Sunday, June 11, 2017

“Not Conformed But Transformed” (Romans 12:1-2) - Christian Education Sunday 2017 -

It Takes a Village
It takes a village to raise a child. This ancient African proverb teaches eternal truth. A child does not grow up in isolation. A child becomes a healthy adult if the entire community takes an active role in nurturing the child. Parents and immediate family might be the primary source of support, but there are many other people involved in a child’s growth. Every child is nurtured and shaped by a community. Schools, churches – teachers and congregations – all have an important role in nurturing and guiding the next generation. No child is an island. It does take a village.

Do Not Be Conformed
This truth equally applies to people of all ages, to all of us in this room, not just to children. We are consciously and unconsciously shaped by a community and this world. Then, what is the pattern of this world? The world tells us that happiness consists in the size of our cars, the impressiveness of our houses, and the expensiveness of our clothes, but our Lord Jesus reminds us, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). The world tells us that sexual promiscuity is just part of self-expression. But Jesu tells us that “anyone who looks a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt 5:28). Therefore, in today’s passage the Apostle Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world – its ways, values and customs.” The word “conform” means to have the same shape, style, obedient to, or in harmony with. Here Paul is saying, “Don’t let the world shape, mold, influence you, or to pull you in its direction. Don’t get caught in its flow; it will pull you away.” So we Christians actually live under a lot of pressure to fit in.

Max Lucado’s If Only I Had a Green Nose is a wonderful story for teaching children to be themselves. But it is also a great story for teaching adults to nonconform to the pattern of this world. It’s about a little boy named Punchinello, who is struggling with a really hard decision, to be like everyone else in town or to be himself. The towns people decided that by painting their nose green they would feel better about themselves. At first, Punchinello thought a green nose is just silly. It wouldn't make him faster, stronger, or even smarter. It would only make him just like everyone else. But as time goes by, he eventually wants to have a green nose just because all the other Wemmicks have a green nose. Then, he hears the news that a red nose is now the latest thing in town. Then a blue nose, then pink nose, then yellow nose… And eventually, Punchinello was totally exhausted. Just like Punchinello, we all want to fit in. To be accepted by the crowd. Our sinful nature – sexual immorality, lust, hatred, strife, anger, dissensions, factions, addictions – just wants to follow and conform to the behavior, customs, and culture of this world. But, our Lord Jesus commands us to live differently. Then, where can we find strength to swim upstream against the current and all these pressures of this world?

Be Transformed
Today’s scripture gives us an answer: “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind!” Here the word “transformed” means to change into something different. It means to have new nature, new character – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control – from the inside out. How does this happen? The answer is “by the renewing of our mind.” Then our next question is how can we renew our mind? The answer is by the living and active power of God’s word. Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” I don’t know about you, but for me I find very difficult and almost impossible to renew my own mind, let alone others. But only the word of God is able to reshape, renew, retrain our mind, our thoughts, our values. In Psalm 119 David says, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word… I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” Be saturated with the word of God! By this, we renew our mind. And help and teach your (biological and spiritual) children to saturate their minds with God’s word.

As I look back on my Sunday school days, I particularly remember three teachers – my 3rd, 7th and 12th grade Sunday school teachers. They all have one thing in common. They did teach me the Bible, God’s word. Interestingly, all of them were kind of shy, quiet, ineloquent. But they were something different. There was power when they taught me. Intuitively, I could sense they were teaching the truth with conviction. Though there were times I was bored, for some reason their teaching did stay in me for a long time, shape my values, reshape my sinful heart and mind. By this experience, I have learned there is power in the word of God to renew, reshape our hearts and minds. In my college years I myself became a Sunday school teacher for the youth group. I taught 10th and 11th students. Some of them were from broken and dysfunctional families. They had no dreams, visions, or purpose of life. I had tried hard to build up a relationship with them, but they did not trust me. So I started “Vision Study Club” to teach them some academic subjects such as English and mathematics. But more importantly, I taught them the Bible. We met twice a week, and during summer break we met Monday through Friday. After about two years I began to see how God’s word renews and transforms their minds. They stopped using filthy language. They stopped wasting time. Instead, they started to discover the goals of their lives and eventually entered college they aimed at. It was the most exciting and honorable experience for me to watch them to be transformed and grow in faith by the power of God’s word.

Before we are transformed, the Bible doesn’t make sense at all. It is just a medley of contradictions. Indeed, on a superficial level different Bible verses seem to be contradictory to one another. And God’s word seems difficult, burdensome, not relevant to our daily life. But once we are transformed, we come to understand that God’s word does make sense. We discover that God’s will is the very best and perfect for our lives. NLT version translates Romans 12:2 in this way: “Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God's will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”

It Takes a Village, but…
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed. How? By the renewing of our mind. We must renew our minds. Our children must renew their minds. Our children need godly parents, godly grandparents, godly Sunday school teachers, godly pastors, who are able to teach God’s word and live out God’s word in everyday life. In Nehemiah 8 revival comes. People ask Ezra to bring the Book of Moses’ Law. As he opens the book, all the people stand. As he reads the word, they answer “Amen, Amen” and worship the Lord with their faces to the ground. It was a team effort. Nehemiah united the people all together. The Scribe Ezra read the word. And the Levites helped the people to understand clearly the reading. They explained the meaning. When the people of Israel understood the reading, they wept. They were transformed by the word of God. And it was a team effort. It takes a congregation to raise the children. It takes a congregation to nurture and guide our new believers on the road of discipleship. It takes a congregation to reach out to those who slip away. It takes a congregation to nudge us into spiritual growth, to take another step, when we are more comfortable staying where we are. It takes a congregation to encourage and support one another as we travel our pilgrim journey together that are sometimes smooth and clear, but at other times are filled with potholes and conflict. It takes a congregation…

But it always begins with me. The revival written in Nehemiah 8 did not just happen. This revival begins with one person, Ezra. Ezra 7:10 says, “For Ezra had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel” (ESV). Ezra did study the word, do the word, and teach the word. And when the time had fully come, revival started. Some of you may have heard D.L. Moody’s famous “T and P” Bible. In the margin of many pages in D. L. Moody’s Bible, he wrote the letters T and P, meaning “Tried and Proved.” He read it, digested it, underlined it, and put it into practice. And he proved that the word of God actually works. Let us try and prove God’s wonder-working Word. Let us set aside time daily to actually read the word, study the word, meditate on the word, memorize the word, and do the word, until God’s word reshapes us, renews us, transforms us from the inside out. Then, like Dr. King said, we will stop marching to the drumbeat of conformity. We will begin listening to the beat of a more distant drum from above and marching to the music of eternity that is good, pleasing, and perfect. More than ever before, we are today challenged by the words of Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” 

Sunday, June 4, 2017

“Fellowship with the Trinity” (Job 38:1-7; 42:1-6)

The Shack and the Trinity
Today we celebrate Pentecost and next Sunday Trinity Sunday. As I was preparing the message for these important celebrations, William P. Young’s The Shack came to my mind. I think some of you have had a chance to either read or watch this story. The brief plot goes like this: The main character, “Mack” is a father of five. One day he takes three of his children on a camping trip. Two of his children are playing in a canoe when it flips and almost drowns Mack's son. Mack is able to save his son by rushing to the water, but unintentionally leaves his youngest daughter Missy alone at their campsite. After Mack returns, he sees that Missy is missing. The police discover that Missy has been abducted and murdered by a serial killer. The police find an abandoned shack in the woods where Missy was taken. Her bloodied clothing is found, but her body is not there. Since that time, Mack's life sinks into what he calls "The Great Sadness.” In this story the author asks this question: “Where is God in our suffering? Where is God in a world so filled with unspeakable pain?” It was Job’s question in the Bible, and it is our question today. We still ask, “Where is God when…?”

The author Young finds the answer in the fellowship with the Holy Trinity. He himself asked this question many times throughout his life journey. Young’s parents were missionaries. He and his family went to the Netherlands New Guinea when he was a year old. He had a difficult relationship with his dad, who was very broken. He had also been sexually abused by the natives as early as 5 years old. Those experiences did devastate, fracture, damage his soul. He then learned how to emotionally detach himself and leave and never dealt with his stuff. But, he had to deal with all his stuff in his marriage. Finally, he got caught in adultery in a three-month affair with one of his wife’s best friends. That started a long process of dealing with his stuff. In this painful healing journey Young did meet the Trinity in the shack, the very place he got stuck, got hurt, got damaged. And now he invites us to go to our shack, the house we build out of our own pain, and to meet the Trinity right there to be healed.

“Papa” Father
In the book of Job in His providence God allows Satan to test Job. In one day Job lost all his property and all his ten children. To make things worse, he was ulcers and scabs from head to foot. The worst scenario possible! In this respect Job and Mack in the story of the Shack have in common. Job begins questioning: “Why is all this happening?” “Why me?” “Where is God?” “Will not the judge of all the earth do right?” After all these questions, God appears. He doesn’t answer Job’s questions. Instead, he asks questions. “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you know so much!” (38:4) “Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right?” (40:8) Then, Job begins to understand his ability to discern what is good, or what is evil is quite self-serving and self-centered. He repents that he has become the judge.

In the story of the Shack Mack went to see “Sophia” (Wisdom) inside of the thick, dark mountain. He was then invited to sit on the judgment seat himself to be the judge. Sophia said to him, “Now you must choose two of your children to spend eternity in heaven and three of them to spend eternity in hell.” Mack said, “I can’t. I can’t. I won’t! Could I go instead? If you need someone to torture for eternity. Please let me go for my children. Please…” And she said, “And now you know Papa’s heart who loves all her children perfectly.”  By this, Mack realized that was exactly what God did for him as a righteous Judge and loving Advocate. As a righteous Judge, God had to sentence us to death because “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23a). But as a loving Advocate, God chose to give his unique Son. He chose to walk the path of his own child loss to save all who believe, including even child abusers and abductors. So the first step towards our healing journey is to “give up” being the judge and “trust” God as a good Father and righteous Judge all the time.

Jesus the Son
Now Jesus the Son. How do we know God really love us, care about us? We do know His love perfectly in Jesus Christ. 1 John 4:10 says, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” We feel God’s love through Jesus Christ the Son. Then, where do we see Jesus in the book of Job? In fact, Job foreshadows Jesus, the righteous man who suffers unjustly and is finally vindicated by his Father. Timothy Keller rightly said, “Jesus is the true and better Job, the truly innocent sufferer, who then intercedes for and saves his stupid friends.”

Where and how do we see Jesus in our suffering? In the story of the Shack one time Mack was boating on a peaceful lake. All of sudden, the lake was boiling, and the boat was sinking in the middle of the lake. He cried out for help. Right away, Jesus walked on the water to help, saying, “That’s what is happening inside of you. Why do you have so much fear in your life? Look at me. Fix your eyes on me. Trust me!” Then, he offered his hand to him to come out of the boat. At first, Mack was hesitant, afraid, but eventually he came out of it. Later, Mack and Jesus ran on the water together! Run with Jesus! So the second step to our healing journey is to “trust” Jesus, trust his finished work on the cross no matter what fear or pain we have, and to be submitted to him out of love and respect.

The Holy Spirit
Last but not least, the Holy Spirit. We come to God the Father through Jesus the Son by the power and work of the Holy Spirit. Think about it. The Bible says Jesus is the exact imprint of God’s very being (Heb 1:3). We know God through Jesus. But how do we experience Jesus? How do we talk with him, walk with him, dine with him who lived 2000 years ago? The answer is by the Holy Spirit! Job had heard about God, knew about God. But when the Holy Spirit opened his eyes, Job shouted with joy, “I had only heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes!” (42:5) This is the creative, regenerative work of the Holy Spirit. The same thing happened to Nicodemus. He had heard about God, knew about God, taught about God. But Jesus said to him, “You must be born again!” (John 3:3) It is never enough to do a little bit of improvement or renovation of our old self. What we need is a new foundation, new nature, new self, new life. This is possible only by the work of the Holy Spirit. When we are born of the Spirit, we become like a wind. There is freedom, creativity, life. Though it is intangible, we ourselves know for sure we have new, abundant, eternal life. And others also notice something different. This is the work of the Holy Spirit.

In the story of the Shack the Holy Spirit is “Sarayu,” an Asian woman. Sarayu took Mack to a messy garden. And she asked him to help clearing the entire plot of ground because she would plant something new and special here. They together cut off at the roots all the weeds and plants. The plot looked like a wound in the garden. Mack called this garden a mess, but Sarayu called this messy garden wild and beautiful. In fact, this garden was Mack’s soul. When the Holy Spirit comes, he does something brand-new. He tears down our old foundation and builds an entirely new foundation. He gives us new nature. At first, it is so small like a mustard seed, but it slowly grows and grows, and eventually changes our whole being from inside out. So the third step to the healing journey is to “trust” the Holy Spirit and His life-giving work within us.

The Flyer and The Catcher

As I close, I would like to share a circus story with you. I think many of you in this room have seen a circus. One day I was reading Henri Nouwen’s book, I was very impressed by his reflection on the art of the trapeze at the circus. Many of us are impressed by the performance of the flyer. We think the flyer is the great star of the trapeze. But the real star is the catcher. In fact, the flyer does nothing and the catcher does everything. The flyer has simply to stretch out his arms and hands and wait for him to catch him. In the art of the trapeze the worst thing the flyer can do is to try to catch the catcher. If he grabbed the catcher’s wrists, he might break them. A flyer must fly, and a catcher must catch. And the flyer must trust, with outstretched arms, that his catcher will be there for him with split-second precision. God is the Catcher, and we are the flyer. As a flyer, all we need to do is to stretch out our arms and hands and trust the Catcher. And in his time God will be there for us. He will heal us, restore us, make us whole. So let us trust, trust, trust. Trust the Catcher. Amen. 

Sunday, May 28, 2017

"Believe the Eternal Gospel" (Rev. 14:6-13) - Living in the Kingdom of God III -

Boling Frog Syndrome
Have you heard the story of a boiling frog? It describes a frog slowly boiled alive. The premise is that if a frog is placed in boiling water, it will jump out, but if it is placed in cold water that is slowly heated, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. The story is often used as a metaphor for those who are unwilling to react or be aware of the upcoming gradual threats or challenges. C.S. Lewis said, “The safest road to hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestone, without signposts.” In the days of Noah, the people were enjoying banquets and parties and weddings right up to the time Noah entered the ark. They knew nothing until the flood hit and swept everything away. So, Jesus says to his disciples and us, “Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (Matt 24:42 ESV). In Revelation 22 Jesus says three times, “Behold, I am coming soon!” (7, 12, 20) Jesus wants us to stay awake and have a sense of urgency. Then, as the bride of Christ, how may we – as a church and as individuals – be prepared for the Day of the Lord? Today’s passage gives us an answer to this question.

Worship God
In the passage the Apostle John sees an angel who has the eternal gospel. This gospel prepares and equips us for the Day. Basically, the eternal gospel has three messages. The first angel proclaims, “Worship God alone!” In verse 7 the angel says, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.” The top chronic disease of humankind is idol worship. John Calvin said, “The human heart is a factory of idols… Every of us is, from his or her mother’s womb, expert in inventing idols.” Our problem today is the same as the one in the day of Elijah. At that time the Israelites thought they believed and worshiped God rightly. But it was not true. When Elijah confronted Baal’s prophets, he said to the people, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is god, follow him!” (1Kg 18:21). If we are willing to follow God, we must get rid of our idols first. We cannot worship God with divided hearts. When I was in Thailand as an exchange student, I was surprised that the people there accepted Christ rather easily than I expected. But, the problem was that they didn’t want to give up their other beliefs. They said, “I believe in Christ. But I still believe in Buddha. Both of them are all good for me.” Many Christians today have the same attitude. They sit on the fence. They stay in the gray zone. But the Book of Revelation clearly says that in the last days only two groups of people will exist: “Those who have the seal of God” (Those who follow the Lamb wherever he goes) vs. “Those who have the mark of the beast (Those who follow the ways of Babylon).” We belong to one of the two groups. We cannot belong to the both groups at the same time. Love for Babylon and love for God cannot coexist. Love for Babylon pushes out love for God. Then, what does mean to love “Babylon”? The message of the second angel gives us a clue to this question.

Don’t Worship Babylon 
The second message is this: “Don’t worship Babylon!” In verse 8 the angel proclaims, “Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great, she who made all nations drink the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality.” Here “Babylon” refers to “the kingdom of the devil.” The Book of Revelation, especially chapter 13-19, describes what the devil’s kingdom is like with detail. The devil parodies the Holy Trinity and establishes his own false trinity: “the beast out of the sea,’ ‘the beast out of the earth,’ and ‘Babylon the prostitute.’ They are three enemies of the church. First, the beast out of the sea represents physical persecution (13:1-10). He has an impressive show of power. He is given a mouth to blaspheme God. He is also given power to persecute the church. Second, the beast out of the earth represents intellectual false teaching (13:11-18). He has two horns like a lamb, masquerading as a counterpart to Christ the Lamb. He performs miraculous signs, deceives the people on earth, and made them worship the first beast. Third, Babylon the prostitute represents moral compromise (14:8; ch. 17-18). She is described as seductive prostitute who devours the church and its saints. In the early church the devil tried to crush the church by force. He tried to mislead the church by false teaching and by distracting the apostles from their ministry of the Word and so exposing the church to heresy. He tried to corrupt the church by the moral hypocrisy of Ananias and Sapphira. All over the world today the same threefold assault on the church – physical, intellectual, and moral attacks – is still mounted by the devil.

The difficult part is that the strategy of Satan is so subtle, so mixed. It is so hard to perceive it. So, many people, even many Christians are deceived because not only does Satan persecute the church, but also he provides some kind of distorted comfort, rest, pleasures and happiness to the people. So, in Revelation 18 when Babylon is fallen, many people on earth weep and mourn over her because their hope of pleasures is gone. But the word of God, particularly the Book of Revelation, enables us to see this Satan’s subtle deception. It also enables us to see the conclusion of Babylon, the devil’s kingdom. It will be destroyed completely, suddenly and eternally. So today God proclaims his eternal gospel to John and to us through the angel. Don't worship the wealth of Babylon, don't worship the power of Babylon, and don't worship the pleasures of Babylon. But worship God and Jesus the Lamb! (cf. 19:10; 22:9)

Choose Today 
The third message of the eternal gospel is, “Choose today for yourselves!” The angel contrasts between two groups of people. First, in verse 11 the angel warns those who worship Babylon that they will have no rest day or night. They might have temporary distorted pleasures and happiness, but their end will come like a thief. But, in verse 13 the angel of God blesses those who worship God alone, remain faithful to Jesus, and even die in the Lord. The Spirit promises, “Yes, they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them.” The conclusion of the eternal gospel is crystal clear, that is, “Choose today for yourselves whom you will worship and follow! Don’t sit on the fence any longer!” We know whom we must choose today. We “know” the answer, but the problem is that we don’t have “power” to follow God because we are made of flesh and blood, because the enemy’s physical, intellectual, and moral attacks and temptations are too strong to defeat. That’s why Jesus became flesh and blood. By his death he broke the power of the devil, who has the power of death. Only in this way could he set free all who put their hope in this world and have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying (Heb 2:14-15). Jesus opened the door for us to clearly see the two things: the eternity of the kingdom of God and the vanity of the kingdom of the world. The Book of Revelation is all about this. The more our eyes are open for the hope of the kingdom of God, the more we will risk death for God’s kingdom and his righteousness, the more we will hate sin and compromise, and the more we will devote ourselves to the work of God without reserve.

Scottish missionary David Livingstone in his last days had been “lost” to the outside world. Henry Stanley was sent out to find Livingstone. Finally, he found Livingstone who was suffering from tropical disease in the small village in Zambia. Stanley urged Livingstone to return to England with him. He said, “You’ve dedicated yourself to this mission for 30 years. I think that is enough. So now, why don’t you go back with me and have some rest and see your children?” Then, Livingstone answered, “Thank you, but no. For me the ministry here is not a sacrifice, but a great privilege. Every time I think about this honorable ministry my heart is full.” But after Stanley left, Livingstone was thoroughly homesick. In his journal he wrote: "19th March, 1872. Birthday. Lord, send me anywhere, only go with me. Lay any burden on me, only sustain me. Sever any ties, save the tie that binds me to Thy heart. My Jesus, my King, my life, my all, I again dedicate my whole self to Thee." About a year later he died while kneeling in prayer at his bedside. Livingstone truly believed and lived out the eternal gospel. He lived in the kingdom of God.

Your Last Words 
For me personally, I have made my “Ten Commandments of Preaching.” I read this before preaching every single week as a reminder. The very first commandment is this: “Remember this sermon that I am going to preach would be my last message on earth.” For all of us in this room, the Day will come soon.

D.L. Moody’s last words were, “Earth recedes, Heaven opens before me! It is beautiful. It is like a trance. If this is death, it is sweet. There is no valley here. God is calling me, and I must go.” John Bunyan said, “Weep not for me, but for yourselves. The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who, through the mediation of His blessed Son, receives me, though a sinner. We shall meet to sing the new song, and remain everlastingly happy.” Richard Baxter said, “I have pain; but I have peace, I have peace!” As I was preparing this message, I kept asking to myself, ‘If this is my last sermon, what would I preach?’ My last message would be this: “Let us flee from Babylon! Worship God and Jesus alone! And Live for eternity!” How about you? What would be your last words?

Sunday, May 21, 2017

“See You at the Finish Line!” (Heb 12:1-3)

Keep on Swimming
Florence Chadwick was the first woman to swim the English Channel in both directions. On the Fourth of July in 1951, she attempted to swim from Catalina Island to the California coast. The challenge was not so much the distance, but the bone-chilling waters of the Pacific. To complicate matters, a dense fog lay over the entire area, making it impossible for her to see land. After about 15 hours in the water, and within a half mile of her goal, Chadwick gave up. Later she told a reporter, "Look, I'm not excusing myself. But if I could have seen land, I might have made it." Not long afterward she attempted the feat again. Once more a misty veil obscured the coastline and she couldn't see the shore. But this time she made it because she kept reminding herself that land was there. With that confidence she bravely swam on and achieved her goal. In fact, she broke the men's record by 2 hours!

Today’s passage says that our spiritual journey is like running a race. But it’s not a 100 yard dash. It is a marathon. In the short distance race, speed is important. In the long distance race, endurance is what leads to success. That is why Hebrews 12:1 says, “Let us run with endurance…” Victory in the Christian life comes through endurance. Since our race set before us is like a marathon, we don’t see the whole path. We don’t see the finish line. So oftentimes, on the journey we may feel like we make no progress and will never make it. We may feel like the loneliness and hopelessness will settle like a foggy mist upon us forever. But praise God! Thankfully, we are not left jogging in the dark. The author of Hebrews provides two or three proven ways to stay the course and to finish the race.

Look to the Cloud of Witnesses

First, we are to look to the cloud of witnesses. We are to remember that we’re not alone in our race. Today’s passage begins in this way: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…” (12:1a) We’re not the only ones to take this journey. In the previous chapter, Hebrews 11, often called the “hall of faith,” we meet so great a cloud of witnesses who have run this race before us. Our spiritual ancestors did live by faith, not by sight. Think about Abraham! By faith Abraham answered God’s call and went out when he was 75, not knowing where he was going. He had to wait for another 25 years until he had a son of promise. By faith, Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. Think about Noah, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, David! All of them have fought the good fight, have finished the race, and kept the faith! Their example gives us encouragement. And now, like spectators watching an athletic contest in an arena, these heroes of the faith are watching our race and cheer us on!

But we don’t have to look back to OT to find “heroes of the faith.” We can find them today right around us— right in our family, right in our small groups, right in the pews on any given Sunday morning. We Christians are meant to make this journey together. We fight the same good fight and run the same race set before us. As we see the powerful examples of faithfulness around us, we are encouraged and empowered. For me personally, I am so grateful and blessed to have a good dad and a good pastor who are running the same race before me and with me. One time his church faced the time of greatest trial in the process of the church growth. I was so upset watching him suffer. So I said to him, “Dad, why don’t you just move on and serve another church?” He said, “No, we need to endure this trial and opposition. If we move now, the sheep will be scattered. If we have to move, let us move when the church becomes strong and prosperous.” The time passed, and he has been serving that church for 26 years up to this day. All of us in this room are surrounded by the cloud of witnesses. And we are called to be “witnesses” to one another. The author of Hebrews says, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (10:24-25, ESV) Let us encourage one another. Let us run our race with endurance!

Look to Jesus, the Beginner of Faith

Second, we are to look to Jesus as the Author of our faith. Hebrews 12:2 says, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith” (NIV). The word “author” comes from the Greek word, ἀρχηγὸν which means founder, captain, leader, or pioneer. The idea of this word refers to someone who makes a new track through wild country, someone who blazes a trail for others to follow. I would say Jesus is the Trailblazer of our faith. Then, what does it mean by that? How did Jesus blaze a trail for us? The answer is described in these words: “Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame.” Jesus has endured the suffering and shame which were due to us. We can never even start on the race to heaven unless we do look to Jesus who “endured the cross” on our behalf.

Look to Jesus, the Beginner of our race of faith! By his suffering Jesus removed our heaviest weights – all our shame and guilt and anxious conscience. By his death he destroyed our entangling sin. By his resurrection he can renew our nature. By looking to Jesus, we start well. Jesus is the beginner of our faith. All our righteousness, good works, morality mean nothing unless we begin by looking to Jesus. In John Bunyan’s book, Pilgrim’s Progress, we often meet those who tumbled over the wall, or came in by other irregular ways, but they all missed the end. As they came in without Christ, so they went out without hope. At the end of the story, Christian and Hopeful meet another pilgrim, whose name is Ignorance right before the Celestial City. When he knocked on the gate, the men asked for his certificate which he should have received at the beginning of the narrow gate. But since Ignorance didn’t start his journey at the narrow gate, he didn’t have a certificate. So the King said, “Take him out, bind him hand and foot and take him away.” Let us start our race of faith well by looking to Jesus, the Beginner of our faith!

Look to Jesus, the Finisher of Faith
Third, we are to look to Jesus as the Finisher of our faith. Hebrews 12:2 says, “Look to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.” He “endured the cross” and now “is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” The shame of Christ was our shame, and the triumph of Christ is our triumph. Jesus doesn’t just pave a road and say, “Come on.” Instead, he leads us, he helps us, he sustains us, and most importantly he walks alongside us from the beginning to the end. In Philippians 1:6 Paul says to his fellow Christians, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” Jesus is the Beginner and Finisher of our race of faith. It is Jesus who began our faith journey. It is Jesus who will finish our race. Jesus came and blazed a salvation road for us, and now he is walking along with us. Let us run, looking to Jesus. Let us finish well by looking to Jesus, the Perfecter of our faith!

In 1992 the Summer Olympic Games were held in Barcelona, Spain. One of the runners in the 400-meter race was an English athlete named Derek Redmond. He had trained for years to compete in the Olympics. But while sprinting in a qualifying heat, he suddenly pulled a hamstring and crumpled to the track in pain. Determined to go on, Derek struggled to his feet. He was hobbling toward the finish line when his father scaled the retaining wall and jumped onto the track. Before anyone could stop him, Jim Redmond reached his son. The young runner leaned on his father's shoulder as he staggered to complete the race. The entire crowd stood and cheered the two men on. When they crossed the finish line, it was as if the runner, his father, and the spectators had done it together. The writer of Hebrews encourages us to run the race of faith with endurance to the end, following the example of those who have gone before us. It takes all of our spiritual stamina to complete it, but we don't run the course alone. Christ Himself helps us toward the finish line.

Until You See His Face 

We do not know how near to Jesus on the throne we may now be. The sea fog is around our vessel. Some of our brothers and sisters are already with our King. Some of us perhaps will spend next Sunday in heaven! Then, all our sweat and tears of the race will be wiped away, and the joy of the triumph will begin. He will crown us and say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” Now we are much nearer the finish line than we think. Therefore, let us not grow weary. Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. Let us keep on looking and running until we see Jesus face to face! Amen.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

“Jesus Christ in You” (2 Corinthians 13:5) - Living in the Kingdom of God II –

The Mother Love of God

It’s Mother’s Day. Our hearts and minds are filled with thoughts about the love of mothers and our love for mothers. I still remember when I newly got assigned to Ministry of National Defense in Seoul, Korea, as a military police after boot camp training. At that time I was 20. Everything was new, and I was kind of nervous. In the early days I had hard times to adjust to a totally new environment. One Saturday afternoon I got notice that I had a visitor. I was surprised because I didn’t expect any visitors. I went to the visiting room. Guess who? It was my mom who was waiting and waving her hands. She just got her driver’s license at that time and had never driven out of town. But her love for the son compelled her to drive that far without fear or reservation, in order to encourage her son and deliver special homemade food. This is mother’s love!

A mother gives life. She goes through so much to give birth to a child. She gives food from her own body. She gives of herself for the sake of the child. In many ways God’s love is like a mother’s love. In Isaiah 66:13 God says, “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you!” And he even goes further, saying, “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!” (49:15) God promised, “I will strengthen you and help you. I will uphold you with my righteous right hand!” (41:10) He also promised, “I will dwell in you and walk in you; and I will be your God and you will be my people!” (Lev 26:11-12; 2 Cor 6:16) I will be your father/mother and you will be my children! (2 Cor 6:18) Here is a question. How is God going to be my father and my mother? How is he going to strengthen me and help me? Many Christians believe God as Almighty and distant God, outside of me and separate from me, who lives somewhere in the heaven above and helps them from time to time. Is it true? How is God going to be our father and our mother? How is He going to be our God? We can find the answer in the one of God’s promises that we have just read: “God said, “I will dwell in you, and walk in you; and I will be your God, and you will be my people!” (2 Cor 6:6 KJV). The indwelling of God! This is how He will be our God. This is God’s divine plan for us before the foundation of the world.

The Indwelling of God

God created man and woman in his own image. God made them not because he needed them. God made the human beings because he wanted them to taste and see his holiness and his goodness. He wanted them as holy and as good as He is.

He wanted to give them all he had himself. He wanted them to share his divine nature, his life, and his joy (cf. 2 Peter 1:4). How could it be possible? How could He do that? There is no other way for God to do this than dwelling in them. But during the Old Testament times the indwelling of God was spoken of and promised, but it had not happened yet. God dwelt in the midst of his people, the camp, but he didn’t dwell within the people in general. God’s Spirit worked in certain people – priest, prophets, and kings – for certain period of time for special purposes. In Ezekiel 36: 27 God promised, “I will place my Spirit within you, empowering you to live according to my regulations and to keep my just decrees” (ISV). This promise was fulfilled at Pentecost. On the night Jesus was betrayed, he said to his disciples, “I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you!” (John 14:18) And on the day of Pentecost Jesus did come back to them in the Spirit, now to dwell in them, not just with them. In the Book of Acts we read of the wondrous change that happened to the disciples. They were so selfish, childish and proud, but now they are selfless, humble and mature. They were afraid, feeble and doubtful, but now they are full of faith, joy and power, because of one thing, one change, that is, now Christ Jesus himself dwells within them as their life! For many Christians, this promise, “I will live in you” has never been understood, or believed, or claimed. So I ask you: Have you claimed this promise? Do you seek to live it out?

Examine Yourselves!

Today’s scripture is 2 Corinthians 13:5: “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? – unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (ESV) At that time the church of Corinth was filled with all kinds of problems. They were divided over many issues, judged each other harshly, committed adultery, initiated lawsuits, divorced without biblical grounds, and some of them even accused Paul of being a false apostle. At the end of his second letter to them, Paul sums up all his exhortations in this verse: “Do you not know? I am afraid you do not, or you would live differently. Do you not know that if you are not entirely backslider, Jesus Christ is in you?” Why are so many Christians fail and live a powerless life? It is because they do not know or believe aright that Jesus Christ is actually in them! If they did, they would think differently, act differently, live differently!

So Paul commends this great truth to the people of Corinthian church and all of us in this room today: Believe in and accept the indwelling Christ. And believe this truth not as a doctrine, but as an experience – Jesus Christ is in me! On April 5, 2010 as I was reading E.M. Bounds’ Power through Prayer, I was struck by one sentence. That was the statement of David Brainerd, who was an American missionary to the Native Americans. He said, “I love to be alone in my cottage, where I can spend much time in prayer.”[1] Then, I saw myself. I was afraid of being alone, because I was often tempted when I was alone. So I asked myself, “What is the difference between him and me?” Later I realized the difference between the two was the knowledge, the consciousness that Jesus Christ is in me. So I prayed, “Lord, let me love to be alone and spend much time with you. Let it not be the time of temptation!” My prayer was answered. Now I came to believe and experience Jesus Christ who has become my life and lives in me. And all my thoughts and tempers and dispositions and actions now have his life! And how about you? Do you really believe in the indwelling Christ?

Believe in “whole” Jesus!

The Apostle Paul also exhorts us to accept the “whole” Christ, not to be content with only half a Christ. What does it mean by that? Many Christians believe in and accept Christ who lived and died for their sins, but they never think of giving up their own will wholly and entirely to him as their king. They come to Christ for comfort and happiness, but not for holiness and transformation. Let us believe and accept the whole Christ! First, believe in the incarnate Christ, who became human and lived among us. Christ emptied himself for you. But do you know that you are called to humble yourself and give yourself for others? Second, believe in the crucified Christ, who died on Calvary for our sins. Yes, it is true. Christ was crucified for you, but do you believe that you are crucified with Christ? Third, believe in the risen and glorified Christ, who was raised from the dead and now is sitting on the throne of heaven. Jesus was exalted and declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead. But do you believe that you are also sons and daughters of God and called to live the resurrected, powerful, victorious life? Lastly, believe in the indwelling Christ, who is in us all the time. When he comes to dwell in us, he cannot change his nature. His redeeming love, his love for souls, his willingness to give up all, has taken possession of us! So listen to him who speaks to your heart with a gentle and soft voice. Yield yourself to him. Trust in him. Let him lead!

Jesus Christ in You!

When Paul was writing his first and second letter to the church of Corinth, the church was still a mess. But Paul had hope. He had confidence that the church would pass the test. His confidence, his hope was from one great truth – Jesus Christ in you! So he closes his letter with these last words: “Beloved brothers and sisters, remember that Jesus Christ is in you! And you will rejoice, aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, and live in peace!” (5, 11)

As we look around – our own personal life, our family, our church, our nation, our world, we may feel like we are troubled on every side. And we may ask, “Where is Jesus?” “Where is the kingdom of God?” The Apostle Paul says to us in the Spirit. “Jesus Christ is within you. Where there is Jesus, there is hope. Where there is Jesus, there is the kingdom of God. So the kingdom of God is among you and within you!” And now let me close today’s message with Charles F. Butler’s “Where Jesus Is, Tis Heaven.” If you know this song, please feel free to sing with me:

What matters where on earth we dwell?
On mountain top, or in the dell,
In cottage, or a mansion fair,
Where Jesus is, ‘tis Heaven there.

O hallelujah, yes, ’tis Heaven,
‘Tis Heaven to know my sins forgiven;
On land or sea, what matters where?
Where Jesus is, ‘tis Heaven there!

[1] E.M. Bounds, Power through Prayer (Whitaker House: New Kensington, 1982), 61.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

“Here and Now” (Acts 1:1-3) - Living in the Kingdom of God I -

The Kingdom of God
The kingdom of God. This is the central message of Jesus from beginning to end. Jesus begins his ministry with this message: “Change your life. The kingdom of God is here!” (Matt 4:17, MSG) He travels to town after town, village to village, preaching the Good News about the kingdom of God (Luke 8:1). Then he sends his twelve disciples to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal (9:2). After his death, he appears to his disciples during forty days and talks to them about the kingdom of God (Acts 1:3). The expression “the kingdom of God” is used at least 68 times in the New Testament. Apparently, the kingdom of God was a central part of Jesus Christ’s message. He came to tell us about the good news of the kingdom of God.

What Is the Kingdom of God?
So the question we must first ask is: what is the kingdom of God? By definition the kingdom of God means the reign of God. It means the spiritual state that God reigns. It means that evil is controlled and defeated. It means the coming of righteousness, peace and joy (Rom 14:17). It means that we are set free from our slavery to sin and become children and heirs of God with a hope of everlasting bliss. During the Old Testament times the kingdom of God had been spoken of and promised, but it had not come. But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of God’s promise (Gal 4:4). And Jesus said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near” (Mark 1:15 NRSV). Here Jesus does not mean that it is about to come. He says the kingdom of God has come! It has arrived among you! In his early ministry Jesus went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath day and stoop up to read the Scriptures. He read Isaiah 61, the coming of the kingdom of God: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim the good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he began to say to people there, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing!” (Luke 4:21) Here Jesus is saying, “The kingdom of God has come, and now it is accessible to everyone!

Living in the kingdom of God
Now we know the kingdom of God has already come and among us by the first coming of Jesus Christ. And it is accessible to everyone. Then, our next question to ask ourselves is: “Has the kingdom of God come in me? How can God’s kingdom come in me?” One of the important Bible verses to answer this question is Mark 10:15. Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” I want to draw your attention to the two verves used in this verse: receiving the kingdom and entering the kingdom. One is passive and the other is active. One is God’s part, and the other is our part.

First, we receive the kingdom of God as God’s gift. What does it mean to receive the kingdom? Negatively, it means that we cannot create or make the kingdom of God. It is not just an addition to something we already have. It is not a little bit of improvement on what we were before. Self-effort, self-help, self-improvement does not work. Positively, it means that the kingdom of God must come from outside. It has to be given to us. Before we can enter the kingdom, it must first enter into us. Martin Luther wanted to be a good man, he wanted to be a Christian. He didn’t want to go to hell. He thought he had to do it himself, trying hard, giving up, denying, fasting, giving alms, studying the Bible, confessing everyday, finally going to Rome and kissing the steps of Saint Peter’s Church. But no joy, no freedom, no peace, no happiness! Instead, he was hopeless and even angry with God. But as he was reading Romans, the words “the righteousness of God” stood out. He realized all he had been doing was man’s righteousness – just filthy rags. Then, he realized there is another kind of righteousness, completely apart from, different from man’s righteousness. It is “passive” righteousness from outside, from God, that is given to all who believe. Romans 3:22 says, “We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are” (NLT). The righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ alone! Luther believed this good news. He received the kingdom of God as God’s gift. And all the burdens in his soul were removed. Unspeakable joy and peace just flooded his soul. “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:17). Have you received the kingdom of God?

Second, we enter the kingdom of God by faith. What does mean to enter the kingdom? From God’s side, he makes his kingdom accessible to everyone. From our side, we must enter it by faith. Entering the kingdom is our response to God’s grace. Entering the kingdom means coming into full possession, full enjoyment of it. We Christians, who received Jesus, may know about the kingdom, we may taste some of its powers, we may work for it and occasionally rejoice in it. But God wants us to enter in fully and entirely, not just partially and occasionally. There are many Christians who are content with a heaven after death. Their understanding of salvation is mere forgiveness of sins, leading to heaven beyond this life. A ticket to heaven. Their understanding of God’s kingdom is to live with him in heaven after death. But Jesus died for our sins not just for us to get to heaven after death, but that we might live in his kingdom here and now! Colossians 1:13 says, “For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son” (NLT). We are saved, so that we may live in a different world, different kingdom now. Salvation is not just forgiveness of sins, but it is a life, new life, new way of life, new order of life now.

So how do we enter the kingdom? How can we live in God’s kingdom now? 2000 years ago there was a man named Nicodemus, a good man and religious leader of Israel. Although he was a teacher of Israel, he felt something was missing. Then, he saw Jesus who was something different. So Nicodemus came to see Jesus and said something like this, “Teacher, I have admired you. You are in a class above us What is it? I want to have what you have. Tell me what do to!” Jesus said to him, “You must be born again!” Here Jesus is saying, “You need to tear down completely what you are and what you have. Demolition! Then, erection! You need an entirely new start. You need a new foundation. You need an absolutely new nature. It is like a birth.” What we need to live in God’s kingdom today is life, a new nature. Martin Lloyd-Jones said, “God does not renovate us. He does not improve us or make a little bit better. Instead, he puts new life into us. He infuses a principle of life, a new disposition.”[1] 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (NIV) To enter the kingdom we need to die with Christ first. We need to crucify our sinful nature – self-will, self-effort, self-confidence, self-righteousness, our old self (cf. Gal 5:24). And with men this is impossible. But with God all things are possible!

A Parable of the Twins
I want to share the story of the twins to help our understanding of the mystery of “born again.” One day a mother conceived twins. One child was a girl; the other a boy. Months passed, and they developed. As they grew they sang for joy: “Isn’t it great to be alive!” Together they explored their mother’s womb. When they found their mother’s life cord, They shouted for joy: “How great is our mother’s love, That she shares her life with us!” Soon the twins began to change drastically. “What does this mean?: asked the boy. “It means that our life in the womb Is coming to an end,” said the girl. “But I don’t want to leave the womb,” said the boy. “I want to stay here forever.” “We have no choice,” said the girl. “But maybe there is life after birth.” “How can there be?” asked the boy. “We will shed our mother’s cord, and how is life possible without it? Besides, there’s evidence in the womb that others were here before us, and none of them ever came back to tell us that there is life after birth. No, this is the end.” And so the boy fell into despair, saying, “If life in the womb ends in death, What’s its purpose? What’s its meaning? Maybe we don’t even have a mother. Maybe we made her up just to feel good.” “But we must have a mother,” said the girl. “How else did we get here? How else do we stay alive?” And so the last days in the womb were filled with deep questioning and fear. Finally, the moment of birth arrived. When the twins opened their eyes, They cried for joy. What they saw exceeded their wildest dreams.

Here and Now
We don’t need to wait to experience this unspeakable joy until we get to heaven. The kingdom of God has come and now is accessible to everyone. How do we live in his kingdom now? There is only one way. The Son of Man must come down and must be lifted up as the serpent was lifted up in the wilderness (John 3:14). There is nothing we can add. There is nothing we can do. All we can do is to look to Jesus, the originator and perfecter of our faith. Every morning, receive God’s kingdom as his gift. Every morning, enter his kingdom by faith. Repent and believe the good news of the kingdom of God. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life now and forever. Amen.  

[1] Martin Lloyd-Jones, “Born Again,” The Kingdom of God (Crossway Books: Wheaton, Illinois, 2010), 194. 

Sunday, April 16, 2017

“Mary Magdalene: I Have Seen the Lord” (John 20:11-18) - God’s Story, Our Story VI -

Four-Minute Mile 
Have you heard of “4 Minute Mile”? In the sport of athletics, the four-minute mile means running a mile in less than four minutes. According to legend, experts said for years that the human body was simply not capable of a 4-minute mile. Since 1864, for almost a century, numerous athletes had tried to run 1 mile in 4 minutes, but no one could make it. So, people began to believe that it is impossible for human beings to run 1 mile within 4 minutes. But, in 1945 one physician released a paper that said the human body is capable of running 1 mile in 4 minutes. Few years later, on May 6, 1954 Roger Bannister broke the 4-minute barrier. Then some more runners did. Now, it’s almost routine. Even strong high-schoolers today run 4-minute miles. Our Lord Jesus Christ broke the barrier, the wall that had divided the possible from the impossible, the wall that had divided eternal life from death. The Bible says, “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1Co 15:20). Jesus Christ our Lord has conquered death, has broken down every wall, and opened the door to eternal life so that we may follow him.

The Women at Jesus’ Tomb

In today’s gospel lesson we meet Mary Magdalene and the other women. Those are faithful ones. When Jesus was on the cross, they didn’t abandon him but were standing by the cross of Jesus (John 19:25). After Jesus was placed in a tomb, they waited until the Sabbath was past. Early the next morning, they came to the tomb with spices while it was still dark, hoping they might anoint him. That was all they could do. They loved Jesus very much, but now he’s gone. They must have felt hopeless and powerless. They didn’t know what to do next. Although they were going to the tomb early in the morning, they didn’t even know what to say to the tomb guards. They didn’t have the strength to roll the tomb stone away for themselves. On the way they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away for us?” (Mark 16:4) They were filled with all kinds of worry and fear. But to their surprise, as they arrived, they looked up and saw that the huge stone had “already” been rolled away! Jesus already did everything. It was Jesus who conquered death. It was Jesus who rolled the stone away. It was Jesus who first came to see these women. In fact, all the problems and concerns that the women had had already been solved. They didn’t need to roll the stone away. They didn’t need to find and anoint Jesus’ body. Jesus already did everything for them. That is why Jesus was able to say on the cross, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). “It’s done… complete!” (MSG). Do you any burden of life – guilt, shame, wound, pain – something in your heart like a large stone that you cannot just role away for yourself? You have good news! Jesus has already rolled away that stone. For you. For me.

The Resurrection at Houlton/Hodgdon 

That’s why we are here today to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Some of us in this room may still wonder what does Jesus resurrection have to do with me. Why the resurrection of Jesus matters? It matters because it tells us that this life is not everything, and there will be a resurrection of all the dead, including you and me. We will be resurrected. 1 Corinthians 15:23 says, “But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ.” 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 says that when our Lord Jesus Christ returns with the trumpet call, the dead in Christ will rise first and then we will also be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever!” By his suffering, death, and resurrection, Jesus did open the gate to eternal life. So now everyone who believes in him has eternal life. In Christ you have eternal life!

Imagine the Day of the Lord! Imagine that your loved ones are raised from the grave at the Evergreen Cemetery or Hodgdon Cemetery. How would you feel? In fact, artist Stanley Spencer had this experience of revelation. He lived in the small English village of Cookham and attended a small Methodist church. There was a small cemetery in his churchyard. He passed through it numerous times, perhaps several times a week. One day as he was passing through this churchyard, Spencer had a sudden awakening experience. He perceived the great resurrection of the dead in his humble churchyard. He wrote his experience in this way: “Quite suddenly I became aware that everything was full of special meaning, and this made everything holy. The instinct of Moses to take his shoes off when he saw the burning bush was very similar to my feelings. I saw many burning bushes in Cookham. I observed the sacred quality in the most unexpected quarters.”[1] In his painting, The Resurrection at Cookham, we see not only the Son Jesus and the Father in the center, but also his loved ones – his family and friends, and Spencer himself. When we believe in the resurrection of Jesus and all the dead, our local churchyard, this place, becomes a new Garden of Eden. In a sense Houlton/ Hodgdon becomes what Spencer called “a holy suburb of heaven.” The resurrection of Jesus tells us that on the Day of the Lord we will be resurrected. As Bonhoeffer says, in Jesus Christ all of us will be eternally united with him, and with one another, and with our loved ones.

He Lives!

But there is more! The resurrection of Jesus gives us not only hope for tomorrow, but also it gives us power to live our new life today. Jesus promised, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18). He also promised, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt 28:20). Believing in resurrection is at the core of Christianity. And the most important truth of the resurrection is that the Risen Christ lives in us today. In this respect, John Wesley cried out as his last words, “The best of all is, God (the Risen Christ) is with us!” Today we are not here to honor a good teacher Jesus, who taught the truth and died two thousand years ago. We are here to worship and celebrate a risen King and Savior, Jesus Christ, who lives in the world and in us today! There are many evidences of Jesus’ resurrection, but perhaps the greatest evidence of all is the transformation of the disciples of Jesus. All of them were transformed from cowards to martyrs because of the resurrection. They met the Risen Christ. Eventually, 11 of the 12 men died for their faith in Christ. Saul was transformed from a passionate persecutor of Christian to the world’s greatest missionary for Christ. He was sold out for Christ. How can this be possible? Only the resurrection. Saul met the Risen Christ. Not only in Jesus’ time, but also even today we know it is true by our own experience. There were times in my college years, I found no meaning or purpose of life. But after I met the Risen Christ, my life changed. Everything became new and meaningful. Even in small things – whether I ate a meal, took a nap, or took a walk, I could find a sense of purpose and meaning and feel joy, contentment, and peace! The risen Christ gives us power to live a new life in him and makes us more like him.

Perhaps one of the most beloved Easter hymns is “He Lives” written by Alfred Ackley. There is a story behind this hymn. In fact, there were two events that gave Pastor Ackley fresh insight to write this hymn. One day he was holding an evangelistic meeting. A young sincere Jewish student asked the question, “Why should I worship a dead Jew?” Ackley answered, ““He Lives! I tell you; He is not dead, but lives here and now! Jesus Christ is more alive today than ever before. I can prove it by my own experience, as well as the testimony of countless thousands.” The young Jewish student eventually accepted the living Christ as his own personal Savior. Few days later, Easter Sunday came. On that Easter Day morning Ackley turned on his radio. He was then shocked to hear a preacher say something like this, “You know, it really doesn’t matter to me if Christ be risen or not. His body could have turned to dust long ago in some Palestinian tomb. But what’s important is that His truth goes marching on!” Ackley was so upset. That Sunday he preached with great fervency on the resurrection of Jesus based on the Scripture: “He is not here; for He is risen, as He said.” But later that night, he still could not shake the question of that young Jewish student and the words of that preacher. Then, his wife said, “Why don’t you write a song about it?. Then you will have something that will go on telling the story.” That very night Ackley wrote out the words, and then composed the melody:

I serve a risen Saviour, He’s in the world today;
I know that He is living, whatever men may say;
I see His hand of mercy, I hear His voice of cheer,
And just the time I need Him, He’s always near.

He lives, he lives Christ Jesus lives today!
He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.
He lives, He lives, salvation to impart!
You ask me how I know He lives? He lives within my heart!

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!


[1] Terry Glaspey, 75 Master Pieces Every Christian Should Know (Grand Rapids: Michigan, 2015), 214-15.