Good news of Christmas – Logos

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Scripture: John 1:1-18

Title: Good news of Christmas – Logos

Date: Dec 8, 2013

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory,the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

15 (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”)16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.

1. Did you ever notice how politicians never really answer any questions?  I don’t know about most of you but I was following 2008 US Presidential Election with a great interest and I was watching one of the presidential debates between Obama and McCain in a public place.  There was this man who had been watching the debate before I got there said to me “Why can’t they just answer the darn questions?”  That’s when I realized that I was feeling little constipated for the same reason – there was no clean and clear from either candidates.  Both candidates knew that they will not lose votes over unanswered questions but will, for sure, lose them if they misspoke so when the candidates were asked a tough question they had this way of redirecting the question so that they can avoid being on the spot – both of them would speak after a question was raised but there were many occasions where many words were spoken but nobody really answered the question.  And we see something like this around us all the time.  I have seen many teachers who fill the classroom time with fillers – empty words.  AND, guilty enough, preachers are very much guilty of saying many words without saying much as well.  Furthermore, all of us are in a special situation where either we, ourselves, OR our parents are very new to English language.  With this kind of examples of “wasted words” around us, what else do we expect but never thinking twice about someone’s rambling?  We might be annoyed by it but never would think “what a waste of energy” OR “What a waste of power.”

2. Well, the focus word for today is “Logos.”  Greek word Logos is translated “Word” in English.  Logos included in the opening act of John’s Gospel and even though Logos does not appear again after the first Chapter, proper understanding of Logos will set the correct tone for the rest of the Gospel.  So please allow me to explain what the word “Logos” means in Hebrew mind set followed by Greek mind set before getting into its significance.

As mentioned, even if we might live as a generation that does not have high appreciation for carefully chosen words and speeches, the Hebrew understanding of and mind set for “word” or spoken words are different.  For Jewish faith a word is also an event.  The Hebrew word for “Logos” is DABAR and DABAR is not just an abstract notion or psychological idea but it is also an event.  Let’s take Psalm 33:6 as an example.  It says, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth.” (Psalm 33:6)  This is Jewish people’s actual belief – God spoke everything into being.  Our generation in this room might be conditioned or trained or educated to take this verse as a figure of speech but Jewish people actually believe this verse literally – God’s spoken word has that kind of creative power.  God caused entire Creation through spoken words – spoken Logos.

On the other hand, the Greeks understood “Logos” as “word” but in addition they also understood it as reason or rationality.  Logos meant the inner principle of a thing, how a thing works.  Explaining the Greek mind set, a professor of mind gave this example: “The logos of an automobile engine is how a cupful of liquid gasoline can be exploded to propel a two-ton car, how the engine works.  The logos of a refrigerator is how electricity can keep food cold; how it works, its inner principle, the rationality of it all.”  So that is the Greek mind set.  While the Jewish mind set expects actuality caused by spoken word, the Greek mind set focuses on the words inner rationality.

Now, why are these important?  It is important because Apostle John joins the Hebrew notion of Logos along with the Greek notion of Logos to reveal to us the nature of God and the good news of Christmas.  Last week (Dec 1, 2013) was the beginning of Christian season called Advent.  Advent starts four Sundays before Christmas and ends on the Christmas Eve and it is supposed to be a season of preparation for Christmas.  So in a way of preparation, I would like for us to understand what John is trying to say through Logos and what the good news really is about Christmas.

3. So what is the nature of God that Logos reveal to us?  First of all, Logos is NOT a creature or a result of creation.  It says in the beginning was the “Word” the Logos.  If it is NOT a creature then Logos must be God.  Secondly, it says the Logos was with God.  Now, to the post-moderns would notice the distinction between Logos and God in this sentence and would conclude that Logos is not God but to clear up (or perhaps to confuse you even further) John says, thirdly, that the Word was God.  To some of you, it looks as if Apostle John is trying to confuse you or he, himself, is confused, isn’t it?  First he says, Logos is before creation (OK so he is not created so he must God), then he says Logos was with God (wait, so logos is NOT God?), then finally he says Logos is God (wait what?)

So what do we have here?  How should we understand this?  What we have here is the description of Father-Son-Holy Spirit relationship of ONE God. The technical term for this belief is “Trinitarian monotheism” and this is what we, as Presbyterians, believe.   In fact, this is what main stream Christians believe.  Trinitarian an adjective form for Trinity (everyone here should know that Trinity refers to Father, Son and the Holy Spirit) and Monotheism’s mono means one or single.  So overall the belief is in three distinct persons in one God head – Father is God, Son is God and the Spirit is God. They all share the same essence.)  Judaism insisted on monotheism despite the fact that it was surrounded by polytheistic nations.  Some nations around Israel literally have thousands of gods and when other nations thought oddly of Israel for its monotheistic belief, Israel survived with Monotheism which we, Christians, inherited.  But let’s not get too caught up with the theology and move on with the authorial intent.  Through Logos John shows that Jesus Christ is the word of God, the power of God, the event of God which, just like any other words, cannot be unsaid or undone and at the same time, John shows that Jesus Christ, the logos, embodies the rationality of God – in fact Jesus IS how God works.  What Jesus did in his human form, indeed, is the action of God.  This is hugely significant in the light of the fact that Jesus saw his entire life as a journey to the Cross.  THIS is what that simple word Logos reveal to us – that Jesus who is distinct and yet the same as the Father is indeed God.

4.  And here is the good news of Christmas.  That Word of God has become flesh – our flesh – and dwells among us.  In the verse 4, it says “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.”  Light, amongst many things, reveals.  The word (logos) reveals to mankind the nature of God, the identity of God, the character of God AND the actions of God.  Jesus as the Logos is not just a representation of what God would do but Jesus IS what God would do. For those who struggled to know how to obtain eternal life OR those of you who yearned a meaningful relationship with God OR those of you who still has no idea who God is, the good news for you is that you do not need to look any further than Jesus Christ.  I know that human faith is awfully feeble and that it constantly seeks something visible to wrap its faith around.  Look what happened to Israelites while Moses went up the mountain for short while.  They created a golden calf thinking that IT saved them from Pharaoh.  One of the good news of Christmas is that we have this visible, verifiable and verified human form of God in Jesus of Nazareth.  How many of you have met your great grandfather?  I know I am from my father and my father is from his father.  Even though I have met my grandparents, I have never met my great grandparents.   Most of you have not either but yet you have no trace of doubt that they existed.  Jesus’ existence is witnessed everywhere in history.  His influence is globally felt.  So if you are ever in doubt whether there is God in the first place, don’t look anywhere else, look to Jesus and what he did.  He said he is the way and the truth and the life.  You want to know who God is how he functions?  Turn to Jesus, He has the right answers for you because he IS the answer.

5. Another Good news of Christmas is that God exists in relationship.  Trinitarian monotheism insists that even though it is ONE God, there are three distinct persons in it.  The logos, the son, existed before the creation.  This means being in relationship is the essence of God and God, by his nature, wants you in a relationship with Him.  We know this because Jesus invited all of his hearers to a relationship with Him (follow me.)   Jesus in his personhood will NEVER betray the very nature of God because he IS God.  Don’t let this good news of Christmas go by you this Christmas but dwell on it and make it yours – the Word is inviting.

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Needle and thread; Jesus and his followers;

tumblr_liuka9yloc1qhheyho1_500Title: Needle and thread; Jesus and his followers;

Scripture: John 21:1-14

Date: April 21, 2013

 21 Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.

He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”

“No,” they answered.

He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards.When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.

10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord.13 Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.

Just the other day, I went out for a cup of coffee after spending long time at home working.  I was stuck indoors for a long time and I was stuck at my desk for a long time.  It was not like I was able to move around my loft condo, I was genuinely stuck in front of my desk, specifically in front of my computer because of the nature of my work.  So when I went out for a coffee, I realized had two choices.  There is a coffee shop called Dark Horse that is just about 3 minute walk from my place and there is another coffee shop called Mercury which takes about 15 minutes of walk to get to.  For convenience sake, I could have simply gone to Dark Horse and just get there in three minutes of time, but I chose to go to Mercury – I just needed to walk off my stress.  In fact, the whole coffee break was just an excuse.  I just needed a destination to walk to.  Realizing the importance of the destination, I also realized I never was able to just wander around on the streets like many people could at shopping malls.  Which direction will I go to? At which street would I make a turn?  Which building or household would I look at during that walk?  And most importantly “WHY” would I walk, make turns and look at those things?  I have brought so much baggage thoughts to a simple stress relieving walk but my conclusion was that wandering aimlessly does not really work for me.  I needed a destination and that delicious cup of latte that’s 15 minutes away was just perfect for me.

Imagine, however, I went out for a walk at late evening and the latte store was closed.  Where would I go?  When all directions are available to me, which direction and which turn would I choose? And for what purpose?  When too many choices are given to us, we might welcome it since we don’t really like someone else choosing on our behalf but I also realized with too many choices come confusion.  That sense of confusion, that sense of being lost and that sense of all of sudden losing the lead, was what the disciples felt after Jesus’ crucifixion.

Jesus spent three years in ministry and the disciples were called to Him in the beginning of his ministry.  The disciples went wherever their master went.  For three years, they were like needle and thread – inseparable, attached and intimate.  And one day, their master was gone just like that.  After three years of not having to think about what to do the day after, they are all of a sudden faced with a big dilemma.  “What do we do now?”  A sense of fear but also senses of being helpless and lost are dominating the minds of disciples.  That’s where today’s scripture begins its story.  Lost disciples, lost in the sea! Where are you going and why would you go there?  Let’s look at what they had decided to do and what Jesus did about that.

1) First off, we have to see that Peter, the dominant and vocal one of the twelve, leads 6 others to go fishing.  Peter, along with John and James were fairly well established fisher men.  They were doing financially quite well for themselves before being called to minister to people.  That is where Peter had gone back to and led 6 other disciples with him.  One problem – this is exactly opposite of Jesus’ calling.  When Jesus first called the disciples, the calling was “drop what you are doing and follow me.  I have much greater things for you to do.”  Peter at this point still does not understand what had taken place over the Easter Weekend or at least his denial of Jesus was so stunning and shocking to him that he had become like a little baby chick rather than a ferocious lion whose confidence out wits the wisdom of the world.  Even after seeing the empty tomb and even after Jesus had declared that on this rock called Peter, I will establish my church; Peter had decided to go back to fishing and led 6 others with him.  How is that for a wrong turn?

Peter had heard Jesus preach and Jesus even provided personal interpretations and explanations for the disciples for three years.  Also during those three years, the disciples witnessed countless miracles, healings, exorcism and with commission from Jesus the disciples themselves were able to perform the miracles themselves. For those three years, Peter, John and James among all the disciples spent the most intimate times with Jesus but as if those times meant nothing to Peter, he turned back to fishing.  Instead of repeating his master’s message to the world; instead of believing that that man from Nazareth had the message to preach to the world, Peter escapes to a private life devoid of mercy work, living only for himself and unto himself.  Again, how is THAT for a wrong turn?

2) Let’s see what happens when Peter and the others turned away from their calling and had gone back to their old ways.  The verse 3 says “So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.”  It wasn’t due to lack of skills that the disciples did not catch anything that evening.  As I mentioned Peter, Andrew, James and John were commercial Fishermen who probably grew up fishing in the Sea of Galilee.  They know the sea floor like palm of their hands!  So why did they not catch anything?

It is plain that God prevented them from catching anything that night.  Just like that time when Jesus wanted to get Peter’s attention that He was serious about calling Peter to ministry, God had to disrupt Peter’s “old” vocation of fishery in order to make a point.  Peter only understands things about fishing and not much else, so God uses fishing to speak to him.  Peter needed to understand that apart from God he would not produce any fruit in life – never mind the ministry where he actually lacked the confidence and the skill, even in commercial fishing, apart from God’s blessing, there is no fruit to bear.

3) Thirdly, this man appears and points to a location.  He says fishes are there for a collection and the futile efforts of the 7 disciples came to fruition. They caught so many large fishes that the net was about to tear and it was far more than what the disciple turned fishermen can bear.

Jesus is making a point here: Once we are called, we are called for life.  The disciples should have never returned to old way of living.  Do you know which book is after the Gospel of John?  Book of Acts.  Do you know what happens in book of Acts?  Peter, the scared one who fled to fishing, speaks and addresses thousands of Jews that he feared and after he had spoken three thousand people came to believe and received new life.  After that Peter performs a miracle where he cures a lame person.  This is the prototype of the faithful life he was supposed to live!  Peter was to preach, perform miracles and cause people to repent.  There were too many to reach that there was no time to play with his net trying to catch fishes.  Peter was to be a fisher of men not of fishes.  He was on the verge of break out in his ministry but it was about to slip because of his guilt, had it not for Jesus who came to restore Peter to his ministry.

But we also have something else here….  Everyone is familiar with the next scene to today’s scripture.  It’s the famous dialogue between Jesus and Peter where Jesus asks “Do you Love me?” and Peter replies “Yes Lord you know that I love you” and so on.  Everyone also knows that that scene is where Peter is restored back into ministry – a fisher of men.  But look what made that scene possible.  Jesus came to Peter.

Not only Jesus had enough love to forgive Peter, Jesus’ love was so overwhelming that he approached Peter first.  He came to Peter offering forgiveness –Peter’s loving Jesus back was the only requirement.  That’s grace.  There was more grace in God than there was betrayal in Peter.

So what does this have to do with us today?

 

4) I know that Easter weekend has been long past but post Easter is when we need to think about God’s calling for us in life.  Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:14 says, if Jesus did not resurrect, our faith is in vain but post Easter epilogue insists that Jesus resurrected.  That should make us pause in life and reflect a little bit.  Jesus resurrected and all of his claims about himself being God have been proved to be true.  Then all of a sudden, his calling of you must be taken seriously as well.  For sure, he has been speaking to you!  The most visible feature of Christian God from 3rd point perspective is that He speaks!  If we have not been hearing him, then perhaps we should suspect we haven’t been listening. 

What does your faith tell you to do?  What does your faith tell you about the transformation that’s needed in your life?  For sure, we are to love our God and our neighbour but when was the last time you caused a smile on someone’s face?  When was last time, you actually lived to make someone’s day?  When was the last time people praised God because of your actions?  I’m not merely talking about one time, random, undecided moments of actions but I’m talking about lifestyle of honouring God and living unto others.

I cannot tell you what God’s been speaking to you about since it is between you and God but if he has been speaking to you (and no doubt he has been) then I have to encourage you that you respond as soon as possible.  A delayed answer is always a no.  Let’s suppose for a moment that I asked a girl out and she said “hang on, let me think about it” and she delays her answer for one month.. what do you think her answer is for me?  Sure, we can give it a benefit of the doubt and say she is still “thinking” about it but let’s face it, she is saying no.  It’s the same thing.  A delayed answer to God’s invitation always says “I don’t want to therefore no.”  But you know where that road gets you.  It doesn’t get you anywhere!  Effort will be in vain and your labour will be fruitless.

Follow Jesus and never return to your old ways.   Now that you know Jesus and now that you confess that we belong to Jesus, the only way to live is for Him.  Don’t be scared and don’t be afraid.  All of us are at a verge of gathering much fruit, we just need to recognize that God’s calling for us is for life and just move on forward boldly with it.  Just like the needle and the thread, wherever Jesus goes we go also. God will take care of the rest.

And I have a special address for the leaders among us.  Today’s praise leader for example, have you ever seen her go up to the stage without a smile?  Personally, I have never seen her not smile during the praise.  I haven’t had a chance to train our praise leader but one thing I always encourage praise teams to do anywhere is to offer genuine smile.  One’s poor evening night before Sunday should not ruin or provide the overtone for the praise for the worship service.  But despite of the importance, life is simply hard at times.  Life is stressful and one can commit sin and before she thinks she’s ready, she may have to face the congregation upon that stage leading the people of God to the worship of God.  What to do then?

I’m not taking sin lightly at all.  All sins need to be dealt with appropriately with God and when necessary with other parties involved in sin.  But having dealt with sin and confessed before God, we must insist our ways in serving God.  Going back to our old way of life away from serving God and his people must remind us Peter’s going back for fishing.  The old way of life simply sin multiplying.  We are committing sin upon sin when we let our sin guide us away from God’s calling and back into old way of life.  God the King deserves our commitment and we must insist on it despite of our failures.

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(Sermon) Dead voice and voice from the dead

Dee's Bugaboo Boutique ~ 1 Peter 5 vs.7Date: Jan 27, 2013

Title: Dead voice and voice from the dead

Scripture: 1 Peter 5:1-7

To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,

“God opposes the proud
    but shows favor to the humble.”

 

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

 

Introduction:

Not too long ago before joining the baseball team with Byundos, I was in a team called “rookies”.  I was the starting catcher who also coached the team as well.  As part of my coaching duty, I had to teach the players in my team and one day we got a new player whose physical talent was immediately visible.  He had all the tools of a baseball player.  Tall, strong arm, not so fast but he had a good swing that comes from good hip rotations.  So other coaches and I were thinking of developing him to be our next starting pitcher for our team but as soon as we start working with that kid we soon began discovering a problem – he would not accept our corrections despite playing baseball for the first time.

His delivery when runners were on base was wrong, we’d correct him but he refuses to do so.  He was forbidden to try curve balls to really work on locating his fastball but he refused to listen.  He was told to be patient with a backup catcher as he is not as experienced as I am so there might be some past balls and dropped balls but out of his temper he took out his frustration to the backup catcher who in the secret cried.  We told him that he needed to be a team player but he didn’t know what it meant and worse yet, he didn’t care.

He clearly had good talents – enough to become symbol of our team but in the end he didn’t develop to become one.  If all the physical talents were there then what was missing from him?  It was the attitude that prevented him from becoming the team’s ace.  He got talent but refusal to be humble enough to listen stifled his growth.

In today’s passage Apostle Peter provides one tip to the youngsters after giving instructions to the older ones to be examples.  Surprisingly, Apostle Peter doesn’t say “see the examples and learn” but instead do you notice how much emphasis there is on being “humble”?  In three short verses, Apostle Peter hints at humility four times!  What is up with the human beings, especially the “Young” people, that he emphasizes humility so much?  Why wouldn’t he have just said “Listen” or “hear” or “go to the class rooms” (something little more direct) but instead said “be humble” (which is indirect)?

It is because humility acts like pain-killers when we have a headache.  While it does not treat the root cause of the pain, at least it relieves the symptom.  As in, humility alone will not save us from our dead-in-sin (we need gospel for that!) but at least it grants us the opportunity to hear Godly voice and temporarily restores correct life order that was marred after Adam and Eve’s sin.

1. To understand what else “humility” does for us let’s take a look at what Bonhoeffer (a 20th century German theologian) said in his book Ethics

“For Christian ethics, the mere possibility of knowing about good and evil is already a falling away from the origin. Living in the origin, human beings know nothing but God alone. They know other human beings, things, and themselves only in the unity of their knowledge of God; they know everything only in God, and God in all things.  Knowledge about good and evil points to the prior disunion and estrangement from this origin … By understanding themselves according to their possibilities, namely, to be either good or evil, human beings come to see themselves as the origin of good and evil.”

After the original sin of Adam and Eve, a deadly force has entered into our lives.  This force is so stealthy that most of our lives, we do not even see that it is there influencing us in every second of living moments.  This force is so influential and stealthy that even just a little poke at it, we have the tendency to break out in anger or it absolutely crushes us that we crumble to the corner of our room sobbing.  The deadly force’s name is pride.

Psalm 14:1 puts the finger on what’s on people’s mind upon committing sin from their prideful heart.

“The fool says in his heart,

“There is no God.”

It is not that we do not acknowledge the existence and involvement of God in our lives but when it is convenient for us, we tend to turn blind eye to what God likes for us to do.  It’s not that we do not know but it’s that we ignore – precisely because we see ourselves as the origin of good and evil and that we CAN determine ultimately what is good and evil apart from God.  “That deliciousness of sin cannot be THAT bad for us, can it?”

Case in point, years ago I knew a church member who was on the fence about the whole faith thing.  I kept conversing with that member to ensure that she stayed in faith.  Then one day she suddenly decided she will denounce the faith.  It came as a shock since during the conversation I had discovered that she knew more about the scripture than most other members in the church AND she was faithfully attending the church.

What had happened was this.  She had begun dating a guy and he wasn’t a Christian.  She was well aware of what church claims about non-Christian dating and lust issues.  She didn’t like it and she had been flirting with the idea of leaving the church anyways so she thought she might as well leave the church.  But then, it will still be on her conscience to merely just leave the church so she decided that she will leave the faith altogether so as to clear up her conscience of having sinned against God.  She was in full awareness of God’s voice but in order to fit her convenience she decided that she will become the origin of good and evil.  And according to her view, everything was O~~~k.  It’s ok to have fun with non-Christians and accept their world and life views AND their term of physical intimacy.

Let’s face it, by nature we do not like to listen, precisely because we are prideful people and THAT is why humility is important.  Humility, at least temporarily, allows us to open our ears and open our hearts to other people’s (including God’s) voices.  It is precisely in suspending of our own pride that we are finally able to listen to the voice of God.  That suspending action called “Humility” is the temporary human act to restore the origin of good and evil back to God and this is why Apostle Peter does not tell the young “listen” but “be humble” since listening will naturally follow “humility”.

2. Secondly, what is the benefit of humility?  I mean surely being humble or being made humble do not feel all that great so what’s so great about it?  There are at least two benefits.

First, by humbling ourselves, we are able to benefit from differing opinions.  It makes us knowledgeable and flexible.  When you are so hardened in your own world, you are not likely to listen to others and cannot possibly see things from other people’s point of view.  And by listening perhaps you don’t have to repeat the mistakes that our older brothers and sisters have made in their life.

Second and perhaps bigger of the two for me is that it liberates us and allows us to experience freedom – freedom from the bondage and fear of how “others think of me”.  This is another bondage that is so strong and stealthy that really controls our lives.  How does humility work in a way that frees us from this?  I have learned over the years that people will develop an opinion of me, no matter what.

Some people think I’m wonderful and fun while others think I’m scary and an idiot.  Humility allows me to say “so what?” to both of them – only God knows who I really am.  Humility allows me to accept people’s opinion as opinion.  To the proud, other people’s opinions are often bad news that need to be changed.  But by being able to accept their opinions as possible life lessons, I am able to accept and even enjoy what they have to say and still enjoy their company.  I am also able to enjoy people’s opinion of me only because ultimately it is not what matters the most and it is not the factor that will declare my success or failure in my life.

Relating to this, there is a verse that does not seem to fit in this passage (not at a first glance anyways).  Verse 7 says “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”  Peter was talking about humility all this time and all of a sudden he squeezes in “anxiety” quite randomly.  It is there to comfort you in case you are nervous about “letting go” of the control by humbling yourself.  You don’t have to hold onto that image that you are holding up for others to see.

Peter is saying God’s opinion is the only thing that matters and therefore let go of the fear of being seen genuinely and honestly.  One of the greatest fears of being humble is that humble person is seen as “weak” – so weak that everyone can step over him.  Well, Peter says “don’t worry about it.”  Whatever the consequence of being humble is, God will take care of you.  Whatever fear may result as your dedication to be humble whether it is with your parents (and actually listen to them) or with your teachers and professors (regarding your grade and attitude in school) or with your pastors and friends with regards to your life, whatever it is, once you decide to be humble and attentive to other people’s voices, God will give life giving voice through them that you will thrive in God’s care.

3. So folks, I hope you will re-think about how you are going to live your life.  If you decide to be teachable and attentive then voices from the dead (as in the voice from the past) will work to benefit your future but if you decide to become your own master then all the voices of the past (including Jesus’) simply become dead voice.  I hope you will not waste the rich experiences of our elder brothers/sisters but make them your own by being humble enough to start listening.

(sermon) Glory that the world will never understand

urlTitle: Glory that you and I will never understand

Scripture: John 12:12-29      

Date: March 24, 2013

12 The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. 13 They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting,

“Hosanna!”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Blessed is the king of Israel!”

14 Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it, as it is written:

15 “Do not be afraid, Daughter Zion;
    see, your king is coming,
    seated on a donkey’s colt.”

16 At first his disciples did not understand all this. Only after Jesus was glorified did they realize that these things had been written about him and that these things had been done to him.

17 Now the crowd that was with him when he called Lazarus from the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to spread the word. 18 Many people, because they had heard that he had performed this sign, went out to meet him. 19 So the Pharisees said to one another, “See, this is getting us nowhere. Look how the whole world has gone after him!”

20 Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.

23 Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.

27 “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!”

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that was there and heard it said it had thundered; others said an angel had spoken to him.

 

Introduction

It is Palm Sunday.  Today we celebrate what we so-call “triumphant” entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and of course this is the week before the Easter Sunday where Jesus who died resurrects from the dead.  Question for you: Why do Christians call Jesus’ entry, only few days before his Crucifixion, triumphant entry?  What is so glorious about it?  If you are only considering the fact that people have gathered to lay down the palm tree leafs and shouting Hosanna and “blessed is the King of Israel”, I’m afraid that you haven’t understood the nature of the Gospel and therefore the nature of Jesus our Lord.

We will all see “glory” in NFL champions Baltimore Ravens. We will all see “glory” in LeBron James and his 2012 NBA championship and Miami Heat’s 25 consecutive wins (as of today).  We see glory on red carpets and movie stars.  These “glories”, no doubt a form of glory, is not the glory our Lord Jesus Christ will experience in today’s scripture!

To be sure, we may easily misread and misunderstand Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on a donkey and confuse world’s glory with Christ’s glory.  Why wouldn’t we?  Jesus seems to be appreciated, adored and worshiped.  Furthermore, Jesus seems to be recognized as God and he seems to be held up in a high place.  In modern day terms, Jesus is on a red carpet, Jesus is in the cover of GQ magazine, news about Jesus has been thoroughly shared on facebook, re-tweeted by the millions and there is a twitter trend and re-blogging happening about his entry.  So why wouldn’t we think that this IS the glorious moment for Jesus?

Gospel of John insists that the red carpets, magazine covers and millions of followers on twitter aren’t glory for Jesus.

1. So then what IS the glory according to John and according to our Lord Jesus Christ?  Let’s first take closer look at today’s passage and understand what his mission was because glory and purpose for an action has close relationship that they cannot be so easily separated.  Think about it this way: not too long ago, there was a Youtube sensation with an infant named Titus between the ages of 18-24 months old.  That infant couldn’t even speak but he started making all these trick basketball shots.  The baby was talked about on ESPN, Good Morning America, Today Show, Anderson Cooper and other talk shows.  And people are talking as if he WILL be going to NBA in the future but given that kind of talent do you see NHL being excited? MLB being excited?  Of course not.  The infant’s skill has nothing to do with the purpose of “other” games such as baseball and hockey.  Purpose and Glory are closely associated.  So then we HAVE to understand Jesus’ mission before we can understand his glory.

To know Jesus’ mission, we have to see that Jesus has chosen a donkey rather than a horse.  A horse is an animal of war whereas the donkey is an animal of peace.  But peace with what? Or with whom?

Is it peace between Israel and Rome?  No, if that was Jesus’ mission, he probably accepted Jewish people’s desire to become political king over them and started a diplomatic foreign policy.

Is it peace among Jews? No, if that was Jesus’ mission, he would NOT have picked fights with the Pharisees and other religious leaders.  (You ever noticed how Jesus always seems to brew trouble wherever he went?)

Is it a world peace?  Well, we are little closer but if, by “world peace”, you mean the type of peace where people are focused on getting along with each other while abandoning faith that binds us to Christ and therefore God the Father, we are wrong on that.  If such was case, Jesus would have used his charm and intelligence to focus on his humour skills to keep people laughing instead of teaching but of course that wasn’t the case.

So peace with what or whom?  It’s the heavenly peace where the Kingdom order is restored.  It is the peace that restores mankind to what it was meant to be – in a loving relationship with God the creator, fellow neighbors and rest of God’s creations.  So the peace that the Gospel is talking about is peace between God and man.  Romans 5:1-2 says: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand”

Without our Lord Jesus Christ, we do not have access to grace and without grace, there is no peace with God.  That is to say, without Christ, we remain under God’s judgement of death and without Christ all we can see is the anger of God.  Making peace between two parties is called “reconciliation” and Jesus’ mission was precisely the reconciliation between God and man.

2. Only under this purpose, we can understand the glory of God.  Take a look at verse 23 – 24 “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”  Isn’t it interesting that Jesus would say this not during his entry but after the fact?  Only after the adoring public has gone away, Jesus talks as if the “hour of glory” is still coming rather than has just passed.  Yuna Kim of Korea won Gold medal in World Championship just the other day.  Do you remember where she stood during the medal ceremony?  She stood on the highest place on the podium.  In today’s scripture, to many people, his way into Jerusalem appears to be THE moment for Jesus.  Jesus appears to be having highest point of podium moment BUT instead of savouring it and say “that WAS my glory”, Jesus says the hour is “coming” and “has come” only after the public recognition.  Why is that?

It is because public support had no value to him whatsoever – Jesus’ agenda was much greater than THAT.  For reconciliation, the Cross was the ONLY way to achieve purpose, so for Jesus glorification had all to do with the Cross rather than people’s approval and praise of Him.

You see, we may not understand what it means to be “absolute”.  Absolutely pure means, there is no blemish.  Even a slightest spot takes away the status of “absolute” pure.  That’s just the definition of “absolute”, there cannot be any other element.  So for God to be absolutely “Holy” means there cannot be any “unholiness” in Him.  Which in turn means there cannot be any wink at sin or any hint of sin in Him.  There is no such thing as “Ah, we’ll just let them get away with one”.  So God must pronounce the judgement of death on every single sinner who commits sin!

You and I are no different.  There WAS pronounced judgement of death upon us!  That is until Jesus took away that judgement from us and placed onto himself to pay for our sins instead.  THAT is the reconciling work of our Lord Jesus Christ and because the Cross completed reconciliation (as in achieving the purpose of Jesus’ mission), Gospel of John insists that Cross is the glory of God.  Cross is the place where the purpose of God is achieved and both his Loving character AND justice character in whom no sin is found are (displayed ultimately) and (reigns supremely).

3. We live in a world where high places are envied.  High grades, high income, high square footage of your house, high number of followers on your twitter, facebook, Tumblr and/or any other types of blogs you might maintain.  What Jesus has done on Palm Sunday 2000 years ago was exactly the opposite.  What Jesus had done on Good Friday 2000 years ago was also exactly the opposite of what this world understands as glory.

Instead, Gospel of John insists that Cross, the lowliest of lows, IS God’s glory. That’s because it is the place where you and I have found life in God and God’s purpose is achieved – this is how much God loves you and me.  The only thing we could do is to stop doubting, start believing and forever remain thankful about it.  So while I usually give out one or two applications, there is no application for this message other than as we start our Passion Week 2013 I just invite you to rethink Jesus and his reconciling work and remain thankful in everything you do.

We live because Jesus died and resurrected.

Thanks be to God.

(Sermon) Though he sees, he does not see but as she sees she worships

Title: Though he sees, he does not see but as she sees she worships

feetScripture: John 12:1-11

Date: March 17, 2013

12 Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead.Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. Then Mary took about a pint[a] of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.[b]” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you,[c] but you will not always have me.”

Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 10 So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, 11 for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him.

Introduction

When I was a kid, I remember that one day when I was in a taxi with my mom and my sister.  When that taxi came to a stop, we noticed a woman standing by the road.  We all looked at her for a while until the taxi drove on.  After a while, my sister opened with her comment first.  She said “that woman had a nice looking bag”, my mom replied “oh really?  I didn’t see that but she was standing so close to the curb that I was little worried.”  But I remember thinking to myself “she was eating a hot dog…”

Yes, seeing same object does not necessarily guarantee “perceiving” the same object.  In my story’s case, we all looked at what we predominantly drove us: my sister had a taste for nice looking bag, my mom (being a mom) was concerned for anyone standing near a curb and I was simply hungry (I probably always was).  This is why sometimes we see an event occurring in front of our eyes and yet completely misunderstand what had taken place in front of us.  It is because how we perceive things, is not necessarily how the presenter wishes it to be perceived.  Take the matter of this sermon as an example.  In each sermon, I have a specific theme and few points to make but what I want to get across is not necessarily what you take away each week.  Some of you will take away my humour, some of you my dress code, some of you may learn from my illustrations or some of you might completely understand what it is that I am trying to get across.  All of you will take away something but there is no guarantee that you will take away what I want for you to take away each time.

In today’s passage, we see similar thing going on.  Judas and Mary see the same person – Jesus but their reactions in today’s story tell radically different perception of the same person.  What’s the scoop and what is the significance?

The story

In order to understand what is happening in John 12, we really need to go back to the story in chapter 11 so let me just provide the background details and we can understand what is happening in this scene then we can draw out some principles from it.

In the previous chapter, a man named Lazarus is introduced without any relational description to Jesus.  But it is obvious that he was such a close friend to Jesus since Jesus was actually expected to return to Bethany (Lazarus’ home town) as soon as he heard that Lazarus was deathly ill.  Jesus delays his return on purpose so as to reveal the glory of God.  While Jesus was taking his time, Lazarus dies and by the time Jesus returned to Bethany, Lazarus was already dead for four days and the body had been put into a grave.

To a modern Canadian hearer, this may seem odd because in Canadian society we are more familiar with having the viewing of the deceased first and then funeral on the 3rd day of the deceased’s passing.  However, it is in Jewish law to conduct the funeral and burial within the 24 hours of the deceased’s passing and that is why Lazarus’ body was already in the grave.

When Jesus went to the grave, Martha, Lazarus’ sister, tells Jesus that the odour would be unbearable since the body would be decomposing.  Jesus tells them to remove the grave stone and prays (John11:41 – 44) “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”  43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

It is recorded that along with the disciples, Martha and Mary (sisters of Lazarus) were also there to witness the event (of course it is also recorded that many Jews were there to witness the resurrection miracle) It is important to notice that Mary was there to witness the resurrection of the body since her action in chapter 12 is in clear contrast to her mood in chapter 11 – Mary was VERY upset with Jesus.  She was so upset that she did not even go out to greet Jesus and the first thing she said when she finally ran out to him was not “Hello” or “How are you?”  She said (not in such a rude way as she fell on his feet to say this) “If you arrived before my brother died, he’d been alive still”.

So in chapter 11 we have

  • Dead Lazarus resurrected via Jesus
  • Astonished Martha
  • Mary who is upset
  • The 12 disciples who witnessed the whole thing

And John chapter 12 unfolds from here: One main event in today’s passage is anointing of Jesus by Mary.  To be sure, it was weird that Mary did this.  In fact, Mary had no right to do this – anointing of kings or anyone belongs to prophet and priestly office but what is more is that Mary broke many Jewish customs in the process of inadequately anointing Jesus as King.  It was considered highly inappropriate for Jewish women to let down their hair in the public.  Furthermore, it was rather erotic act to wipe Jesus’ feet with her hair (perhaps an act appropriate for married couple) and it definitely looked too luxurious and extravagant that she spent so much money to be “wasted” in many people’s eyes.

In fact, Judas Iscariot simply spoke up what all other disciples were thinking.  The sharp tongued Judas rebukes this woman’s sincere act.  He points out that 1. It was an expensive perfume 2. The perfume is worth one’s annual salary 3. The money could have been spent for the poor instead.

In many people’s ears, Judas had a point.  If we were present at the scene, we probably would have agreed with Judas – the man actually sounded pretty good.  But Jesus sees something different and I want to highlight two points for you:

1. We have to understand that Mary is “anointing” Jesus in her thankfulness to have her brother back from the dead and we also have to understand the fact that she knew Jesus can perform miracles but she did NOT believe that Jesus can resurrect a man from the dead. John 11:32 shows it clearly

“When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

It is more than plausible then that she did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah.  At least it did not dawn on her before Lazarus was raised from the dead!

Upon witnessing her brother’s rising from the dead by Jesus.  She sees and believes!  How much does she believe?  Well… just notice the fact that the perfume (which Jesus says she saved for his burial) was NOT used during her brother’s funeral.  Lazarus actually died for four days and he was already wrapped in grave clothes and he was buried.  Assuming that Mary had the perfume in her possession, she had plenty of opportunity to use the perfume on her brother’s dead body but the perfume that is worth a year’s wage (probably her entire life savings) was not used on Lazarus.  Instead she anoints Jesus with it.  This can only mean that Mary now sees Jesus as King in personal sense and that he is worth far more than her entire life savings and worth humbling herself for.  This is the moment where Mary declares that Jesus is everything to her.  This is an astonishing turn of events since for a moment she blamed Jesus for her brothers passing.  “My brother would have died!” she cried but with the rise of her brother Lazarus from the dead all of her blaming turned into joy, which turned into worship in humility.  Think of her emotional rollercoaster! That is why just as inappropriate as her actions were as a Jewish woman in a Jewish society during Jesus’ days; Jesus accepted it as an act of worship and was pleased.

2. Secondly, although Judas Iscariot knew exactly the right thing to say, he lacked something that mattered the most. He neither “actually” believed what he commanded nor did he believe the one who taught him.  That is to say, Judas never really had faith.  Mary broke many Jewish social customs while Judas Iscariot said many things that no one disciple can argue against but Mary is declared righteous while Judas is put back to his place – all because of “Faith”.  Judas, as part of the twelve disciples, was in close proximity to Jesus for many days (so close that he will get to observe him well.  He could even touch/smell/feel Jesus.)  After spending so much time, of course he will share the similar vibe as Jesus and effectively caricature Jesus’ teachings.  He might be able to pick up on Jesus’ speech patterns, key words and perhaps even argument strategies.  In a sense, while he misunderstood Jesus’ message by a mile, he still was able to superficially mimic Jesus’ messages without the core understanding.  That is to say, Judas’ words were derived from culture rather than from faith.  And that’s the danger for us as well.  Having spent so many days in church environment (some of you have been attending this church from your mother’s womb!), we might know how to sound and appear like Christians but do we do that out of culture or out of faith?

People who live by culture and not by faith will always judge the likes of Mary and rebuke them – they have missed the point.  These people are caught up by their own righteousness that they will not see the saviour even while talking to him face to face.  After all, did the Pharisees see saviour in Jesus?  Let there be no mistake about it.  Pharisees saw plenty of Jesus.  Do we not see Pharisees constantly engaged in arguing with Jesus?  Do we not see them conspiring against Jesus?  And during their conspiracy, did they not think of Jesus’ teachings and arguments thereby spending “time” with his messages? (In a bizarre and ironic twist, Pharisees showed how NOT to do Quiet Time devotionals for modern Christians)  This is what Jesus saw in Judas’ barking – self-righteousness spoken and covered with Jesus’ vocabulary.

3. So here is my question to you:  Do you live by culture or by faith?  What drives your actions?  What defines your actions?  What defines you?

Often faith in Christ leads people to radical actions or at least it brings you out of yourself to do things that you would normally not do due to lack of courage.  Mary broke through that cultural barrier and what people might call “Awkward Moments” in order to show her worship to God and new King – and Jesus redeemed her embarrassment by restoring honour in her worship.  That is, humiliation in act of self-forgetfulness in worship always finds its relief in Jesus.

Have your faith taken you to actions that you would normally not do?  Faith binds us to Jesus Christ as saviour and Lord so if your faith is telling you to take an action and you have been hesitating because it might seem awkward or you might get humiliated, I have to encourage you to break through the barrier you and your friends have set for you.  Jesus was radical, Mary was radical and Faith is radical in its very nature.  Faith is bound to take you beyond what you are comfortable with so you might as well learn to be happy with what the world sees as awkward.

People tell me that I am “unique” but I know what they really mean is I’m “weird”.  Over the years, I have grown fond of that expression.  Even if some people mean harm with it, it does not matter.  In fact, I am proud of my weirdness since it is the fruit of my journey with God.  Of course I had to break through many embarrassing moments but none of those moment matters.  The ultimate question putting to you and me is “have we sufficiently loved God and the neighbour with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength?”  I sincerely hope you can re-think your life in the light of Mary’s worshipful act and have courage to act out of yourself as the Spirit leads so.

(Sermon) Tree Percher’s nemesis – Grace

urlDate: Feb 2, 2013

Title: Tree Percher’s nemesis – Grace

Scripture: Luke 19:1-10; John 8:1-11;

19 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”

But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”

Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

1: I am a human being full of errors and mistakes – it comes as a package, I think.  You look at me and what do you see?  Most of the pastors carry the weighty, gentle and gracious look about them.  Always dressed in full suit and tie, very well groomed and spotless mannerism where they are good candidates for being good examples and being well respected as per what we have learned through the scriptures.  Pastors are meant to exemplify Christ in our actions, speeches and in our manners.

But you look at me and what do you see?  Half the times, I act like a goof and I am loving it!  I have waaaay too much energy that I do not know what to do with (btw, that’s why I work out so severely, so as not to have so much energy that I cannot control) and when it is available, I love spending my energy wrestling one of the brothers at church.  I am also clumsy in that when I get nervous, my muscles stiffen up very badly and I sweat profusely.

There was an incident where I was at a fancy event where I needed to be in semi-formal clothing.  Everyone gathered there either had experience of modeling or is currently one or is working with them as photographers.  It was a very fancy event where elegant and eloquent mannerism was the very basic requirement.  I showed up dressed adequately but then there came this girl I had the crush on and I was holding a Champaign glass – bad combination.  Clumsy dude whose muscle is stiffening up because he’s nervous and he’s holding a VERY delicate Champaign glass… it was just a matter of time before I spilt it on someone or something.  I ended up spilling it all over the cash register.  Think about the embarrassment I felt.

I am naturally goofy and clumsy and I love me for them regardless.  However, think about how much I must have been criticized for being a goof and clumsy growing up.  I grew up always listening to the idea that “good kids” behave well and that only meant being quiet and not act so playful.  That idea resounded in the church life as well.  While I was a teenager and early twenties, I attended a church and there I had very difficult time simply being accepted – partly because fobs had no place to fit into that crowd and partly because my playfulness seemed to have bothered some people.

One of the leaders of the church always criticized me for my actions – goofy or not (mind you, it was well intended).  It might have been my goofy and laughter loving nature that caught that leader’s attention and eventually arrived at the conclusion that this “kid” must be corrected, instructed and guided.  So every week or every encounter with that leader involved hearing an “earful” of “corrections”.  At one point, I remember thinking that apart from breathing, there isn’t a thing I can do without offending someone.

Some years later, I started attending another church for I really needed to serve to grow.  I wasn’t a pastor yet but began serving faithfully on Sundays as part of praise team or as a clean-up crew.  That church’s pastor’s name was Sam Kim and there is a reason why he was a successful pastor at that time.  One of the first encounters with him involved his account of his observation of me.  When he opened his mouth and said “One thing I noticed about you….”, I immediately thought “oh here we go again… how am I going to get passed this criticism!”  At that time, that was the only reaction I knew.  But as Pastor Sam continued he said “you are like Johnny on the spot for me.  For whatever reason or another, when I need you, you seem to be there.”

With those words, I began breathing better.  Thinking back, Pastor Sam gave me great advices and that leader before Pastor Sam also gave me great advices as well!  But the one who shaped me most influentially was, no doubt, Pastor Sam.  He knew the consequence of continued criticisms and he approached “me” in a way that I can first come down from my tree-perch before I can open up to his advices.

We see the same thing in today’s passage.  Jesus approaches the most notoriously hated Jew in that region named Zacchaeus.  Zacchaeus was a tax collector who raised taxes for the Roman governments.  Now typically tax collectors at that time were fairly rich and the reason is this:  Collecting taxes was like an auction.  They bid against other collectors and the collecting duty went to the one who said will collect the most for the Roman government.  Then the tax collectors will start collecting taxes from their fellow Jews.  As if that is not bad enough, they will also OVER-charge taxes.  That’s how they become rich.  Roman government is only interested in collecting whatever these people say they will raise and whatever surplus the tax collectors collected was pure gravy for them.  That’s why Zacchaeus was hated.  He became rich on the blood of his own people.

To that hated man, Jesus approached and if you read the Gospels with one eye open, you will be able to see that Jesus is VERY confrontational everywhere he goes.  In fact, He goes to temples just to pick fights against the Pharisees.  He wasn’t afraid to criticize the religious leaders of Jews at that time but what does he do to Zacchaeus?  Well, we will get to that but first let’s focus on what would NOT have brought him down from the tree perch.

2: In the first place, one thing we have to note is what’s missing from the Zacchaeus’ encounter with Jesus.  Noticing what’s missing in the picture is hard because it presupposes you knowing the entire picture thoroughly so I do not blame anyone if this has skipped everyone’s attention but take a good look at Jesus’ conversation with Zacchaeus; there is not a mention of criticism of Zacchaeus.

For years, Zacchaeus collected taxes and for years he had cheated his fellow Jews to become rich but knowing plainly well what had been happening, Jesus does not say a single word about it.

One of my professors put it well for us: Magnifying someone’s short comings won’t do it, it only humiliates them.  Sending them on a guilt trip won’t do it either; it will only make them self-righteous or neurotic.

Shortly put, making someone feel bad about himself is not an effective way and in fact, most often, the worst way to correct anyone.  Judgement will only push them away.  It is in our nature to love ourselves above anything else.  No matter how we think about it, this is true.  We love ourselves that we cannot bear to watch our own pride gets trampled upon.  To that self-glorifying nature, judgement of any kind only fortifies the stronghold guarding the mind of the judged.

Everyone here knows the movie called “Forrest Gump” starring Tom Hanks, right?  Well, it portrayed mankind quite accurately at least in one aspect: Forrest does not like to be told “you are stupid”.  Wherever there is weakness or vulnerability, people do not like to be reminded of them so plainly.  It often is something that they like to hid or have it escaped from people’s attention.  That’s why judgment from fellow mankind does not bring others down from the tree-perch.

But then what works?  Let’s return to Jesus’ example.

3:  In John 8:1-11, there is yet another beautiful encounter.

At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

11 “No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

One thing we have to note is that Jesus did NOT accept this woman’s sin.  Jesus clearly said “leave your life of sin” but he saw a woman who needed acceptance and embrace of a community.  That is why he started his sentence with “neither do I condemn you”.  Of all the people who showed up to stone her, it was only Jesus who had the authority and ability to throw the stone at her and in fact kill her on the spot but instead he chose to forgiven this already judged, humiliated and harassed woman but forgiveness alone will not do it.  She needed deliverance.  If forgiveness has the power to wash away, deliverance has the power to restore.  She was already humiliated but by finding her acceptance in Christ, her dignity was restored.

The tree-perchers like Zacchaeus come down from the tree only as they find their forgiveness, acceptance and joy restored in their life.  And these cannot be done apart from true grace and true love found in Jesus Christ alone.

4: I mentioned my experience of trying to be “fixed” by two different approaches.  One criticized on every encounter and the other went out of his way to praise what I did right.  It wasn’t the praise that transformed my life.  It was the acceptance and embrace that my beloved Pastor exhibited (which he learned from his Lord) that changed my life.

As I look at this community called East Faith Church, few thoughts cross my mind.  On the one hand, I do not worry since you guys not only grew up together but you guys are fairly comfortable with each other that there is natural acceptance.

On the other, I am grieved significantly since there always is silent sufferers who in her quietness cry because of the hurts from sharp tongued people.  I know you guys are not judgmental but I invite you to develop the sensitivity and discipline to reflect in your daily lives whether you have done or said something to hurt anyone and made them insecure about themselves.

Our Lord Jesus Christ said that no disciple is greater than his master.  If our Lord Jesus Christ did not use criticism or coercion or dominance to make us behave godly, then we also shall follow his footsteps and learn to accept people as they are and LOVE them so that they can taste the small sample of grace that our Lord Jesus Christ is all about.

(Sermon) Only Hunger: avoid these during fasting

hunger vs fasting

Matthew 6:16-18

16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

I don’t know if you guys know Screwtape letters by C. S. Lewis.  The book is structured as correspondence between two demons.  Senior demon Screwtape is the uncle and his nephew Wormwood is the junior demon.  Wormwood is still a rookie demon so he asks for tips about tempting humans.  So Screwtape writes back to Wormwood and that’s basically the whole book.  In one of the letters Screwtape recounts a “close call” of possibly losing his patients to his Enemy (Please keep in mind that since it is a demon writing, Enemy refers to God and Father refers to Satan and patient refers to human beings):

Remember, he is not, like you, a pure spirit. Never having been a human (oh, that abominable advantage of the Enemy’s!) you don’t realise how enslaved they are to the pressure of the ordinary. I once had a patient, a sound atheist, who used to read in the British Museum. One day, as he sat reading, I saw a train of thought in his mind beginning to go the wrong way. The Enemy, of course, was at his elbow in a moment. Before I knew where I was I saw my twenty years’ work beginning to totter. If I had lost my head and begun to attempt a defence by argument, I should have been undone. But I was not such a fool. I struck instantly at the part of the man which I had best under my control, and suggested that it was just about time he had some lunch. The Enemy presumably made the counter-suggestion (you know how one can never quite overhear what He says to them?) that this was more important than lunch. At least I think that must have been His line, for when I said, “Quite. In fact much too important to tackle at the end of a morning,” the patient brightened up considerably; and by the time I had added “Much better come back after lunch and go into it with a fresh mind,” he was already halfway to the door.

Last week, I preached about the benefits of going on fasting and one of the benefits was precisely the breaking of the power of the ordinary.  The day to day mundane tasks that we carry out thoughtlessly can and DO, in fact, hold us slave to them – causing us to be dull, insensitive and even blinded to the fact that God the creator and redeemer sustains us moment by moment.  Having created us from “ex nihilo” (means out of nothing), God needs to continually sustain us otherwise we cease to exist.  Then just by the fact that we are able to breathe and live and eat for joy we ought to be thankful to God.

Then Fasting also serves as a means through which we are reminded and therefore become grateful to God’s day to day, ordinary provisions.

Fasting, as you have heard last week, has many benefits for Christians but it is not without its abuse and risk.  As I stated last week, fasting without God in mind, can anger God.  So then what do we need to watch out for, what do we need to do?  We get the hint from our Lord Jesus Christ.

1:  In the first place, we can figure out wrong pharisaic fasting practice during Jesus’ days from today’s passage.  Wrong fasting consisted of:

  • Disfigurement of themselves during fasting
  • Foregoing washing their faces and anointing their heads with oil

Jesus says that only hypocrites do these in order to show others that they are fasting.  Let me provide some details so you can understand what’s happening here.  Pharisees were the religious leaders of Israel at the time and many of them fasted twice a week (Mondays and Thursdays – because they teach that Moses went up to receive the laws on a Thursday and came down on Monday).

Under normal circumstances, Jewish people groomed themselves before appearing in the public as any normal cultured people would.  They will trim their beards, change their clothes and wash their faces.  Today’s equivalent of the act of pouring oil over their heads is washing their hair with shampoo.  Back in those days the oils were used to bath (it helps to get rid of dirt off the skin) as well as relieving dry scalp on your head.  So when one is not doing any of these, then they will appear very distressed as if they are under stress or they are mal-nutritioned for number of days as would be the case if they were fasting for many days.

Now Jesus’ problem with all of these is this: when they want to appear as if they are fasting and when they want to appear distressed then their primary concern is most likely their social statuses and not God.  Social status now as well as back then represents power.  It is no wonder that people crave after it.  So in short, many Pharisees were fasting all for wrong reasons.  Last week I said that fasting without God in mind only angers God and we saw that from the words of Prophet Zechariah.  When people are going on fasting because they want to show others that they are fasting and therefore seen as religiously advanced then they have very little room for God.  In fact, they have no room for God.  It is either you fill your heart with yourself or with God – one or the other.  Neither of them wants to share your heart therefore they don’t.  When the motivation for fasting is not for humbling or dedicating or disciplining yourself before God then you are in danger of just showing off.

Another danger of fasting for the sake of showing others is that it becomes an occasion on which you judge others and in turn you may risk losing your friends.  When someone wants to appear athletic, most likely they are not athletic.  If they were genuinely athletic then they wouldn’t have the need or the desire to “appear” athletic since they will naturally appear as such.  Athletic is what they are naturally!  So when someone wants to appear religious through the exercise of fasting, they are most likely NOT concerned about God all that much but with their empty hearts they judge others.  Interestingly Jesus tells a parable involving two individuals and one mentions fasting:

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ 13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ 14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 18:10-14)

Did you notice that the Pharisee said “God, I thank you that I am not like other people”?  When one’s heart is empty of God and goes onto fasting in order to appear religious, this is what end up happening.  You end up thanking a god called “yourself” for not being like others who don’t fast.  With that judgmental heart, how could one keep all his friends?  Not only you have angry God, you also have angry friends when fasting is practiced just to show off and you judge others because of that.

2: Secondly, if fasting becomes an end in itself, it is useless and counter-productive.  If you are fasting to lose weight then call it what it is and just get on a diet.  Don’t accompany fasting with any other purpose.  Worship is an end in itself in that we express our adoration for God for the sake of doing it.  Not in order to get something out of him or earn favours from him but just to love Him, period.

In contrast, fasting is NOT an end in itself in that fasting alone is useless.  It must be accompanied by prayer, which is to say there has to be specific purpose in your fasting.  Either God revealed your addiction or spiritual stronghold that you need to get rid of it in your life or at least be very disciplined about it then sure it is a good occasion to get on fasting and pray over it.  But never think that simply skipping meals for a day or two will get you what you want without prayer and without much heart for God.

3: The season of Lent is already under way and some of us have begun our limited fasting.  We still have entire March to go and I still like to invite you to at least limited form of fasting only if you are convinced that you are in a spiritual slumber and have identified areas where you are being stifled.  Some of you are losing so many hours on youtube/facebook/League of Legend or any other form of online gaming.  But at the same time, I want to warn you that do this only if you want to mature spiritually or if you have that desire to please God, so if your heart is itching away at you, by all means get on that fasting, free yourself so that you can pray before God.  This is the spiritual act that God is pleased with.