Sunday, February 18, 2018

“I Will Be a Functioning Church Member” (1 Cor 12:12-31) - I Am a Church Member I -

What Is Not 
Membership has its privileges. Join Yellowstone Club in Big Sky, Montana, and you can golf, ski, ride horseback, fly fish, hike, bike, kayak, and more among some of the most beautiful scenery in the country. You can dine in luxury. You may meet occasionally some of the celebrities. Probably you expect these kinds of perks from a club that requires $300,000 to join and $30,000 in annual fees.[1] Most of us don’t have such membership, but we do get the idea of membership. We pay our dues and are entitled to certain benefits in return. The problem occurs when we bring this same mentality to the church. If we pay our dues (either money, time, or service), we become “active” members and expect the church to cater to our preferences (“my way”) and serve our needs. Sometimes we even get angry and threaten to leave when things don’t go our way. If we don’t pay our dues, we consider ourselves “inactive” members and become “spectators” and let few “players” run the church according to their preferences and desires.

What Is 

Church membership is not about having our needs met, but there is much greater value in being a church member. Before we receive the Communion, we always confess to God, “By the baptism of his (Jesus’) suffering, death, and resurrection you gave birth to your church!” Church membership is one of the most glorious privileges and perks we have as Christians. Jesus suffered, died and rose again to give us the church (and church membership!). During Lent (for 6 weeks), we will explore the privilege and the joy of church membership based on a book I Am a Church Member, written by Thom Rainer. Each week at the end of the message, we will have an opportunity to reflect and to make a real commitment to our church. My prayer is that as we go on this journey together, we will have a new, healthier, biblical understanding of church membership, so that we as a church may be transformed and then transform our community and the world.

The Apostle Paul, in today’s passage, uses the human body metaphor in order to explain what it means to be a “functioning” church member. He follows a time-tested approach: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty (or diversity); and in all things, love.”


Biblical membership means we pursue unity in essentials. In verse 13 Paul says, “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit.” The church is the people of God who used to independently call our own shots, but then entered into a large and integrated life in which Jesus has the final say in everything (MSG). Although we are many and different, we pursue unity and don’t compromise the teachings of Scripture when it comes to essentials of our faith: Jesus is the foundation and the head of the church. He is the only way to salvation. We can’t save ourselves by our own good works. We are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. And by the Holy Spirit we say “Jesus is Lord!” (3). Where Christ is truly preached, there is the gospel; and where the gospel is truly believed, there is the church.

Church members let Jesus have the final say in everything. Although they are many and different, they have the essential, unifying marks as the body of Christ. In the early church we can find at least four distinguishing marks (Acts 2:42-47): worship, discipleship, fellowship, and evangelism. First, the early church was a worshiping church. They devoted themselves “to the breaking of the bread (the Lord’s Supper) and to the prayers.” They got together in their homes as well as at the temple. Second, the early church was a discipling church. They devoted themselves “to the apostles’ teaching.” Third, the early church was a caring church. They devoted themselves to the fellowship. They shared their possessions and goods among believers and also gave them away to those in need. Fourth, the early church was an evangelizing church. The Bible says that the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. Based on Acts 2, church membership is not about how long we have attended this church. It is not about how many committees or ministries we serve. More important questions to ask ourselves are these to know whether we are a functioning church member:

  • Am I connected to the church through worship? Am I connected to God and to other sisters and brothers in Christ through worship? 
  • Am I connected to the church through fellowship? Do I live in harmony with other believers? Am I sharing my resources and possessions with those in need? 
  • Am I connected to the church through discipleship? Am I discipling and equipping others for ministry or learning and engaging in ministry myself? 
  • Am I connected to the church through evangelism? Am I inviting my family and friends to the church? Am I giving Jesus to those in the community?

Liberty (Diversity, Not Uniformity) 

Membership means we pursue unity in essentials. Membership also means we celebrate liberty in non-essentials, diversity in unity. I am a fan of Boston Red Sox. Notice I didn’t say I am a member of the Boston Red Sox. There’s a difference. I don’t go to spring practices and work out with the team. I don’t study game films or discuss plays with the coaches. That’s not my job. I am a fan – a spectator. I watch them play on television. But church membership is not like baseball. There should be no spectators. If you are a Christian, you belong to the body. You are connected. We’re all participants. Everyone has a role to play. In verse 18 Paul says, “But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose.” So the question we ought to ask is not: “Do I have a role in the church?” But the real question is: “What’s my role in the church?”

So it’s important to discover our spiritual gift. Some are eyes; others are ears. Some are feet; still others are hands. God has not gifted you to do what you want to do; He has gifted you to do what He wants you to do. Spiritual gift is given to us for others, for the common good (7), to build up the body of Christ (14:4, 5, 12). So what is your spiritual gift? If you are not sure, you may carry out these three steps. First, pray specifically for God to reveal your gift. Second, ask other mature Christians who know you well what grace, gifts, strengths they see in you. Third, prayerfully look for open doors of opportunities to try different areas. Regardless of our limitations of time, strength, or money, there should be at least one area we can use our God-given gift. I’ve visited many homebound Christians who used their valuable spiritual gifts even though they could never attend the church. They prayed faithfully. Some have a ministry of encouragement through cards or calls; others are determined to be an encourager to all who visit them. When we use our spiritual gift properly, we will find fulfillment and joy and our church will be strengthened. [During Lent, each week you will hear different missions and ministries of our church from the committee leaders. Please hear them prayerfully. If the Lord gives you desire to serve, I encourage you to try and be part of that ministry.] Remember, God gives spiritual gifts to each member of the body. Everyone has a role to play. Membership means we are all necessary parts of the whole. Discover your gift and use it for others today!

Last but not least, membership means we pursue love in everything. The story is told of a boy who did his household chores and left his mother this note: “For cleaning my room, $5…For washing the dishes, $3…For raking the leaves, $10…Total: $18. You owe me, Mom.” The mother read the note while the boy was at school and put $18 on the table. With it she left her own note: “For bearing you nine months in the womb, throwing up for three months, no charge. For cooking your breakfast every day, no charge. For washing and ironing your clothes, no charge. For staying up all night when you were sick, no charge. Total: Grace.” When the boy read that note, he ran to his mother and asked, “What more can I do to let you know I am grateful?”[2]

At the end of today’s passage, Paul says that he will show us a still more excellent way, that is, the way of love. Then, he talks about what is the mind and attitude of Christ towards us. Jesus is patient with us. He never gives up on us. He is kind. He keeps no record of our wrongs; instead, he forgives all our sin. In fact, he did lay down his life for us with love. We often fall and backslide, but he always looks for our best, never looks back. He sustains us, encourages us, and keeps us going to the end. When we experience this love, we change. Our minds, our attitudes, our actions, become more like Christ’s. And we use our spiritual gifts for others with love. We pray for others with love. We preach and teach with love. We give away and share with love. We serve and sacrifice with love. That is what biblically functioning membership looks like.

At a vigil Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter was killed in the Florida shooting, paid tribute to her and said, “I don’t remember if I said I love you.”[3] If we discovered that we had only five minutes left to say all we wanted to say, most of us in this room would call our loved ones to stammer that we loved them. Agape love is our highest goal. It never ends. My prayer was always and still is that we, our church, may become the most loving people in town. Sisters and brothers in Christ, let us pursue love! (1 Cor 14:1)

[1] Thom S. Rainer, Connected: My Life in the Church (LifeWay Press, 2014) 6.
[2] Keith Krell, “Unity and Diversity: 1 Corinthians 12:1-11,”

Sunday, February 11, 2018

“Our Relationship to the State” (Romans 13:1-7) - Romans for Everyone XXII –

What Should You Do? 
Imagine that you are living in Babylon when King Nebuchadnezzar came to power. One day he built a gold statue, ninety feet high and nine feet thick. He then ordered everybody under the reign of his kingship to bow before that golden image and worship it. And you are aware that anyone who does not kneel and worship shall be thrown immediately into a roaring furnace. What should you do? How should we Christians relate to our government?

The General Principle 
Today’s passage, Romans 13:1-7, raises important issues concerning our relationship as Christians with the government. What about civil rights protest or revolution against a corrupt government? When is civil disobedience right, and what should it look like? Should Christians withhold part of their taxes to protest government misuse of our tax dollars? Those are not easy questions to answer. But Paul first lays down a general principle in verse 1: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.” Then he explains the reason behind this principle: “For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” God removes kings and sets up other kings (Dan 2:21). All kings (governing authorities) are all under God’s control. The general principle, Romans 13:1, applies to all rulers good and bad. For instance, King Nebuchadnezzar’s army destroyed Jerusalem, including the temple, and slaughtered many Jewish people. But God calls him “my servant” and says that He gave all of the land he conquered into his hand (Jer. 27:6). The general principle is this: Since God has ordained government authority, we must be subject to it.

Civil Disobedience: When and How? 
But this raises the following questions: “What about civil disobedience against corrupt rulers and governments, or bad laws?” “When is civil disobedience right, and what should it look like?” Merriam-Webster defines civil disobedience in this way: “refusal to obey governmental demands or commands especially as a nonviolent and usually collective means of forcing concessions from the government.” Civil disobedience is based on a commitment to conscience. So those who practice civil disobedience is obedient to what they consider a higher law. We can find quite a few examples on civil disobedience in the Bible. In the age of King Nebuchadnezzar Daniel’s three friends – Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, were one of them. They practiced civil disobedience. When they were forced to bow down before the golden image, they answered, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (3:16-18, ESV). Here these men were saying “I must be disobedient to a king in order to be obedient to the King." In Acts 5:27-29 when Peter and the other apostles were questioned before Sanhedrin, they answered, “We must obey God rather than men.”

Then, what factors should we take into consideration to decide if we should do peaceful, nonviolent, civil disobedience? John Piper gives us four things to consider:[1] 

  1. The grievousness of the action sanctioned by law. How atrocious is it? Is it a traffic pattern that you think is dumb? Or is the law sanctioning killing? 
  2. The extent of the unjust law’s effect. Is it a person affected here or there? Or is it millions? Does the law have an incidental inconsistency? Or is it putting a whole group of people into bondage because of their ethnic origin? 
  3. The potential of civil disobedience for clear and effective witness to the truth. 
  4. The movement of the spirit of courage and conviction in God in people’s lives that indicates the time is right.
That kind of civil disobedience requires courage and commitment to truth, something eternally valuable. In Daniel 3 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego could not give it up, saying, “I know that my God is able to deliver me, but if not, I’m going on anyhow. I’m going to stand up for it anyway.” Ultimately we must do right because it's right to do right. We must love because it’s right to love. We must be honest because it’s right to be honest. We must be just because it’s right to be just. In verse 5 Paul says, “Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience” – for a clear, Christian conscience, which obeys God and His law rather than man made law and tradition” (cf. Acts 24:16; 1 Tim 3:9). In his sermon, “But if not,” Dr. King commends us to stand up for truth no matter what in this way: “You may be 38 years old as I happen to be, and one day some great opportunity stands before you and calls upon you to stand up for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause--and you refuse to do it because you are afraid; you refuse to do it because you want to live longer; you're afraid that you will lose your job, or you're afraid that you will be criticized or that you will lose your popularity or you're afraid that somebody will stab you or shoot at you or bomb your house, and so you refuse to take the stand. Well you may go on and live until you are 90, but you're just as dead at 38 as you would be at 90!... You died when you refused to stand up for right, you died when you refused to stand up for truth, you died when you refused to stand up for justice.”[2] In this respect, Christians are those who are disobedient to a king if necessary in order to be obedient to the King Jesus Christ. 

Living as Citizens of Heaven 
We Christians are not first citizens of any human nation but citizens of heaven, the kingdom of God. In Philippians 3:20 Paul says, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” We are subject to the government for the Lord’s sake. In the same way, we may have to disobey the governing authorities for Christ’s sake. So every time we say yes to any law, it should be a yes to Jesus. And every time we say no to certain law, it should be still a yes to Jesus. We live on the earth as citizens of heaven.

So as we read Romans 13, more important question to ask is this: “How can we as citizens of heaven glorify King Jesus Christ on the earth?” rather than just “How can we fix unjust laws?” In this regard, William Wilberforce can be a good example. He became a politician in his 20s. But soon after, he considered giving up on his career because of deeply corrupt reality of politics at that time. But John Newton, one of his mentors, advised him to stay and said, “Congress is your parish!” Then, one great cause caught Wilberforce’s attention, that was the issue of slavery. And he resolved to stand up for truth. In his diary Wilberforce wrote: “So enormous, so dreadful, so irremediable did the [slave] trade's wickedness appear that my own mind was completely made up for abolition. Let the consequences be what they would: I from this time determined that I would never rest until I had effected its abolition.”[3] Since then, pro-slavery forces targeted him. The opposition became so fierce. People would say, “Wilberforce will be carbonated [broiled] by Indian planters, barbecued by African merchants, and eaten by Guinea captains.” All the bills introduced by Wilberforce were defeated for many years. But Wilberforce never gave up. He made a speech more than 150 times before the Congress. And finally, he heard three days before he died that slavery in the British Empire was abolished. This happened not only because he said the right thing, but he lived as a citizen of heaven. His life was filled with the light and aroma of Christ. People called him “the conscience of England.” Influenced by Wilberforce, about a third of younger congress men became Christians. Wilberforce’s life goal and holy ambition was not just to abolish unjust laws or overturn corrupt government. It was to magnify, glorify King Jesus Christ in his life and to live as his citizen under his leadership.

According to Romans 13, living as a citizen of heaven begins with one step. It is to pay proper taxes. It is to honor those in authority. It is to pray for government authorities. It is to do right and cooperate with them whenever possible. But most of all, we always ought to keep in mind: Christ must be Lord of all, including our political views and our government authorities.

I would like to close with a poem written by Pastor Kim Joon-Kon. At that time, in 1970s the military dictator came into power in South Korea. Most people were afraid of the government, and they were not able to stand up for truth. Pastor Kim was one of the Christian leaders, and he put his holy desire and ambition for the nation into the words of prayer. And later it became a song. As more and more Christians had the same vision, they began to stand up for truth. Some went out to the street to attend civil protest. Some went back to school for the future of the nation. Some went back home to take care of their family. Different forms, but one thing in common: Lordship of Jesus Christ. Christ was their Lord of all. “Yes” for Christ’s sake, and “No” for Christ’s sake. “If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” (Rom 14:8) That’s my prayer for Houlton, our church, and our nation.

May Christ make his home 
in the hearts of all people 
all the spheres of society and culture 
May season for Christ come 
Evergreen, everlasting! 

May your Kingdom come; 
May employers confess Jesus is their owner. 
May employees sing praises to your name. 
At home, at school, at church, at work, at Congress, 
May Christ be Lord of all! 

Let the dew of your youth come to you. 
Let us dream your dreams 
Let us see your visions for all nations 
The gospel in one hand, love in the other, 
May we never rest until the season for Christ comes 
In every corner of the world! 

[1] John Piper, “Subjection to God and Subjection to the State, Part 3,”
[2] Martin Luther King Jr., “But If Not,”
[3] “William Wilberforce,” Christianity Today,

Sunday, February 4, 2018

“Three Simple Rules” (Romans 12:9-21) - Romans for Everyone XXI -

What Does Christian Love Look Like?
Today’s passage has piles of short exhortations. It contains about 28 exhortations. How are we supposed to read passages like this? Our liturgist has just read the passage. And what do you remember from those 28 exhortations? What will you remember after you go out from this place? What is Paul’s one-word theme for today’s passage? The answer is “LOVE” – Christian love. Today’s scripture is the answer to the question, “What does Christian love look like in everyday life?” And we may summarize those 28 exhortations into 3 statements with John Wesley’s language:

Do no harm.
Do good.
Stay in love with God.

Do No Harm
The first simple rule is “Do no harm.” In today’s passage, particularly from verses 14 to 21, there are four resounding negative imperatives: “Do not curse” (14), “Do not repay anyone evil for evil” (17), “Do not take revenge” (19), and “Do not be overcome by evil” (21). All these four exhortations say the same thing in different words, that is, “Do no harm.”

On the surface, this first rule looks easy and simple. And we think that we are already practicing it and doing quite a good job. But when this first simple rule is really practiced, it transforms us, it transforms the world around us. For instance, if I am to do no harm, I can no longer gossip. What is gossip? Merriam-Webster defines gossip in this way: “a person who reveals personal or sensational facts” or “rumor or report of a personal nature.” Some people would say that gossip is when you spread rumors that aren’t true. But actually, gossip is more than that: If I talk bad about somebody who’s not present – that’s gossip. If I talk about somebody who’s not present and I share things without that person’s permission – that’s gossip. If I talk about somebody who’s not present and I say anything with a motive of tearing that person down – that’s gossip. What I’m saying might be true, but that doesn’t mean I ought to be saying it.

We may think gossip is just a small sin and can be tolerated as part of our life. But it is actually a serious sin that can destroy the entire community of families, churches, and societies. In the year 2000 the wildfire in Black Hills, South Dakoda, destroyed over 83,000 acres of National Forest land. It cost $9 million dollars to put out the fire. $11 million to plant new trees and repair the roads, and the destroyed timber was valued at $22 million. And it all started with one match. A woman named Janice Stevenson, 46 years old, from Newcastle, Wyoming, was driving through the forest. She stopped to look at something, and she lit a cigarette. She dropped the match, got back in her car and went on her way. And before long, 83,000 acres of beautiful forest were destroyed by one little match.[1] The Bible says, “How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness” (James 3:5b-6a). Let us stop gossiping. Let us not tell anyone else’s story either in person, or on the phone, or on social media unless it builds up those involved and the body of Christ.

Therefore, one of the practical ways to live out the first simple rule, “Do no harm” in our daily living is to examine ourselves and confront the sin of gossip in our own lives, and stop gossiping in any circumstances. This is the act of disarming, laying aside our weapons and desires to do harm. We all have desires to win other people to our side, especially when we think it is not fair. In this process we often gossip, manipulate, speak only half-truths. But when we resolve to do no harm, we can no longer gossip about the conflict. We can no longer manipulate the facts of the conflict. We can no longer speak badly about those involved in the conflict. It does demand self-denial and a radical trust in God’s character, intervention, and guidance. The Lord says, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay” (19). Only when we trust this promise of God, we are then able to disarm ourselves and leave it to God without bitterness.

Do Good
However, the Christian love is much more than just “Do no harm.” Each of Paul’s four negative imperatives is followed by a positive counterpart. In other words, we are not to curse, but to bless (14); we are not to retaliate, but to do what is right and to live at peace (17-18); we are not to take avenge; but to leave this to God, and meanwhile to love our enemies (19-20); and we are not to be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with good (21). Again, these four positive exhortations can be summarized in the following statement: “Do good.”

It does sound simple and crystal clear, but where do we begin? Do good to whom? Today’s passage clearly tells us that we must do good to our enemies (17-21) as well as our friends (9-16). Why do we ought to do good and love our enemies? Because it is the only way to overcome evil. And because it is the only way to transform our enemies into our friends. J.R.R. Tolkien gives us a picture of this dynamic in The Lord of the Rings. Any good person who used the ring of the evil lord, Sauron, to put him down would become evil in the process. Tim Keller rightly comments in this way: “This meant that “victory,” if pursued (or even achieved) in the wrong way, would be utterly hollow— it would in fact be a defeat, because in becoming evil to beat evil, the ring-wearer would have allowed evil to win.”[2] Evil multiplies evil. Violence multiplies violence. Hate begets hate. This is the chain reaction of evil. Dr. King proclaims this truth in a powerful way: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”[3] And he continues in his sermon “Loving Your Enemies”: “Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you… Throw us in jail, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you… One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.”[4]

So where do we begin? Ideally, it would be great if we don’t have any enemies. But for some reason we do have our natural enemies who are different from us, who don’t like us and even hate us. And if we really pursue the narrow path and a godly life, we meet those who will persecute us (cf. 2 Tim 3:12). How do we do good to them? Our Lord Jesus tells us the first step to loving our enemies. It is to pray for them. Jesus says, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you!” (Matt 5:44) Not just once, twice, or occasionally, but day by day and on a regular basis. Not just pray in general, but pray specifically for their salvation, for their families, for their physical strength, for their spiritual health and growth, for their God-given vision and purpose of life. Then, we will be true daughters and sons of our heavenly Father who is merciful, compassionate and forgiving to everyone: the good and bad, the nice and nasty (cf. 5:45).

Stay in Love with God
These first two rules – “Do no harm” and “Do good” – are important. But without the third rule, they become the righteousness of a Pharisee. The third rule is “Stay in love with God,” which is the foundation to all of life. When we keep falling in love with God, we are enlivened, sustained, strengthened, and transformed.

In his sermon “Upon Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, V” John Wesley said, “Thus to do no harm, to do good, to attend the ordinances of God (the righteousness of a Pharisee) are all external; whereas, on the contrary, poverty of spirit, mourning, meekness, hunger and thirst after righteousness, the love of our neighbor, and purity of heart (the righteousness of a Christian) are all internal. And even peacemaking (or doing good) and suffering for righteousness’ sake, stand entitled to the blessings annexed to them only as they imply these inward dispositions, as they spring from, exercise, and confirm them.”[5] In other words, the external righteousness of the first two rules must be accompanied by an inward transformation of heart, which is from a vital relationship with God. Otherwise it is what Wesley would call “the righteousness of a Pharisee.” Paul brings us back to verses 1-2: “Be transformed first by the renewal of your minds,” and then, you will be able to do no harm and do good according to the will of God.

Paul exhorts us, “Let love be without hypocrisy” (9; NASB, NKJV). “Let love be genuine” (ESV). How can we love unlovely people whom we do not like, and yet still be genuine and sincere? It is unrealistic. It is actually impossible with our own strength. It is possible only when we come to the cross. At the cross, our hearts are softened, renewed, and transformed. At the cross, we see Jesus who was tortured and killed for me – unlovely, unattractive sinner, in order to make me lovely and attractive. So now as we serve unattractive, difficult people, we find a repentance growing within us. “Oh, Lord! I am the worst! But you gave up your life for me! Give me strength to love this person!” This is Christian love.

Charles Wesley once said that he would willingly give up all of his 6000 hymns to have written this one, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.” This hymn invites us to come to the cross daily. May our minds be renewed as we come to the cross by faith! May our hearts be transformed as we look to Jesus and embrace the meaning of his sacrifice!

When I survey the wondrous cross,
on which the Prince of Glory died,
my richest gain I count but loss,
and pour contempt on all my pride.

See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
sorrow and love flow mingled down.
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that were an offering far two small;
love so amazing so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all!

[1] Dr. Claude Kayler, “3 Simple Rules: Do No Harm,”
[2] Timothy Keller, Romans 8-16 For You: For reading, for feeding, for leading (The Good Book Company, 2014), 113.
[3] Martin Luther King Jr., “Loving Your Enemies,” Strength to Love (Fortress Press, 2010), 47.
[4] Ibid., 50-51.
[5] Albert Outler & Richard Heitzenrater, edited, John Wesley’s Sermons (Abingdon Press, 1991), 219-20. 

Sunday, January 28, 2018

“One Body, Many Parts” (Romans 12:3-8) - Romans for Everyone XX -

Leaving Church
Episcopal priest Barbara Brown Taylor was one of America’s most effective and beloved preachers. But after much reflection, she decided to end her 20-year career and leave the church. She said, “I had been wearing my collar for about six months by then, and I wore it like a string of thousand-dollar pearls. Fifteen years later, I was ready to hang it up.”[1] Now Taylor teaches at a college in Georgia. And she says that teaching school is saving her life now. I have sympathy with what Taylor said. Taylor is just one of many who want Jesus but not His body, the Church. Researcher George Barna describes this trend in our society as follows: “We found that while some people leave the local church and fall away from God altogether, there is a much larger segment of Americans who are currently leaving churches precisely because they want more of God in their life but cannot get what they need from a local church.”[2] Even today many people are leaving the church out of frustration. I don’t know about you, but for me, there were times when I wanted to leave the church. In 2007 I began my first internship as a student pastor. But guess what? After about 6 months, I was burnt out. I was disappointed, frustrated, and even angry. And I left the church. And for about next six months, I visited different churches, fastest-growing churches in greater Boston area. Music was good, sermons were excellent, people were kind and welcoming. But still, I felt something was missing. During that time, God graciously allowed me to wander around and struggle with what it means to be the church. After that, God restored my soul and drew me to one local church, with which I fell in love. And up to this day, I stay in love with the church no matter what. I do love the church, and I will always love the church! And now let me explain why I love the church so much.

One Body “In Christ”
The first reason is because I see Jesus, I experience the fullness of Christ, “in the church.” The church is the body of Christ. In 1 Corinthians 12:27, Paul says, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” Paul also says in today’s passage, verse 5, “So we, though many, are one body in Christ.” How is it possible to become one body between native Mainers and native Koreans? But in Christ it is possible. And that is amazing! There are times when I wonder if it would be really possible for me to become one with certain Christians. Every time that thought comes to my mind, I recite Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” In those days Jews and Gentiles didn’t associate with each other, women were despised, and slaves had no rights. The conflicts and differences between them did run so deep. It was almost impossible to be reconciled. But in the Book of Acts we know that they did become one body in Christ.

This little phrase, “in Christ” is tremendously important. The expressions “in Christ,” “in the Lord,” and “in him” occur 164 times in the letters of Paul alone. So what does it mean to be in Christ? It means to be organically united to Christ, as a limb is in the body or a branch is in the tree. Jesus says in John 15:4, “Abide in me, and I in you. 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). This personal relationship with Christ, this personal lordship of Christ, brings unity. In Christ the unity of the church is created. When we are baptized into Christ, we are united to Christ. We die with Christ and rise with Christ. We become one, not only with Christ personally, but also with his community, his household, his body, the Church, collectively. We become one with Christ, one with each other. The unity of the church is possible only when we as a church are devoted and loyal together to Christ alone, not to opinions, to an organization, to human tradition. Bishop Stephen Neil rightly said, “In the fellowship of those who are bound together by personal loyalty to Jesus Christ, the relationship of love reaches an intimacy and intensity unknown elsewhere. Friendship between the friends of Jesus of Nazareth is unlike any other friendship, and this ought to be the normal experience within the Church. Where it is experienced, especially across the barriers of race, nationality and language, it is one of the most convincing evidences of the continuing activity of Jesus among men.”[3] May this fellowship, friendship, love and unity be the normal experience within our church! May the Lord Jesus Christ have the final say about everything in the life of our church!

Many Parts
That’s the first reason I love the church. I see Jesus. I experience the fullness of Christ – fellowship, friendship, and unity – in the church. It’s one body in Christ. The second reason I love the church is because it’s the family of God. In verse 5, Paul says, “So we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” In other words, we all belong to each other. We need each other. During the Alpha Course, I heard about one young man who was really struggling. He had come to faith in Christ, but he just found himself drifting away, drifting in doubts and difficulties and losing his faith. And he went to see a wise older man, who lived in a cottage, and there was a fire, a coal fire. And as they were discussing — this young man told this older man about what was going on in his life — the older man didn’t say anything. But he just went to the fire and he took a red-hot coal, with tongs, out of the fire, and he put it on the hearth. And as the young man talked, he just allowed that coal to go from red-hot to black, dark. And then he got the tongs again and he put the coal back in the fire, and within a few minutes the coal was red-hot again. He didn’t need to say anything. The young man left knowing exactly why his faith had gone dull.[4]

In The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis says that if the devil wants to distract, discourage, and alienate a new Christian from his newfound faith in Jesus, the best way to do so is by tempting the new Christian to grow cynical toward his local church. Being a Christian, being a part of the church, can sometimes feel like being in a dysfunctional family with a thousand drunk uncles.[5] But like it or not, uncles are family. We don’t get to choose our family. Our family is chosen for us. We don’t look for new family even when we don’t like our family. Instead, we do our best to make it better and healthier. In the same way, we didn’t choose one another, but we have been given to each other by our heavenly Father. We are the family of God. We are sisters and brothers in Christ. By nature, we love to get together with the people like us. But the church is the classroom for learning how to get along with “natural enemies” who are different from us, who are difficult and unlovable, in God’s family. By doing this, our heavenly Father gets glory.

Be a Member!
The third reason I love the church is because the church helps to make us more like Christ. In particular, as we use our gifts, our true identity is found, and we are sanctified in the body of Christ. In verse 6 Paul says, “Let us use them [our gifts].” Here he is saying, “Let us be a functioning member in the body of Christ.” I shared earlier, I was wandering around different churches for 6 months. Even though I attended my favorites churches, I felt empty, something was missing. And now as I look back, I know why. Because I was just a consumer and attender, not a functioning member of the church. So I commend all of us to get involved. Don’t just be a consumer, but be a contributor. Don’t just be an attender at church; be a member!

Our Lord Jesus wants all of us to use our gifts and serve in his body, not only because there’s work to be done but also because that sanctifies us, makes us more like Christ Himself! There were times when I felt God was nudging me to do street evangelism. So every Friday for more than a year I went over to Harvard Avenue in Boston area, where I could meet all kinds of people. But my efforts at street evangelism have yielded little fruit. As far as I know, only one person came to church. But the street evangelism changed me, sanctified me, gave me the inner assurance that I was called to ministry. Serving draws us closer to Christ and makes us more like Him. As we use our gifts and serve others, let us have the mindset that Paul exhorts us in verses 6-8:

Let's just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren't. If you preach, just preach God's Message, nothing else; if you help, just help, don't take over; if you teach, stick to your teaching; if you give encouraging guidance, be careful that you don't get bossy; if you're put in charge, don't manipulate; if you're called to give aid to people in distress, keep your eyes open and be quick to respond; if you work with the disadvantaged, don't let yourself get irritated with them or depressed by them. Keep a smile on your face!” [MSG]

What is your gift? What kind of ministry is satisfying and attractive to you? That might be your gift. What problems do you most notice? That might be your gift. Use it! Do it! As we use our gifts humbly, generously, joyfully, we glorify Christ and build up His body.

We give thanks for all that God has already given us.
As members of the body of Christ, 
and in this congregation,
we will faithfully participate 
in the ministries of the Church
by our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, 
and our witness,
that in everything God may be glorified 
through Jesus Christ, Amen.

[1] Barbara Brown TaylorLeaving Church (HarperCollins, 2012), 114.
[2] Scott Sauls, Jesus Outside the Lines: A Way Forward for Those Who Are Tired of Taking Sides (Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2015), 42.
[3] John Stott, “In Christ: The Meaning and Implications of the Gospel of Jesus Christ,”
[4] Alpha Course, “What About the Church?”
[5] Scott Sauls, 50.  

Sunday, January 21, 2018

“Life as Worship” (Romans 12:1-2) - Romans for Everyone XIX -

Have you heard “one-way missionaries”? A century ago there was a band of brave souls, who purchased single tickets to the mission field without the return half. And instead of suitcases, they packed their few earthly belongings into coffins. As they sailed out of port, they waved good-bye to everyone they loved, everything they knew. They knew they’d never return home. A. W. Milne was one of those missionaries. He set sail for the New Hebrides in the South Pacific, knowing well that the tribe members who lived there had martyred every missionary before him. Milne did not fear for his life, because he had already died to himself. His coffin was packed. For 35 years, he lived among that tribe and loved them. When he died, tribe members buried him in the middle of their village and inscribed this epitaph on his tombstone. It said,

When he came there was no light.
When he left there was no darkness.”

As we hear the story of A. W. Milne, many of us think that kind of life is just for the certain, chosen people, but not for me. We may have not been called to be missionaries, but all of us are called to be all in for Christ, the All in All. Mark Batterson rightly said, “Jesus didn’t die to keep us safe. He died to make us dangerous. The will of God is not an insurance plan. It’s a daring plan. The complete surrender of your life to the cause of Christ isn’t radical. It’s normal.”[1] If Romans 1-11 are about the gospel of Christ itself, today’s scripture Romans 12 marks a turning point. Now Paul tells us what it looks like to live our life in a manner worthy of the gospel in everyday life. In particular, verses 1-2 are a summary of the whole of the Christian life: “Present your bodies and your minds to God as living sacrifices. Let all of your life be worship.”

Consecrated Bodies
Normally, we are often encouraged to give our “hearts” to God, but not our “bodies.” But in verse 1 Paul is clear that the presentation of our bodies is our spiritual act of worship. In Paul’s time, influenced by Platonic thought, people regarded the body as a tomb, in which the human spirit was imprisoned and from which they longed for its escape. Still today some Christians have that “spirit-good/ body-bad” dualistic thinking. But here Paul is saying: “Worship is not just purely inward, abstract and mystical, offered in the church building; it must express itself in concrete acts of service performed by our bodies in home life and in the market-place.” Then, what does it look like to present our bodies to God? In fact, Frances Havergal was inspired by Romans 12:1 and beautifully described what it means to give our bodies to God in this way:

Take my life, and let it be consecrated, Lord, to thee…
Take my hands, and let them move at the impulse of thy love.
Take my feet, and let them be swift and beautiful for thee.
Take my voice, and let me sing always, only for my King.
Take my lips, and let them be filled with messages from thee…

Consecration. Consecrated bodies. But it is much more than just doing good works.  

It is quite possible to do good works, keep God’s commandments, avoid all kinds of worldly behaviors, but still not be transformed. Remember the rich young ruler in Luke 18? He said to Jesus, “All of God’s commandments I have kept from my youth!” Jesus said, “One thing you still lack. Sell your possessions and follow me.” Here, basically, Jesus was saying, “You must be born again. You must be transformed.”

In today’s passage Paul says that two patterns are help up: the pattern of the world and the pattern of God’s will. When we get down to the bottom of our life, we see the root, the foundation of what makes us happy. It is either “self” or “God.” Let me give you an example. When I was in seminary, all the doors seemed to be closed. In my third year at seminary I had learned that my school was not approved by the UMC. So when I applied for the UMC ordination process, I was rejected. Then, I tried to transfer to Boston University School of Theology, that is, the Methodist affiliated school. But the thing is I would have to give up quite a few credits and retake classes. That was not a good option. As I was navigating and discerning, God began to search me and invite me to get to the bottom of my life by asking questions. “Why do you want to be a pastor?” I said, “I want to help people to find and live abundant life. That makes me happy.” Then, he asked, “Why does that make you happy?” He kept asking, “Why” questions. When there were not any more answers, I saw the bottom. I saw who I am. I was pursuing success – successful ministry, successful church, successful pastor, because that would make much of me. At the end I surrendered myself to God and said, "Lord, I will serve you alone. I will not worship my school, my denomination, my church, or my career."

Transformation is to remove self at the bottom and replace it with God at the bottom. Transformation changes the bottom, the root, the foundation of what makes us happy. John Piper rightly said, “When you are transformed in Christ, you love to do what you ought to do.”[2] For the young rich ruler, he kept the ten commandments, followed all the rules, did good works, and lived a moral life, because he ought to do. Perhaps, his lifestyle might make him happy. But at the bottom of his joy there was self, not God. That’s why he felt something was missing. That’s why he came to Jesus. But when we are transformed in Christ, we keep the ten commandments, because we love to do it. We come to worship, because it brings joy and satisfaction. We give and tithe, because it gives us freedom and life.

Renewed Minds
So Paul exhorts us, “Be transformed. Do not have self at the bottom, but have God at the bottom.” But how? “By the renewal of our mind.” What’s wrong with our minds? The Bible says our minds are fallen. Romans 1:21 says, “For though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened.” (NRSV). Our minds are bent on not seeing God as more worthy of praise than we are. Our minds are not by nature God-glorifying minds. They are by nature self-worshiping minds. This is who we are by nature. So our minds must be renewed.

In today’s passage Paul does not tell us how our mind becomes renewed, but we know from his other writings and from the Scriptures. Our mind is renewed through the Holy Spirit and the word of God. In Ezekiel 36:26 God promises, “And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.” This promise is fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit comes to his people. Titus 3:5 says, “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit” (NIV). The Spirit renews our mind. Let us pray fervently that the Holy Spirit may renew our mind. Let us welcome him, invite him by exposing our mind to God’s word, so that the Holy Spirit, the Author of the Bible, may renew our mind and transform us.

All of Life as Worship
“Transform” is the Greek word metamorpho. The only other place where Paul uses, it is in 2 Corinthians 3:18: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” Here Paul tells us transformation is not a one time event; it is ongoing, daily journey, daily walk with Jesus, one degree at a time.

So what does it look like to live as a living sacrifice to God? The answer would be to worship him with all of our life. We can worship God in everything we do in everyday life. Brother Lawrence, whose nickname was the kitchen saint, once said, "Nor is it needful that we should have great things to do. . . We can do little things for God; I turn the cake that is frying on the pan for love of him, and that done, if there is nothing else to call me, I prostrate myself in worship before him, who has given me grace to work; afterwards I rise happier than a king. It is enough for me to pick up but a straw from the ground for the love of God."[3] That is what it means to worship God with all of life – in everything we do in everyday life.

Pastor Mark Batterson, in his book All In, gives us very wise advice about how to worship God with all of life in this way: “I don’t know if you can overcome alcoholism or anorexia for the rest of your life, but I believe you can win the battle today. Don’t worry about next week or next year. Live in day-tight compartments. Can you resist temptation for twenty-four hours? Can you win the battle for one day? I know you can. So do you. And so does the Enemy. Take it one day at a time![4] Tomorrow will worry about itself. So let us fix our eyes on Jesus today. Let us die to self and live for Christ today. Let us pray today that the Holy Spirit will open our eyes and renew our minds, that we may be transformed! Then, we will know God’s good, pleasing, perfect will and sing to God a song of glory:

Take my will, and make it thine; it shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart, it is thine own; it shall be thy royal throne.
Take my love, my Lord, I pour at thy feet its treasure store.
Take myself, and I will be ever, only, all for thee!

[1] Mark Batterson, All In: You Are One Decision Away From a Totally Different Life (Zondervan, 2013), 13-14.
[2] John Piper, “The Renewed Mind and How to Have It,”
[3] Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God, and the Spiritual Maxims (Cosimo, Inc., 2006), 61
[4] Mark Batterson, 112. 

Sunday, January 14, 2018

“To God Be Glory” (Romans 11:25-27, 33-36) - Romans for Everyone XVIII -

Knowing God
Romans 11 is another hard reading. It is about the greatness and glory of God. You may wonder what the glory of God has to do with your practical issues, such as the pressure of work, paying bills, health problems, the loss of the loved ones, or social problems today. You may think why don’t we just directly get to the practical stuff in Romans 12. My prayer is that we will come to know God better and praise him more as we see the beauty and glory of God in this text.

One time Pastor John Piper preached on God’s greatness as revealed in Isaiah 6, the passage where Isaiah saw the Lord on His throne, high and lifted up. Normally Piper says that he would have tried to apply the text, but on that particular Sunday, he simply tried to lift up and display the majesty and glory of God, without a word of application. He did not realize that one of the young families in his church had just discovered that their child was being sexually abused by a close relative. They were there that Sunday and heard his message. Piper says that many advisors to us pastors would have said, “Pastor Piper, can’t you see that your people are hurting? Can’t you come down out of the heavens and get practical? Don’t you realize what kind of people sit in front of you on Sunday?” Some weeks later he learned the story. The husband took him aside after a service and said, “John, these have been the hardest months of our lives. Do you know what has gotten me through? The vision of the greatness of God’s holiness that you gave me the first week in January. It has been the rock we could stand on.” Piper concludes, “The greatness and glory of God are relevant. It does not matter if surveys turn up a list of perceived needs that does not include the supreme greatness of the sovereign God of grace. That is the deepest need. Our people are starving for God.”[1]

Encounter (11:1-10)
God’s grace leads us to an encounter with the living God and his glory. By his grace God calls us into the frightening, the stressful, and the unknown, so that we may not rely on ourselves, but come to realization that we need a Savior. John Wesley called this “prevenient grace,” the grace that leads us to salvation. Have you ever felt like God didn’t seem to care about you? That was Paul’s first question in Romans 11. He says, “I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means!” (v. 1) Then, he uses himself as an example, saying, “Look at me! I was a very blasphemous and hardened person. How can we say that God has given up on his people when he didn’t give up on me? He even took me and is using me mightily in his work.” Here Paul is saying, “If God can save a hardhearted, rebellious, hopeless man like me, he can save anyone! He can save you! He can save your spouse! He can save your children! Hope in God for He is able!”

Then, Paul gives us another example, the case of Elijah. After his great spiritual triumph on Mount Carmel, Elijah experienced great spiritual depression. At that time he expected that since God removed the prophets of Baal, now He would establish new God-fearing leadership or at least bring repentance from the current leaders. But nothing happened. Instead, he had to flee for his life. Elijah must have felt like God didn’t seem to care about him. He must have felt alone, frustrated and hopeless. He was even suicidal. He asked God, “Enough! Lord! Take me life!” But God used this life’s challenge for Elijah to come to know Him better. God opened his eyes to see the glory of God. And Elijah became a different person. He came down Mt Horeb with new hope, new strength, and new joy. Today, you may feel alone and discouraged. The good news is that you’re not alone. Be encouraged. You are on the way to Mt Horeb. By his grace God will open your eyes to see his glory, and he will open your ears to hear his gentle voice in the midst of all your life challenges. Don’t give up. Hope in God. Remain in Christ. And you will be filled with new hope and new strength!

Humility (11:11-32)
If depression and discouragement are one side of our life challenge, the other side would be pride. Pride is the worst and the subtlest enemy of Christians. At first glance pride seems like a small thing, but like a small weed, if left alone it will take over the field. When we allow our pride, we begin to think, “I am humble. I am better than others. Both God and I are good. I deserve to be blessed…” Dr. R. A. Torrey once got the note from a man in Australia. It said, “Dear Dr. Torrey, I am in great perplexity. I have been praying for a long time for something that I am confident is according to God’s will, but I do not get it. I have been a member of the Presbyterian Church for thirty years, and have tried to be a consistent one all that time. I have been Superintendent in the Sunday School for twenty-five years, and an elder in the church for twenty years; and yet God does not answer my prayer and I cannot understand it. Can you explain it to me?” Torrey read the note from the pulpit and replied, “It is very easy to explain it. This man thinks that because he has been a consistent church member for thirty years, a faithful Sunday School Superintendent for twenty-five years, and an elder in the church for twenty years, that God is under obligation to answer his prayer. He is really praying in his own name, and God will not hear our prayers when we approach him in that way.” Later a man came up to Torrey and said, “You have hit the nail square on the head. I see my mistake.”[2]

Pride is our greatest enemy, but God’s grace keeps us humble. Then, how does God deliver us from our pride? By showing us his glory. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wisely said, “The best corrective against prideis to know God, His character and the truth about Him.”[3] When our eyes are truly opened to God’s glory, his character, his power, his greatness, we become humble. In today’s passage Paul says, “You [are] a wild olive shoot grafted in and share in the nourishing root of the olive tree… So do not become proud, but fear” (vv. 17-20). Apart from Christ we can do nothing! John Wesley always considered himself “a brand plucked from the burning.” When he was 5 years old, his parsonage was burned down. For some reason he was not able to escape. He was left alone in his 2nd floor room. Just as the roof fell into his room, he was rescued by his neighbors – one stood on the other’s shoulders and pulled John through the window. 45 years later, Wesley got seriously sick and was lying in bed sick with consumption. He wrote an epitaph for himself to be used if he didn’t recover. It said, “Here lies the body of John Wesley, a brand plucked out of the burning” (Wesley lived another 37 years and this epitaph was not used.) He could have talked about the famous Oxford Holy Club, or the class meetings he had organized across England. He might have mentioned his dramatic conversion experience on Aldersgate Street or his missionary work in the United States. But instead, he summed up his remarkable life with this phrase: “A brand plucked out of the burning.” Why? Because his eyes saw the glory of God, the God on His throne, high and lifted up. When we see the glory of God, we become humble.

Doxology (11:33-36)
Paul finishes his argument in verse 32, but it is not the end of the chapter. All of sudden, in verses 33-36, we find Paul breaking into spontaneous worship! So what makes him give praise to God? As Paul meditates on the Scriptures and closely studies the doctrine of how God will save Israel, his people, and the Gentiles, he just bursts into tears of joy and song of praises from the heart: “O how deep are God’s riches, and wisdom, and knowledge!” God’s truth, Christ-exalting doctrine always reveals the glory of God, that leads us to the greatest joy and praise.

What does it look like for us to see the glory of God in the midst of all our life challenges? I think Dr. King’s personal experience can be a good example. After he took the leadership of the Montgomery bus protest, he began to receive threatening phone calls and letters. They increased day after day. He reached the point that he felt himself faltering and growing in fear. One night he got another very threatening phone call. He couldn’t sleep. He was ready to give up. He prayed, “God, I am afraid. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.” At that moment he experienced the presence of God and heard the gentle inner voice, saying, “Stand up for righteousness, stand up for the truth. God will be at your side forever.” Almost at once his fears began to pass from him. His uncertainty disappeared. He was ready to face anything. The external situation remained the same. But strangely enough, he became calm and joyful. How come he became so different? The answer is because he did see the glory of God.

I still remember what one of my colleagues shared several years ago. After he planted a new church in Korea, he experienced spiritual depression. People didn’t come, and the church didn’t grow. It was so painful for him to watch empty pews every Sunday. One Sunday morning as he was praying and worshiping with just a handful of people, God opened his eyes, and then the pastor saw that all the pews were filled with the angels who were singing praise to God. That changed everything. Since then, he became a different person. Today we need the prayer of Elisha for his servant who was afraid when they were all surrounded by the enemy in Dothan: “O Lord, open his eyes that he may see.”  Then the LORD opened the young man's eyes, and when he looked up, he saw that the hillside around Elisha was filled with horses and chariots of fire (2Kg 6:17). Are you afraid? Are you discouraged? Are you frustrated by the troubling news? Let us pray the prayer of Elisha, “O Lord, open my eyes that I may see.” Then God will open our eyes to see his glory, his truth, his wisdom, his greatness. And we will be filled with new hope and great joy. We will praise our God and join Paul in singing: “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”

[1] John Piper, The Supremacy of God in Preaching (Baker, 2015), 10-11.
[2] R. A. Torrey, The Power of Prayer and the Prayer of Power (Zondervan, 1987) 138-39.
[3] Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans: To God’s Glory (Banner of Truth, 1999) 125. 

Sunday, January 7, 2018

“The Word Driven Life” (Romans 10:14-17) - Romans for Everyone XVII -

Walking in a Circle? 
Years ago one man was missing in the Alps, and he was rescued after 13 days. This man had walked more than 12 hours per day to find a village in bad weather. But in fact, it turned out that he went round in circles within a 4-mile radius. When a person keeps walking with the eyes closed, he or she ends up walking around in circles. But, there is a way to avoid this! If we make a stop for a moment on a regular basis, rather than keep walking, we are able to almost walk in a straight line. Oftentimes we are too busy to stop, and we find ourselves just keeping going without thinking and ending up wandering around in circles, just like the man in the Alps. We need a time to stop and think whether we are on the right track. By His grace, every year God gives us a special time, called “New Year” for us to stop and see where we are today, and where we should be heading.

Reading the Bible Together 

There would be several ways to avoid walking in circles in our life journey, but one of the best ways is to let God’s Word shine on our ways and direct our path daily. Starting on January 1, 2018, we as a church read the Bible together by using “5 Day Bible Reading Program.” It allows you to read the entire Bible (or just the New Testament – it’s your choice) in one year while only reading five times a week. This allows time for catching up, taking a day off, read other parts of the Bible to prepare for Bible class, etc. This reading program also helps us to see the big picture of the Bible as we read the Bible in chronological order. There will be a monthly meeting, “Coffee Break” (3rd Sunday of the month after church) to check in with each other, ask each other questions, and encourage each other. It is totally fine not to use this particular reading program. You may use your own program on your own pace. The point is to read the Bible together, because I believe God reveals more of himself through his word when it is read in community than he or she does when it is read in isolation. So let’s read the Bible together.

Reading to Obey

Now the more important question remains: Why do we read the Bible? Why do we care? In God’s eyes, why we do something is far more important than what we do. It is possible to do the right thing but with the wrong attitude. When we read the Bible, we should start with the proper attitude. We should read to obey. The Pharisees were law experts. They meditated on the word day and night. They had a thorough knowledge about the Scriptures from Mosaic laws to the Prophets. But the problem is they didn’t recognize the Christ, who was standing right in front of them, although all scriptures point to Christ. In John 5:39 Jesus said to them, “You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!” (NLT; cf. Luke 24:44). Jesus had to tell them several times, “Haven’t you read?” “Can’t you see what this means?” (cf. Matt 12:5-7) Here Jesus was saying, “Pharisees, you don’t know the Scriptures.” How is it possible to fail to see Christ and understand the Scriptures while studying them daily? Why did they fail? Because they read the Bible with the wrong attitude.

When we come to meet with God in our Bible reading, the proper attitude is crucial. Many people say, “God, show me your will.” But God doesn’t show his will to those who come to Him with this attitude: “Lord, tell me your will, and I will choose what I will or won’t do.” God does show his will to those who come to him having already chosen to do his will no matter what: “Speak, for your servant is listening!” (cf. 1 Sam 3:10) In John 7:17 Jesus said, “If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.” Let us read the Bible to obey anything and everything that God wants us to do.

Reading to Be Transformed 

Then, what happens when we read the Bible with the proper attitude? The answer is that we are transformed. In the Book of Nehemiah, the wall reconstruction project was successfully finished in 52 days. That did draw the Israelites close to God and made them thirst for God. They came to listen to God’s word. All the people gathered as one man in the square. When Ezra opened the book, all the people stood up. They could not remain seated because of the overwhelming reverence for God. All the people listened closely to the Scriptures from daybreak till noon, about for 6 hours. And when Ezra praised the Lord, all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” And they bowed down and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground. And then what happened? When the people heard the word and understood the reading, they all wept. They realized how far they had backslid from Him. And they voluntarily made the covenant with God about three most important areas of their lives – relationship, time and money. First, they promised not to have mixed marriage. At that time, the Israelites were defiled and sought after other gods as a result of mixed marriage with the Gentiles. And now they resolved to purify themselves and live as pure bridegroom of Christ Jesus. Second, they promised to keep the Sabbath holy. They used to rest on their terms on their ways. But now, on God’s terms, they resolved to rest, to worship God, to savor Him, to have fellowship with Him. Third, they promised to bring the whole tithe and offering. Money has power. No one can deny it. Tithing is all about faith in action to deny the power of money over us and to surrender ourselves to the Lord. The people of Israel resolved to bring the whole tithe, the first fruits, offerings to the Lord. By reading the Bible, they were transformed. When we read the Bible with the proper attitude, it transforms us from inside out.

Pastor Rick Warren rightly makes a distinction between the Bible and self-help books in this way[1]: Self-help books often give us helpful insight. They can tell us the right thing to do, but they just don’t give us the power to do it. Self-help books tell us that we should stop worrying or we should give up all our bad habits. Yes, it is helpful in some ways, but the thing is we don’t have that power to keep the advice. Those books aren’t alive. But God’s Word is alive and active. It not only tells us what to do; it gives us the power to do it. Romans 10:17 says, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (ESV). In other words, when we read (hear) the Bible, it increases our faith, it gives us confidence, “I can do this. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength!” For example, before I stand up to preach, I always pray, recall, trust specific promises of God. “Lord Jesus, apart from you I can do nothing (John 15:5). I pray for your help. Lord, you promised, “My word… shall not return to me empty,” (Isa 55:11) “It is not you who speak, but the Spirit” (Matt 10:20). So Lord, speak to me. Speak through me. Preach to the hearts of your people.” Then, by faith I preach. I act in obedience to God’s word. And I give thanks to God for whatever good comes and give him the glory.

Being Transformed to Transform

Now let me give you a brief picture of what it might look like for you to read the Bible to be transformed. Suppose you are in your quiet place at home. It’s early in the morning before anyone else is stirring. You are reading your Bible. Perhaps you woke up with heavy heart because of financial difficulty or relationship difficulty. But as you open the Bible and read on, the word shifts your mindset and opens your eyes to see the risen Christ with you in that room. And no longer you read about Christ, but now Christ himself begins to speak to you through the Bible. And he promises that he would give you his peace that passes all understanding. Then by faith, you get up with his promise. And then after breakfast, you go to Tim Hortons for coffee, you see the person over there with whom you had a strong argument yesterday. You are tempted to take revenge, but you remember the promises that God himself will settle accounts. So you go to that person and say, “I’m sorry about the harsh words yesterday. They were wrong, and I need your forgiveness.” In the afternoon you go to Walmart to buy something, on the way you see the person walking with bags of groceries in this cold weather. And you give him a ride home. And perhaps by God’s grace, he asks the reason for the hope that is in you, and you tell him what you saw (read or heard) that morning in God’s word. And perhaps by God’s grace, his eyes might be opened by God’s word that you shared, and see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ. That is what it means to read the Bible to be transformed. If we meet Christ in our Bible reading, we will experience this. So let's all pray for this to happen to us more and more, daily and each and every moment! May many hear and believe and call on the name of the Lord and be saved through you! Oh, how beautiful are the feet of you who bring good news!

[1] Rick Warren, “Let God’s Word Activate Your Faith,” (May 21, 2014),