Sunday, June 10, 2018

“My Gospel” (Romans 16:25-27) - Romans for Everyone 28 (Children's Sunday) -

“Am I Going to Die If I Accept Jesus?” 
One day a 5-year-old daughter asked her mom, “Am I going to die if I accept Jesus?” What a big theological question! As they talked more, the mom learned that her daughter had recently heard the Gospel at church, and in her mind, that message boiled down to one simple message: "When you ask Jesus into your heart, you go to heaven." Apparently her daughter hadn't prayed to accept Jesus because she didn't want to die just yet.[1]

What the Gospel Is 
So what is the gospel? The gospel literally means “Good News.” In today’s scripture, the conclusion of the letter, basically Paul tells us two things: what the gospel is and what the gospel does.

So first, what the gospel is. In verse 25 Paul says, “Now to the one who is able to strengthen you with my gospel and the message that I preach about Jesus…” (ISV). In other words, the gospel is the message about Jesus. In Romans 1:3-4 Paul describes what the gospel is wonderfully well: [Let’s read it together] “The Good News is about his Son. In his earthly life he was born into King David's family line, and he was shown to be the Son of God when he was raised from the dead by the power of the Holy Spirit. He is Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:3-4 NLT). In a word, the gospel is about his Son… Jesus Christ our Lord!

Now let me explain this same message in a different way. This morning I brought this to show and tell. It’s called a “Gospel Cube.”

Scene 1: As we sang this morning, our God is a Maker. He is a Creator. And he is good. Everything good comes from God – love, kindness, lovely plants and animals, beautiful sunrise and sunset. Out of his beauty and goodness, God made humans – Adam and Eve – in his image. God had a plan to have fellowship with them and live with them forever. But Adam and Eve chose to disobey God’s will for their lives. They ate the fruit of the tree of knowledge because they themselves wanted to be like God. And sin entered. You see this separation between God and man? Sin is anything that separates us from God.

But God still loved Adam and Eve. And he clothed them with animal hides. That’s a symbol of how death is necessary to pay for humanity’s sins. (cf. Heb 9:22) Since then, humans made animal sacrifice to pay for their sins. But God always had a better, perfect plan for forgiveness. When the time had fully come, God sent His Son, Jesus, to die and pay the penalty for our sins.

Scene 2: Here we need to remember Adam and Eve are not just the oldest ancestor. They are us. We all are separated from God. We all need forgiveness. The Bible says, “All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him [Jesus] the sins of us all.” (Isa 53:6, NLT) I still remember the day when my mom cried. When I was young, I told lies to my parents. I forgot exactly what it was, but one day I told a huge lie. My dad was very upset and was about to cane me. So I hid behind my mom. And I thought, “Now I am safe.” Do you know what happened next? My mom got the cane instead of me. My dad caned my mom. I was shocked. This experience made me stop and think, “Wow, wait a minute! Telling a lie is serious stuff!” Jesus was punished instead of us. He died in our place.

Scene 3: Then he was in the tomb for three days. Jesus was in the tomb, in the dark, all alone for three days. Have you sat in the dark, feeling alone, sad, rejected, abandoned? Jesus knows your feelings, because he has been there.

Scene 4: After three days, what happened? Yes, Jesus was raised from the dead. He conquered death! He conquered sin! Jesus’ resurrection is so important, because by his resurrection God proved that Jesus was indeed the Son of God, the Messiah.

Scene 5: And Jesus bridged the gap between God and humans. He opened the door of salvation to everyone who believes.

Scene 6: Now we have a choice. The Bible says, “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (Jn 1:12, NIV). So if you haven’t yet, this is the day. Open the door of your heart, and accept Jesus. Trust him. Believe him. And you will become children of God.

Why don’t we read John 3:16 and put our names in the blank spaces? 

 “For God so loved ___________ that he gave his one and only Son, that ________ believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16). Amen! That is the gospel in a nutshell.

What the Gospel Does 
Now we move on to the second part of Paul’s message: what the gospel does. In verse 25 he says, “Now to the one who is able to strengthen you with my gospel…” (ISV) This is very important. Not only does God save us with the gospel, but also he strengthens us with the gospel. In other words, the gospel is the power of God to save and strengthen us. Like Timothy Kelly said, the gospel is not just the A-B-C’s of the Christian life, but the A-Z of the Christian life. Some people begin their Christian journey with the gospel, and then leave the gospel behind and try to get stronger with something else. No! We never outgrow our need for the gospel. God saves us with the gospel. Not only that, but also he strengthens us, changes us, shapes us, grows us with the gospel.

Let me give you an illustration from my own life how God strengthens us with the gospel. In 2010 I went on a mission trip to China with the church members. The mission trip schedule was heavy, and we had to travel a long distance each day. One of the members was pregnant at that time. One night she discharged blood heavily and had several other symptoms of miscarriage. One member said, “My wife had exactly the same symptoms like this, and finally she had a miscarriage. So we have to prepare for the worst.” As I heard what he said, my heart was so heavy. I didn’t know what to do. The word, “miscarriage” was ringing in my ears all night. Early the next morning I ran to God and poured out my heart like water before him. God did speak to me through the psalm of the day, Psalm 27:13-14, “I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living! Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.” As soon as I read this passage, my fear, my anxiety, my burden was gone. Instead, God gave me new hope, new faith, that was resurrection hope, resurrection faith – “God will save this child. But if not, it wouldn’t make any difference. If Christ is exalted in this situation, whether by life or by death, I will rejoice.”

There are times when we hear those voices:
  • being a pastor isn’t worth it; preaching the word isn’t worth it; 
  • being a wife and mother isn’t worth it; being a husband and father isn’t worth it; 
  • being honest at work isn’t worth it; 
  • spending my time, my money, my gifts for church mission and ministry isn’t worth it; 
  • teaching this class of boys and girls isn’t worth it; 
  • obeying my parents and teachers isn’t worth it. 
Then, when our feelings and the world tell us these messages, 
what should we do? The answer is we must go back to basics – the gospel. That is why it is so important to read the Bible everyday. And as we read, we ought to take the Bible, not as a series of isolated morality tales, like 66 or more different stories, but as one big story, pointing to one person, Jesus Christ. The Bible is the gospel story as a whole. And if we read the gospel story properly, we will find this: the gospel is not about us. It is not about our happiness, health, well-being, safety and security, even though God does care for us. The gospel is all about Jesus, and the glory of God. The Bible says, “Jesus died for us, so that we should no longer live for ourselves but for him who died for us and was raised again.” (cf. 2 Co 5:15) So believe this gospel. And live with Jesus and live for Jesus. May God strengthen you, help you, sustain you, with the gospel, so that you may glorify him through your lives. Amen! 

--------
[1] Ann Vande Zande, “How to Share the Gospel with Your Child,” https://www.focusonthefamily.com/parenting/spiritual-growth-for-kids/how-to-share-the-gospel-with-your-child

Sunday, June 3, 2018

“Imitatio Christi” (Romans 15:1-7) - Romans for Everyone XXVII -

The Power of Love 
A 4th grade boy, Travis Selinka, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He went to Houston for radiation and lost all his hair. After that, he was embarrassed to return to school. He was afraid what the kids would think. Some of his friends heard this from Travis’ mother, and made a very special plan. Fifteen of them went to the barber shop and shaved their heads. The day came. Travis anxiously came back to school, jamming his hat on. But then, he found that all the boys in his classroom were bald just like him. Since they did it, Travis hasn’t worn his hat. Travis said, “I want to thank them all very much for doing that. It has made it a lot easier for me.” And his mother said, “It was overwhelming and every time I think about it, it brings tears to my eyes... every one of them shaved their head for Travis.” The kind, self-sacrificial gestures have eased Travis’ transition back into school, something this fourth grader has come to appreciate and change.[1] 

From Selfish to Sacrificial 
Our Christian journey is to transform our hearts and minds from selfish into sacrificial. In a word, a journey of becoming more like Christ. In today’s scripture Paul begins his exhortation by giving us a practical principle for Christian ethics: “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves” (v. 1). To be self-centered and self-seeking is natural to our fallen human nature. But when we did receive Jesus and believe in his name, God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us (Rom 5:5). And God has changed our hearts from being selfish to being sacrificial and concerned for the good of others. We call this “born-again,” or “transformation.” 

Every born-again Christian has a before and after story. Before we thought, “This is my money. I worked hard for it.” But now, we look at our money as given to us by God to enrich and build up those without it. Before we related to people just like us or to people who build us up emotionally. But now, we love and reach out to people who are draining and difficult. Before we asked ourselves as we chose our residence, “Where would I be most comfortable living?” But now we ask, “Where could I be most useful to God and others?” 

The October, 2012 Money magazine has an interview with Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, who is one of the most influential thinkers in management today. Professor Christensen, who was 60 at that time, shares that four years ago he had a heart attack. Then it was discovered that he had advanced cancer that put him into chemotherapy. Then two years ago he had a stroke. He had to learn to speak again one word at a time. He shares what he learned through these difficult trials: [2] 


“The more I focused on the problems in my life, the more miserable I was. And then somehow I realized focusing on myself and my problems wasn’t making me happier. I started to say, ‘Every day of my life I need to find somebody else who I could help to become a better person and a happier person.’ Once I started to reorient my life in this direction, the happiness returned…” 
“So if you look at retirement and you think, ‘Oh, finally I can focus on myself,’ you run the risk of becoming very bored very quickly. The most important piece of planning for retirement most of us need to think about—of course you need enough money to survive—is, How are we still going to orient our lives on helping other people become better people?” 
This is exactly based on the principle in today’s passage: Do not just please yourself; instead, help others do what is right and build them up in the Lord (NLT). 

Christ Our Example 
We may ask, “Why should we please our neighbor and not ourselves?” It is because Christ did not please himself (3). Instead, he gave himself up for us. He had equal status with God. He had the greatest right of all persons to please himself. But, he did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing and then humbled himself to serve and die for us (cf. Phil 2:6ff). And we, Christians, are called to follow in Jesus’ footsteps. We are called to live a sacrificial, atoning life. 

How Can We Keep on Hoping? 
This is the way. This is Christ’s way. But it’s not an easy way. It takes a lot of long-suffering, persistence, perseverance, endurance. As we serve the ungrateful, as we relate to people who are draining, as we wait on God without seeing any change in our circumstances for years, how can we keep going? In spite of all this, how can we keep on hoping? The answer is the Scriptures! In verse 3 Paul says, “For Christ did not please himself,” then he quotes Psalm 69, a messianic psalm: “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” Then he says, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through the endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (4). In other words, if used properly, the Scriptures will give us hope in hard times. 

The Scriptures should give us hope because it shows us that God is faithful to his promise, in spite of our trials, in spite of what seem like unanswered prayers, in spite of unchanging circumstances. The Scriptures should give us hope because it shows us God’s perspectives on things. That biblical perspective changes how we think, how we process our trials, and it keeps us going in tough situations. The psalmist says: 


“The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. 
The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. 
The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. 
The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes.” (Ps 19:7-8, NIV) 
About this time last year I was in the midst of the 40-day prayer, as both my family and the church were in transition. And I was seeking God’s guidance. I was praying the psalms. The following is part of my journal on Saturday, June 17, 2017 (Day 16) – Psalm 69. 
“For zeal for your house has consumed me, and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me.” (9) 
- Remember me, O God! Remember my zeal to keep your house as your pure bride. I love you, Lord. Please let not those who hope in you be put to shame! 


“I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving.” (30) 
- Yes, Lord! I will never cease to sing praises to your name no matter what! I will sing with all my heart, and I will offer thanksgiving as my sacrifice day by day! 

“For God will save Zion and build up the cities of Judah, and people shall dwell there and possess it; the offspring of his servants shall inherit it, and those who love his name shall dwell in it.” (35-36) 
- Amen! Praise God! Yes, Lord, you will save your church (Houlton and Hodgdon UMCs) and build up your church. You will raise your servants and draw people to this place. And they will come and dwell in this place! Amen! 
[Prayer adapted from Missionary Horace Underwood] 
Lord, nothing is visible. I feel like I only see a little cloud like a man's hand. But now, Lord, what I do I look for? My hope is in you! Although I am as if standing on a desert with bare hands, I believe that the day will come when we all will rejoice with tears, realizing that they are one with our spirit in Christ, and that we all have one Kingdom and one Father in Heaven. Amen.

The Scriptures! 

So how can we keep on hoping in hard situations? The Scriptures! During World War II, some men in a German prisoner of war camp received a secret message that Germany had surrendered to the Allies, but it was three more days before the Germans heard that news. During those three days, their miserable circumstances were no different than before, but their spirits were uplifted because they now had hope. The news was certain, but not yet realized.[3] 

Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Lk 9:23) So as we deny ourselves and seek the good of others, we face opposition and discouragement. Then, how can we overcome it? It’s hope that keeps us going in tough situations. And that living hope comes from the Scriptures. 


Blessed is the man
his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a treeplanted by streams of water,
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither. (Psalm 1:1-3) 
We need endurance. We need encouragement. We need hope. Where does it come from? It comes from the Scriptures! So sisters and brothers in Christ, let us meditate on God’s word day and night and also do the word. May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit! (Rom 15:13)




[1]  “4th graders shave heads to support friend,” http://fox5sandiego.com/2013/06/12/kids-shave-heads-to-support-friend/#ixzz2WWEuBK8u
[2] Clayton Christensen, How Will You Measure Your Life? (Harper Collins, 2012), 142, quoted in Steven J. Cole, “Lesson 97: Me First or Me Last?” (Romans 15:1-3), https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-97-me-first-or-me-last-romans-151-3
[3] Steven J. Cole, “Lesson 98: Why You Need the Old Testament” (Romans 15:4), https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-98-why-you-need-old-testament-romans-154

Sunday, May 27, 2018

“Righteousness, Peace and Joy” (Romans 14:17) - Romans for Everyone XXVI -

Kingdom of God
“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking 
but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” 
(Rom 14:17, ESV) 

Jesus always used a story to describe the kingdom of God. One time he said, “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.” (Matt 13:45-46)

Today I would like to use the story of Pilgrim’s Progress to describe the kingdom of God and to explore today’s scripture, Romans 14:17. In the book we meet one merchant looking for fine pearls, whose name is Christian. In his hand he holds a book, and he bears a great burden on his back. He opens the book and as he reads, he weeps and trembles and cries out, “What shall I do?” He returns home and shares what he has learned from the book with his wife and children. But they don’t believe a single word of what he says and looks at him as if he has lost his mind. They say, “Take some rest. A good night’s sleep will settle your anxious thoughts. You will be fine.” But Christian can’t sleep and says, “It’s worse and worse.” Finally, he starts the journey alone.

On the way he meets a fine gentleman, whose name is Worldly Wiseman. And the gentleman says “Christianity is basically a synonym for morality. You can get rid of your burden and enter the kingdom of God by living a good, moral life.” Unfortunately, Christian is persuaded by his advice. But as he approaches the hill that Worldly Wiseman showed him, it gets steeper and steeper. His burden seems heavier and heavier. Then, he realizes that it is impossible to proceed further. For this reason, the Apostle Paul says, “The kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking.” In Paul’s time there was some trouble in the church of Rome. They argued about food and special days: “You should not eat this, you should not eat that. You should observe this day. You should observe that day…” But Paul says, “That is not the kingdom of God. It’s not about forms or ceremonies or rituals. It’s not about what you do and do not do. It’s not about doing good. It’s not about being nice, respectable, moral. The kingdom of God is much greater, wider, deeper. It is inside-out, not outside-in. It is righteousness, peace, and joy produced by the Holy Spirit.”

Righteousness 

Righteousness – it’s the first element of entrance to the kingdom. When Christian arrives at the house of Interpreter, the house owner leads him into a big parlor full of dust, as if it has never been swept. The Interpreter calls to a man and tells him to sweep. And the dust almost chokes Christian. The Interpreter then speaks to a woman to bring some water and sprinkle the room. As the woman does, the entire room is easily swept and cleaned. Christian asked, “What does this mean?” The Interpreter answers, “This parlor is the heart of a natural man. The dust is his sin and inward corruption. The one who began to sweep at first is the law, but she who brought water and sprinkled it is the gospel.” The harder we try to live a good, moral, conscientious life with our own efforts, the more it chokes us. But when we humbly believe the gospel, our hearts are easily made clean, just as the dust settled by sprinkling the floor with water.

In Luke 18 Jesus tells this story to some who are confident of their own righteousness – the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector. The Pharisee prays, “I thank God I am not like other men; I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get – how good I am, not like this miserable tax collector!” But the tax collector stands at a distance and dares not even look up to heaven. Instead, he beats his chest in sorrow, saying, “O God, have mercy on me, for I am a sinner.” Then, Jesus says, “I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God.” The Bible says, “All our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isa 64:6). The Bible also says, “Can an Ethiopian change his skin, or a leopard his spots?” (Jer 13:23). The answer is NO. In other words, we cannot change our sinful nature. We cannot produce a clean and pure and righteous heart that we need to stand before God and spend eternity with him. We just cannot change ourselves, but our God is able! How? The answer is in 2 Corinthians 5:21: “God made him [Christ] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Jesus became our sin; we became his righteousness. This is Christianity. This is the kingdom of God. We don’t enter the kingdom by what I am doing and what I am not doing. We don’t enter the kingdom by how much better I am than someone else. No! Instead, we do enter the kingdom as we repent just as the tax collector did; as we believe that Christ’s righteousness is given to us and we are made right with God.

Peace 

The kingdom of God is righteousness and peace. As Christian follows the narrow path, he reaches the foot of the hill. At the top of the hill there was a cross and a little below at the bottom was a stone tomb. As Christian comes up to the cross, his burden looses from his shoulders and falls off his back. Christian is so glad and overjoy and says, “He has given me peace by his sorrow and life by his death” (Isa 53:4-5). He looks and looks again until tears run down his cheeks. As he stands looking and weeping, three shining ones appear and greet him, “Peace be with you!” The first of the shining ones say, “Your sins are forgiven.” The second one strips Christian of his filthy rags and clothes him with new splendid garment (Zech 3:4). And the third places a mark on Christian’s forehead (Eph 1:13), and gives him a scroll with a seal on it. And he says, “Look on this as you run, and deliver it when you arrive at the gate of the Celestial City.” With thanksgiving and joy, Christian goes on his way singing:

Thus far did I come burdened with my sin, 
No one could ease the grief that I was in, 
Until I came here. What a place this is! 
Blessed cross! Blessed sepulcher! 
Blessed rather be the Man who there was put to shame for me! 

The moment we dump our own righteousness, consider it garbage, and believe in Christ as God’s way of righteousness, then everything is changed right away. Supernatural peace floods my soul. And we have peace with God, peace within and peace with other people. Have you found this peace? As sweet peace floods our souls, we cannot but sing:

I am resting tonight in this wonderful peace, 
Resting sweetly in Jesus' control; 
For I'm kept from all danger by night and by day, 
And His glory is flooding my soul. 
Peace! Peace! wonderful peace, 
Coming down from the Father above! 
Sweep over my spirit forever, I pray, 
In fathomless billows of love. 
- W.D. Cornell 

Joy 

The kingdom of God is righteousness and peace and joy. As Christian and his companion, Faithful, approach the town, named Vanity, in that town is promoted a year-round fair called Vanity Fair. At this fair people sell such merchandise as houses, land, honors, promotions, titles, lusts, silver, gold, pearls and much more. The way to the Celestial City lies through this town of Vanity, and those who think they are going to avoid this city will still have to go out of the world. Since Christian and Faithful pay no attention to the merchandise, they are falsely accused and brought to the trials. In front of the people Faithful boldly speaks the truth in love. Finally, Faithful is condemned to be put to death by the cruelest method they can think of. First they scourge him, then they beat him, then they lance his flesh with knives. After that, they stone him with stones, then prick him with their swords, and last of all they burn him to ashes at the stake. Then Christian sees that at the moment of death Faithful is taken up into the chariot and carried directly to the Celestial Gate.

Worldly joy comes and goes. It totally depends on external circumstances. But the joy of the Holy Spirit is entirely independent of everybody and everything. It’s like streams of living water that flows from within us. So we can still rejoice in the midst of trials, because our joy does not depend on what is happening to us. God’s joy is always there. That is why Stephen, the Apostles, God’s martyrs and saints have been able to sing even to the end. The joy of the Holy Spirit is like undying fire. This joy cannot be quenched; it cannot be removed; it cannot be destroyed. We may be falsely accused, but God’s joy is there! We may lose our job, our health, our loved ones, and even our own life, but God’s joy is still there!

Blaise Pascal met God and was profoundly converted to Jesus Christ when he was 31. In his journal he said:

Year of grace 1654, Monday 23 November, feast of St. Clement . . . from about half past ten at night to about half an hour after midnight, FIRE. God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of philosophers and scholars. Certitude, heartfelt joy, peace. God of Jesus Christ. God of Jesus Christ. "My God and your God." . . . Joy, Joy, Joy, tears of joy. . . Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ. May I never be separated from him!

Since that day, he had carried this note all the time until he died 8 years later. In fact, it was found that he sewed this note into his coat. “Joy, joy, joy, tears of joy.” Have you found this joy? Then now you live in the kingdom of God. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

“Who You Are in the Spirit” (Romans 14:1-9) - Romans for Everyone XXV / Pentecost Sunday -

The Cycle of Misery 
Bishop Potter of New York used to tell on himself. On one occasion he was sailing for Europe and found that he was to share a cabin with another passenger whom he did not know. After he had met his cabin mate, he went to the ship’s purser and asked if he could leave his gold watch and other valuables in the ship’s safe. He explained that normally he would not do that, but he had been to his cabin and had met the man who was in the other berth. He said that judging from his appearance, he was afraid that he might not be trustworthy. The purser took his valuables to store in the safe and said, “I’ll be glad to take care of them for you, bishop. The other man has already been up here and left his valuables for the same reason.”[1]

That story shows that how often we judge others and things from their appearance based on our own opinions and have reached the wrong conclusions. Throughout the entire book of Judges we find the repeated cycle of misery: Israel falls into sin and idolatry – Israel is enslaved – Israel cries out to God – Israel is delivered – Israel falls into sin again. This pattern did last for about 350 years. At the very end of the book the author diagnoses the root cause of this cycle of misery in this way: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (21:25, ESV)

This problem goes back to its very foundation, the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve were made for God, to depend on him and to be sustained by him and trust and obey him. But Adam and Eve didn’t like that. When they were asked, “Who is Lord – God or self?” They didn’t choose God; instead, they chose to be independent, self-sustaining people who would do what is right in their own eyes. The result was miserable. Adam and Eve lost a sense of peace and rightness and direction and wholeness and authenticity. They got adrift and restless like wandering sheep. They got confused like the people of Babel. They became like dry bone. Adam and Eve and their descendants became hypocrites like Pharisees. We became hypocrites who pretend to have the harmony between our inner self and our outer lives, but we do not really have. We try to appear confident when we're scared, peaceful when we're anxious, healthy when we are sick, intelligent when we are ignorant, concerned when we are apathetic, devout when we are indifferent. We try to appear differently to others than what we really are inside. Of course, we don’t like it. We have a desire to be authentic, not hypocritical, but we don’t know how. We just don’t have power to break the vicious cycle of misery. And the root cause of the vicious cycle is sin, which is deliberate independence from God – doing what is right in our own eyes!

The Lordship of Jesus Christ 

And Jesus did come to deliver us from the power of the vicious cycle, the power of sin. That is why Jesus came. In verse 9 Paul says “For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.” When we trust Jesus as Savior and Lord, we are saved. Salvation doesn’t just mean to get to heaven after we die. It means we become inwardly and outwardly what God aims for us to be here and now. That is abundant life Jesus promised (John 10:10). When we live under the lordship of Christ, we enjoy true freedom of authenticity – the harmony between our inner person and outer lives. We become authentic. We experience a sense of forgiveness and reconciliation with God, with life, with ourselves. We experience a sense of being at home in our homeland. We experience a sense of purpose, direction, and goal. We experience a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction. We experience a sense of being a whole person created to live for God’s glory. And we no longer get swayed, adrift, confused, restless, anxious by what other people think. Through Jesus Christ we become authentic.[2]

The Weak and The Strong 

And it happens not only at the personal level, but also at the interpersonal level. In the church of Rome there was a major stumbling block in enjoying authenticity. There was a sharp division between the weak and the strong. Here “the weak” has nothing to do with character, but with faith. The weak refer to Jewish Christians who continued to follow certain Jewish regulations such as food and days. As for food, they kept the Old Testament food laws, eating only clean items. Often they abstained from meat altogether. As for special days, they observed both the Sabbath and the Jewish festivals. They were conservative-minded Christians who were sensitive to certain disputable matters. On the other hand, “the strong” refer to Gentile Christians who had no Jewish religious background. For them, every food is clean. There’s nothing wrong with eating meat left over pagan temple services, because idols aren’t real. And also for them, all days are the same. They were liberal-minded Christians.

The problem was the natural attitudes of the weak and the strong toward each other. The weak condemned the strong who did eat everything. On the other side, the strong despised the weak who didn’t eat meat. The weak and the strong didn’t get along well. And this still happens today. There are many issues where the Bible either silent or not clear about what to do. So on some non-essential issues, called “disputable matters” (v. 1, NIV), godly Christians differ. In Paul’s day, certain diets and special days were big issues. And for today, examples are like this [3]:

  • Contemporary music accompanied by guitars and drums is from the devil! We should only sing hymns accompanied on the piano and organ. 
  • It is sin for Christians to drink any alcoholic beverages or use tobacco! 
  • Christians should have nothing to do with Christmas and Easter, which are pagan holidays. 
The list goes on. Then, what was Paul’s advice to Roman church? What do you think Paul would exhort today’s church? He doesn’t say the one is better than the other. Basically what he says is, “Submit yourself to Christ as Lord and you will be authentic – whether you are a weak or strong Christian, whether you are a conservative or liberal Christian.” “The one who observes a special day, observes it to honor the Lord. The one who eats, eats to honor the Lord, since he gives thanks to God. And the one who does not eat, refrains from eating to honor the Lord; yet he, too, gives thanks to God… If we live, we live to honor the Lord; and if we die, we die to honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” (vv. 6-8, ISV) Honoring Christ, pleasing Christ, exalting Christ should be our mindset. There is a true freedom of authenticity that comes with living under the lordship of Christ. In other words, you and I will feel adrift and never enjoy true authenticity until we yield to the lordship of Christ.

Living under the Lordship of Christ… How? 

The question is, “How do we live under the lordship of Christ?” How is it possible? It is possible by the work and power of the Holy Spirit. The Bible says, “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except in the Holy Spirit.’” (1 Cor 12:3b) Jesus himself also says, “When the Spirit of truth comes… he will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (16:13). So the role of the Holy Spirit is to extol, magnify, glorify Jesus. The Holy Spirit gives us desire and power to live under the lordship of Christ.

So, in Ephesians 5:18 Paul exhorts us, “Be filled with the Holy Spirit.” To be filled with the Holy Spirit means that we allow him to occupy and control every area of our lives. How much of you does the Holy Spirit have? Here are two glasses of water and two packets of Alka-Seltzer to class. Now I am dropping a packet of Alka-Seltzer, with the wrapper on, into one glass… And now I am plopping an unsealed packet into the second glass. You can watch it fill with fizz. You see, both glasses have the Alka-Seltzer, just as all Christians have the Holy Spirit. But notice how you can have the Holy Spirit and not his filling.[4] Our goal is to be filled, empowered, controlled with the Holy Spirit who dwells within us.

Then, how are we filled with the Holy Spirit? The key is obedience. We are filled and empowered with the Holy Spirit as we obey his promptings. It was the Holy Spirit who was with God when God created the heaven and earth. It was the Holy Spirit who did come and breathe on those slain, dry bones, and make them live and stand up on their feet – a vast army. It was the Holy Spirit who filled Jesus’ disciples with power and joy and peace. The very same Spirit of God is with us and within us. And he still speaks today. If we are willing, we are able to hear his voice. He helps, guides, convicts, warns, corrects, comforts, encourages us. For example, you may be convicted to drop a conversation or leave a place that is questionable. Perhaps there is someone who comes to your mind during the day. Call or visit that person. The Spirit will give you the right words to encourage that person. Perhaps the Holy Spirit may guide you in a certain direction. Whatever it is, do so right away, happy way, all the way. And as you do, the voice of the Holy Spirit becomes stronger in your life.

The old choice, the old question that Adam and Eve had is still before us today, “Who is Lord – God or self, Christ or Caesar?” Let us say it with conviction:


Have Thine own way, Lord. Have Thine own way;
Hold o’er my being absolute sway.
Fill with Thy Spirit till all shall see
Christ only, always, living in me!




[1] H.A. Ironside, Illustrations of Bible Truth (Moody Press), 115, quoted in Steven Cole, “Getting Along in Spite of Our Differences” (Romans 14:1-4), https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-92-getting-along-spite-our-differences-romans-141-4
[2] I must give credit to John Piper how he expounds the meaning of “authenticity” that we enjoy in and through Christ Jesus. For more details, please refer to his sermon, “Jesus Is Precious Because Through Him We Become Authentic,” https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/jesus-is-precious-because-through-him-we-become-authentic
[3] Steven J. Cole, “Lesson 92: Getting Along in Spite of Our Differences” (Romans 14:1-4), https://bible.org/seriespage/lesson-92-getting-along-spite-our-differences-romans-141-4
[4] Adapted from James Emery White, Long Night's Journey into Day (WaterBrook, 2002)

Sunday, May 13, 2018

“Put on the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 13:11-14) - Romans for Everyone XXIV / Mother's Day -

Augustine’s Conversion 
It’ Mother’s Day. Some of you may wonder why I chose this particular Bible passage. You may wonder what this has to do with Mother’s Day. I’ll explain in a minute. In fact, today’s passage did bring about Augustine’s conversion. By his own testimony, Augustine lived a wild life in his teens and twenties. He practiced a heretical religion called the Manichaeism, which is kind of a gnostic, new age-type thing. And also, he had had a mistress. He had a son with this mistress, but he did not want to get married. When he was 31, Augustine was still living this lifestyle and struggling with his flesh. One day he was in a garden and he was praying, saying, “Lord, how long, oh God, wherever you are, how long will I live in despair and despondency?” The more educated he got, the less happy he was. The more he traveled, it was like he was running away. He could not find any joy. He was so restless. So, he prayed, “Lord, how long will I have to continue in this unclean life? Will I just live this way forever?” Then, he heard the voice of a child in the garden singing, “Take up and read. Take up and read.” He immediately went into the house, picked up a Bible, opened it up and it fell open to Romans 13:13-14, “Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (ESV) He said he read no further until all of the doubt vanished away. He felt as if his heart were flooded with light. That was his conversion. Augustine became a Christian in that instant. But, to be precise, he didn’t just become a believer in a day. It was a fruit of his mother’s persistent, persevering prayer. In his book Confessions Augustine spoke of his grief and weeping for the mother, saying, “Now she is gone from my sight, who for years had wept over me, that I might live in God’s sight." This great man came to Christ because of the prayers of his mother.

“I’m with You” 
When I think about my mother, there are many things to be grateful for. But out of all of them, what I am most grateful for is that she didn’t just raise me in the church, but she raised me in Christ. She showed me Christ through her everyday life. When I was a highschooler, one day I was so stressed out because of the exam. And my mother gently said, “Why don’t we go out together to get some fresh air?” And we did. We had a good nature walk. We didn’t say much while taking a walk. But I was able to hear her clear inaudible voice, “Son, I’m with you!” When I was a senior year in high school, I became very skeptical about Christianity. I felt that I was a hypocrite. I couldn’t pray. When I did, I felt like I talked to the wall. I couldn’t read the Bible. It just didn’t make sense to me. One day I shared my struggles with my mother. She patiently listened to all my doubts and problems. She didn’t try to convince me. Instead, she just told me her story how she came to Christ. There was no pretense. Instead, I could feel her authentic relationship with Jesus. After listening to her story, I said to myself, “Ok then, I will keep searching, because I trust my mother.” And I did keep on going until I did meet my Jesus.

I don’t know about you, but for me actually, I’ve had quite a few mothers who did give new life, welcome, nurture, and love me. In particular, I have had three spiritual mothers, in addition to my own mother. Interestingly, all three were my Sunday school teachers at different times in my life. Mrs. Kim was my 3rd grade Sunday school teacher. She genuinely loved me and all her students. I just knew it. She remembered our birthdays, and she knew our family situations pretty well. She was really fond of each of us. And I knew God is love because Mrs. Kim was such a loving Christian. When I was in 7th grade, I met another spiritual mother, Mrs. Won. At that time, I had reached puberty. I was disobedient, even rebellious. But she was so patient, always kind and caring. Every time she prayed during our gathering, I knew that she did pray for each of us, not just that moment, but throughout the whole week. I called Mrs. Won Jesus freak. She was the real deal. When I became a senior in high school, I was losing my faith and at my lowest point. And to make things worse, I failed the college entrance exam and had to retake next year. Around that time, Mrs. Han, who was my Sunday school teacher, was with me. She did visit me, and invited me to dinner. She shared tears when I was down. She was with me. These three spiritual mothers were different in many ways, but they had one thing in common: They did show me more of God, more of Christ. They all did point me to Jesus. They helped me to know Jesus more and to fall in love with him all the more.

Put on the Lord Jesus Christ 
As a spiritual mother, in today’s passage the Apostle Paul commends us to put on the Lord Jesus Christ (14). But what does it mean? How can we put on the person? When ancient Greek writers spoke of putting on Plato or Socrates, they meant receiving them as teachers and following them. So, if I say I put on Jesus, that means I am wearing him as it were, receiving him, radiating him, imitating him, following him. In this respect, J. N. Darby says, “We put on in our ways and heart the walk and character of Him…the Lord Jesus Christ…we purify ourselves as He is pure, we walk as He walked.” F. B. Hole also says, “We must always remember that the ‘putting on’ is not the assuming of something wholly external to ourselves, but rather putting on something from within, rather as a bird puts on its feathers.”[1]

Put on Jesus Christ means live with him 24/7. It means clothe ourselves with the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ all the time (NLT). It means let Jesus be as near to us as the clothes we wear (CEV). It means wear him as our protection, our supplier, our glory, our treasure, our identity, our character. In today’s passage Paul chooses a word that implies that the Christian life is a battle – put on the armor of light (12). As the children of light, we ought to dress like it, live like it, fight like it. In others words, we ought to put on the Lord Jesus Christ day by day. I like the way John Piper puts it:

Put on Jesus Christ means put him on as the parachute for your skydiving behind enemy lines. It means put him on as the high-impact protective anti-explosive suit when you disarm the bombs of the devil. It means put him on as the asbestos fire-proof suit when you rescue sinners from the flames of hell. It means put him on as a bullet proof vest when you confront the pistols of sin and unbelief.[2]

Hear the Word, Do the Word 
So we put on the Lord Jesus Christ. Then, how do we put on Christ? How do we do that? The answer is we put on Jesus by hearing the word and doing the word. First, we put on Jesus by attentively listening to him at his feet every morning. “Let me hear of your unfailing love each morning, for I am trusting you. Show me where to walk, for I give myself to you.” (Ps 143:8, NLT) But hearing the word itself is not enough. We also must put on Jesus by doing the word. We are called to be “doers” of the word. We are called to be “love doers.” The Bible says, “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1Jn 4:8, ESV) When we drink or do drugs, we do harm to our minds and bodies. That’s not what love does. Love keeps the mind clear by putting on Christ and rules the body. When we participate in sexual immorality, we do harm to other individuals as well as ourselves. That’s not what love does. Love keeps the marriage covenant clear by putting on Christ and rules the body. When we gossip, argue, and cause divisions, we do harm to our community. That’s not what love does. Love keeps the community of Christ clear and subdues dissensions and quarreling by putting on Christ. That’s what love does.

Best Mother’s Day Gift 
I still remember the day when I said “Yes” to God’s calling to ministry. My mother offered me to the Lord even before I was born just as Hannah did. She always wanted me to be a pastor. She never forced me, but I always knew that was her desire. I began to sense God’s calling when I was in 7th grade. But I was resistant, because I knew how difficult path it was. I saw my grandfather and my father how they lived as pastors at firsthand. But when I was a senior in college, God’s calling was so clear and strong. So finally, I said “Yes.” And I can’t forget the day when I shared that news with my parents. I had never seen them so happy – their facial expressions, their body gestures, etc. Later, they said that that day they heard the news that I would follow in their steps was the best moment in their lives.

In the same way, when we follow in Jesus’ steps, when we put on Christ, when we become more like him, God will rejoice over us with joyful songs. So brothers and sisters in Christ, let us put on the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us dress like his children, live like his children, love like his children, and people around us will see Jesus and give glory to our heavenly Father. That is our best Mother’s Day gift to God.

-------
[1] Michael J. Penfold, “How to Put on the Lord Jesus Christ” http://www.webtruth.org/walking-with-god/put-lord-jesus-christ/
[2] John Piper, “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, Part 2,” https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/put-on-the-lord-jesus-christ-part-2

Sunday, May 6, 2018

“Christian Love” (Romans 13:8-10) - Romans for Everyone XXIII -

Only Love 
Karl Barth is considered as one of the top 5 Christian theologians in our church history. Once a young student asked Barth if he could sum up what was most important about his life’s work and theology in just a few words. All the seminary students were sitting on the edge their seats to hear some great, profound, deep, complicated answer. Barth just thought for a moment and then smiled, “Yes, in the words of a song my mother used to sing me, ‘Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.'”

If we have to define Christianity in one word, it would be “love.” Christianity is love, for God is love. Christianity is not a set of do’s and don’ts, but it is to know Christ and be more like him. It is to love God and love others. When Jesus was asked which commandment is the most important of all, he said, “The first is… ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mk 12:29-31) “Love God, Love others.”

In verse 9 of today’s passage Paul says, “For the commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”” Some of you may wonder why they are just summed up in the second commandment. Why not the first commandment, or both of them? It is because loving others is our fruit, the surest sign, the natural outcome of our authentic relationship with Christ. I like the way the Apostle John puts it: “We know what real love is because Jesus gave up his life for us. So we also ought to give up our lives for our brothers and sisters” (1 John 3:16 NLT). And he also says, in 1 John 4:11, “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” In other words, our love to others is flowing out from what Christ gave us, not something from our own. The love of God for us is a foundation of our love to others.

Love of God 
I don’t know about you, but for me personally, I had struggled a long time with a sense of not loving people enough. When I was a youth group teacher, I didn’t feel that I had enough love for my students. When I was a student pastor, most of the time I felt that I didn’t love my young adult group enough. As a result, I thought perhaps I was not a right person to do that ministry. I struggled with a sense of failure. But then, one day I was listening to the sermon on the Book of Romans on internet. The word of God, particularly Romans 5:5, did penetrate. It says, “And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Here Bible doesn’t say, “Sometime in the future, God’s love will be poured into our hearts.” But it does say, “When we did receive Jesus and believe in his name, God’s love has been poured into our hearts regardless our feeling!” That is the truth. I said, “Amen” by faith. I did take God at his word. Since then, the sense of failure has gone. Since then, I have focused on Jesus. I asked more of Christ. I asked more of the Holy Spirit, instead of asking to have the feeling. Are any of you in this room struggling with loving others? Focus on Jesus. Ask more of Christ. Ask more of the Holy Spirit, and you will be able to love them by the power of the Holy Spirit.

If we are truly honest about ourselves, we know we are incapable of loving God with all our hearts and loving others as ourselves, because of our fallen, self-centered nature. We have desire, but we don’t have power to do it (cf. Romans 7). That is why we need Jesus. And that is what he came to do. Romans 8:3 says, “God has done for us what the law, weakened by our sinful nature, could not do. God did by sending his own Son and gave him as a sacrifice for our sins, so that we might no longer follow our sinful nature, but instead of follow the Spirit.” God did it for us. This is the gospel. When we humbly believe this good news, God gives us a new life, a new spirit, a new nature in Christ. The Apostle Paul said, “I am a debtor. I owe the debt of love to all people” (Rom 1:14). Paul said this, because God’s love for him was too good, too lavish, too compelling to have it just inside of him. He had to pass it on. He had to share it with others. So in 2 2 Corinthians 5:14 he said, “Christ’s love compels us!” My prayer is that all of us in this room may experience this lavish, compelling love of Christ, so that we will love others as Jesus has loved us.

Love to Others 
Love is much more than just an outward action. Love is a mindset, an attitude, an inner disposition that produces behaviors that do no harm and do good for people. In fact, love is the mindset of Christ Jesus. In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul describes love in this way:
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (ESV)

Love is the mindset of Christ Jesus. The more Christ is our focus, the more we love others as described in 1 Cor 13. The more we have Christ, the more we do everything with love. In Corinthians 16:14, as he closes, Paul sums up his letter in this word: “Let all that you do be done with love!” (NKJV) When we keep the law, love should be our mindset. When we pay taxes, love should be our mindset. When we keep the speed limit, love should be our mindset. When we vote, love should be our mindset.[1]

Invitation to the Life of Love 
God sent His Son, not just to forgive our sins, but also for us to live an abundant life – the life of love. We have been invited to live a life of love just as Christ loved us (Eph 5:2 NCV). Bob Goff, Christian author and lawyer, rightly said, “There is only one invitation it would kill me to refuse, yet I'm tempted to turn it down all the time. I get the invitation every morning when I wake up to actually live a life of complete engagement, a life of whimsy, a life where love does. It doesn't come in an envelope. It's ushered in by a sunrise, the sound of a bird, or the smell of coffee drifting lazily from the kitchen. It's the invitation to actually live, to fully participate in this amazing life for one more day.”[2]

Everyday God sends us an invitation to live a life of love. But as Bob Goff said, plenty of people turn down this wonderful, life-changing invitation. They turn it down by refusing to forgive or not being grateful. They turn it down by believing they haven’t really been invited, or asking some kind of audible voice or miraculous signs. But the truth is that all of us have been invited – every day, all over again! We have been invited to live a life of love as Christ loved us.

Then, what does it look like to live a life of love? It can be picking up the phone, sending an e-mail, writing a letter, or just showing up. Begin with one person around you. Pick up that person. It may be your spouse. It may be your children. It may be someone at the church or at work or in your neighborhood. Practice on them, and you will see things start happening. Let us say “yes” to God’s invitation every morning. Let our heart and mind overflow with the love of Christ. And let all that we do be done with love. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another! Amen.

-----
[1] John Piper, “Love is a Fulfilling of the Law, Part 1” https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/love-is-a-fulfilling-of-the-law-part-1
[2] Bob Goff, Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World (Thomas Nelson, 2012), 80.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

“The Lord Is My Shepherd” (Psalm 23:1-6)

Psalm 23

“The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.” 


Probably the 23rd psalm is the most-beloved, most-sung, most-prayed, and most-studied poem in the Book of Psalms. And the image of this psalm is very personal: The Lord is my shepherd. Recently, this psalm of David personally did speak to me. Last two weeks were a dream for my family and me. It was a time of family reunion in 10 years. After Joyce and I had sent them off, we felt left behind. We felt so empty. It was so hard to even get back to normal life. But it was God’s word that sustained us. In particular, this psalm preserved our lives. It gave us strength, comfort, and even joy. So this morning I wanted to share that message with you.

“The Lord” 

The psalm begins with the word: “The Lord.” Who is the Lord? Here David is not talking about an abstract God who is distant. But he is talking about the personal God who sees us, hears us, and cares for us (cf. Ex 3:7-8). He is talking about the God we can know, we can talk to, we can feel, we can touch. Ultimately, the Lord refers to Jesus Christ. The Lord God is fully revealed in Jesus. Hebrews 1:1-3 says, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son… He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature” (ESV). Jesus Christ is the Lord!

“My Shepherd” 
David says, “The Lord is my shepherd.” In John 10 Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd.” Unlike a hired hand, the good shepherd protects, guides, cares for, and even lays down his life for the sheep. In fact, Christ the good shepherd became a lamb, a sheep just like us. He didn’t have to, but he chose to be that way. He entered into our experience of life – suffering, loss, sorrow, temptation, and brokenness – and has seen life from the perspective of a sheep. He was vulnerable just like us. He was hungry and weary just like us. He was tempted in every respect just like us. Why did he do that? He did this, so that we may become his sheep. We all like sheep have gone astray and were headed for the slaughter house and we didn’t know it. But, Jesus Christ, the Shepherd and the Lamb, saved us. He saved us from the slaughter house. He stepped into the line we were in, threw His body in front of ours, and he was slaughtered instead of us. He loves us this much.[1] John the Baptist declared, “Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1:29) As a sacrificial lamb, he took up our weaknesses and pains. He carried our griefs and sorrows. He died in our place. But not only that, he also was raised from the dead and sat at the right hand of God. The Lamb slain is now in the center of the throne. And people from all nations praise, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Rev 5:13) This Lamb of God in power, Jesus Christ, is now our shepherd. The Lord Jesus is my shepherd! 

I Will Follow (2-3) 

When Jesus is our shepherd, we would then naturally say this: I shall not want. Here we find the life of trust, the life of contentment no matter what. But what does it look like to live such a life exactly? The author David unpacks this in the following verses in three ways. First of all, he says, “Because the Lord is my shepherd, I will follow him.” 


“He maketh me to lie down in green pastures. 
he leadeth me beside the still waters. 
He restoreth my soul
he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.” 

Wherever he leads me, I will follow him. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). In Palestine today, we see that Bedouin shepherds bring their flocks home from the various pastures they have grazed during the day. Often those flocks will end up at the same watering hole around dusk, so that they get all mixed up together—eight or nine small flocks turning into a convention of thirsty sheep. Their shepherds do not worry about the mix-up, however. When it is time to go home, each one issues his or her own distinctive call—a special trill or whistle, or a particular tune on a particular reed pipe, and that shepherd's sheep withdraw from the crowd to follow their shepherd home. They know their shepherd's voice, and it is the only one they will follow.[2]

When we follow our shepherd, we find a life of contentment, peace, and rest. How can a husband and a wife become one? It’s impossible. How can parents and children become one? It’s impossible. But there is a way! When each of us hears the shepherd’s voice and follows him, we become one. Recently, I had that amazing experience. To be honest, before Joyce’s
family came, I was concerned. I didn’t feel comfortable to live with them for two weeks because I didn’t know them. I was concerned about what to eat, where to take them, how to plan a budget. At first it was not easy. To please each other didn’t work. But then, we all resolved to just hear the shepherd’s voice and follow him. And we experienced the miracle of unity. We became one family at the end. As we departed from each other, we all felt a great sense of loss. But our Great Shepherd said that even though we were physically going to different directions (USA and Korea), we were actually heading to the same direction as long as we follow him. Because Jesus is my shepherd, I will follow him.


I Will Not Fear (4-5) 
Secondly, David says, “Because the Lord is my shepherd, I will not fear.”
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil: for thou art with me;

thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” 

The Lord is present in the green pastures. But the Lord is also present in the darkest valley. It is suggested that David wrote Psalm 3 and 4 when he fled from Absalom his own son. What a heartbreaking tragedy! But David says, “I will not afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around” (3:6). And he continues, “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in
safety” (4:8). As we go through the darkest valley, all kinds of dark bitter experiences in life, our shepherd Jesus is with us. He abides with us to comfort us, sustain us, encourage us in the valley of depression, serious illness, rejection, separation, death of loved one, even the experience of death itself. One pastor lost his oldest daughter to a sudden death when she was 34. He said, “You never get over it. And you don’t want to. And through it all, one promise was most important: God is with us.” I will not fear, I will not worry, I will not be anxious, for you are with me. 

I Will Abide (6)
Thirdly, David says, “Because the Lord is my shepherd, I will abide in him.”

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, 
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.” 

The point of the 23rd psalm is that the destination of the paths of righteousness, the destination of the valley of the shadow of death, the destination of the end of the days of my life is none other than God’s very self. God is the psalmist’s destination.[3] David did abide in the Lord, wherever he was. Whether he was a shepherd boy, whether he was standing before Goliath, whether he was hiding in the wildness from Saul and Absalom, whether he was a king, he always did abide in the Lord.

Jesus said, “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.” (John 15:4, NRSV) Jesus is the Vine, and we are the branches. Abiding means believing,
trusting, resting, receiving, connecting to Jesus. Wherever we are, we are never lost, when we abide in Jesus, for his pursuing goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives and we will make it home safely. We only need to remember these words and hold fast them: The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want.


----
[1] Wanye Monbleau, “Our Shepherd Became A Lamb for Us,” https://www.lovinggrace.org/single-post/2015/07/23/Our-Shepherd-Became-A-Lamb-For-Us
[2] Barbara Brown Taylor in The Preaching Life (Cowley, 1993), p. 147; https://www.preachingtoday.com/illustrations/2013/june/5061713.html
[3] deClaisse-Walford, The Book of Psalms (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 2014), Kindle Edition 5368 of 32717.