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)

Sunday, October 2, 2016

“Bury the Dead” (Luke 9:57-62) - Not a Fan IV -

Have you heard “flexitarian”? Probably some of you have heard this word from Kyle Idleman’s Not A Fan Bible study. This is a term voted most useful word of 2003 by the American Dialect Society. Several years ago MSNBC did a report on the new Vegetarians. Here’s what one flexitarian, Christy Pug, said: “I usually eat vegetarian. But I really like Bacon.” Christy explains it this way, “I really like vegetarian food, but I’m not 100 percent committed.” Flexetarian is a good way to describe how many people today view their commitments. Flexitarians are committed until it becomes inconvenient and uncomfortable. It’s probably ok to eat a flexitarian diet. But when it comes to committing to Jesus and Bible, flexitarian approach doesn’t work. Many Christians say, “I really like Jesus, but I don’t like going to church. I love Jesus, but don’t ask me to pay tithes. I worked hard for that. I will follow Jesus, but don’t talk to me about my marriage life. The list goes on. I really like Jesus, but…” We call ourselves Christians, followers of Christ, and then we pick and choose as if the teachings of Jesus were a buffet.[1] Let us ask ourselves: when it comes to our relationships with Jesus, where are we living as a flexitarian?

“On My Terms”
In today’s scripture Jesus meets many people who want to follow him. His conversations with three of them are written in Luke 9. Those three prospective followers are in different circumstances, but all three have one thing in common. They want to follow Jesus on their terms. The first one says, “I will follow you wherever you go.” On the surface, it sounds like this person offers an unconditional commitment to Jesus. But in reality, it is not. Jesus replies, “I am homeless. Are you still willing to follow me?” Then this man walks away, because he wanted to follow Jesus if certain conditions are met. Then, Jesus says to another man, “Follow me.” But the man replies, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus says to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Here it sounds like Jesus is so harsh and hardcore. But actually, what the man is saying is this: “Lord, first let me go home and live with my father. After my father is dead, then I will follow you.” In other words, here he is saying, “Lord, now is not a good time. I will follow you at a later time.” Jesus says to another man, “Follow me.” He says, “I will follow you, Lord, but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.” Here this man is making excuses for delay, “Lord, I have family obligations and things to take care of. I will follow you later when conditions become favorable.” All three are basically saying the same thing: “I really like Jesus, but I am not 100% committed.” But Jesus says to them, "No procrastination. No backward looks. You can't put God's kingdom off till tomorrow. Seize the day" (v. 62). Jesus makes it clear that if a choice is to be made, God and our commitment to His kingdom must have first place, even over family considerations. 

“On Jesus’ Terms”
In fact, today’s passage needs to be understood in the larger context. Right before today’s passage, Luke 9:51 says, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Jesus just resolved to go to Jerusalem to be crucified. And now on the way he finds several people who want to be his followers. In this context, to be followers means to walk on a narrow path with Jesus and die with him. Dietrich Bonhoeffer rightly said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” This is cost of discipleship. Salvation is free; Discipleship costs everything. The path to following Jesus is not a part-time job. It is a perpetual assignment. For disciples, there is no moment when they are not “on call.”

Today we celebrate “World Communion Sunday.” As we break bread together, we remember all Christians around the world. We remember that we are one body in Christ. We remember that we are connected and united in Christ. In particular, this morning I want us to remember persecuted Christians. For them, cost of discipleship is real. Some are disowned by their family and deported from their community. Some are tortured and killed. A few years ago my previous congregation set up a sisterhood relationship with a mission organization for North Korea. And we did a 100 Day Special Prayer with North Korea’s underground Christians. Each day we read same scripture passages, and weekly we received communion where we were. For me personally, it was a powerful experience. I felt connected with them. I felt honored to be called their brother.

Around that time I heard a story about four North Korean young men. They crossed the border and asked the Christian worker, Paul, in Northern China for help. This worker helped them find food and shared with them the love of Christ. All four became Christians. For their safety, the four men chose to use fake names. One of them used the name “pencil.” Three of them grew in faith, but Pencil seemed an undisciplined, out-of-control boy who refused to grow up. After several months of discipleship, these three young men decided to carry the gospel back into North Korea. But Pencil reluctantly joined them. After six months, three of them were arrested by State Security police. They were brutally beaten in front of the public, arrested, taken to a concentration camp. Pencil was terrified, ran away, became a beggar. But two months later, he crossed the border again and met Paul. Paul asked Pencil, “What do you want to do with the rest of your life?” Pencil replied, “I want to learn how to be brave like my friends, and unafraid to share Jesus.” After two months of intense discipleship, Pencil sensed God was ready to send him back into his homeland. There he began a ministry to homeless people, the poorest of the poor. After five months, Pencil was arrested. At the police station, one by one, they pulled out Pencil’s fingernails. But he didn’t renounce Jesus and shared the gospel of love with the interrogators. Then he was sent to a political prisoner camp. He was allowed no food, but his labor quota remained the same. But Pencil continued to share the love of Jesus with other prisoners and guards in cheerful spirit, saying, “Jesus is the reason I am able to go on.” After two months in the camp, Pencil died. But because of him, many people in the camp turned to Christ. One of them was the camp’s top State Security Agency officer. He was greatly troubled by Pencil’s death. Later, he and his whole family were baptized and became Christians at risk of death.[2] For Pencil and persecuted Christians around the world, to become a follower of Jesus means to choose Jesus over their family, their community, their country, and even their own life. How about us?

“Anything, Anytime, Anywhere”
Once a young man approached an older Christian with this question: “I live in a place where it’s hard to experience martyrdom or persecution. In this kind of environment what does it mean to follow Jesus?” The old man said, “A follower has no further plans of his own.”[3] I can’t agree with him more. A follower puts all of his or her trust in Jesus. A follower always says, “Yes, Lord to anything, anytime, anywhere.” So what does living as a follower look like? Probably, it is different for each person. Some of us are called to serve where we grew up; some of us are called to journey thousands of miles away. Some of our Christian brothers and sisters live in hardship and lose their life for the faith, like Peter who died for the faith, while others live a long life, like John who died of old age. But there is one thing in common. Followers obey on Jesus’ terms, not on their terms.  

Fanny J. Crosby describes the joy of obedience as a follower of Jesus in this way:

Perfect submission, perfect delight,
Visions of rapture now burst on my sight;
Angels descending bring from above
Echoes of mercy, whispers of love.
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long;
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long.

“Perfect submission, perfect delight.” These are the follower’s words. Amen.

[1], Excerpt From: Idleman, Kyle. “Not a Fan Daily Devotional.” Zondervan, 2016-01-01.
[2] North Korea: Good News Reaches the Hermit Kingdom (Bartlesville, Living Sacrifice Book Company, 2008), 16-23.
[3] “I have been crucified with Christ!” (Chito Cordero, May 14, 2014), Asian Journal,

Sunday, September 25, 2016

“What Must I Do?” (Matthew 19:16-30) - Not a Fan III -

Two Flowers, Two Paths  
This morning I brought some flowers. Some are in the vase, and others are in the pot. They both are beautiful. They both have a nice fragrance. If we look at outward appearance, we can’t tell the difference. But there is a significant difference between the two. What is it? One is connected to the root, the source of life; the other is not. One is alive; the other is dead. 

A Rich Young Man
We have just heard a story about a rich young man. He is like a beautiful flower in a vase. He was a good man. He was a moral man. He was a rich man. In Jesus’ time the rich were believed to be rich because they were blessed by God. Besides, the rich had more time to study the Scriptures so as to better know God’s will. The rich also had more resources to give to the temple and to the poor. And people believed the rich would gain greater favor with God, a greater chance to get eternal life. The problem of the young rich man was not that he was rich. The problem was he was not poor in spirit. The problem was his spiritual pride and complacency. When this young rich man came to see Jesus, he had confidence. When Jesus told him to obey God’s commandments, he said, “I have kept all of these. What’s left?” Deep down in his heart there was pride: “I am good.” He was rejoicing in his own security based on his wealth, his good reputation, his morality, his charity works and good deeds, but not necessarily on God himself. He was trying to get eternal life through what he has and what he does. Jesus said, “With man this is impossible!” Although this man was seeking very hard, from Jesus’ point of view he didn’t hunger and thirst for God. His possessions gave him false security and made him think, “I am ok. I am good. I am enough.” So Jesus wanted to help him to remove that false security, but the man was not willing. He chose his own security rather than Jesus. And he went away sad, although he still had everything – his money and his status. Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:2). Let me ask you, how hungry are you for God?

A Man Who Collects Pearls
The Bible tells us another parallel story. In Matthew 13:45-46 Jesus says, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” The man in this parable is like a flower in the pot, a tree planted by streams of water. Let me paraphrase this parable. There was a man who collected pearls. One day, while walking downtown, in a store window, he sees the most beautiful, magnificent pearl he has ever seen. He knows he must have it. He enters the store and an old man comes out from behind the showroom. “I must have that pearl. How much is it?” he asks the storekeeper. “How much do you have,” the old man asks. “Well, I’ve got $300 in my pocket.” “Good. I’ll take that. What else do you have?” “Well, I’ve got a BMW outside, low mileage, two years old, paid off.” “Good. I’ll take that as well. What else you got?” “Well, I’ve got two CD’s worth about $22,000.” “Good, I’ll take that too. What else you got?” This goes on and on until the guy has given away his house and even his family. Then finally the storekeeper says, “OK, here. The pearl is yours.” The man is relieved that the ordeal is at last over and that he finally owns the pearl. He turns to leave the store, but as he is walking out, the storekeeper stops him and says, “Hey, you know what? That family of yours? I don’t need a family. I’m going to give them back. But remember, they are mine now, not yours. You must take good care of them.” “And that house in Connecticut? I don’t need a house so I’m going to give it back to you. Although it does belong to me, I want you to take care of it. As for the stocks and bonds and that BMW, and even the $300—you can have it all back. But remember, it is mine. Take it. Use it wisely. Care for it for me.” So the man left with everything he had when he walked into the store—plus the pearl. But there was a big difference. He walked into the store owning everything he had. He walked out owning nothing. Instead, everything he had before was now a gift.[1]

The Exchanged Life
“We own nothing, Jesus owns everything.” This is the secret to eternal life. This is the secret to an abundant life. “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20). Hudson Taylor, missionary to China, called this the “exchanged life” – I no longer live, but Christ lives in me! As his position became continually more and more responsible, Taylor got stressed out. He wrote, “I prayed, agonized, fasted, strove, made resolutions, read the Word more diligently, sought more time for meditation––but all without avail. Every day, almost every hour, the consciousness sin oppressed me.” When his agony of soul was at its height, God used a missionary friend, named John McCarthy, who wrote a letter that transformed Taylor’s life. It said, "But how to get faith strengthened? Not by striving after faith, but by resting on the Faithful One." Taylor said, “As I read, I saw it all! I looked to Jesus and saw, and when I saw, oh, how joy flowed!”[2] The Christian life is a life of abiding in Christ. It is complete dependence and surrender of our whole being to Jesus.

As long as we own something, we constantly swing back and forth between pride and insecurity, between “I am good” and “Am I good enough?” But when we abide in Christ, when we surrender everything to Jesus, true rest and joy flow, and we praise him, “Jesus, you are good. You are beautiful. You are enough!” Let us not strive nor struggle as the rich young man did. Instead, let us abide. Let us trust Jesus and rest in his love moment by moment. “I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you're joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can't produce a thing” (John 15:5, MSG). Amen.

[1] Adapted from “Stewardship: Story about a Man Who Collects Pearls,” Luther Seminary,
[2] Dr. and Mrs. Howard Taylor, Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret (London: China Inland Mission, 1955), 110-116.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

“Follow Me” (Matthew 9:9-13) - Not a Fan II -

Jesus Calling
If someone wants to be a pastor in the United Methodist Church, the Board of Ordained Ministry always asks the following two questions: (1) what is your conversion? And (2) how do you know if God has called you to ministry? These are two distinctive Christian experiences. In the Old Testament the word “converted” means “to turn back or return.” In the Bible the word convert is to return to what we were initially created to be. When we put our trust in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, we are converted. God gives us a new nature, a new heart. We are born again. But this is not all. God also give us a new purpose to life. God calls each of us to his kingdom ministry. Some people think that “call to ministry” is just for few chosen ones. But actually, God has a purpose for everyone. God has a unique mission and ministry for each one of us.

I shared my conversion several times in different occasions. It happened when I was in the army. I fell ill with an endemic disease, called “Dengue Fever,” in East Timor, and I had a near death experience. At the valley of death I repented my sin and surrendered my life to Christ. Miraculously, I was completely healed. I was converted. I knew I had a new nature. I knew I had assurance of pardon. But once I went back to college, I was still not sure what God’s plans for my life were. I kind of wanted to have my cake and eat it at the same time. I wanted to have a decent job and salary and do some church work. I wanted to have a little of Jesus but at the same time I also wanted to have my own areas that I can make decisions. I pursued “moderation.” At that time I felt like I was sitting on the fence. I didn’t feel satisfied. I didn’t know what to do. Around that time I attended a youth Bible camp as one of the teachers. At the end of the evening service there was a corporate prayer time. I was praying for my group students. I prayed that they might encounter Christ and discover God’s plans for their lives. While I was praying, I heard the inner voice of Jesus calling, saying, “My son, I want you. I want you to follow me.” That night I gave Jesus Christ the master key of my heart.

“At the Tax Collector’s Booth”
Jesus meets us where we are and calls us to follow him. Jesus meets us in our mess and then begins the process of change. In today’s passage there was a man named Matthew who was suffering from a bad reputation. As a tax collector, Matthew was rich, but he was absolutely despised and considered outcast. No one wanted to associate with him. I want to draw your attention how and where Jesus met this man. Verse 9 says, “… he (Jesus) saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth.” Jesus didn’t meet Matthew at the synagogue. Jesus didn’t meet him at the prayer closet. But Jesus did meet Matthew right where he was – “at the tax collector’s booth.” Many biblical scholars say that Matthew’s conversion was not some kind of miraculous summons that suddenly changed him from a racketeer into a saint. Matthew had heard of Jesus long before He challenged him to follow Him. He had heard Jesus’ gracious words and had seen His mighty works. Matthew was being moved. A change was taking place. He began to loathe his business in life. He began to ponder his purpose in life. Matthew was greatly distressed. He wanted to change his life. He wanted to run away, but he couldn’t go anywhere because he didn’t know which way to go. He didn’t know what to do. He felt like his life was a treadmill set at a pace that he couldn’t control. He just kept going. One day Jesus came and stood before his desk at tax office and said, “Follow me!” Jesus didn’t condemn Matthew. Instead, Jesus did meet Matthew in his mess and call him to follow Him. And Matthew followed. Have you met Jesus in your mess? Have you heard Jesus calling? Have you responded to His calling? How do you live out your calling?

What Separates Real from Fake
In today’s passage there are two groups of people who were following Jesus. The first group of people was those receiving Jesus’ love and rejoicing in it. They repented and believed Jesus. They ate with Jesus and followed him. They were tax collectors, prostitutes, and “sinners.” The second group of people was those rejecting Jesus’ love and calling because they considered themselves righteous and healthy. They didn’t need a savior. They didn’t need a doctor. They were Pharisees, religious leaders, and coddle insiders. They thought they were following Jesus. Yes, they were being around Jesus, but they were not following his ways and his words. In Matthew 23 Jesus rebuked teachers of the law and Pharisees. He said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing” (v. 37). They rejected Jesus and his love.

On the Day of the Lord many will say to Jesus, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?” Then Jesus will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away form me, you evildoers!” (Matt 7:22-23) Pharisees and religious leaders did lots of God’s works, lots of good works. But Jesus said to them, “Away from me, you evildoers!” From what Jesus said here we can learn one very important truth. It’s not how much we do. What separates real from fake is “love.” If we have a great faith, if we give all we have to the poor and sacrifice ourselves for others, but have not love, we are nothing! My father-in-law is a Presbyterian pastor in Korea. Once my mother-in-law shared her testimony with me. After they planted a church, by the grace of God the church grew in numbers and experienced revival. But then, a time of great tribulation came to their lives. One pastor, who was invited as a guest speaker during the church retreat, stirred up divisions in the church and took many church members with him. To make things worse, that pastor and the followers spread a vicious rumor, saying “We are the real followers of Jesus, and those remaining in the church were fake.” The church was falling apart. My mother-in-law was crushed in soul, and prayed to God: “Lord, am I really fake?” Then, God showed her two visions. In the first vision, two eagles appeared. One was a young and strong eagle, and the other was an old and weak one. Both of them flew up into the sky. The young eagle flew high, but the old eagle barely flew. But, after a while, the young eagle suddenly fell to the ground. Actually, it was a wind-up eagle, and then the voice said to her, "When the time comes, you’ll know what is real and what is fake.” In the second vision, two doves appeared. Both of them looked exactly the same. One of them kept approaching the other and trying to hug, but the other one kept rejecting and avoiding. And finally he fled away. Then, the voice said to her, “What separates real from fake is love.”

Life with Love
Love. By love people will know we are followers of Jesus. This love is agape love, different from other loves. The Bible says even those who are evil know how to give good gifts to their children (Matt 7:11). It’s rather easy to do good things to our family and friends. But agape love, Christ-like love, is different. It is to love the unlovable. It is to bless those who curse us and pray for those give us a hard time. It is to lay down our lives for those who hate us. We do not have this agape love in us. But when we experience Jesus’ love first, then and only then can we love others as Jesus loved us.

Recently I have read the story of Mother Antonia. She was a blond Beverly Hills socialite. She married twice, divorced twice, and the mother of seven. But when she was 44, her life was transformed. She heard Jesus calling, “follow me.” She followed. She sensed God’s call to serve the forgotten prisoners. She went to notorious La Mesa prison which contains six thousand of Mexico’s worst criminals. Mother Antonia voluntarily took up residence at La Mesa. She has lived in the tiny cell for more than thirty years alongside her inmates. She spends her time praying with them, counseling them, and ensuring they have medicine and clean water. Although La Mesa prison experienced remarkable transformation, it remained a very dangerous place. In September 2008 a riot broke out in the prison when she was not inside. The prisoners had taken hostages, fires had been started, and bullets were flying everywhere. The 82 year old Mother Antonia pleaded with the police, “Let me go in. I love the men there.” They let her enter. She found the leader and begged him to end the riot, saying, “It’s not right that you’re locked up here, hungry and thirsty. We can take care of those things, but this isn’t the way to do it. I will help you make it better. But first you have to give me the guns. I beg you to put down your weapons.” The leader replied, “Mother, as soon as we heard your voice we dropped the guns out of the window.”[1]

The love of Christ transforms us. Jesus invites “anyone.” Anyone is welcome to follow him. Anyone. Sexual past? Anyone. Ex-con? Anyone. Inmate? Anyone. Recently divorced? Anyone. Legalist? Anyone. Alcoholic? Anyone. Addict? Anyone. Hypocrite? Anyone. Matthew heard Jesus calling. And he became a follower. Years later, as he was writing the Gospel of Matthew, Matthew humbly shares his own story with us how Jesus found him and changed him. He once was cheating his own people as a tax collector, but later with love he laid down his life for those who persecuted him in Ethiopia. And now Jesus is calling you. Are you listening?

[1] Skye Jethani, With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011) 159.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

“Fan or Follower” (Luke 9:18-25) - Not a Fan I -

Fan or Follower? How do you define your relationship with Jesus? Who do you say Jesus is? Every semester Scot McKnight, professor of religious studies at North Park College in Chicago, gives his students a test on the first day of his Jesus class. He gives 24 questions about what the students think Jesus is like. Is he moody? Does he get nervous? Is he the life of the party or an introvert? Those questions are then followed by a second set— with slightly altered language—in which the students answer questions about their own personalities. And the results are remarkably consistent: everyone thinks Jesus is just like them. McKnight said, “The test result suggests that even though we like to think we are becoming more like Jesus, the reverse is probably more the case: we try to make Jesus like ourselves.”[1]

What do you think Jesus is like? Some said, “Elijah,” because they wanted to have miraculous signs and wonders in their lives. Some said, “John the Baptist,” because they wanted to have some kind of fresh start and spiritual renewal in their lives. How about you? Who do you say Jesus is? Over the next several weeks I want all of us to have a DTR talk with Jesus and find out where we stand with Jesus. In the Bible there are two kinds of groups who were with Jesus: the first group of people is called, “fans,” and the second group is called “followers.” Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word, “fan” in this way: “an enthusiastic devotee usually as a spectator,” or “an ardent admirer or enthusiast.”

Life FROM God
Then, who are fans of Jesus in the Bible? Skye Jethani gives us a good insight and defines relationships with Jesus by using different prepositions. The first group of fans is the people who live “from” God. Right before today’s passage Jesus feeds the five thousand. After this, in John 6 large crowds continue to follow him, go before him and wait for him on the other said of the lake. Jesus says to them, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill” (26). Then, Jesus says, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (53). He challenges the fans to a deeper, more intimate relationship with him. Guess what? In verse 66 the Bible says, “From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” The fans who have a Life From God posture view God as a divine butler or a holy vending machine to dispense their desires. They want God’s blessings and gifts, but they are not particularly interested in God himself. God is a means to an end. This view is so appealing because it doesn’t ask us to change anything. We become the center of the universe and expect God to orbit around us. So, when Jesus challenges us to define the relationship, we go home. When pain comes, when healing doesn’t come, we turn away from God.

Life UNDER God
The second group of fans is the people who live “under” God. In the Bible the teachers of the law and the Pharisees fall under this category. They saw God as an angry righteous judge. They put God in a box, labeled “cause-and-effect”: We obey God’s commands and God blesses our lives, our families, our nation. On the surface, a Life under God posture looks devout, religious, humble and moral. But ironically, we seek to control God by keeping religious rituals and morality. Through our righteous behavior and our worship, we put God into our debt and expect him to do our bidding. Many Christians are told if we obey God’s commands, if we attend the church service regularly, give financially to the church, and abstain from immorality, then God will bless our lives. Cause and effect. One Christian leader made the following statement after the 9/11 attacks: “I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say “you helped this happen.””[2] These kinds of judgments happen when we believe that living under God should be the essence of Christian faith. But the limitation of the Life under God posture is that they can only see external behaviors –following rituals and obeying commands – but they cannot look into a person’s heart. Pharisees did all kinds of good religious things, but inside they were filled with hatred, greed, pride, lust, and deceit. That is why Jesus said to them, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men” (Matt 15:8-9).

Life FOR God
The third group of fans is the people who live “for” God. You may wonder what is wrong with living for God. Of course, there is nothing wrong with serving God. But the problem comes when we find our identity and worth in serving or obedience. Our obedience becomes our self-righteousness. It becomes bitterness, resentfulness and anger toward God and people. For example, in Luke 10 Martha invites Jesus and his disciples. She welcomes them, serves them, and cooks for them. But while she is preparing a meal, Martha is getting upset and angry. Finally, she interprets Jesus with the question. “Don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” Martha found her worth in serving. Her service became self-righteousness. “I did something for Jesus. I fed Jesus and his disciples. What about my sister Mary? She is doing nothing! What about Jesus? Is he aware of what I am doing for him?” So Martha got angry at Jesus and her sister Mary. Many Christians fall into this trap. One study reveals that every month about fifteen hundred pastors leave the ministry because of conflict, burnout, or moral failure. They start with passion for God, but when they fail to have a sense of significance or reward, they quit the ministry.[3]

Life WITH God
So far, we have explored three groups of Jesus’ fans: life from God, under God and for God. In fact, these three postures are not all bad. But they are “incomplete.” If these three postures become the entirety of how we relate to God, the most important is missing. God didn’t just make us to receive good things (Life from God). God didn’t just make us to keep a list of rules to follow (Life under God). God didn’t just make us to accomplish a mission (Life for God). Rather God himself came to be with us. Immanuel, “God with us.” The purpose of our life is to live life with God more than life from God, under God or for God. I have spent time living in each one of these categories. Our life is a journey to learn to live Life with God.

Our sin has separated us from God. But God sent Jesus, Immanuel. Jesus took the penalty for our sin on himself. He died my death. Jesus opened the way to live with God forever. So, a follower of Jesus is a person who trusts in what Jesus has done and by faith lives life with Jesus. The follower dines with Jesus, talks with Jesus, walks with Jesus, watches TV with Jesus, reads the paper with Jesus, and sleeps with Jesus. In today’s passage, Jesus said, “The Son of Man must suffer, be rejected, be killed and then be raised to life” (22). If we are followers of Jesus, we also must go along the same path that Jesus walked. We must deny ourselves and take up our cross daily and follow Jesus (23). A follower goes wherever Jesus goes. I think the Apostle Paul can be a good example of what it means to be a follower. At first, he lived life under God and for God. He kept all God’s law and persecuted the church as a service to God. But he was restless, tired, angry, and resentful. But then he encountered Jesus. Since then Paul lived life with Jesus. In prison Paul wrote to Philippian church, saying, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (3:8). Here the word “know” doesn’t mean an intellectual knowledge about someone, but it is an intimate and experiential knowledge. In prison every night Paul did sing and dance with joy while nothing was accomplishing tangibly for God. Fans know about Jesus, but followers know Jesus. Fans rejoice in Jesus’ gifts, but followers rejoice in Jesus himself.

Fan or Follower
All of us in this room are invited to live as followers of Jesus. We are invited to live life with Jesus, ongoing communion with him. In the 1980s the CBS anchor interviewed Mother Teresa. He asked, “When you pray, what do you say to God?” “I don’t say anything,” she replied. “I listen.” “Okay,” the anchor asked a follow-up question, “When God speaks to you, then, what does he say?” “He doesn’t say anything. He listens.” The anchor was baffled. Mother Teresa added, “And if you don’t understand that, I can’t explain it to you.”[4] By definition, a follower is always with Jesus and listening to him. Are you a follower? Are you listening to Jesus? Do you believe Jesus is also listening to you all the time? Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).

[1] Skye Jethani, With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011), 61.
[2] Jerry Falwell quoted in “Falwell apologizes to gays, feminists, lesbians,” CNN , September 14, 2001,
[3] Skye Jethani, 91.
[4] Ibid., 114.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

“Marks of a Christian” (Gal 5:16-26)

Marks of a Christian??
If you are asked by someone “What are the marks of a Christian?” what would be your answer? One research found that 5 out of 6 young non-Christians say they know a Christian personally, but only 1 in 6 say the lifestyles of those believers are noticeably different in a good way.[1] The word “Christian” literally means, “belonging to the party of Christ” or a “follower of Christ.” But, what does it really mean to be a Christian? What are the marks of a Christian? There are at least two infallible marks to see whether we are true Christians.

Transformed Will and Affections
The first mark of a Christian is transformed wills and affections. Suppose you have a pig. You give him a bath. You polish his hoofs. You put a beautiful ribbon around him. You sprinkle nice perfume on him. Now he smells good and looks good. Everybody says, “How nice! I’ve never seen such a lovely pig!” You open the door and let the pig out. Where does he go? He directly goes back to the mud-hole, because his nature has never been changed. He’s still a pig. You can take a man, dress him up on Sunday morning. He sits down in the church. He smiles and beams all over. After the service, he walks out, shakes hands with the minister, smiles and says, “It was a wonderful service.” Then, he goes back and practices the same old sins, because his nature has never been changed.[2]

That’s why Jesus said to Nicodemus, “You must be born again!” Nicodemus was a good man, a good Pharisee. He was an honorable, respected and conscientious man. But he felt something was missing in his life. He thought if he knows God’s law a little bit better, it would be ok. He thought if he becomes a little bit better person by keeping the law, he would have eternal life, more satisfying and abundant life. But it didn’t work. So he came to see Jesus. The very first thing Jesus said to him was, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again!” All of our efforts – leading a moral life and doing good works – are no use unless we are born again. Self-help is no use, because it cannot change our nature. Jesus says there is only one way to enter the kingdom. We must be born again, born from above, born of the Spirit! To be a better person is not enough. We must be a new person in Christ. We must have a new nature.

Then, how do we have a new nature? The Bible says when we come to believe in Jesus Christ, we have transformed will and affections. For the first time our most inner being is transformed and delights the law of God. Here are two important questions to examine whether we are born again: “Do I love and desire and do what God loves? Do I hate and avoid what is evil?” In natural state of human beings we do what is right in our own eyes (Judges 21:25). We love sin because it fulfills the desires of our sinful nature. But, when we are born again, we have transformed will and affections. We are dead to sin. We are dead to self. We crucify our sinful nature. We hate sin. We forsake sin. We don’t desire and do sexual immorality, idolatry, hatred, discord, dissensions, factions and the like. Rather, we love Christ. We obey Christ, not from fear, nor from a sense of obligation, but from love. After he was born again, Charles Wesley said, “I want a principle within of watchful, godly fear, a sensibility of sin, a pain to feel it near.” Are you born again? Are you transformed?

Bearing the Fruit of the Spirit
The second mark of a Christian is to grow in grace and bear the fruit of the Spirit. From the moment we come to believe in Christ we are grafted into the vine. We have new life. We have a new nature. We begin to grow. Then, what does it mean to grow in the faith of Jesus Christ? It means to follow in Jesus’ steps. We grow when we follow Christ. Twenty times in the New Testament, Jesus issued a challenging invitation to follow him. He was not interested in mere “fans” who admired him with enthusiasm. He wanted “followers” who wanted to grow in him. In his book Not A Fan, Kyle Idleman compares and contrasts fans and followers as follows:

Fans love rules; Followers love Jesus.
Fans glorify themselves; Followers die to themselves.
Fans settle; Followers sacrifice.
Fans create outcasts; Followers create followers.

As we follow Christ, we grow to be more like Christ. We love God. We sacrifice for others. We reproduce followers of Jesus Christ. Above all else, we bear much fruit. What fruit? Galatians 5:22-23 gives us the fruit of the Spirit which are definite marks of a Christian: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We can’t tell whether we are Christians by our outward appearance or activity that we are doing. But we do know by the fruit. Jesus said, “By their fruit you will know them!” (Matt 7:20) So the question we must ask ourselves is not, “Am I doing such and such good things?” Instead, we are called to look at our lives and ask, “Am I more loving? Am I more joyful? Am I more peaceful? Am I more patient? Am I more like Christ than I was a year ago?” Are you growing in grace? Are you bearing the fruit of the Spirit? If you are not growing spiritually, if you are not fruit-bearing, it may be that you have never been grafted into the vine and the nature of God. You had better check to be sure.

Are You a Christian?
In church history followers of Jesus Christ were first called “Christians” in Antioch (Acts 11:26). They didn’t call themselves Christians. But people around them called Christians, because their behavior, their attitude, their speech and their lives were like Christ. They were filled, controlled, and empowered by the Spirit of Jesus.

Are you a Christian? Are you born again? Are you transformed? Are you growing? Are you bearing the fruit of the Spirit? Are you sure? This morning I commend you to present yourself, your life to Christ and receive him as your Lord and Savior. If Jesus is already your Lord, commit yourself to obey him, follow him, and grow in his grace. My prayer is that all of us in this room may bear much fruit, the fruit of the Sprit, and people around us may notice it and call us “Jesus freaks,” so that our heavenly Father will be glorified through our lives. Amen.

[1] “Test Yourself: Are You More Like Jesus or More Like the Pharisees?”
[2] Illustration adapted from Billy Graham’s sermon, “The Marks of a Christian” (Oct 14, 1957), Christianity Today (Oct 28, 2008),

Sunday, August 21, 2016

“Joseph III: Man of Grace” (Gen 41:9-16)

God at Work
It is always thrilling to see how God transforms his people. In 1782, John Wesley wrote about difficult circumstances of his hometown Epworth. At that time the industrial revolution was under way. In his town four factories for spinning and weaving had been set up. Within these factories many people - young men and women, even boys and girls – were employed. Wesley describes their manner in this way: “The whole conversation of these was profane and loose to the last degree.” But Wesley started a prayer meeting, and a few of these workers stumbled into one of his prayer meetings, and they were suddenly cut to the heart. They immediately went out to gather their friends and bring them to the prayer meeting. You can guess what happened next. Wesley wrote: “The whole scene was changed. In three of the factories, no more lewdness or profaneness was found, for God had put a new song in their mouth, and blasphemies were turned to praise. Those three I visited today, and I found religion had taken deep root in them. No trifling word was heard among them, and they watch over each other in love. I found it exceedingly good to be there, and we rejoiced together in the God of our salvation.”[1]

Our God is the same in 1782 and in 2016 today and forever. God is always totally himself. He still visits and changes his people today. Other powers change our feelings and emotions temporarily. When we read books or meet people, that may change us. But it doesn’t last long. However, God changes our very nature permanently. When we are touched by God’s grace and respond to it, we are not the same forever. This month we study about Joseph and his life. So far we have explored how God changed Joseph in different aspects of his life each week. In the first week we explored how God turned Joseph’s scars into stars (“Man of Sorrows”). In the second week how God trained and prepared Joseph to live in the presence of God all the time (“Man of Integrity”). Today we will explore how God’s grace changes Joseph’s very nature from inside out.

Grace, Grace, God’s Grace
When you use the word grace, what does it mean to you? How do you define the word grace? Basically, it simply means a free gift from God. It’s an unmerited favor of God. It is not something that we earn, but something that God gives to us out of love. It is not because we deserve it, but because God is gracious. Grace is the art of loving someone at their least lovable moments. God first loved us anyway. God loved us at our least lovable moments. While we were still sinners, God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us (Rom 5:8). When we experience God’s grace personally, we are cut to the heart. God’s grace just penetrates our hearts through Jesus Christ. Joseph experienced this. He experienced God’s grace in the very midst of adversity. When every available resource was gone (from his family, his master Potiphar, the chief jailer, to the chief cupbearer), Joseph found God’s favor. When he was the most vulnerable and the least lovable, Joseph experienced God’s grace. In the dark and horrible dungeon Joseph experienced the magnificent and indescribable love of God. And his very nature changed permanently. Not only did Joseph become a better person, but he became a new creation.

Grace and Humility
When we experience God’s grace, we are changed. There are several infallible signs of true transformation. We can find those signs in Joseph’s life. The first sign is “humility.” When Joseph stood before Pharaoh, Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” Joseph said, “I cannot do it, but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.” So Pharaoh told Joseph his dreams. Then Joseph said to the king, “Your dreams are one and the same. God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do” (25). And he continued, “The reason the dream was given to Pharaoh in two forms is that the matter has been firmly decided by God, and God will do it soon” (32). Joseph made reference to God again and again. God… God… God… God! As he was going through a 13-year dark tunnel, he clearly saw two things: his smallness and God’s greatness. At first, Joseph was so discouraged by his powerlessness. There was nothing he could do. In the dungeon he felt like he was forgotten by the world. But there he found Almighty God who was with him always. There he experienced God’s unmerited favor. There Joseph was transformed and became a humble man of God.

St. Augustine said, “If you should ask me what are the ways of God, I would tell you that the first is humility, the second is humility, and the third is humility. Not that there are no other precepts to give, but if humility does not precede all that we do, our efforts are meaningless.”[2] The closer we get to the light, the more we see the reality. The more we see our smallness and God’s greatness, the more we become humble as a result. This kind of humility is different from a natural disposition of low-spiritedness. Jonathan Edwards tells us the difference between true and false humility. He says that people whose humility is counterfeit think that they are humble. They are impressed with themselves for doing humble act, and they admire themselves immensely. Then Edwards says, “A truly humble Christian pays no attention to her personal dignity; it is a meaningless concept to her, and so she thinks nothing of performing some menial task for love. Her only thought is that she could never offer enough in return for God’s great love for her.”[3] A good way to know whether our humility is true or counterfeit is to examine ourselves when the humiliation and the shame come. Let us ask ourselves, “How do I respond when the humiliation comes?”

Grace and Gratitude
The second sign of true transformation in Christ is “gratitude.” When we are touched by God’s grace, we give thanks to God with a grateful heart. The Greek word for thanks is built on the word for grace: Charis becomes eucharistian. Grace and gratitude always go together. Joseph always wanted to remember God’s grace and express his gratitude to God. So he named his first child Manasseh, which means “God made me forget.” Every time he called his son’s name, he remembered God’s grace. “Yes, God made me forget all the pain and hurt I experienced. I am grateful.” When he had a second child, he named him Ephraim, which means, “God made me fruitful.” Again each time he called his second son’s name, he remembered God’s favor. “God made me fruitful though I didn’t deserve it. I am grateful.” Grace and gratitude go together.

In his book You’ll Get Through This, Max Lucado shares his story with us. Once he was about to check in for a flight. At that time because of a snowstorm flights were delayed and the airport was in turmoil. He arrived to a gate just in time. The attendant said to him, “Sir, I’m afraid there are no more seats in coach.” So Lucado was disappointed. But then the attendant said, “We are going to have to bump you up to first class. Do you mind if we do that?” Lucado was so glad. He enjoyed the wide seat with the extra legroom, good service, and good food. He was so thankful. But not every passenger was as grateful as he was. The person across the aisle from him was angry because he had only one pillow. That person kept complaining about insufficient service. He said, “I paid extra to fly first class. I deserve to have better service!” One passenger grumbled; the other was grateful. What’s the difference? The crank paid his first class seat. Lucado’s seat was a gift. On which side of the aisle do you find yourself?[4]

Grace and Sacrifice
The third sign of true transformation we find in Joseph’s life is “sacrifice.” Joseph willingly sacrificed the right to revenge. Instead, he chose to take care of his brothers and their family members. He said to their brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children” (Gen 50:18-19). Joseph was able to give up the right because God’s grace was far greater than the sacrifices he had to make.

When we are touched by God’s grace in Jesus Christ, we give up anything for the sake of the gospel. Hudson Taylor, who endured great hardships in his lifelong mission work in China, said when he was old, "I never made a sacrifice." What he meant was that because God’s grace was so great, no sacrifice could be too great for him to make for the gospel of Christ. While he was studying medicine, he chose to live among the poor in the slums of London to prepare himself for mission work in China. Every day he had to walk a full four miles each way to get to the hospital. The woman Taylor loved refused to marry him unless he gave up his dream of serving in China. Taylor gave up this relationship with tears. He endured many hardships including arrests, insults, slander, and poverty. But he willingly gave up anything for the sake of the gospel as if there were no sacrifice at all.

One time Rick Warren interviewed Bill Bright, Campus Crusade for Christ (C.C.C.) founder. Warren asked, “What is the secret of your effective ministry?” Bright said, “When I was in seminary, I was just overwhelmed with God’s love for me. While I was yet in my sins, Christ died for me!” One Sunday afternoon God led my wife and me to sign a written contract to become his slave… And I must tell you it’s the most liberating thing that’s ever happened to me.”[5] My prayer is that the same grace of God may touch our hearts and transform us, so that we may become more like Christ – humble, grateful, and self-sacrificial – for the sake of the gospel. “And Christ died for us all, that we should no longer live for ourselves but for him who died for us and was raised again” (2Co 5:15). Amen.

[1] Percy Livingstone Parker, ed., The Journal of John Wesley (Chicago: Moody Press, 1974), 378.
[2] “Humility,” Evangelical Catholic Apologetics,
[3] Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections (Barbour Publishing, 2013), 126. 
[4] Max Lucado, You'll Get Through This: Hope and Help for Your Turbulent Times (Thomas Nelson, 2013) 95-96.
[5] “Rick Warren Interviews Bill Bright,”