Sunday, September 25, 2016

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


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

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

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

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

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







[1] Adapted from “Stewardship: Story about a Man Who Collects Pearls,” Luther Seminary, https://www.luthersem.edu/stewardship/default.aspx?m=6667&post=3827
[2] Dr. and Mrs. Howard Taylor, Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret (London: China Inland Mission, 1955), 110-116.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

Sunday, September 11, 2016

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



[1] Skye Jethani, With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011), 61.
[2] Jerry Falwell quoted in “Falwell apologizes to gays, feminists, lesbians,” CNN , September 14, 2001, http://archives.lesbians.cnn.com/2001/US/19/14/Falwell.apology.html
[3] Skye Jethani, 91.
[4] Ibid., 114.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

“Marks of a Christian” (Gal 5:16-26)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




[1] “Test Yourself: Are You More Like Jesus or More Like the Pharisees?” https://theway21stcentury.wordpress.com/2014/09/04/test-yourself-are-you-more-like-jesus-or-more-like-the-pharisees
[2] Illustration adapted from Billy Graham’s sermon, “The Marks of a Christian” (Oct 14, 1957), Christianity Today (Oct 28, 2008), http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2008/octoberweb-only/144-28.0.html

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.