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.
The first half of Jesus’ three-year ministry focused on revealing himself to the world. Through healings and miracles, Jesus proved to those who gathered around him that he was truly the Son of God come down from heaven. This is what Jesus meant when he responded to the disciples of John the Baptist, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” (Matthew 11:4-5) He was telling them that he had spent his early ministry fully disclosing himself to the world – he had given proof to his true identity. And now, it was up to the people to make their decisions.
This shift in ministry focus can be seen in Jesus’ teaching of the Parable of the Sower. It’s such a well-known parable that a cursory summary is needed: the sower of the seed (that’s Jesus) scatters his seed into four types of soil (people’s hearts) – the hard path, soil with rocks, soil with thorns and good soil. The hard path and good soil are not the focus of Jesus’ teaching here (The hard path are people who have closed their hearts to Jesus and will believe nothing and criticize everything. Jesus can do nothing about them. And the good soil people already accept Jesus and have become his followers and so he validates them).
The focus on this teaching was on the two middle soils – the shallow soil with rocks and soil with thorns. He noticed that among the crowd were people who were quite conflicted. They knew that Jesus was good and holy and his claims to being the Son of God was credible. And his teachings were excellent. However, they sat on the fence. And Jesus defined them and then challenged them.
The shallow soil with rocks are those who like being secret Christians. They don’t want to let anyone know that they are Christians because their behaviors do not line up, or it’s because they fear it might cause them harm (maybe lose friends or position). And so they don’t let on, and they laugh through anti-Christian jokes and negative comments about Christianity.
The soil with thorns are those who have a great desire to openly follow Jesus and make him and his will a priority in their lives, however, as Jesus puts it, “the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing” (Matthew 13:22).
And Jesus’ encouragement to those who are in these two middle soils is to remove the rocks and pull out the thorns. And we have the Holy Spirit’s power to do them both. We just need to ask. Let us take that bold step forward and get rid of those things that hinder us!
Like many people, I watched the Super Bowl this past Sunday night. And I sat through the award ceremony on the field where the first three Eagles were being interviewed, Doug Pederson the coach, Zach Ertz the wide receiver that caught the final touchdown, and Nick Foles the quarterback. And each one began with something like “I want to give glory to God” and “I give all the glory to my Lord Jesus Christ.”
I thought I was seeing a Tim Tebow or a Russell Wilson interview. What? There were more of them? You know, them crazy Christians telling the world that they are followers of Jesus Christ.
That can’t be good for their image. It’s so polarizing. It could backfire, and they could lose some important and costly endorsements. But they don’t seem to care. And in the locker room afterwards, the fanatic coach led the whole team in the Lord’s Prayer, right there in the locker room with the ESPN cameras rolling. Couldn’t they wait until they were alone? Man, what’s wrong with these guys…
But there was something quite genuine about that scene…and these 2018 Eagles. Something that went deeper than simply thanking God for the victory. You got the sense that this was more than winning, it was about being in the center stage with the world watching, and they were going to use that forum to tell the world who they are – they are followers of Jesus Christ, their Lord and Savior.
And what was Carson Wentz thinking as his backup quarterback got the world’s spotlight? Even though both are professing Christians, there’s got to be envy and bitterness, right?
It was after the game and after the locker room scene. Tony Dungy posted a photo on his Twitter. He wrote, “After all the celebrations and confetti Justin (Tony’s son) caught up with the 3 Eagles QBs Nick Foles, Carson Wentz & Nate Sudfeld along with Zach Ertz who scored the winning TD. They were in a room by themselves—praying and thanking God. It was great for [my son] to see that.” The Christianity Today article on this.
Here’s an article about their faith before the Super Bowl.
Last week, I wrote about the inclusion of women and Gentiles in the genealogy of Jesus. And then I concluded with the point that the Bible chose to identify Bathsheba as “Uriah’s wife” to highlight David’s sin rather than his many triumphs. This was to teach us that the greatest of sinners are welcomed in the love of God.
There is another person that stands out in the genealogy. His name is Judah, as in, Jesus came through the lineage of David and through the tribe of Judah. That Judah.
As I am reading Genesis, if you were to ask me which of the 12 sons of Jacob would be in the line of Jesus, Judah would not be high on my list. Reuben was the firstborn so maybe him, or perhaps Joseph who one of the last born, but he has a fantastic story! Yeah, I would have chosen Joseph. But Judah? He would be somewhere in the bottom for me. And that’s because Judah wasn’t a very good person.
Born as the 4th son of 6 sons of Leah, there wasn’t anything special about him. In fact, he went against his parents wish and married a foreign woman named Shua (Genesis 38). And then he chose a foreign woman named Tamar for his first-born son. When his first-born and then his second-born sons died, he made false promises to Tamar, his daughter-in-law to keep her away. In the ensuing back and forth, Judah paid for a prostitute not realizing that Tamar had disguised herself to get her father-in-law’s attention. He slept with his daughter-in-law (yeah, how crazy is that!), and that resulted in her pregnancy (WHAT?!?!). When he found out his widowed daughter-in-law was pregnant, he was ready to punish her until Tamar disclosed that Judah was the father! What a mess! That’s Judah. And that’s Tamar (one of the four women in the genealogy of Jesus)! Talk about having a family secret!
Why would Jesus be born through this mess of a lineage? And why would God disclose this for the whole world to see and mock?
No, not mock. The world will marvel at the amazing love of God that extends even to imperfect and really sinful people.
Romans 8:38-39 said it best, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (ESV).
Perhaps some of you have begun a Bible reading resolution this year and have embarked on reading from the beginning in Genesis, or perhaps the Gospel of Matthew.
If you began at Matthew, chapter 1 begins with a list of names that begins with Abraham and ends with Jesus, the genealogy of Jesus the Christ. And because most of the names are unfamiliar, it’s easy to skim through them and go onto chapter 2.
But chapter one is quite important.
First of all, the list includes four women. This is extraordinary in a culture that only records the names of fathers and sons. But in Jesus’ genealogy, we have, “Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar” (v.3) and “Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth” (v.5) and finally, “David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife” (v.6)— the name is Bathsheba.
Through the inclusion of women in the official genealogy of Jesus, God is honoring and validating women as being a part of God’s plan.
And then, of these four women, Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth were Gentiles! That meant Jesus was not a pure breed Jew! But rather than hiding that fact, instead of covering that up, the Bible celebrates it. God is telling the readers that not only the Jews, but gentiles were a part of God’s plan from the very beginning.
And something else.
Some time back, I was talking with a friend of mine who told me that his genealogy contained some important historical figures. He was so proud! And when we explore our own lineage, we are hoping to find great individuals that make us proud. We hope to discover important figures, and if we find bad ones, we want to hide them as if they never existed. No one wants to be related to a convicted murderer.
But in the genealogy of Jesus, among the many names listed, a good number of them were evil men! Rather than mentioning only the good ones, God chose to disclose the bad ones as well. Why?
Let’s go back to “Uriah’s wife.” While Bathsheba was General Uriah’s wife, King David stole her from him and then had him killed. That was the end of Uriah’s story. But as the new bride of the king, Bathsheba and David had a son together who became the next king. Bathsheba was known more for being the queen, and mother to King Solomon. And the Israelites didn’t want to mention Uriah in connection with her because that pointed to King David’s greatest sin. It was a national shame. However, in the listing of this genealogy, Bathsheba is identified as “Uriah’s wife.” How shameful. And fully disclosed in the genealogy of Jesus Christ! Why?
Who is included in God’s great plan of salvation? Who is included in God’s love? Jews and gentiles. Men and women. Sinners of all kinds. Right there in Matthew chapter 1 – all of them are loved by God and included in God’s plan of salvation. Love it!
One of my joys is participating in the Operation Christmas Child every year in November. The shoebox gifts that we create and send out are given to the hands of missionaries and pastors throughout the world during these winter months. And they, in turn, create a program for distribution of our gifts. Once the children are gathered, there will be singing and dancing and games. And right before the gifts are passed out, the pastor will share the meaning of Christmas, the coming of Jesus Christ and the free gift of the Almighty God who has not forgotten them and loves them – Just like these gifts given without cost to them.
However, it seems every year, some are critical of Operation Christmas Child. One year, an elementary school was attacked for hosting an Operation Christmas Child. The critics lambasted the school for bringing religion into the school since the Operation Christmas Child was more than simply taking gifts to the world’s poor, but that at the heart of the effort was to evangelize, to encourage the people to believe in Jesus. The program, they argued, is simply too Christian. But for me, that’s more the reason to support Operation Christmas Child! It excites me to know that the missionaries around the world are given another tool, another opportunity to share Jesus with the locals, and I love the fact that we can be a part of that.
This past year, I heard another criticism, a new one. An article was written by a missionary serving oversees that took issue with people giving to Operation Christmas Child but not giving to long-term missionaries. The argument was that, while it feels good to make the shoebox of gifts and send it out, it was a one-time deal with very limited effect while long-term missionaries live among the locals and are more effective. It argued that the best way to help the poor was not to hand out gifts but having a missionary walk beside them and equip them.
And as I was reading that article, I thought, “yeah, but why can’t we do both? Why must we choose one?” The long-term missionaries are vital to the Great Commission of sharing the gospel to the ends of the world and they should be supported (It’s sad that too many missionaries don’t have that regular support and I assume the article was born out of that frustration). However, programs like Operation Christmas Child can really boost the visibility of their work. They can work as partners. And that is our hope and why we support them every year.
I watched “White Christmas” last night with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye. It’s been a long time since I last watched it. The whole movie is centered around the Christmas season – even the opening scene finds our actors on stage during World War II and it’s Christmas Eve. While the war is going on, they manage to gather the soldiers around the stage to perform for them with Bing Crosby singing his famous, “I dream of white Christmas.” The new general won’t permit it, but the old general, General Waverly, knows that the soldiers need the break from the harsh reality of war. And that’s what Jesus’ birth did – Jesus ripped open human history and entered and disturbed it, offered it peace in the midst of conflict and love in the midst of hatred.
And then the scene shifted to a later Christmas season when Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, famous New York City entertainers by now, are directed by happenstance to their old general’s hotel in the mountains of Vermont where it’s summer weather with no trace of snow. The hotel was the old general’s retirement investment, but it had become a money pit, taking all of his money and pension, and without snow, no customers. He was ready to give up.
But it’s Christmas! And so the two men bring up all of their stage crew and they put on a Broadway show to a hotel that needed an act to bring people in. And they secretly invite all the soldiers who served under the general. In the end, with his men saluting him, the general realizes that he’s not a worthless broken man, but that he’s lived a worthy life. And the snow begins to fall. It’s Christmas Eve! The message of Christmas is that our self-worth is found in Jesus Christ. The world puts us down and degrades us and makes us feel worthless. However, the message of Christmas is that in God’s eyes, we are more than worth it! We are so worthy that the Son of God came to us!
I showed a video of little girl Mila last Sunday as she suggested that we ought to celebrate Christmas for what it is, a “birthday party.”
And yes, December 25th is the official birthday of Jesus. But was he really born on that day?
It would be really easy if the Gospel of Matthew began with the words, “Jesus Christ was born on December 25th, A.D. 1” But it doesn’t. The Bible doesn’t tell us the date of Jesus’ birth. And so the question, “on what day was Jesus born?”
First of all, let me address the year of his birth. The terms B.C & A.D. were created to honor Jesus’ birth. B.C. stands for “Before Christ” and A.D. is, “Anno Domini” Latin for “in the year of the Lord.” And so it was believed early on that Jesus was born on A.D. 1 (there is no year zero). In the sixth-century, a monk named Dionysius Exiguus calculated Jesus’s birth and his study was accepted as fact. However, it is now known that Exiguus was wrong. Luke 1:5 goes like this: “In the days of King Herod of Judea…” and it tells the story of John the Baptist’s birth and Jesus’ birth soon after. In other words, the Bible places Jesus’ birth during the reign of King Herod but we now know that King Herod died in 3 B.C. And so, from all things considered, we believe Jesus’ birth year falls somewhere around 4-3 B.C.
And how about his birthdate?
We know that the winter months is Palestine can be harsh for those outdoors and so shepherds would not be gathering outside at night, nor would a pregnant woman make that difficult journey in the cold and slippery mountain roads.
One ancient writer placed Jesus’ birthday at March 28 and another on November 18. A modern New Testament scholar Joseph Fitzmyer guesses, based upon historical records, that Jesus’ birth occurred sometime in mid-September, 3 B.C.
So why do we celebrate December 25th?
In the ancient times, the Romans had their biggest holiday on the week of December 17-25, the celebration of Saturnalia. The holiday itself was crude and evil – it was a state-sanctioned week of lawlessness, drunkenness, destruction and sexual depravity. And at the end of that week, on the 25th, each community chose a victim to brutally murder – and by doing so, they believed they were placing all their evil and vice on that person and thus punished by death.
In the fourth century, the church hoped to redeem this holiday and connect Jesus with the one killed, as the one who came to take up our sins and died. And so December 25th became the official birthday of Jesus the Christ.
That’s the rest of the story!
Wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving.
I want to share with you two Thanksgiving Prayers. The first one is a prayer that any parent can relate to (and connected to my recent sermon series on having a heart of gratitude). The second one is a prayer asking God for a thankful heart. I hope they minister to your heart today and always.
“Lord, I pray that the message of Christ and his sacrifice is the root of gratitude in my heart. That His gracious gift leads me to thankful living, setting an example for my children. That they will have their own relationship with Jesus one day, and that You would grow gratitude in their hearts out of the acceptance of Jesus as their Savior. Lead us to do everything in the name of Jesus and give thanks to You through Him. Amen.” – Marie Osborne
“Lord, teach me to offer you a heart of thanksgiving and praise in all my daily experiences of life. Teach me to be joyful always, to pray continually and to give thanks in all my circumstances. I accept them as Your will for my life. I long to bring pleasure to Your heart daily. Break the power of the enemy in my life. Defeat him through my sacrifice of praise. Change my outlook and attitude into one of joyful contentment with my present circumstances. I thank You for… [Name a difficult circumstance in your life presently and thank God for it.] Jesus, I want to be like You who obeyed the Father without complaint. You embraced the chains of humanity when You walked this earth. Convict me whenever I complain or compare myself with others. Give me Your attitude of humility and thankful acceptance. I want to be like the Apostle Paul who learned contentment in every circumstance. I choose to continually offer You a sacrifice of praise, the fruit of lips that give praise to Your name (Hebrews 13:15). I long to bring a smile to Your face. Teach me the power of a thankful heart. I know that Your truth dwells in a thankful heart. In Jesus’ name, Amen.” – Debbie Przybylski, Intercessors Arise International]
Earlier this week, I had to drive around the Montclair area. They have a lot of constructions going on these days and some roads are blocked or coned off.
I was coming down one street when I saw a handful of cones in my way – the cones were lined to direct me to a right turn, but no detour sign and no visible arrow. But the other side was open with cars driving passed me. I slowed down to assess the situation – what is going on, what work is being done, is there another way to go without having to turn right and enter Brookdale Park where there is no other way but to loop around the whole park.
And as I was assessing, and there was no car behind me, a police officer who was sitting in his cruiser facing me, came out with this angry look on his face and with a full waving of his right arm and twisting his body, he yelled, “DRIVE!” pointing to the cones and demanding I make the right turn, RIGHT NOW. He grimaced at me like I had just committed an egregious crime or something.
I lifted up my left hand above my steering wheel, open hand, and mouthed the words, “What’s your problem?”
And then I thought, I hope he’s not following me.
I could just wave this off and say that the guy must have missed his breakfast, or that he had a fight with his wife before he came to work. Or something. But he could have been polite. He could have smiled and pointed to the cones and apologized for not having a detour sign. He could have done a number of things better. He could have represented his profession better.
And in that light, I guess we can represent ourselves better as well. In the workplace, in the home and with friends, we can all represent ourselves better.
I’m reading the history books in the Old Testament, and I came upon a story of David in one of his many battles (1 Samuel 30:1-25). In it, David and his men returned from fighting to discover their city completely destroyed. While they were gone, the Amalekites had come and taken all their women and all their possessions, and then burned down the city.
The men were angry and they turned on David. “If you didn’t have us leave our women and our homes to fight your battles, this wouldn’t have happened!” They must have argued. In response, David turned to the Lord for help. God instructs him to go after the Amalekites and that God himself would ensure victory for them. And so David and his men ran after them. During the difficult chase, as they were trying to make up the distance, 200 of his 600 men grew tired and couldn’t go on. And so leaving the 200, the 400 continued on with David. They finally caught up, and then in one day, with God’s help, they completely destroyed the Amalekites and recovered their women and goods. And none of David’s men were harmed!
On their return, they met up with the 200. The 400 men told them, since they didn’t join them in the fight, they could have their women back but that would be it. They couldn’t join in the sharing of the bounty. David thought differently. And so he addressed the 400 fighters:
“No, my brothers, you must not do that with what the Lord has given us. He has protected us and delivered into our hands the raiding party that came against us…all will share alike.” (v.23-24)
This impressed all the men so much so that this became the law of the land when David became the king later.
There are two truths at work here. First of all, there is the godly principle of sharing. It was the right thing to do, to share from their bounty with people who did not have. And David was pointing that out. Those who have more should always be willing to share with those who have less. The second point is an important theological reflection. David pointed out the truth that they all knew in their hearts. While they did the fighting, no life was lost because God had directed them and led them and protected them. It was God’s battle and he gave them victory. And so no one else should take the credit. And when David said it, they all had to agree because it was true. I’m sure God was like, “that’s my David!”
And as I was reading this, I thought to myself: for all David’s problems and failures, I’m sure this is the reason God loved him so dearly. He always had a right perspective with respect to God.
Today, after you read this, can you spend a minute or two just giving thanks to God and making a list of the reasons to give thanks?
Here and there, I read up on stories that I might use in one of my sermons. Some of them bring a smile to my face, but I wouldn’t know how to use them. Here’s one from that batch. I titled it, “Best Pick Up Line”:
A middle-aged man, hearing that a cruise might be the best place to meet a soul-mate, decided to take a cruise to the Caribbean islands. On the first day out, he spotted an attractive woman about his age who looked his way and smiled. With a jolt of confidence, he decided to walk passed her and to his joy, she kept her eyes on him and kept her smile. That evening, he managed to get seated at the same table with her for dinner. As they conversed, he mentioned how he saw her on the deck earlier and that he found her smile to be quite attractive. When she heard that, she smiled and replied, “Well, the reason I smiled was when I saw you, I was struck by how strongly you resembled my second husband.” The man looked surprised, “Oh, how many times have you been married?” She looked down at her plate, smiled and answered quietly, “only once.”
Hahaha. So, how do I use this in my sermon?
Having been away for a few weeks, I came upon a great article written by one of our own, Jung-ah Choi for Kappan Magazine, a magazine for educators K-12. It’s titled, “Why I’m Not Involved: Parental Involvement from a Parent’s Perspective.”
In it, she shares her experience with her son’s teacher and the idea of teacher-parent partnership. It’s an excellent read with a great insight into that awkward dynamic. I was nodding my head throughout the reading.
Yet another communion Sunday is before us. And that means the plate with the matzo pieces will be passed around along with small cups of grape juice. And some of you may cringe at the sight of children grabbing them and eating and drinking without proper understanding of what they are doing. I think our loving God has a big enough heart of understanding for our little ones when they don’t quite know what they are doing. However, it is also true that parents and adults must teach their young ones as early as possible about the reason why we do what we do.
To help with this, here’s a story told by Helen Roseveare in her book, Enough!:
Miss Candy asked me to go to the locker by her bedside and bring her the photo that was there. As I gave it to her she said, “This is my father.” I knew at once what she was saying. Her father had been dead for many years. The photo reminded her of her father. Likewise the bread and wine were to be reminders to us of what Jesus had done for us on the cross.
What a great illustration we can use to teach our children about communion! You can even make it personal by showing your children a photo of their own grandparents to them them!
When Jesus said to his disciples, and to us, “do this in remembrance of me,” certainly he had this in mind – like a photograph of our beloved in our hands. We are to remember Jesus, that God became flesh and blood for us. And that on the cross, his body was broken and his blood shed for us. That is what we are holding in our hands.
And what about the concept of eating and drinking?
I went to a famous donut shop in the city with my wife. There were a lot of unique donuts inside the display case and from it, we chose three to eat. And they were yummy.
Now, when I tell friends about this donut shop, I don’t tell them about all the donuts we saw in the display case, I tell them about the three we ate – because we ate them and so we know them. Other donuts, they looked good, but we don’t know much else. With those three, we ate them and they tasted so good.
And so we see the bread and the grape juice at the Table. And then we take them into our hands and we consume them. In so doing, we know Jesus inside of us.
In Psalm 68, there is a line that excites me. It goes, “Father of orphans and protector of widows is God” (NRSV).
Other deities want to claim that they are gods of champions and the mighty. They want to be gods to kings and the wealthy. But surprisingly, the God of the Bible chooses to be associated with the downtrodden, the defeated and the powerless, the social outcasts. And that surprises me.
If I am a farmer, I want to be associated with the best produce. After growing the most delicious fruits and the freshest vegetables, I want to stand right next to my work as the shoppers stop to marvel at the bright colors of my large fruits and the freshness of the green vegetables. And I will be there to soak it all in, receiving the glory that is due me as the expert farmer. I think deities are like that. They want to be linked with victory and winning. They want to be associated with lottery winners and winners of elections, they want to be backing the one that was crowned the monarch. That way, gods can claim they had given them success. They want to claim that their power had done it.
And our God certainly can do all of that and more. He is there with those who succeed in life and proclaim God’s glory, and he is with those that win gold medals and with those who score touchdowns and point upwards to God.
But our God wants to be associated with those that didn’t win, those that weren’t successful, those who lost loved ones and feel abandoned by the world. They don’t have anyone to turn to, but God chooses to be there in their midst. And God wants them to know that fact.
In the ancient times, the orphans had nothing. They had no homes, no money, no line they could grab to succeed. And so they lived in the streets, and they fought for every meal, every penny. And the widows were the same. With their husbands dead, and no means of support (because women were not allowed to work outside the home), they had very little. Maybe nothing. And the society passed by them and did nothing to help. No one cared. But God is saying to them, “I choose to be your God.” That’s just amazing.
Who are the orphans and widows of our day? God says to them, “I am your Father and your protector.” As I think this, I am overcome with pride that I worship an amazing, just amazing God who cares so much about us – I mean, every one of us, that not one person is beyond his reach and care.
This past Sunday, the sermon was about finding joy in the midst of suffering. In order to do that, we need to believe that God is near and that he listens to our prayer and does what is best. That’s the way we get rid of our anxiety and replace it with peace. And in that peace, we are to fill our mind with good thoughts, and fill our lives with good actions. Remember?
And I encouraged you to read a good book, or watch an uplifting movie. And of course, read the Bible that fills our mind with the best thoughts.
Here’s a story that I had been following for some time. It’s a story about Jake Olson, a student at University of Southern California. Eight years ago, when Olson was 12, then coach Pete Carroll heard about a boy who lost his left eye to retinoblastoma (rare eye cancer) when he was 10 months old, and then was about to lose his right eye, rendering him completely blind for life. The boy was a big fan of USC football and always dreamed of playing for them. Hearing about his story, Pete Carroll invited Olson to visit the team and he was able to rub shoulders with the players. In fact, the day before the surgery, as the last thing he would see, he asked to go and watch his favorite team practice. The next day, he lost sight of his remaining eye.
But he still wanted to play; he didn’t want blindness to kill his dream. And he realized that the only way a blind player could possibly enter a football game was if he could be a long snapper for kickers. And so he practiced and practiced and made his way to become a starting long snapper for his high school varsity team for two years. And then he entered his dream school two years ago.
In his freshman year, he walked onto the football field, and for two years, he has been long snapping for the kickers during practices.
And last Saturday, in the first game of the season, he entered a game against Western Michigan as a long snapper for USC and snapped a ball perfectly for the extra point try. And with that, the stadium erupted.
There is a quote by him after the game in LA Times,
“There’s a beauty in it. If you can’t see how God works things out, then I think you’re the blind one.”
The latest headline at USA Today took me by surprise. “Harvey to be costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, with an estimated cost of $160 billion.” – this estimate coming from AccuWeather which went on to say the final cost of Harvey will equal the sum of the costs inflicted by Hurricane Katrina AND Sandy. They are calling this a 1,000-year flood. For the city of Houston alone, the cost could rise to $50 billion in losses according to Houston Chronicle.
And personally, I think that my surprise was in part due to my lack of attention to the latest news these days, and the false alarms we’ve had in the past concerning destructive storms. However, it seems I wasn’t the only one. Another article headline reads, “Hurricane Harvey developed so fast it took national forecasters by surprise.” A major reason the damage was so extensive was because the after it made landfall, the storm stalled and remained in one location rather than continuing on its path.
Here are some of the reports: In one rainfall reading in Houston, they recorded 51.88 inches (that’s more than four feet!). As of today, the death count stands at 31 and many more injured. Houston Police Department alone has rescued more than 3,500 people. Harris County which includes Houston reported that up to 30% of the land had flooded. The mayor of Port Arthur wrote on his Facebook, “Our whole city is underwater.” In all, so far, about 30,000 to 40,000 homes have been destroyed, and USA Today is reporting that about 80% do not have flood insurance.
Let’s keep the affected people in our prayers. And let’s converse about how we can help.
I write today about a fascinating young lady named Lady Jane Grey. She is also referred to as the “Nine Days Queen.”
Lady Jane was born in 1537 during the tumultuous time in England. She was great-grand daughter of Henry VII, niece to Henry VIII, and relative of Edward VI who happened to be the king of England and Ireland at the time.
When King Edward was only 15 years old, and she was only 16, he became deathly ill, and on his deathbed, drafted a will declaring Lady Jane to be his successor. There were two possible candidates to the throne, both women – Lady Jane, aged 16 and King Edward’s half-sister Mary I, aged 37. But King Edward was staunchly Protestant while Mary was a Roman Catholic. And so he chose Lady Jane who shared the same faith. And so after Edward’s death, according to his will and by the agreement of the court, Jane, aged 16, was officially proclaimed Queen on July 10, 1553.
However, Mary rejected Jane’s coronation and decided to mount a challenge to the throne. And within a few days, her support base grew so that on July 19, 9 days later, the government changed their position and rejected King Edward’s will and Mary was proclaimed the new Queen. Those who supported Jane changed sides or was met with death.
We get the term “Bloody Mary” from her – she was so upset by the Protestants that in her five-year reign, she burned 280 protestants at the stake and many more were exiled.
Lady Jane herself was kept in confinement so that she could not rally people around her, and Queen Mary sent her own priest to try to convert her so that her life could at least be spared. However, Lady Jane wouldn’t do it. Even though she was so young, she was quite educated and strong in her reformed faith. And so on February 12, 1554, at the age of 16, Lady Jane was executed by beheading.
Now, here’s the part that gave me goosebumps.
As she was led up to her execution, she gave her final speech toward the people, again I emphasize, she’s only 16:
I pray you all good Christian people to bear me witness that I die a true Christian woman and that I do look to be saved by no other mean, but only by the mercy of God, in the merits of the blood of his only son Jesus Christ. I confess when I did know the word of God I neglected the same and loved myself and the world, and therefore this plague or punishment is happily and worthily happened unto me for my sins. I thank God of his goodness that he has given me a time and respite to repent.
Now good people, I pray you to assist me with your prayers. Now good people, while I am alive, I pray you to assist me with your prayers.”
Perhaps it was about 10 years ago. I was coming out of McDonald’s one day at a small isolated town in Los Angeles. Two little boys were standing by the cars. And as I approached, one of the boys called me with an Asian slur. I was flabbergasted. Of course, I was angry at first, but seeing this little mass of misguided hatred, I was sorry for him. Of course he must have learned it at home, or he was taught that by his racist friends and his parents didn’t correct him.
Racism is obviously evil. It’s evil because it’s hatred and divisive and it’s absolutely contrary to the heart of God. Racism hurts God at his core because God is the creator of all the people of the world. And as our Creator, he has no favoritism – and when he does favor one over against another, it’s to the ones who are rejected and marginalized, oppressed and beaten down. God’s heart goes out to the hurting and the discriminated against.
And that our God is the Creator means that we are all related, bound together as a global family. Others have said this better, and so let me introduce to you two articles:
Our denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA) issued an official statement that’s worth your time.
And I know that many of you enjoy Tim Keller, and he’s added his voice to it.
Apostle Paul had his supporters, but he also had his haters. Some loved him because he was passionate, ambitious, head-strong, and driven. I think I just used four synonyms. But that was Paul. He was a scholar who could answer all the tough questions, and a fearless missionary that went out to unreached places for the Gospel.
But some hated him because he used to round up Christians for jail or for worse. But that was before he met Jesus Christ and his life went 180. But some never forgot his past. Some had lost their homes and some lives were ruined as a result of his past deeds. And so, as he became more and more important to the church, the more and more some despised him.
And even as praiseworthy stories arose about Paul’s successful church planting work, some people secretly, and openly, hoped that he would fail. And some took a more active stance and visited the churches Paul planted and created problems for him.
For instance, in Corinth, Paul was proud of the fact that he didn’t receive a pastor’s salary while planting and serving that church for 18 months. Rather, he worked as a tentmaker and he received support from other churches. He wrote in 1 Corinthians 9 how other pastors took salary as their right but that he chose to share the gospel free of charge, and that this was his boast. It looks like Paul’s enemies came to Corinth and questioned Paul’s motive in rejecting the fund. They suggested that Paul rejected their financial gift because he didn’t actually love them. Love was about sharing lives and giving and receiving of love gifts but that he had rejected theirs. In 2 Corinthians, Paul is incredulous, “And why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do!” (2 Cor 11:11). He must have thought – “How could they think that of me? Don’t they know me? I was with them for 18 months!” I am sure in those times, he turned to Jesus who understands him completely. I think Jesus would say to him, “and I was with mine for 3 years.”
There are times in our lives when our intention is good but it’s not received in the same light. We mean well, but others question our motive. We try to do what is best, but people doubt our hearts. In those times, look to Paul, look to Christ. And know that everything is going to all okay because our God knows and that’s good enough.
So, I finally got my Highlander “smog check” done (that’s how we call it in CA – I believe it’s called emission test here). A long story, but in a nut shell, our car was giving us the red lights on the front panel that told us the car had an emission problem. This was on for some time, but with the impending mandated emission test, this became an issue. With those lights on, the MVC was definitely going to fail the test.
The diagnosis had declared the car had a catalytic converter problem and it needed to be replaced. But that’s a costly job. And so I wanted to pass the emission test without having to do so – you know, sneak by for another two years. I tried everything that google search recommended: I tried the detaching the battery to restart the car diagnostics a handful of times, I checked for loose fuel cap because that could trigger the red lights, I changed the air filter, I checked all the circuit breakers, et cetera and et cetera. Nothing worked. And the deadline was fast approaching.
And so guess what I did? I gave up trying to avoid the inevitable and went to my local mechanic and had the catalytic converter replaced. The lights disappeared, the car passed the test, and we are good, hopefully for the life of the car!
Of course, there is a spiritual lesson to be learned here. If there is a problem in life – especially if it is a spiritual one…a problem with God and you, there is no better solution than to face God straight on and get it fixed; get it resolved. There really is no other way around it. 🙂
So on Monday morning, I went to Sears Auto Center at Wayne to get a set of new tires for our Toyota Highlander. I knew it also needed a four-wheel alignment, and so I got that done as well.
The wheel part of the automobile works like this: the tires need to be in good shape with enough tread to grip the road when the road gets wet or icy. And those tires are attached to the wheels and those are attached to the suspension. When the car hits pot hole, or goes over a bump, or hits a curb, or anything like that, the suspension can get out of alignment and they need to be corrected. Essentially, the tires are misaligned. If left uncorrected, the unaligned wheels offer a bumpy ride, an uneven wear on the tires, and lower gas mileage. Look at me, I write like I know what I’m talking about.
Anyway, our Highlander has been giving us a bumpy ride for some time. At first, I thought the roads were bad, but I had to admit that I needed it badly when I checked my old tires.
And so, with the new set of tires and the alignment done, I took my car from Sears and drove home on the 46 and 3. What a difference the alignment made! I was like, “Why didn’t I get this done earlier?!?!”
And there is a truth in there. Wheel alignment is one of those things that can be deferred – pushed off to a later time. The car is going to drive fine, and in most cases, it’s okay to drive with some misalignment. However, a misaligned car will not give you the smoothest ride, the tires will drive a little bit noisier, and the car is not at its most fuel efficient. But once you take time to get the alignment done, you and your car are happier for it.
That’s like that with our relationship with God. Because our God is so gracious and full of mercy and love towards us, he allows us space to practice faith in joy or to neglect faith and struggle through life. We all know that practicing faith is a good thing. It’s beneficial to us. It’s aligning ourselves with God. However, we can push it off to another day, another week, another month. And in the process, we don’t live in fullness of life. Rather, we live with a troubled spirit, a discontentment, frustration, regret, anxiety.
There is a fix to all of that. Get your spiritual life aligned with God today. How? Step aside from your computer and your smart phone. Get to a comfy chair, fold your hands together, close your eyes, and begin, “God, I am tired and I need an alignment.” Begin like that and enjoy God’s response to you.
I was at Sears Auto Center at Wayne this morning. I needed new tires and they had what I was looking for on sale. And Groupon had a wheel alignment deal that I needed, and so it all made sense. Replace the tires and then get an alignment. And I decided to wait there because they told me the job would take less than 2 hours. It took a hair less than 2.
While I was waiting, a gentleman came into the store and he wasn’t happy camper. Apparently he got a brake job done there recently but the car was making squeaking noises and so he returned. That happens sometimes with new pads. Well, he wanted the brakes checked, and he let them know that it was still covered under warranty. The lady wrote up the order and told him, “it will take about an hour and a half.”
And that triggered it. “An hour and a half?!?! Just to check my brakes? Why would it take an hour and a half!?!?” She responded, “Well, there are other customers and we need to take them in order.” Not the answer he was looking for. “I could be here at 7:30 in the morning and wait 30 minutes for you guys to open this store. My car can be the first one, and you will still tell me it’ll take an hour and a half! You guys are so lazy. You guys stand around and drink coffee and do small talk and don’t work on the d*** cars!”
After about 30 minutes of this, he demanded his keys back and left, “I’ve been a customer here for 30 years! Never again! I’ll never come here again!”
Aren’t you glad that prayer doesn’t work that way?
Our God declared in Isaiah 65:24, “I will answer them before they even call on me. While they are still talking about their needs, I will go ahead and answer their prayers” (New Living Translation).
We serve an amazing God! And so boldly and with expectation, let’s pray for ourselves, let’s pray for one another.
I am reading 1 Corinthians these days and today, I stopped at chapter 13, the Love Chapter. It’s a popular reading at weddings and so most of us know it. But as I read it slowly, it washed and refreshed my soul. I think you will agree that the passage kind of cleans your soul and sets it right. Read it slowly and pause after each line. This is God’s Word. This is God’s love.
Love is patient.
Love is kind.
Love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.
Love does not insist on its own way.
Love is not irritable or resentful.
Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.
Love bears all things,
believes all things,
hope all things,
endures all things.
Love never ends.
The first five lines say that love is about caring for others. It’s others-centered living. That’s Jesus in a nutshell!
And then the next line is about doing right, love is about right and truthful living. I thought about the woman who was accused of adultery and how alone she felt and how Jesus sided with her against the injustice of the moment (John 8). Love it!
And then the passage goes on, love bears, believes, hopes, endures…love is about faith and hope that brings us on our knees before Jesus. The image of the woman bleeding for 12 years was about this (Luke 8).
And finally, love is eternal because God is eternal. Hatred and evil will cease one day. But love will triumph over all. What a great hope we have. Love it!
But this famous passage has an opening paragraph that goes, “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” This love chapter is really a call for us to love as God loves. It’s a call to make this kind of love as the foundation of all our thoughts, words, and actions!
Take a large breath, in and out. And then read the above passage again with that perspective. Am I loving today?
I thought about a short film I watched when I was in youth group. It was titled, “Music Box.”
It’s a story of a man who lived a boring life of work and family until one day, he encounters a group of angels that lift up his heart with a song about Jesus and then leaves him a music box he could enjoy at his leisure. Opening it, the music once again fills his heart with joy and he dances on the street and greets his wife with a kiss and a smile. His wife notices the change and asks, “What’s wrong, Dear?” But he won’t tell anyone. Not even his wife. Day and night, alone with the music box, he dances and hums along. He won’t share his joy. And then…
Give yourself 30 minutes today and watch it on YouTube: Music Box
And let’s invite our family and friends, and our neighbors to church this Sunday – and stay together for the picnic!