Sunday, December 4, 2016

“Turn” (Matt 3:1-12; Numbers 14:39-45)

The First Word of the Gospel
Today we celebrate the second Sunday of Advent. Now we follow the lectionary schedule. Last week the theme word was “watch,” and this week’s theme word is “turn.” Have you ever thought what the first word of the gospel is? The first word of the gospel is not "love." It is not even "grace." The first word of the gospel is "repent." The first word of John the Baptist in his ministry was “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matt 3:2). And the first word of Jesus’ ministry was exactly the same: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (4:17). Repentance literally means to turn. It is to turn from our sin and turn to God. In today’s gospel lesson John the Baptist made it clear that repentance makes the path straight between the Lord and the repenting person. Repentance is like clearing a highway of holiness to and from God. It is safe to say that repentance is the first step to be right with God.

Marks of Repentance
Then, what are the essential marks of true repentance? Today’s Old Testament lesson tells us what false repentance is. Let me briefly explain the background of today’s passage. At that time the Israelites were about to enter the Promised Land. The twelve spies just came back and reported what they had seen. And ten of them spread a bad report. After hearing the report, all night the Israelites cried and wept aloud. And they grumbled against God and Moses, and said, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this desert! We will fall by the sword. And our wives and children will be taken as plunder!” They committed a great sin of unbelief. Then, God said to them, “I will do to you the very things I heard you say.” And he continued, “Tomorrow, turn back and set out to the desert in the direction of the Red Sea again.” 

Mourning over Sin
After this, in today’s scripture the people of Israel repent their sin. But it is false repentance. We find at least three marks of true repentance in today’s stories. The first mark of true repentance is to mourn over sin. In Numbers 14:39 the Israelites mourned bitterly, not because of their sins, but because of the bad news that they must turn back to the desert again! So, they came to Moses and said, “We have sinned.” They said this to avoid a crisis and to flee from God’s coming wrath. In this case true repentance is to turn back and set out to the wildness as God commanded. In the Gospel lesson John the Baptist was called to proclaim a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Matt 3:11; Mark 1:4). At that time there were two groups of people who came out to him. The first group of people came out to confess their sins and to change their minds and actions. The second group of people, the Pharisees and Sadducees, came out to flee from the wrath to come, without any contrite heart. So John the Baptist said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?” True repentance is to mourn over our sins and to come out to God to obey his will and even accept His punishment.
  
Death to Self 
The second mark of true repentance is self-denial. In Numbers 14 the Israelites say, “We have sinned.” They get up early the next morning, heavily armed, and say, “We will go up to the place the Lord promised.” But Moses says to them, “Why are you disobeying the Lord’s command? Do not go up!” But verse 44 says, “Nevertheless, in their presumption they went up toward the high hill country…” This is a typical example of false repentance, repentance without dying to self. There are many ways to experience of “dying to self.” In today’s story giving in and turning back to the desert is an experience of dying to self. In some cases we need to go to a particular person and ask for forgiveness. In some cases we need to make monetary compensation to make it right. And in many cases, God helps us to experience of dying to self by confessing our sins, especially in front of people. James 5:16 says, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another.” 

Let me ask this question, “Which is easier for you to confess your sin to God or to people?” For me, personally, confessing to God was much easier because God is always loving and forgiving and keeps the secret. But the thing is that I just kept sinning although I repented over and over. I got frustrated. Later I realized actually I didn’t confess my sins to God, but to myself and forgave myself. That is why God commands us to confess our sins to another person, image of God. True repentance must go through the experience of dying to self. During my seminary years what I learned most was how to repent. When I came to the US in 2006, I had my own plan. It was to earn a doctoral degree as soon as I can and become a pastor of a large church. Therefore, it was very important for me to get good grades. I did my best for excellent grades and was able to earn them. One day the Holy Spirit convicted me. He reminded me that I submitted the reading reports of some of the classes not in good conscience. I had just skimmed through part of the required readings but checked them off as 100% completion. I had good grades. But the Holy Spirit exposed my ambition deep in my heart. Eventually, I officially confessed my wrongdoing to my professors, some of my friends and students, and church family members. As a result, the grades of the four classes were reduced. And it became very difficult for me to pursue further study. It was painful experience, but I learned a valuable lesson. I learned that true repentance must go through the experience of dying to self. My ambition has been crucified to me.  

Bearing Fruit Worthy of Repentance 
The third mark of true repentance is to bear fruit worthy of repentance. The people of Israel said to Moses, “We have sinned.” But they didn’t obey God’s will but they insisted on their own way. They went up to the hill to fight. And the result, the fruit was verse 45. It says, “Then the Amelekites and Canaanites who lived in that hill country came down and attacked them and beat them down all the way to Hormah.” Hormah means destruction. The fruit of their repentance was destruction, death. Why? It is because they repented on their terms, not on God’s terms. Romans 8:6 says, “The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.” When we repent led by the Spirit, inwardly we have the fruit of life and peace. And outwardly, we experience a change of action. True repentance is from the inside out. And it bears fruits worthy of repentance. According to John the Baptist, it is to share our possessions with the poor. It is to always keep our conscience and live before God. It is not to misuse power and privilege for our own good. Most importantly, true repentance bears the fruit of the Holy Spirit. So we are called to look at our lives and ask, “Am I more loving than I was one year ago?” “Am I more joyful than I was five years ago?” “Am I more peaceful than I was ten years ago?” And so on.  And further, “Am I seeing a transformation from selfishness and inward focus to loving God and loving neighbor?”

“I Am Repentant!”
On this second Sunday of Advent, God invites us to repent. Why do we need to repent? Because true repentance makes the path straight between God and us and draws us closer to our holy God. In 2 Corinthians 7:10 Paul says, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” So I invite all of us in this room to ask the following three questions and answer to them as we prepare the way for the Lord during Advent:

What am I fearing and mourning over? My sins? Or the consequences?
How do I repent? On my terms? Or on God’s terms?
How am I bearing fruit worthy of repentance in my life?

True repentance is not a single act but an ongoing and continual attitude. Those who truly repent don’t describe repentance as a past accomplishment, saying things like, “I repented twelve years ago.” Instead, they say, “I am repentant. I live as a repentant person. I live in the spirit and attitude of repentance.” My prayer is that as we meditate on today’s scriptures and message, the Holy Spirit will convict us and lead us to true repentance, so that we may turn to God and bear fruit worthy of repentance and have life and peace that God promised us through Jesus Christ here and now. Amen. 
     Quintday
 Quintr. :00 a.m.  Wednesday, Dec 14, at                        Pastor Victor                                  



Sunday, November 27, 2016

“Watch” (Matt 24:36-44; Romans 13:11-14; Psalm 122; Isaiah 2:1-5)

Advent: Beginning with the End in Mind 
Today we celebrate the first day of Advent. The word “Advent” is from the Latin “Adventus,” which means “coming.” Advent is the beginning of a new liturgical year. It is the time of the year when we remember promises about the first coming of Jesus. We celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus in the manger at Christmas. But much more importantly, Advent is the season about how we get ready for the second coming of Jesus. It is the time for us to ask ourselves, “Am I ready?” “Am I on the right track?” This week’s lectionary passages tell us how we should be ready to meet Jesus individually and as a church.

Put on Christ

The Epistle reading from Romans 13 begins in this way: “… The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed… Therefore, put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (vv. 11-14). Then, what does it mean by putting on Christ? It means that Christ should be a suit of clothes that we wear all the time. It means that let Christ direct all our thinking and conduct all the time. Putting on Christ is not “once-for-all” action like baptism, but it is something we must choose to do each and every day.

The Gospel reading from Matthew 24 is part of Jesus’ teaching about the end of the age on the Mount of Olives. In the Olivet Discourse Jesus tells us how we may put on Him in our daily lives. In verse 44 Jesus says, “So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” Then, he tells us a parable, the parable of the ten virgins – five of them were foolish and five were wise. The Bible says when the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep. Then, what makes the five foolish and the other five wise? The foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, but the wise took along extra oil with them. Then, what does the “oil” stand for? It stands for a true relationship with Jesus. When the five foolish virgins cry out to the bridegroom, he calls out to them, “I tell you the truth, I don’t know you” (25:12). The oil must be prepared in our everyday life. It will be too late to get ready at the end of life or at the return of Jesus. We are ready when our relationship with Jesus is true and intimate. We are ready when we put on Jesus Christ every morning. We are ready when Christ rules in our hearts and minds.

The best way to put on Christ is to mediate on God’s word day and night, because Jesus is the Word (John 1:14). Recently, I faced Giant Despair. I almost lost my footing. It was close. But it was God’s word that sustained me and delivered me out of the dungeon of Giant Despair. Every morning I meditate on Psalms. Particularly, this week God gave me the same message every morning: “Take refuge in Him. Cry out to Him. And give thanks to Him.” Giant Despair was persistent. He didn’t just let me go. He kept coming back. But every time he came, I practiced these three things. I did run to God, cry out to him, and praise his holy name and give thanks for what he had done. “My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing and make music! Awake, my soul! Awake, harp and lyre! I will awaken the dawn!” (Ps 57:7-8) That’s exactly what I did. And God sustained me and restored my soul. We put on Christ when we hear the word and do the word.

Put on Christ “Together”

This week’s Old Testament lectionary readings – Psalm 122 and Isaiah 2 – describe the glorious day of the Lord when God’s people are ready and go up to meet their bridegroom Jesus together! Psalm 122:1 says, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” Isaiah 2:3 says, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob.” God gave us the church, so that we may be able to remain faithful, encourage one another, and be ready as pure bride of Christ together. In the early church when believers gathered or parted, they didn't say "Hello" or "Goodbye." Instead, they said "Maranatha” which means “Our Lord comes!” They encouraged one another and reminded one another of the imminent return of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Bible says, “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb 10:25). We are the church. We are here to encourage one another. We are here to help one another to stay focused on Jesus Christ.

One of my favorite books is John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Recently, I had a chance to watch a movie version of it. This time I noticed that the main character Christian always had a traveling companion. In the first half of the journey God sent him “Faithful” as his companion. When they were tempted, they watched each other in love. When they were ridiculed and persecuted, they encouraged each other. But then, in the town of Vanity, Faithful so boldly proclaimed the gospel and eventually he died a martyr. After this, God sent Christian another traveling companion, “Hopeful.” One time Christian and Hopeful had to go through the land, called the Enchanted Ground, whose air naturally made one drowsy and die. And here Hopeful began to be very dull and heavy of sleep. So he said to Christian, “Let us lie down and take a nap for an hour.” But Christian said, “By no means! If we take a nap here, we will die.” To prevent drowsiness, they began to share their testimonies to each other: When they felt the love of Christ personally for the first time, how God saved them, how God transformed them, how they began to love a holy life, and so on. While they were telling their love stories with Jesus, before they knew they just passed the Enchanted Ground. Let us pray that we may also meet our traveling companions right here in this place to encourage one another, comfort one another, and correct one another to stay focused on Christ.


Maranatha! 
As I close, I want to share the story of Ernest Shackleton. While on a South Pole expedition, Shackleton left a few men on Elephant Island, and he promised that he would return. Later, when he tried to go back, huge icebergs blocked the way. But suddenly, as if by a miracle, an avenue opened in the ice and Shackleton was able to get through. His men on Elephant Island were ready and waiting, and they quickly scrambled aboard. As soon as the ship had cleared the island, the ice crashed together behind them. As Shackleton contemplated their narrow escape, he said to his men, "It was fortunate you were all packed and ready to go!" They replied, "We never gave up hope. Whenever the sea was clear of ice, we rolled up our sleeping bags and reminded each other, the boss may come today." The promise of the second coming of Jesus occurs 1,845 times in the Old Testament, and 318 times in the New Testament. In other words, about every 30 verses of the Bible tells us about the second coming of Jesus. The Bible keeps telling us, “The day of the Lord will come like a thief” (2 Pt 3:10). As we begin Advent, let us be ready. Let us be “packed and ready to go” at every moment! As we leave this room today, let us not say “Goodbye,” but say "Maranatha!" Yes, Come, Lord Jesus, Come! Amen.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

“A Life of Generosity” (Matt 6:19-21; 13:44) - Holistic Stewardship III -


The Redemption of Scrooge
Probably many of you have heard this famous story especially in this time of the year as we move towards Thanksgiving and Christmas: Charles Dickens’ classic story A Christmas Carol. It tells the story of a bitter old miser named Ebenezer Scrooge and his transformation. At first, he was described as a wealthy and miserable man. He was caustic, complaining, and horrendously greedy. But then through supernatural intervention, Scrooge was allowed to see his past, present, and still-changeable future by the visitations of the ghost of his former friend Jacob Marley and the other ghosts. After encounters with those three spirits on Christmas Day, he was given a second chance at life. Dickens describes the transformation of Scrooge in this way: “Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them.… His own heart laughed, and that was quite enough for him. And it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.”[1] So what was the source of Scrooge’s transformation? The answer is “gaining an eternal perspective.” By God’s grace Scrooge was allowed to see his past, present, and future through the eyes of eternity.

Eyes on Eternity
In today’s passage Jesus invites us to clearly see treasures in heaven. There are two kinds of treasures – treasures on earth and treasures in heaven. What is the difference between the two? One is temporary, and the other is eternal. Jesus says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth” (Matt 6:19) not because they are bad, but because they won’t last. Sooner of later they will disappear. We know King Solomon’s famous statement in Ecclesiastes 1:2: “Meaningless! Meaningless! Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless!” On the surface what Solomon says sounds quite pessimistic. But the word lb,h (hebel) can be translated as finitude as well as vanity. Here Solomon is saying, “Temporary! Temporary! Utterly temporary! Everything on earth is temporary!” The beginning of wisdom is to know that everything under the sun is temporary. Moses, man of God, prayed this prayer in Psalm 90:11, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” We all need this prayer, “Lord, open our eyes to see what we have today will quickly disappear.” We need God’s grace to truly know this.

But at the same time, the Bible also says that we need to do our part in order to gain an eternal perspective. Jesus says, “Treasure things above, and your heart will follow” (cf. Matt 6:21). When I was taking a business law class in college, many of the students including myself found it very difficult. One day a professor suggested that we might save some money and buy stocks. Some of us bought shares of electric company such as Samsung. It worked. Samsung became our treasure. We suddenly developed interest in Samsung. We checked the financial pages. We saw a magazine article about Samsung and read every word. Treasure leads; hearts follow. Few years ago God gave Joyce and me a burden for North Korea. So we have been helping two mission organizations for North Korea. When we see an article on North Korea, we’re hooked. When we hear the news of famine and starvation in North Korea, we pray. Treasure leads; hearts follow. Many Christians say, “I want more of a heart for missions.” Jesus tells us exactly how to get it. He says, “Put your money in missions and your heart will follow” (cf. 6:20-21). What is your treasure? Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

All-in
By God’s grace now we know what treasure is temporary and what treasure is eternal. And the Bible clearly says that our eternal and ultimate treasure is Jesus Christ himself (ex. Phil 3:8). When we find the ultimate treasure, Jesus Christ, what is the next step? The next step is to sell all we have and have Jesus instead. It is about all or nothing. There is no in-between. When we encounter Jesus, we cannot be the same. Either we need to be all-in for Jesus or walk away sad. There is no way around it. The word “all-in” is the terminology used during a poker game when a player is so convinced and has moved all of their chips into the pot. Then, what does it look like to be all-in for Jesus? How do we know we are truly “all-in”? One of the most accurate ways to know is to see how we handle money. Why does money matter? Martin Luther said, “There are three conversions a person needs to experience: The conversion of the head, the conversion of the heart, and the conversion of the pocketbook.” It is worth noting that money is the main subject of nearly half of the parables Jesus told in the Bible. 15 percent of everything Jesus ever taught was on the topic of money and possessions — more than His teachings on heaven and hell combined.[2] The Bible offers 500 verses on prayer, fewer than 500 verses on faith, and more than 2,000 verses on money.

Why does money matter? It is because there is a fundamental connection between our spiritual lives and our finances. They are inseparable. In Luke 3 different groups ask John the Baptist what they should do to bear the fruit of repentance. “What should we do?” they ask. John gives three answers. All of them relate to money and possessions. In Luke 19 Zacchaeus met Jesus and was transformed. The first thing he said after his heart had been transformed is this: “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” (v. 8). Jesus said, “Today salvation has come to this house!” (v. 9). Our approach to money and possessions is so central to our spiritual lives.

“In His Joy”
In particular, giving is an indispensable part of Christian discipleship. We define our priorities, values, and what we love through our giving. We say, “I love you Lord” through our giving. We say, “Thank you Lord” through our giving. For me personally, there are many things I am thankful for to my parents. The one thing I’m most thankful for is that they taught me the joy of giving. When I was five, my parents planted a new church. At that time there was no parsonage. My family and I had to live in the church building for the time being. We lived below the subsistence level. But my parents always set aside the firstfruits of all they receive, starting with at least 10 percent. They made generous mission offerings and special offerings even beyond their ability on New Year, Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, family birthdays, anniversaries, and so on. They didn’t do it out of guilt or a sense of duty, but out of joy. Not just that, they trained my sister and me to be regular, joyful, and generous givers. Because of that, I was and am now able to experience the joy of giving. I am thankful for that to my parents. In today’s passage when Jesus tells us about how to get hidden treasure, he doesn’t push us to give up what we have out of guilt. The Bible says, “When a man found hidden treasure, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” Please don’t miss these three words: IN HIS JOY. Our giving is not about paying membership dues. The purpose of our giving is not to keep the church going. God does not need our help (Ps 50:10-12). The purpose of our giving is for us to share the joy of our master (cf. Matt 25:21).

How can we share the joy of the Lord? Where do we start? A good place to start is “tithing.” Both the Old and New Testaments, early church fathers, and church history tell us that tithing is the minimum giving requirement for Christians. It’s not the finish line of giving; it’s just the training wheels to launch us into habits of more generous grace giving. We may start tithing with a sense of duty, but more and more we get to know the joy of giving as we taste and see God’s goodness in our lives. When it comes to our giving, the real issue is not whether we will give 10%, but what we will do with the entire 100%. So the question we need to ask ourselves is not, “How much should I give?” but rather, “How much dare I keep?” We own nothing; Jesus owns everything.

5 Minutes After…
Missionary Jim Elliot said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Jim and four other missionaries attempted to evangelize Waodani people in Ecuador in 1956. But all five of them were speared by a group of the Waodani tribe. At that time, they had guns but they didn’t use them. After this, even more amazing thing happened. The wives and children of the missionaries decided to go and live with the Waodani people. And the tribe people asked them, “Why didn’t your husbands use guns?” The wives answered, “Because they wanted to tell you the story of Jesus. He was abused, but he did not retaliate. He suffered, but he did not threaten, because he wanted to show you that there is a new way of life.” Jesus gave his life to give us life. Jesus gave it all. How does our giving reflect His grace? Missionary C.T. Studd said, “Only one life, ‘twill soon be past; only what’s done for Christ will last.” Five minutes after we die, we’ll know exactly how we should have lived. So let us ask ourselves, “Five minutes after I die, what will I wish I would have given away while I still had the chance?” Like Scrooge, today we are given a second chance at life by God’s grace. Let us not store up for ourselves temporary treasures. Instead, let us store up for ourselves eternal, heavenly treasures. Let us give humbly, generously, and joyfully to God’s work. When you give, you will experience the joy of giving. Amen.



[1] Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol (Philadelphia, Penn.: The John C. Winston Company, 1939), 131.
[2] Randy Alcorn, Treasure Principle: Discovering the Secret of Joyful Giving (New York, The Crown Publishing Group, 2001), Kindle Location 95 of 1363. 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

“A Life of Fellowship” (1 Corinthians 12:12-18) - Holistic Stewardship II –


Leaving Church
Episcopal priest Barbara Brown Taylor was one of America’s most effective and beloved preachers. But after much reflection, she decided to end her 20-year career and leave the church. While she was in ministry, she always felt she hadn’t done enough. If she spent enough time at the nursing home then she neglected to return telephone calls, and if she put enough thought into the church meetings then she was less likely to catch mistakes in the Sunday bulletin. Taylor said, “My tiredness was so deep that it had seeped into my bones.”[1] To make things worse, she was conflicted, internally and with the church, because of church dividing issues, including human sexuality. She lamented over the church. She said, “I had been wearing my collar for about six months by then, and I wore it like a string of thousand-dollar pearls. Fifteen years later, I was ready to hang it up.”[2] Now Taylor teaches at a college in Georgia. And she says that teaching school is saving her life now.[3] Taylor is just one of many who want Jesus but not His body, the Church. Researcher George Barna describes this trend in our society as follows: “We found that while some people leave the local church and fall away from God altogether, there is a much larger segment of Americans who are currently leaving churches precisely because they want more of God in their life but cannot get what they need from a local church.”[4] Even today many people are leaving the church out of frustration rather than rebellion.

The Birth of the Church
Then, who started the Church? It was God who gave birth to His Church through Jesus Christ – his suffering, his death, and his resurrection. In Matthew 16:18 Jesus said to Peter and his disciples, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (ESV) The Church is God’s idea for us to experience the fullness of God’s kingdom here on earth. From the perspective of stewardship, we were created for relationship with our neighbor, especially Christian sisters and brothers, as well as with God. Both vertical and horizontal relationships are essential to our faith journey. St. Cyprian rightly said, “One cannot have God as his Father who does not have the church his mother.” The local church is not optional to our faith experience.

My Story
I am a third generation Methodist pastor. So when I was young, I went to either my grandfather’s church or my father’s one. Those two were my home churches for 27 years. When I came to the US, for the first time I had a chance to choose my home church. After much thoughts and prayer, I began to serve one particular local church as youth pastor. Guess what? After my first year of ministry I was burnt out. I was ready to leave the church. I got tired of the chronically difficult people and the problems in the church. I wanted to stay away from the “institutionalized religion.” So I did. For a while, I felt freedom, particularly Sunday mornings. Some Sundays I attended different churches that I wanted to explore. Other Sundays I just stayed in my seminary dorm, listened to music that I liked, and downloaded sermons from the Internet by my favorite preachers. I did my charitable giving to causes that I believed in. And I also had an informal community of like-minded believers in seminary. But about half a year later, I began to sense that for some reason my heart became dry and barren. One Sunday afternoon I was talking a walk on the campus. I asked God why there was a feeling of restlessness deep in my soul. Then I heard the inner voice of the Holy Spirit. The answer was because I did not stay connected with God’s household. In other words, my vertical relationship with God was ok, but my horizontal relationship with other believers who were assigned to me by God was missing. After this, I came back to church.

Back to the Early Church?
So problem solved? No! After coming back to church, the problems were still there. The difficult people in the church were still there. But this time I seriously asked myself the following question: “What is the church?” And I began to study the church history, particularly the early church. In the book of Acts the early church was described as ideal for us to follow. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They shared their possessions and goods with those in need. Every day they got together both at the church and at home. And they enjoyed the favor of all the people (Acts 2:44-47). But then, as I continued to study it, I found something very interesting. The truth was the early church was messy as much as the church of today. This morning we read the part of Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth. In fact, at that time the Corinthian church was filled with problems. There were major strife and divisions among the church members (1 Cor 1:11; 3:3). There was sexual immorality among themselves (5:1). They sued each other (ch 6). They divorced without biblical grounds (ch 7). They abused their Christian liberty and caused new believers to fall (ch 8). They accused the Apostle Paul of being a false apostle and gave him a hard time (ch 9). And the list goes on. The Corinthian church was not loving or attractive. But Paul didn’t throw in the towel on the Corinthian church and all other churches in the New Testament. Why? Because he knew that church is family.

Church Is Family
Yes, the church is God’s household. God is our Father, and Jesus is our Husband. And we are brothers and sisters. Let us think about the nature of family. We don’t get to choose our family. We don’t choose who will be our parents or siblings or uncles. Our family is chosen for us by God. In the same way, we don’t choose our church family. We don’t choose one another. Instead, we are given to one another by our heavenly Father. Justin McRoberts says, “Being a Christian can sometimes feel like being in a family with a thousand drunk uncles.”[5] But we need to remember this: Like it or not, uncles are still our family. We don’t throw in the towel on the family. As members of God’s family, we are called to stick together through thick and thin. There is a significant difference between the church and a club. The club consists of the “like-minded” people who have something in common – school, hometown, interest, age, politics, or jobs. The club members are kind of “natural friends.” So those who have different perspectives, cultures, and experiences find it difficult to be part of it. But the church is different. By design, God created the church to be made up of “natural enemies” those we don’t naturally enjoy. D.A. Carson says, “Ideally… the church itself is not made up of natural friends. It is made up of natural enemies… Christians come together… because… they have all been loved by Jesus himself… They are a band of natural enemies who love one another for Jesus’ sake.”[6] If we are united because we are natural friends, we are not necessarily called “church.” But if we are united because we are family washed by the blood of Jesus Christ no matter what the differences, we are the church.

Living in God’s Household
As Pastor Rick Warren said, the local church is the classroom for learning how to get along in God’s family. It is a lab for practicing unselfish, sacrificial love.[7] Then, how can we learn Christ-centered real fellowship and practice Christ-like love in the church? This morning I have three practical suggestions for all of us. First, I exhort you to start attending one of our small group settings where you could actually learn how to watch over one another in love with natural enemies as well as natural friends (1 Cor 12:25). Only in regular contact with other imperfect Christian brothers and sisters, can we learn real fellowship. Probably today you have got a bulletin insert regarding the small group ministry. During the Minute for Mission time, we will take a moment to go over this survey together. Secondly, I exhort us as a church to practice accountable mentoring relationships. Particularly, I exhort us to practice a three-year term leadership in our committees. Here is how it works: If you become a chairperson of the committee, you would find another younger or newer guy and have him or her under you. For three years you teach that person, work with that person and prepare that person to be equipped as a next leader. This is exactly what Jesus did. Jesus did many different things for his three years of public ministry. But above all else, Jesus spent much time on his twelve disciples. For three years he did teach them, train them, empower them, and prepare them. And after three years, he said to them, “Go out and make disciples! And now you teach them to do the same thing” (Matt 28:19-20). As we practice mentoring relationships in our church, we will move from mere tolerance to love and unity. Thirdly, I exhort us to express our genuine gratitude toward one another. 1 Corinthians 12:26 says, “If one part of the body suffers, all the other parts suffer with it. Or if one part of our body is honored, all the other parts share its honor” (NCV). We are all connected as the body of Christ. We suffer together. We rejoice together. So this week write a thank-you note to at least one person whom you are grateful for but didn’t have a chance to express your gratitude. Let that person know that you truly appreciate it. This is an act of affirmation that we are connected one another.

The church is a community of shared destiny through and in Jesus Christ. When we look on the person next to us, let us remember this: We will be eternally united with that person in Jesus Christ.[8] The church can be sometimes messy, but we always have hope because Jesus Christ is the beginning and the end of the church. So let us be encouraged by Paul’s words: “And so I am sure that God, who began this good work in you (the church!), will carry it on until it is finished on the Day of Christ Jesus” (Php 1:6). Amen.





[1] Barbara Brown Taylor, Leaving Church (HarperCollins, 2012), 108.
[2] Ibid., 114.
[3] Ibid., 227.
[4] Scott Sauls, Jesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who Are Tired of Taking Sides (Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2015), 42.
[5] Ibid., 50.
[6] Ibid. 54.
[7] Rick Warren, “Can You Learn to Love like Jesus?” (July 4, 2015), Pastor Rick’s Daily Hope, http://pastorrick.com/devotional/english/can-you-learn-to-love-like-jesus
[8] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015), Kindle Location 309 of 1827.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

“A Life of Worship” (John 4:19-26) - Holistic Stewardship I -


In the Beginning
What image comes to mind when you think of “stewardship”? My guess is “money.” When it comes to stewardship, many of us tend to think it is all about money. However, stewardship is much more than just to raise money for the church budget. For a better understanding of stewardship, we need to go back to the story of creation. The Bible clearly tells us the reason why God created us. In Genesis 1:26 God says, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground” (NLT). Human beings were created to live and rule with God on the earth. You and I were created for relationship. We were created for intimate relationship with God. We were created for relationship with our neighbor. We were created for relationship with creation. Stewardship is about our relationship with God, with our neighbor, and with creation. Worshipping is stewardship. Spending time with our neighbor is stewardship. Giving our money to God’s purposes is stewardship. In other words, stewardship is a lifestyle. From today we will explore this holistic view of stewardship for four weeks. My prayer is that this journey together will help us to define how we should live as God’s children and disciples of Jesus Christ in everyday life. 

“Adam, Where Are You?”
Among many other aspects of stewardship, we are called to be stewards of our relationship with God. Worship is our first and highest calling and joy: “intimate loving relationship between the Creator and a creation.” When we are in tune with God, we glorify God because that is precisely why we were created. In the Garden Adam and Eve were created to live and rule with God. But they were not satisfied. They didn’t want to merely live with God. They wanted to “be like God.” They wanted to be gods. They wanted to be the master of their life. From the moment the man and woman chose to disobey God, that intimate relationship has been broken. They began to separate themselves from fellowship with God. So they hid from God. But God came to them and called them, “Where are you?” Our God always takes the initiative in relating to humanity. We do not have to beg and plead for God’s love and grace. God always actively seeks us![1]

In today’s passage we meet a Samaritan woman whose relationship was broken with God. She always felt something missing and thirsty in her life. But she didn’t know what it was. She tried to quench her thirst through the relationship with men. So she ended up having five husbands, and now she is living with another man. Her life was just like drinking seawater. The harder she tried to quench her thirst, the thirstier she became. And now Jesus actively seeks this woman. The Bible says, “He had to go through Samaria” (John 4:4). Why? It is because Jesus had to meet this Samaritan woman. Jesus is now waiting. He is sitting down by the well where this woman comes to quench her thirst temporarily. Regardless of our actions or response, God’s grace is actively present in our lives. God always takes the initiative and seeks us.

Henry Nouwen, a well-known spiritual director and Catholic priest, had taught at some of America’s premier universities. But despite his academic success, he left those institutions and became a priest in residence for mentally and physically handicapped people at Daybreak community. In particular, Nouwen became a close friend of Adam, who was profoundly retarded and unable to speak, walk, or dress himself.  Each day Nouwen took almost two hours to finish this task – bathing, shaving, brushing his teeth, combing his hair, helping him eat breakfast, and so on. Nouwen said it had been difficult for him to live with Adam at first. But he had learned to love Adam, truly to love him. In the process he had learned what it must be like for God to love us—spiritually uncoordinated, retarded, able to respond with what must seem to God like inarticulate grunts and groans.[2] In the process Nouwen found his true identity in Christ. He said, “We, like him (Adam), are also precious, graced, and beloved children of God, whether we see ourselves as rich or poor, intelligent or disabled, good-looking or unattractive.”[3] No matter what we are, no matter where we are, God pursues us, loves us and calls us, “Where are you?”

God’s Way of Salvation
God seeks to restore a relationship with us through Jesus Christ. Jesus is God’s way of salvation. Romans 1:2-3a says “The Good News was promised long ago by God through his prophets, as written in the Holy Scriptures. It is about his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ” (GNT). We all, like sheep, have gone astray. We all have turned to our own way. The relationship has been broken. God gave us his law, but we did not obey. God sent his prophets, but we didn’t listen. Finally, when the time had fully come, God sent his only Son to reconcile us to himself. On the cross Jesus endured the separation from God that should have been ours. On the cross he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. On the cross the way has been opened for us to be reconciled to God, to be united with God once again! (cf. Isaiah 53:4-6) Jesus is God’s way of salvation. In today’s passage the Samaritan woman tried hard to quench her thirst through the relationship with men and through her religious traditions. But Jesus said to her, “You will be thirsty again! But when you drink the water I give, you will never be thirsty again! It will become in you a well of water, springing up to eternal life!” (John 4:14) Jesus is the way we are united with God. But Jesus is not a means or a ticket to heaven. Jesus himself is the end and the treasure. Having intimate loving relationship with Jesus is the most precious act of worship.

A.W. Tozer said, “Worship means to feel in the heart.” When we love someone, we can feel it. Worship is to feel in our hearts first and express that feeling in some appropriate manner. Probably many of you remember the story of Pascal. He was perhaps the most brilliant mind of his generation. At the age of 19 he invented the world’s first mechanical calculator. He achieved both wealth and honor at a young age, but for some reason he felt miserable and empty. He was thirsty. On November 23, 1654 he got a horse carriage accident, but miraculously he was saved. He saw this as a warning directly from God. That night he humbly came to Jesus and encountered him in his room. He kept a record of this experience on a piece of parchment: "From about half-past ten in the evening until about half-past twelve… FIRE… God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and scholars...Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy...'This is life eternal that they might know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.' Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ...May I not fall from him forever...I will not forget your word."[4] For the rest of his life Pascal carried around this parchment sewn inside his coat. For Pascal, he encountered Jesus as fire. For the Samaritan woman, she experienced Jesus as water. That changed her permanently. How have you encountered Jesus? How do you feel Jesus in your heart today? 

“God, What Are You Up To?”
Worship is to feel in the heart. Worship is not limited to certain locations and times. Whatever we do “in spirit and in truth” is act of worship. In today’s scripture Jesus invites all of us to live in constant, ongoing communion with God, rather than to chat once in a while. Then, what does “constant, ongoing communion with God” look like? Pastor Billy Graham can be a good example. In 1982, the Today show in New York City scheduled an interview with Mr. Graham. When he arrived at the studio, one of the program’s producers informed Graham’s assistant that a private room had been set aside for Mr. Graham for prayer before the broadcast. The assistant thanked the producer for the thoughtful gesture, but told him that Mr. Graham would not need the room. The producer was kind of shocked that a world-famous Christian leader would not wish to pray before being interviewed on live national television. Graham’s assistant responded, “Mr. Graham started praying when he got up this morning, he prayed while eating breakfast, he prayed on the way over in the car, and he’ll probably be praying all the way through the interview.”[5] I think Mr. Graham understood what it means to live life of worship.

God himself came to us to live with us forever. Call to worship is the call to live in continual communion with God. Today, every time you face something new – whether you meet somebody or enter a new social setting, pray this prayer: “God, what are you up to?” Do this all week. Let us acknowledge that God is here with us and walk with us as he had done in Eden in the beginning. As we continue to do this, we will begin to hear God’s voice calling us tenderly, “Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me!” (Song of Songs 3:10) Amen.




[1] “Our Wesleyan Heritage,” UMC Website, http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/our-wesleyan-heritage#EN1
[2] Philip Yancey, “Yancey: The Holy Inefficiency of Henri Nouwen,” http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/1996/december9/6te080.html?start=1
[3] Henri Nouwen, Adam: God’s Beloved (New York: Orbis Book, 1997), 31.
[4] Blaise Pascal, Christianity Today, http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/evangelistsandapologists/blaise-pascal.html
[5] Skye Jethani, With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011), 116.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

“Living in God’s Kingdom” (1 Kings 19:9-18)

Whose Side Are You On?
In the heat of the American Civil War, one of President Lincoln’s advisors said he was grateful that God was on the side of the Union. Lincoln replied, “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.”[1] We don’t need to say this has been one of the craziest election years. There are only 9 days left until the Election Day. Many Christians, probably many of us in this room, are frustrated, stressed or concerned about the future. Normally I am kind of a person who tries to steer away from politics, but after much thoughts and prayers I felt it might be beneficial to talk about it as we prepare for the upcoming election. This morning I am not going to tell you whom to vote for and what to vote for. Instead, I want to tell you the story of Elijah and share few things to keep in mind as Christians this election season.

God Is in Control 

This is the most important truth that we need to learn from today’s passage: GOD IS IN CONTROL. Elijah experienced a great victory on Mount Carmel. God answered his prayer in a very powerful way by burning up the sacrifice on the altar. Then Elijah removed all of Baal and Asherah’s prophets. And that day there was the sound of a heavy rain after three and a half years. Revival and spiritual awakening finally seemed to come. But then, Elijah heard the news that Queen Jezebel was going to kill him by this time tomorrow. At first Elijah was quite taken aback. What he expected was King Ahab and the people of Israel would repent and now follow God’s ways. But it didn’t happen. Instead, he had to run for his life. Elijah was afraid, tired, upset, confused, disappointed, and discouraged. But then something happened. God opened Elijah’s eyes to see what was really happening. Elijah said to God, “Lord, I am the only one left, and now they are going to kill me too.” God answered, “No, Elijah! Listen! I have plans. I have a plan A, plan B, plan C… plan Z. I have a plan for Hazael, a plan for Jehu, a plan for Elisha, and most of all I have a plan for my people.” God showed Elijah something much bigger than Israel’s politics and even the world’s politics. God showed him the politics of God’s kingdom. And now Elijah realized God is fully in control of his life, of his country, and of all nations. That changed everything. Many people say that this election is the craziest one. But still God has plans. This election doesn’t have God stressed or concerned about the future. Why should we be so stressed out or concerned? God is in control.

Solitude and Silence 

What does it look like for us to live out the faith “God is in control” in our daily lives, especially for 9 days? Probably it looks like reducing time spent watching or listening to political news and increasing the time of solitude and silence spent to listen to God. I am not saying that we don’t need good information to vote for the right candidate. But we need a break from the chaos, from the noise and the crowds, more than we may think. As we know, the world’s politics by nature manipulates the truth, gives us half-truths, and promotes more fear and hatred toward the other party. More than ever before we need a time of solitude and silence to listen to God’s “gentle whisper.” So this week I exhort all of us in this room to spend less time listening to political news and more time listening to God.

Prayer

Secondly, let us pray for our future president whether it’s Hillary or Trump. The Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, "Therefore I exhort first of all that you make supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings for everyone, for kings and for all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceful life in all godliness and honesty, for this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior" (1 Tim 2:1-3 NKJV). When he was writing this letter, Paul was thrown in jail by the very government that he was telling people to pray for. As Christians, regardless of our party, opinions, and who gets elected, we have a holy obligation to pray for our future president. We should pray for health and safety. We should pray for wisdom to execute justice. We should pray that he or she would follow the Lord’s ways. Praying for the future president is a sure sign of our acknowledgement that God is in control.

Love

And last but not least, let us love one another deeply, from the heart no matter where we stand on politics. St. Augustine said, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” There are some essentials we cannot comprise such as Trinitarian faith and the lordship of Jesus Christ. They are the foundations of our Christian faith. But we Christians have liberty in things that are nonessential, including politics. The political left and the political right both have good things to say, and both have their problems as well. Normally, Republican presidential candidates are better on issues like abortion, marriage and family, and religious freedom, while Democratic candidates are better on racial justice, economic justice, and the environment. In fact, we find that there was political diversity among Jesus’ disciples. Simon, a Zealot, worked against the government, while Matthew, a tax collector, worked for the government. But both of them were Jesus’ disciples. Jesus himself is nether conservative nor liberal, but he is also both. Sometimes Jesus is more conservative than the far right. He rebukes liberal Sadducees and says, “not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matt 5:18). Sometimes Jesus is also more progressive than the far left. He rebukes conservative Pharisees and upends religious traditions of his time, saying, “You have heard that it was said this… but I say to you that…” Jesus is outside the lines. Pastor Tim Keller once said, “The more we faithfully preach Jesus, the longer it takes people to figure out where we stand on politics.”[2] It is because Jesus is neither conservative nor liberal. John Wesley advised three things to his people who had votes in the upcoming election in this way: 1. To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy: 2. To speak no evil of the person they voted against: and, 3. To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.[3] If we faithfully follow Jesus, it is possible to disagree with others and love them deeply at the same time. “In nonessential liberty and in all things love.”

Here and Now

On Mount Horeb Elijah saw a glimpse of the glory how God’s kingdom looks like. God’s kingdom advances when we acknowledge that God is in control and do His will. Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or “There!” for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 17:21 ESV). The kingdom of God is not limited to politics and government, but we can and must live in God’s kingdom in everyday life.

Recently I had such a vivid experience of living in God’s kingdom. I had a final interview with the Board of Ordained Ministry for the full membership connection in the UMC. Since there are so many requirements, I was not sure I would be able to apply this year. But I experienced God’s supernatural intervention and help. So I was able to apply on time. I studied hard. I prayed hard. I had mock interviews with my mentor, colleagues, seminary professors and retired clergy. I felt I was ready to go. Even during the interview hours I was confident. A day after the interview, one of the board members called me. And the board said “not yet.” I was disappointed, confused, and upset. I was worried and concerned about my future. It was hard to accept the result. That night my wife Joyce and I sat down together and took time to pray. We poured out our hearts and our disappointment. At the end of the prayer God spoke to us with a gentle whisper, “I am in control.” So finally, I was able to pray like this, “Lord, if it is the board members that say “not yet,” it’s very hard for me to accept. But if it is you who say “not yet,” I can gladly accept it. Abba Father, you are fully in control.” After this prayer, God restored to us the surpassing joy and peace that only comes from Him. Then again, I was able to pray for the UMC and for leadership with sincere heart.

Yes, this election season is a difficult time in many ways. But at the same time, it is a great opportunity to discover who we are and whose we are (cf. 1 Peter 2:9). It’s also a perfect time to seek first the kingdom of God and start living in it. In this time of trouble let us run to our broom tree and listen to God’s gentle voice. Let us take time of solitude and silence. Let us then pray earnestly for our future president because God has his divine plans. And most of all, let us stop speaking ill of the other party or candidate; instead, let us love one another deeply with all our hearts regardless of our political views. This is how we can transform our society. This is how we can live in God’s kingdom here and now. “Seek first the kingdom of God… and all these things will be added to you” (Matt 6:33). Amen.




[1] “Whose Side Are You On?” Our Daily Bread (Dec 3, 2104), http://odb.org/2014/12/03/whose-side-are-you-on/
[2] Scott Sauls, Jesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who Are Tired of Taking Sides (Tyndale House Publishers, 2015), 4. 
[3] Ibid., 3. 

Sunday, October 9, 2016

“Dead Men’s Bones” (Matt 23:23-28) - Not A Fan V -


When Christians Are So unlike Christ
“I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” These famous words are attributed to Mahatma Gandhi. According to Gandhi, his way of life was inspired first and foremost by the life and teachings of Jesus. But he never seriously considered becoming a Christian. Not because of Christ, but because of Christians. While Gandhi was in Europe, he saw racism and self-righteousness instead of love among Christians. Once he was asked to leave a church service because he was not white, and he was routinely denied rooms and tables at Christian-owned hotels and restaurants because he was a Hindu. Gandhi saw very little of Christ in the lives of Christians.[1] Unfortunately, Gandhi was not alone in his displeasure with Christians, followers of Christ.

“You Are Hypocrites”
Today’s passage is one of the hardest sayings of Jesus in the Bible. Matthew 23 is called “Seven woes to the religious leaders,” or “A warning against hypocrisy.” As we read this passage, for many of us the first thing that comes to mind is the group of the self righteous people in the Church. There are so many self righteous people, particularly pastors and church leaders. The thing is they don’t think that they are self righteous. In v. 30 Jesus says, “And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’” In others words, many of the self righteous Christians don’t have acute self-awareness. They deny. In fact, they are deceived by themselves. They don’t know what they are doing. Even when Pharisees and religious leaders were crucifying Christ, the Son of God, they didn’t know what they were doing. So Jesus prayed for them, “Father, forgive them, because they don’t know what they’re doing” (Luke 23:34 ISV). In today’s scripture Jesus uses a very familiar analogy for the people of Israel – “whitewashed tombs” analogy (vv. 27-28). At the time of Jesus it was a custom to mark tombs with white chalk, so that pilgrims who were traveling to Jerusalem, especially during Passover time, would not come in contact with a tomb and be unclean for seven days (Num 19:16). On the outside whitewashed tombs looked good, clean, and even beautiful. But on the inside they were filled with dead men’s bones and all kinds of impurity. Jesus says, “In the same way, outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness” (v. 28 NLT). This is Jesus’ verdict against the religious leaders at his time. And I think probably there is a good chance that today’s church will have the same verdict.

In his article, “Can Your Church Handle the Truth?” Matt Russell shares inconvenient truth with us. Every day for nine months, Matt sat at a coffee shop in Houston, Texas, with a cell phone and a list of people who had left the church. He called everyone on the list, set up meetings, and listened to their stories. He recounted, “I’d ask questions about their perceptions, their experiences, and their thoughts about church. And what I heard broke my heart and changed my life.” He discovered that most people had not left the church because of some doctrinal issue or change in their beliefs. Rather, most of them were struggling with something they could not hide—abuse, sex addictions, eating disorders, gambling, criminal record, divorce, same-sex attraction—any number of chronic issues. The story he heard was usually the same. They went to church, participated in the activities, got involved in a group, even confessed their sins. But over time they felt judged or unaccepted by others, especially by the inner circle of the church, so they left.[2] With sorrow Jesus says to religious leaders, “You hypocrites! For you shut the door of the Kingdom of Heaven in people’s faces. You won’t go in yourselves, and you don’t let other enter either” (v. 13).

“I Am a Hypocrite”
Yes, there are so many self righteous people and hypocrites in Christ’s church today. But when we read today’s scripture, we need to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit, saying, “You are a hypocrite. You are one of them” WE ARE HYPOCRITES. We all share self-righteousness, pride, and hypocrisy. But there is hope for us when we are deeply aware of how impure, how unrighteous, how sinful we are. The Scribes and Pharisees tried to prove how “pure” they were to others by doing things – tithing and giving alms to the poor. But the proof of spiritual maturity is not how pure we are, but our awareness of our impurity. That very awareness opens the door to God’s grace.[3] When Isaiah saw the throne of God and encountered the living God, the first thing he said was, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty” (Isaiah 6:5). As the Apostle Paul almost completed his mission here on earth, he said to his beloved mentee, Timothy, “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. And I am the worst of them all” (1 Tim 1:15). He did mean it. The closer we come to Christ, the more we are aware of our impurity. So when we hear Jesus saying this warning today, we are blessed if we are aware of our impurity – “Lord, have mercy on me. I am a sinner. I am a Pharisee. I am a hypocrite.”

Our Lord Jesus Christ confronts us and speaks the truth, but always “in love.” Jesus did not just harshly rebuke the religious leaders and then run away. No! He never gave them up to the very end. In fact, after saying this, Jesus directly headed to Jerusalem and laid down his life for them. Later in God’s time, many of the religious leaders, including Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, and Paul, repented and turned to Christ. Still today many turn to the Lord (cf. Ps 22:27-28). So here in today’s scripture Jesus is basically saying, “You hypocrites, I love you! I love you brood of vipers!” This message is to be heard by all of us in this room. Jesus loves “humbled” hypocrites. When we respond to Jesus’ warning with repentance and humility, he will save us from ourselves.

Being with Jesus
Now one important question remains: “How are we hypocrites actually changed?How are we transformed from the inside out? We can find an answer in the Book of Revelation. In Revelation 3 Jesus speaks to Christians in Laodicean church, who weree filled with pride, self-righteousness, and hypocrisy, but didn’t have self-awareness. Jesus rebukes them in love as follows: “You say, 'I am rich. I have everything I want. I don't need a thing!' And you don't realize that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked” (v. 17 NLT). That’s spiritually where they were. What’s the cure for this? Jesus says, “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Look! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me” (vv. 19-20). This is the key – “being with Jesus.” This verse (Revelation 3:20) is often used when we evangelize “unbelievers.” (Ex. “Invite Jesus to your hearts today!”) But in fact, in this context Jesus invites “Christians” who are so hypocrites. The more we hypocrites spend time with Jesus, the more we are transformed from the inside out and become more like him.

My sister and I had fought and argued a lot when we were young. In some sense we were like oil and water. And we are still very different in many ways. But I have grown to love the person she has become since the day she met my brother-in-law (at that time her boy friend). The more she was with him, the more I was drawn to her. The more she was with him, the more I wanted to be around her. The more she was with him, the more I saw in her the best version of herself. This is how Jesus changes his people. The more we are with Jesus, the more people around us start to smell a Christ-like fragrance. Are you tired of the self righteous people in the church? Don’t be discouraged. Hope in Christ. Look to Jesus and be with him. Are you tired of your own hypocrisy? Invite Jesus in every area of your life, be with him, and let him be with you 24/7. And as we do this, as we have continual communion with Jesus, the people around us will look at us and say, “You know I like your Christ, and I also like your Christians, because you are so like your Christ.” Amen.



[1] Scott Sauls, Jesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who Are Tired of Taking Sides (Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers), 115-117.
[2] Skye Jethani, With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God (Nashville, Thomas Nelson), 148.
[3] “Whitewashed Tombs,” Our Daily Bread (September 21, 2009) http://odb.org/2009/09/21/whitewashed-tombs/