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, http://www.biblicalcatholic.com/apologetics/s20.htm
[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,” http://www.nppn.org/InnerViews/Innerview011.htm 

Sunday, August 14, 2016

“Joseph II: Man of Integrity” (Gen 39:6b-12)


War Between Your Selves (Romans 7)
There is a famous phrase, ‘Jekyll and Hyde.’ Probably most of you have heard this phrase. The phrase ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ is used to refer to someone whose actions cannot be reconciled with each other. In some sense we all have Jekyll and Hyde within us. Everyone of us in this room has a war between Jekyll and Hyde within ourselves. We all want to do good and live a moral life, but none of us feels satisfied and can say “I have attained the goal.” There is a reason for this. It is because inside of ourselves there is a desire for evil (“sinful nature”) as well as a desire for good. In Romans 7:21 the Apostle Paul says, “So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me!” The problem is that a desire for evil is stronger than a desire for good. So Paul cries out in despair, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out… What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (vv. 18, 24) Therefore, none of us can win the battle. This is man’s natural state. But this is not the end! When we become a Christian, the battle changes. The deepest parts of ourselves transform, so that for the first time our most inner being delights in the law of God. Pastor Timothy Keller rightly says when we become a Christian, “we move from a battle we cannot win to a battle we cannot lose.”[1] “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (v. 25)

Daily Triumph Brings Great Triumph
The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. Yes, we still fight a battle. But it’s a totally different kind of battle. Now we Christians fight the battle we cannot lose. However, it doesn’t mean we automatically win the battle. We must take up our position and do our part. In this respect, we can learn form Joseph how to overcome temptation to evil and win the battle. The first principle is this: daily triumph brings great triumph. What does it mean by that? In today’s passage Joseph faces the greatest test of his life when he is the most vulnerable. The tempter came to Jesus when he had just finished a 40 day fast. We see temptations increase when we feel exhausted, discouraged, and vulnerable. Now temptation of the most enticing kind is lurking and dangled before Joseph. It is bold, pushy, and persistent kinds of temptation. The Bible says Potiphar’s wife kept putting pressure on Joseph day after day (Gen 39:10, NLT) But Joseph conquers! He wins the battle! How can it be possible? What is the secret of Joseph’s power? His great triumph is not the triumph of the moment of battle, but it is in the preparation that precedes the battle. Joseph learned and suffered and trusted in the days before. In other words, there is no great triumph without daily triumph.

We all love the story of David and Goliath. We tend to think David’s triumph is mere good luck and the triumph of the moment of battle. But in fact, it was not. David was well prepared for his triumph over Goliath. In King Saul’s eyes, David is only a young and inexperienced boy and Goliath has been a warrior from his youth (1 Sam 17:33). But David tells Saul a story. He tells about his daily triumph. He says, “I have so much experience fighting and winning the battle against lions and bears in my everyday life. Today this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them!” (vv. 34-36) David’s triumph is not the triumph of the moment of battle. He was prepared and learned and won the daily battles in the days before. When great adversity came, David was able to conquer. Daily triumph brings great triumph. There is no great triumph without daily triumph.

Living Coram Deo
The essence of the Christian life is our daily walk with Jesus. How do you exercise daily in your walk with Jesus? For Joseph, he lived Coram Deo. Coram Deo is a Latin phrase translated “in the presence of God.” To live Coram Deo is to live our entire life in the presence of God, under the authority of God, and to the honor and glory of God. Joseph constantly stood before the face of God. He refused to accept the enticement of Potiphar’s wife. What was the reason? He said to her, “How then can I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” (Gen 39:9) Joseph lived Coram Deo. When we practice Coram Deo, when we practice the presence of God, other people begin to notice God’s presence with us. When Joseph was sold and became Potiphar’s slave, the Bible says, “His master could see that the Lord was with him, because the Lord made everything that he did prosper” (v. 3, ISV). When Joseph was wrongly accused and put in prison, the Bible says, “The chief jailer did not supervise anything under Joseph’s charge because the Lord was with him” (v. 23, NASB). The head jailer could see that the Lord was with Joseph! When Joseph was called and spoke before Pharaoh, the king could see something different. He said, “Can we find anyone else like this - someone in whom the Spirit of God lives?” (41:38 ISV) When we place top priority on Coram Deo, “constantly standing in the presence of God,” our life changes. And people around us also begin to notice that. 

Another good example is David. For him, living in God’s presence mattered most. When he sinned, he prayed, “Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me” (Ps. 51: 11). David did not pray, “Do not take my crown from me. Do not take my army from me. Do not take my family from me.” David knew what mattered most. The presence of God! In Psalm 139 David acknowledges God’s omnipresence, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?” He then listed the various places he found God: in the heavens… in the depths… on the far side of the sea. Basically, David found God everywhere. Our version might be like this: “Where can I flee from your presence? If I go to the rehab clinic… the nursing home… the ICU… the doctor’s office… even there you would guide me.”[2] David concludes his prayer in this way, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (vv. 23-24). Let’s do likewise. Let’s make God’s presence our top priority. Let’s make God’s presence our passion.

When David was fleeing from Saul and living in the wilderness, some people came to him, and David became their leader. 1 Samuel 22:2 says, “All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their leader. About four hundred men were with him” (1 Sam 22:2). Basically, the 400 men were social misfits and troublemakers. But the amazing thing is David did not become like one of them. Instead, those 400 men became like David. At first, they were worthless men and troublemakers, but later they became founding contributors and leaders. How can it be possible? It is because David spent more time with God than with those 400 men. That’s why he was able to face daily challenge and transform his men in the end. In Psalm 25:15 David says, “My eyes look to the LORD continually, because he's the one who releases my feet from the trap” (ISV). If we just focus on traps and problems, we will never overcome them. But when we fix our eyes on God’s presence constantly, we are safe. And we win the battle.

Practicing the Presence of God
The more we live in the presence of God, the more our life becomes a life of integrity. We live a life of consistency, coherency and unity. We become a same person in church and out of church. We become a same person as a spouse and parent at home and as an employee at work, because God is omnipresent, and we live before his face all the time. Now we know living in God’s presence matters most. But still one question remains: How do live in the presence of God? Because it does not just happen. We need to practice the prescience of God. So how can we cultivate the consciousness of God’s presence? I asked this question when I had a Bible study at Gardiner this past Thursday. One person said, “Talk to God constantly!” Another said, “Come to the Bible study.” For me, personally, missionary Frank Laubach’s advice was tremendously helpful. In his book Frank Laubach provides us with very practical exercises of the presence of God. He says when in conversation, have a picture or symbol of Christ in front of you. When at the table, have an empty chair for your Invisible Guest. When reading a book or newspaper, have a conversation with him inwardly about the pages you are reading. While cooking, washing dishes, and caring for children, hum or sing favorite hymns.[3] How do you like it? For me, personally, nowadays I have a picture of Christ on my desk both at home and at church office as a constant reminder. And I talk to him and ask him continually. I sing hymns especially when I am exhausted and discouraged. There are many ways to practice the presence of God. But the key is this practice should be intentional.

Our battle with the enemy is fierce. He prowls around like a roaring lion. But our Lord Jesus Christ promised, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” We are weak and powerless in our sinful nature, but God sent his own Son in our messy lives. And he gave himself as a sacrifice for our sins (Rom 8:3). He already had triumph over the enemy by the cross once for all (Col 2:15b). Let us remember this: in Christ we fight a battle we cannot lose. We fight from victory, not for victory. Amen.





[1] Timothy Keller’s sermon at Redeemer Presbyterian Church on August 17, 1997. Series “The War Between Your Selves.”
[2] Adapted from Max Lucado, You'll Get Through This: Hope and Help for Your Turbulent Times, (Thomas Nelson, 2013), 26.
[3] Frank Laubach, Letters by a Modern Mystic, (Purposeful Design Publications, 2007), 94-101.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Joseph I: Man of Sorrows (Genesis 37:18-28)

Hurt People Hurt People?? 
Great Expectations is a famous novel written by Charles Dickens. It has a colorful cast of characters. Miss Havisham is one of them. She is a wealthy spinster. One day she is jilted at the alter by her fiancé. That changes everything in her life. Since that day, she lives out the rest of her days wearing her bridal gown. She stops every clock in her house on the moment she got word of the betrayal. She hates all men. She plots to wreak a twisted revenge and inflict her pain on those around her. She never recovers from the day the clocks stopped in her life. Hurt people hurt people.

Have you ever experienced a moment when the clocks seem to stop in your life? I hope none of us in this room has that kind of experience. But the truth is that most of us have or will have some kind of hurtful experience. And even the smallest offence can begin to consume us if left unchecked. Let’s look at Joseph’s family. The roots of discord begin to grow way back before Joseph’s time. There was a sibling rivalry, betrayal, and discord between Cain and Abel, between Isaac and Ishmael, between Leah and Rachel, and between Esau and Jacob. And those pains and wounds were not properly dealt with. So Jacob repeats this unhealthy patterns and shows favoritism to one of his children, Joseph. It badly hurts the rest of his children. And finally, they inflict their pain on Joseph. They betrayed and sold their own brother. Hurt people hurt people.

Acknowledge the Pain

So what should we do when we are hurt? What should we do with our pain? We have options just as Joseph’s brothers had. They chose vengeance. Of course, it was not a good choice. It almost ruined the whole family. So where do we start the healing process? We can learn this from Joseph. The first step of the healing process is to acknowledge the pain. We need to reveal our hurt. Joseph didn’t cover up the hurt or pretend it didn’t happen. He revealed it. He admitted it. He revisited it. He named it. Even he named his firstborn Manasseh, which means “forget.” Joseph confessed, “It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household” (Gen 41:51). Joseph started the healing process by acknowledging the pain. Many of us are tempted to bury our past – our hurt, pain, and bitterness – in our family. But the problem is that it keeps coming back. It keeps popping back up because we haven’t dealt with it. It doesn’t just heal itself. Instead, we need to face our hurt and acknowledge it.

Recently, I had a chance to see one of my colleagues I admire. He shared his story with me. There was a time when he was sick physically, emotionally, and spiritually because of anger and stress. One day he was taking a walk with his dog in the park. No one was there. And he just poured out his heart – his anger, bitterness, and even curse – before God. “God, I am sick and tired. I am angry. I want to curse that person. Do something! Do you hear me?” This very specific kind of prayer became his prayer routine. Each and every day he goes to the park with his dog, takes a walk, and prays as honestly as he can for an hour. Now he is one of the healthiest persons I know. We are familiar with the psalms of praise and thanksgiving. But in fact, in the Book of Psalms there are also several cursing psalms (ex. Pss 5, 10, 17, 35, 58, 59, 69, 70, 79, 83, 109, 129, 137, 140). Psalm 109 is one of them. The psalmist prays, “O God, may his days be few; may another take his place of leadership. May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow…” (vv. 8-9) And the prayer goes on. It’s difficult to interpret this psalm, but there is at least one thing we can learn from this prayer. God wants us to pray to him a brutally honest and specific kind of prayer, not just a general, habitual, and heartless prayer. Are you hurt? Pray as honestly as you can about what you experienced, how it felt, and the hurt you had and still have. Revealing leads to healing.

Acknowledge God

The second step of the healing process is to acknowledge God’s faithfulness. In Genesis 45 when Joseph makes himself known to his brothers, he says to them, “And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you… So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God!” What a powerful statement! We don’t see any bitterness or resentment here because Joseph acknowledged God’s faithfulness in all circumstances. We have a tendency to make a connection between our behavior and God’s favor. When things go wrong, we tend to search for the source of the problem. When healing doesn’t come, we tend to say that it’s because of lack of faith. Yes, generally God rewards obedience and disciplines us when we get off course. But we cannot draw sharp cause-and-effect lines in our lives. Our suffering or pain is not cause and effect. God was not punishing Joseph for bad behavior. God was not punishing Job for his bad behavior. Hebrews 11 is called hall of faith. Some of them accomplished amazing things by faith. They conquered kingdoms… shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword…” (vv. 33-34). But some of them who had the same great faith had to endure horrifying situations. They were stoned, they were sawed in two, they were put to death by the sword…” (v. 37). God doesn’t promise that we will never face betrayal or tragedy, but God does promise to be with us and give us strength to endure it. I love God’s promise in 1 Corinthians 10:13, “… All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he’ll never let you be pushed past you limit; he’ll always be there to help you come through it” (MSG). God is faithful. God is sovereign. Although Joseph was a slave and then a prisoner, the Bible doesn’t say he was miserable. Instead, the Bible says, “The Lord was with Joseph and he prospered!” (39:2) Joseph acknowledged God’s faithfulness in all circumstances, and God took away his bitterness and opened his eyes to see God’s favor through the haze of hardship.

Look to Jesus

As we hear the story of Joseph, we need to remember that it is not just a story about suffering, healing, and character-building. Rather it is a story that prefigures and points to one person, Jesus Christ. Pastor Timothy Kelly rightly says, “Jesus is the true and better Joseph who is at the right hand of the king and forgives those who betrayed and sold him and uses his power to save them.” Joseph’s story invites us to look to the true and better Joseph, Jesus. Joseph’s life reminds us of the Great Healer, Jesus. Hebrews 2:18 says, “Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested” (NLT). Yes, Jesus is able to heal us. Come to Jesus, and ask him to help you experience healing, rest and freedom.

As I close, I want to share the story of a modern-day Joseph. Thomas was born into a pastor’s family. He had a gift for music. In his late teens he became famous. Then he compromised in his lifestyle and turned away from God. He was weary and restless. One of his relatives urged him to return to God. At the age of twenty-one, he did. He encountered God personally. Since then, he used his gift for God-honoring music. He worked with some of the greatest singers in the history of gospel music. Thomas was enjoying God’s blessing at full throttle: happy marriage, growing ministry, first child on the way. Life was good. But then the sandbar. One night he got a telegram. It read simply: “Your wife just died.” She had passed away in childbirth. He ran to the hospital, and the following day his newborn son also died. He avoided people and grew angry at God. He said, “I don’t want to serve Him anymore or write gospel songs.” He isolated himself, nursing his anger and sorrow. One day one of his friends took Thomas to a neighborhood music school. That evening as the sun was setting, Thomas sat down at a piano and began to play… and pray. He poured out his heart to God, and what wonderful words they were:

Precious Lord, take my hand, Lead me on, let me stand, 

I am tired, I am weak, I am worn; 
Through the storm, through the night, Lead me on to the light: 
Take my hand, precious Lord, lead me home.


The Lord healed him that night. For the rest of his life, Thomas A. Dorsey wrote more than three thousand songs and became one of the most influential Christian songwriters of all time. What hurt in your family or in your life are you pretending is not there? Face up to it and acknowledge the pain. Don’t stop there. Acknowledge God’s faithfulness and goodness. Every time your hurt comes back, look to Jesus, who took up your infirmities and carried your sorrows. “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5, NIV). Amen.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

“Begin with the End in Mind” (Luke 12:13-21)


The Habit 2

Author and businessman Stephen Covey found that effective people had something in common. He wrote a book titled “7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” Among those seven habits, the habit 2 is this: “Begin with the end in mind.” In his book Covey invites us to stop and imagine our own funeral. So now imagine the people closest in your life – your family, your friends, your coworkers, and your church family members – speaking at your funeral about your life. What would you want them to say? What character would you like them to have seen in you?[1] At the end none of us really care about what we did, but who we were.

Yesterday at Mike Swallow’s funeral I shared we have lost three beloved church members in a row in two weeks. In fact, we have lost 21 church members over the past two years from Houlton and Hodgdon UMCs. Some of us may not be afraid of death. But most of us in this room are afraid of dying process – becoming a burden for our family, losing control of our movements, forgetting recent events and the names of visitors, and the list goes on. How and when we will die is unpredictable. But still we need to be prepared. How, then, do we prepare ourselves for death? In today’s passage we find one negative role model who is not prepared at all. But through this parable we learn about the important spiritual principles of how to prepare ourselves for death.

Live Each Day As If It’s Your Last Day
The first principle to die well is to live each day as if it’s our last day. The rich man in the parable fails to recognize the brevity of life. He thinks like he would live forever. He acts like he would live forever here on earth. He says to himself, “I will build bigger barns for myself. And I will have plenty of good things laid up for many years” (vv. 18-19). What does God say to him? “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?” (v. 20) Life is short. The Bible says, “Do not boast about tomorrow. Do not say ‘I will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, start a business, and make money.’ What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes! Instead, make it a habit to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that’” (James 4:13-15, my paraphrase). We need to make it habit to say from our hearts, “Lord willing, I will do this or that.” We need this kind of humility, which comes from deep recognition of brevity of our life. How can we have this humility? We can cultivate this sense of humility by having a daily Quiet Time with God. In our prayer closet we hear who God is and who we are. Otherwise we can be so busy about our lives and preoccupied with our own well-being just like the rich fool in our passage.

Last week my family and I attended NEJ UMC Korean pastor’s family retreat held in Washington DC. During the second day of early morning service one pastor who was facing retirement shared his story with us. He grew up as a pastor’s kid. His dad was a small church pastor for life in Korea. When he was a teenager, he was ashamed of his father and his church. When he became a pastor, his only goal was church growth. He made every effort to grow his church. He had been so preoccupied with the church work more than 30 years. Recently, as he was praying and preparing for his retirement, then he realized what really remains. He realized what God really wanted was not for him to make the church bigger, but for him to be a better husband, a better dad, a better son, and then a better pastor. At the end not “do” goals, but “be” goals remain. How about you? If it’s your last day, how are you going to live?

Live Each Day As If It’s Your Birthday
The second principle to die well is to live each day as if it’s our birthday. Yesterday I shared as I was going through my grieving process, one of my friends and colleagues I admire recommended me Henri Nouwen’s book, Here and Now. In his book Nouwen asks the same question, “How do we prepare ourselves for death?” And his answer is this: “By living each day in the full awareness of being children of God, whose love is stronger than death.”[2] I paraphrase his words as “live each day as if it’s your birthday.” Celebrating a birthday reminds us that God’s love and life are stronger than death, God’s light is stronger than all the darkness. That is why we celebrate a birthday. God made us for one purpose: to give us love. God gave us one vocation: to give others love. 1 John 4:11 says, “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” We were born to be loved and to love. In today’s passage the rich man was already beloved child of God, but unfortunately, he failed to recognize this. He failed to spread love and blessings that he had received to others. Instead, he found his identity in material possessions and hoarded things just for himself to be secure.

Yesterday was my youngest daughter, Grace’s 1st birthday. She just started toddling. That means Joyce and I became busier chasing Grace and picking up the pieces. Anyhow Grace just started toddling. Oftentimes Joyce and I love to have a conversation about many different topics. One day we were talking about something serious. We spoke intensely, trying hard to explain ourselves to each other and to understand each other’s feelings. We were so preoccupied with our own agenda and struggles. Then, Grace was walking toward us with faltering steps and with a big smile. Suddenly everything changed. Grace became the center of attention. There were smiles, hugs, kisses, and many tender words. Grace was not a distraction, but God’s gift to remind us of what really matters in this life. We are so often tempted to hear all other voices that pull us into despair. Nouwen advises us how to overcome this. He says, “More important than ever is to be very faithful to our vocation to do well the few things we are called to do and hold on to the joy and peace they bring us.”[3] To live each day as if it’s our birthday means choosing to receive each day as God’s gift and live out as God’s beloved children. In Christ we are born anew everyday. Everyday is our birthday. Today is your birthday.

Live for Eternity
Last but not least important principle to die well is to live for eternity. What does it mean to live for eternity? The Apostle Paul expounds it in this way in Colossians 3:1-3, another lectionary passage of the week, “Set your hearts on things above… Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” How do we set our hearts on the kingdom of God? I think one of the good ways to cultivate this mindset is to regularly stop and think about the day when we give an account for ourselves before the Lord. In his book The Purpose Driven Life, Rick Warren gives us a vivid image of the day for settling the account. On that day God is going to ask us at least these two questions: “What have you done with my Son Jesus Christ?” and “What did you do with what I gave you?” What would be your answer? Are you ready to answer?

During my family vacation Joyce and I had a chance to attend worship service at one of my mentors’ church. His wife is a professional painter. She took us on a brief tour of her studio. All of her paintings were so inspirational. There was one particular masterpiece that stayed in me up to this day. The title of this painting is “Urgency of it.” In this hourglass there is Jesus in the upper part, the earth in the lower part. You see the time is running out. The day is coming. There is urgency about preparing for our death because our times are in God’s hands. Today may be the day. Tomorrow may be the day. We don’t know. But what we know is here and now is the time to prepare ourselves for death. For me personally, I often think about the day of settling the account. When I get to heaven, when I meet my God, I have one thing I really want to hear from him: “Well done, good and faithful servant!” That would be enough for me. That would wipe all my tears from my eyes and repay all the toils of life. My prayer is that all of us in this room will be well prepared and hear the same words of affirmation. Let us be faithful. Let us keep going. Let us keep serving one another. Let us keep loving one another. And let us be joyful. The Lord is near. Amen.


Sunday, July 10, 2016

“Live and Let Live” (Ruth 4:13-22) - Book of Ruth III -


Why Genealogy?
Have you traced your ancestry and built a family tree? It does help us understand who we are and where we are coming from. Let me briefly share my family history with you. My grandparents on my father’s side were farmers. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a chance to see them because both of them passed away early. My grandparents on my mother’s side were North Korean defectors. Particularly, my grandfather crossed the river by swimming to preserve his life before the Korean civil war broke out. Because of severe difficulties in his life he was considering committing suicide. But at the very moment, one of his friends invited him to early morning service. So he went there; nothing happened. He tried one more time. On the second day he dramatically encountered Christ during communal prayer time and got saved. By the grace of God, then he was called to ministry a few years later. He led all his children and other family members to Christ. My uncle and my father were deeply influenced by my grandfather, and they also became pastors. This is a brief version of my family history. The book of Ruth concludes with a genealogy. We may wonder why it’s there. The family line of Perez looks much like appendix. But in fact, this genealogy is the core of the book. It is no exaggeration to say that the book of Ruth is written in order to tells us this genealogy. We will explore what is in this genealogy and why it is so important to us today.

The Great Invitation from God
First of all, the genealogy of Boaz is the great invitation from God. It clearly shows God’s saving work through the centuries. And it shows that God is active in each generation and throughout generations. Without this genealogy, on the surface it looks like Ruth found Boaz. Without this genealogy, it looks like we found Christ. But this genealogy shows us it is not “we” found God, but “God” was at work in advance, and he found us and invited each of us to be part of his redemptive history. Naomi had two daughters-in-law – Ruth and Orpah. Ruth said “Yes” to this great invitation from God; Orpah said “No.” There were two kinsman-redeemers for the family of Elimelech. Boaz said “Yes”; the other man backed out and said “No, I can’t.” 

The Great Invitation for You
This invitation is not jus for the chosen ones, Ruth and Boaz. It is for everyone. It is for you and me. If you take a closer look at the genealogy, you will find why I am saying this. In Ruth 4:12 the elders in town said “May your family be like that of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah.” Who was Tamar? Tamar was not a godly woman. Her husband died early, and she became a widow. But Judah, her father-in-law, didn’t want to give his another son Shelah to her. So she disguised herself as a prostitute and lied with Judah. And she got pregnant. She gave birth to twins – Perez and Zerah (Gen 38). In the genealogy we also see the name of Boaz’s father, Salmon. According to the genealogy in Mathew 1 Salmon got married to Rahab. Matthew 1:5 says, “Salmon, the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab…” Joshua 2:1 says that Rahab was a prostitute. Boaz’s mother was a prostitute. And we know David committed adultery with Bathsheba. Between them, they had a son, whose name was Solomon (2 Sam 12:24). This is the genealogy of David. This is the genealogy of Jesus. Before we come to Christ, how pure I am, how moral I am, how righteous I am, how godly I am… it doesn’t matter. Sinner, adulterer, prostitute, tax collector, gentile… it doesn’t matter. All are invited. What matters to God most is whether we accept his great invitation or not. What matters to God is whether we come to Jesus Christ, the true light, by faith. When we come just as we are, God counts our act of faith in Jesus as righteous (cf. Gen 15:6). Our sin is imputed to Christ, and his righteousness is imputed to us (2 Cor 5:21). God invites everyone to his banquet. He invites you and me. Come! Drink! Eat! Live!

Be Committed
So do you hear God’s great invitation for you today? It is our choice to accept it or not. But if we choose to say “yes” to his invitation, it requires commitment. Yes means commitment. For Naomi, yes means to turn away from her old life and come back to God and God’s community. It was a painful and even shameful experience for her to come back to her hometown Bethlehem. It was not a good move. She didn’t return with glory. She had hit rock bottom. And now she had to share her pain with others. She had to wait and fully put her trust in God. For Ruth, yes means to leave behind her gods, her people, her customs, in order to follow Naomi’s God and her community. For Boaz, yes means to be willing to endure serious financial losses as a kinsman-redeemer.

Yes, there is a cost to accept God’s invitation, but the reward is beyond compare. In Romans 8:18 Paul says, “Yet what we suffer now (for Christ) is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later” (NLT). The book of Ruth tells us what makes our lives count for God. It is to reproduce, give lives, save lives. Probably the people in the genealogy did many different things during their lifetime, but each of their lives sums up in one sentence: one begot another… Boaz begot Obed. Obed begot Jesse, and Jesse begot David. We are born to reproduce. We may have different jobs, different gifts, and different personalities. But we all have the same purpose of life: We are born to reproduce. As an individual and as a church, we are born to reproduce our spiritual children: Are we reproducing? Or are we spiritually barren? Are we giving and saving lives? If so, who are they? Where are they? Are they growing? Are they reproducing? As a Christian and as a pastor, I seriously ask those questions to myself. By God’s grace and with your support, my family and I will have a two-week vacation from tomorrow. During that time, I will set aside time to pray about this and plan for the upcoming year. So please pray me and my family.

One at a Time
We can be easily overwhelmed by challenging issues and situations we face in today’s world. Yes, it is challenging to be committed and reproduce in this age of evil. But for me personally, I am greatly encouraged by Mother Teresa’s example. Once she became well-known, many people contacted her and wanted to join her. But Teresa said to them, “You don’t need to come to Calcutta at all to discover Jesus in the poorest of the poor. The poor are right there where you are, very often in your own families. Look for them, find them, and put your love for Jesus into a living action for them.” And to those who were saying what we do makes no difference, she said, “Yes, it is true. What we do is only a drop in the ocean. But without our work the ocean would be poorer by that drop.”[1] Saving lives are not necessarily big things. Maybe in our own family or our church we have somebody who is feeling lonely, isolated, excluded, worried, or sick. Saving lives can just be there with them, listen to them, pray with them, and support them as we can in Jesus’ name.

As I close, I want to share the starfish story with you. You may have heard this story before, but it is still worth being reminded again. A young man was walking along the ocean and saw thousands and thousands of starfish on the seashore after the storm. Further along he saw an old man, walking slowly and stooping often, picking up one starfish after another and tossing each one gently into the ocean. The young man asked, “Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” The old man said, “Because the sun is up and the tide is going out and if I don’t throw them further in they will die.” “But, old man, don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it! You can’t possibly save them all. In fact, even if you work all day, your efforts won’t make any difference at all.” The old man listened calmly and then bent down to pick up another starfish and threw it into the sea and said, “It made a difference to that one.”[2] One starfish at a time.

The story of Ruth points forward to David. David points forward to Jesus. The life of Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz are all connected to part of God’s redemptive history, eternity, something so much bigger than themselves. When we faithfully follow God, our lives always mean more than we think they do. Everything we do in obedience to God, no matter how small, is all connected to part of God’s wonderful saving work. So let us accept God’s great invitation. Let us say yes and be committed. Let us pick up one person and love that person today in Jesus’ name. One person at a time. Amen.



[1] They are drawn from the book, Mother Teresa of Calcutta by Leo Maasburg (Ignatius Press, 2011), and also available from http://www.totustuus.com/Words%20of%20Wisdom%20from%20Mother%20Teresa%20of%20Calcutta.pdf
[2] There are various versions of this story. One of the versions is from The Star Thrower, by Loren Eiseley http://www.esc16.net/users/0020/FACES/Starfish%20Story.pdf


Sunday, July 3, 2016

“Jesus Our Kinsman-Redeemer” (Ruth 2:17-23) - Book of Ruth II -


How God Sees Us
Yesterday was my mother’s birthday. When I think about my mother’s love, it is the closest thing to God’s agape love. When I was between 9 and 11 years old, I was addicted to video games. I even stole the money from my parents and told lies in order to play games. One day some of my classmates’ mothers visited my mother. And they told her how bad I was at school. They didn’t know at that moment I was actually in my room. I overheard what they were saying about me. They said just one good thing about me, and the rest of them were all bad. But what they said was true. I couldn’t deny it. I was afraid of being scolded. So I pretended to take a nap. After a good while, I went out of my room. My mom said to me just one thing, “Son, this afternoon some of your friends’ moms were here. And they said you get along well with your friends.” And I knew she already forgave me. That changed me. That changed my heart, my attitude, and my behavior.

This is how God loves us: Over and over again God’s people, the Israelites, did turn back from following the Lord and neither seek the Lord nor inquire of him. God was grieving, but he constantly showed them how much he loved them by sending his prophets. Zephaniah was one of them. He said to the Israelites, “The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing” (Zph 3:17). In today’s passage Ruth is not lovable woman by the standard of the world. She is a widow. Possibly, she is barren. Most of all, she is a gentile, second-class citizen, from a Jewish perspective. In the eyes of Boaz, a type of Christ, Ruth is a beloved child of God and a woman of noble character (cf. 2:11, 3:11). In Ruth 3:11 Boaz said, “My daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do for you all you ask. All my fellow townsman know that you are a woman of noble character.” This is how God sees us. We have hundreds of bad things in us, and perhaps we have one good thing within us. God finds that one good thing from us. And he encourages us, sustains us, and keeps us going and growing.

ds,x,(hesed), God’s Covenant Love
In today’s passage there are 3 important Hebrew words that I want to draw your special attention to: hesed, goel, and dabaq. The first word is hesed. In the Old Testament this word is one of the most precious words that describe God’s character. There is no exact English equivalent for this word. Hesed is translated as “kindness,” “mercy,” “loyalty,” “steadfast love” or “covenant love.” My personal favorite translation would be “covenant love.” God entered a covenant relationship with his people. And he voluntarily bound himself to act toward them in certain ways, and he is always faithful to his self-commitment no matter how bad and unfaithful they are. God made a covenant with Abraham and said, “I will make you into a great nation… and you will be a blessing. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen 12:2-3). But Abraham’s descendants were not faithful (cf. Ezekiel 20), so they were afflicted by the Egyptians. The Israelites groaned and cried out. And because of his hesed toward Israel, God remembered his covenant with Abraham and delivered them out of Egypt (Ex 2:24-25). God made a covenant with David and said, “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me. Your throne will be established forever” (2 Sam 7:16). But after that, David’s descendants turned back from God and followed false gods. And they were afflicted, defeated, and exiled. But because of his hesed toward his people, he spared them and brought them back from distant lands. So in Psalm 136 as the psalmist looks back the history of Israel, he gives praise to God with this beautiful phrase 26 times: “His hesed endures forever!” In today’s passage Naomi said to Ruth, “He (Boaz) has not stopped showing his hesed to the living and the dead” (v. 20) No matter who we are and no matter how unfaithful we are God’s hesed toward us endures forever!

laeGO (goel), Kinsman-Redeemer
The second word that we need to remember today is goel, translated as “kinsman-redeemer.” In Ruth 2:20 Naomi said, “That man is our close relative; he is one of our kinsman-redeemers.” In ancient Israel if someone sold land in time of need, the redeemer, normally his nearest relative, had an obligation to buy back the land (Lev 25:25). If someone sold himself into slavery, the redeemer was to buy his freedom (25:47-55). If someone was killed, the redeemer had the duty of avenging a murder (Nu 35:19). If someone died without child, the redeemer had the duty to providing an heir (Dt 25:5-10). But we need to remember this: this family law is a moral duty. A kinsman-redeemer was under no legal obligation do to so. In the Book of Ruth there was a kinsman-redeemer nearer than Boaz. At first he was willing to buy the field. But later, he realized that he also had the duty of getting married to Ruth and raising an heir through her. Then, he would lose what he had bought. He had to give the land back to the heir. So this man said to Boaz, “I cannot do it because the cost is too high!” (4:6) Boaz was also under no obligation to do it. He didn’t have to redeem it. But because of his hesed toward Ruth, Boaz was willing to undertake that costly duty.

The character of Boaz foreshadows that of the greater Redeemer, Jesus Christ. All of us, like sheep, have turned back from following the Shepherd and have strayed away (Isa 53:6a). Jesus didn’t have to lay down his life for the sheep. In John 10:18 Jesus said, “No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also take it up again” (NLT). Jesus voluntarily became our kinsman-redeemer. He showed his hesed toward us most clearly on the cross. We were dead in our many sins, but he made us alive. We were slaves to sin, but he set us free at the cost of his own life. We were unfaithful brides, but he accepted just the way we were and made us clean by his blood. And he became our bridegroom. Jesus is the true and better Boaz. Pastor Tim Keller made a beautiful statement about Jesus in this way:

“Jesus is the true and better Adam
who passed the test in the garden, His garden – a much tougher garden,
and whose obedience is imputed to us.

Jesus is the true and better Abraham
who answered the call of God to leave all the comfortable and familiar
and go into the void not knowing whither He went.

Jesus is the true and better Moses
who stands in the gap between the people and the Lord
and who mediates a new covenant.

Jesus is the true and better Job
– He’s the truly innocent sufferer who then intercedes for
and saves His foolish friends.

Jesus is the true and better David
whose victory becomes His people’s victory
though they never lifted a stone to accomplish it themselves.

He’s the real Passover Lamb. He’s the true temple, the true prophet, the true priest, the true king, the true sacrifice, the true lamb, the true light, the true bread.”[1]

The Book of Ruth is not just a beautiful love story. It is not just a textbook of ethics and morals. It points to one person. The whole Bible is not series of disconnected stories. It is one single narrative that points to one person – Jesus (cf. Luke 24:44). 

Qb;D’(dabaq), “Cleave”
What is our proper response to this? The third key word of today’s passage, dabak, answers to this question. The verb dabak is translated as “cling” or “cleave.” Ruth 2:23 says, “So Ruth “stayed close” to the servant girls of Boaz to glean…” The verb used here and verse 8 and 21 is also used for the marriage bond in Genesis 2:24: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (KJV). Ruth found favor wherever she went. So what is the secret? The answer is because Ruth always cleaved to God. She always cleaved to God’s people and God’s community. She cleaved to Naomi (1:14). She cleaved to Boaz and his people (2:8, 21, 23). As a widow and foreigner, there was nothing Ruth could do other than cleave to God. And when she did that, she found favor in God’s eyes. When we hear the story of Ruth if you find yourself more like Ruth, you are blessed. Like Ruth, there is nothing we can do. We cannot earn our salvation. We cannot earn God’s favor and his grace. All we can do is to humbly and faithfully cleave to our kinsman-redeemer, Jesus Christ our Lord. Cleave to Jesus – nothing more, nothing less. And he will come and redeem you. Let me close with Charles Wesley’s hymn, “Jesus the One Thing Needful”[2]:

Jesus, let me cleave to Thee
Thou my one thing needful be;
Let me choose the better part,
Let me give Thee all my heart.

Whom have I on earth below?
Thee, and only Thee I know;
Whom have I in heaven but Thee?
Thou art all in all to me.



[1] Timothy Keller, “True and Better,” https://vimeo.com/23642755
[2] Charles Wesley, “Jesus Let Me Cleave to Thee,” http://www.hymnary.org/text/jesus_let_me_cleave_to_thee

Sunday, June 26, 2016

“Three Ways of Life” (Ruth 1:1-5, 15-22) - Book of Ruth I -


Finding Jesus in the Wilderness
When did you meet Jesus? How did you meet Jesus personally? Here’s how I met Jesus: I grew up as a pastor’s kid. I grew up in the home of a pastor. My mother made a vow to God like Hannah did even before I was born. She gave her son (me) to the Lord for an entire lifetime without asking me. I learned how to behave at church at an early age. I received Christ into my heart at least once a year through the Bible camp, VBS, and different special services. I repeated a sinner’s prayer after my Sunday School teachers numerous times. But still I didn’t know Jesus personally. I didn’t know how to live with Jesus daily. I am not saying all those experiences were meaningless. As I look back, each of those experiences was like a stepping stone. It led me to Christ. But for a long time I didn’t have my spiritual turning point, so called “conversion experience.” Always I felt like something was missing. I felt miserable. My spiritual dissatisfaction had reached an extreme when I was a freshman in college. I kept asking important questions of life: ‘Who am I? Where am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going? Does my life have meaning? Is there a purpose?’ I didn’t have an answer. I really wanted to live a good and satisfying life, but the reality was the opposite. I was stuck with chronic sins. I was stuck with a bunch of unsolvable problems of life. My escape from all this was to join the army. Life in the army was life in the wilderness. It was barren, rough, and lonely. But later I realized that the wilderness is a perfect place to meet Jesus personally. I met Jesus there. I was so poor in spirit. I was thirsty in spirit. Every night after my night-watch duty, I ran to the restroom, carrying my Bible, because that was the only place that had light. I read the Psalms. I prayed the Psalms. For the first time I heard what Jesus spoke to me through the Bible. His Word was living and active indeed. His Word wiped my tears, encouraged me, sustained me, disturbed me, rebuked me, and convicted me. His Word began to shape me and change me. I did meet Jesus face to face in the wilderness of the army.

Three Choices, Three Ways of Life
In today’s passage we meet three women – Naomi, Orpah, and Ruth. They have different backgrounds. Their ages, their races, and their characters are all different. But they have one thing in common. All three of them are in the midst of pain and suffering. They all lost their beloved husbands unexpectedly. After this, like it or not, now they must make decisions. In this story we see three choices and three ways of life. We see three faiths and three futures.[1] I got this insight from Pastor Roy Laurin, who was a mentor of Billy Graham. I give credit to him for that.

The first woman, Naomi, makes her decision to go back to her hometown Bethlehem. In the past there was a famine in Bethlehem. So Naomi and her husband with their two sons decided to move to Moab for the time being. But temporary became permanent. They stayed there for ten years. In a spiritual sense, to live in Moab means to live out of the land of the covenant. Probably you remember, when David escaped to the land of Moab from King Saul, God sent the prophet Gad, saying, “Do not stay in the stronghold in the land of Moab. Go back to the land of Judah” (1 Sam 22:5). God wanted David to live within the land of the covenant even in the midst of suffering. So David went back to Judah. Spiritually, Naomi was a backslider. She and her husband had chosen the land of alien gods. They had followed the course of this world. But now Naomi realizes the mistake and is coming back to God. Many of us grew up in church. Oftentimes we feel like faith life in God seems too static and boring. So we go to Moab, greener pastures of life. Have you been there? In Moab we realize life is better in a land of famine with God than in a land of plenty without him. In Psalm 84 the psalmist says, “Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked” (10). By God’s grace, Naomi realized this, and now she is coming back to God.

The second woman, Orpah, makes her decision to stay in Moab. We don’t know the details why she decided to stay. But we do know she missed a great opportunity to be incorporated into God’s family. After verse 14, her name is never mentioned again. She becomes lost from our view forever. Orpah’s choice becomes her destiny. At first, in verse 10 she was willing to follow and go back with Naomi. She loved Naomi. She learned from Naomi. She was challenged by Naomi’s faith and lifestyle. But unfortunately, as a Moabite, Orpah finally chooses to stay with her own people and her own gods. She chooses to stay where she is rather than to go on to Israel, to Naomi’s living God, to eternal life.

The third woman, Ruth, makes her decision to go on. Both Orpah and Ruth are Moabite women. They both lost her husbands. They both are now in pain and suffering. But they choose totally different paths of life. Orpah chooses to stay; Ruth chooses to go on. In pain Orpah chooses to be comforted by her own people and her own gods; Ruth chooses a new faith and meets God personally. It becomes the turning point of Ruth’s life. The story of Orpah and Ruth reminds us of the story of two other women – Peninnah and Hannah. Hannah was a woman who was deeply troubled. She got married to a good man, Elkanah. She had a happy marriage. But, she faced a serious problem. It turned out she was barren. This brought difficult times to the family. But, the Bible says it was God who closed her womb (1 Sam 1:5-6). In other words, God allowed this trial with a purpose. When God allows trials and tribulations in our lives, there is a clear message in it. The message is, “Come to me. Seek my face. Cry out to me!” Our pain and suffering are like the loudspeaker of God who is calling us. But it is our choice whether we respond to his calling. We may choose to stay where we are. Or we may choose to come and find God deeply. Peninnah and Hannah responded in different ways. Peninnah was also Elkanah’s wife. She had children, but for some reason, she was not much loved by her husband. She was deeply troubled by that. When she faced this problem, she didn’t come to the Lord. Instead, she chose to provoke Hannah in order to irritate her. She chose to hurt Hannah. So, Hannah was greatly disturbed and wounded. When she was greatly troubled, she did one thing. She chose to come to the Lord and pour out her heart before him. And in this hour Hannah was born again. Her prayer was answered, and she met God personally. In the same way, in pain and suffering Ruth chooses to go on and she changes forever.

Meet Jesus Personally
Have you met Jesus? How do we know we met Jesus personally? When we meet Jesus personally, we cannot be the same. We cannot stay where we are. When we meet Jesus personally, he begins to shape and change every area of our lives. As I close, I would like to share a story of one man who met Jesus and was transformed. Josh McDowell was sick and tired of religion, particularly Christianity. But in college he met one group of Christian students. Through them, he became a Christian. Once he met Jesus personally, his life was changed especially over a period of six to eighteen months. And the most significant change was to forgive two individuals who had damaged him as a child. The first person was his father, who was a well-known abusive alcoholic in town. He hated his father. When Josh accepted Christ as his Savior, a powerful love consumed his life. It affected his feelings for his father. He visited his dad and said, “Dad, I love you.” A short time later, his dad visited him and said, “Son, how can you love a father like me?” Josh answered, “Dad, six months ago I despised you.” He shared how he met Jesus personally. He also shared how Jesus changed him and has taken away his hatred. After they talked for almost an hour, Josh’s dad said, “Son, if God can do in my life what I’ve seen Him do in yours, then I want to trust Him as my Savior and Lord.” And his dad became a Christian. There was another person Josh needed to forgive. Between six and thirteen years old, he was sexually abused by a man hired to cook and clean on their farm. When Josh became a new believer, he knew he had to forgive that man who had scarred him deeply. So Josh went to see the man and said, “Wayne, what you did to me was evil, but I‘ve trusted Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. I believe that Jesus died as much for you as He did for me, so I forgive you.” After this Josh admitted in this way: “I had no warm emotions. I simply said the words in faith because I knew it would please my Heavenly Father. Faith carried me through both experiences of forgiving my father and Wayne. Through it all, I had the haunting conviction that the Bible was true and I could trust Jesus to give me victory.”[2]

Some of us in this room have had sorrow. Some of us are walking through pain and suffering right now. And some will face trials and tribulations in the future. But remember this: God so loves us. He drives us out into the wilderness, so that we may meet him personally there. The choice is ours. Indeed, now is the "right time"! Now is the "day of salvation”! Let us meet Jesus and live! Amen.



[1] Roy L. Laurin, Designed for Conquest: Biblical Models for Overcoming Life’s Struggles (Kregel, 1990), 64-66.
[2] Josh McDowell, “Evidence of a Changed Life,” http://www.precious-testimonies.com/Hope_Encouragement/k-o/McDowellJ.htm