Monday, January 16, 2017

“The First Sign” (John 2:1-11) - Seven Signs of Christ I -

Christmas Miracle
How was your Christmas? This Christmas I’ve got a very special email from one Christian family. This man had bladder cancer three years ago. He is a cancer survivor. But a week before Christmas his urologist found a tumor on his bladder. He heard the news that his cancer came back. Right before Christmas he was scheduled for surgery to remove the tumor. Many people had been praying for him all over the country. Finally, the day came. The surgeon looked into his bladder and the tumor was gone! His cancer was gone! It was Christmas miracle indeed. And he and his wife shared this testimony with many people, and by this, the name of Jesus Christ was exalted!

God did many miracles throughout the Bible, and in the four Gospels there were many miracles performed by Jesus. One of the common words for miracles used in the New Testament was dynameis in Greek. Unlike Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the Apostle John intentionally used another word semeia, which literally means “signs.” A sign is something indicating the existence of something else. For instance, if we follow “Houlton” traffic sign though you don’t see it right away, eventually you get to Houlton. In the same way, John carefully chose 7 signs that point us to Jesus. In John 20:30-31 he tells us the reason why he wrote the book, saying “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” From today we will explore seven signs one by one each week. My prayer is that as we see each sign, we may clearly see that Jesus is the Lord, the Son of God!

The first sign is written in today’s passage. Jesus turns water into wine. In Jesus’ time a wedding celebration could last as long as a week. The bridegroom and his family were responsible for preparing and serving a variety of food and wine, which stands for joy. The fact that the wine ran out was very embarrassing and shameful situation. In this time of family crisis Jesus intervened and revealed his glory as the Lord. We say, “Jesus is the Lord.” But what does it really mean? What is the practical application of the Lordship of Jesus Christ? In today’s story we meet three different individuals and groups of people who truly live out Jesus being lord of their lives.

Trust: The Mother of Jesus (2:1-5)
The first one is the mother of Jesus. When the wine ran out, Mary didn’t turn to the bridegroom. She didn’t go to the master of the banquet. Instead, Mary turned to Jesus. When a storm sweeps into your life, when the need is great, who do you turn to? Mary turned to Jesus, because she did trust Jesus most. She said, “They have no wine!” But Jesus’ response was certainly abrupt, although the tone was not rude. He said, “Dear woman, that’s not our problem. My time has not yet come” (NLT). The answer was basically “No.” But Mary didn’t not give up. She didn’t know what Jesus would do, but she committed the matter to him and trusted him. She believed that he would do something. She went to the servants and said, “Do whatever he tells you.” Mary was the mother of Jesus. She had borne him, nursed him, and taught him. But Mary didn’t approach Jesus as his mother. She did approach him as a believer (cf. 2 Co 5:16). she didn’t try to manipulate Jesus, but she responded as a believer and encouraged others to do the same, “Do whatever he tells you.”     

Many people, many Christians believe in “imaginary” Jesus. In other words, they pick and choose what they like from Jesus. For some, Jesus is merely a human teacher. For some, Jesus is a social liberator. John Owen, the old puritan, warned people in his day: “You have an imaginary Christ and if you are satisfied with imaginary Christ you must be satisfied with imaginary salvation.”[1] Thomas Jefferson was one of the founding fathers and a brilliant mind. But unfortunately, when it comes to faith, he didn’t believe Jesus just as the Bible says. He didn’t believe the Trinity. He didn’t believe miracles in the Bible. He defined his own Jesus and Christianity. So he was determined to reconstruct a Christianity. In fact, using scissors and paste, Jefferson produced his own edition of the gospels, from which all miracles had been eliminated and contained only Jesus’ moral teaching.[2] But the Bible says there is only one true Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord. I want you to think about who do you say that Jesus is.

Obey: The Servants (2:6-8)
The second group of people who live out Jesus being the lord of their lives is the servants. In today’s story there were six stone water jars, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. We can easily calculate that the total amount of water would be approximately 120 to 180 gallons. We don’t know how many servants were there. But still, it is not a small amount of water. However, the Bible says that the servants filled them up “to the brim” when Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” It signifies “complete” obedience. Jesus also asked them to draw some out and take it to the master of the feast. And they took it. Again, it signifies “immediate” obedience. The servants give us a good example of what it means to obey. They had a clear identity about themselves: “servanthood.” They didn’t regard Jesus as one of the guests, but as their master. There is a clear limit and boundary for guests. They are not allowed to get involved in our private matters. Christians are the people who have invited Jesus to our lives. But for some, Jesus still remains as their guest. He might be a special guest, but still he doesn’t have full access to a primary decision-making. Is Jesus your guest or master? Does he have full access to your family matters, marriage, finance and every area of life? Or is he just a good adviser only for the well-being of your soul?

Commit: The Disciples of Jesus (2:9-11)
The third group is the disciples of Jesus. The Bible says that they saw the first sign and believed in Jesus. Based on today’s passage we can easily assume that there were probably many people either saw or heard about the sign that Jesus had performed, but not all believed in Jesus. For instance, the master of the feast tasted the wine turned from water. He got benefit from it, but nothing changed. For him, the sign was a one time interesting event. But as for the disciples, it was spiritual transformative experience that changed their lives forever. By faith they perceived Jesus’ glory behind the sign, and they put their faith in him. In the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, his disciples were kind of “loosely” following Jesus. In John 1:35-42 Jesus called the first disciples, including Andrew and Peter. But if we read the other gospels, Jesus had to visit them again and call them personally (Matt 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20; Luke 5:1-11). It is believed that at first Jesus’ disciples loosely followed Jesus. In other words, one day they were with Jesus, and another day they stayed with their family and did their work. However, today’s sign, the first of Jesus’ signs, became transformative experience for them to make a total commitment to Jesus Christ. To believe the gospel is to believe in the person Jesus. To believe in Jesus is to follow him 24/7. Jesus still calls us today. How do you respond to his call? How do you walk with Christ today?  

The First Sign
All of us are fearfully and wonderfully made. When God made our ancestors Adam and Eve, God said it was very good! Humankind was like the choicest wine – beautiful color, taste, and aroma – in God’s eyes (cf. Isaiah 5:2). But then, sin came to the world, and our life became like “insipid” water – no taste, no savor – and even messy and ugly. But this is not the end of the story. God never gave up on us! God sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to make everything new. Jesus is God’s method. The Bible says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Co 5:17). When we receive Jesus as the Lord and live under his lordship, the insipid water of our old life has gone and the richness of new life in Christ has come! And just like the best wine, as time goes by, our life becomes more beautiful, tasty, fragrant and give joy to many people. Let us remember three marks of Christians who live under the lordship of Jesus Christ: trust, obey, and commit. Are you a follower?

[1] A. W. Tozer, Total Commitment to Christ: What Is It? (Chariot eBooks), Kindle Location 45 of 131.
[2] John Stott, The Incomparable Christ (InterVarsity Press, 2001), Kindle Location 1719-1720 of 4607. 

Sunday, January 8, 2017

“Have You Been Baptized?” (John 1:29-34)

The Scarlet Letter
The Scarlet Letter is a famous fiction in a historical setting – 17th century Puritan Boston, MA, written by Nathaniel Hawthorne in 1850. It tells the story of Hester Prynne, who conceives a daughter through an affair and struggles to create a new life of repentance and dignity. She is required to wear a scarlet "A" ("A" standing for adulteress) on her dress to shame her. Her lover, Arthur Dimmesdale, remains unidentified and is wracked with guilt and finally falls ill and dies of guilt and his inner turmoil. Hester experiences with the extreme legalism of the Puritans and chooses not to conform to their rules and beliefs. She begins to believe that her sin has been paid for by her penance and good works and to establish her own different moral standards and beliefs. But at the end, she realizes that her sin constantly condemns her and resumes wearing the scarlet letter.[1]

Why Sin Matters
Although the Scarlet Letter is a fictional story, it tells us the truth about sin. Sin never goes away by itself. It only accumulates. That is the gravity of sin. Probably, many of you have seen the buildings and roofs that collapsed under the weight of snow. Sin is just like that. We don’t feel the difference. We don’t feel like we are accumulating sins. But the day will come like a thief. Romans 2:5 says, “But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.” Whether willing or not, each of us will face up to this gravity of sin. What are the consequences of sin? The Bible says, “The wages of sin is death – separation from God” (6:23) and “after that we have to face judgment” (Heb 9:27).

Be Cleansed 
What can wash away our sin? Our sin is like the scarlet letter that permanently engraved on the tablet of our heart. It condemns us constantly. It never goes away. Leviticus 16 helps us understand the seriousness of sin. On the Day of Atonement once a year Aaron chose two goats to bear symbolically the sins of the people – one for a sin offering (a blood sacrifice for atonement) and the other for a scapegoat. Aaron laid both his hands on the head of this living scapegoat, confessing all the Israelites’ sins. He put their sins upon the head of the goat and sent the goat into the wilderness. The goat vicariously carried the sins away. But here, we need to remember. This goat did not completely take away their sins, but it just delayed judgment until next year. That’s why they had to do this act of atonement year after year (cf. Heb 7:27).

So what can wash away our sin? In today’s passage John the Baptist gives us the answer. He saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) Jesus is the only one who is able to take away our sins. In John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress the main character Christian enters the narrow gate and arrives at the Interpreter’s house. The Interpreter took Christian into a large hall full of dust because it had never been swept. The Interpreter called for a man to sweep. As he swept, the dust rose in such clouds that Christian was almost chocked. The Interpreter told the maiden, “Bring water and sprinkle the room.” The room was then swept clean. “What does this mean?” Christian asked. The Interpreter answered, “This hall is the heart of man; the dust is the sin that has defiled him. The first one is the Law, and the second one is the Gospel. The law only revives and increases sin in the soul instead of cleansing the heart from it. But when the gospel of Christ comes in, sin is vanquished and the soul made clean!”[2] “What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus!” So repent and believe in the gospel and be cleansed!

The Baptism of the Holy Spirit 
The Blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin. Jesus came to take away our sins. But there is more! Not only did he come to take away sin, but also Jesus came to make us live the victorious life over sin by baptizing with the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist cried out, “Jesus is the one who will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (34). On one occasion evangelist D.L. Moody held up an empty drinking glass and asked, “How can I get the air out of this glass?” One man said, “Suck it out with a pump!” Moody replied, ‘‘that would create a vacuum and shatter the glass.” After numerous other suggestions Moody smiled, picked up a pitcher of water, and filled the glass. “There,” he said, “all the air is now removed.” He then went on to explain that victory in the Christian life is not accomplished by “sucking out a sin here and there,” but rather by being filled with the Holy Spirit.

In Acts 19 Paul asked some disciples at Ephesus, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” They answered, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” At that time almost 20 years had already passed since the Pentecost Day. But they were still living as believers without knowing the Holy Spirit for 20 years! How about you? Have you been baptized with the Holy Spirit? In John 3 Jesus said to Nicodemus, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (8). Yes, we don’t know where the wind comes from or where it is going. But when the wind blows us, we do know for sure there is a wind. People around us also can tell at a glance. In the same way, we don’t fully understand the Holy Spirit. Holy Spirit is a mystery. But when we are baptized with the Holy Spirit, we know what it is. And people around us also notice about this.

Be Filled 
The baptism of the Holy Spirit is for everyone who believes in Christ. Before he was ascended into heaven, Jesus said to his disciples, “For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:5). Then, what is the evidence of the filling of the Holy Spirit? The sure evidence of the filling of the Holy Spirit is “power.” Jesus said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you” (8) — power to be an effective witness for Christ, power to serve Christ, power to do God’s will, power to overcome sin, power to endure suffering, power to love the unlavable, and power to bear the fruit of the Spirit. Before we were born of the Spirit, we didn’t have the power to choose not to sin. We were slaves to sin (John 8:34). We didn’t have control over ourselves. But when we believe in Jesus’ name, by the blood of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit, we are set free from the power of sin and now have the power to choose not to sin.

As I close, I want to share a story of an old Cherokee chief. One day an old Cherokee chief was teaching his grandson about life. He said to the boy, “A fight is going on inside me. It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil. He is anger, resentment, envy, greed, self-pity, inferiority, guilt, lies, arrogance, pride, and ego. The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. This same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.” The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?” The old chief simply replied, “The one you feed.” Actually, this parable is quite biblical. According to Galatians 5 every Christian fights the same battle – the battle between sinful nature and the Holy Spirit. The filling of the Spirit is not a once-for-all experience. It’s a daily walk with Jesus. The evil wolf needs to be starved and the good wolf needs to be nurtured day by day. As beloved children of God, as disciples of Jesus Christ, let us crucify the sinful nature and keep in step with the Spirit day by day. Let us resist the devil and submit to God moment by moment. Then, we will be filled, guided, empowered with the Holy Spirit, and Christ will be exalted in our lives. Amen.

[1] The Scarlet Letter, Wikipedia,
[2] John Bunyan, Pictorial Pilgrim’s Progress (The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, 1960), 61-2.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

“Christmas Gospel” (Romans 1:3-4, John 1:1-18; Luke 2:8-20)

Damien’s Story
Incarnation. It is the core doctrine of the Christian faith. The incarnation literally means embodied in flesh or taking on flesh. John 1:14 says “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.” The incarnation is the mystery of the Word made flesh. For our better understanding, we have just heard the story of the man and the birds. And here is another story. In 1863 Father Damien sailed as a missionary to Hawaii. He was horrified by the difficulty of the leprosy victims, who had been permanently banished to the island of Molokai. At that time the Hawaiian government didn’t provide proper housing or food for them. Nobody cared. Abandoned lepers perished from illness, hunger and cold. Father Damien volunteered to go there. He buried their dead. He brought them hygiene. He built churches and chapels, cleaned their water supply, improved their homes and their hospital, constructed an orphanage, and trained a choir. Not only did he help and teach them, but also Damien lived among them as their friend and companion. He touched his lepers, he embraced them, he dined with them, he cleaned and bandaged their wounds and sores. This selfless incarnational ministry continued for sixteen years, until one Sunday morning in 1885 during church worship the congregation was stunned when he began his sermon with the words ‘We lepers....” He had contracted the disease himself. He died on Molokai in 1889. In later stages of his own illness, Damien remarked, "The Lord decorated me with his own particular cross—leprosy."

God’s Story
The history of humankind is the history of redemption. God created humanity in God’s own image. It was good. It was very good. But Adam and Eve chose to rebel against the Creator because they themselves wanted to be a god. As soon as Adam sinned, the relationship with God was broken, and death came. But by His grace God continued to provide a way of salvation for His people. God made a covenant with them. God sent the Law to show the way they should live and make them holy. But they took it lightly and had turned to their own way. God sent the judges and kings. But they didn’t follow the guidelines; instead, they did what was right in their own eyes. God sent his prophets, but again they didn’t listen to them. They mocked them, persecuted them, and killed them. And finally, when the time had fully come, God sent His one and only Son to save His people, to save us from our sin and death. This is the day that God became human.

We call this the gospel. The gospel is good news, not good advice. Advice is counsel about what we must do. News is a report about what has already been done. Advice urges us to make something happen. News urges us to recognize something that has already happened and to respond to it. Suppose there is an invading army coming toward a town. What that town needs is military advisers; it needs advice – when, where and how to fight. But, if a great king has intercepted and defeated the invading army already, what does the town need then? It doesn’t need military advisers; it needs messengers, and the Greek word for messengers is angelos, angels.[1] That is why in today’s scripture the angel said to shepherds, “I bring you good news of great joy! Something has been done for you to be saved!” (cf. Luke 2:10).

Jesus, True Man
The gospel, the good news is about the person Jesus Christ. In Romans 1:3-4 Paul proclaims the gospel in this way: “The Good News is about his Son. In his earthly life he was born into King David's family line, and he was shown to be the Son of God when he was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. He is Jesus Christ our Lord” (NLT). First of all, he is “Jesus,” who is fully human. The name Jesus literally means “God saves.” This name was very common at that time. In Hebrew it is “Joshua.” There were many people who had the name, ‘Joshua’ or ‘Jesus.’ The name, “Jesus” refers to the fact that he is fully human. He was born as a helpless human baby. He was real, not a metaphor. He needed to be fed and changed. He felt hungry and tired. He has been tempted in every way, just as we are, yet without sin (Heb 4:15). Why is it so important that Jesus is fully human? It is because it is necessary for the Savior to shed His blood for the forgiveness of sins. Hebrews 9:22 says, “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” Only human who has a body of flesh and blood can be crucified and shed blood. Jesus has come to us in the flesh to die on the cross and shed his blood for the forgiveness of our sins. So the first gospel message that we need to believe is that Jesus has come to me as a true human and died to cleanse me from all my sins.

Christ, True God
Secondly, he is “Christ,” who is fully God. In Hebrew, “Christ” is “Messiah,” which means, “the anointed one.” In the time of Jesus all the Israelites knew that “Messiah” is the son of God. Christ is the true God. Romans 1:4 says, “He was shown to be the Son of God when he was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Then why is it so important that he is truly divine? It is because only God can be raised from the dead. In human history there is no one resurrected. Only Christ, the Son of God, the very nature of God, was raised from the dead. The resurrection is the essence of the Christian faith. 1 Cor 15:14 says, “If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.” And he continues, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (17). Our last stop is still “death.” Our destiny is the same. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep! (20). Amen! By the resurrection of Christ God demonstrated that Christ is righteous, and considers anyone who believes in his name also righteous. Romans 4:25 says, “Christ was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.” Justification means “to declare righteous.” No matter what we have done, no matter who we are, because of what Christ has done on our behalf, we are declared righteous. Now we have peace with God. So the second gospel message is that Christ is the Son of God and by his resurrection he has restored our relationship with God.

Our Lord!
Jesus Christ is true God and true man. But it is not enough to just intellectually agree that he is fully divine and fully human. We must receive Him as our Lord. The Bible says, “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). I want to end with a story of a sculptor. You might have heard before, but I think it is worth repeating: There was a sculptor once who sculpted a statue of our Lord. And people came from great distances to see it – Christ in all his strength and tenderness. They would walk all round the statue, trying to grasp its splendour, looking at it now from this angle, now from that. Yet still its grandeur eluded them. So they finally consulted the sculptor himself. He replied, “There’s only one angle from which this statue can be truly seen. You must kneel.”[2]

[1] Timothy Keller, Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ (Viking: New York, 2016),  21-22.

[2] John Stott, The Incomparable Christ (InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove, 2001), Kindle Locations 4037-4041 of 4607. 

Sunday, December 18, 2016

“DREAM” (Matthew 1:18-25)

“I Have a Dream Today!”
Have you ever had a dream that caused you to do something different, make a change, or go in a different direction? Today’s theme word is “DREAM.” I don’t know about you, but for me what first comes to mind when I think of the word “dream” is Dr. King and his “I Have a Dream” speech. Many of us think that probably Dr. King was very actively involved in the civil rights movement from the beginning. But actually he was not. At first, his dream was to become a good pastor like his dad and to make a happy family just like others. But then, the Montgomery Bus Boycott had begun in his community. The organizers of the boycott sought the support of the black ministers in town. At that time, King was just 26 years old and reluctant to get involved. But the organizers already decided to hold the gathering at King’s church, and at the meeting King was elected the president of the boycott committee. From that day he became the target of attacks. Almost everyday he got hate mail, obscene and threatening call. He was sacred to death. He was paralyzed by fear. One night he confessed his fear to God. Then he heard the voice of Jesus, “Stand up for truth. And lo, I will be with you until the end of the world.”[1] And God showed King His dream for His people. He allowed him to go up to the mountain and see the Promised Land. Since then, Dr. King began to speak God’s dream into the world through a speech without fear. He said, “I have a dream today… we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together…” He continued to speak and live God’s dream until his last day on earth.

Man’s Dream vs. God’s Dream
In today’s passage Joseph had a dream that changed his life forever. Even before he had a dream, the Bible says Joseph was a righteous man. He was a good man. Perhaps his dream might open his own carpentry shop in his hometown, Nazareth, and get married to a beautiful, godly woman, Mary, and make a happy family. But one day he found out that his fiancĂ©e was pregnant. Of course, he was shocked. He could have asked that Mary be stoned to death or punished in some publicly humiliating way. But Joseph didn’t do that. Because he was a good man, he tried his best to be compassionate as much as possible for the woman as well as to maintain his personal integrity. So Joseph resolved to divorce her quietly. That was his best in that particular situation. That is man’s best. It is to maintain our personal righteousness and at the same time minimize other’s disgrace. But God’s best is much, much better than that. God’s dream for us is beyond all understanding.

The dream that God showed to Joseph was not a mere dream. It was a divine revelation. This revelation especially tells us three things about who Jesus is. The first message was that Jesus is the Son of God. An angel of the Lord said to Joseph, “Don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit” (Matt 1:20). The point of the virgin birth is not about Mary is a virgin, but about Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus had to be conceived from the Holy Spirit and born by his virgin mother, so that he might be the Son of God. Who is Jesus? He is the Son of God. The second message was that Jesus is a Savior. The angel said, “She (Mary) will give birth a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (21). Jesus had many roles while he was here on earth. But the most important mission and ministry of Jesus was to save his people from their sins. So when John the Baptist introduced Jesus to the world for the first time, he did in this way: “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Yes, we need a friend and teacher. But most of all, we need a savior who will deliver us from our sin and death. Who is Jesus? He is a Savior. The third message was that Jesus is Immanuel. The Bible says, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God with us’” (Matt 1:23). In Jesus, God is now with his people personally as their Savior. In Jesus, now we can have a personal relationship with God. Who is Jesus? He is God-with-us.

Knowing God
That is God’s dream that was revealed to Joseph. The divine revelation was given to him: Jesus is the Son of Man. He is a Savior. And he is Immanuel. What was Joseph’s response? Immediate obedience. Matthew 1:24 says, “When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.” We can learn from Joseph a very important spiritual principle: “Revelation + Obedience = Knowing God.” We never know God unless first he reveals himself to us. Our speculation about God is meaningless. That is way the Gspel is a divine revelation from God to his people, not speculation. But revelation itself is not enough to know God. When we obey as our response to God’s revelation, only then we are able to know God experientially. In the Old Testament God has many names. The Israelites learned different God’s names one by one every time they obeyed. God revealed himself and asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac as a burnt offering. Abraham obeyed. And he knew God as Yahweh-yireh, which means “The Lord will provide” (Gen 22:14). God revealed himself, delivered his people with his mighty hands from Egypt, and let them cross the Red Sea. But on the third they began to grumble because the water was bitter. God gave Moses instructions. He obeyed. And he knew God as Yahweh-rapha, which means, “The Lord who heals” (Exo 15:26). And again the Israelites had a war against the Amalekites. Moses and his people obeyed God’s will. And they defeated the Amalekite army and knew God as Yahweh-nissi which means “The Lord is my Banner” (17:15). There is a big difference between knowing about God and knowing God. When we obey, we know God.

Cloud of Witnesses
We are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses who had God’s dream and obeyed his leading. Missionary Horace Underwood was one of them. From an early age God showed Underwood His dream for all nations. Underwood sensed that he was called to be a missionary. He believed he had been called to India. So I had made certain special preparations for that field. But then he heard a voice – an inner voice, saying, “No one for Korea.”[2] He knew that was the voice of Jesus. At that time, no church seemed ready to enter Korea. Even among missionaries no one wanted to go there. They thought it was too early and too dangerous. But Underwood obeyed. So he became a pioneer missionary to Korea. He arrived on Easter Sunday, April 5, 1885. In the early years of his ministry in Korea, he wrote this prayer:

Lord, nothing is visible at this moment.
Lord, you have planted us on this barren and poor land,
where not even a single tree can grow tall enough.

It is such a miracle that we could come to this land across the wide wide Pacific Ocean.
Nothing is visible, though, in this land
on which we seem to have been dropped off by your hand.

Only stubbornly stained darkness can be seen.
Only Korean people chained with poverty and superstition can be seen.
They don't even know why they are chained, what suffering is.
They just distrust us and express anger to us as we tell them how to take away their suffering, which is not suffering to them.

The thoughts of Korean men are not visible.
The mind of this government is not visible.
We are afraid that we may not have any more opportunity to see the women
commuting on Kamas (-a cart carried by men).
And we do not see what to do.

Yet, Lord! We will obey.
We believe that you begin your work as we humbly obey,
And that the day will come when our spiritual eyes will see your work,
According to your Words,
"Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see..."

We believe that we will see the future of the faith of Korea.
Although we are as if standing on a desert with bare hands,
Although we are condemned to be Western devils,
We believe that the day will come when they will rejoice with tears
realizing that they are one with our spirit in Christ,
and that we all have one Kingdom and one Father in Heaven.

Although there is no church to worship you, no school to study,
Although this land is filled with doubt of suspicion, contempt, and disdain,
We believe that in the near future this land will become a land of blessing.

I am one the great numbers of beneficiaries. In fact, both Joyce and I gradated from the college that Underwood found. Now South Korea has become one of the world’s top missionary-sending countries. We may not have God’s dream or revelation in dramatic ways as Underwood or Joseph had. But all of us in this room have the same revelation of God, the same gospel: Jesus is the Son of God. Jesus is a Savior. Jesus is Immanuel. Christmas is around the corner. Once again we celebrate the birth of Jesus. If Jesus is the Son of God, if Jesus is a Savior, and if Jesus is God-with-us, what would be our proper response? In what areas of life do we need to give up, take a risk, or make a change today in order to follow God’s dream for us?

[1] Skye Jethani, With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011), 129.
[2] Lillias H. Underwood, Underwood of Korea (Fleming H. Revell Company, 1918), Kindle Location 334 of 4578.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 27, 2016

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

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

Put on Christ

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

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

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

Put on Christ “Together”

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

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

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

Sunday, November 20, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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