Happy Talk

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.

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?

Cain AbelIf 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!

the-angels-song-and-the-shepherds-visitBut 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:

20180801144136The 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. 🙂

Reading thru BibleFor 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)

Yom-KippurIn 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.

 

“Wedding Sermon” (August 29, 2018)

My nephew is getting married on December 1stthis year. I got a call from him last month asking me if I can officiate the wedding. I was quite surprised because I thought he and his fiancé were plugged into their church and so their pastor would be the one to officiate. He didn’t go into detail but that they were looking for another church and so it would be great if Uncle Jin can officiate. Of course, I was honored to do so. And my older sister would be upset if I refused.

And that got me thinking about a wedding sermon.

Some time back, a couple came to my office and asked me to explain to them the Ephesian passage that goes, “Wives, summit yourselves to your husbands as you do to the Lord” (Eph 5:22). They wanted to know what that meant. How can a woman blindly submit? What if he makes bad decisions? What is she makes better ones? They wanted to be faithful to the Bible, but this passage was hard to understand.

And so I explained to them. Apostle Paul, the writer of that passage, was a pastor who wrote to congregations to address particular situations. For example, he told the Corinthian church to not let a woman speak in the church (1 Cor 14:34). But he had women teachers among his ministry team! Obviously, something was going on in the Corinthian church that Paul had to address.

And so, in the Ephesian church, there were probably conflicts among couples that needed to be addressed. Perhaps there were a handful of wives who nagged their husbands all the time and put them down constantly. And so, Paul was telling the women, “wives, submit yourselves to your husbands.” Can you just stop your nagging and give your husbands a little room? Make him feel good, help him feel like a champion. Lift him up. Submit a little.

But Paul had instructions for the husbands as well. He told them, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:25). I overheard a woman say to another, “the man who asked me to marry him is not the man I am married to today.” What does that mean? “The man who asked me to marry him was kind and loving, he surprised me with gifts and took me to fancy places. My husband today does nothing like that.” I laughed. But it’s all too true.

I think about the way I was when I was dating my wife. The words were kind and considerate, and I was attentive to listen to her concerns. And I have to admit that that’s not me today. It’s for people like me that Paul wrote, “Husbands, love your wives once more – like the way you loved her when you dated her.”

We all need to work on our loving, don’t we?

 

Everyone Get the Hell Out of MY Church!” (July 5, 2018)

Those were the words uttered by a priest who was presiding over a funeral last week in the Saint Mary’s Catholic Church in Maryland.

Cell phones captured a video of a livid priest who grew angry as one of the attendees knocked over and damaged the church’s sacred golden cup used in mass (Catholic communion). Apparently, it was an open casket funeral, and the people came up to say their last farewells when one of the attendees leaned over to give the dead Agnes Hicks a hug and accidentally bumped into the chalice near the altar. It fell to the floor.

The priest got up from his seat angry and, according to the video recording, shouted, “There will be no funeral. There will be no mass. No repass. Everyone get the hell out of my church!”

The grieving daughter was most offended when the priest yelled out, “get this thing out of my church!” She said later, “He disrespected our family, he disrespected my mother. He called my mother ‘a thing.’”

The Archdiocese of Washington issued a prompt apology that read, “What occurred at St. Mary’s Parish this morning does not reflect the Catholic Church’s fundamental calling to respect and uplift the God-given dignity of every person nor does that incident represent the pastoral approach the priest of the Archdiocese of Washington commit to undertake every day in their ministry.”

I think they blew it in the response. I was most offended, as a pastor, to the priest claiming that the church was HIS church. Every part of what he did and said was offensive, however, I was most offended at his claim that the church belonged to him. Every church belongs to Jesus Christ who alone is the head. This priest actually thought he was the head, in place of Jesus! I am saddened for the members under his care.

The church belongs to no one else. It doesn’t belong to the people who founded the church and raised funds to build it. It doesn’t belong to the denomination that might wave the legal papers to prove their right to it. Every church that proclaims Jesus as Lord and Savior belongs to Jesus and him alone. We are the body. And pastors and priests, we are simply servants assisting Jesus in HIS ministry.

 

Book Recommendation: First Year of Marriage (May 22, 2018)

While we were visiting my family and attending Charis’ graduation, we had a large Mother’s Day lunch together. My older sister also has three children and in the same order as ours – two boys and then a daughter. Her two boys are older – one was married last year, and the second one is getting married later this year. So this second one and his fiancé were sitting in front of me at this lunch. And so I asked them about their wedding preparation and then asked, “Are you going through premarital counseling?” They told me that they had gone through it last year and that they probably needed a refresher.

And so I gave them a book recommendation.

FirstYearMarriageI don’t recommend a lot of books other than the Bible. But I came across a great book about marriage last year and I thought it would be great for them. It’s titled, First Year of Marriage: The Newlywed’s Guide to Building a Strong Foundation and Adjusting to Married Life, 2nd Edition (2017) by Marcus and Ashley Kusi.

The title is misleading, or maybe the better way of saying it is that the wise words conveyed to the newly married can be equally applied to the long-time married. It might even be more effective for long-time married couples to get back to some of the basics. Indeed, having been married for almost 26 years, I found each chapter really refreshing and introspective, filled with a lot of common-sense relationship methods delivered in creative ways. No chapter was boring. I should also let you know that this isn’t a “Christian” book about a “Christian marriage” – it’s simply about marriage and making it a blessing for both. And maybe that’s why I liked it so much.

And so I want to recommend this book to you as well. I think some of you can even use it for small groups to share what you learned together!

 

Who was Judas & What was His Motivation? (April 4, 2018)

Jesus Christ Superstar“Jesus Christ Superstar” remake was shown on NBC this past Easter Sunday. John Legend playing Jesus and Sara Bareilles playing Mary Magdalene headlined the made-for-TV Broadway musical play. But many know that the real star of the play is Judas Iscariot. The play opens with Judas singing “Heaven On Their Minds” and concludes with him singing, as the dead Judas, “Superstar.” Jesus’ crucifixion with background music ends the play.

Washington Post wrote a few days ago, “[Andrew Lloyd] Webber wrote the show as a retelling of the life of Jesus from the perspective of Judas Iscariot” (April 2).

Throughout the play, we see Judas hovering over Jesus and is often quite frustrated with him. And when Judas comes to the Jewish leaders to betray him, he sings, “I have no thought at all about my own reward” and repeats, “I don’t want your blood money! I don’t want your blood money!” In the play, Judas was betraying Jesus, not because he is tempted by the 30 silver coins, but because in his confusion, he shifted between it being the right thing to do and that he was being made to do it…by God.

And so it begs the question. Not the Broadway play version, but according to the Bible, why did Judas really betray Jesus?

The four Gospels approach this question differently.

In Matthew and Mark, Judas went to the Jewish leaders after Jesus allowed a woman to pour oil on his feet. All the disciples were shocked at this as her oil was expensive and they reasoned it could be better used to feed the poor. Jesus was critical of their grumbling. He had been telling them that he would die soon, and she was the only one who took him seriously. She was in fact using the oil in preparation for his death. His scolding caused Judas to react with betrayal. Judas didn’t agree with Jesus’ answer. Or if he agreed, then he didn’t want to follow a man who was going to be arrested and crucified. He abandoned the sinking ship.

For Luke, Judas allowed the devil to enter him and so became an agent of evil (Luke 22:3). There was no struggle on Judas’ part – his rejection of Jesus allowed the devil to enter him in partnership to destroy Jesus.

The Gospel of John is most critical of Judas. When the disciples grumbled at the use of the oil, John makes a point that Jesus turned to address Judas specifically as the biggest complainer. He was the money keeper of the group and he had been using the group money for his own needs. And so John paints a picture of Judas as a thief and a lover of money.

And so while the Broadway play makes Judas a complicated, sympathetic figure, the Bible calls him for what he is, a thief, a lover of money, the betrayer of the Son of God, a partner with the devil.

 

The Church As God Intended (March 21, 2018)

This coming Sunday is Palm Sunday. Two thousand years ago, Jesus entered Jerusalem for the last time where he would suffer at the hands of his enemies and ultimately die on the cross. Jesus entered Jerusalem on the first day of the week, Sunday, and he died five days later on Friday.

palm-sunday-short-story_1396528810I am reading the story of Jesus’ first day through the Gospel of Matthew. In it, as Jesus entered Jerusalem, people gathered at the entrance. And as he passed by, they raised palm leaves up in the air and shouted, “Hosanna! (He saves!)” They were declaring him as their Savior who has come to defeat Israel’s enemies and offer them freedom and salvation. We know that Jesus’ intention was far greater than their expectation. Jesus was indeed their Savior, but his goal was the freedom and salvation of the whole world! And he did that, not through military victory as they expected, but through his sacrificial death on the cross five days later.

After he entered Jerusalem that day, he walked first to the Temple that stood gloriously in the city. As approached and then violently kicked down the tables of the money changers and broke down the stalls that held the animals that were being sold. And then yelled out, “MY HOUSE…will be called a house of prayer!” And then called out to the people who were sick and hurting and touched them and healed them. Right there in front of the Temple!

Visiting the Temple had become a burden. Temple tax. Perfect offerings that were expensive. Exchanging foreign currency with temple money for a fee. Rather than coming to the Temple with joy to encounter God who loves them, they came with fear and burden at a God who frowned upon them. They were worried that they didn’t measure up, didn’t do enough, will they receive the approval of the priests?

And Jesus was like, “MY HOUSE is a house of prayer! The Temple was built so that the people can come together to to pray and seek God. The Temple is a symbol of God’s loving presence, not of a burdensome demanding God.”

And then he showed them what God really wanted to do and healed the people. Right in front of the Temple.

And so, people of God, come to the church, the modern temple, not with a burden to please God and please the pastor, but with a joyful desire to seek God and receive his love. That’s what Jesus was telling the people that day.

 

White as Snow (March 7, 2018)

There’s an old praise song that goes,

White as snow, white as snow
Though my sins were as scarlet
Lord I know, Lord I know
That I’m clean and forgiven
Through the power of Your blood
Through the wonder of Your love
Through the faith in You I know that I can be
White as snow.

isaiah-1-18The beginning words come from Isaiah 1:18 that goes, “‘Come now, let us settle the matter,’ says the Lord: ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.’”

As I watched the snow today from my window, fluffy gentle cotton snow, I loved how it covered everything in soft blue white. I walked up to the church this afternoon and saw our dark roof has been overwhelmed by powder white.

The good news is just like that. Just like snow that came down to blanket the world around us, so Jesus came down to us to cover us with his love, demonstrated in his lowly birth, his compassionate ministry, and sacrificial death on the cold wooden cross. We didn’t ask him to do it. We didn’t have to prove we were worthy of it. Jesus just came and covered the world with his love.

And we can take cover and avoid his grace. Or we can walk out into the street and let the soft snow gently fall on us…let the love of Jesus Christ saturate our whole being and fill us with joy. Would you say a quick prayer to Jesus right now to thank him?

I hope you enjoy the snow today and think about Jesus.

“‘Come now, let us settle the matter,’ says the Lord: ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.’”

 

Talking to God or Talking with God (March 1, 2018)

Mike Pence, the vice president, and his wife are Christians. His name came up recently regarding his faith. There is a program called “Celebrity Big Brother” and in it, a former White House staffer Omarosa Manigault Newman talked about the President Trump and Vice President Pence. I didn’t see the show but apparently, someone said something like they want to impeach Trump, and Omarosa went off and warned them about Pence – that he talks to Jesus and Jesus talks back to him and tells him what he should say and do – and that Pence actually waits for Jesus like he’s a servant of God or something.

And the world laughed with her.

On The View a few days after that, the ladies were talking about that whole thing and they were mocking the vice president, and Joy Behar added, “It’s one thing to talk to Jesus. It’s another thing when Jesus talks to you. That’s called Mental Illness…hearing voices.”

And another person, Shepard added, “You talk to Jesus, Jesus talks back. What concerns me is, how long is the conversation with Jesus?”

On Joy Behar’s defense, apparently, realizing she might have offended a few people, she added, “Say what you will about Mike Pence and his religiosity and everything else. I don’t think that he’s mentally ill, even though he says he is hearing voices.”

It may surprise some people that Omarosa Manigault Newman and Joy Behar both claim to be Christians. Obviously, they differ in their understanding of the practice of prayer. For them, it’s a method to talk to God. For Pence, it’s a way to talk with God. One word is changed, but what a huge difference!

When you pray, do you pray like Newman and Behar, or like Pence?

 

Lesson From the Parable of the Sower (February 14, 2018)

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.

parable-of-sowerThis 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!

 

On Philadelphia Eagles, World Champions (February 7, 2018)

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 philadelphia-eagles-quarterbacks-nick-folescarson-wentzTwitter. 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.

 

Jesus’ Genealogy is Fascinating! Part 2 (January 24, 2018)

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).

 

Jesus’ Genealogy is Fascinating! (January 17, 2018)

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!

 

Operation Christmas Child Update (December 28, 2017)

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.

Here is such a story from a pastor in Tanzania.

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.

 

“White Christmas” (December 13, 2017)

white-christmasI 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!

 

It’s Jesus’ Birthday! But When? (December 6, 2017)

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.”

Jesus BirthAnd 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!

 

Thanksgiving Prayers (November 22, 2017)

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]

 

Being Christians in the Workplace (November 15, 2017)

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.

 

It’s the Lord’s Battle (November 8, 2017)

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)

KingDavidThis 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?

 

Best Pick Up Line (November 1, 2017)

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?

 

Reading Recommendation (October 25, 2017)

FB_1711_Choi_46

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.

 

Teaching on Communion (September 27, 2017)

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?

IMG_6728.JPG.jpgI 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.

 

God of Orphans and Widows (September 13, 2017)

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.

 

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