bad news. No need to bother the miracle worker any longer because, “your daughter is dead.” Jairus’ heart must have burst at the news. He didn’t do enough. He was too late. He wasn’t aggressive enough with the crowd to come faster. He should have gone to Jesus yesterday. “It’s all my fault” he must have thought. But Jesus healed her. He actually raised her from death! The doctors verified that she had died, but there she was, up and about because Jesus touched her and made her well. Another “tear turned to joy” moment for Jairus. And both times, it was because of Jesus.
His fatherly love is evident. But so is the real truth that, in life, when things go south, there is really only one person to turn to, and that’s Jesus. God will right the ship, bring joy to a life full of tears, good news to a tale of disappointments.
The story of Jairus and his daughter is in the Bible for a reason. And that it to let us know that our God is still healing and restoring and answering prayers, even today, even for us. And so wave your hands and get on your knees and grab God’s attention. And he will stop for you and meet your needs. He will turn your tears into joy.
Genesis 22: What’s with God’s Request of Abraham? (November 6, 2018)
In my sermon teaching on the calling of Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3, I noted the importance of the second promise to Abraham among the three-fold promise of God. The three promises God made to Abraham were 1) Land, 2) Son, and 3) Blessing (in the form of God’s presence in his life). Of the three promises, the one that stirred Abraham and Sarah’s hearts were the promise of a son of their own.
When God visited Abraham, he and Sarah were childless, and so they resorted to adopting the nephew to live with them. Abraham was already 75 and Sarah was 65, and so any hope they had of having one of those miracle babies were long past gone. But then God showed up and offered them a promise of a miracle pregnancy that they simply couldn’t resist.
And so they packed their bags and headed to Canaan where they waited on God to fulfill his promise. But Sarah remained childless. Year after year, they waited, but nothing. It wasn’t until 25 years later, when Sarah was 89 years old that her stomach began to swell and at the age of 90, she became a mother. Abraham was a centenarian!
But they were so happy. The 25 years of waiting, of struggling with God, provided them with great faith upon which to raise their child. And then God told them to give him up.
Perhaps his son Isaac was a teenager by now. And Abraham and Sarah enjoyed having him grow before them. He was their prized possession, the apple of their eye, greatest love. But one day, God came and told them to return their son back to him. Kill him at the altar. What an atrocious request. And the altar was 45 miles away, on top of a mountain. It was a three-days walk uphill! They were agonizing 3 days for Abraham.
But by this time, the old and wise Abraham was determined to finish well, as one who will be remembered for his great faith that was built up through life’s struggles with God.
If you are going through something hard in your life, and you have been faithful and obedient. You weren’t perfect, but you consider yourself to be faithful. And you think life is unfair. You think God is unfair to you, take time to think about Abraham and Sarah and their long suffering. Or if you are upset because God is not answering your prayer right away, think about their 25 years of waiting. Those turned out to be important faith growing years. They didn’t always rise above the situation in faith, and they stumbled often throughout their lives, but they continue to grow in knowledge and trust of their God. And so they teach us to always choose God. Choose to trust in him. Choose to never let go of him. Choose to obey. Choose to follow.
John 3: Nicodemus was a Secret Believer (October 31, 2018)
We are first introduced to a man named Nicodemus in John 3. Nicodemus was a member of the Sanhedrin and so was a man of high standing. And we know from the Gospels that most of the learned Jews stood opposed to Jesus and his growing fame. They are going to eventually work to kill Jesus off! Nicodemus was different. He wanted to meet Jesus for himself and make his decision based upon facts rather than rumors.
Lest his friends and colleagues misunderstand his intention, Nicodemus came to Jesus in the cover of darkness. But at the same time, Nicodemus didn’t want Jesus to assume he was one of the opposition. And so he began, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.”Nicodemus meant well, but Jesus saw through the veiled arrogance – in his opening line, Nicodemus assumed he was the one who would decide what is of God and what is not. Again, he meant well, but he managed to put on foot in it. To that, Jesus replied, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.”I want to pause right here because Jesus so amazingly clever.
“…no one can SEE the kingdom of God…”You see, Nicodemus came at night. And he used a lighted torch to see his way to Jesus. And without that torch, he was in the dark, unable to see anything. And Jesus hit him with that. Jesus was replying to Nicodemus who assumed he was the bearer of the light of truth, but that he was in fact mired in darkness and he needed to be born again in order to truly see.
And that threw Nicodemus off. Rather than the set of questions he had prepared to ask Jesus, he asked in response, “How can one be born again?” And that conversation led to the famous John 3:16,“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life”(John 3:16). And that statement is really what Nicodemus came find out: Who is Jesus, and why did he come?
So did Jesus win him over? Later in John 7, when the Jewish leaders argued over having Jesus arrested, Nicodemus stood up for Jesus. And in 19:38, Nicodemus is revealed to be a secret believer.
Nicodemus is quite amazing. He didn’t let his surrounding dictate his allegiance. He took the time to investigate, met Jesus personally, and then out of that encounter, made his decision for Christ. And he is an example for us even today. Rather than depending on others, rather than staying at a distance from God, shake off your doubts and approach Him directly.
I hope that this week, you will have a time of dialogue with Jesus and discover something new!
Genesis 7-8: Noah’s First Act was Worship (October 24, 2018)
Genesis 7 & 8 recount the great flood. There’s some argument whether the flood was local or global, but I’ll let the experts sort that one out. As for us, I’ll just stick to what’s obvious, and here are the numbers: It took Noah about 100 years to complete the building of the ark. His age was given as 500 before God gave him the instructions on the construction of the ark. And then when it was completed, Genesis 7:6 tells us, “Noah was six hundred years old when the flood of waters came on the earth.” And how long did Noah and his family stay in the ark before they came out? They remained sealed inside of the ark for a total of 370 days. A little more than a year. The relentless rain and the bursting forth of underground waters flooded the land day and night for 40 days. And after the rain stopped, it took 330 days for the water to finally subside and dry up around them. After 370 days, Noah and his family stepped out of the ark and unto dry land. All of that is recorded in Genesis 7 & 8.
And I love how the story ends – Noah and his family escaped the confines of the dark vessel and stepped onto dry ground with burst of joy, and the first thing they did was to set up an altar and worshiped their God (Genesis 8:18-20):
So Noah went out, and his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives with him. Every beast, every creeping thing, and every bird, everything that moves on the earth, went out by families from the ark. Then Noah built an altar to the LORD, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and offered burnt offerings on the altar.
All the representative animals and birds and insects were in the ark together with the people, but when the doors opened, and they finally exited, only Noah and his family put up an altar and gathered around it and looked up to God. That expression of gratitude and worship separates us from the animals around us. We are God’s special creation not only because he loves us so, but because we have the capacity to appreciate and worship. And our God loves that response.
For Noah and his family, it was only natural to worship their God: they were grateful for saving and preserving their lives in the midst of the catastrophic flood, and having seen the full display of God’s power, they were in awe of Him. There was no way they couldn’t look up to God in thanks and bow down low in reverence.
And I think we can understand Noah and his family’s great desire to approach God. Those weeks when we had a difficult time and we needed God’s help, those weeks when we felt God specially close to us, those weeks when we experienced the mighty act of God – those were the weeks we came to church with a bounce to our steps and sang a little bit louder and smiled a little more brighter – because we experienced God or desired to be touched by God a little bit more closely. I think that’s what Noah was doing there. Excitedly, he went to God first.
And our God that protected Noah and his family are present with us today. Perhaps you are in a place that feels trapped, feeling confined in darkness, but you must know that God’s eyes are always watching over you to protect you and provide for you. That door will open soon and you will finally be able to breath the sweetest and freshest of air. Wait for God! And give him worship.
Genesis 4: Responding to God’s Question (October 17, 2018)
If this happened today, the media would have been all over it. A tragedy struck a family of four when they discovered their younger son’s body buried in the ground near their home. It was obvious he had been struck dead. But who could have done it? Who could have committed this senseless crime?
If God didn’t intervene and expose Cain’s role in the matter, he might have gotten away with it. However, he was found out, and when confronted with the facts, he pointed his fingers at God – “he made me do it. If he just accepted my offering…He made me so mad, I had to do something!” (Of course, I am putting words into his mouth, but I am certain he would have said it). Where did he learn that from, I wonder?
In the previous chapter, Eve and Adam ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – the forbidden fruit. And in so doing, they disobeyed God – sin entered their hearts. And when God approached Adam about eating of the fruit, he cringed his face with a growl, and then he pointed his finger at the woman…and at God – “That woman, whom You gave me, gave me the fruit to eat!” And Eve, following the same pattern, pointed her angry finger at the serpent. And we go, wow.
And it seems we didn’t learn well from the mistakes of our first parents. Even today, our initial response is to deflect; we point our fingers far away from us because we cannot be at fault. But thanks be to God, he is always hopeful we will be different, this time around.
The all-knowing God came to Adam and Eve, not with angry pronouncement of judgment – “I know what you have done! Did you think you could get away with it? Don’t you know I know all things, I see all things?!?” but with a set of inviting questions, “Where are you? What have you done?” And in Genesis 4, the same God came to Cain with a similar question, “Where is your brother Abel?” Of course, God knew what evil Cain had committed against his innocent brother. But the question was an invitation to repent. It was an invitation to do over, to confess his sin and plead for mercy. It was the same invitation God gave to Adam and Eve.
But they chose not to. And so they were cast out of God’s presence. The better way of understanding this separation is that they left God (because God continued to follow them).
Let’s be different. If there is one overarching teaching through both Adam and Eve and Cain, it’s that when we do wrong, God’s initial reaction is to set about a way to restore the fractured relationship. And so through the questions, he invites us to confess our sins and be right again with Him. And that’s because our God desires a loving relationship more than anything we could have done. Ask any parent and they will say the same.
So, what question is God asking you today? How will you respond?
Luke 2: Shepherds Gift to Baby Jesus (October 10, 2018)
With the introduction out of the way in chapter 1, chapter 2 of Luke tells the birth narrative of Jesus. It’s quite fascinating how the story develops. It reads like a script of a movie, really. The young couple are engaged, and during that period, Mary is found to be with child. In the book of Matthew, we find Joseph’s struggle with this news and the comfort he found in the visit by an angel. In Luke however, because the writer wanted to value the contribution of women in the story of Jesus, he refused to give Joseph any screen time. The camera is focused squarely on Mary in this gospel.
The very pregnant girl (she is going to give birth that night!) is refused help by the innkeeper who show her little sympathy (Perhaps God used this as a teaching moment for Mary who will have to accept these unkind events as a future norm for bearing the Son of God). And so, relegated to cold and damp cave barn, she goes into labor. And without midwife help, she gave birth to the Son of God.
And there are no bouquets of flower for the new mother. There are no congratulatory embracing and celebratory words by family members; not even her own mother was present to hold her hand and whisper, “you did well.” She is utterly alone (of course, there is Joseph, but first-time fathers don’t offer much help in this situation). Of course, this must have come as a great faith test for her because it must have been a shock for her to consider that the Son of God would enter the human world inside a dark and dirty cave.
All that happened in the first seven verses!
But I want to turn to the shepherds. The angelic host came to them and told them about the baby Jesus, “a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah the Lord!” And just as they were told, they went to the cave behind the inn and they found the couple with the baby. And maybe, it’s because they were in a hurry. Or perhaps, it’s because they didn’t know the couple. But they came empty-handed — no gift for Mary or for Jesus.
This contrasts with the story of the magi in Matthew. There, the wealthy men came to baby Jesus with a load of expensive gifts – gold, frankincense and myrrh. That’s the way you are supposed to come to Jesus, isn’t it? But that’s not the end of the story.
The magi visited Jesus, offered their gifts and worship, and then the Bible tells us, “they returned to their country.” But that’s not the full story. They wanted to avoid King Herod, and they knew there were spies watching over them, and so, secretly and without a sound, they quickly returned back home. Nothing more is said about them.
On the other hand, these shepherds that came with nothing, go out and do the very opposite. “When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.”(v.17-18).
It’s true that the shepherds brought nothing for Jesus, but their gifts were in the sharing of their testimony with others. And so, between the magi and the shepherds, who gave the better gift?
As for us, how will you be like the shepherds this week? First of all, come to the manger, to the feet of Jesus in worship and awe. And then pray and ask the Holy Spirit to give you an opportunity to share Christ with someone.