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.
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.
Luke 1: Joy and Family (October 3, 2018)
The Gospel of Luke was written to gentle Christians who lived outside the region of Israel and wondered if they were second-best. Jesus was born in Israel and his ministry was contained within the land of Israel, and so, maybe they were simply receiving the crumbs that had fallen off the table. It is to them that Luke wrote this two-part book on Jesus and the Church (Acts) to declare that those living outside Israel were equally in God’s plan from the very beginning. And that’s great news for us who are also gentiles.
There are some themes that stand out in Luke – concern for those in the social margins (women, poor, sinners), salvation for all, the importance of the family unit, importance of prayer, the exuberant joy that comes from divine encounter, and the Holy Spirit.
In chapter 1, we find some of those themes surfacing. The important place of women in the beginning of the gospel is notable. In a patriarchal society where men are always front and center, it’s refreshing to see Luke placing such importance on the role of women in the coming of John the Baptist and Jesus.
And then there are these two themes:
The sense of joy fills the chapter– To a couple, Zechariah and Elizabeth, who were resigned to living without a child to raise and to carry on the family name, God blessed them with a news of a miracle baby, and then it happened exactly like God said it would! They are filled with joy! Also for Mary, the idea that she would become pregnant with a baby through the Holy Spirit would cause anyone to be filled with worry and fear. However, Mary is filled with another emotion – joy! She and Elizabeth come together as the most blessed of women, and there is more joy! Mary is so happy that she breaks out in a song!
Luke reminds us that this is our natural reaction when we encounter God. Where are you on the Joy Meter today?
The importance of the family unit– This chapter is the birth and call of John the Baptist. However, all of that was first relayed to his parents, Zachariah and Elizabeth. When the angel visited Zachariah with the news, it wasn’t a short message of, “You are going to have a baby boy.” It was a full-blown disclosure on why God was giving them the child – and clear instructions on how they should raise him and what his role will be in God’s plan. All of that even before John was born! And we can assume that he shared that information with his wife (see Elizabeth’s reaction when her baby leapt in her womb at the sight of Mary and her pregnancy). And after John was born, his father proclaimed to everyone his son’s calling “to prepare the way for the Lord.” When God finally approached John the Baptist, John already knew it was coming because his parents told him. God had spoken to the whole family.
What does that say about how God interacts with your family? And parents, are you in tune with God’s will and direction for your children?
Enjoy reading Luke 1 this week!
Reading Thru the Bible (September 26, 2018)
Every now and then, Jeopardy! with Alex Trebek will include a subject on the Bible. And in most cases, the contestants get all the right answers (or say the right questions). And I am surprised because many of the questions are not easy. But perhaps I shouldn’t be since Bible remains on the top of the best-selling booklist year after year. I guess it’s right that people, whether they are Christians or not, know the Bible – it is a great classic.
However, we know that there is a difference between knowing what the Bible is about and believing it to be the very words of God. There’s a difference between head knowledge and practical knowledge, a knowledge meant to be put into action.
And that’s the real reason we say that Christians read the Bible. If we want to get the gist of what the Bible is about, we can get that by reading a Wikipedia version. However, if we want to hear from God in our reading, if we are active reading, then we need to open our Bibles with our hearts open to God’s instructions. However, it would be good to know all those head knowledge answers. 🙂
For this next 15 months (October 2018 – December 2019), we are going to try to do both – head and practical knowledge. The 180 chapters were selected by the people at The NIV Student Bible, Revised from the 1,189 chapters of the Bible as representative of the whole. In other words, these 180 chapters are the highlights that touch upon most of the famous stories and passages. And by reading them, and by my preaching on them, we should gain both head knowledge, and practical knowledge. That’s our hope.
The chapters are set in chronological order – the Old Testament books begin with creation and end with the future Messianic expectation. And the New Testament begins with John the Baptist, and conclude with the future glory in heaven. We will be reading both the Old Testament and the New Testament every week, walking in order. And before each week, I will be preaching from among the texts we will be reading that week (This coming Sunday, I am preaching from Genesis 1).
And so let’s journey together and walk through the Bible. And in our reading, let’s allow the Holy Spirit to uncover nuggets of great truths that prompts our acts of love.
Yom Kippur for Christians? (September 19, 2018)
In the Bible, it’s called the Day of Atonement. It was a two-fold event – firstly, it was a day in which the Jewish people dealt with the sins of the past year. At the altar of sacrifice, they brought their animal, and with the placing of their hands on its head, transferred their year’s sins on it as it was killed. With its death, the judgment of God for those sins was satisfied. And secondly, having dealt with their sins, the people could look forward to the new year with a clean slate. And so there was weeping over past sins, and a celebration over starting anew.
In modern times, an observing Jew will spend this day away from work and in complete rest, a time of fasting before God. No food. No water. In fast, they give complete attention to God as they lay out their past sins (a critical self-assessment) before Him. And then, checking them off, one by one, they resolve to not commit the same sins in the coming year. Missing in this ritual, however, is the altar and the sacrifice. The Temple at Jerusalem where the altar stood was destroyed by the Romans in the first century and it was never rebuilt. And so the Yom Kippur sacrifice stopped for almost 2,000 years. But then, how do they resolve their sins? Well, they hope that God will understand their situation and have mercy on them.
In the New Testament, the writer of Hebrews addressed the practice of the Day of Atonement this way: “But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:3-4). In other words, the Day of Atonement is good for what it is – an important day set aside to remind ourselves that we are sinners. And the animal sacrifices were a visible representation of the ugliness of our sins, nothing more. In other words, the Day of Atonement was a day in which the people gathered before God to ask, “What can be done with our sins? How can we remove them? How can we be restored to you, O God?”
Hebrews goes on to say that all those sacrificed animals pointed to the coming perfect sacrifice that COULD take away our sins: Our Lord Jesus Christ. And so he wrote, “Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many” (9:27), and “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (10:10). “For by one sacrifice, Jesus has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (10:13).
I think it would be wonderful to spend some time today, the Day of Atonement, to reflect on our sins. Like the observing Jews, we ought to spend time in introspection and lay our sins before God, at the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ. There, we find forgiveness of our sins, the cleaning of our slate, the joy of a cleansed life unto life eternal. Let’s end with a shout, “Thank you, Jesus!”
“Abraham: Father of Faith” (September 12, 2018)
Genesis 12:10-3 is one of the most referred-to passages in the Bible. “Now the LORD said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’”
It’s the call of Abram (later renamed Abraham) that launched God’s salvation plan for humankind. It’s because Abraham said YES to God that he became the Father of Israel, and as Paul would argue, the original Father of the Church (Romans 4).
In the calling scene, God came to Abraham with an offer he couldn’t resist. God offered him three things: 1) Land – God told him to leave Ur and his extended family and go to a land God had chosen (the “Promised Land”), 2) Son – that God would make him a great nation meant that this barren couple would have a son to carry on the family name, and 3) God – among many deities, Abraham would choose to worship Him.
Now, Abraham was a seller of idols. And he did good business because Ur was a city located right along the trade route that connected Asia with the Middle East and Europe. And travelers were always looking for deities who could protect them and bless them on their long journeys. And so Abraham had a whole collection of deities to choose from. God was telling him to abandon all the rest and choose Him. From Abraham’s perspective, that may or may not be a good thing. What if God wasn’t the most powerful deity? What if he offends a greater deity by choosing this God? And so that offer didn’t really stir Abraham’s heart.
And he lived in one of the best cities around. It had a thriving economy. Not only did the many travelers spend their money, Ur was located around the Mesopotamia and its large rivers. There were plenty of rich fields for both farming and herding. There weren’t a lot of cities like Ur. And so leaving his extended family and going to another location wasn’t that attractive either.
However, the promise of becoming a great nation surely excited him. He was already 75 years old and his wife was 65. And having no child between them, they had settled for raising their nephew Lot as their own. They thought their family line would end with them. But then God offered them a chance to change all that. If they made God their God and if they moved out and followed Him, then they could bear a son to continue their line?!? Even though they were old, is that possible?
Faith is always borne out of a great need. And in this case, God had exposed their great longing for a child and that prompted their act of faith. They departed Ur and left with God for the Promised Land.
And we think, Sarah must have become pregnant right away, right? She didn’t. She didn’t become pregnant for another 25 years. Isaac was finally born when she was 90! During the 25 anxious years of waiting, they might have thought God was being cruel, or that he didn’t have much power, or that he just simply lied. But the waiting period was God’s way of building their faith. Trust me. Follow me. Look to me. Wait on me. That’s why Abraham became known as the “Father of Faith.” I don’t see that title as hailing Abraham as a model of perfect faith. He wasn’t always that faithful—he had his ups and downs, moments of great faith and moments of great failures. However, his life exemplified “living in faith” – waiting patiently, and sometimes, not so patiently, for the fulfilment of God’s promises. Having abandoned his extended family and his city and gone all in, God made sure that Abraham clung onto Him the rest of his life. His life was a life of faith. It’s a lesson for us today.
What lessons do you see that can be applied to you today? I would love you hear from you.