Monday, December 31, 2007
One of our best church members, Raylene, is leaving Korea soon, so she has started culling out her stuff. She has sold all of her larger items and is now moving stuff to the free tables. Last night we celebrated New Year's Eve with about a dozen people in the common room of the largest dormitory here. We had a great time playing games ("Nouns in a Bag" and Phase 10), and Sarah and I walked away with a bag full of loot from the free table: half a pack of hazelnut coffee, coffee filters, a pretty floweredy box, some other random stuff and some glass coffee mugs.
These coffee mugs are made in Korea and are called "Parka Glass." I'm not sure what that's supposed to mean, but it reminds me of a big furry coat - not exactly the image they're going for, I'm sure. Their motto under "Parka Glass" is: "Adding joy and delight to your everyday life." The grammar is OK, but the sentiment is characteristically overstated for English mottoes on Korean products. Moonpie packs promise to add luscious, scintillating pleasure and vibrant health to your life! But the description on the side panel of the box is where the English gets really random and fun:
Clear and clean taste
Clearly sometimes and clean sometimes
It makes your life different.
Parka glass, it is cleaner and clearer
by itself and elegant together
Feel happiness in your life with Parka glass.
More convenient and relaxed.
So I'm not sure it's such great salesmanship to say that their glass products are only clear and clean sometimes, but apparently since "it is cleaner and clearer," most other glass products must be dirty and unclear most of the time. I guess Parka's "sometimes" would be an improvement over that.
I have to admit, we do "feel happiness" in our life at least a little bit more because of Parka glass, but so far that's mostly because of the box.
Lots of fun and happy times in church this Sunday!
As I read the text for this Sunday's sermon (Matthew 3:1-12), a thought hit me. Matthew quotes Isaiah 40: "He is a voice shouting in the wilderness, 'Prepare the way for the LORD's coming! Clear the road for him.'" I remember from another place (maybe a psalm) that righteousness will go before the LORD and prepare the way for him. That has always made lots of sense to me. Maybe righteous living prepares people to accept God and his kingdom. Maybe it prepares us and prepares other people. Maybe the Kingdom is always "at hand" and is just waiting for us to get out of the way so that it can come. And that brings me to the thought that hit me today. Maybe WE are in the way. Maybe WE are the obstacles in the path of God's Kingdom coming into our world. Maybe it is us, our sin, our systems, which are blocking God and God's Kingdom out of our world. Maybe repentance means getting ourselves out of God's way. Maybe repentance means actually obeying the truth that we already have so that we can experience the Kingdom of God in ways we have never yet seen.
How are we in God's way today?
Who are the Pharisees and Sadducees of our world?
I think it must have been pretty shocking for the people to hear John call their religious leaders a bunch of snakes. How would we feel if John called our pastors and denominational leaders a "bunch of snakes"? How might John be right if he said that today? Clearly, these religious leaders had God's Kingdom all wrong. How might we (and our leaders) have it all wrong today? How might we be leading our people into being IN God's way instead of preparing the way for God?
What do you think? Give me your feedback.
Sunday, December 30, 2007
We tried to prepare her for the possibility that it might not snow on Christmas. It had been a mild winter so far, not too cold, and only a few flurries. Nothing doing. She was still convinced. It always snows on Christmas.
On Christmas Eve, we looked out the window of our apartment at the barren pavement below. Her resolve was beginning to weaken. At the very least, it should snow on Christmas. When I was tucking her into bed, she announced with a hint of frustration in her voice, "I want to talk to God." That was a very direct and determined statement, so I said, "Sure, honey, we can pray any time. Do you want to pray now."
"Yes." Then she looked up at the ceiling and began to pray in a rather demanding tone, "God, I want it to snow tomorrow. It always snows on Christmas, so I want it to snow tomorrow. Please, make it snow."
I decided not to quench her fire with any theological musings about how or why God chooses to answer our prayers. I figured that if, by chance - or Divine Providence, it did happen to snow tomorrow, that would be a beautiful answer to her prayer and something that could really strengthen her faith.
It didn't snow.
On Christmas Day, Emma went to the window to see with great disappointment the muted grays and tans of city life. She turned to me with a sad, questioning, and demanding look: "Daddy, didn't God hear me?!"
Alas, instead of the serendipitous celebration of an answered prayer, we began the journey of wrestling with unanswered prayers. I explained that God always hears our prayers, but that God can't always say yes. I said it was kind of like I always hear her when she asks for ice cream, but I can't always say yes. I'm not sure if that really satisfied her, but it seemed to be good enough - for now.
Yesterday morning, we woke up and found 2 inches of snow already on the ground and more still falling. It snowed continually until this morning. Yesterday, we had a great, but fairly short-lived time of sledding on the mountain-hill behind our apartment complex. Little faces and feet get cold fast.
This morning the life-long chain of questions began again, "Daddy, why did God decide to make it snow now?"
Friday, December 28, 2007
As a word guy, I naturally decided to write Emma a book: "Daddy, What Is Christmas?" Here is the summary from the dust jacket.
Daddy, What Is Christmas? What's the point of this special day? Is it presents? Is it a pretty tree and decorations? Is it shopping? Is it Santa Clause?
Explaining Christmas requires a story, several stories actually. Journey with Emma and her Daddy, throughout their day to explore the meaning of Christmas through a series of stories connecting the story of Christmas to Emma's everyday life.
A family nativity set comes to life through a father's stories. As question follows question, story follows story, explaining the meaning of Christmas.
The Christmas story is simply but beautifully dramatized (through Joseph Willey's photography) with bamboo nativity student hand-crafted in Indonesia.
The story connects with everyday life through a series of photos (by Sarah Broward) depicting ordinary moments throughout the day for Josh and Emma Broward.
You can view the whole book online. You can even purchase your own copy if you happen to want one. (Sorry for the high prices, but that's basically what I paid, too.)
Sarah and I really enjoy reading books on how to have a healthy relationship, so I thought I'd share some of the books we've found helpful and are recommending to the couples we counsel.
The Five Love Languages - Gary Chapman (very helpful for learning how you both give and express love)
His Needs, Her Needs - Dr. Willard Harley, Jr. (helpful for understanding that our needs are fundamentally different and how to satisfy those different needs)
Getting the Love You Want - Harville Hendrix (a deeper psychological book, helpful for bringing communication to a deeper level and identifying how your family history may still be impacting your present)
Romancing Your Husband - Debra White Smith and Daniel W. Smith (the theory and ideas for romance)
Romancing Your Wife - Debra White Smith and Daniel W. Smith (same, but the other way around; Get both of these books, but don't let your spouse read yours.)
The Act of Marriage - Tim and Beverley LaHaye (Yes, before Left Behind, they were writing about sex! Hard to believe, I know. This book is an interesting mixture of cheesy, strangely old-fashioned, profound, and scientific. Over all, still worth the read, especially to understand the - um - nuts and bolts of sex.)
Sheet Music - Kevin Leman (This is a very bold Christian book about sex and intimacy. He goes all out in explaining and encouraging married couples to have a great time with each other. A must read, together!)
Every Man's Battle - Steve Arterburn, Fred Stoeker, with Mike Yorkey (ed.) - (This is a must read for every man and for every woman married to a man! It explores the battle every man faces to stay sexually pure. Don't miss this one!)
We still haven't found a book we really like as a basic text for premarital counseling. Any ideas out there?
KNU International English Church
December 30, 2007
Sometimes people say that we need to read the Old Testament “through the lens” of the New Testament. But I think the opposite is more often true. We need to read the New Testament “through the lens” of the Old Testament. We need to interpret the New Testament in the light of what the Old Testament says. We will only understand the New Testament when we really understand the Old Testament and ancient Jewish culture. Today’s text in Matthew 2 is a perfect example of this.
We’ve been talking for all of December about how the Jewish people longed for a Messiah. For most of their history, the Jews seemed to be at the bottom of the food chain. Sure they had their moments of glory: Moses, Joshua, David, Solomon, and a few others. But for the most part they were small, struggling to survive, oppressed or on the verge of being oppressed.
Yet, in the midst of all of this, they maintained hope. They maintained hope because the prophets delivered messages from God. These messages were that God would fulfill his original promise to his “chosen people:” “I will bless you, and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (See Genesis 12:1-3.)
The prophets got pretty creative when they described this Messiah. They used many different images to explain the Messiah, but they used one that is particularly important for us today because it is used in Matthew 2. The Messiah would be a Branch (in Hebrew Nazar). The prophets expressed this image using various words: branch, shoot, root, sprout, young plant. But the idea was always the same. The Jewish people were a small plant, and God would make a new leader (a Branch, a Nazar) grow up to give healing and justice and righteousness to God’s people. And this Branch, this Nazar, would draw together people from all over the world.
Listen to the words of the prophets:
1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD – 3 and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; 4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy; with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. 5 Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist. …
10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious. 11 In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the remnant that is left of his people …12 He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of
2 My servant grew up in the Lord’s presence like a tender green shoot, like a root in dry ground. There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him. 3 He was despised and rejected— a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care. 4 Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! 5 But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. …
12 I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier, because he exposed himself to death. He was counted among the rebels. He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels.
6 Nevertheless, the time will come when I will heal
10 This is what the Lord says: You have said, ‘This is a desolate land where people and animals have all disappeared.’ Yet in the empty streets of
14 'The days are coming,' declares the LORD, 'when I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of
So the Messiah would be a Branch, a Nazar, who would grow “out of dry ground,” from the most unexpected place. The Messiah would be a “tender green shoot,” just a little twig, a baby Branch, at the beginning. The Messiah would grow up out of a “stump,” a people who have been cut down like a tree. The Messiah would be shamed and rejected, yet he would come to a people who were shamed and rejected. The Branch would bring them healing and justice and peace, and not only them. This Messiah Branch, the Nazar, would be a gathering point for the nations, where everyone would receive healing and peace and glory and righteousness all together.
The Jews who kept the faith believed in this Branch, the Nazar. They held out hope for the Nazar. At some unknown time in
But this little town of
When we read Matthew 2 in this context, through this “lens,” Matthew’s words start to make sense. Listen to the end of Matthew chapter 2:
19 When Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in
21 So Joseph got up and returned to the
Matthew seems to be saying, Jesus is the Messiah, the Branch, the Nazar, so God sent him to live in
Jesus was forever known as Jesus of Nazareth, or Jesus the Nazarene. The first Christians were called “the Nazarenes” (Acts 24:5).
“Can anything good come from
Jesus is the living Branch. Jesus is the Nazar, the Nazarene. Jesus is the one who brings greatness from smallness. Jesus is the one who brings honor out of shame. Jesus is the tender, baby Branch, who grew into a great tree giving life and healing to the world.
But this word, nazar, is used in one more way in the Old Testament. It’s quite amazing really. See if you can catch the meaning. In Isaiah 60, God says these words to his people:
2 See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the LORD rises upon you and his glory appears over you. …
15 Although you have been forsaken and hated, with no one traveling through, I will make you the everlasting pride and the joy of all generations. …
21 Then will all your people be righteous, and they will possess the land forever. They are the shoot [the nazar] I have planted, the work of my hands, for the display of my splendor.
22 The least of you will become a thousand, the smallest a mighty nation. I am the LORD; in its time I will do this swiftly.
Who is the nazar in this passage? The people are the “shoot,” the nazar, God has planted, the work of God’s hands, to show God’s goodness to the world. When the Branch comes, his people will be little branches. The Messiah’s people will be like little Messiah’s. They will become a blessing to the world to show God’s goodness to the world.
Hmm, that sounds like what Jesus said, “Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit,” (John 15:5).
What does it mean to be a Christian? What does it mean to follow Jesus the Nazarene? It means to be a Nazarene. (No, I’m not saying that every Christian needs to be a member of the Church of the Nazarene or that only Nazarenes are Christians, although I’d say that’s a good way to go.)
Being a Christian means living like Jesus the Nazarene. Being a Christian means being nazar-like. Being a Christian means being living proof that hope and healing can come in the most unlikely places. Being a Christian is helping God bring life out of dry ground. Being a Christian means never giving up hope on anyone. Being a Christian means bringing honor to those who are shamed. Being a Christian means following Jesus into the Nazareths of our world and finding the rejected outcasts and bringing them acceptance and new life.
Being a Christian means giving up on being cool, letting popularity go by the wayside, forgetting about being successful or powerful, not worrying about becoming rich, letting go of fashion. Being a Christian means claiming our spot with the weak and broken. Being a Christian means accepting that we are also the broken down stumps and dry ground out of which God has brought life. Being a Christian means accepting shame and humiliation and outsider-ness and littleness as a part of the process of the Branch coming to produce fruit in our lives, because the Branch, the Nazar, grows in
Church, let’s follow Jesus of Nazareth. Let’s be a true church of Jesus the Nazarene. Let’s show his compassion and healing and humility to our world.
I have to be honest with you, though. It will take a miracle for us to fulfill this calling. The truth is that we are not very Nazar-like. We are rich. We are proud. We are selfish. We are addicted to fashion, addicted to success, and addicted to our stuff. You might even call us “dry ground” for this kind of Nazar mission.
But the Nazar is all about. The Nazar, Jesus the Nazarene, grows out of dry ground and gives hope to the world through dry ground people. Be encouraged. Jesus, the life-giving Nazar, can grow in the most unlikely of places, even here. And the “tender green shoot” has already begun to sprout among us.
[[By the way, one resource I found very helpful for this sermon was "Nazareth and the Branch" by Dennis Bratcher.]]
Monday, December 24, 2007
Service starts in total darkness. The only light is through the open door. Congregants take their seats in silence. Greeters all warn people that this service will start in darkness and be very different.
Darkness and pain in our world
Suffering Slide Show: Images of pain and suffering in our world.
silent darkness (1 minute)
“O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” – v 1 (Stephanie) enters from back singing, holding a candle; v 2 (Sarah) same from right; v 4 (So-Young) same from left; all three meet in center; 3 ladies sing chorus slowly and walk to front; Stephanie lights the first advent candle. Worship team goes to their places. (Small lamps for worship team and piano.) Congregation sings v 1 and chorus again, with worship team.
Darkness and pain the ancient Jewish world
Video clips from The Nativity Story (Ancient Jewish people longing for the Messiah)
“Lord Have Mercy” – worship team – Sarah lights second candle advent candle; the smallest set of house lights goes on.
Light and joy through Jesus in the ancient Jewish world
Parable of the Cave (Elisa) – after story, Elisa lights third advent candle, next smallest set of house lights goes on. (Read this story in the next post.)
“Here I Am to Worship” – worship team
Sermon part 1: Jesus came but the world was still dark. (Read this sermon in the post below: "Matthew 2:13-18: Christmas Darkness to Light)
Light and joy through Jesus in our world
Sermon part 2: Jesus, the Light of the World, was hidden (and still is hidden) in small communities and individuals who follow His Light. Josh lights 4th advent candle; next smallest set of house lights goes on.
“O Holy Night” verses 1 and 3 – worship team
Jesus Story – Emma (telling about sponsoring a child). After story, Emma lights the Christ Candle; all house lights go on; all stage lights go on; as much light as possible focused on the cross.
Offering - in procession to the cross – people place their offering in the basket at the foot of the cross. As we walk we sing, “Joy to the World” – all four verses. After giving offering, we greet each other with the joy of Christmas.
“Joy to the World” – verses 1 and 4 again – everyone standing
(Postlude: Hark the Herald Angels)
Once upon a time there was a people who lived in a very dark place. In fact, they lived in a cave. But they did not know it was a cave, for they knew only their darkness.
Life in darkness is difficult. Life in darkness causes problems.
If they stood to walk, they were likely to fall down and hurt themselves. So everyone crawled. Everywhere. All the time.
Because they could not see, they did not know when they were dirty and when they were not. Their skin and clothes were usually dirty and damp from life in a dark cave.
The water and food supply were also not so good. The water was dirty and full of unhealthy minerals from the earth. Their food was simply the bugs and small creatures that live underground.
They lived with a variety of diseases from the darkness: skin rashes, vitamin deficiencies, back problems, parasites, and infections.
Because of the darkness, they lived with a constant sense of instability. They were overly protective of their belongings and territory. When they bumped into each other, they became hostile, always fearing that someone was coming to take what little they had.
As if all of this was not enough, there was a dragon who lived at one end of the very large cave. He was the king of the cave. He had to be appeased at all times. He was given sacrifices of food, belongings, and even children. Usually the sacrifices kept him at bay, but sometimes – with or without cause – the dragon would breathe fire into the cave or sweep his massive tail through the darkness and kill many people. Life in the darkness was mostly beyond their control, but when the dragon struck, they felt completely helpless.
However, they were not completely hopeless. They had the prophecy. Somehow down through the generations, a prophecy had been preserved. Fathers told it to their children when they were hunting for bugs. Mothers explained the prophecy at bed time. The prophecy was very important to them. It gave them hope.
This was the prophecy: “A star will come. A star will bring healing. A star will bring freedom. A star will bring new life.”
Now they saw the star. For many years, for many decades, they had seen the star. This was the fulfillment of the prophecy. They began to worship this great star, the fulfillment of their hopes and dreams. The star had come! They sang songs to the star. They prayed prayers to the star. They gave gifts to the star. The star had come! The star will bring healing! The star will bring freedom! The star will bring new life!
They dreamed of how the star would help them. They dreamed of having better food in their cave. They dreamed of having clean water in their cave. They dreamed of having a more loving, caring community in their cave. They dreamed of being free from the dragon, maybe even killing the dragon, in their cave. The star would make life better in their cave.
But it didn’t. Life was just the same in the cave. The darkness was the same. The food was the same. The pain was the same. The dragon was the same. The fear was the same. The star had come, but life was still the same. The people did not understand, but they continued to worship the star. This was their only hope.
One day a new person appeared in their community. He was just like them, but he was different. He was not full of fear and mistrust. He did not have the diseases they had. He was not afraid of the dragon. But most of all, he said he was not from the cave.
They did not understand. “What do you mean? You’re not from ‘our cave’? What is a ‘cave’? What do you mean you’re not from ‘the darkness’? What is ‘darkness’? What do you mean you are from ‘the world above’? What is ‘above’? What do you mean you are from ‘the light’? What is ‘light’?” They did not understand this stranger.
This stranger spoke strange things to them. He said things that were against everything they had ever known. It almost sounded as if he was speaking against the prophecy. Some people thought he was crazy. Some people thought he was evil. Some people said they should just ignore him. Some people said they should kill him.
One day the people gathered to listen to him one last time. This is what he said, “I am glad you have seen the star. The star is your source of hope. The star will bring you healing. The star will bring you freedom. The star will bring you new life. But the star is not a star. The star is actually a hole. I have created this hole. I dug this hole with my own hands. I am from the world above, where we live in a completely different way, a much better way. The star that you see is actually light from the world above shining into your world.
“I am glad that you have seen this star. The star will give you healing and freedom and peace and new life. But it will not give you any of this here in your cave. The star is a light shining to show you the way out of your cave, the way out of your darkness, into a new world, a world filled with light, a world full of peace and love and healing. My friends, it is time to stop worshiping the star.”
At this the crowd erupted in anger: “Blasphemy! Heretic! Evil one! We should kill him now. He is speaking against the star!”
But somehow he was able to quiet them down again, and he continued: “My friends, I say that it is time to stop worshiping the star only because it is time to start following the star. The star is the path to freedom. The star is the path to real life. I believe in the star! I have followed its path. If you believe in the star, it is not enough to sing about the star and to pray to the star here in your cave. If you really believe in the star, you will follow the star out of your darkness into the light.”
When the stranger finished his speech, he began walking toward the star. Some people who believed began walking with him. Arm in arm, they followed the star. It was not always easy. The way was difficult and rocky. They were not used to walking like this. They were not used to life outside their darkness. But they supported each other. They helped each other. They picked each other up when they fell.
And as they followed the star, the star grew brighter and larger. They began to understand a little bit of this “whole new world” that the star revealed. And seeing a little of this new world gave them strength to keep walking.
Eventually, they reached the star, and they discovered that the stranger was right. The prophecy was true. The star did come. The star did bring them healing. The star did bring them freedom. The star did bring a whole new life. The prophecy was true. The prophecy had been fulfilled!
But it was completely different from what they expected. The star was not a star. The star was a pathway to a whole new world, a world they didn’t know even existed. The star was a pathway to a whole new life, a life they hadn’t even dreamed was even possible.
The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. …
So the Word became human and made his home among us. (John 1:1-14)
Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” (John 8:12)
Jesus shouted to the crowds, “If you trust me, you are trusting not only me, but also God who sent me. For when you see me, you are seeing the one who sent me. I have come as a light to shine in this dark world, so that all who put their trust in me will no longer remain in the dark. (John 12:44-46)
Jesus is the Light of the World. He is the King of Kings, at home in the heart of heaven, shining with a light that outshines the sun.
But this King, this Light, stepped down into our darkness. He entered our broken, hurting, violent, dark world. He took human flesh and made his home among us.
He entered our darkness not as a blazing light. He came not as a conquering and powerful King. He came not as a doctor or a scholar or a rich man. He came as a baby, as a very poor baby, the child of very poor parents in a very poor country. “All for love’s sake, he became poor.”
Jesus, the Light of the world, entered our darkness and did not bring light. Jesus, the King of Kings, entered our world and did not bring a Kingdom. Jesus, the Prince of Peace, entered our world and did not bring peace.
Listen to what Matthew says about Jesus’ first days on earth. (Read Matthew 2:13-18.)
After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”
That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother, and they stayed there until Herod’s death. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: “I called my Son out of Egypt.”
Herod was furious when he realized that the wise men had outwitted him. He sent soldiers to kill all the boys in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, based on the wise men’s report of the star’s first appearance. Herod’s brutal action fulfilled what God had spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:
“A cry was heard in Ramah — weeping and great mourning. Rachel weeps for her children, refusing to be comforted, for they are dead.”
The King of Kings has come. The “righteous Branch” has come to rule on “King David’s throne.” Through Jesus, “Judah will be saved, and Israel will live in safety” (Jeremiah 23:5-6).
But mothers still cry because their sons are dead. Jesus comes, but the world is still dark and unsafe and unjust. The people are not saved.
Jesus did not gather an army and kick out the Roman oppressors. Jesus did not give the people freedom or protection or the peace that they wanted, the peace that they prayed for, longed for, cried for. Jesus’ birth was ushered in with the massacre of 20-30 baby boys in Bethlehem.
The Messiah comes. The Light of the World comes, but the world is still dark.
The Light is hidden. The Light is a mystery. The Light is not what anyone expected. The Light of the World is hidden away in a little baby lying on pile of hay. The Light of the World is secretly carried on the back of a donkey to Egypt to escape an evil king. The Light of the World shines, but the world is still dark.
What good is a Light like this? Who needs a Light like this?
The Light of the World is not a star to be worshiped. The Light of the World is a path for us to follow. Jesus has come into our darkness to lead us out. He has not come to make our darkness better. He has not come to make our darkness more comfortable. He has not come to prop up and to mend our old systems. Jesus has come to show us a new way of life. Jesus has come to show us a whole new world. Jesus, the Light of the World, is a path for us to follow out of our darkness.
Jesus came to the Jews who were a poor people oppressed by the Romans, and he showed them a new way to live, a whole new system for viewing the world.
They wanted freedom from the Roman political, religious system which oppressed them and kept them from experiencing real life. Jesus did not do this. The Romans still ruled. But Jesus did set the Jews free from their own Jewish political, religious system which also oppressed them and kept them from experiencing real life.
They wanted freedom from the sins of the Romans. Jesus did not do this. The Romans still taxed and stole and raped and killed. They even taxed and killed him. But Jesus did set the people free from their own sins.
They wanted Jesus to crush their enemies, to kill their enemies, and to put their enemies under their feet. Jesus did not do this. Rome still held its foot on Israel’s neck. But Jesus did set the people free from their enemies through love. “Love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!” (Matthew 5:44). “If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles” (Matthew 5:41).
They wanted Jesus to bring them economic prosperity. Jesus did not do this. Israel was still poor. Instead, Jesus brought them freedom from worry about money. “Give to all those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow” (Matthew 5:42). “So don’t worry about having enough food or drink or clothing. … Your heavenly Father already knows all your needs, and he will give you all you need from day to day if you live for him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern” (Matthew 6:31-33).
They wanted Jesus to work within their own system of power and righteousness by rules and violence and money. Jesus told them that there is an entirely different system. Jesus explained that there is a whole new world out there, called the Kingdom of God. This system is completely different from our system. Living in this Kingdom requires living in a whole new way. We have to leave our old system of darkness behind and follow Jesus into his new Kingdom of Light.
Those 1st century Jews who decided to follow the Light of the Word actually experienced this new Kingdom of Light.
“A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity - all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved” (Acts 2:43-47).
In 137 AD a Roman official was apparently asked to research the Christian religion and to write a report on it for the Roman Emperor. This is what he wrote:
It is the Christians, oh emperor, who have seemed to have sought and found the truth for they acknowledge God. They don’t keep for themselves the goods entrusted to them, but they show love to their neighbors. They don’t do to another what they would not want done to themselves. They speak gently to those who oppress them. In this way, they make their enemies their friends. It has become their passion to do good to their enemies. Every one of them who has anything gives ungrudgingly to the one among them who has nothing. If they see a homeless stranger they bring them in under their own roof. They rejoice over that brother or sister as if they were a real sister or brother. For they do not call one another sisters and brothers because of the flesh, but because of the spirit of their God. If anyone among them is poor, while they themselves have little to spare, then the whole community will fast for two or three days until everyone can eat together. In this way they can supply any poor person with what they need. This, oh emperor, is the rule of life of the Christians. This is the way they have come to live.
They were experiencing the living Kingdom of God! The Light of the World was shining among them. The Light of the World was hidden in small communities of Christians around the world who were loving and caring for each other. The Light of the World was hidden in poor Christians who gave up their own food so that they could provide food for others.
The Light of the World was shining on the world, but it was hidden in people. It was hidden in people like you and me.
The Light of the World is still shining on the world. The Light of the World is still hidden. The Light of the World is hidden in small communities like ours around the world who are loving and caring for each other. The Light of the World is still hidden in Christians who give up what they have so that others may eat. The Light of the World is still hidden in you and in me.
The Light of the World is in us. The Messiah of the universe has come to us, in us, among us.
What will you do? How will you live? Will you live so that he shines in you? Will you live so that someone will look at your life and say, “Surely they have sought and found the truth”? Will you follow the Light into a whole new way of living?
Will you live the Light, so that it shines out through everything you do? Or will you ignore the Light, bury the Light, so that others might never know it is there?
What will we do? How will we live? How will we live so that others see the Light of the World by our very life together? Will we follow the Light to a whole new way of being the church together? We cannot simply worship the Light. We must follow the Light to the whole new world of the Kingdom of God.
The Light of the World is shining among us. The Light of the World is hidden among us. And our world is still dark. Our world still needs the Light. God has put that Light in us.
What will you do?
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
It's very hard to maintain a skeptical, naturalist perspective in the face of personal stories like this.
For the skeptics out there, I'd be very interested in hearing how you explain this.
Thursday, December 13, 2007
At 9 a.m. Emma and I were eating breakfast, and the phone rang. Emma rushed to the phone and answered. Here is the one side of the conversation I heard: "Hello ... Uh huh ... We're eating breakfast ... Who is this? ... Leah?!! ... My aunt?!! ... I'm so happy to talk to you ... No my mommy's not home. She went to the doctor. ... It hurts when she goes peepee. ... Uh huh ... You'll call back later ... OK. ... Bye bye." Click.
I thought that was awfully strange for Sarah's sister to call half way around the world and then just talk for 2 minutes. But it was too late to do anything about it.
About 10 minutes later the phone rang again. It was "Leah" again, but Leah was not Sarah's sister, Emma's aunt. Leah was the Korean director of the KNU English Village in Cheonan, where Sarah was hoping to get some part-time work over the winter vacation. Oops. That took a little explaining - to Leah and to Emma ... and to Sarah.
By the way, Sarah returned from the doctor with lots of meds, so she should be feeling better soon. (And surprisingly, I even got her permission to put this story on the blog. Old dogs can learn new tricks.)
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
Sunday night our church hosted a movie night, thanks to the planning of Cathy Williams and Jolie Lee. We watched the old classic, "It's a Wonderful Life." I always choke up in that last scene when all of the people from town come in to help out their friend George who has made such a difference in their lives. Behold the power of living a simple, faithful life.
We probably had about 50 people there - a great turn out for us. Matt Banner and co put out a great ice cream Sunday feast celebrating Betsie's last day in Korea. With Cathy's homemade cookies as well, we had quite the dessert extravaganza.
Good movie. Good friends. Good food. It's a wonderful life.